6

Whence things have their origin,
Thence also their destruction happens,
As is the order of things;
For they execute the sentence upon one another
– The condemnation for the crime –
In conformity with the ordinance of Time.

– Anaximander

Why is it claimed (e. g. by Joseph Margolis) in the context of this fragment (likely referring to his concept of the Apeiron, the Boundless) that Anaximander was some sort of “enfant terrible” of Greek philosophy who challenged its inherent, unquestioned assumptions?

It seems related to the idea that (mainstream) Greek philosophy was dominated by a sort of foundationalism, that assumed the real to be unchanging and to be intelligible only insofar as it is organized in permanent structures?

4
  • The interpretation of (very few) extant fragments is difficult. See e.g. Dirk Couprie & Radim Kočandrle, Apeiron. Anaximander on Generation and Destruction (Springer, 2017) Jan 28 at 17:33
  • Can you give a citation to Margolis' claim? (Also, I think that should be "Joseph," not "John.") Jan 28 at 18:38
  • 1
    This isn't an answer, but may provide useful context. In his essay "The limits of metaphysics and the limits of certainty" in the collection Antifoundationalism, Joseph Margolis writes the following: "The reason Anaximander's remark is so important is that [it challenges] the canon of Greek philosophy "from the outside." The canon [...] threads its inexorable way from Parmenides [...] down to our own day. It maintains that whatever is real is unchanging and is intelligible in virtue of and to the extent only of possessing invariant structures. [...] Jan 28 at 18:41
  • Anaximander challenges the canon (or may be interpreted to challenge it) "from the outside," so to say - in the sense that what he says goes beyond the admitted resources of enunciative discourse." I sadly don't have access to the full article, but this quote - or something like it - might be worth incorporating into the question itself. Jan 28 at 18:43

1 Answer 1

2

I think the OP refers to Joseph Margolis's essay The Limits of Metaphysics and the Limits of Certainty in the Antifoundationalism volume that gives an unorthodox interpretation of apeiron explicitly inspired by Nietzsche and Heidegger. Heidegger wrote four essays on pre-Socratic philosophy, one of which is entirely devoted to his (very speculative and poetic) interpretation of the very Anaximander's fragment quoted in the OP.

On Margolis's elaboration of Heidegger, the apeiron is not so much limitless (in a physical sense) as inexplicable, devoid of articulation, the mother womb of being, from which everything discrete, expressible and delimited comes, and to which it must return as a "penalty" for its "transgression". It is not a foundation (arche), an "invariant structure" that both underlies the reality ontologically and makes it intelligible epistemologically, the idea that dominated both pre-Socratic and classical Greek philosophy. It is rather a "conceptual closure ranging over all that is real, over all that is thought to be real, over all (however unfathomed) that is possible to be real and possible to be thought to be real - but only in a way that cannot be formalized".

This is reminiscent of Wittgenstein's conception of that which is beyond language that marks "the limits of my world", and can only be "shown but not said". And such interpretation is at odds with the standard one, see e.g. Tlumak's review, where apeiron is a peculiar proto-arche, the ultimate invariant that underlies the more traditional elements, as Margolis himself acknowledges. But it is in line with his own pragmatist and antifoundationalist philosophical leanings (as can be said, in a more diffused sense, also of Heidegger's).

Here is Margolis on why his interpretation marks Anaximander as a philosophical enfant terrible, even more so than Protagoras, the notorious father of relativism:

"The reason Anaximander's remark is so important is that, of the entire pre-Socratic corpus, it is the only one, faltering though it may be, that challenges (or may be made to challenge) the canon of Greek philosophy "from the outside." The canon, the archic canon as it may be named, threads its inexorable way from Parmenides through Plato and Aristotle down to our own day. It maintains that whatever is real is unchanging and is intelligible in virtue of and to the extent only of possessing invariant structures. The canon was reflectively challenged "from the inside," in ancient times, by Protagoras.' But that challenge was also nearly suppressed or discounted by ridicule. Anaximander challenges the canon (or may be interpreted to challenge it) "from the outside," so to say - in the sense that what he says goes beyond the admitted resources of enunciative discourse.

[...] Anaximander straddles two sorts of conceptual innovation: one, that of the cosmologist, proposing an "external" source for whatever is determinate in accord with the archai"internal" to or regulative of the familiar observable world and for those archai themselves a source (the Apeiron) possessing its own (unknown) archai utterly different from what governs what has been "separated" from it; and the other, that of a distinct, still uncatalogued sort of philosopher who realized that any Apeiron thus characterized invites an infinite regress of similar speculations confined only by our ignorance of what lies beyond the archai of the (or any such) "separated" world".

...It is also difficult to believe that a mind apt enough to grasp the "philosopher's" theme implicated in the "cosmologist's" would not have been tempted at all to construe the Apeiron (once formulated in the first sense) also as an inarticulable source, a surd, that could not be captured by any archai at all. This is, of course, related to the point of the natural (somewhat Orphic) speculation of Nietzsche and Heidegger (and of others):" and it is clearly opposed to the archic limitation of Plato's and Aristotle's thought."

2
  • Although, of course, building anything on Heideggerian interpretation may result in many things, but certainly not in discussing anything that is true to the gist of the original text.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 28 at 20:31
  • 1
    @PhilipKlöcking Amen to that. Not that there is much original text even to work with, in this case.
    – Conifold
    Jan 28 at 20:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.