Aporia and negation

Existence and “relationship”:
that is, the ways of origin

Massimo Donà (Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan)

Relationship is a decisive concept for all Western thought. Philosophy, in interrogating about the question of principle or truth, has always ended up reflecting more properly about the meaning of relationship, understood as what is not to be confused with any of the existing things, precisely because everyone holds them together – in fact, ‘interpreting’ each other.

On the other hand, the ways in which this concept has been understood from time to time are many, and often irreducibly different from one another. Therefore, it is not at all assumed that in speaking of ‘relationship’ we really understand it.

The question is therefore extremely complex, as starting a relationship is what every form of saying, understanding or conceiving actually ends up determining. In short, every theory, every law (from metaphysical to scientific, from artistic to moral…) tells us somewhat the “form” of “relationship”.

At the same time, it should also be noted that a relationship is precisely the original form of existence of everything. All things are related to one another – what can be more evident than that? Experience as such is always the experience of a certain “relationship”, or rather, of the multiple forms of a “relationship”: from what makes you the subject of a world that cannot avoid offering it as objectivity (the subject-object relationship) to a decisive one, as a relationship among beings, as constituents all together (in their infinite relations) of the same world; ‘yours’, which all possible different existences are and will still be part, precisely as objects of your experience, etc. This is the phenomenological evidence which, it seems, is absolutely impossible to ignore.

Yet in this simple fact, that is, in the relationship between everything and everything else, a very complex issue is preserved: that of the structural and indispensable infinity of an original and manifold linked relation. Let us better explain it: it is in being linked that everything is able to present itself as having this or that particular form. Our experience is a shaping of shapes, different from one another – there are forms of various nature, of course (geometric, qualitative, modal, psychic, axiological, cognitive…), each of which owns, of course, a very precise face – its own – but at the same time it is configurable in this or that way only by virtue of a relational plexus which, by the way, is not in any way determinable.

In other words, what determines everything – and that ‘in everything’ is presented with a clearly defined face – is structurally and originally indeterminate, or else because no ‘relationship’ can be in turn determined (otherwise “the relationship” would end up being treated as something among the other – of which we should recognize again, in fact, the being-in-relationship fact).

Furthermore, the relationships from which everything is intrinsically formed are inevitably endless, since everything is made up of a relationship, and in turn it creates another relationship (as a minimum – in fact, “in” and “from” every being is established an infinite multiplicity of relationships in itself), it is inscribed in a “relational” continuum beyond which there will always be ‘other’ things, ‘other’ forms, infinitely… It is impossible, therefore, to identify the final limit in that logic-structural determination procedure.

Bruno knew this very well; hence his thesis about the infinity of our universe. Even in Leibniz, the inevitability of infinite worlds (the possible) would become clear; but, first and foremost, the impossibility for this world to have, albeit from a logical point of view, a beginning and an end. In this sense the latest hypotheses in the field of astronomy should not be surprising – those that tell the infinite would be the worlds beyond the known galaxies. The philosopher’s conscience, which for a long time has known that, is not surprised that the world of forms is ‘logically’ and therefore necessarily infinite. Notwithstanding this infinity must be kept in close connection with the fact that, as we have already seen, the existing everything always appears to be a part of the same world – and therefore of the same infinity. What is to be borne in mind is that indeterminability of beings, or rather its intrinsic relationality, unfolds and it is all in the perfect evidence of its not less inevitable ‘uniqueness’. It is no coincidence that every single one exists in the act with which the “whole world” manifests itself.

Indeed, each time in every single and certain existence there is a perfect determinism of the form in question (this or that…) and a perfect “indeterminacy” of its intrinsic relationality; the one that is in the very presentation of the world as ‘one’, i.e. my world. Or rather, as the world of the determinism in question – which is itself ‘one’, and that only in this unity shows its perfect “determination”. All forms become part of the same experience, of the same look – the one they recognize as such. And so they are all hugged by a bond, a relationship, which is their own belonging to the same horizon (what philosophy calls ‘transcendental’) – from a relationship, that is, beyond its being in itself indeterminate and in-finite (that is, endless referrals that new things are going to and will be created), it is also what can unify. True koinonia always constitutively overcomes the various forms which one might be tempted to bring back (as it happened to Plato, who was led to postulate the existence of a true world of ‘ideas’ by this temptation).

Here, then, we are in the question of multiplicity; linked to the awareness (expressed with the utmost rigor by Leibniz) of the fact that no identity can be among things (the principle of identity of the indiscernible), for every form is radically different from all others (hence the same impossibility of similitudes), and, on the other hand, to the necessity that things, even in their absolute diversity, are indeed in the ‘same world’. It is always the same – the world is the same for everyone. Indeed, that must be the same, if you want to be able to say that everything belongs to you. But that, just as it is identical in ever different things, contradicts Leibnizian principle of identity of the indispensable. At least for our world, where everything is brought to presence, you have to say it is “identical”, that is, it is the same for all beings. Keep in mind that nothing identical can be among essentials. Therefore, one cannot but ask what is to become the transcendental horizon where everything has to be united (so that it may in some way be justified to appear on the part of every being and in any case in the form of a ‘world’). If no identity is ever detectable – even because, from a simply ‘logical’ point of view, it cannot be there – what does it mean to be able to always refer to the same world as what would in all respects always remain perfectly identical to yourself? It is a fact: philosophers, questioning about origin (that is, at the beginning of things, what everything was all about as a principle, and from which everything was made possible in that way), have always acknowledged the need to voice such an ‘impossible’.

Indeed, they accepted the challenge; in short, even though from then on they understood how troubled the concept was, they did not give up on its enigmatic nature. They found it very soon – since Anaximander (at least Anaximander as interpreted by Aristotle) – and it was paradoxicality; making clear and recognizing, above all, its structural indeterminacy or, which is the same, its constitutive “infinity”. In short, they soon realized that origin could have neither this nor that form; and that nevertheless it had to be conceived and posed as a presupposition of every being. We could also say: it was soon understood that it could be defined only in a ‘negative’ form. Let us consider now some of the ways in which it has sometimes been attempted to justify such a principle – enigmatic, paradoxical, and yet necessary. If Anaximander already thought that he had to underline the inevitable nature of the Principle (so he would call it a-peiron), Heraclitus spoke of the Principle rather than identifying it with the One. Parmenides used to call it to be, thus making it an extraordinary operation.
For if it cannot be a thing, that is, if it is left in no way to determine, the principle must in any case be valid as ‘reason’ of all determination, as that from which every determination is made to be in this or that way. Every single and specific way of being ‘is’ that certain specific way of being as it is ‘so’ and so ‘being’. Therefore, it will necessarily be said that it is precisely in this specificity (its own) that it exists. On the other hand, the principle of everything is first and foremost “to be” – as an identity where everything is related, that everything is always ‘identical to itself’ – and therefore it can only coincide with that be that, of all determination, beyond its specific diversity, must be preached. Every determination, in fact, to be what it is, must first ‘be’. Yet, Parmenides also understood that, for that reason, every determination, as it was different from the others, could only constitute a radical ‘denial’ of the same reason that ‘was’. Therefore, if ‘being’ said ‘positivity’, the determination of the determined could only say “absolute” negativity.

No determinism in fact means being, and thus each constitutes the ‘no’ of the latter.
In short, things are not; this is as plausible as possible by Parmenides, i.e. the world of things, of the different, is not. Therefore, in the light of the Principle – being – of all things one must say we are not. In short, Parmenides started to alert mortals: if the Principle said “to be”, things made possible by that principle and in some way justified would be thought of as its (being) radical negation. Because they stated – as such – a simple “denial” of identity, that was what had been defined precisely in terms of ‘being’. Therefore, they had to be placed as non-being. In this sense, Parmenides obliges us to count on the ontological negativity that, of all beings, constitutes the true determination. That is why, in the light of the Principle, things will all have to be said they are not. And so only in such a negativity can it live (always from the Parmenidean perspective) that being, which in none of beings is never simply identical to itself. Or rather, it is identical to itself for so long that one must still say that the thing (this or that) is ‘that’ which exists. Plato, then, always proceeding in that direction, understood that if omnis determinatio est negatio, and if in no determination it was possible to find being as ‘distinguished’ from its specific determinism (otherwise it would have ended up making itself one distinct, i.e. a “determination”), then such ‘negativity’ already had to be included in the dimension of the Principle.

It is no coincidence that, for him, the Principle was both a-peiron, one and being. This appears clearly in the outcome of one of his most important dialogues: the Parmenides. Plato understood that the Principle could only be ‘aporetic’. He understood that it was one, but that together it was not one – it was and it was not together; it is no coincidence that significant aporias came from him still at the level of eidetic existence; the one that was more than all close to the Principle and that, in reflecting on constitutive aporia of Principle, already exposes it in derivative and depleted form. Indeed, if still at the eidetic level (well before the empirical and individual world), one and many are perfectly indistinguishable, where, alongside the one there is always the other, and being and non-being coexist in the most perfect con-fusion, one must also recognize that in this same horizon they are, as indistinguishable, already split because they are such. In short, even from the point of view from which the world appears to be non-existent, conflicts arise with determinations. If they are, they are not yet perfectly “indistinct”, i.e. dissolved in the pure and simple positivity of being.

On the other hand, it is already at the level of the Principle – the One – which inhabits the “distinction” (and not only at the level of that first determination formed precisely by the eidetic horizon). The perfect unity or identity with itself, which is proper to the Principle, must indeed be distinct, at least as far as it is concerned, since the horizon unites all and it makes everything its “Verb”. Therefore, Aristotle realized that, given those premises, the true name of the Principle was to “be”. Almost a sort of return to Parmenides, – but to Parmenides who was aware that negativity of being could not simply be distinguished from the perfection of the Principle. It is no coincidence that Aristotle would recognize being was told in many ways; that it was the same said in many ways – that there was no being before of its many ways. Here, being is to be understood in itself as all the meanings previously assigned to the principle; the Aristotelian being, in fact, is ‘one’, ‘indeterminate’, but also determined and manifold. In short, we got far from that ridiculous image (built positively and critically considered above all by Heidegger) which from Aristotle to Thomas constitutes a ‘fallacious’ and improper ontotheology, on whose horizon the principle would explicitly become an ‘entity’. The fact is that both in Thomas and in much of the original Christian theology, on the contrary, radicalizing a true line of apophatic theology came true (according to which we can only say about God what he is not).

Some mystical currents, for example, were most important in the great work of Dionysius Areopagita. Anyway, the Aristotelian being is no more than the negativity that the principle must always be understood in itself (in order to really make the right to be of all that are). It is easy to realize that it is enough to consider the logical principle of Aristotle himself to be valid as the original form of being as such. That is the principle of identity and not contradiction. Being is what we determine to be always identical, but it is also what it said to be different from everything. Thanks to Plato’s parricide in the Sophist – where he wrote that not-being not only says nothing (absolutely different from being), but it is also the other-being (eteron) – Aristotle would have been good to assume that, for example, in a different divergence of this chair over that window, it was being to be different from itself, without being condemned to simple nullity.

In short, for Aristotle, it is the same intrinsic multiplicity of being (that is, its original categorization) that makes both this chair and that window ‘be’, while one is the ‘denial’ of the other. All of this, however, requires a bottom line – i.e. a mutual negation of various determinants existing is quite simply intended for ‘positivity’ – or better, in order to constitute another positivity. In short, the mutual denial of being Aristotle mentions (and therefore for the logic of our common sense) is a space for other positives; those who, with this or that determination in question, can live together only if they occupy existential spaces other than their own – if they are both forbidden to settle. The being of all that is, in fact, is absolutely exclusive – e.g. the being of this chair excludes everything positively existing from its existential horizon, while at the same time making it possible for its different determinism, that is, for its constitution as irresolvably separate and different from it. In that sense, what Leibniz called the ‘principle of the identity of the indisputable’ had already been sanctioned – precisely because of the principle of non-contradiction: A (this chair) is not B (that window), and so B is like NON-A; or the being of B is not A, but another ‘being’. That is why being is always different from itself, just where there is still that being, which is precisely where it identifies entities in saying they are not their own – i.e. their irreducibly different being. In short, for Aristotle, the principle that unites everything (being) is absolutely different being on every body, namely it is being as ever true as a form of radical alteration – the radical alterity of every determination with respect to each other, of every determination of being with respect to any other determinism.

It is no coincidence that it is not in its own right that every institution, even for Aristotle, is able to be perfectly identical to itself. In fact, the same being, for the principle of non-contradiction, is in the act with which it is sanctioned to be different. Therefore, being identical is merely a simple being identical to itself. And if determinism tells about the original multiplicity of being, it is clear then that being identical to itself, by this or that determination, will tell that being is identical to itself as being other or different from himself. In short, always on the basis of Aristotle and the principle of non-contradiction, one must acknowledge that being identical to itself by every determination is to be identical to being as being different from itself (as it is ‘determined’) and that being different from one another, by the same determinism, is different from the one being which, otherwise determined, is, however, perfectly identical to itself. In short, every determination is other than the identical being to itself, that same idler to itself, in which is every form of different being of being as such (of a being that is always different from itself, in that somehow it is always determined, but that being different from itself is always and in any case itself).

A being is always identical to its being different from itself and different from that of being identical to itself that is always and only in the form of another determination. Indeed, being different is what makes every determination identical to itself; that makes it what it is, that is, a determination, obvious as such in its being not the other determinations (themselves present as what they are, that is, as identical to themselves in the act in which they differ from what the same are not), so that the differentiating relationship is not determined except in the determination of an identity with itself, always and inevitably ‘determined’. That is like saying determination of a ‘relationship’ is all in the determination of ‘relationships’, i.e. ever present and only as identical to oneself. From these thoughts one has to understand that an identity linking all together is necessarily the face of an absolutely closed self, and thus constitutively incapable of presenting itself as ‘other’ than determinations of which it is precisely to be others with respect to each other. In other words, being different is not an ‘entity’ – in fact, the entity is always and only ‘different’ from another entity in relation to which there is a relationship whose identifying face is all resolved to be identical to itself aside of the determinations in question.

Nothing defined (which constitutes a constituent element of what determinations in question actually mean being identical to itself) can thus be shown as a form of identity between one and another determination, for the identity between one and the other – the one each relationship implies, even though it is constituted in the form of the other – is determined in the simple determination of both of them as simply identical to oneself. On the other hand, it cannot be said that both determinations would have this identically, i.e. their being different from each other. Even that difference, in fact, is not the same in both cases. What in A (A stands for “this chair”) not being B tells its being is being NON-B and in B (which stands for “that window”) not being A it says nothing but its being NOT-A, whereas NON-A and NON-B have in common only the sign of ‘negation’ – the same one that, according to the Aristotelian perspective, always means the positive other with respect to the determination it negates (NON-A = B, C, D…). Being different from one another is therefore determined on the one hand as “NON-B” and on the other hand as “NON-A”. Therefore, in no way is the identity between the two determined as such – not even as their ‘mutually being different’. In other words, an identity is never established except when it is a determinality with itself, that is to say, one never determines another identity from the identical being of every determination with itself.

To sum up, what needs to be recognized precisely from Aristotle (as he was responsible for the definitive formalization of the principle of non-contradiction) is that the identity between determinations – i.e. the identity of multiple – always determines itself as the identity of any determination with the same self. Hence, identity as ‘common’ is not determined at all. Or rather, its determination is a determination to be absolutely incomprehensible – like what cannot be shared, if not as individuality that is simply identical to itself in everything. So, from no point of view it allows us to detect something alike among entities: not even the one made of by the fact that each body would become just as simply identical to itself.

It is not even possible to say that, in every entity, it would be at least that – i.e. everyone is simply identical to himself, given that in that case, all the entities would at least have in common the property of being identical to themselves, therefore would have nothing in common. Where it is clear that even this simple admission, which is exclusively ‘negative’, would involve some form of determination of koinonia in question. It cannot be said that all entities share the fact that they have nothing in common; for this would be a ‘common’ fact perfectly determined, albeit in a negative form. In our Western language, in fact, ‘denial’ is still a form of determination – omnis negatio est determinatio.

Our care therefore has to necessarily move on the level of ontology: there too it means to once again listen to Aristotle, the same Aristotle who was responsible for the radical irresolution of his “principle of non-contradiction”. That is because he also placed being as a ‘principle’ – and intrinsically linked it to the fate of the principle of non-contradiction as its ‘original form’. So perhaps it is from re-thinking the question of being that we discover some way out of the question of emasculation caused by the way in which non-being was thought by Aristotle himself, on the basis of a previous platonic parricide.

It indeed deals with being for what it can still tell us in relation to ‘negativity’ that is not simply constrained in the meshes of etheron, destined to form itself as a simple opening to another ‘being’.

On the other hand, in the short space available here, we can only develop a sketch of analysis of being as such – or rather, of its intrinsic “relational” value. Being is first and foremost what we all preach of everything, of every one determined, insofar as it has some knowledge, to the extent that it is given to us as such, that is, it must be said that it is (irrespective of how this being is to be configured, i.e. to be perceived as being-real, imaginary, material, ideal, etc.). Of all, in fact, we say that it ‘is’, by the simple fact that every reality ‘somehow’ appears, which means everything, for its simple appearance as that certain thing, so and so determined, indeed ‘is’.

That is why it is being, and only it, which can do everything, as an element inscribed in the transcendental horizon of experience. Yes, this it is exactly what is common – even if it is a “very odd common” one. It is a community that in no way manifests itself as knowingly “distinguishable” by its (of that same) multiple determinations. Otherwise, that would end up being constituted as a certain one. Like, e.g., in this chair, we should be able to distinguish it from its ‘wood’, its ‘white’, its ‘weighing five kilograms’, etc. In short, it is quite obvious that we have never been able to identify, in a certain way, something like ‘the being’ of this chair. It was almost its own property – such as those phenomenologically evident and discernable even ostensibly. Surely, of every property of that chair it must be said that, wherever it is, it is not at all easy to identify, as it is simply in one, with its presence, any other property of the same chair.

The white side of the chair looks like something that could even be said of a metal chair. Of course, in ‘this chair’, what looks white, also appears to be wood, and thus ostensibly, in pointing out that white side, we will end up also indicating the being of wood, and also what weighs five kilograms. Yet, if at least from the logical-definitive point of view it is always possible to distinguish the white side being from real wood, we can still imagine being white as the property of a metal chair. At least in a hypothetical way, that is, we can undoubtedly imagine being white in a different connection, lacking any bond with wood. Yes, the properties of this chair are all mutually determinant insofar as – beyond the indispensability of their being a property of that chair – they are nevertheless conceivable as one without the other, according to a relationship that is absolutely “contingent” – i.e. it is indeed that, yet it could also be different otherwise – in another world, Leibniz would have added. Well, can one think of some of those properties as being private of a being? Or better: is it a property? Is it anything that any sort of determination might be deprived of? No, it is not. If for being made of wood, telling it is not white, it will mean, in addition to occupying an existential space somewhat distinct from that of being black (although in this chair it is inseparable, and only logically distinguishable from it), it is also possible to think being made of wood of a red chair (therefore it can also be thought of as lacking in being white), as far as being as such, this is by no means true. This is precisely because every determined property of the body, every way of its determinism, ‘is’; and indeed it can be as being made of wood of a white chair or a red chair, only if it indeed is.

In fact, being like that and thus constituted, it will be recognizable as such only to the extent that it can in some way be said to be ‘it’. Or rather, it will be recognizable as such in the act of its being recognized as ‘being’. One can say about determinations that one is not the other and the other is not one always and only insofar as, in such a distinguishing-relationship involving each other, the same ‘being’ will come to be for them – the same positive living. From this comes the need to rethink the question of being – i.e. its position as the original structure or principle of the whole, as though it implies the form of identity and non-contradiction, and it does not compel us to recognize that ‘denying the own other’ means for every determination the mere removal of the nullification value of “non-being” (in accordance with the fundamental implications of the Platonic parricide), therefore the simple possibility of another “positive” being. Then, in that sense, what is not explained at all is what it really means, in the same ‘positive’ being by all determinations, to be the “other” of one another – what, for each one, means to be an another positivity – beyond being constituted of the same ‘positive-being’. That is, what its being “other” from another positivity means.

In short, one cannot understand what is meant by two determinations of being different from each other (or what it means for them to be different), since in relation to their ‘positivity’, nothing distinguishes them; especially in what relationship they are different (it is about explaining its meaning, anyway) with their still identical ‘positivity’. That is to say, it is not enough to acknowledge, after Plato, that in being different, constituting would be a condition of opportunity for another ‘positive’ being. In fact, in this explanatory determination, the very essence of the other is still obscure about that other one who would wish (already told in Platonic goals) to safeguard his being from his inevitable collapse in the impossible “absolute negativity”. It is not enough because, in order to save the positivity of the other being, it ends up in not being in any way the reason for being the other; so one lets madness rule the determination of being different. It is evident, in fact: if a being, in order to be saved from ‘negativity’, simply relegates itself to identity – i.e. what, in the ‘relationship’ between this and that, says exactly what is not other – being another will then become something unfolded with an effect only on ‘determination’ (leaving intact the being that that same determinism still expresses), and it will be clear right then: the difference will be completely unjustified. It is what without affecting the identity of a being as such – i.e. not constituting itself as its (being) an original expression, as well as not finding any reason regarding its occurrence – will end up telling nothing about the same being which would have had to find its grace in it.

First of all, however, the fact is that, in the act with which being was in the form of the “principle of non-contradiction”, Aristotle ended up translating A to be non-A from A that always tells its (A’s) not being B, not being C, etc. In short, in order to correspond to the Parmenidean dictate, as Plato did, even Aristotle ended up translating non-being into a simple “openness to another-positive”. So, when we say non-chair, actually all of us (perfectly ‘aristotelically’) think only of the space occupied by that window, that light, that library, those clouds, those noises, etc. – where, what is left to be in no way thought is the true meaning of the expression “non-chair” – always inevitably resolved in pure empty form, which says nothing, except it is “filled” with all that exists in the “other” way. Whereas, however, we insist what is not understood at all is in what sense those ways (being a window, being a book-case, being light…) are “others” from looking as being a chair. In Western culture, we cannot but tell about the total oblivion of the authentic meaning of ‘negation’ – and thus, in another sense, of allness.

“In another sense” we have said because if you do not consent passively to the traditional way of understanding “denial”, and therefore alterity, it becomes impossible to identify one with the other, as such expressions – since “non-chair” is an expression in which it is said, even if in a negative form, just ‘chair’, while at least two or more definitions are called into question. Only in the relationship of otherness, the ‘non-chair’ is in fact made by e.g. being a window.

The West has removed the enigmatic nature of the “negative”, so besides not being able to think of the concept of “non-chair” as a tale, not being a chair by the window makes the simple expression of the other one in relation to the chair by the window, leaving completely unexplored the meaning of that ‘alterity’, so that they give each other the same ambiguity inscribed, in their looks, a “non-chair” – complicating it indeed, if so can be said. It is because it is added to the already enigmatic meaning of ‘non-chair’ that that negativity is called a window (the negative of the chair, not the window, is well known, it is told about the window). Although the whole thing is resolved in the belief that what can be said of ‘non-chair’ would actually be its factual constitution as a window.

In this way, the West has come to an end (albeit cheaply, and totally improperly) about the problem which originated from the “negative” meaning, for example, from a “non-chair” – reducing the latter to “opening”, that is to say there is a window. That means: according to the West, to say ‘non-chair’ does not make any sense unless it is inscribed in the ‘relational’ form, making it the way to indicate all possible positives that might be in place of that chair (window, clouds, light…) and we get that even when there is a chair, only otherwise positioned on the horizon of the existing one – leaving aside the meaning of that otherwise unexplained. In our time, however, the most rigorous formulation of this forma mentis has appeared: it can be found in the work of Emanuele Severino.

According to him, what can and should be said is that identity is always and only “tautology” (see Tautotes[1]), as in Severino’s mind in every pre-eminent form to say it is necessarily to identity with oneself. The words of the Brescian philosopher have shown with great clarity the most stringent consequences of that perspective – i.e. showing that it can never be, and thus it can never give identity to each other by oneself. Between A and B there can only be ‘difference’, so that identity will always and only be ‘determined’ – in fact, that it lives only “in the determination” in virtue of which everything is always and only itself. But again, what such a perspective cannot tell is which role it plays in such an abstract distinction of identity and difference. Well, if nothing can become or be their “other”, what is the destiny of being? What about the being that does not allow itself to be distinctly distinguished from A in A, as well as from B in B? The ‘being’ that cannot be different in A as in B? What about such a ‘being’? What is the end of A (the same A that cannot be distinctly different from its ‘being’ – unless one wants to be a mere determination among others) that can be simply ‘different’ from B? What about what cannot be the distinction between A and B?

First of all, this must be noted: if it cannot be explained in any way how A can be anything other in reference to B (precisely because A can be identical only to itself – Leibniz docet – and no relationship with the outside world is allowed to A, since such a report would in any case imply some form of koinonia, therefore some form of identity between the various, that is ‘impossible’), then the being anything other can be nothing more than being anything other by something in reference to itself.

But then, only what is not in any way different from A can be anything other than A: that is the being.

In fact, it makes no sense to say that A is different from B, since each relationship implies some identity, and that identity is in no way determined. It does not make sense to say that A is different from B, since such a relationship would imply some identity between A and B – that is, between two determinants – hence the determinism of the identical self.

Yet, you can not even say that, about “identical” in A and B, there would be NON-being A by B and on the other hand NON-being B by A; at least from the point of view of Western thought (that is, a thought which has always made ‘negative’ as a simple referral to another ‘positive’)… because, in its perspective, saying NON-A or NON- B means simply showing on one side all together the positive forms of NON-A (that is, B, C, D, E), and on the other all together the positive forms of NON-B (I.e. A, C, D, E). How can we not notice, from this point of view, that being NON-A is not being NON-B? That is, it is a question of two definite denials, where the determination of one is not the other one’s determination, first of all because, beyond any ‘denied’ determinism in them, in both cases it is shown only an endless set of other ‘determinations’, which are all specifically distinguishable and identifiable.

In short, if NON-A stands for C, NON-B can be said to be ‘identical’ to NON-A only if NON-B stands for C. Yet, both NON-A and NON-B actually show a set of determinations that on one hand exclude A and on the other hand exclude B. Anyway, not even being different in determinations with one another can identify them – precisely because it indicates their being different, not their being the same. Being different, in short, can only be the same. That is what is not distinguishable. Distinction is, indeed, ‘determination’. What, then, would not be distinguished from determination? Certainly not another determination, but only being; that is, what is in no way determined (what is not ‘certain’). How would a being be distinguished only by a same self? In fact, distinguishing itself – because it is the same, that is, it cannot be distinguished. Then how would this distinction be achieved? Indeed, by his being made ‘determinate’, that is distinct from himself as not simply distinguished from his own determination (because it is not determined, therefore it cannot stand by himself by making himself a determinism) but, in fact, the same as itself. A being, in short, is distinct from its own indeterminacy, since it is perfectly indistinguishable from it – that is, as it was originally ‘determined’, therefore other than itself (from its own being undetermined).

In short, only because of its being always determined (and as such, ‘other’ only by other determinations, because in relation to itself it must be identical to its indeterminacy, i.e. indistinguishable from it, precisely for that, at the same time originally different from oneself), a being is distinguished. It distinguishes itself from itself, without itself being conceived as simply ‘determined’, i.e. as a determinate one (though it has always been ‘determined’, but precisely because it is perfectly un-determinate). The aporia of being is therefore radical; for this reason, it manages to be the only one that distinguishes itself. So we tell a wrong thing when we refer to determinations as to “distinguish”; they are not, in fact, distinguishing one another – as we have already pointed out. They cannot stand out from each other. Indeed, they have nothing in common; therefore no ‘relationship’ can be established as a connection between them.

Only the same can differ from itself; distinguishing itself from itself. It is only because the result of that distinction is that being distinguished from the identical to the same, for that alone, that is, only because distinct means identical (that is, which is always identical to itself); for this reason only the distinctive so distinct can relate to that which it places as ‘distinct’, that is, the distinction can be in relation to a being, to the identical that is always itself, in every form of its determined distinction.

Therefore, this is the only possible relationship; the one in which the other being is always the same as the one in the same way. That being with its own determinations is the way of its being ‘ever-more-by-itself’, but never to be determined as a simple ‘other’ (in the sense of non-contradiction) with respect to its determinations. In this sense, a being is really the same – which is such (as Hegel would recognize) only in distinguishing itself from itself, according to what happens in every tautology (even Severino cannot think of tautologicity without having to deal with being of the other by itself, and we have already shown it in our L’aporia del fondamento[2].

So about A, B, C, etc., that is, of all, we must say “it is”. Therefore, any determination (A, B, C…) is nothing more than the original effect of the indispensable distinction of self by a being – an effect so original that it cannot even constitute (no determination succeeds) something like a non-contradictory “other” from being as such. On the other hand, a non-contradictory fact would be in that impossible situation that we have seen, not allowing us to assert, of any determination, that it may be “something else” from something else, since it would thus be the constitution of that ‘relationship’ of otherness which, as a ‘relationship’, would end up denying the same alterity as it is called upon; that which, from the point of view of non-contradiction, should properly prevent any ‘certain’ identity, hence implying ‘absolute alterity’. Well, the possible or real alternative is not only and not so much what is impossible for some identity (identity is always ‘determined’, even negative sides are, as we have already pointed out) but, more radically, one that does not distinguish itself from identity – whatever it proposes as the articulation of the same identity, thus making its perfect expression. That, just as it does not distinguish itself from identity, is not obliged to impose a banned prohibition on the latter. Therefore, to think that the law “A is NOT NON-A” can be translated – without any problem, in fact perfectly logically and consequentially – in the form “A is not B” or “A is not C” is as far from the truth as it can be thought. In this sense, the West has come to obtrude the “truth”; in short, they started thinking this was the only possible translation of the general formula “A is NOT NON-A”.

That is why the West could not have thought of ‘denial’. Indeed, by translating the latter into some sort of hint of other positivities, they would not understand that 1) saying that “A is NOT NON-A” was true, you are saying that A is not being, so that A is not itself because it is not being, but at the same time it is not itself because it is the NOT of its own determination; and that 2) transcribing NON-BEING NON/A by A as its not being B, C, D, we end up doing the already abstract and impractical distinction of A from its original ‘negativity’ – an equally impossible distinction between a determined being and others equally determined. In this regard, it is worth noting the improperness of the expression “other determinants”, which presupposes there may be some difference between certain ones, i.e. determinants may therefore relate (in other words, being opposite to each other), thus violating the inviolable: the absoluteness of their alterity. That is inviolable not so much because of its constitution as an incontrovertible or epistemic law, but because it is perfectly insubstantial and impossible in itself (how to violate what is not given, neither as incontrovertible nor countervailing, how to violate a relationship of absolute alterity that as such is a perfect non-sense, since any relationship, though hypostatized, would imply, as such, some identity between the real, or rather, as we have already seen, their perfect identity?). In short, there is no such thing as A, such as B or C – to exist is always and only NON-A, NON-B, etc., that is, the in-finite world in B, the in-finite world in A, etc. To exist is always and only that denial of being that tells its own identity: what is to do is NOT to be on the part of being, to become NON-B, to become NON-C. For that same reason, the real subject of every proposition is being, beyond what we are used to believe because of the simple fact of using a concept like “being” always and only as a ‘verb’. To sum up, this chair is not so much as a “being”, but rather “to be acting as a chair”, “acting as a window”, something like that. Of course, Severino’s attempt is perfectly understandable, but it is precisely the extreme ratio of Western mental form –thought that has not yet decided to deal with “negation” as such (having always treated it as a simple opening to another “positive”) – that perhaps he did not know how to do it, as thinking of being as a ‘preacher’, he had to focus first on the problem of his ‘insurance’, or rather on the assurance of determinations conceived precisely as what simply happens to ‘be’ (perhaps eternally).

The fact is that Severino wanted to save bodies – and he did it in the most radical, extreme form – by proving bodies to be safe, to be saved from any danger. But all this is from the conviction that being “would not” be determined; therefore from the conviction that it applied as the ‘verb’ of the determination in question. This is the point: if being “happens” to entities, in the sense that they are not being, sic et simpliciter – even if it happens to them forever, as needed – their separation from being is however conceivable or in some way conceivable, or at least the look of being separated from being.

Certainly, if being is a “verb”, so it “falls” on determinations, in relation to them (even in the “necessity” form theorized by Severino), we can challenge the supposed epistemicity of such a “bond”. That is, it is possible to propose what is impossible, i.e. to break that relationship, even where it is understood as incorruptible. The fact is that, if one is not the other, sic et simpliciter, this difference, for its simple giving as ‘difference’, legitimises the crazy and diabolic (dia-ballein) enterprise of the prince of ‘separation’ and of the ‘division’ (as divine omnipotence had made possible the crazy enterprise of Lucifer, who, of course, could not have disrupted the divine order, but, as it did, even according to Christian theology, he would certainly have tried to do it).

No, it is not a ‘verb’. Being is a ‘subject’, subject to every proposition – only it, the same as itself can in fact stand out from itself, without ever making its original identity ever less; indeed, confirming it infinitely. On the other hand, who could be different, if not the same? Who would it be, if not by itself? Here, then, our being looks like a chair, like a window, etc., and it does not stand out from a window “as a chair”. To distinguish itself, it is never this or that determinism, which, as such, is already the distinction of being by itself, of being as being identical to itself in that same perfect distinction. To distinguish may be the denial of determinism – that is, the non-chair – i.e. being as such, because it is identical. It is always and only it which can stand out; not from the window, but, once again, always and only by no window. That same being, which is precisely “negation” of all determination, that even in the window “is denied” by affirming (thus denying its perfect “negativity”), thus stating its perfect identity with itself. In short, it is only a non-chair that can distinguish itself from a non-window; not that chair from that window. For, as Jean-Luc Nancy rightly points out, one must not resolve negation in another statement. A non-chair cannot be resolved in a window’s window (‘negative’ cannot solve a certain positive), but only in a non-window by a non-chair, whereas one needs to keep in mind that in that non-being “differentiating”, it is just this, i.e. being is not “being” only because it is identical to itself. That being, just because it is identical, can be different from itself (that non-chair and non-window say “being”, that is, not another determination, but merely the being-denied of both, that is to say their being as expressions of identity with themselves, of that identity with it that, in denial, never produces a real ‘other’ positive, but the otherness of simple positivity – the one that says always and only to be constituted as “determined” by the absolutely unconditioned, that is, of being). Therefore, a ‘relationship’ never tells alterity of different, but only otherness of identical – no relationship connects different beings.

On the other hand, the mere recognition of something as ‘different’ is impossible, but with the vanishing of the absolute difference that the different being should imply. In safeguarding the absolute difference, in fact, one cannot fail to engage in the irrationality of the Hegelian ‘dialectical’, the one that makes the reversal of difference in an indeterminate identity, unconditional and in-conceivable condition of every difference, always constituting as difference between different ‘no identity’, simply ‘determinated’ – therefore suspended from the abyss of their perfectly unattainable identity (as I wrote in Sull’Assoluto[3]).

In Hegel, therefore, Western thought finds one of its own highlights, as in its philosophy the ‘negative’ as other possibilities of chance is brought to extreme consequences. “Negative” is thought (at least at the level of its highest expression, constituted by the absolute idea) as immediately reversing itself into a sort of absolute positivity – in a positivity without any other. From that, the root of radical dialectics (as we have seen in our recent work on ‘negative’ in Hegel) and the paradox of the aporetical self-restraint of “negative” – which is therefore not thought of as such – just in its coming hypostatized in the form of an absolute transcendent. Therefore, that is the result of the Hegelian perspective: on the one hand, the original negative would imply that in the relationship of alterity – the one that distinguishes every determination from each other – to explicate is precisely a contradiction of a being that is always and only different from itself (never identical to itself; according to Hegel, in fact, a being can not cannot be what it is), on the other hand, such negativity, which is devoid of identity, that is, the negativity of being, which is always and only by itself, would always be realized in a positiveness that in the given body (Da-sein) had only a semblance of relationality – since its non-other by the particular according to Hegel, had its truth in the absolute irrelatedness of a being that was ever and only equal to ‘nothing’ (we also refer to the more detailed analyses done in the aforementioned phenomenology of the negative).

The thesis under which no relationship of difference between certain beings would ever be given, therefore, does not aprioristically oppose the thesis that, instead, “true” would really be theirs being really ‘others’ to each other; but it manages to be the original result of a discourse capable of leading to its extreme consequences the same thesis of the possibility of interdependence between certain ones. To really deal with being different from a certain being compared to every other determinate means having to finally recognize that one is the other – or rather that the other is the other being on part of the ‘one’.

Regarding that, we get an extraordinary possibility of developing a Leibnizian monadology – according to which our universe is made of monads, each perfectly indivisible, yet inclusive of the whole of the universe. Each one alone, without doors or windows, infinite – that is, to comprehend everything in itself, while remaining perfectly identical to itself in this or that ‘determination’, therefore at the same time non-composed, and in that sense indeed perfectly “spiritual”, valuable as the place of the perfect recognising of identity and difference. In fact, identity and difference are really ‘the same’ in it. In short, every real one is just as we are; what are we, if not ever ‘the same’, in these or those determinations? In these or those feelings of ours, in these or those actions of ours? In these or those manifestations of ours? Yes, always, to the point that we absolutely cannot conceive those actions as simply ‘related’ or related to those feelings of fears of ours. A broken ego, highlighted by the twentieth-century thoughts, does not in any way corroborate any tragic decomposition and deflagration of the unity of ego; it rather proves once and for all that only in our absolute being there is always something else from us – that we are really ourselves. Where, on the other hand, could we recognize that we are still ourselves, if not where we are different from what we were before that recognition? Therefore, only those who thought they have could identify themselves with this or that determinateness could feeling lost; never, however, who knows how to face a sense of ‘negative’ so that ‘through it’ no longer has to be felt transported ‘elsewhere’, in an ‘outside’ which actually never existed.

  1. E. Severino, Tautotes, Adelphi, Milano 1995.
  2. M. Donà, L’aporia del fondamento, Mimesis, Milano-Udine 2008.
  3. M. Donà, Sull’Assoluto: per una reinterpretazione dell’idealismo hegeliano, Einaudi, Torino 1992.

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