Monday, December 18, 2006

Post-Thalesian Thinking:
A Preface to Four Papers on the Effect of Consciousness

Thales is the first philosopher of ancient Greece. Greece, the center of every modernism. And yet, like most centers, this is no geographical place. Greece is the center of thinking for many a foreign land. For the thinking of such men as Thales has far outstretched the sword of Alexander. And you don’t have to know who Thales is to already have been affected by his thinking.

On the border of crossing from legend into history lived a man whose wit and practical scholarship won him eternal fame as one of the Seven Wise Men. The stories about him are true, if truth is measured on the scales of memorability and usefulness. It is said that his contemporaries wished to honor the wisest among them with a sacred tripod. But when they presented it to Thales, he declined the honor. Thales did not call himself a philosopher and did not consider himself to be wise. He conferred the honor, instead, on another of the Wise Men. This act of deference seems to have caught on, for each of the Seven received the honor in turn until it was returned to Thales again. Then Thales deposited the tripod at the shrine of the god. This attitude seems to have worked its way very deeply into the consciousness of Socrates, who, likewise, declined the honors of wisdom, saying that his wisdom rested in knowing that he was not wise. And this story, too, illustrates the way that an idea moves from one person, from one generation to another: It is not that Thales told the other wise men what they should do with the tripod; it is rather that his actions have become exemplary of wisdom. Calling Thales the ‘first philosopher’ is not to accurately reflect what he said about himself; it is to honor retrospectively the effect he has had on the history of thought.

What is intriguing about Thales as a first-philosopher is that his thinking has been all but forgotten. In this sense, attention to Thales’ thinking is inherently postmodern; it does not recover, but belongs to the forgetfulness of Thalesian thinking. I can present no contemporary, postmodern interpretation of Thales because he has ceased to be an important thinker for us. Given the fact that he is the founder of both philosophy and science in the West, it is surprising that there is so little contemporary scholarship devoted to him. Long ago we have removed our first-philosopher to the margins of the tradition he initiated. Even in the history of philosophy Thales plays a minor role; the best I can do in the postmodern era will be to demonstrate why the origin, the center will necessarily have to have been de-centered. Thus, I have not tried to make Lyotard and Butler speak about Thales. As far as I know, neither of them has ever so much as mentioned him in their numerous books.

i. Aristotle

Our primary source for Thales studies is Aristotle. He discusses Thales a total of seven times in five of his works that are extant. This is scanty enough, and yet even here we do not really know—because we don’t have any original text by Thales or even know what resources Aristotle had available to him—we don’t know to what extent Aristotle has accurately represented Thales’ views, and to what extent he has misunderstood him or made an easy whipping post out of him. It is my basic contention that this question is not only unanswerable, but also unhelpful. The point is that something called Thales has had an effect in Aristotle’s thinking. If we pay attention to this effect we have an authentic philosophical moment—Aristotle’s Thales—whether or not we have an historically accurate account. It is best not to push a source for precisely what it does not offer. And I imagine that Aristotle must have had similar dilemmas about the more fabulous reports of a classical sage who had been dead for two centuries. That his sources were obscure and mythological has not prevented what he knew (and what he doubted) about Thales from having an effect on his thinking.

But, besides mere deficiency, there are (also and more important) internal reasons for focusing on the effect of Thales’ thinking. The first is the fragmentary character of presocratic thinking generally and of Thales in particular. In the Protagoras, Plato lists Thales among the Seven Wise Men of Greece and identifies their ‘distinctive kind of…wisdom’ as ‘pithy, memorable sayings.’

[T]alk with him for a while. At first you will find he can barely hold up his end of the conversation, but at some point he will pick his spot with deadly skill and shoot back a terse remark you’ll never forget…[T]he characteristic style of ancient philosophy was laconic brevity (Plato, Protagoras 342d-343c).

The fragmentary character of presocratic thinking is not primarily the result of incomplete texts. ‘Laconic brevity’ is an intentional technique; that we ‘never forget’ is the principle objective of practical, wise counsel. This is different from the ethos of modern philosophy, to convince. The ancients were not primarily trying to be convincing. In fact, they demonstrate a remarkable eagerness to say incredulous things. Their objective is both more modest and more important than simply securing our agreement. They want to effect the way we think. A pithy, memorable quote has a way of accompanying our reasoning, tripping us up when it is contradicted. In this way, ancient thought is postmodern in character. To take a representative postmodern thinker almost at random, Walter Benjamin says, “Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out, armed, and relieve the idle stroller of his convictions.” This ‘accompanying’ of reason is taken up in the dialogical method of Plato. Modernism represents the habit of mind which runs exactly opposite what Plato describes here—the capacity to convince, to proffer an extended argument. But notice that even this ‘opposite,’ as represented paradigmatically by the Kritik of Immanuel Kant, proffers only a ‘discipline,’ a heuristic device for reason. What I have identified as Thalesian, then, runs throughout the entire tradition of philosophy.

The second reason for focusing on the effect of Thales’ thinking rather than the content is the content itself. It is not only that Thales presents what he has to say in fragmentary form; it is also that what he says patently calls for an interpretation rather than representing one. It is my contention that Earth rests on Water neither explains nor was intended to explain the cosmos. Aristotle recognizes this first point and proceeds to offer on his own what the second point calls for: he develops a cosmology. This, however, is not a scientific thesis. Neither is it a thesis on Aristotle, but on Thales. So I leave the explanation of the cosmos to Aristotle and the scientists he inspires. What I am interested in is the way philosophical speech affects understanding. When I say something that doesn’t immediately make sense, it calls for its hearers to either understand or reject it. The dual responsibility of philosophy is to so phrase its questions that subsequent thinkers will neither reject them nor ignore salient ingredients necessary for the explanation. Thales does not explain what the universe is like; he tells us that there is in it a necessary connection (rest) between what is solid (Earth) and what is fluid (Water). Explain this necessary connection (jusiV) and you will have a cosmology. In this sense, it is not inappropriate to call Thales a first-scientist. Not, primarily, because of his interesting scientific advancements; he is a natural philosopher in that he helps us to philosophize about nature.

ii. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Hegel is a modern, German philosopher. But his significance for modern thought stems largely from his acclimatization to ancient Greek thought. Not, however, in the sense that he knew the Greeks very well (though, of course, he did and is an excellent teacher of Greek thought), but in the sense that he brought the Greeks to Germany. He does not just teach us what the Greeks thought; he teaches us to think greekly.

These first two chapters are closely connected in that they deal with the ‘problem’ of translation. As Thales translated Egyptian thought into Greek, Aristotle translated the thought of Thales into a metaphysics, Hegel translated both into German idealism. In this tradition of philosophy, thinking is translating. Hegel calls it ‘making yourself at home.’

When philosophy makes itself at home, it is not as though it is unaware of the criticisms of anachronism, mistranslation, philological and exegetical error. It is rather that these criticisms are not to the point. Aristotle knew very well the exterior criterion he was applying to his ‘materialists;’ his anachronism, however, becomes a lever, an external fulcrum point, for the exercise (use) of thinking. The philosopher is not sloppy, but neither is she primarily concerned with historical accuracy. Philosophy is living thought.

We can imagine Thales’ disgruntlement with the Thracian girl’s laughter, because, even if he did fall into the pit (which I have argued he probably did not), can’t she see that whatever he must have been thinking about in order to be so distracted must have been really quite interesting? Hasn’t she had thoughts that were so intriguing that she forgot to stir the soup? If she hasn’t, then how very sad for her. But surely she has. And the demand to continually force her thought down to the merely-practical is hardly a movement of wisdom. Wisdom is precisely concerned with practical import (Thales’ study of the stars made him rich), but it makes sense of the concrete by way of an abstraction. This is not untoward or particularly ‘philosophical;’ we do the same thing when we decide whose soup to stir on the basis of a romantic infatuation. That a few pots of stew are scalded in the dreaminess of young love is hardly lamentable.

What we discover in the first-scientist is that our situation becomes constitutive of our observation. This is not a new discovery of modern science, nor is it particularly ‘subjectivist.’ It is what Thales discovered when he learned that he could better observe the stars if he limited his horizon with the walls of a well. The modern telescope is a better instrument, but it serves basically the same purpose of delimiting our field of observation. Perspectivity, again, is like a fulcrum point outside the situation which enables us to manipulate the situation itself. In this way, it belongs to the situation.

Of course, this is the import of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The knowing subject begins with concrete experience of the object. In order to grasp it, however, it puts the experience in the form of a proposition. For example, ‘Now it is night.’ This is a trivial example, but the point is to emphasize the concrete nature of our experience. And what happens to even the most trivial of propositions is that it goes stale. In the morning our proposition is no longer true—when what we would like is absolute knowledge. How can we formulate a proposition with the same absoluteness as we have in experience? The answer, simply put, is that we begin to pay attention to the experiencing consciousness itself. We become self-conscious. And here we face the same charge of exegetical error that inevitably occurs with any translation. We began with an investigation of experience, of things in-themselves. How does self-consciousness answer to the question of what I am experiencing? The answer is the nature of the Absolute. As Absolute, experience incorporates (the image is of particles dissolved in a solution) both the subject and the object; both take place within the Absolute. In fact, what happens in the event of knowing is that the subject and the object enter into a dialectical relationship with one another, each affected by the other. This is a genuine event, ‘something that happens to us’ (Gadamer), because, in it, both the subject and the object are changed. My belonging to the situation of understanding becomes constitutive of the understanding derived from it, as salt constitutes the taste of saltwater.

The best example of this comes from Thales. In order to measure the distance from the shore to a ship at sea, he first takes up a determinate position with regard to the shore. This position (the observer’s perspective), and not the actual water separating him from the boat, becomes constitutive for the answer to his question. Mapping out ‘similar’ triangles on the shore and on water, he is able to measure the distance from the shore to the ship by measuring the corresponding length on land.

iii. Jean-Francois Lyotard

Aristotle calls Thales a ‘materialist,’ meaning that he proposed a material substance for the basic principle of being. He criticizes this because matter cannot account for change. Wood does not cause itself to be burnt or to be built into a house. It has the potential for both within itself, but how does one potentiality and not another come to be actualized? We might think that Aristotle has already dismissed Thales from the discussion, but he quotes him at this point to say that the soul is the cause of movement. The soul, then, is the agent which actualizes the potential of matter. Why does timber become a house? Because an ensouled agent ‘causes it to move.’

But how does a soul, in the first place, decide which potential to actualize? When to build a house and when to burn a fire? Aristotle says that the soul is the cause of both movement and discernment, and he cites Thales as an authority to do so. Agency is introduced here as a dynamic principle, and there is a strong sense in which the remaining two chapters of this thesis are devoted to the question of agency. For agency is not described as the power of an ensouled being over a world of preconstituted objects. Rather, Aristotle says that the soul (or mind) is nothing until it is acted upon by the object of perception. (In the Butler chapter this theme is developed under the rubric of subjectivation or interpellation; the human subject is spoken into being.) But this chronology, too, is a way of speaking; for the soul is the principle of both movement and discernment. The ‘object’ of perception and the ‘subject’ that perceives must simultaneously enact one another, for previous to this enactment they do not exist. Or, better, they exist only as potential to be enacted.

The point is that something happens. ‘We’ do not understand the ‘object.’ The subject and the object belong to an encounter. As Gadamer says, ‘Understanding or its failure is like an event/process that happens to us.’ This, of course, is the same process as was described by Hegel above in which the subject and object are mutually determined by one another in the Absolute. But it belongs paradigmatically to Thalesian thinking.

There is another story told of Thales, that when the army of Croesus could not cross over the river Halys, Thales went upstream and diverted the river with a deep semicircular trench so that the two halves of the river on both sides of the army could now be forded. What this story portrays is not so much an engineering genius as it does the belongingness of the thinking self to the situation we are trying to understand. Our understanding belongs to the situation as much as the river does—and has as much of an effect as any ‘material’ object. The army can cross the river because both river and army belong to the same situation. Part of the same cosmos, they effect one another and their situation is comprised of the matrix of these effects.

One of Thales’ most clever sayings is that A stone has a soul. I offer an interpretation of this enigmatic saying that draws heavily from its context in Aristotle’s On the Soul. Thales has in mind the Magnesian stone (or magnet) and says that it has a soul because it causes movement to iron. Remember that Aristotle has said that the soul is the cause of both movement and discernment. And the movement of iron is a kind of discernment in that magnetism affects only metal objects and not just anything. But the import of Thales’ saying is to put thinking in-the-world, because a stone represents the most inanimate object possible. Thales implies that our thinking belongs to the world of the stone as much as the stone is ‘captured’ in the world of our thinking. Again, the world of the stone and of the mind is a solution which ‘dissolves’ both mind and object.

Thales goes on to say that Everything is full of gods. The epigraph of my Lyotard chapter pairs this saying together with Lyotard’s Every experience gives rise to a divinity. And the symmetry between Thales’ and Lyotard’s thinking is far from superficial. They are separated by more than 2500 years, and there is no indication of direct influence, but the effect of consciousness is the central theme of both philosophers.

Lyotard emphasizes the incommensurability of the event; there is no necessary connection between one event and another because there is no necessary connection between an event and its interpretation. It is not only that people can choose to interpret the same event in different ways, but that during the time of the happening the outcome is suspended. The event cannot be understood as it happens, but calls for ‘indeterminate judgment.’ (Notice that this is the same process that I have described for the interpretation of an obscure aphorism; like an aphorism, the event does not represent but calls for interpretation.) When Lyotard and Thales comment on the pervasive multiplicity of gods throughout the world, the effect is to call for independent interpretations of each happening. That something has its own deity means that it has its own principle and is not passive, not predetermined. That the loadstone or magnet obeys the laws of physics hardly negates the fact that its nature is very different from other objects. The event, too, is characteristically unique. (Bakhtin’s apt term is once-occurent.) I offer the events of 9/11 as paradigmatic for the structure of an event: it is not only that there is no anticipation for the image of a passenger jet crashing into a building in downtown New York on network news; it is also that the event hardly offers a way forward. Again, it does not bring with it an interpretation that helps us to make sense out of other events. It is as though it comprises its own universe, a place different from the world of my daily existence.

But the fact is that the events of history do not belong to history like hammers in a box. They belong to history by continuing to make history. Thus, for all their uniqueness, the events of 9/11, for example, continue to shape the way we live our daily lives. The events themselves begin to take on a kind of residue. Lyotard calls it a ‘figure.’ There is something more than mere happening in the events of history. The events of 9/11 are historical, not in that they happened once, but in that they have an effect. They keep happening—on television, in other countries, again.

The event necessitates a response, to be sure; but what response is an open question. Lyotard says that philosophy is one response, terrorism is another. And of course there are other responses. But the necessity of an interpretation, whatever it will be, is the effect of multiplicity; ensuing events will demand that we have already dispensed with what has gone before. Lyotard describes this as the relationship between a phrase and a genre. A phrase comes along; things happen. But, that other things will happen means that the current phrase will have to have been linked onto. The discourse that subsumes the current phrase is called a genre. The phrase itself is neutral; it could belong to any number of genres, as the same event will be referred to in the speeches of opposing parties. But that the phrase will be surpassed, subsumed is necessary. Again, other things will happen and will draw on the current phrase for legitimation. Certain forms of legitimation—whether for political expediency, scientific explanatory power, aesthetic pleasure, or for whatever purpose—certain legitimations become almost incontrovertible. History hardens into a mould; whether the history of a nation, an economy or of an individual, it takes on a particular character because of the interpretations events receive.

iv. Judith Butler

There is a strong sense in which Aristotle’s discussion, in the Nicomachean Ethics, of the subject who makes herself who she is through the actions she performs is a development of his theory of the potentiality of the soul. But before I embark on a reading of the Ethics, under the direction of Judith Butler, I look at the ‘double bind’ of agency in Sophocles’ Oedipus cycle. How does a prophecy come true? Is it spoken into being? Does the god tell us in advance so we know what is coming? Or is it enacted in the telling? What is the role of our actions in fulfilling the prophecy of the gods? Does a person’s character or divine whim constitute their fate? These are ancient questions, but what makes Sophocles’ wrestlings with them productive for Butler is that he uses gender and political relations as analogues for the conflict of gods and [wo]men. Gender and political relations, in Sophocles, are not received, fixed formulations. They are enacted or, perhaps better, exacted at the expense of the other. The king rules, not because he is king, but because subjects obey. Women are domesticated, not because of a natural station in life, but because men dominate. And men enact their masculinity by domesticating others.

But in this situation of indeterminacy Butler finds the potential for a ‘promiscuous obedience.’ Antigone challenges all these norms of behavior, opening up the possibility of plasticity in gender and political relations.

For Butler—as perhaps for Sophocles before her—gender is not primarily binary. We do not choose between ‘men’ and ‘women’ as models for how to wear our sex. It is not that we don’t have role models, but our models are many. A better image is that of drag: When gender is impersonated on the stage it points out the impersonation that gender is. Literally, to enact a gender is to be im-person-ated. The ‘subject’ does not choose a ‘gender’ to enact, but in performing, improvising a gender, is subject-ed.

Butler draws heavily on what she calls the ‘emergent,’ ‘ek-static’ subject of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel’s subject is that which would know itself. But, far from introspection, what this calls for is a projection of the self through work. In work, the subject projects from itself what is important to it, for examination. But in examining what it projects beyond itself (‘work’ here does not primarily have the sense of an accomplished project, but of an object of desire), the subject becomes self-conscious. Butler says, ‘As desire, consciousness is outside itself; and as outside itself, consciousness is self-consciousness.’ Thus, ek-stasis, the beyond, becomes paradigmatic for what the subject is in-itself. There is no former, original self for the subject to return to, but is ever-emergent subjectivation.

One way to characterize this is with Hegel’s phrase Self-consciousness is desire in general. In order for desire—‘desire in general’—to remain desire, in order for consciousness to have some way to behold itself, the object of desire can never be achieved or subsumed. If the object of desire is accomplished, it ceases to be outside of consciousness, it ceases to be desirable. Consciousness, then, ‘enjoys’ the object of desire as desirable—for, in it, it beholds itself. But, as desire, self-consciousness transforms the subject into the object (of desire). Thus, the subject is ever becoming more like itself—where ‘itself’ does not mean what it already is, but what it would like to be.

When Hegel visions the self as a project in this way, he recalls the ethical agent of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. For Aristotle, the subject is neither good nor bad by nature, but, by nature, has the potential for either. The way we actualize a potential—for either Aristotle or Hegel—is through actions, work. Hegel says, ‘In work consciousness becomes what it is in truth.’ Aristotle says,

We acquire virtues just as we acquire crafts, by having previously activated them. For we learn a craft by producing the same product that we must produce when we have learned it. We become builders by building and harpists by playing the harp; in just the same way we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

Now, the problem is that different people define the good in different ways, and according to the actions they perform pursuant of this good, they become. How are we to know what is the right thing to do? It seems to me that Aristotle’s answer to this question is that it is wrong-headed. The ethical question is not What should I do? but Who do I want to become? If you want to become a brave person, habitually do courageous things. If you want to become generous, give. Because our actions not only become habitual, they define what will be pleasurable for us. The truly generous person does not give out of habit or obligation, but because she finds pleasure in giving. For Aristotle, the basic stuff of human nature is plastic in this way, that we become what we do. We are, at least, ‘part-causes’ of our character. Or, again, in the idiom of this thesis, our character is the effect of consciousness.

Jesus was a sage, like Thales, who knew the effect of consciousness for his hearers. We misunderstand the parables if we read them as enigmatic statements of a truth that needs to be uncovered by rigorous hermeneutical technique. For Jesus, faith was a miracle that unlocked the miraculous. And listening to him is more than walking a tightrope between fidelity to the text and contextualizing it to modern situations. Jesus’ sayings are effective when they initiate faith in their hearers. This ‘result’ is as much a part of the event of understanding as a proper interpretation. The sermon says that to hear is to obey; or, in Kantian terms, the unity of perception and the object is a practical principle.

My thesis concludes with a long section on a passage from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus asks a paralytic if he wants to get well. There is a sense in which the rabbi’s healing power is dependent on our complicity. I read this story as an instance, along with Sophocles, Aristotle, Hegel, and Butler (but primarily Butler), of the effectivity of consciousness for the formation of character.

For Butler, a subject only remains a subject by repeating its act of subjectivation. That is, we not only become, but also remain who we are by a performance of the self. What is important to remember about a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years is that he has reiterated this identity many times. More than that, he has been placed, in the strong sense of ‘put in his place,’ at the pool of Bethesda—a place for cripples, and for crippling. There have been plenty of opportunities for others to affirm his deep suspicion that he is not only physically handicapped, but somehow incomplete as a person. When Jesus asks him if he wants to be well, he invites him to iterate his identity one more time—this time in another direction. It is not a simple question. He might just as well have asked him, as he is about to do, to pick up his bed and walk. The man can no more vision himself healed than he can move himself toward the pool when the angel comes down to stir the water: A history of phrases, to recall Lyotard’s contribution to this discussion, has taken on a figure, a residue as crippling as any physical ailment. He is bound body and soul.

But every reiteration is vulnerable to error; every time you re-use a mould to return a subject/object to its ‘original’ shape, the mould is liable to breakage. That subjectivation has to be repeated means that it is still, always plastic. Something can always happen. And actions form character. And character destiny.

Here it is helpful to say something about the use of words because it helps to characterize what happens when someone is called a name. Words do not do what they are told. Hegel says enigmatically that ‘We learn by experience that we meant something other than we meant to mean.’ Lyotard says, ‘Words do as they please.’ Butler says, ‘The speech act says more, or says differently, than it means to say.’ The point is that a name can be lifted from its context and used to mean something entirely different. Butler’s good example is the repetition of hate speech in a court of law: what was initially voiced to effect fear and prejudice can be reiterated to convict and liberate. Reiteration is inevitable; to what purpose is yet to be determined. That a phrase has previously been colonized to one particular genre does not mean that it will always, necessarily serve the same purposes every time it is iterated.

And in this case, Jesus takes up this man’s identity to remold it. He heals the man. But the question Do you want to be healed? persists as a new form of identity to be reiterated. He knows how to answer to the name ‘cripple.’ But does he want to answer to the name ‘the man who Jesus healed’?

The story ends ambiguously, almost as if the question were to persist to us. The authorities question the man about his healing because it breaks the Sabbath laws. He doesn’t know how to answer because he doesn’t even know who Jesus is. When he tells the authorities that it was the man who healed him who told him to carry his mat, is this giving praise for a miracle clearly authorized by the God who alone can heal? Or is it an early sign that our man is not yet ready to bear his identity in himself? Does he point to Jesus to honor him or to exonerate himself? Jesus’ warning to him is ominous: ‘Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ There is a crippling more basic than physical paralysis, a prison more confining than the body. The effect of our consciousness is as basic to our situation as any physical attribute.


This thesis proceeds on the premise of historicism, that Thales’ thinking has an effect within the history of philosophy which is more basic than the interpretation of a physical body of texts. His thinking belongs to the history of thought in the same way that a body belongs to a soul: not because it is ‘there’ and the ‘mind’ apprehends it, but because it has an effect on it. The image is that of a germ or a seed. A seed is properly effective, not as a seed, but when all traces of the seed itself are long decomposed in the moist shadow of its progeny. Thus, the actuality or effect of Thales’ thinking is nothing other than the history of philosophy. In the same way that a tree is present as potential within its seed, the tradition is not explicit in the fragments of thought we have from Thales. However, it is no more untoward to draw on Aristotle, Hegel, Lyotard and Butler to explicate Thalesian thinking that it is to identify a seed by the branches, leaves and fruit it produces. It is not only that each is contained in the seed as potential, but also that these things again become ‘seed.’ Thalesian, philosophical thinking is thinking that has an effect.

Thales does not belong to the history of philosophy in the way of a first chapter which should be read in order to understand what follows. As a chapter in the history of philosophy, the pages that are designated for the ‘first philosopher’ are blank until they are (re)written by those who come ‘after.’ The privilege of Thales’ position (for not having left a written text) is to have made this retroactive character of philosophical thinking explicit. It is literally true that we have no record of Thales’ thinking except as it affected other thinkers. The belonging of thinking to the world is made explicit in not having a written text to return to for what he ‘originally’ thought. ‘Originary,’ in thinking, means that which has an effect.

To pay attention to the effect of Thalesian thinking, then, is not to follow his original thought through the history of its interpretation. This for two reasons: first, there is no original, but a matrix of effects; and, second, what Thalesian thinking is only becomes explicit in its effect on other thinking. This thesis, then, does not try to extract Thales’ thinking from the history of philosophy, but to demonstrate its essential belonging there. The thinkers juxtaposed in each chapter are not presented in separation from one another, but in their belonging together. It is not that Aristotle, for example, has to be dispensed with in order properly to understand what Thales said prior to Aristotle’s (mis)interpretation of him. Likewise, the chapter on Lyotard does not discuss Lyotard in the light of Thales and Aristotle, but situates all three within the tradition which intervenes. We have to grasp their unitary effect (Wirkungseinheit) if we are to encounter authentic philosophical thinking; unless Thales’ thinking comes to have an effect on the way we think we have not, in the first place, understood his work. Once again, it is neither the case that Thales has had an effect on Aristotle, Hegel, Lyotard, and Butler; nor that they have affected our understanding of Thales. Both of these statements are true, but what is philosophical about this thesis is that it visions these effects together.