Teknema 5 / "Energy and Chance"/ Fall 1999

"Tekhné is Fond of Túkhé, and Túkhé of Tekhné"
Energy and Aristotle’s Ontology

Suhail Malik

Energy is today the irreducible fundament of scientific, technical, social, economic and psychic discourses and practices in so far as these domains, amongst others, claim to describe, modify, organize and distribute energy as a quantitatively and qualitatively primary reality. Reality so determined is, for example, natural (for the technosciences), technico-symbolic (for the socio-economic) or psycho-corporeal (for the Geistlich). In this multiple but unified sense, energy is our irreducible "actuality." What is however unquestioned by such an assumption is not just the naturalization of the concept and word "energy" but also the naturalization of the fact of energy. Energy not only takes the explanative and constitutive role of nature (or structure) but, like nature, it is moreover that explanation and constitution. In its irreducibility, energetics is, in a word, a naturalization of reality today.

The "natural" determination and (dynamic) constitution of actuality as an energetics readily characterizes modernity today, especially given the primacy of energy for techno-scientific explanations and operations which are now pervasive and global in their transformative power and efficacies. It would be a fantasmatic regression to deny this currently sedimented sense of energetics, either in its operative power or its explanatory truth. This is not the ambition of the present discussion. Rather, our concern is to reconsider what is involved in the naturalization of the concept of energy as actually and discursively fundamental. Doing so allows the historical transformation of energy and of actuality so comprehended to be seen as a complex rather than simple determination.

The complexification of energy as such1 is not then directed to displaying the conceptual poverty of contemporary energetics (the argument here is not a proto-Heidegerrian one of "energetics does not think the essence of energy"). On the contrary, the historico-conceptual, which is to say critical, complexification of energy is directed towards articulating the conditions and transmutations of actuality in fact and in its historical-conceptual comprehension. It therefore denaturalizes energy. But it is not a complexification that proposes a philosophical, literary or trans-historical conceptual schema as the condition for its denaturalization. Rather, it arises with the modernity with which the concept and term energy is associated. That is, the critical complexification of energy is itself a consequence of the invention of modern technics and its differentiations.

In concrete terms, our argument is that the modern doctrine of energy is correlative with the invention of modern technics, but that it is a residually ontological comprehension of what is invented in modern technics. The naturalization of energy follows from and continues this pre-modern ontological determination. If the critical elaboration of energy also allows other discourses and practices of energy to be elaborated, however, the suggestion here is that even as the modern doctrine of energy perpetuates ontology, energetics nonetheless also proposes a dimension which is irreducible to it. The latter dimension is the indeterminability of modern technics and chance in the domain of matter. If, as will be confirmed, the ontological determination is moreover one that is principally anthropic, the importance of this indeterminability to contemporary concerns is clear. The issue is not only the denaturalization of energy, but also what is in fact invented by modern technics, not as an extension of hominization (which is ontological and common complexion of technics), but as a quasi-material limit to hominization.


The historical and conceptual complexity of energy advocated here is developed by considering the conceptual inheritance of the archaic Greek root energéia (which is coined by Aristotle) in the modern pan-European term energy (which is first used in its current sense in the mid-nineteenth century). This is not a simple historical-philological operation, since we do not propose a direct lineage between the contemporary term and its root. Rather, it is the fate of the concept and actuality of energéia in relation to the modern invention of the word, concept and actuality of energy which is discussed here. That is, the modernity of the term energy (such as it is) is to be made clear by putting it into historical and conceptual relief by comparison with its root.

What is involved and obscured in such historical and philosophical transformations requires a clarification of the earlier sense of energéia. The naturalization of energy (in all senses) is, then, displaced by a reconstruction of Aristotle’s argument through which the term first comes to be philosophically and scientifically articulated. Most of the following discussion is devoted to this re-construction, partly because the argument is intricate anyway, and partly because the standard interpretations and translations of Aristotle’s ontology of energéia (commonly rendered as "actuality") remove it from what is at issue here. In other words, the reconstruction proposed here is a primary interpretation in the light of the realization of modern technics. Accordingly, the standard translations of Aristotle’s texts have in general been modified so as to avoid the philosophical and historical conventions assumed by them. In order not to overforce the most adequate translations, key Greek terms—phúsis, poiésis, tekhné, energéia, dúnamis and kinésis—are left untranslated unless the phrasing is otherwise too unwieldy. Their sense is given through contextual discussion or provisional translations.


Though energéia is often discussed by Aristotle, the most fully developed exposition of it in the extant works is in Metaphysics Book IX. Aristotle’s initial statement is direct: "the provenance of energéia is action (pragma)" (1048a31). "Provenance" here is a nonstandard translation of húparkhéin. It is adopted here since it conveys the two senses held together by the Greek stem arkhé: an origin as well as the principle or commanding authority over that to which it is the origin. Even this initial statement on energéia puts it close to the contemporary sense of energy in that it is correlative to action and activity. However, energéia cannot be directly identified with the sedimented sense of energy since, contrary to what Aristotle says, energy is today rather the condition or "provenance" of activity.

To see what is involved in this inversion, the relation Aristotle draws up between the provenance and the "process" of action needs to be fleshed out. Aristotle remarks that

any action (praxéon) that has a limit is not a purpose (telos). Rather, they are for a purpose, such as slimming. The one slimming is in this sort of kinésis [Irwin & Fine: "process," "moving"] in that they do not bear the provenant being (húparkhonta) that is the purpose of the kinésis [namely, being slim]. And, since it is not a purpose, it is not an action or at least not one that is ended. The provenance (enhúparkhé) of acting, however, has the purpose in it. (1048b18-23)

Action as the provenance of energéia is also the purpose of energéia. Such is the inherent purposiveness of acting. So determined, it is clear that energéia is not then an action as such but is rather only the genésis, the coming to be, of (an) action.

It follows that the translation of energéia as "actuality" or "existence," which is the standard philosophical rendition of the term, is wholly inadequate if not implausible unless "actuality" were to mean the complex articulation of the kinésis of a coming to be. But the conventional translation misses, if it does not wholly undermine, the importance of the term for Aristotle in that it proposes energéia as a purpose rather than a purposive coming to be.

But if energéia is the coming to be of an action, then for Aristotle energéia is purposive since "all coming to be proceeds to its provenance (arkhé), that is, its purpose (for the provenance is the ‘for the sake of’ (henéka) and coming to be (genésis) is for the sake of the purpose)" (1050a7-9). In Metaphysics Book VII Aristotle describes these conditions as, respectively, the "whereof" and "whereto" of a coming to be (1032a13-14), both of which are in (an) action. Hence, whilst action, praxis, is the provenance and the limit of energéia, it is also the case that praxis is that to which and from which coming to be, genésis, comes to be.

The contextual sense of energéia is developed further in Aristotle’s discussion of how beings (ontos) are spoken of and accounted for in a "primary way," namely as ousia, being or substance. In this ontology, energéia is differentiated from dúnamis:

as [the one who is] building is to the one who can build, and as being awake is to sleep, and as seeing is to that which has its eyes shut but has sight, and as that which is cleaved out of matter (húlé ["stuff," "wood"]) is to matter, and as the worked-up is to the unworked (anergaston), from this distinction let energéia be lain and demarcated to the first side and dúnamis to the other. (1048a38-b6)

Aristotle further stresses that energéia and dúnamis can only be demarcated analogically since they have no stable or self-subsistent meaning or being but are only relative assignations of being. Given this, the latter two analogies here explicitly indicate that energéia can be demarcated from dúnamis by activity of work (ergon). In this case, energéia is the dúnamis which has been or is being worked over, acted on, or active.

The importance of this distinction to the modern comprehensions of energy is then clearer. For if "being" speaks of action for Aristotle, then it no less speaks of a work—and energéia is the coming to be and kinésis of that work (1047a30-32). It is the coming to be of (a) being qua (a) work.2 Work, or a work, is the purpose of a coming to be and the term energéia itself suggests this purposiveness in that it "speaks from the [word] ergon and is directed by the in-having-purpose (entelekhéia)" (1050a2).3

The ontological meaning of energéia is therefore resituated as an inquiry into the work of coming to be. And this is directly the central issue of energy in its modern sense as the capacity to do work (of one sort or another). This re-articulation therefore facilitates a direct comparison of ontological concerns with energy in its modern sense.4


To see what this comparative insight could yield in concrete terms, the sense of energéia as a coming to be has to be filled out more. The work of a coming to be is however not simple or unified for Aristotle in that, as stated in Metaphysics Book VII, there are three sorts of coming to be: "of that which is a coming to be, some come to be by phús[is], some by tekhné and some spontaneously (tautomáton [Irwin & Fine: "by chance"])" (1032a12-13). In any case, Aristotle is clear as to the common feature of "all that comes to be." Whether it does so "by phúsis or tekhné, [it] has matter (húlé)" (1032a20). Matter is a pre-requisite for coming to be in that, for Aristotle, "[t]he dúnaton for both being and not being of each of these [ways of coming to be] is the matter in each of them" (1032a20-22). That is, in contrast to the eternal being or not-being, what comes to be could either be or not be and, following the conditionality proposed in Plato’s Timæus, such beings are characterized by matter. This pre-requisite suggests that the coming to be of (a) work is always a kinésis of matter. Or, in abbreviated terms, energéia is a hylokinésis.

This formulation will be crucial for determining what is involved in the historical and conceptual mutation between energéia in Aristotle’s ontology and contemporary energetics. What is important here is Aristotle’s well-known and central demarcation between phúsis and poiésis. These two ways of coming to be are distinguished by the relation between the provenance of a coming to be and its limit, between its "wherefrom" and its "whereto." Briefly, the provenance and purpose of coming to be by phúsis are the same in being whilst for poiésis they are not. Since the provenance and purpose of energéia is/are action(s), it follows that (an) action comes to be by phúsis. Whence this initial determination: energéia is the phúsis of action.

The relevance of the distinction between phúsis and poiésis to base assumptions in contemporary energetics is then clearer: utilizing the standard translation of phúsis as "nature," energéia in Aristotle’s ontology can be connected directly and coherently (via Leibniz’s notion of the vis viva and vis morta) with the modern sense of energy. Energy today is the condition and actuality of action, and can be characterized as the nature of action.5

Such an identification would however be peremptory, and not only because it presumes the adequacy of lexically and conceptually rendering phúsis as "nature." It is also premature in that it covers over what is advanced but problematic in the deduction. The difficulty here is that though the two could be identified as they have been, the provenance, purpose and coming to be of phúsis is action whilst the purposiveness of energéia is towards (an) action which is not itself the energéia of a coming to be. That is, the purpose of phúsis is internal to it (it is endotelic) whilst the purpose of energéia is external to it (it is exotelic). This discrepancy blocks their direct identification and prevents connecting Aristotle’s ontology to contemporary energetics in the way suggested, since the purposiveness of coming to be of action is in fact self-inconsistent, as then is the account of coming to be of action by phúsis.

What is at issue in this teleonomic inconsistency is the coherence of Aristotle’s (and subsequent) ontology and modern energetics. The internal inconsistency of the ontology of action would put it at odds with the coherence of its modern scientific comprehension. The consistency of the account (logic) and being of energy is formulated in its modern doctrine by its thermodynamic "nature." However, the continuity between ontology and the modern doctrine of energy, and the establishment of how the thermodynamic determination of energy perpetuates an ontological comprehension of energéia, itself follows from the self-consistency of ontology. The following discussion is therefore devoted mainly to how Aristotle attempts to recover the integrity of the category of coming to be. It proceeds in three stages: after showing how despite the self-inconsistency just noted coming to be by phúsis is in fact coherent in account and in its being, and across these two registers as an onto-logy, it is then shown how coming to be by poiésis too is comparable if not directly congruent with phúsis for Aristotle. This second point is crucial for Aristotle in that the unity and integrity of the categories of coming to be and energéia can then be maintained as a whole. The third and closing moment turns to the consequences of the historical-technical mutation of coming to be on the onto-logical comprehension of the energéia-dúnamis couplet. From this, it is shown how and why modern and contemporary realizations of coming to be dis-integrate the onto-logical comprehension of coming to be. This suggests a sense of coming to be and energéia which is irreducible to being and onto-logy but which is determined rather by matter and time. It is then proposed that energy in fact involves this latter "dimension" which surpasses (or, equally, is precluded by) any principally anthropic initiative, such as its reduction to its modern doctrine (thermodynamics) or to being.


To return then to the problematic inconsistency in the brief deduction of phúsis above. The incoherence at issue here follows from the assertion that the provenance and purpose for coming to be by phúsis are the same in being. This however says little as to the "sameness" involved here. Consequently, it says little as to what is involved in the being of coming to be by phúsis and, with that, its purposiveness. Clarification on this "sameness" is central to rendering the account of energéia as a phúsis self-consistent. It is elaborated by Aristotle’s remark that

in general, that to which and that out of which [beings come to be] is phúsis, and that according to which [beings come to be] is phúsis (for the one which comes to be has a phúsi[s], for example, that which grows [or, "a plant"] or an [animal] life [zoion]), and under [the two] is phúsis which is spoken about as the "look (eidos)." [That to which beings come to be by phúsis] is the same in look (homoeidés) [as that out of which they come to be] but in another, as the human comes to be from a human. (1032a22-25)

That is, the being which is the purpose of a coming to be may not be the particular or individual being which is its provenance. The "sameness in being" in the coming to be between the two, in and of (their) phúsis, is only that of their look (eidos). The distinction here is clarified by taking up Aristotle’s example: the parent and the child are of the one genus in that they are the "same in look." In this register, the provenance of the coming to be, the parent, is the same as its purpose, the child. In this respect the coming to be is endotelic; it is phúsis. In the register of the coming to be of the individual material being, however, the one that comes to be (the child) is another to that from which or whom it comes to be (the parent). Coming to be in this register is exotelic. It is moreover consistent with the observation that energéia is a hylokinésis. In short, a coming to be can in different respects be both endotelic and exotelic.

This dual registration of the one coming to be undoes the inconsistency of energéia and phúsis remarked on above. The two are different aspects of the one kinésis. What this dualization shows, however, is that the action(s) which is/are the provenance and purpose of the energéia are only eidetically the same in being. It is the eidos of action and not the concrete, material action which defines the unity of a coming to be as energéia. This gives a first indication as to how the ontological discussion of energéia is then coherent with the primary quality of energy in its modern thermodynamic formulation. In this doctrine, energy is a quantifiable and mathematizable quality whose convertibility is strictly regulated by ideal laws of conservation.6 That is, both energéia and energy are principally eidetic modes of comprehension.


In order to amplify this point of coherence, together with the leverage it gives on the assumptions of modern energetics, the contradiction thrown up in the account and being of energéia by the dualization of coming to be by phúsis needs to be elaborated. There is a contradiction because even though the discrepancy in the teleonomies of its eidetic and material senses is accounted for in a coherent way, this consistency is gained at the cost of putting energéia into a tension which fractures its unity. As a relative modality of being, energéia is more worked than a dúnamis. In its account, however, the energéia of coming to be by phúsis relative to being and a work is but a dúnamis. The point of contradiction is, then, that energéia is comparatively the dúnamis of being, or a work. The integrity of the term energéia is thereby fractured. Or, at least, this apparently paradoxical formulation—that energéia in one sense is a dúnamis in another—serves to indicate that two senses of energéia, one of its being, the other of its account, are not directly identifiable with one another.

There is, however, no reason in principle why there should be a direct congruence between the being of energéia and the account of that kinésis. Though energéia is a name for the individual-material coming to be of (an) action as a being, the energéia-dúnamis couplet is only a relative discrimination in the account of the modalities of being such that, as Aristotle says, what energéia is (said to be) in one respect could readily be said to be dúnamis in another respect. Nonetheless, the residual problem here is that for Aristotle energéia is an individual-material coming to be, and unequivocally so. At once, however, insofar as energéia is purposive, it is inherently a dúnamis with respect to the being/work which is its purpose. In this way, energéia as a modality of being (ontos) is directly at odds with energéia as a category of the account (logos) of coming to be. The unicity of the term energéia is therefore fractured, if it is not incoherent in its own terms.

The "dis-integration" of energéia is the dis-integration of its onto-logical unity and coherence. Without such a unity, however, Aristotle has no systematically consistent account of individual-material coming to be. There are at least two consequences: firstly, the science of being(s) would only be able to consider being(s) but not coming to be, in which case it reverts to the Platonic ontology which Aristotle is trying to displace precisely through the category of coming to be. Secondly, and more pressingly to the concerns of the present discussion, energéia would be a senseless or fictional category in that it would have no reality apart from its eidetic being and thinking. Energéia would in this case not be an onto-logical category but rather, as noted above, only a (mathematico-)logical eidos and category. Dúnamis would be characterized likewise. In short, if it is onto-logically dis-integrated energéia is but a formalism with respect to the hylokinésis of a coming to be.


But it is clear from the preceding discussion that Aristotle does not propose energéia to be a formal category. Very much to the contrary, the term energéia is introduced and developed by Aristotle precisely so as to elaborate an onto-logy of the individual hylokinésis of coming to be. It is therefore crucial for the systematic rigor of Aristotle’s ontology that energéia be unified in itself. However, as will be seen, although Aristotle recovers the integrity of energéia by subjugating coming to be to an ontology, and though this ontology is re-situated by the modern doctrine of energy, this delimitation has in fact been rendered obsolete by historical-technical conditions. What needs to come into focus, then, is how the dis-integration of energéia is brought into a coherent unity by Aristotle and how the historical realization of this dis-integration leads to a reconsideration of the concept and actuality of tekhné and energy in and beyond its ontological framing.

Aristotle recuperates the integrity of energéia in Metaphysics Book IX, proposing that it "is prior to dúnamis" in three ways: "in account (logoi) and in being; in time, it is not [prior in one way] and [in another way] it is" (1049b10-12). The priority in being and in account have already been discussed. The priority in time "in one way… but not in another" follows a similar argument. Aristotle first remarks that energéia is not prior in time to dúnamis since "[t]he matter, the seed and sight are prior in time to this very man, corn and seeing, that is [each] now a being of energéia" (1049b19-21) and the former, which are "the dúnamei of the man, the corn and the seeing," are "not yet these energéia" (1049b21-23). On the other hand, the energéia of a coming to be is prior in time to the dúnamei since the dúnamei are nonetheless each from an energéia which is prior in time to it:

the [dúnamei] have come to be from beings of energéia that are prior in time. For the beings that are coming to be in energéia from the dúnamei do so from beings in energéia, for example, man from man, musician from musician. (1049b23-26)

As for the being and account of coming to be considered above, the priority in time of energéia over dúnamis can be asserted from the eidos of a coming to be. If however it is the individual, material coming to be that is considered, which is to say energéia as a hylokinésis, then the dúnamis of that coming to be is prior in time to it. The tripartite prioritization of energéia over dúnamis brings the discrepant senses of energéia into unanimity. Moreover, the integration of coming to be is eidetically organized.


The immediate concern here, however, is that the priority in being of energéia over dúnamis is also confirmed for the individual-material coming to be. In this register energéia is a purposive hylokinésis. Following the statement of this teleonomy, Aristotle presents the relation between energéia and dúnamis, remarking that "it is for the purpose of energéia that dúnamis is to be grasped" (1050a9-10). Hence, even as energéia is purposive for an action/work, it is itself the purpose of a dúnamis. And just as action is the provenance and purpose of energéia as its coming to be by phúsis, so energéia is the provenance and purpose of dúnamis. As the purpose of dúnamis in being, energéia is onto-logically prior to it.

It is this teleology internal to the energéia-dúnamis couplet which allows the onto-logy of coming to be by phúsis to be coherently integrated and self-consistently established. Phúsis is a name for the purposive coming to be of the energéia for which the provenance and purpose are the "same in being" as regards their "look." In a word, phúsis is the purposiveness of the purposive energéia, its entelekhéia. And since it is the (eidetic) condition for a coming to be in its unity, phúsis is "for" the purposive individual hylokinésis that is, energéia. With respect to the individual material energéia, phúsis is therefore in the same "genus as dúnamis" (1049b9). As the purpose of phúsis, energéia is "prior" to it in account. Energéia is therefore coherently integrated as an onto-logical term (with respect to coming to be by phúsis, at least).

As much as energéia is brought into an onto-logical integrity by determining that it is the purpose of phúsis, so at once is coming to be by phúsis itself thereby brought into a coherent unity in account and in being. Coming to be by phúsis is then onto-logically consistent in fact and in principle in all respects. Aristotle makes this crucial point for completing the onto-logy of coming to be in remarking that phúsis "is the provenance of that which is [in] kiné[sis] not in another to it but in itself as itself [emphasis added]" (1049b9-10). Phúsis "in itself as itself," phúsis as such, is therefore only an individual material purposive coming to be—which is to say energéia. Phúsis does not manifest itself as the dúnamis of a coming to be, as purposiveness as such, but only as the purposive energéia of that coming to be.7


The eidetic and material registers of coming to be therefore have a coherent unanimity between themselves. But the unanimity here is deeper than that of the coherence between different registers of coming to be since phúsis is not simply an eidetic comprehension of a coming to be but also an individual material coming to be as such. That is, coming to be by phúsis in its unity is both eidetic and material. It is, to abbreviate, a hylo-eidetic coming to be.8

This characterization of phúsis is not that of a "doubling" of coming to be. Rather, phúsis and its energéia are/is hylo-eidetic precisely in the onto-logical unity of such coming to be. This is in strict contrast to the separation if not direct opposition posited between the eidetic and material "aspects" of (a) being or (a) work in their sedimented (at least modern if not Platonic) philosophical comprehension. For the latter, coming to be in its hylo-eidetic unity is at best anomalous and at worst incoherent, or in need of more fundamental underpinning. However, phúsis needs to be considered beyond this dogmatic distinction without contradiction nor as inherently counter-sensical. This re-consideration is required since, despite its incoherence with the modern-rational demarcation in principle between eidetic and material domains,9 the hylo-eidetic unity of coming to be is in fact the operative condition of contemporary (techno)scientific conceptualization and "application." That is, modern science proposes a comprehension of matter which is not just eidetic in its account but also in its characterization of matter itself, a characteristic which is held to belong to the "properties" of whatever domain of matter is under consideration.10 As it is for Aristotle the energéia of phúsis, this hylo-eidetic unity characterizes energy (even beyond the doctrine of thermodynamics). In other words, modern energetics recapitulates the hylo-eidetic unity proposed by Aristotle’s onto-logy of coming to be by phúsis.


Such an identification is however only a formal and partial one. The homogeneity between Aristotle’s onto-logy of energéia and the modern doctrine of energy just proposed says nothing about their incompatibility. The irreducibility of energy to onto-logy, which we now elaborate, suggests a departure from the sedimented modern sense of energy. Establishing this lets it be seen that this doctrine of energy is onto-logically organized and that while it on the one hand forecloses a dimension of energy which is not eidetico-anthropically motivated, it also on the other hand at once depends upon and in fact proposes an indeterminability between coming to be and chance which is ex-anthropic. This latter dimension is occasioned by modern technics. What is at issue in this shift of the conditions of (the comprehension of) energy is the viability of onto-logy for comprehending what is historico-technically inventive about modernity.

The dimension of modern energetics which is irreducible to onto-logy cannot be comprehended on the basis of the energéia of phúsis (nor then thermodynamics) since this is an onto-logically coherent and integrated mode of coming to be. It can however be elaborated on the basis of coming to be by poiésis. In Metaphysics Book VII, Aristotle proposes an initial and crucial discrepancy between phúsis and poiésis. What come to be by poiésis "are all either from tekhné or from a dúnaméos or from thought (dianoias)" (1032a26-28). As for phúsis the dúnaméos here is matter, húlé. But in contrast to the hylo-eidetico unity of phúsis there are not one but two modalities of coming to be by poiésis: thinking and tekhné. These two modalities are neither exclusive nor independent of one another, but are instead unified. Aristotle presents their relation through the example of how health comes to be by poiésis rather than by phúsis:

what is healthy comes into being with the following sort of thought: since this [one] is a healthy one, a healthy being needs to have this provenance (for instance, a uniform condition of the body), and for that, [something else]. And the thinking goes on until it leads to an accomplished state that [the thinker] might fabricate (dúnatai eskhaton poiein). Then the kinésis that follows from now up to having health is called poiésis. (1032b6-9)

As for phúsis, coming to be by poiésis is also purposive. It is this purposiveness which determines what would today be called a genetic relation in poiésis between thinking and tekhné: "thinking is that [coming to be and kinésis] which follows after the provenance and the eidos, [and] poiésis follows after the accomplishment (teleutaíou) of thinking" (1032b15-17). Aristotle can conflate tekhné and poiésis here and elsewhere since the latter is a coming to be which, as such, has matter, and tekhné is the name of the hylokinésis of poiésis.


Brief as this exposition of poiésis may be, it nonetheless proposes something of a complication in the general onto-logy of coming to be. This will lead in turn to the determination of energéia which is not contained by onto-logy and which therefore allows modern energetics to be instead considered in terms compatible with industrial and digital technics. The complication is twofold: firstly, insofar as it is the purposive material coming to be of poiésis, tekhné is comparable to phúsis, as then is poiésis (1033b33-34a8). However, in that it involves thinking,11 poiésis is not comparable to phúsis. The overall compatibility of phúsis and poiésis is then at issue. With that, there is a question as to the overall integrity of the onto-logy of coming to be. Secondly, however, what coherence there is between phúsis and poiésis is not unequivocal. As has been established, coming to be by phúsis is integrated by the eidos which not only unites the beings (einai) that are the "whereof" and "whereto" of that hylokinésis, but which is also the being (ousia) of that coming to be. The point now is that for Aristotle poiésis too is integrated as a coming to be by a provenance which is the "same in look" as the limit/purpose of this sort of coming to be and this eidos is primarily the provenance of thinking in poiésis. The complication at issue here is then the following: in the register an individual material coming to be, it is the tekhné of poiésis which is comparable to phúsis while thinking is not, but in the eidetic register it is on the contrary the thinking of poiésis which is comparable to phúsis and not tekhné.
In terms of the purposive totality of a coming to be there is however no problematic discrepancy between poiésis and phúsis for Aristotle. The overall onto-logy of coming to be can be secured since both are hylo-eidetic modalities and categories of coming to be. Moreover, given the order of their "accomplishments," the eidetic provenance of the thinking involved in coming to be by poiésis is no less also the provenance of its tekhné. Consequently, poiésis is a principally eidetically determined coming to be. It is therefore wholly compatible with phúsis, and the overall category of coming to be is itself coherently determined.


The complication stressed here is not however pitched at the totality of coming to be but rather its unity. This discrepancy—which, for reasons to be seen, could not have been an onto-logical issue for Aristotle since it had no actuality before technical modernity—arises because although both phúsis and poiésis are eidetically integrated categories of coming to be, they are however distinct in the energéia of their respective organizations. Specifically, the energéia of phúsis is a hylo-eidetic kinésis. For poiésis, however, the eidos of the coming to be is in fact separated from the kinésis of matter. That is, coming to be by poiésis has a hylo-eidetic unity in its purposiveness (its totality) but not in its energéia in time.

The crucial distinction here is that the integrating eidos of this mode of coming to be is the provenance of a purposive thinking and then of a tekhné. And since thinking is a kinésis of the psúkhé for Aristotle, it follows that "the eidos of beings that come to be from tekhné is in the psúkhé (where… eidos… say[s] what is to be at the end [einai ekastou] and in its prior being [protén ousian])" (1032a32-b2). In itself, this does not fracture coming to be in its hylo-eidetic unity. The discrepancy between phúsis and poiésis arises rather because the integrating eidos of the latter is "in the psúkhé," and for Aristotle the psúkhé is without matter. It follows that the eidetic provenance of coming to be by poiésis is itself without matter (in contemporary terms, it is an idea).

The complication at issue here in the overall onto-logy of coming to be is then clearer: though all coming to be is "out of matter," and though the purpose of coming to be by poiésis has matter (by definition) nonetheless, and in contrast to coming to be by phúsis, its provenant eidos is itself without matter. Not only is the hylo-eidetic unity of coming to be as such then dis-integrated for poiésis, but the coherence of the category as a whole is itself undone. What is at issue, then, is the ontological integrity and sense of the material coming to be of poiésis as such, which is the energéia Aristotle calls tekhné. Unlike phúsis, this kinésis has no eidetic aspect in and for itself.


It is at this point that the critical discussion of the modern doctrine of energy can be taken up. For the realization of energy in and as its modern (onto-logical) doctrine and in its irreducible departure from that sense is correlative to the way in which tekhné is determined given the complication just raised. That is, what energy is (said to be) depends upon how the material coming to be of poiésis, its energéia, is determined. As indicated, there are two determinations available here. The first, which follows Aristotle’s onto-logy, characterizes the sedimented and received sense of technics and is congruent with the modern doctrine of energy. It is a trans-historical-technical determination. The second follows upon the mutating historical and philosophical comprehensions and fates of energéia and allows them to be further differentiated and articulated. With that, the modern doctrine of energy can be expanded beyond its sedimented comprehension.

(A) If for Aristotle the eidos of coming to be by poiésis is "in the psúkhé," then the onto-logical framing of tekhné requires some elaboration of Aristotle’s discussion of the psúkhé. This is of course most completely presented in Peri Psúkhé. It is sufficient for our concerns to outline the rudiments of this treatise. In its opening lines Aristotle proposes that the psúkhé is the provenance of life (zoé) (402a6-7), confirming later that it is because of the psúkhé that "the living… lives" (413b1-2). In terms now familiar to the present discussion, the provenential relation is determined by a teleonomy: "the psúkhé is the postulate (aitia) and provenance of the living body… in three ways: it is the ‘whereof’ of its kinésis, its ‘for the sake of,’ and the being of the body which is empsúkhon [‘in/of the psúkhé’]" (415b8-11). This last determination means that the psúkhé (and so life) is not just the provenance of life, it is moreover inseparable from a living body. Though the former is matterless and the latter material, there is again no inherent contradiction or countersense to Aristotle’s determination here: the psúkhé and the living body are a hylo-eidetic unity (412b6-9).12 The living body comes to be by phúsis.

It follows from these brief comments that the provenance of poiésis is "in" the provenance of life. More exactly, since the psúkhé is inseparable from a living body, the provenance of coming to be by poiésis is "in" the living body. Life—more precisely, the living body that thinks—is then the provenance of poiésis and, in particular, its material coming to be, tekhné. This condition is re-articulated by Aristotle through the synecdoche of the hand: "the psúkhé is just as the hand is, for the hand is the tool (organon) of tools" (432a1-2). In this way, poiésis is an extension of phúsis.13

Furthermore, since the being of coming to be is determined by its eidos, the exposition of coming to be by poiésis as a principally zóo-eidetic kinésis means that the being (ousia) of a coming to be by poiésis is itself matter-less and not a being (which comes to be and so must have matter):

from out of health comes to be the healthy, from out of house comes to be a house, from out of that without matter comes to be that which has matter. For medicine or housebuilding [bears] the look (eidos) of health or a house, since […] being is beings without matter. (1032b10-14)

What is presented by this genetic, purposive and principally zóo-eidetic condition for poiésis is the now sedimented sense of tekhné as a means to an end. It is a hylokinésis whose purpose is proposed in thought—which is to say life—beforehand. The eidos in life is prior to tekhné in being, in account and in time. Correlatively, the purposiveness (entelekhéia) of poiésis is in the thinking living body. Which is to say, with Aristotle, in and from the human.

A succinct formulation of the purposive unity of poiésis is presented in Nichomachean Ethics Book VI. It clearly proposes the anthropism of poiésis when it is rendered consistent with phúsis on the basis of the inherent purposiveness of any coming to be:

of its own, thought is a kine[sis] of nothing, but [it is a kinésis] "for the sake of" and in activity (praktikès). Such is the provenenace of fabricating (poiétikès [Irwin & Fine: "productive thinking"]), for the poion of every fabricator is "for the sake of" [something], and the absolute [or, "simple"] purpose (telos haplós) is not the fabrication but an action, since the purpose is the best action. […] The provenance of such [a kinésis] is the human. (1139a35-b5)

To be clear: it is on this anthropic condition that: (i) the energéia of both poiésis and phúsis are coherent with each other; (ii) the overall onto-logy of coming to be is secured and unified; and (iii) tekhné is determined as a means to a pre-established end.

(B) Coming to be by poiésis involves a transition from an eidos without matter to a purpose which has matter. It is a kinésis from the living to a non-living/unthinking being. In contrast to coming to be by phúsis in its hylo-eidetic unity, the dúnaton of matter for poiésis can in no way be identified with the eidos of that coming to be since in this case the eidos is without matter. There are accordingly the two modes of coming to be by poiésis, one with matter (tekhné) and the other without (thinking). And in order to maintain the priority of energéia over dúnamis in being and in time, these two modes of poiésis are moreover sequentially organized in the way Aristotle proposes. This sequential organization of poiésis is no less the anthropic conditionality of this category of coming to be, as just noted. That is, the anthropic condition of poiésis is a corollary of the priority of energéia over dúnamis in time.

But, given this requirement and condition, the unity of the hylo-eidetic kinésis of poiésis is in fact fractured. The crucial point here is that since being as such is eidetically comprehended, the dis-integration of coming to be by poiésis is not that of (the category of) its being, of the onto-logy of coming to be by poiésis. It is rather with respect to the dúnaton of matter in time. This latter dimension is then incompatible with the onto-logy by which it is nonetheless eidetically and teleonomically organized and unified. Onto-logy "mends" the hylo-eidetic dis-integration of poiésis in time.14


If, then, poiésis is comprehended not in (its) being, which onto-logy is its sedimented sense, but instead with respect to its kinésis, tekhné can be characterized as follows:

—since tekhné is not the provenance of coming to be by poiésis, it is in itself a hylokinésis without any eidos. That is, tekhné is in itself aneidetic;
—since the purpose and entelekhéia of poiésis are "in the psúkhé," it follows from the dis-integration of the kinésis of poiésis that the hylokinésis of tekhné is in itself without any purpose. That is, tekhné is in itself atelic.

Several important points follow from this dual characterization of tekhné:
a) If for Aristotle all coming to be "proceeds to its provenance, that is, its purpose," it follows from the atelia of tekhné that it is in itself not a coming to be in the strict sense (and genésis would need a better translation).
b) This is coherent with tekhné as an aneidetic kinésis of matter since for Aristotle what comes to be does so precisely in that it is a hylokinésis that has a purpose which is homoeidetic to its provenance. What being and/or coming to be can be attributed to tekhné, and what similarity it has to phúsis, follows only upon its subjugation to poiésis. Or, put in terms of hylokinésis;
c) poiésis onto-logizes tekhné and, with that, matter. It follows directly that the onto-logy of its hylokinésis is at once anthropically determined. Equally, poiésis is the onto-logical name and kinésis for the principally eidetico-anthropic "encounter" with and comprehension of matter.


It can now be seen that the condition for the coherence and self-consistency of Aristotle’s (and subsequent) onto-logy is the eidetico-anthropic determination of tekhné and matter. But, equally, it is tekhné which lets the hylo-eidetic difference be comprehended at all. As much as it is onto-logically specified by the difference between the (eidetic) provenance and (material) purpose of a coming to be by poiésis, this difference can itself only be realized and comprehended as such with the differentiation in time of the hylo-kinésis of tekhné from an eidetic provenance. That is, the hylo-eidetic difference as such is an invention of tekhné.

Furthermore, since the eidos of coming to be is the condition of being (ousia), the hylo-eidetic difference is no less the anterior condition for the ontico-ontological difference. This is however a principally anthropic—which is to say onto-logical—determination of the hylo-eidetic difference. Likewise, the empirico-transcendental difference is the modern determination of the hylo-eidetic difference. It too presumes the dis-integration of the hylo-eidetic unity of coming to be in that it confirms the separation of the eidetic (transcendental) and the material (empirical). In other words, both the ontico-ontological difference and the empirico-transcendental difference are determinations that presume the poietic determination and organization of being and coming to be; both of which are therefore held to be unified by their inherent and principally eidetic purposiveness.15 However, what is to be stressed here is that the condition for the differentiation of either difference—and so for the anthropic determination of coming to be and being—is tekhné.


Both the onto-logical and modern determinations of the hylo-eidetic difference follow Aristotle’s determination of tekhné as a coming to be of matter which is subsidiary to (a) being that is itself principally eidetic and purposively organized. With Aristotle, this says tekhné is initiated by life and the human hand.

It is here that the contiguity of modern energetics and onto-logy can be clarified. This mutational connection is instigated by a historical-technical invention and condition: the unleashing of technics from the hand. For Aristotle such an energéia/hylo-kinésis is simply fantasmatic. It cannot be nor come to be. For onto-logy, there can be no "tekhné in itself," or, at least, no tekhné which is not principally eidetico-anthropic and purposive. Technics unleashed from the hand is unknowable in its being. But since in fact such an unleashing has been initiated by industrialization (machinic mechanization) and is now accomplished and realized by digitization (electronic computation), the history and kinésis of matter in modernity is irreducibly divergent from Aristotle’s onto-logy and the tradition which re-iterates it, however rigorously ontology may be otherwise destroyed or deconstructed. In particular, modern technics realizes the dis-integration of the hylo-eidetic unity and energéia of coming to be. As much as the empirico-transcendental difference depends upon such a realization, in that it affirms the separation of domains of the eidetic and the material in principle, it is a response to the modernity of technics. The affirmation of this difference by its cognate doctrines (idealism or materialism) is however no less a reactive ontologizing of that modernity in that it subordinates modern tekhné to anthropico-ontological principles. That is, the empirico-transcendental difference, and the modern doctrine of energy which is correlative to it, are retreats from the technical modernity which is in fact their condition.

This critical elaboration of energy follows upon the irreducibility of modern technics to onto-logy. Namely, that when technics is unleashed from the hand, then it cannot be "decided" apart from a hylokinésis that is not integrated in a coming to be by poiésis or phúsis. Though it has been stressed that the realization of tekhné as an atelic and aneidetic hylokinésis is an invention of modernity (in both senses of the genitive), such an energéia is nonetheless elaborated by Aristotle as the coming to be which is "tautomátou." Even though this category of coming to be is not directly the hylokinésis of modern technics, it now comes into focus since it is a coming to be which is not principally anthropic or eidetic. It thereby gives an indication from within Aristotle’s writings, and even as the onto-logy of coming to be is established, as to what is involved in the energéia of modern technics. The argument here is central to a comprehension of energy that is not delimited by its modern and subsequent doctrines—if, that is, energy is to be considered in the contemporaneity of technical modernity rather than by anthropico-ontological principles. What is involved here is therefore a de-hominization of energy as such, as it is inaugurated by modernity.

Aristotle sketches out the mode of coming to be tautomátou after the main discussion of phúsis and poiésis in Metaphysics Book VII. The (onto-logically comprehended) discrepancy between the material coming to be by tautomáton and by poiésis is in the provenance of each sort of coming to be. The argument is presented in this dense formulation (whose translation here has been elaborated more than usual):

for the matter that is the provenant being (arkhousa) of a coming to be in poiésis and which comes to be from tekhné, in which a part of the provenance [qua purpose] acts (pragmatos), such beings with matter sometimes have a kinésis of their own [or, "from themselves"] (kinésthai húp’autès) and sometimes not […]. Much is able (dúnata) to have a kiné[sis] of its own though not in a particular way, for example, not everything can dance. Hence, things of such matter, for example stones, are unable to be in a kinésis in one way unless it is by the provenance of another, though in a way they are of course in a kinésis. (1034a11-17)

Aristotle is here discussing how the kinésis of matter involved in poiésis is different to the kinésis of the matter itself which is not motivated by the fabricating (in its aging, for example), although both are aspects of the one material fabrication (poion). In other words, if an external provenance is required for a hylokinésis then the latter is a tekhné (and it is anthropically motivated). If the provenance of the hylokinésis is inherent to the dúnaton, it comes to be tautomátou. What is of importance here is that coming to be tautomátou is not then poiésis; nor is it phúsis since it is a hylokinésis without an underpinning eidos or, then, a purposiveness. That is, coming to be tautomátou is a kinésis of matter "out of itself" which is atelic and aneidetic. It is a coming to be by "chance" (as the standard translation of tautomátou has it).

The elaboration of coming to be tautomátou allows the energéia of tekhné "in itself" to be elaborated in its complex relation to and departure from onto-logy since each is an atelic and aneidetic hylokinésis. Aristotle explicitly articulates this congruence in Metaphysics Book VII:

just as for that which is fabricated (poiei) by tekhn[é]… so some [things] come to be from the spontaneous (tautomátou [Irwin & Fine: "by chance"]), insofar as they have matter able (dúnatai) to be in kinés[is] and having the kinésis on its own […]. That which is not, which is unable [to do] so, comes to be from another who is also of the same (Irwin & Fine: "the parent"). (1034a34-b7)

Coming to be tautomátou and by tekhné in itself are alike in that each is a hylokinésis "on its own," which is to say, as the last sentence of this citation implies, a hylokinésis which is aneidetic and atelic. It is therefore irreducible to both poiésis and phúsis. In other words, coming to be tautomátou does not have a purpose which is homoeidetic to its provenance. It is a coming to be which therefore does not have a "limit." If its hylokinésis is nonetheless onto-logically comprehended as an energéia, that energéia is not only dis-integrated, as suggested above, but is also unlimited. In onto-logical terms, moreover, what comes to be tautomátou is energéia. That is, energéia is itself the ergon, the work, of coming to be tautomátou. There is then an onto-logical indeterminablity between the energéia of coming to be tautomátou, which is the kinésis of its coming to be, and its work, which is its being. Work is then "unlimited" in that it does not have a purpose upon which the hylokinésis is completed, and this unlimited work is the being/work of such a coming to be. It is the provenance of what comes to be tautomátou as an action.16 This is energy in its modern thermodynamically formulated sense: the capacity for doing work which is nonetheless equivalent to work (its indeterminablity) and which is conserved in its convertibility in closed systems (it is "unlimited" in that it is never "accomplished"). The archaic category and reality of being is moreover replaced by the modern category and reality of energy.

What is central here is that this indeterminablity is expressly realized by technics in its modernity, when coming to be by poiésis is in fact unleashed from its principally eidetico-anthropic conditions.17 This realization is conceptualized as energy in terms of a principally eidetico-anthropic kinésis. The modern doctrine of energy is therefore a re-formation of onto-logy on this side of the invention of the in(de)terminable energéia of modern technics.


But this onto-logical recuperation is not all that is occasioned by the unleashing of technics from the hand, and neither is the energéia of modern technics only onto-logically indeterminable with work. There is also a dimension in which it is irreducible to onto-logy and indeterminably chance (túkhé). The indication of such an ex-anthropic dimension is presented in Nichomachean Ethics Book VI. Discussing various modes of coming to be in the context of what constitutes the "best action," Aristotle suggests that even as the hylokinésis of a coming to be by poiésis, tekhné is equivalent to coming to be tautomátou in that neither "on its own" has the purposive provenance of its energéia in action. Since poiésis is a coming to be "for" an action and since, therefore,

poiésis and action (praxis) are different, it must be that tekhn[é] is of poiés[is] rather than of prax[is]. And in a way that which túkhé and tekhné are about the same beings, as Agathon elucidates: "tekhné is fond of (esterzè) túkhé and túkhé of tekhné." (1140a16-20)

The two (onto-logically comprehended) modes of hylokinésis are "fond" of each other, as Aristotle affirms, even though for Aristotle (and until industrial modernity) tekhné is never "in itself" but only the eidetically conditioned hylokinésis of a coming to be by poiésis. But when tekhné is unleashed from the hand, tekhné and túkhé are not just "fond" of one another. Rather, the technical hylokinésis is then indeterminably the túkhé of an auto-hylokinésis. That is, technics today is indeterminably an event-chance of a hylokinésis and, on the contrary, an event-chance of a hylokinésis is today indeterminably technical. In other words, there is today an indeterminability as to whether a hylokinésis is a coming to be tautomátou, and so a chance-event of matter "in itself," or whether it is a technical kinésis.18

When technics is no longer initiated by the human hand what is unleashed is therefore not just the modern doctrine of energy. What is also unleashed to the human in and by technics today is its indeterminability with the túkhé of a hylokinésis "on its own." And this latter indeterminacy is ex-ontological. The modern sense of energy, which is occasioned by the unleashing of technics from the hand, is correlative to a non-ontological indeterminability of technics and túkhé.19

The chance of energy cannot be clearly separated in fact or in principle from its anthropic constitution, however. Energy today is then a critically complex articulation. While its ontological constitution is coherent with, and may even be the condition for, a technically constituted hominization (of whatever sort, be it natural, technico-symbolic, psycho-corporeal, and so on), the indeterminacy of energy and the ex-anthropic chance of matter is also irreducible to that hominization and notion of work. The critical delineation suggested here therefore allows the following partial conclusion to be drawn up: insofar as the modern doctrine of energy is constituted by and conveys something of Aristotle’s principally anthropic determination of the kinésis of matter, what is invented and in fact realized for the first time by modern technics is a de-hominization of that anthropically determined kinésis. It is then manifest that neither onto-logy, nor work, nor hominization nor their contrary (for example, play, désoeuvrement, undecidability, etc.) suffice to characterize what is invented with modern technics, least of all the contemporaneity and futurity in energetics today.

Reference Matter

References to Aristotle and Plato are given respectively by conventional Becker and Stephanus pagination. All other references are given by date of first publication or recognized composition, and by first language edition and then translation.

Aristotle. Metaphysica, ed. W. Jaeger, Oxford: Clarendon, 1957.
—Ethica Nichomachea, ed. I. Bywater, Oxford: Clarendon, 1894 [1957]; Nichomachean Ethics, tr. T. Irwin, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1985.
—De Anima, ed. W. D. Ross, Oxford: Clarendon, 1956.
—Selections, eds. & trs. T. Irwin and G. Fine, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1995.
— A New Aristotle Reader, ed. J. L. Ackrill, Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.
Blair, George A. 1992: Energeia and Entelecheia: "Act" in Aristotle, Ottowa: University of Ottowa Press.
—1995: "Unfortunately, It Is A Bit More Complex: Reflection on Energéia" in Ancient Philosophy 15:2 (564-80), Fall.
Deleuze, Gilles 1968: Différence et répétition, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France; Difference & Repetition, tr. P. Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
—& Félix Guattari 1980: Mille plateaux: Capitalism et schizophrénie, Paris: Minuit; A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia, tr. B. Massumi, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Graham, Daniel W. 1987: Aristotle’s Two Systems, Oxford: Clarendon
—1995: "The Development of Aristotle’s Concept of Actuality: Comments on A Reconstruction by Stephen Menn" in Ancient Philosophy 15:2 (551-64), Fall.
Harman, P. M. 1982: Energy, Force and Matter: The Conceptual Development of Nineteenth Century Physics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Heidegger, Martin 1939: "Vom Wesen und Begriff der Phúsis. Aristoteles, Physik B1" in Wegmarken, Frankfurt a.M.: Klostermann, 1972; "On the Essence and Concept of Phúsis in Aristotle's Physics B," tr. T. Sheehan, in Pathmarks, ed. W. McNeill, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
—1954: "Der Frage nach der Technik" in Vorträge und Aufsätze, Pfullingen: Neske; "The Question Concerning Technology," in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, tr. W. Lovitt, NY: Harper & Row, 1977.
Kant, Immanuel 1790: Kritik der Urteilskraft, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1902-; Critique of Judgement, tr. W. Pluhar, Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1987.
Menn, Stephen 1994: "The Origins of Aristotle's concept of Energéia: Energéia and Dúnamis" in Ancient Philosophy 14:1 (73-114), Spring.
Plato: Opera, ed. J. Burnett, Oxford: Clarendon, 1900-07 [1978].
—Complete Works, ed. J. M. Cooper, Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1997.
Schürmann, Rainer 1987: Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy, Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
Smith, Crosbie 1998: The Science of Energy: A Cultural History of Energy Physics in Victorian Britain, London: Athlone.
Smithson, Robert 1968: "A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects" in The Collected Writings, ed. J. Flam, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Stiegler, Bernard 1994: Techniques et temps I: La faute d'Épiméthée, Paris: Galilée; Technics and Time 1, trs. R. Beardsworth & G. Collins, Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University Press, 1996.


1 The complexification of energy proposed here is not that of complexity theory, which is concerned with quasi-quantifiable distributions of dynamic near-equilibria systems often formulated by energy considerations. That is, it is on the basis of energy as a primary physical and computable postulate (amongst others) of real systems that near-equilibria dynamics are electronumerically mapped. It is the postulate of energy which is at issue here.
2 The identification of (a) work and (a) being can be found in Plato's Timæus where coming to be, which is characterized by matter, is always postulated to a démiourgos (28a), a worker who makes public things. The cosmos, beings, therefore come to be as (public) works (that is, things that are sensory) (29a) which are modeled on the everlasting that is without coming to be and can itself only be "grasped" by the logos of the understanding (noésis). What comes to be and is present as a sensory being is for Plato therefore only an "image (eikona)" of what is in being. The "necessity" of the démiourgos is generated by the ontology of the one stipulated in Parmenides (cf. especially 162c-63b). Aristotle's development of genésis is directed against Plato's ontology of the cosmos and towards its reality.
3 There is some dispute in recent scholarship on Aristotle's account which is presented in the main text here in its own way (cf. Blair 1992, which provides a list of all occurrences of energéia and entelekhéia in Aristotle, and 1995; Menn 1994; Graham 1987, 1995, which provide thorough bibliographies of modern and pre-modern commentary on this issue). The discussion centers on the philology and conceptual work of the terms energéia and entelekhéia, both of which are generally agreed to be Aristotle's coinings, and usually translated (via Scholasticism) as actuality. What is in dispute is the distinction in actuality Aristotle aims at by coining the two terms, as well as the development of Aristotle's philosophy through these (and related) terms. The reconstruction proposed here does not simply align itself with any of these expert commentaries, though it is closer to Blair's and Heidegger's (1939) interpretations than the others.
4 There is a prevalence in contemporary philosophy following Heidegger to consider work not with regard to energetics, but rather in an ethico-anthropic sense of action (for example, Schürmann 1987), or, following Adorno too, in the artistico-anthropic sense of (a) work. The re-orientation of interests in the present discussion away from such approaches will be clearer as the argument proceeds. On the other hand, Marx's comprehension of work does consider its constitution in techno-scientific modernity in ways sympathetic to energetics, as does Bataille (though less sympathetically). Work in modernity is however primarily determined for both by the inseparability of labor and economy (in the widest sense). This is not however the primary focus here.
5 This characterization is found in the first mention of energy in its modern sense and concept. In 1849, Thompson (later Lord Kelvin) remarks in a paper on the conversion of heat and work that "nothing can be lost in the operation of nature-no energy can be destroyed" (cited in Smith 1998, 77). The principle of the conservation of energy, and the correlative doctrine of its convertibility, succeeds the eighteenth-century notions of the unity of nature and of interconvertible "natural powers" (Harman 1982, 33). The development of energy science therefore maintained the natural-theological doctrine that only God could add or extract primary substance or being from the cosmos (Harman 1982, 40; Smith [citing Thompson] 1998, 83), a doctrine which can itself be traced back to Antiquity (cf. n.2 above). Energy came to be "guaranteed its physical reality" in these terms (Smith 1998, 314).
6 The specific achievement of Clausius and Thompson in finding a coherence between, on the one hand, Claypeyron's (1834) adoption of Carnot's theory (1824) of the conservation of heat (conceived as a caloric substance) in generation of mechanical work over a cycle of a heat engine and, on the other hand, Joule's experiments showing that, in contradiction, the work of a mechanical engine consumed heat (1847) was obtained by abstractly postulating the equivalence of work and heat (Harman 1982, ch. 3; Smith 1992, 107-10) and abandoning the notion of caloric heat. It is not then the caloric substance of heat that is preserved over the closed cycle of a heat engine but work and heat in their equivalence, which is to say energy. The modern doctrine of energy in its explanatory, mathematical and quantitative power is independent of any specific mechanical-material explanation. It is not a hypothetical "dynamic theory" of actuality but a principally eidetic determination of a material process. Rankine develops an "energetics" across a number of materially distinct domains in the 1850s on this basis.
7 For Heidegger, phúsis is highlighted as the presencing un-concealment (alethéia) of beings which also at once conceals being as such (that is, phúsis "itself," the eidos and ousia which is the dúnamis of an energéia). However, Heidegger proposes that phúsis is the primary determination of all modalities of coming to be, as is especially obvious when it is argued that tekhné is principally an eidetic "grasp of knowledge [Erkenntnisbegriff]" (1939, 321/192) rather than a hylokinésis. A congruence between Heidegger's "history of being" and the modern doctrine of energy can then be established in that both propound the fundamental eidetic unity of coming to be.
8 This is the central point of Blair's interpretation (1992, 152). However, for Blair this hylo-eidetic unity characterizes energéia as such whilst the argument here is that it is only correlative to a specific mode of coming to be.
9 This modern-rational demarcation runs from Newton and Descartes to Kant and Laplace, and on to Thompson and Maxwell. It is organized by principally Christian-Platonic arguments against (the intuition and knowledge of) the sensory-material domain in favor of a primarily eidetic condition for (the intuition and knowledge of) what comes to be (cf. note 2 above).
10 The actuality of energy is initially proposed by Maxwell in 1865 while arguing the reality of the electrical field as the source of electro-magnetic forces (which are themselves tangible) (Smith 1998, 228-32; Harman 1982, 94-5). The success of Maxwell's dynamical theory of electro-magnetism opened the way for energetics to replace mechanics (as a dynamical theory of matter) not only as an explanation of physical reality but moreover as characterizing physical reality as such (Smith 1998, 238 and ch.14). This development took place in the 1890s mainly in Germany and culminated in Planck's theory of the quantization of energy (in 1900) and Einstein's special theory of relativity (in 1905). Though these theories are commonly held to mark the disjunction with classical physics, they in fact serve to consolidate the realization (and so the naturalization) of the modern doctrine of energy. In equating energy and matter, Einstein's relativity theory reconciled energetics and mechanics (a dynamic theory of mass and movement), with the former as the primary dynamical foundation. Equally, the quantum mechanics that followed upon Planck's results was also occasioned by the constitution of matter and its dynamics in terms of energy.It can also be noted here that, in another vein, Deleuze-Guattari's sustained critique of hylomorphism (1980, 502-517/404-15) in favor of the "becoming" of the "non-organic life" of a "machinic phylum" (where the "organic" is here comprehended in its modern-rational sense, as prior to the living body which it constitutes) in fact amounts to a recapitulation of coming to be by phúsis. This modernization is clear in Deleuze's earlier articulation of becoming in terms of a "transcendental energetics" of "intensive differences" (1968, 310/240-41).
11 In Nichomachean Ethics Book VI Aristotle proposes that thinking is the "state (hexis)" of the psúkhé which involves the logos and "studies beings whose provenance admit of being otherwise," the logistikon [Irwin & Fine: "rationally calculating"] (1139a7-8) which deliberates (bouleúetai). Deliberation is itself without matter but is concerned with matter and, within the overarching ambition of the treatise, with the best action on it in the desire (oréxis) for that action (1139a31-b4). Thinking is concerned with beings that come to be and not with the eternal or the past which can not be otherwise than it was and is. It is no surprise, then, that in discussing how thought contributes to the decision which is the provenance of the best action, Aristotle elaborates its contribution to poiésis (1139a35-b3, cited later in the main text).
12 The living body is never only a "mere" body (somatos) for Aristotle but is always purposive with regards to that by which life lives, which is the psúkhé. The psúkhé is the provenant eidos of a living body, its phúsis. Moreover, since the living body (zóoén) is the energéia of the psúkhé (which is its provenance) and the somatos (which is its dúnamis) in their hylo-eidetic unity, and since the purpose of the living body is living (which for Aristotle also means auto-perishing [412a15]), it is onto-logically coherent for Aristotle to propose that the psúkhé is the primary purposiveness (entelekhéia) of the living body (412a15-b9). Accordingly, Aristotle discriminates between the body without life (somatos) and the living body in its purposiveness, which is the organic body (412b1-5).
13 This argument parallel's Bernard Stiegler's objection to Leroi-Gourhan's determination of technics as an exteriorization of the human (1994, 164-7/154-8). Stiegler's point is that this is a unilateral determination of a more general dynamic of differentiation of the phylogenesis of the human cortex and the tool as a non-genetic external memory. There is then a general epiphylogenetic co-determination of the human and technics in which (i) the latter is an "instrumental maieutic" of the former, and (ii) their differentiating dynamic co-constitutes anticipation as such and in particular. That is, time and temporality is epiphylogenetically, or zootechnically, constituted and determined.
14 Even when phúsis does not explicitly direct the texts, Heidegger continues to think the unconcealment of being(s) from the totality of poiésis and in this way recovers the onto-logical integrity of coming to be. Technics is then unilaterally determined as a mode of presencing that is nonetheless an anthropism, even and especially in its modernity (1954).
15 This is of course the major axis of Kant's Critique of Judgement (cf. especially §§61-68). The issue is fully stated in more or less the way proposed in the main text here in the "Critique of Teleological Judgement." For Kant, it is the problem of the "lawfulnes of nature" as involving not a determinate but a reflective judgement.
16 This is in contrast to the principal determination of the "provenance of an action-the 'whereof (hothen)' of the kinésis rather than its 'whereto'" in the Nichomachean Ethics, which is "decision (proàiréseos)" (1139a31-32). Within the ethico-practical horizon of the "best action," what decides is the desiring understanding and the thinking desire, "the provenance of which is the human" (1139b4-5). The ethical condition for action is therefore the human and from this basis the indeterminability of dúnamis and energéia in coming to be tautomatou is undecidable. Put the other way, coming to be tautomatou indicates that, however ethically responsible the experience of the undecidability of dúnamis and energéia may otherwise be, it is nonetheless a principally anthropico-ontological determination of work in its technical modernity. It is then clear that ethics in the sense of a best action, and an ethics of undecidability in particular (Derrida), does not address a politics that is in fact correlative to technical modernity.
17 It need be only briefly re-iterated that the modern term and concept of energy developed in response to problems allied with the convertibility of work and heat for the automatic steam engine at the time of its technical-industrial consolidation. Smith's culturally framing study (1992) places much emphasis on the determining influence of Presbyterian and Calvinist theology on the Northern British religious and industrial culture in which the doctrine of energy was mainly developed and gained "credibility" from the 1850s to the 1870s.
18 Stiegler's characterization of technics as "organized inorganic matter that transforms itself in time" (1994, 63/49 and passim) is therefore a circumscribed comprehension of what is occasioned by modern technics. It is a determination of technics short of the indeterminability of technics and the event-chance of matter. The limitation is exposed by the above formulation of technics: technics is differentiated in principle from matter as such (húlé) as its organization. It is circumscribed in terms of an attenuated (because non-anthropocentric) hylo-poiésis and remains (surreptitiously) characterized by an entelekhéia. Without affirming the indeterminability of technics and a material event-chance, the inventions of contemporary techno-science regarding the living body (through genetic modification and therapies, pharmaco-surgical procedures, etc.), the productions of "fundamental matter" in high-energy physics, the digitization of the sensory realm, etc., can only be comprehended as exterior, belated interventions upon, or organizations of, primary matter, or as their (epiphylogenetic) inscription, rather than as constituting what may now be occasioned as/by matter as such.
19 Pollock's "drip" paintings of the late 1940s explore a quasi-indeterminability of the event-chance of matter with technics in that it is a practice however still bound to the hand. The paintings are meshes of a quasi-anthropic marking in which the event-chance of the paint's hylokinésis intervenes the gesture of its application by its (literal) unleashing from the hand. The indeterminability of modern-industrial technics and matter as such is presented by Smithson, especially in the large-scale "flows," such as Asphalt Rundown (1969), and the earthworks, such as Spiral Jetty (1970). The industrial implementation and materials of these works, and their transmutation in time, divorce them from the anthropic index of Pollock's paintings. Both artists open the issue of the primacy of organization. Although Smithson's writings intimate something of the indeterminacy proposed here, these comments are however over-determined by the notion of entropy, which directs the comprehension of the art's transmutation as primarily an issue of dissolution (for example, Smithson 1968). (Thanks to Gary Simmonds for conversations on these artworks.)