Definitions of the term aporia have varied throughout history. In a reference from 1657, J. More modern sources, perhaps because they come after the psychic energy how to change your desires into realities pdf of post-structuralism, have chosen to omit the rhetorical usage of the term. Julian Wolfreys, in his essay “Trauma, Testimony, and Criticism”, characterizes trauma as aporia, a wound with unending trail.
To demonstrate such a break, Kofman reviews multiple instances of the term throughout Plato’s work. Her discussion of the myth of Poros, Penia, and Eros in Plato’s Symposium especially reveals the concept’s untranslatability. Penia, the “child of poverty”, decides to forcefully impregnate herself with the inebriated Poros, the personification of plenty, who is always in opposition with aporia and thus defining aporia.
The perplexing aspect of the myth is revealed as one realizes that Penia is acting out of resourcefulness, a quality normally attributed to Poros, and Poros’ inaction reveals his own passivity, a poverty of agency or porous. This is why Aporia, which breaks with the logic of identity, and which pertains to the logic of the intermediary, is an untranslatable term. Ultimately, aporia cannot be separated from this etymological and cultural history.
Such history provides insight into aporia’s perplexing semantic qualities as well as into the historical context in which the word functions as an indicator of the limits of language in constructing knowledge. In philosophy, an aporia is a philosophical puzzle or a seemingly insoluble impasse in an inquiry, often arising as a result of equally plausible yet inconsistent premises. It can also denote the state of being perplexed, or at a loss, at such a puzzle or impasse.
The notion of an aporia is principally found in Greek philosophy, but it also plays a role in post-structuralist philosophy, as in the writings of Jacques Derrida and Luce Irigaray, and it has also served as an instrument of investigation in analytic philosophy. In such a dialogue, Socrates questions his interlocutor about the nature or definition of a concept, for example virtue or courage.
Socrates then, through elenctic testing, shows his interlocutor that his answer is unsatisfactory. After a number of such failed attempts, the interlocutor admits he is in aporia about the examined concept, concluding that he does not know what it is. Socrates describes the purgative effect of reducing someone to aporia: it shows someone who merely thought he knew something that he does not in fact know it and instills in him a desire to investigate it.
In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, aporia plays a role in his method of inquiry. Book Beta of the Metaphysics is a list of the aporiai that preoccupy the rest of the work.