Skip to main content

Philosophical Archaeology


In the perspective of the philosophical archaeology proposed, here, the arkhé towards which archaeology regresses must not be understood in any way as an element that can be situated in chronology (not even one with a large grid, of the sort used in prehistory); it is, rather, a force that operates in history—much in the same way in which Indoeuropean words express a system of connections among historically accessible languages, in which the child in psychoanalysis expresses an active force in the psychic life of the adult, in which the big bang, which is supposed to have originated the universe, continues to send towards us its fossil radiation. But the arkhé is not a datum or a substance. It is much rather a field of bipolar historical currents within the tension of anthropogenesis and history, between point of emergence and becoming, between arch-past and present. And as such—that is to say, to the extent to which it is something that it is necessarily supposed to have factually happened, and which yet cannot be hypostatized in any chronologically identifiable event—it is solely capable of guaranteeing the intelligibility of historical phenomena, of ‘saving’ them archaeologically within a future perfect, yet not grasping its (in any case unverifiable) origin, but rather its history, at once finite and untotalizable.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Benjamin, Walter. 1982. Das Passagenwerk. In Gesammelte Schriften, ed. R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhäuser, vol. I. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

  • Benveniste, Emile. 1969. Le Vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes, 2 vols. Paris: Minuit.

  • Bergson, Henri. 1919. Le Souvenir du présent et la fausse reconnaissance, in L’Énergie spirituelle. Paris: PUF.

    Google Scholar 

  • Caruth, C. 1966. Unclaimed experience. Trauma, narrative and history. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dumézil, Georges. 1968–1973. Mythe et Epopée, 3 vols. Paris: Gallimard.

  • Foucault, Michel. 1970. Larchéologie du savoir. Paris: Gallimard (1969), 250. English edition: The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock Publications.

  • Foucault, Michel. 1974. Les Mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines. Paris: Gallimard (1966), 13. English edition: The Order of Things. London: Tavistock Publications.

  • Foucault, Michel. 1994. Dits et écrits, eds. D. Defert and F. Ewald, with the collaboration of J. Lagrange, 4 vols. Paris: Gallimard.

  • Freud, Sigmund. 1938. Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion. Amsterdam: De Lange.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heidegger, Martin. 1970. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer (1st edn 1927), 21. English edition. Being and Time. New York: State University of New York Press.

  • Kant, Immanuel. 1942. Lose Blätter zu den Fortschritten der Metaphysik. In Gesammelte Schriften. Akademie-Ausgabe, vol. III. Berlin: De Gruyter.

  • Kant, Immanuel. 1973. Philosophische Enzyklopädie. In Gesammelte Schriften. Akademie-Ausgabe, vol. XXIX. Berlin: De Gruyter.

  • Kant, Immanuel. 1974. Logik. In Werkausgabe, vol. VI, ed. W. Weischedel. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mauss, Marcel. 1950. Sociologie et anthropologie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meillet, Antoine. 1975. Linguistique historique et linguistique générale. Paris: Champion. (1st edn 1921).

    Google Scholar 

  • Melandri, Enzo. 1967. Michel Foucault: l’epistemologia delle scienze umane. In Lingua e stile. Bologna.

  • Melandri, Enzo. 2004. La linea e il circolo. Studio logico-filosofico sull’analogia. Macerata: Quodlibet. First published in 1968.

  • Overbeck, Franz. 1966. Kirchenlexicon Materialien. Christentum und Kultur. In idem. Werke und Nachlass, vol. VI/I, ed. B.v. Reibnitz. Stuttgart: Metzler.

    Google Scholar 

  • Prodi, Paolo. 1992. Il sacramento del potere. Il giuramento politico nella storia costituzionale dell’occidente. Bologna: Il Mulino.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ricoeur, Paul. 1965. De Linterprétation. Essai sur Freud. Paris: Seuil. English edition: 1970. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on interpretation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  • Usener, Hermann. 1896. Götternamen: Versuch einer Lehre von der Religiösen Begriffsbildung. Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann.

    Google Scholar 

  • Virno, Paolo. 1991. Un dedalo di parole. Per un’analisi linguistica della metropoli. In La città senza luoghi. Individuo, conflitto, consumo nella metropoli, ed. M. Illardi. Genova: Costa and Nolan.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

The address given for Giorgio Agamben is the corresponding address for this article only.

Originally published as ‘Archeologia filosofica’ in Agamben, Giorgio (2008). Signatura rerum. Sul metodo, eds G. Bryson, A. Schütz and T. Zartaloudis (trans. G. Bryson), Torino: Bollati Boringhieri; another translation of the whole book wherein this essay is contained is forthcoming entitled The Signature of all things: On method (trans. Luca di Santo). Cambridge, MA: Zone Books, MIT Press, forthcoming 2009.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Agamben, G. Philosophical Archaeology. Law Critique 20, 211 (2009).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Archaeology
  • Human sciences
  • History
  • Foucault
  • Freud
  • Kant
  • Melandri
  • Overbeck