IRAD KIMHI | Thinking and Being | Harvard University Press 2018


 

By Robert Hanna

Irad Kimhi’s Being and Thinking begins with “Parmenides’s didactic poem On Nature”, which, Kimhi says, “is the first work of philosophy, where this is understood as the logical study of thinking and of what is (being)” (p. 1). Indeed,

[o]ne can look to this poem for the origin of the very idea of philosophical logic—the idea of a study that achieves a mutual illumination of thinking and what is: an illumination through a clarification of human discursive activity in which truth (reality, aletheia) is at stake. Philosophical logic, so understood, is a first-personal engagement from within the activity of thinking, one which allows the articulation and comprehension of thinking to emerge out of itself. The personal, so understood, is the logical. It is the activity of the logical “I” […]. (pp. 1–2)

Now, if you have been reading the professional academic literature in mainstream Analytic philosophy for the last few decades, then you are probably already gobsmacked: who would have guessed that philosophical logic could ever be so wild and wonderful? In that sense, Thinking and Being is emphatically, and for those of us who recognise no deep difference between the history of philosophy and philosophy as such, also excitingly, retrograde: Back to Parmenides! So let’s back up a little ourselves, and ask these two stage-setting philosophical questions.

First, what is the nature of logic?, by which I mean, what is the status of logic, both metaphysical and epistemological?

Second, and even more importantly, can logic absolve of us of our sins and redeem the world?

[Wittgenstein] used to come to see me [i.e., Russell] every evening at midnight, and pace up and down my room like a wild beast for three hours in agitated silence. Once I said to him: “Are you thinking about logic or about your sins?” “Both”, he replied, and continued his pacing. (Russell 1975:330)[1]

These are deep and difficult logico-philosophical questions, on their own; but they are made especially deep and difficult by what is known as The Logocentric Predicament, which says that because logic can be explained or justified only by using and presupposing logic, then logic itself must be inexplicable and unjustifiableKimhi’s Thinking and Being grapples with all these profound questions.

It also received a New York Times-certified, cult-following-media-buzz that in and of itself would make the book worth reading and thinking about from a sociology-of-contemporary-professional-academic-philosophy standpoint, even if it were not a first-rate, and perhaps even brilliant, piece of philosophy—which it is.

To begin at the end, my overall judgement is that although Thinking and Being is indeed a first-rate and perhaps even brilliant piece of philosophy, and although it has genuine historico-philosophical import, in that, in my opinion, it effectively closes out a 100+ year-long tradition in modern philosophy, namely, the classical Analytic tradition, nevertheless, all its central theses are false.

But in order to explain why I think all that, I shall need to do more philosophical stage-setting.

***

Analytic Philosophy As We Know It, aka classical Analytic philosophy, began 100+ years ago in Germany and England in the writings and teachings of a Founding Grandfather, Gottlob Frege, and two Founding Fathers—Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore—and their sharply critical responses to the neo-Kantian and neo-Hegelian European philosophical traditions of the late nineteenth century, and also, at one remove, in an explicitly revolutionary spirit,[2] to the philosophies of Kant and Hegel themselves.

The core doctrines of The Founding Grandfather and The Two Fathers of classical Analytic philosophy are:

(i) the vigorous rejection of the explanatory and/or ontological reduction of logic to, or its substantive dependency on, human mental acts, states, or processes—or more generally, of the explanatory and/or ontological reduction to or substantive dependency on empirical or naturalistic psychology (aka anti-psychologism about logic, aka anti-psychologicism)—and the equally vigorous and contrary affirmation of the irreducibility, apriority, and scientific and philosophical primacy of logic

(ii) the vigorous rejection of the explanatory and/or ontological reduction of the world to, or its substantive dependence on, the mind (aka anti-idealism) and the equally vigorous and contrary affirmation of external-world realism, platonic realism for universals and other abstracta, especially including propositions or thoughts, the bearers of truth or falsity, and atomism for the external world and semantic or logical content alike;

(iii) the vigorous rejections of transcendental logic, dialectical logic, and transcendental or dialectical philosophical methodology, especially including vigorously rejecting the very idea of synthetic a priori truth and knowledge, and the equally vigorous and contrary affirmation of the method of logical analysis, especially including vigorously affirming the very idea of analyticity,

and

(iv) the explanatory and/or ontological reduction of mathematics to logic via set theory or the theory of types (aka classical logicism).

So, to summarise, the core doctrines of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It are:

(ia) anti-psychologicism;

(ib) the primacy of logic;

(iia) anti-idealism;

(iib) external-world realism;

(iic) platonic realism for universals and other abstracta, especially including mind-independent propositions or thoughts, the truth- or falsity-bearers;

(iid) atomism for the external world and semantic or logical content alike;

(iiia) rejecting transcendental logic, dialectical logic, and transcendental or dialectical philosophical methodology;

(iiib) rejecting the very idea of synthetic a priori truth and knowledge;

(iiic) affirming the method of logical analysis;

(iiid) affirming the very idea of analyticity;

(iv) classical logicism.

For convenience, let’s call this founding set of doctrines, The Classical Analytic Package.

By the mid-1930s, via Carnap’s Logical Syntax of Language and Logical Construction of the World, Vienna-Circle-style atomistic phenomenal constructivism and logical conventionalism had displaced and replaced external-world realism and platonic realism for universals and other abstracta. By that time, too, in addition to its deeply conflicted and never-fully-resolved encounter with the set-theoretic paradoxes, classical logicism had also encountered

(1) Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which, utilising the Liar Paradox as a methodological tool, jointly entail the non-equivalence of logical truth and logical provability, and also that the ground of logical or mathematical truth must lie outside any formal system rich enough to contain the basic axioms of Peano Arithmetic;

(2) Tarski’s insight that any language which contains its own truth-predicate also yields versions of the Liar Paradox and is hyper-inconsistent, aka paradoxical;

(3) non-classical logic, in the benign or conservative form of modal logic, which affirms systematic intensionality,

and

(4) logical pluralism, in the not-so-benign and not-so-conservative form of intuitionistic logic, which rejects the universal principle of excluded middle.

Taking together (3) and (4), it apparently also follows that

(5) there cannot be any One True Logic, hence logically and linguistically speaking, ‘anything goes’, aka Carnap’s famous (or notorious) Principle of Tolerance in Section 17 of The Logical Syntax of Language:

In logic there are no morals. Everyone is at liberty to build his own logic, i.e., his own form of language, as he wishes. (Carnap 1937:52, my underlining) 

But all the other parts of The Classical Analytic Package remained in place. Actually, even during the mid-30s, by means of his devastating attack on the conventionalist theory of logical truth (which itself deploys a version of The Logocentric Predicament) in ‘Truth By Convention’, Quine had already begun his critical dismantling and destruction of most of what was left of The Classical Analytic Package. In any case, by the mid-50s, via Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, ‘Carnap and Logic’, and ‘Epistemology Naturalized’, both logical analysis and analyticity went down the tubes too. So by the mid-50s, The Classical Analytic Package was fully in crisis mode, and like The Titanic when it had its fatal encounter with the iceberg, was already beginning to sinkPost-Quine, all that remained—as it were, the various ways the deck chairs on The Titanic could still be re-arranged—was:

(ia) a vestigial logical anti-psychologicism (as opposed to epistemological psychologism, which Quine explicitly promoted);

(ib) the primacy of logic, by means of a vestigial Quinean commitment to Tarski-style elementary logic (which retains first-order polyadic quantification, extensionalism, and the universal principle of non-contradiction) as The One True Logic, or at least to monadic logic (first-order logic with one-place predicates only), which Quine calls “sheer logic” in his Philosophy of Logic;

(iia) anti-idealism;

(iib) a vestigial atomistic external-world realism under Quine’s ontologically relativised interpretation of the first-order quantifiers, aka ‘to be is to be the value of a bound variable’;

(iic) a vestigial commitment to abstracta that are exclusively linguistic, especially including linguistic types, as opposed to particular tokens, and above all statements, the mind-independent linguistic truth- or falsity-bearers;

(iid) atomism and compositionalism for semantic or logical content;

(iiia) rejecting transcendental logic, dialectical logic, and transcendental or dialectical philosophical methodology,

and

(iiib) rejecting the very idea of synthetic a priori truth and knowledge.

For the purposes of this critical study, let’s leave aside other notable phases in the Analytic tradition, including

• Ordinary Language philosophy in the 1960s;

• Conceptual Analysis in the 70s;

• Kripke-Putnam direct-reference semantics, modal essentialism, cognitive-semantic externalism, and Davidson-style semantics of natural language in the 80s;

• the Consciousness-and-Cognitive-Science Craze and neo-Fregean logicism in the 90s;

• Experimental Philosophy, aka X-Phi, in the 00s and teens of the twenty-first century, and alongside it;

• the inherently retrograde ‘Copernican devolution’[3] of modal-logic-driven Analytic metaphysics in the 00s and teens, right up to this morning at 5am MST.

For my purposes here, the crucial fact is that the other major influence on the Analytic tradition over the last 30 years or so has been Pittsburgh neo-Hegelianism, in the wake of Pitt’s resident philosophical wizard in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Wilfrid Sellars, and as further developed by Nicholas Rescher, Graham Priest, John Haugeland, John McDowell, and Robert Brandom—and now by Brandom’s former Ph.D. student, Irad Kimhi, in Thinking and Being.

We know from The New York Times article I mentioned earlier, that Kimhi has been enthusiastically touted by the neo-Hegelian/neo-Aristotelian Sebastian Rödl, home-based at Leipzig, and by several philosophers home-based at University of Chicago, including Jonathan Lear—whose first book was on Aristotle’s logic—and the neo-Hegelian Robert Pippin, who just published a big book on Hegel’s Science of Logic (Pippin 2018). And we also know from the dedication and back-cover blurb of Kimhi’s book, that he’s very grateful to Lear and Pippin as philosophical friends and mentors, and that he’s currently an associate professor at Chicago. So let’s re-dub this important branch of Analytic philosophy, Pittsburgh/Chicago neo-Hegelianism, while also holding tightly onto the idea that there’s a serious dash of neo-Aristotelianism thrown into this Sellarsian wizard’s brew too.

In any case, and above all, I think it has been so far widely insufficiently appreciated just how radical the implications of Pittsburgh/Chicago neo-Hegelianism-with-a-serious-dash-of-neo-Aristotelianism really are. With Rescher’s and Priest’s dialetheism and logical pluralism, the vestigial Quinean commitments to the primacy of Tarski-style elementary logic as The One True Logic, and the rejection of dialectical logic and dialectical philosophical methodology, go the way of all flesh. And with Brandom’s late-Wittgenstein-style inferentialism, holism, and communitarian anti-representationalism, so too the vestigial Quinean commitments to atomistic external-world realism under an ontologically relativised interpretation of the quantifiers, and to linguistic abstracta, especially including mind-independent statements as the truth- or falsity-bearers, and to atomism and compositionalism for semantic or logical content, also go down into the cold grey sea.

Enter Kimhi!, with an original version of logical idealism that he somewhat unhelpfully calls “psycho/logical monism” (pp. 30, 52–3), but in any case whose basic thesis is that logic is the science that explores how thinking and being are one and the same.

This is not strict token-token or type-type identity, however (p. 52), but instead a dual-aspect monism, whereby thinking and being bring out importantly different yet inherently complementary aspects of the whole.

Hegel’s Science of Logic, anyone?

Kimhi’s logical idealism is explicitly inspired (in historical reverse-order) by Pittsburgh/Chicago neo-Hegelianism-with-a-serious-dash-of-neo-Aristotelianism, Wittgenstein’s Investigations and Tractatus, Kant’s theory of judgement in the First Critique, Aristotle, Plato’s Eleatic Stranger, and Parmenides.

But as I have just indicated, it is also pretty obviously profoundly implicitly inspired by Hegel’s Science of Logic, presumably as interpreted by Pippin, even though neither Hegel nor Pippin is ever actually cited in the main text of Thinking and Being.

Anxiety of influence, anyone?

In any case, what is most important in the grand scheme of things, is that, in addition to being fully onboard with the post-Quinean Rescher-Priest-Brandom radical tradition in philosophical logic, Kimhi’s logical idealism also effectively yields the trashing of classical Analytic philosophy’s robust anti-psychologicism, anti-idealism, external-world realism in any form, its commitment to propositions/thoughts/statements as mind-independent truth- or falsity-bearers, and its rejection of transcendental logic and transcendental philosophical methodology alike, hence the effective destruction of The Classical Analytic Package, with the sole exceptions of the primacy of logic and rejecting the very idea of synthetic a priori truth and knowledge.

To be sure, Kimhi explicitly and fully retains the primacy of logic; and he also does not (as far as I can tell) challenge the rejection of the synthetic a priori: so in that sense, he retains a nominal commitment to the last two elements of The Classical Analytic Package.

But since the acceptance of those two theses does not in and of itself distinguish classical Analytic philosophy from Tractarian solipsistic idealism or Hegelian absolute idealism—early Wittgenstein and Hegel both accept the primacy of logic and reject the synthetic a priori too (or at least, in Hegel’s case, he rejects the specifically Kantian conception of the synthetic a priori)—then Kimhi’s commitment to the last two elements of The Classical Analytic Package is merely nominal, so finally, and at long last, It’s The End Of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It

And I feel fine, by which I mean goodbye and good riddance to a 100+ year-old philosophical tradition that has run its course and now seriously impedes philosophical progress. Please don’t get me wrong: classical Analytic philosophy undoubtedly had a brilliant, revolutionary heyday during its first half-century, running from Frege-inspired Russell, Brentano-inspired Moore, and Schopenhauer-inspired early Wittgenstein, via Carnap and the Vienna Circle, to Quine. So, two cheers for all that.

But, since at least the Quine-and-Wittgenstein-driven Anglo-American philosophy of 1950s, with some notable exceptions in the brilliant works of certain individual philosophers belonging to it, the Analytic tradition at a foundational level has in fact been living on borrowed time and running on fumes, powered only by sheer professional academic ideological hegemony and social-institutional inertia, whereby for at least the last twenty years, it has actually been killing real philosophy.[4]

Nevertheless, although for these reasons I do vigorously affirm and welcome with three loud huzzahs the going-down of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It into the ash-heap of history, by means of Pittsburgh/Chicago neo-Hegelianism-with-a-serious-dash-of-neo-Aristotelianism, the Analytic owl of Minerva that spreads its wings only with the dying of the light; and although, as I mentioned at the outset, I do find Kimhi’s book to be a first-rate and perhaps even brilliant piece of philosophy; at the same time, I also think it is pretty much completely wrong.

More precisely, I think that

(a) Kimhi’s logical idealism, aka ‘psycho/logical monism’, is false;

(b) more generally, solipsistic, subjective, and/or absolute idealism are all false;

(c) the primacy of logic thesis is false,

and

(d) the rejection of the classical Kantian analytic–synthetic distinction and (at least the Kantian conception of) the synthetic a priori are both profoundly mistaken.

On the contrary, and correspondingly, I think that what is actually true are:

(a*) what I call logical cognitivism, and a broadly Kantian ethics of logic;[5]

(b*) a suitably weak, counterfactual version of transcendental idealism that is smoothly consistent with manifest realism about the external world;

(c*) the primacy of the practical, including an existentialist version of Kantian ethics and a fully cosmopolitan version of social anarchism,

and

(d*) a suitably updated Kantian theory of the analytic-synthetic distinction and of synthetic a priori truth and knowledge.

But no doubt it would take at least five books to try to demonstrate all that;[6] and even then, given the captive minds of most mainstream contemporary professional academic philosophers,[7] it would still be a fairly quixotic enterprise.

So for the rest of this critical study, I’ll just concentrate on two things: (1) listing the main claims of Thinking and Being, and (2) saying what I think is wrong with them.

***

Here are Kimhi’s five main claims.

1. Kimhi’s Parmenidean/Wittgensteinian Puzzle About Thinking What Is Not

[The puzzle that fundamentally motivates philosophical logic] is none other than the one Wittgenstein expresses in the following quotation:

How can one think of what is not the case? If I think King’s College is on fire when it is not, the fact of its being on fire does not exist. Then how can I think it?

This puzzle arises from the following reasoning: Whereas a true judgment/proposition judges/says what is the case, a false one judges/says what is not (the case)—but what is not does not exist; it is nothing, hence a false judgment/proposition judges/says nothing and is therefore not a judgment/proposition at all. (p. 120)

2. Kimhi’s Four Axioms (aka ‘Syllogisms’, p. 9) of Thinking and Being

Axiom 1: From Being to Thinking What Is True (BThT) (p. 5)

1. p

2. Therefore, we who think p, think what is true

Axiom 2: From Non-Being to Thinking What Is False (~B➝ThF) (p. 5)

1. ~p (i.e. not-p, p is not the case)

2. Therefore, those who think p, think what is false

Axiom 3: From Thinking and Non-Being to Thinking Falsely (Th, ~BThF) (pp. 10, 122)

1. A thinks p

2. ~p

3. Therefore, A falsely thinks p

Axiom 4: From Thinking and Non-Being to Thinking Truly (Th, ~BThT) (pp. 10, 122)

1. A thinks ~p

2. ~p

3. A truly thinks ~p

3. Kimhi’s Theory of Truth: Assessment of Truth is Internal to the Act of Judging

[T]here is no gap between one’s judging something (p) and one’s assessment of the same judgment as true (“I am truly judging p”). The transition from a judgment to a truth-assessment of that judgment is not based on a recognition of any new fact. A proper philosophical account of this matter must allow us to say that the assessment of one’s judgment as true is internal to the very act of judging. (p. 7)

4. Kimhi’s Anti-Fregean Collapse of Assertoric Force and Propositional Semantic Content into One Another

[Frege and Geach] want to say that anything within the composition of a propositional sign which is associated with assertoric force must be dissociated from that which carries semantic significance—that is, from everything directly relevant to its truth-value. In particular, they want to dissociate assertoric force from anything in the composition or form of that which is primarily true or false in a propositional sign […]. I shall call the [thesis] […]—that assertoric force must be dissociated from a proposition’s semantic significance—Frege’s point. We shall see that Frege’s point is mistaken. (p. 39)

5. Kimhi’s Radicalisation of Frege’s Context Principle, aka Radical Propositional Semantic Holism

[On Frege’s account] a simple proposition has its truth-value independently of the contribution it makes to the truth-value of the compound propositions in which it occurs […].This observation appears to show that the context principle [“never…ask for the meaning of a word in isolation, but only in the context of a proposition”] does not apply to the components of a compound proposition. Hence it appears that we can ask how the truth-value of a simple predicative proposition is determined in isolation from the contexts of compound propositions in which it can occur as a component. But […] the monistic treatment of logical complexity rejects this implication […]. [E]ven though a simple predicative proposition can occur alone, we cannot ask for its meaning in isolation from the propositional contexts in which it can occur. (p. 48)

***

And now for my worries about Kimhi’s main claims. One leading problem with Kimhi’s logical idealism is that it leads directly to ontological and psychological contradiction for some interpretations of p, e.g. when whatever we think is false, as follows:

1. p (Premise)

2. Therefore, we who think p, think what is true. (From 1, Axiom 1)

3. Therefore, it is not the case that whatever we think is false. (From 1, 2)

4. Therefore, ~(From 1–3)

5. Therefore, p & ~p (From 1–4, conjunction addition) Ontological Contradiction!

6. ~p (From 5, conjunction elimination)

7. Therefore, we who think p, think what is false. (From 6, Axiom 2)

8. Therefore, we who think p, think what is true and what is false, that is, we truly and falsely think p. (From 2, 7, Axiom 3, Axiom 4) Psychological Contradiction!

Now Russell responded to essentially the same sort of worry about the Liar Paradox and other semantic paradoxes, by means of The Vicious Circle Principle and The Theory of Types; and when those failed, Tarski later distinguished between semantically open and semantically closed languages, postulated a hierarchy of languages and meta-languages, and stipulated that no logically and semantically well-ordered language is allowed to contain its own truth-predicate. But none of those options is open to Kimhi, I think: so how can he prevent Liar-Paradox-style contradictions?

Another leading problem is Kimhi’s thesis that “the assessment of one’s judgment as true is internal to the very act of judging”, which is closely associated with his anti-Fregean collapse of assertoric force and propositional semantic content into one another.

My view is that although the following entailment is indeed axiomatic in any philosophical logic that is fully informed by cognitive semantics:

1. I think (judge, believe, etc.) p.

2. Therefore, it is true that I think (judge, believe, etc.) p, i.e., it is true that I am engaging in an intentional activity of thinking (judging, believing, etc.) that also has the semantic content ‘p’.

Nevertheless, this purported entailment is clearly fallacious:

1.* It is true that I think (judge, believe, etc.) p.

2.* Therefore, I truly think p, i.e. p is true, i.e. p.

And that is because the direct advance from the act of thinking, judging, believing, etc., to its truth, licenses both individual and communal cognitive relativism, e.g.

1.** It is true that I/we think (judge, believe, etc.) that cats are frogs (or whatever).

2.** Therefore, cats are frogs (or whatever).

Nevertheless, by deploying the systematically ambiguous expression “I truly think p”, Kimhi has systematically confused

(i) it is true that I’m thinking (judging, believing, etc.) p, i.e. it is true that I’m performing an intentional activity of thinking (judging, believing, etc.) that also has the semantic content ‘p‘,

with

(ii) what I’m thinking (judging, believing, etc.) when I’m thinking (judging, believing, etc.) p, is true, i.e. what is represented by that act of thinking, namely the intentional object, is really the way I think (judge, believe, etc.) it to be,

by abolishing

(iii) the intentional content of the act of thinking (judging, believing, etc.), i.e. the (at least relatively) mind-independent proposition, ‘p’,

insofar as he collapses assertoric force and propositional semantic content into one another.

So whereas Brentano and Meinong systematically confused intentional content and intentional object, and whereas early Russell and early Moore struggled with the very same confusion, Kimhi’s logical idealism has systematically confused intentional act and intentional object by abolishing intentional content

In other words, for Kimhi, judgemental truth is just the judging subject’s self-consciously successfully performing a judgement, i.e. just the judging subject’s judging properly or well according to her own self-consciously-imposed standards.

Judgemental falsity, in turn, becomes any attempt at judging that falls short, to any degree, of those self-consciously-imposed standards; that is, judgemental falsity is just the deficiency or privation of judgemental truth; or, judgemental falsity is just non-truth (pp. 60–1).

Now in and of itself, the thesis that falsity is non-truth is logico-philosophically OK, especially if one’s philosophical logic is non-classical or even deviant, and open to many truth-values, truth-value gaps, or even truth-value gluts and dialetheia, as per Rescher and Priest. But in Kimhi’s logical idealism, there is another consequence of this doctrine that is not OK. The problem is that since for Kimhi, truth-assessment is internal to the act of judging, then the less true (= non-true = false) a judgement is, the less it is a determinate, real judgementIn other words, for Kimhi, falsity-as-the-privation-of-truth is also falsity-as-the-privation-of-judgement; so falling short of the truth is thereby falling short of being a determinate, real judgement; and therefore falsity is logically indeterminate and unrealFor Kimhi, then, only one truth-value is determinate and real, namely truth or The True.

Correspondingly, for Kimhi, the operation of logical negation turns a true judgement into a false judgement, namely an indeterminate, unreal judgement, a failed judgement, namely a non-judgement; whereas, asymmetrically, it turns a false judgement into a real, determinate judgement, namely a successful judgement, namely a true judgement. So Kimhi is proposing a Parmenidean logic with

(i) only one determinate, real truth-value, namely truth or The True, hence a 1-valued logic;

(ii) a negation-operation that is inherently asymmetrical,

and

(iii) radical propositional semantic holism.

Curiouser and curiouser!

This takes us one big step beyond Rescher’s and Priest’s dialetheism, from deviant logic to mystical logic, where by ‘a mystical logic’ I mean any logic that determines truth neither by means of logical proof, nor by means of any ground of truth outside logical languages themselves, but instead only internally to logical languages, holistically, and explicitly excluding logical proof as a means of determining truth.

So whereas Wittgenstein wrote a book called Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung, aka the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the title of which could also be accurately translated into English as the Logico-Philosophical Treatise, and whereas Russell published a book called Mysticism and Logic, intending to establish a sharp dichotomy between those two ways of encountering ourselves and the world, on the contrary, Kimhi’s Thinking and Being could also have been equally aptly titled the Mystico-Logical Treatise.

Kimhi explicitly says that his view is not a “philosophical mysticism that points towards an original unity lying beyond the predicative”; nevertheless, “in light of this point, one wonders whether the mystics are looking in the wrong place when they seek the nonpredicative outside of the logos” (p. 75).

This pair of claims expresses a single complex thought, so here is my translation of that: Kimhi is explicitly saying that his view is not a philosophical mysticism that finds the original unity of truth and meaning outside logic, thinking, judging, predication, and the self-conscious use of language, aka the logos; nevertheless, he is also implicitly saying that his view is a philosophical mysticism that finds the original unity of truth and meaning inside logic, thinking, judging, predication, and the self-conscious use of language, aka the logos.

This, in turn, is very like Wittgenstein’s mysticism in the latter parts of the TractatusVery like Wittgenstein too, both early and late, Kimhi only very rarely presents any explicit arguments for his logical idealism.[8] On the contrary, Kimhi typically presents his doctrine as a set of gnomic theses, sometimes using familiar logico-semantic terminology in new and confusing ways—e.g. “categorematic” and “syncategorematic”—and then unpacking the theses somewhat, mostly by showing how they are importantly similar to or different from some classical (e.g. Parmenidean, Aristotelian, or Platonic) or more recent (e.g. Fregean, Russellian, or Wittgensteinian) views in philosophical logic.

As before, don’t get me wrong: I love Wittgenstein’s work, especially the Tractatus and Investigations, find his gnomic style profoundly entrancing, and have spent lots of time and energy rationally reconstructing, teaching, and writing about them.[9] So, being as rationally charitable as possible, I’m going to assume that when Kimhi cites Peter Geach on p. 7, that’s his basic argument for the internality of truth-assessment to the act of judging.

So interpreted, then there is at least one basic line of argument available to Kimhi for abolishing the intentional content of thinking (judging, believing, etc.) and holding that truth-assessment is internal to the act of judging, which I’ll rationally reconstruct as follows:

1. If the evaluation of the truth of a judgement were external to the act of judging, then the evaluation of the truth of any judgement J1 would require another judgement J2 to the effect that J1 corresponds to the real world.

2. Then there would be a vicious infinite regress, since by the same reasoning, there would have to be yet another judgement J3 to the effect that J2 corresponds to the correspondence between J1 and the real world, and so-on and so-forth, logically ad infinitum and ad nauseam, the logical ‘sickness-unto-death’.

3. Therefore, in order to avoid the vicious infinite regress, the assessment of the judgement as true must be internal to the act of judging.

But in my opinion, even being as rationally charitable as all that, this line of reasoning is clearly a non sequitur, because there is an easy way out of the vicious-regress problem that does not entail the internality of truth-assessment to judgement. We can get out of the vicious regress simply by positing an independent source of human cognitive-semantic access to the real world, which is essentially non-conceptual and non-judgement-based, hence also not based on thinking (believing, etc.), since that activity is essentially conceptual  and judgement-based in nature. 

This independent source is what Kant calls ‘intuition’ (Anschauung)—or in contemporary cognitive-semantic terms, direct perception and direct referenceWhatever we call it, the cognitive-semantic function of intuition, direct perception, or direct reference is precisely to confront the judger with the consciously-experienced actual facts in the manifestly real world, without any conceptual or judgement-based mediation, thereby providing an essentially non-conceptual, non-judgement-based, and judgement-independent sufficient reason for the truth and justification of the judgement alike, whenever the instantiation or satisfaction of the monadic and/or many-place predicates of the judgement is also consciously experienced (see Hanna 2015, chs 2–3).

Moreover, an appeal to this essentially non-conceptual cognitive-semantic function of intuition, direct perception, or direct reference, in turn, effectively solves Kimhi’s Parmenidean/Wittgensteinian puzzle about thinking what-is-not.

For the consciously-experienced instantiation or satisfaction of the monadic and/or many-place predicates of the judgement happens only when the essentially non-conceptual function cognitive-semantically accesses actual facts; contrariwise, when the essentially non-conceptual cognitive-semantic function still accesses the actual world and yet the monadic and/or many-place predicates of the judgement are consciously experienced as uninstantiated or non-satisfied, then the judgement is false, and the judgemental conceptual/propositional content picks out only a merely possible fact, not an actual fact.

So the consciously-experienced uninstantiation or non-satisfaction of the monadic and/or many-place predicates of the judgement, alongside essentially non-conceptual cognitive-semantic access to the actual world, is an essentially non-conceptual, non-judgement-based, and judgement-independent sufficient reason for the falsity and non-justification of the judgement alike.

In other words, in order to solve Kimhi’s Parmenidean/Wittgensteinian puzzle about thinking what-is-not, all that is needed is the realisation that you can think what-is-not by judgementally/propositionally representing a fact, and also, independently of that act of representation (but in some cases, also simultaneously, or virtually simultaneously), cognitive-semantically accessing the actual world via the essentially non-conceptual component of the judgement, and also consciously experiencing the uninstantiation or non-satisfaction of the monadic and/or many-place predicates of the judgement.

For example, standing on the backs behind King’s College in Springtime, looking dreamily down the Cam towards Trinity and St. John’s, just idly watching the punters, I suddenly hear someone shout, “King’s College is on fire!”, and in a flash I think, “Bloody hell, it’s on fire!”, and then instantly turn and look to my right, and see King’s College, and also consciously experience its-not-being-on-fire, insofar as the monadic predicate ‘being-on-fire’ is manifestly uninstantiated or non-satisfied by actual King’s College. This concept-independent, judgement-independent essentially non-conceptual cognitive-semantic function also provides a ground of linguistic meaning that is inherently realistic and anti-holistic.

In Logical Investigations VI, Husserl calls the consciously experienced operation of the essentially non-conceptual, intuitional, direct-perceptual, direct-referential, sufficient-reason-providing, inherently realistic, anti-holistic cognitive-semantic function, whereby it provides a confrontation-relation to the manifestly real actual world, alongside the consciously-experienced instantiation or satisfaction of the monadic and/or many-place predicates of the judgement, “fulfilment”, and he also calls its consciously-experienced negative counterpart, “counter-fulfilment”.

Correspondingly, I think it is significant and not a mere oversight that although Kimhi has closely read lots of Frege and Wittgenstein both early and late, not to mention the work of the other main figures in the Pittsburgh/Chicago neo-Hegelianism-with-a-serious-dash-of-neo-Aristotelianism tradition, and has also clearly thought long, hard, critically, and creatively about all that exciting philosophical material, he apparently has not read, and therefore apparently has never (seriously) engaged with, Husserl’s Logical Investigations.

Moreover, I think this is significant and not a mere reading-list oversight, because as a matter of historico-philosophical fact, the most influential and powerful arguments in post-Kantian philosophy against psychologicism in general, against confusing intentional act and intentional object in particular, for semantic realism and against semantic holism and anti-realism, for the doctrine of truth-as-fulfilment and falsity-as-counter-fulfilment, and above all, an early twentieth century version of strong Non-Conceptualism, can all be found in Logical Investigations (see Hanna 1993).

But if there is any doctrine that ultimately defines Pittsburgh/Chicago neo-Hegelianism-with-a-serious-dash-of-neo-Aristotelianism, it is card-carrying ConceptualismFor the record, Conceptualism says that all cognitive-semantic content is strictly determined by our conceptual capacities (which includes our capacities for thinking, judging, believing, etc., and self-conscious language-using); whereas strong Non-Conceptualism denies this and asserts that not only is it the case that some cognitive-semantic content is not strictly determined by our conceptual capacities, but also that this content is essentially different from conceptual content, and cognitively and semantically foundational for conceptual content. And the characteristic mark of card-carrying Conceptualism is to hold that there is no question of ever having to argue against Non-Conceptualism, because

(1) self-evidently, all cognitive-semantic content must be conceptual (judgement-based, belief-based, etc.);

(2) self-evidently, non-conceptual content is not conceptual content;

(3) so self-evidently, there is no such thing as non-conceptual content.

But obviously, since strong Non-Conceptualism is clearly and distinctly a theory of cognitive-semantic content, for better or worse, then the card-carrying Conceptualist’s premise (1) simply begs the question at issue.

Kimhi’s card-carrying Conceptualism follows directly from his explicitly identifying the capacity for judgement with the capacity for language, with the capacity for using logical words, with the capacity for self-consciousness, with the capacity for thinking (p. 16), and more indirectly, from his explicit acceptance of Kant’s theory of judgement, including the doctrines that the faculty of thinking is the faculty of concepts, and that the only use of a concept is to judge by means of it (pp. 52–3).

Hence if strong Non-Conceptualism is true, as I firmly believe and have also argued at length and in detail that it is (Hanna 2015, ch. 2), then since Kimhi’s main claims all mistakenly presuppose, without argument, the truth of card-carrying Conceptualism, it follows immediately that Kimhi’s main claims cannot be true, even apart from my other worries about them.

Finally then, we come back to the profound question: can logic absolve us of our sins and redeem the world? It should be clear by now that Kimhi’s philosophical logic can do so only by means of a Hegel-style logico-idealistic mysticism that merely, passively, and piously accepts a Parmenidean logic with one determinate, real truth-value, and the inherent asymmetry of negation, together with the gnomic thesis that thinking and being are one and the same although not strictly speaking token- or type- identical, together with the collapse of force and content into one another, together with radical propositional semantic holism.

But this all amounts to metaphysical quietism, as Kimhi explicitly points out:

Quietism does not seek to reduce not-being to being through an analysis of negation and truth- and falsity-conditions, or to show that the point of view from which the use of negation appears unintelligible rests merely on a confusion about the actual uses of words. Instead, the quietist seeks to render the unity of thinking and being (and non-being) self-evident by attaining clarity through the occurrence of propositions or predicates inside and outside negations and other logical contexts.

I want to suggest that we can come to recognize that metaphysics—correctly understood—is quietism, by learning, from within quietism, how to read the “meta” of “metaphysics”. The lesson of quietism is that “meta-” does not point toward a science that comes “after” physics, nor does it point toward supernatural entities such as divine substances, or a region of facts that lie “beyond” or “over and above” nature. (p. 161)

I’m entirely onboard with the rejection of scientific naturalism on the one hand and noumenal (including Platonistic or Cartesian-dualistic) metaphysics on the other: a metaphysical plague on both their houses.

And I’m also entirely onboard with any solution to The Logocentric Predicament that refuses to explain and justify logic ‘sideways on’, that is, externally to logic and logical thinking, but instead explains logic internally, by recognising that core elements of logic are inherent conditions of the possibility of rational human thinking itself (see Hanna 2006b, ch. 3).

But by sharp contrast to Kimhi’s metaphysical quietism, in my opinion, a philosophical logic that connects us directly and in a categorically normative, life-changing, world-changing way, to a Kant-style existentially-oriented ethics, critical theology, and cosmopolitan radical politics, seems far better positioned to provide authentic absolution and redemption for ‘human, all-too-human’ cognisers and free agents like us.[10]

This is metaphysical activism, not metaphysical quietism; more explicitly, let’s call it life-changing, world-changing metaphysics.[11] Or in other words, echoing but also extending early Marx’s devastating critical reply to the metaphysical (and existential, moral, and political) quietism of Hegel and the Hegelians:  Do not merely, passively, and piously interpret the world; the real point of philosophy is to change your life and then change the world accordingly, in the right way.

Moreover, again in my opinion, a philosophical logic that entails a metaphysically activist, life-changing, world-changing metaphysics is, or anyhow it should be, what Nietzsche evocatively called “the philosophy of the future”, the philosophy that rejects, revolutionises, and succeeds Analytic philosophy.

Nevertheless, as I have said several times, I do think that Thinking and Being is a first-rate and perhaps even brilliant piece of philosophy; and above all, we must remain eternally grateful to Kimhi for sending the bitter dregs of classical Analytic philosophy down into the ash-heap of history.

Invited: 10 October 2018. Received: 13 December 2018.

Notes:

[1] See also A. Gefter, ‘The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World With Logic’Nautilus (5 February 2015).

[2] This is not to say that Frege, Russell, and Moore did not in fact retain important, characteristically Kantian and/or Hegelian elements in their views, even despite their revolutionary intentions: on the contrary, they did, hence their work is still firmly within the late modern European tradition flowing from Kant and Hegel. See e.g. Hylton (1990) and Hanna (2001).

[3] It is inherently retrograde and therefore a ‘devolution’, since, at its core, it is nothing but a technically-sophisticated and scientistic version of the pre-Kantian, Leibniz-Wolff style scholastic metaphysics of essences. See Hanna (2017a).

[4] See Hanna (2015, 2018).

[5] See Hanna (2006a, b, 2014).

[6] See e.g. Hanna (2015, 2018).

[7] The allusion is of course to Czeslaw Milosz’s classic study of mind-control and mental slavery in post-WW II, mid-twentieth century social institutions (Milosz 1955). For an extension of essentially the same line of critical thinking to the contemporary professional academy, see Schmidt (2000). And for a much-elaborated application of it to mainstream contemporary professional academic philosophy in particular, see Against Professional Philosophy.

[8] When I was a philosophy graduate student, my logic teacher Ruth Barcan Marcus used to get howls of laughter from us (or from me, anyway) by striking a mock-tragic attitude every time Wittgenstein’s name was mentioned, and then shouting histrionically: “But he never argues for anything!”

[9] See e.g. Hanna, ‘Lectures on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: Cambridge, Michaelmas Term 2003‘, Lectures on Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: Cambridge, Lent Term 2004‘, and Hanna (2007, 2010, 2017b).

[10] See Hanna (2006b), ch. 7, (2015), ch. 5, Hanna (2018d), pt. 3.

[11] See Hanna (2017c).


References:

Carnap, R. (1937), The Logical Syntax of Language, trans. A. Smeaton (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul)

Hanna, R. (2001), Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

——— (2006a), ‘Rationality and the Ethics of Logic’, Journal of Philosophy 103: 67–100.

——— (2006b), Rationality and Logic (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

——— (2007), ‘Kant, Wittgenstein, and the Fate of Analysis’, in M. Beaney (ed.), The Analytic Turn (London: Routledge), pp. 145–67.

——— (2010), ‘From Referentialism to Human Action: Wittgenstein’s Critique of the Augustinian Theory of Language’, in A. Ahmed (ed.), Wittgenstein’s ‘Philosophical Investigations’: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 11–29.

——— (2014), ‘What is the Nature of Inference?’, in V. Hösle (ed.), Forms of Truth (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press), pp. 89–101.

——— (2015), Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press). [Part V of the The Rational Human Condition]

——— (2017a), ‘Kant, the Copernican Devolution, and Real Metaphysics’, in M. Altman (ed.), The Palgrave Kant Handbook (London: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 761–89.

——— (2017b), ‘Wittgenstein and Kantianism’, in H.-J. Glock (ed.), Blackwell Companion to Wittgenstein (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 682–98.

——— (2017c), ‘Life-Changing Metaphysics: Rational Anthropology and its Kantian Methodology’, in G. D’Oro & S. Overgaard (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 201–26.

——— (2018a-d), The Rational Human Condition, 4 vols (New York: Nova Science).

Hylton, P. (1990), Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press). 

Milosz, C. (1955), The Captive Mind, trans. J. Bielonsky (New York: Vintage, 1955)

Russell, B. (1975), Autobiography (London: Allen Unwin).

Schmidt, J. (2000), Disciplined Minds (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield).

© Robert Hanna, 2018.


Robert Hanna is the Director of the Contemporary Kantian Philosophy project. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1989, and has held research or teaching positions at the University of Cambridge, the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, the University of Luxembourg, PUC-PR Brazil, Yale, and York University, Canada. His work has a broadly Kantian orientation, and he also has strong interests in the history of modern philosophy from Bacon/Hobbes/Descartes to contemporary philosophy, in the philosophy of nature and natural science, and in critical meta-philosophy. He has authored or co-authored six books, published with Oxford University Press, MIT Press, and Palgrave Macmillan. The first four volumes of a five-book series on the nature of human rationality, entitled The Rational Human Condition, are out now with Nova Science. The Mind-Body politic, co-authored with Michelle Maiese, is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan.

Website

An earlier version of this article falsely stated that Irad Kimhi is tenured at the University of Chicago. This has now been corrected.

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