237. (Irad Kimhi)

I was alerted to Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being before its publication by way of a note in Sebastian Rödl’s Self-Consciousness and Objectivity, and though there are other ways of reading Kimhi’s short work—not least as an ambition to meet Parmenides’ challenge of how it is possible to think what is not, by restoring our understanding of Aristotle, Plato, and Wittgenstein—I found myself appreciating it as a development and deepening of some (but only some) that is latent in Rödl’s latest work. There is nothing, to my mind, as exciting happening in poetry or novels or literature right now as what seems to be happening in philosophy, where a reaffirmation of metaphysics, and a reappraisal of the entire tradition of philosophical thought, is launching forth in a series of monographs; this generation of philosophers has ensured McDowell will last as a major figure, by building on, and revising his project, while pursuing a program that is their own.

Rödl and Kimhi (as I will abbreviate the names of the philosophers for the duration) are alike dissatisfied with contemporary analytic philosophy’s inability to make sense of self-consciousness as a ground for all philosophical activity, and for judgment itself. For Kimhi, the issue arrives indirectly: the most successful modern attempt at addressing Parmenides’ puzzle about “knowing what is not” has been Frege’s, but Frege’s system of logical notation, depending as it does on a distinction between the intensional force and extensional force of predicates cannot account for the inference:  “p”à “A judges p”à “A rightly judges p.”  Within the context of “A judges,” “p” takes on a different intensional force (its sense) from when it stands alone, even though its extension (its reference) remains the same; it is intension, rather than extension, that permits inference. To remedy the problem, Frege introduces into his otherwise pristine system of logical notation a sign that has no truth-referential value. The closest my keyboard comes to drawing it:  |–  .   That sign is one of assertoric force: it signifies that something has been asserted, but it remains unrelated to the content of asserted propositions.

By so doing, Frege removes the assertoric force from the logical unity of a thought: Frege’s sign represents merely the acknowledgement that a thought is true. But this is not enough. The challenge of Parmenides—how can I say a house is on fire if there is no house on fire—how can I speak of that which does not exist—is not met by this, though. Kimhi saves his objection for the third and last chapter of the book. For any proposition, Pa, its truth value is associated with the extensional reference to something that exists (the extension is a relation between a and a fact in the world that must obtain). But what is it that creates this “association”? How is it associated with the extensional reference to something that exists, as opposed to something that does not exists?

“In virtue of what is the forceless combination Pa associated with the truth-making relation that a falls under the extension of P, and thus with the claim Pa, rather than with the truth-making relation that a does not fall under P (or falls under the extension of ~P), and this with the opposite claim ~Pa? This question cannot be answered, since Pa does not display and assertion, and therefore there is nothing that associates it with the positive rather than the negative judgment.” (137)

Interestingly, this, coming near the end of Kimhi’s work, is very much where Rödl starts out in Self-Consciousness and Objectivity (p. 43: “But this second-order judgment is not a thought of its own validity. So I am not, in judging that I must judge q, conscious of anything that stands in the way of judging that I may judge  ~q. And this is to say that I am not conscious of anything that stands in the way of judging ~ q.”); I will return to the differences (fortifying, I think) between Kimhi and Rödl

Kimhi is not ungenerous to Frege; he sees the introduction of the assertoric notation as Frege’s arriving at a crucial notion, that of “syncategorematic expressions”—by which Kimhi means something distinct from what he says is the “familiar” (he assumes his readership) “semantic notion of the syncategorematic which invokes an intuitive idea of what is and is not referentially significant.” Instead, he refers to an expression that, unlike a “categorematic expression,” “play a significant role within a predicative proposition.” Instances might include “__believes” or “and__” or “or___”  or “… is true” or “….is false” or “…not”. The notion is not easily graspable, and Kimhi returns to it more than once, but I think most clearly when he explains that a syncategorematic expression is an operation of consciousness upon what is thought: it is he consciousness separating and combining thoughts in relation to its own measure of truth and falsity.

Put another way, whereas the categorematic notation of Fregean logic can provide an account of the content of thought, such an account of that thought will be divorced from being/reality/the world on the one and of the thinker/subject on the other; a mode of expression, not available in formal logic, because not reducible to the elements within propositions, is required in order to close the gap. Kimhi calls this mode of expression the syncategorematic. It is the expression of thought thinking itself, as well as thought thinking being…and here the great leap of the argument, necessary to close the puzzle…

To think of facts in the world at all, to think of the referent of a thought at all, is to think syncategorematically: the very notion of a fact is a syncategorematic notion because the notion of a fact is understandable only as a part of an operation by which thought knows its own truth p. 100: “facts are syncategormatic units”). In so saying, I leap ahead to describe how it is that thought and being are unified, how the logic of thinking and the logic of being are the same. Their identity can only be appreciated syncategorematically.

To answer Parmenides, however—to provide an account of the puzzle of negation (or puzzles: how we can think other than what is the case is relatively simple for traditional analytic philosophy, whereas the deeper puzzle, how we can think “that which is not” is a standing challenge)—Kimhi must provide an analysis of the syncategorematic expression.

The first move is perhaps made more ably and thoroughly by Rödl, but it is to insist that there is no judgment about the world that is not also an assertion. (Against those who would point to the numerous judgments that have no force—in the theater for instance—Kimhi points out that it is possible for an assertion to be gestural, to display what an assertion is without identifying itself as one (as a person might demonstrate the stroke of swimming without jumping into the pool and performing the act); it depends on context.). The next move is for Kimhi to provide an account of a proposition that distinguishes “logos” from naming or referring; reasoning from simply saying a word. Here, he relies on unusually thrilling readings of Aristotle, in which he recovers the idea that affirmation and negation are only understood within a single dominant unity, the capacity for a two-way act of combination and separation, each of which, and both of which together, are syncategorematic acts—acts that can only be understood syncategorematically—and this because any act that depends upon “logos,” reasoning and judgment, is two-way, whereas natural capacities or acts are not (a doctor can create health or disease etc). Judgment is a syncategorematic capacity of combining and separation since holding something true means holding facts in a certain combination, whereas holding something to be false means holding facts in separation. But to hold facts in separation must mean holding them in separation against a possible combination, and so combination is prior, contained in any separation (In the same way, the present tense, Kimhi explains when engaging Rödl’s Categories of the Temporal, is prior).

What Kimhi is doing in all of this is articulating what he believes to be—and Rödl would agree—a genuine philosophic logic, a metaphysic or, in Rödl’s word, “transcendental” logic of thought that existing logical notation is inadequate to take up.

The crucial aspect of what it means for the logical unity of thought to be a two-way capacity is deeper than I have said. It is not enough for the assertion, and the combination in an assertion, to take priority over a negation and separation. If we hold only the view that positive holds priority over the negative, we fail to meet Parmenides challenge. In the final chapter of the book, Kimhi offers a reading of Plato’s Sophist, in which Plato offers us a way to do just that. The trouble, of course, comes in interpreting Plato’s dialogue, in trying to work out how to trap the Sophist, for whom thought and being are forever separate, permitting the vacuity of thought that we know as sophistry. The two major attempts have been made in an analytic tradition, one depending on the premises of formal logical analysis and the other by McDowell, who seeks to deflate the problem entirely. Kimhi finds the latter unsatisfying, noting that McDowell admits Parmenides would too.

The key passage comes when The Stranger, speaking to Theaetetus, working together to defeat the Sophist, suggests what is meant when we use a negative prefix, “not”: “the prefixed word “not” indicates something different that the words following the negative, or rather, different than the things which the words uttered after the negative apply to.” The crux of the interpretive debates has been the word “different.” What is this “Difference” or “Otherness” that the Stranger invokes? Kimhi admires especially Edward Lee’s attempt at resolving the challenge:

“Otherness itself, in conjunction with some one other terms, now serves the constitute the being of a novel nature, the nature of a “Part of Otherness.” Through this constitutive role, each part of Otherness will be something whose whole nature consists in this: in otherness-than some other specified nature. It will therefore be something whose “nature” (thus, whose being) consists in its not-being-something-else. In its earlier, “supervenient” role, Otherness served to define non-beings which were also something in and of themselves, of their own nature. But its constative role—that is, the doctrine of the Parts of Otherness, defines a non-Being which is not also something in and of itself: a non-Being which has no proper nature “all its own,” but whose being consists precisely and exclusively in its not being something else.”

But the problem here, McDowell pointed out, and Kimhi agrees, lies in the invocation of “Otherness,” since it becomes an additional relation, another predicate, which is anything that falls outside of the extension of the first predicate. Something being not-X, means “it is Other.” McDowell’s own reading avoided this genesis of a second relation and second predicate by taking “otherness” to be an explanation of why we do not need to worry about negation, rather than a relation of the negated object to Otherness itself.

Kimhi resolves Lee’s dilemma by restoring a proper sense of Otherness. “Otherness” or “difference” lies within the syncategorematic form of any assertion: it consists in “the unity of the contradictory pair over each of its members.” Hence even a positive assertion forms part of a broader unity with its negated self:

“In light of the analogy between the partition of Otherness and the partition of knowledge, we can make the same point about Otherness and negation. The same syncategorematic or logical form [by which Kimhi means genuine philosophical logic] is active in the fact that Helen is beautiful and in the fact that Quasimodo is not beautiful. Thus, Plato is conveying, by the analogy between difference and knowledge, that the beautiful and the not beautiful are distinguished as two activities of the same logical form: “__is beautiful”, and that this distinction is syncategorematic…Lee’s reading of the dialogue remains incomplete and vulnerable to McDowell’s objection because he fails to associate the distinction between the supervenient and constitutive roles of Otherness with two senses of form. What we should say is that, in its supervening role, Otherness holds between categorematic forms [that is, we can say one thing is different from another thing, and express this categorematically], whereas in its constitutive role Otherness is an operation that displays the dependence of one act of a syncategorematic form on another. Lee fails to note that Otherness (or knowledge) is not partitioned in virtue of being directed to a categorematic form, but rather on the basis of the act of a categorematic form.”

Because facts, as well as assertions, are syncategorematic forms, the logical unity of thinking and being pertains to being as well as thinking. It becomes possible to infer, all at once, in a single glance: “pàA judges pàA truly judges p” or else the opposite, or any other combination. In Aristotelian terms, that Kimhi offers earlier in the book:

“The two-way capacity S is F can be active in the soul or in the world both positively and negatively—i.e. as combination or separation. The positive activity of the capacity in the soul is the judgment that S is F; the negative activity of the capacity is the judgment that S is not F. The positive activity of the capacity in the world is the fact that S is F; the negative activity is the negative fact that S is not F. A judgment is true when it is an activity of a capacity in the soul that is active in the same direction in the world; a judgment is false when it is an activity in the soul that is active in the opposite direction in the world.”

But saying this, we need to remember that the notion of a “fact” is itself syncategorematic, is itself an operation of thought upon itself—or as Rödl might say, is itself a judgment about the world that cannot be separated from self-consciousness experiencing the world.

Introducing a term as cumbersome and specialized as “syncategorematic” may be thought a habit among philosophers; habit or not, it demands justification. An open question for me is why Kimhi insists on that form instead of the obvious alternative. For what “syncategorematic” does is to demarcate a realm of expression and thought that cannot be reduced to categorematic notation or analysis—it is very much, in that sense, similar to “metaphysical.” And this is where Kimhi ends his book:

“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.

Instead, we can conclude from quietism that the “meta” is the beyond of the syncategorematic relative to the categorematic; in particular, it is the syncategorematic unity of simple contradictory pairs, the unity of determination and the notion (or Otherness) of determination, which dominates the positive members of the pair. The philosophical logic that removes the Parmenediean puzzles and renders apparent the truistic unity of thinking and being must therefore be, in this sense, metaphysical.”

In other words, Kimhi wants to suggest that the “meta” prefix, referring to “beyond”, is in fact properly understood as the “syn” prefix, referring to “with.” The move is “quietist” because it suggests that the metaphysical already accompanies, is already within, our normal propositions, our everyday speech, and that such unity is also the unity of thought and being as well as the unity of contradictory pairs. What is “beyond” our language and ourselves, is already “with” our language and ourselves.

I’ve said that it is easy, even fruitful, to read Kimhi in conjunction with Rödl In part, Kimhi elucidates two aspects of Rödl But in part, it is helpful because Rödl provides a meaningful context for Kimhi

Kimhi elucidates (and possibly corrects) Rödl in two respects:

One, as he notes in a footnote running from p. 107 to p. 110, Rödl’s account of the temporal unity of thought, in terms of states, substance, and laws, is profitably understood as a syncategorematic distinction; it cannot be accounted for in categorematic terms. Kimhi criticizes Rödl on these grounds: “His view is an example of a partial linguistic turn…Rödl sees that “S is F” and “S was F” exhibit the same form—and indeed the same content, for the predicative unity expressed by “is” and “was” is not an element of their content. Yet he fails to recognize the difference between them as syncategorematic, and concludes that the difference reflects a distinction within the categorematic form…He holds that what brings together the statements “S is F” made yesterday and the statement “S was F” made today is the sameness of content rather than the logical unity of thinking.” According to Kimhi, this presents Rödl with some difficulties in accounting for inferences.

I am not persuaded by Kimhi’s argument; for one thing, to suggest that Rödl ought to have invoked a species of difference (“syncategorematic”) unknown to Rödl or anyone who had not read Kimhi’s work (Rödl had not, I think, at the time of his Categories of the Temporal) is strange, and if that complaint is translated into the underlying point about Rödl’s failure to see that the different statements about the state of a substance (S is F, S was F) are held together by a logical unity of thinking, then I think Kimhi is reading Rödl inaccurately.  Rödl’s entire argument rests on the notion that the logical unity of thinking is temporal, and that the temporal is understood only as a metaphysical category. The very clarification of the point that Rödl provides, and that Kimhi references—wherein the difference between the statements is “like the sexual difference within a species: a distinction in the form that is not a formal difference” seems to me to get at just what Kimhi asks. His objection may very well rest on Rödl’s preposition, “within,” but I do not know that it in any way a worse preposition than Kimhi’s. Kimhi complains of the spatio-logical form of Fregean reasoning, by which propositions are combined like blocks of a wall; but his own language is saturated with spatial metaphors (“syn”…); Rödl does not complain about the problem but takes it as a condition of speech that they must be employed.

Rödl’s account of temporality is elucidated by Kimhi, but not, I think, corrected.

Second, Kimhi provides an account of how the law of contradiction is essential to thought, a point made several times, and explained, in Rödl’s recent Self-Consciousnes and Objectivty, which was written after Rödl had read Kimhi’s work. For instance: “As I judge what I do so through the concept of sufficient grounds, my judgment of experience, as such is a consciousness of the principles of inference.”  I struggled with what Rödl meant by this; reading Kimhi helped a great deal.

In another way, though, Rödl provides a more meaningful and far-reaching context for Kimhi’s insights. For Rödl not only recovers and returns us to Aristotelian insights about thought and being, but also to Kantian insights about the form of thought and Hegelian insights into the priority of self-consciousness to all acts of thought. That Kant is beneath the surface of Kimhi is apparent in statements like “The form which is active in knowledge/judgment is the same as the form of the object of knowledge.”  But Rödl’s debt is specifically Hegelian in that he insists on the priority of the first-person, of self-consciousness, rather than consciousness. So whereas Kimhi begins his argument with the puzzle of “pàA judges that p,” Rödl argues that priority must be given to the self-conscious judgment underlying any component of the syllogism. The priority of the first-person leads Rödl immediately into the buzz-saws of thought and being, forces him to encounter right away the Sophist and Parmenides’ challenges, though he does not frame his argument on those lines.


Rödl’s return to Hegel also liberates him more thoroughly, in his style, from the inheritance of Frege. In particular, in his criticism of the language of Frege’s formal predicative logic, Rödl is unremitting, profoundly dissatisfied with formal logic’s capacity to address questions of genuine philosophic logic. We have seen something similar in Kimhi, in the insistence that philosophic logic must go beyond the categorematic, as Frege’s notation cannot do. But Kimhi nonetheless advances his claims by working from that notation, appealing throughout his arguments to that single letter p. From Rödl’s perspective, Kimhi remains, in this choice of argumentative approach, too beholden to Frege and the analytic tradition since him. In other words, Both Kimhi and Rödl would accuse the other of insufficiently distancing themselves from the Fregean inheritance. But whereas Kimhi’s accusation against Rödl has to do with the failure to properly articulate the logical unity of tense and aspect of verbs as syncategorematic, Rödl’s implicit complaint against Kimhi (and though it is never spelled out, it is hardly impossible that he did not realize its application to Kimhi, since his Self-Consciousness and Objectivity is partially indebted to Kimhi’s work) has to do with the form of Kimhi’s argument. Here is Rödl:

“Philosophers are in the habit of indicating the object of judgment by the letter p. There is an insouciance with respect to this fateful letter. It stands ready quietly, unobtrusively, to assure us that we know what we are talking about. For example, when we do epistemology, we are interested in what it is for someone to know—know what? oh yes: p. If we inquire into rational requirements on action or intention, we ask what it is to be obliged to—what? oh yes: see to it that p, intend that, if p, then q, and so on. However, if we undertake to reflect on thought, on its self-consciousness and its objectivity, then the letter p signifies the deepest question and the deepest comprehension. If only we understood the letter p, the whole would open up to us.” (55)

Now, Rödl himself makes use of p a great deal in his argument; he must, to engage with Frege and the analytic tradition. But his complaint against it is not merely a complaint of doing things according to conventions associated with a mode of argument that he feels to be inadequate. He thinks that the letter itself cuts philosophers off from seeing the fundamental problems with which they are dealing, notably: the nature of the object of judgment and the self-conscious nature of judgment itself. Hence:

“Natural languages provide a variety of expressions that serve the purpose to which philosophers put the letter p. In English, the object of judgment is what is, what is the case, the facts, the world, the objective world, reality, etc. I shall most often use the term what is: I judge that things are so, I judge that it is so; so it is, I say. Reflecting on this concept, the first thing we note is that the concept of what is, the concept of a fact, the concept of something real, does not signify a part, an aspect, a limited region of—of what? yes: of—what is, the facts, reality. The concept of what is—let this evoke the many words that philosophy and ordinary language supply to designate this concept—is not a concept of anything limited. It is not a concept of an element, distinct from other elements, of a whole comprising them. It is not contained in anything larger than it. The concept of what is has always already transcended any boundary. Therefore the object of judgment cannot be placed alongside another object, the object of animal consciousness, say. The object of judgment is the object sans phrase; it is the object, the object uberhaupt.” (56)

And, later:

“The I think is not a content that could beaded to what is thought, p. A lucid notation would not write I think next to p, but form the letter p by means of the letters I think. As the principles of inference are the I think, what we said of the I think holds true of them. It is misleading to write up principles of inference as statements alongside other statements.” (138)

Neither of these remarks is directed towards Kimhi in any conspicuous fashion; it may be entirely my suspicion that they would, from Rödl’s perspective, pertain to his work at all. But I do suspect they would.

Rödl is more radical in the form of his departure from the dominant tradition of analytic philosophy, more bullish in his charges, but reading Kimhi elucidates and supplements what Rödl attempts to restore to sight. He addresses other problems, other texts, but he moves in the same direction—leaps in the same direction—backwards, to Classical texts and Wittgenstein, alike misread in crucial respects, and forwards to a renewed conception of metaphysics.



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