Common Knowledge 27 (1):108-108 (2021)

Authors
Barry Allen
McMaster University
Abstract
A negative judgment (“S is not p”) says what is not the case, but since what is not the case is nothing and does not exist, a negative judgment says nothing, and is not a judgement at all. Wittgenstein called this “the mystery of negation.” By negation I can be right in what I say even though I say nothing at all. No less fastidious a logician than Rudolf Carnap sneered at philosophers who take such trifles seriously. Parmenides, the first of many who did, drew the conclusion that one simply cannot say or think what is not, admonishing followers, “Say and think only this, being is.” The challenge philosophers inherit from Parmenides is to explain an account of thought and being that liberates negation from its ontological prison and lets it loose into the world again. The price they usually pay for their explanation is metaphysical idealism. The truth of thinking (including thinking what is not) must depend on nothing but thinking itself, and the favorite way of explaining that is to identify being with thought. If I think it, truly think it, then it is. With Parmenides, Plato, Plotinus, and Hegel, this is also Kimhi’s position, though I find him too discreet about the idealistic quality of the philosophy he explains. To brutally summarize, the idea is that to think what is not is to think what is, with a self-consciousness of disagreement. There is no difference of content between “S” and “not-S”; the difference lies entirely in the self-consciousness we bring to it. That sounds fine until we ask, what is this self-consciousness, and what is happening when one becomes self-aware of agreement or disagreement? Is that a natural activity like respiration, or an evolved animal power like vision? Kimhi says the thinking in “S thinks that p” is an activity sui generis, without analogy in living nature, a conclusion that is not available to anyone who takes Darwin seriously. He says nature does not include thinkers or thinking, which places us somewhere beyond nature. Nature is a whole, but not the whole of being. And beyond nature is . . . what? We have to use our imagination. So much onto-psychology just for a puzzle about negation? Why not naturalize logic, and truth too? Kimhi acknowledges resistance to the putative uniqueness of thinking then sets it aside. He does not explain how his theory speaks to the reasons against idealism, rationalism, or androcentric human exceptionalness. These are serious challenges to philosophical practice that should not be ignored, not even by logicians.
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DOI 10.1215/0961754x-8723117
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