Essays on Being (Review) [Book Review]

Journal of Hellenic Studies 130:285-86 (2010)
This volume collects eight of Kahn’s articles from 1966 to 2004, with a 15-page introduction and a previously unpublished 12-page postscript to one article, concerning a variety of issues on Parmenides unrelated to the titular topic. Kahn’s work on the interpretation of being in Greek philosophy and literature is seminal, and it is most welcome to have these articles in one volume. It is partly because Kahn’s contribution is important, partly because the issue is thorny and partly because his thought on the issue has evolved over time that one might wish for more. Kahn sketches the development of his view in the short introduction, but the articles are unrevised, and it is largely left to the reader to answer questions of compatibility. It is a commonplace today to note that expressions such as ‘to be’, einai and their cognates, in English and Greek respectively, are ambiguous among different meanings in various sentential contexts. These contexts include predications such as ‘Socrates is pale’ and existential claims such as Kallias estin, as well as identity claims such as ‘Superman is Clark Kent’ and generic claims such as ‘Man is mortal’. Many ancient writers seem not to distinguish among these distinct meanings but freely move from one to another. Rather than charging these authors with a fallacy of equivocation, Kahn and others have sought to characterize a uniform sense of einai which would license these inferences. Although in early work, Kahn emphasizes the primacy of a veridical sense of einai as ‘to be true’ or ‘to be the case’, in later work, he emphasizes the primacy of the predicative sense. In ordinary contexts of predication, the speaker purports to assert a truth about an existing object. So the predicative sense of einai implicitly connotes existential and veridical claims, and these connotations can be made explicit through certain grammatical transformations..
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