Gregory S. Moss: Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics

Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity Book Cover Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity
Routledge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy
Gregory S. Moss
Hardback £96.00

Reviewed by: Emre Ebeturk (Independent Scholar)

Hegel’s Foundation Free MetaphysicsThe Logic of Singularity is a multifaceted book. It is undoubtedly an outstanding contribution to Hegel scholarship thanks to its thoroughgoing reconstruction of Hegel’s doctrine of the concept. Gregory Moss’s book is, however, not just a commentary on Hegel; its examination of the Absolute and the concept of the concept makes it a comprehensive and original work on metaphysics and philosophy of logic. Besides, throughout his examination, Moss discusses several major names from the history of philosophy in impressive depth, critically exposing decisive patterns in the history of thought. Within Hegel scholarship, it is a compelling contribution, which supports the “philosophy without foundations” and “Hegel’s logic as metaphysics” readings of Hegel.

Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics is written as a defense of the Absolute from a genuinely Hegelian perspective: Moss takes Hegel literally and puts laudable effort to render Hegel’s metaphysics more intelligible. According to Moss, the Absolute has never been less popular in the history of philosophy as it is in contemporary thought, where post-modernists and new-realists are on a similar page concerning the skepticism toward its non-existence. In such circumstances, Moss undertakes a spirited defense of the Absolute that consists of two parts. The first part of the book lays out the major reasons behind the failure of the history of philosophy in accounting for the Absolute and discusses the problems generated by the compromised stance on the Absolute. The second part is an in-depth reconstruction of the Hegelian solution to those problems and a defense of the Hegelian resurrection of the Absolute.

The first part of the book sets off by explaining the grounds on which the Absolute is denied existence. Moss’s account of other major philosophers’ treatment of the Absolute is thorough and charitable to such an extent that one can easily forget that it is primarily a book about Hegel’s metaphysics. Moss explains why major philosophers avoided or failed to account for the Absolute. Finding the answer in the prevalent conception of the relationships between identity and difference and universality and particularity, Moss shows how the absolute separation of the factors of these dyads creates more significant problems than the ones they solve.

Thus, at the heart of Moss’s argument lies two central and connected claims: First, the denial of the Absolute is bound up with the separation of principles of universality and particularity. Second, this separation rests ultimately on the privileged status of and the dogmatic abidance by the principle of non-contradiction (PNC). Moss wants to show that for those who absolutize the PNC, the Absolute must be either non-existent or at least unknowable. Since every concept and every existing thing, as the argument goes, must conform to this principle, the Absolute, if it exists, must be itself and cannot be what it is not. This implies that the Absolute cannot be anything relative, and everything relative is an other to the Absolute. But this, Moss argues, makes the Absolute limited and not all-encompassing. Such a limited “Absolute” can only be known by what is other to itself, rendering it relative to another. This is, however, clearly a contradiction, as the Absolute is not supposed to be relative. Accordingly, if the Absolute is to exist or be known, then the PNC cannot be the principle governing truth or existence.

In his book, Moss frequently states that Absolute Being is bound up with Absolute Knowledge, both of which are one with the Absolute Truth (Moss: 261). Moss argues that the separation of principles of universality and particularity that holds back the pursuit of the Absolute Truth follows naturally from a strict abidance by the PNC. But this abidance brings about six fundamental problems: Nihilism; Instantiation; the Missing Difference; Absolute Empiricism; Onto-theology; and the Third Man Regress. Before showing how Hegel’s doctrine of the concept as self-differentiation can avoid these problems, Moss explains each of these problems and their connection with the PNC via the history of philosophy. Although it is difficult to give an exhaustive summary of each chapter that deals with one of those problems in a short review, it is worth speaking some of the highlights.

Chapter 1 deals with the problem of nihilism, mainly in the context of German Idealism. Moss points out that German Idealism can be construed as the attempt to ground all true knowledge on a single, foundational principle (Moss: 25). The problem of German Idealists, however, was to be able to derive difference and plurality from such a single principle. As Moss explains in Chapter 1, and discusses with respect to absolute existence in his discussion of Plotinus in Chapter 2, this problem of the Ancient Greek philosophy has survived and reappeared in many different forms during the era of German Idealism. Whether the alleged foundation is a metaphysical or an epistemological principle, the problem was the same: accounting for plurality and difference based on “one self-identical princi­ple that is completely devoid of plurality and difference” (Moss: 27). The failure to do so left the stage to nihilism, as Jacobi compellingly argued in his critique of Fichte’s philosophy. Hegel agreed that it was impossible to derive absolute being and knowledge from a single foundational principle. Nevertheless, he did not choose the Kantian way of deriving difference from some given content, such as that of intuition, either. Instead, Hegel argued for the rejection of first principles in favor of a systematic attempt to derive Absolute without foundations.

In his System of Transcendental Idealism, Schelling tried to avoid this nihilistic fate by a first principle allegedly both analytic and synthetic. He looked for a principle that accommodates both identity and difference, as he correctly saw that no merely analytic principle could bring forth difference from itself, and no merely synthetic principle could be unconditioned. His solution was self-consciousness itself, or more formulaically, the self-identity of the self. Moss argues that this principle was not only self-undermining but also confirmed that the thought of the Absolute entails approval of contradiction. An analytic principle works based on the identity of the subject with the predicate, while a synthetic principle works based on their difference. If a principle is both analytic and synthetic at once, then the subject and predicate must be identical and different at the same time. However, such a contradiction, which Hegel saw as necessary to conceive of the absolute in general, was for Schelling and other German Idealists, not welcome. The underlying problem was their absolute separation of identity from difference. Thus, Moss argues, Schelling had to revert to a Fichtean thetic, equally analytic, first principle, without any non-dogmatic way to derive additional content from itself (Moss: 64).

In Chapter 2, with reference to Plotinus’s theory of emanation, Moss discusses how a similar adherence to the separation of identity and difference brought about the same kind of problem in Neo-Platonic thought. Plotinus’s One is supposed to be undifferentiated and indeterminate, while at the same time emanating difference and plurality. Thus, although emanation implies that the One incorporates the principle of identity and difference at once, plurality and difference are absolute others to the One. Failing to account for this plurality and difference based on identity and singularity, Neo-Platonists were forced to employ metaphors such as emanation and overflow (Moss: 82-86). Moss also points out that similar problems haunted Plotinus’s account of emanation at its further stages.

After showing in reference to two different contexts that a first principle is unable to deliver plurality and difference, in Chapter 3, Moss considers the adoption of a duality of irreducible principles for identity and difference. Kant’s dualism of identity and difference rested respectively on concepts, which are universals, and intuition, the content of which are particulars. This dualism was bound up with a duality of faculties mediated by schematism: understanding as the faculty of concepts and sensibility as the faculty of intuition. Moss shows how this duality is connected to Kant’s rejection of noumenal knowledge as well as the rejection of self-predication and existential implication through intellectual intuition. Moss also explains how similar problems arising from the duality of principles, such as universality and particularity in Plato, and form and matter in Aristotle, were meticulously discussed by these philosophers themselves, without, however, producing a compelling resolution in favor of the being and knowledge of the absolute. Between Chapters 3-7, Moss examines the above-mentioned problems generated by such a duality of principles governing the relationship between identity and universality and difference and particularity.

Moss explains that, for Plato, the problem of instantiation stems from the particular’s partaking in the form, which implies either the multiplicity of one and the same form, or its being divided into parts, which are both absurdities. The problem only gets worse when we think of the possibility of the relation between universal and particular forms. Although Aristotle’s forms are not transcendent, he runs into similar problems, particularly reflected by his idea of the composites of form and matter. “Prime matter” does not exist since, without form, which is the universal, there is nothing determinate. Nevertheless, they are separate in that the form is the active, organizing principle, while matter is the passive recipient. Furthermore, the form cannot activate itself and it is not self-organizing (Moss: 122). Thus, the form needs matter to do what it does, and therefore, be what it is. In other words, the form is the principle of the composite as a determinate being, while matter is the condition of its existence. Aristotle’s universals are existentially realized in their particulars. However, because the form is a this, and therefore, one in number, yet indefinitely repeated in all its instances, Moss argues that the problem of instantiation still plagues Aristotle’s philosophy (Moss: 127).

Together with Chapter 4, Moss’s focus is shifted more directly on the relationship between the universal and the particular, than that of identity and difference, though the former incorporates the latter. This chapter is central to Moss’s problematization of the traditional ways to conceive the concept itself, as it establishes the claim that absolute separation of the universal from the particular undermines any attempt to know the absolute. What is absolutely true is unconditioned: it is not contingent on anything external and is true in virtue of itself. Insofar as the Absolute Truth involves the correspondence of the concept with the object, it cannot be known unless the concept as the universal corresponds to its particulars. In the traditional accounts, however, the concept or the universal is not true in virtue of itself and is always relative to something else. For Kant, the truth of the object is indexed to the conceptualizing subjectivity, while in Aristotle, the truth of thought is anchored to the independent thing itself. Throughout his book, Moss attempts to establish that if the concept does not amplify itself and generate its particulars, if it is not self-predicative, it cannot demonstrate its existence and cannot be truly known. Nevertheless, self-predication is not consistent with the dualistic model of conceptual constitution, which takes universality and particularity as two separate principles. When there is a duality of principles, the universal cannot account for its particulars, that is, how they are distinguished from one another. This implies that the universal cannot be known to correspond to its particulars in virtue of itself, as it would be indifferent to whatever particularity they have. Therefore, the duality of principles renders the concept relatively true at best. This, according to Moss, is “the basic systematic ground for the inability of philosophy to achieve Absolute Truth” (Moss: 147).

To build up this argument, Moss explains why the traditional forms of the concept as an abstract universal, genus, and class (or set) are equally incapable of differentiating their particulars (or accounting for their differences). He explains that these traditional forms of the concept appeal to givens, presuppose the concept as finite, and deny that the concept is existentially implicative and self-predicative. However, it is important to note in advance that in the second part of the book, Moss shows that these finite conceptions of the concept are still incorporated by Hegel’s account of the concept.

The abstract universal is the view of the concept as the common feature shared by a plurality. Such a general feature cannot contain, specify, or distinguish and individuate the particulars to which it applies. Instead, this general feature is abstracted from some given plurality existing independently of the universal. As opposed to the abstract universal, the genus contains its particulars, i.e., species, within itself. Nevertheless, it also has no say on the differentiae that differentiate species from one another, which, again, need to be given extraneously. Likewise, the class or set is not sufficient to differentiate its members, even though as the totality of its members, it is not distinct from them: “Just as abstract universality fails to distinguish instances, class membership also fails to individuate members” (Moss: 142). Moss explains that since the universal understood in these traditional ways cannot differentiate the associated particulars, another principle of differentiation must be introduced, while another universal would only reiterate the problem until some non-universal and given content is externally introduced to do the job. Second, the concept’s incapacity to differentiate its particulars or generate its concept makes it a finite or limited concept; a limit intrinsic to the traditional senses of the concept. Since in those cases, the universal will not be sufficient to account for whether or how the concept corresponds to the particulars, recourse to some external principle will be needed, rendering the concept further limited. Third, the concept’s inability to differentiate its particulars comes together with the inability to exhibit existential implication. Since the truth of the concept construed in the traditional ways will be contingent on external factors, there is no way to tell if the existence of its particulars beyond mere possibility follows from the content of the universal. Finally, Moss argues, insofar as the concept is incapable of existential implication, it follows that the universal is unable to predicate itself on its own accord as self-predication entails existential implication.

In the last section of Chapter 4, Moss elucidates how the inadequate conceptions of the concept, in which the universal is severed from the particular, necessarily follow from a dogmatic abidance by the PNC. Moss does so with reference to the philosophies of Kant and Aristotle. As to Kant, Moss argues that the PNC is a formal principle of truth, sufficient only to establish the truth of analytic judgments. Like any other formal principle, since it cannot specify the content of predicates, it cannot have a say on the truth of synthetic judgments, which assert something about the relation between the subject and the predicate. From this, Moss derives the conclusion that “the formality of the PNC entails that in order to discover the truth of the synthetic judgment, one must consult a separate source of truth beyond the domain of logic” (Moss: 151). Although Kant’s synthetic judgment does demand a separate and non-formal source or principle of truth, why the duality of principles derives from an abidance by the PNC could use further clarification, as one also needs to know whether the truth criterion of synthetic judgments is equally insufficient to affirm the truth of analytics judgments. But Moss does explain here why Kant’s determinacy of the concept is contingent on its having consistent predicates, rendering determinacy dependent on the PNC as it is on the given content of the intuition. The conclusion with reference to Aristotle is similar. Moss explains that for Aristotle, the PNC is fundamental because without it, all things could be both predicated and denied of the same thing, rendering everything indeterminate or nothing. Because the genus cannot differentiate its species, the differentiation must come from somewhere else. Otherwise, the genus would be enough to distinguish one species from another. Moss argues that this separation of identity represented by the genus and the difference represented by the species is motivated by the PNC.

Later on, Moss acknowledges that the philosophers he talks about are right to undergird their dualities by the PNC. Furthermore, he will also argue that there are particular concepts such as the genus, and they are undergirded by the PNC. In a way, I would say that the real problem seems to be not that these thinkers abide by the PNC more than the fact they cannot think of the kind of concept, the absolute concept, that does not abide by the PNC.

In the following three chapters, Moss discusses four problems created by the separation of the universal from the particular. The problem of the Missing Difference stems from the concept of the concept’s inability to differentiate its particulars, that is, particular concepts, insofar as the concept of concept only species the feature common to all concepts. What is really “missing” is a principle through which particular concepts are distinguished from one another. Accordingly, the problem cannot be resolved by defining a particular concept, since that would only point to an already differentiated particular, not to how it is differentiated in the first place. The principle cannot be found outside of the concept of the concept either, as all conceptual differences will fall in the concept of the concept as its particulars.

A clarification for why the external principle of difference could only be a conceptual difference is found at the beginning of Moss’s discussion of the problem of Absolute Empiricism in Chapter 5. Indeed, as Moss explains, the problem of Absolute Empiricism, in its ‘psychologist,’ ‘nominalist,’ and ‘naturalist’ forms, originates from the failure to find the source of conceptual difference within the concept. In other words, it is the outcome of a search for the categorical differences outside of categories. As the last section of this chapter explains, however, Absolute Empiricism is self-undermining, because in its prioritizing particulars, it makes them into universals immanent in the concept of particulars, and in its prioritizing class as the meaning of the concept, it contradictorily maintains a non-empirical justification. Again, in Chapter 5, Moss successfully explains how the paradox of thinghood and its differentiation in Aristotle’s philosophy instantiates the problem of Missing Difference. The Kantian version of the problem is somewhat different. In Kant, the problem is that the differences between intuitions are only determined by categories, that is, concepts, while categories themselves cannot be distinguished from one another in the absence of intuitions. Thus, categories cannot categorize themselves, while intuitions cannot intuit themselves. What makes the Kantian problem an instance of the Missing Difference is that the differentiation is not accounted for by appeal to what the differentiated is in virtue of itself, but by appeal to its relations.

The beginning of Chapter 6 elucidates one of the main claims of the book: a strict abidance by the PNC makes it impossible to conceive of the concept as self-differentiating, as the self-differentiating concept is one and many, being the universal and its particulars at the same time. However, unless the concept is self-differentiating, then it will be impossible to explain the particulars of the concept without an extraneous principle. This is most evident in the differentiation of the concept of the concept. If the concept of the concept does not differentiate itself, then either there will not be any particulars or particular concepts will be determined extraneously. But if the former, then insofar as the concept of the concept is itself a particular concept in virtue of being self-differentiating, the concept of the concept will itself be impossible. Likewise, if the concept of the concept is undifferentiated, this will automatically render it a particular concept, in virtue of its being an undifferentiated concept.

Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the different sides of the same problem, which stems from the concept’s self-referential character. In Chapter 6, mostly through a discussion of Heidegger’s construal of onto-theology, Moss argues that the abidance by the PNC leads to the problem of onto-theology, which consists in equivocating Being with a being or beings. Any attempt to specify what Being is cannot but end up determining Being as a being. This is similar to the equivocation of the universal with the particular, which is unacceptable to those who think that the two are absolutely distinct. As the Third Man Regress shows, trying to specify the universal will render it a particular. In other words, the denial of true contradictions necessarily leads to the non-existence of particular concepts, although this position will ultimately undermine itself by rendering the concept without particulars a particular concept.

The second part of Moss’s book is devoted to showing how these perennial problems produced by the duality of principles of identity and difference and universality and particularity can only be overcome by what he calls “Absolute Dialetheism— the view that the Absolute can only exist as a true contradiction” (Moss: 156). Moss thinks that such an Absolute Dialetheism is embodied in Hegel’s metaphysics, which can accommodate the Absolute as it denies that the PNC is the ultimate principle. Thus, Moss’s defense of the Absolute is through a reconstruction of Hegel’s doctrine of the concept, and his concept of the singular, which for Moss, constitutes the backbone of Hegel’s dialetheist metaphysics. Moss claims that as opposed to the finite concept of the tradition, Hegel’s concept can lay hold of the Absolute, and he wants to show that Hegel does not just posit this conclusion but arrives at it by following the immanent logic of the finite concept and demonstrating how the finite universality undermines and transforms itself. Accordingly, most of the second part of the book is a defense of why Hegel’s concept avoids the problems arising from the absolutization of the PNC and the separation of the concept from particularity.

Moss quotes Hegel’s complaint that it is difficult to tell what other philosophers mean by the concept because that meaning is always taken for granted and the concept of the concept is never the subject of philosophical inquiry (Moss: 258–9). Indeed, something similar can be argued with respect to the reception of Hegel’s concept of the concept. Although scholars would agree on the centrality of the concept for Hegel’s system, there are not many thorough and elucidative accounts of it. Moss’s Hegel’s Foundation Free Philosophy is one of the rare examples that undertake such an inquiry and work out the secrets of Hegel’s concept. This involves, above all, figuring out the relationship between the universal, particular, the singular, the three constituents of the concept of the concept. Unlike what most philosophers before and after Hegel thought, this problem is not one between the universal and empirical particulars. It is about the universal and particular as such, and their unity in the singular.

Moss acknowledges that one way to reconstruct Hegel’s solution to the problems explained in the first part of the book is to go through Hegel’s foundation free system of logic, from the indeterminacy to the Absolute Idea (Moss: 311). Hegel’s Foundation Free Philosophy uses a different path for the same destination by first taking a detour, examining major accounts from the history of philosophy, and then focusing on Hegel’s doctrine of the concept. Nonetheless, Moss does an admirable job in clarifying some of the fundamental logical categories that Hegel’s concept presupposes and distinguishing them from the concept and its constituents. Especially in Chapter 12, Moss does an impressive job in emphasizing the character and relevant categories of Hegel’s logic of being, essence, and the concept. In so doing, he lays bare what is distinctive about the logic of the concept and self-differentiation compared to self-othering transitions of the logic of Being and the unilaterally determining oppositions of the logic of Essence and addresses why it is Hegel’s concept of the concept rather than any previous category that can solve the perennial problems in question.

Moss undertakes a painstaking metaphysical reading of Hegel’s concept as he explicates it in the Science of Logic. It is a metaphysical reading because Moss thinks that Hegel’s concept exists and is necessary to conceive how and why the Absolute also exists and can be known. The key to the argument for the existence of the concept is Moss’s emphasis on Hegel’s identification of the universal with self-differentiation and his construal of singularity in terms of existential implication. In Chapter 8, Moss introduces the features of the self-differentiating concept, and in Chapter 10, he explains in more detail how and why Hegel’s concept eschews the problems laid out in the first part of the book.

The universal is self-differentiating, and in its differentiation, it instantiates itself without ceasing to be what it is, namely, self-particularization into instances. These instantiations are but its particulars. Thus, the universal is self-particularizing, and Moss argues, the self-instantiation of the universal as its own particulars is equally existential implication. The concept demonstrates its existence in virtue of itself through its self-differentiated particulars, and it spells out what it is only through its self-particularization. Thus, the self-differentiating concept is equally self-referential and self-predicative, and insofar it determines itself and is not determined or differentiated by anything extraneous or non-conceptual, it can be true in itself, unconditioned, and absolute (Moss: 262). In other words, the determinate content of the universal is not given, but the concept’s own doing, which is why it can avoid foundationalism and the empiricist appeal to non-conceptual givens (Moss: 309). Moreover, since Hegel’s universal is not separated from its particulars, neither Onto-theology nor the Third Man Regress constitutes a problem for Hegel’s concept of the concept.

Moss argues that the concept that is self-predicative, existentially implicative, and true-in-virtue-of-itself cannot be finite as it would not depend upon anything other than itself. In this regard, Moss argues, the concept is both analytic and synthetic. It is synthetic in virtue of its analyticity: that which is true about the concept is contained within it, but what is true about it is its being ampliative, its going beyond itself, thus, its being synthetic. Because it can account for the difference from within itself, the self-differentiating concept is immune to Jacobi’s nihilism objection as well as the problem of the missing difference (Moss: 309). Again, in Chapter 8 and 10, by explaining the structural features of Hegel’s system of logic, Moss discusses why and how Hegel’s system does not presuppose this concept of the concept or the absolute as given, but systematically derives it beginning with the indeterminate.

Given that the separation of the universal from the particular is driven by the PNC, self-predicative and existentially implicative concept, which entails that the universal will be particular in virtue of its universality, will also be self-contradicting, and therefore, in contradiction with the PNC. The true universal can only be itself in its differentiation of itself. In contrast to several other Hegel scholars, Moss owns up to Hegel’s incorporation of contradictions on its face value. Instead of trying to show that Hegel did not really mean to admit contradictions, Moss elucidates Hegel’s account of contradiction, explaining why those contradictions do not explode into `everything and nothing` but only give rise to particular categories. In this sense, he is one of the few to demonstrate that a Hegelian version of dialetheism is not just a logically exploitable tool but also offers a compelling metaphysical account of fundamental concepts such as being, existence, identity, difference, universal, particular, and the singular. In the light of his discussion of Hegelian contradictions, in Chapter 9, Moss compares his version of Absolute Dialetheism with what he calls the Relative Dialetheism of Markus Gabriel.

In Chapter 11, Moss speaks of the relationship between the concept and objectivity in Hegel’s logic before examining Hegel’s derivation of the singular from the self-differentiating universality as the micro version of Hegel’s ontological argument. By noting that a full explication of this argument requires an account for the logical system’s “amplifying itself into nature and spirit,” Moss lays out the logical structure of the argument in terms of the self-predicative and existentially implicative character of the concept and the resulting category of singularity (Moss: 353).

Chapter 13 is where Moss provides a thorough reconstruction of Hegel’s doctrine of the concept and its three constituents, universality, particularity, and singularity, according to the book’s main claims. Compared to several other commentaries on the concept of the concept, I can assuredly state that Moss’s reconstruction achieves to be one of the most careful and illuminating commentaries in Hegel scholarship. Moss does not only trace the development of the moments of the concept and explicates the relationships among the universal, particular, and the singular, but he also clarifies them in comparison with parallel determinacies and movements that came before the concept in the system of logic and were incorporated by the latter. Unfortunately, since each step in the development of singularity from the universal as self-differentiation is crucial, it is not possible to discuss Moss’s treatments of particular transitions while leaving some others out.

Since the universal as such differentiates itself as particular universals, Moss emphasizes that Hegel’s concept does not leave out forms of universality prevalent in the history of philosophy, such as the abstract universal, class, and the genus. Because they stand for the negation of the self-differentiation of the universal, and thus, for the separation of the universal from the particular, they are particular universals that are grounded upon an illusory dichotomy between the universal and the particular. The dichotomy is illusory insofar as they still fall within the concept and are still particular self-differentiations of it. Singularity is the moment of the overcoming of this false dichotomy and demonstrates the unity of the universal and the particular. The finite concept transforms itself into singularity on account of the very contradiction to which the finite concept of universality is driven. Thus, Moss attempts to show, Hegel’s solution to the problems is not merely in terms of the concept as self-differentiation, but ultimately through the result of the development of the concept: singularity. As the book tries to build up from the very beginning, this unity is the unity of the universal qua self-differentiation and the resulting differentiations: its particulars. In Chapter 14, Moss argues that by showing that the moments of particularity in Hegel’s logic of the concept follow from the self-differentiating universal, Hegel demonstrates that they are not unfounded or utterly arbitrary, as other philosophers leave them to be, but are instead the products of self-determining thought.

Again, in this chapter, “Empiricism, Judgment, and Inference,” Moss discusses how empirical concepts and judgment can be reconciled with Hegel’s doctrine of the concept, and addresses a common confusion by briefly explaining Hegel’s conception of empirical concepts, and shows why the concept in its proper sense should not be conflated with empirical concepts. Unlike the logical concept and its true instantiations in nature and spirit, empirical concepts are not infinite, self-differentiating, or existentially implicative. That is why, Moss explains, in contrast with the concept proper, an empirical concept is subject to the PNC, which has a say on abstract concepts.

Even with the book’s many merits, there are two main points on which it could be improved. First, the heavy load of content that extends to various domains and major philosophers that Moss aims to gather under certain banners seems to have encumbered a more efficient organization. This is quite natural given that Moss chose to deal with tremendously intricate problems both thematically and historically at the same time while he also did not want to leave out any relevant issue. In this regard, my second criticism contradicts the first one in the spirit of the book itself, as I will complain about the relative neglect of some further content, namely, Hegel’s Idea and its role in the solution to the problems Moss discusses. For Hegel, truth concerns not only the concept but also objectivity, which is why only the Idea, the unity of the concept with its objectivity, can be true. Accordingly, the Absolute Truth cannot be truly conceived apart from the Absolute Idea. Indeed, Moss points this out in Chapter 12 where he briefly talks about the Idea, while he also acknowledges that the concept is not itself the truth (Moss: 376). Furthermore, in several different places throughout the book, Moss also indicates that Hegel’s Absolute cannot be fully comprehended, and his ontological “argument” cannot be sufficiently assessed without engaging with how the concept gives rise to the domains of nature and spirit. Nevertheless, Moss could have made it clearer to what extent the Idea has a considerable role in Hegel’s solving the problems of his predecessors concerning the Absolute, which I believe is worth reconsideration. Nevertheless, to sum up, Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity is an ambitious project that painstakingly covers sizeable ground. It is undoubtedly a work that deserves extensive discussion and should function as a comprehensive guide to understand Hegel’s logic of the concept.

Matthew Rukgaber: Space, Time, and the Origins of Transcendental Idealism, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020

Space, Time, and the Origins of Transcendental Idealism: Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy from 1747 to 1770 Book Cover Space, Time, and the Origins of Transcendental Idealism: Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy from 1747 to 1770
Matthew Rukgaber
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 106,99 €
XII, 284

John Sallis: Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus

Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus Book Cover Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus
John Sallis
Indiana University Press

Reviewed by: Colin C. Smith (University of Colorado--Boulder)

The first installment of the eleven-volume Collected Writings of John Sallis series from Indiana University Press is a new edition of Sallis’s watershed Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus. First published in 1999, the book is now well known among scholars of Plato, phenomenology, and the history of philosophy broadly. In it, Sallis offers a reading of Plato’s influential Timaeus dialogue centering around the chōra, that elusive ‘third kind’ (triton genos) that receptively mediates between being and becoming, is apprehendable only by a kind of ‘bastard reasoning,’ and always appears without ever showing itself.  The Greek word ‘chōra’ has a broad semantic range that entails notions of place and political space (compare ‘territory,’) but Sallis finds in its role in this dialogue a new and far-reaching metaphysical principle or anti-principle, a kind of ‘being beyond being’ that marks the limit of metaphysics. More than a mere Plato commentary, Sallis’s book is thus an attempt to recover lost insights into the history of metaphysics and accounts of the limits of human rationality.

What follows in this review is a discussion of Sallis’s reading and its value both to Plato studies and phenomenology. Those interested specifically in details surrounding this new volume—which, aside from its outer packaging and minor front matter, is strictly a reprinting and not an expanded edition—should skip ahead to the final paragraph of the review.

Beginning especially with the landmark Being and Logos in 1975, Sallis’s work has offered new directions for Plato research. Up until this time, there were two main interpretations of Plato developing within Anglo-American scholarship. The first was a Plato taken to be philosophically juvenile and fundamentally mistaken by the analytic philosophers. Although these readers demonstrated that then-recent developments in analytic philosophy could serve as profoundly valuable resources for unpacking the ancient texts, the understanding that emerged from this analysis was largely dismissive of the philosophical viability of Plato’s thinking. Perhaps best represented by the critical interpretations of Gregory Vlastos beginning in the 1940s, these commentators understood Plato’s dialogues to express nascent ethical and metaphysical arguments characterized by thickets of confusion that must be untangled and corrected by enlightened modern commentators.

The second was the conservative esotericist Plato of the Straussians. According to those who developed this interpretation, Plato had littered his dialogues with clues leading to a political agenda that must be untangled in a different sense, that is, through interpretive engagement with that lying just below the surface of the text in dramatic details, mythical allusions, and underdeveloped philosophical threads that point to a kind of political critique relevant both to ancient Athens and us today. In short, the analytic Plato required correction while the Straussian Plato was to correct us.

By contrast, Sallis’s Plato is a distinctly ancient Greek anticipation of the philosophical interests of continental philosophers like Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Derrida, and Gadamer. For Sallis, reading Plato entails tracing a self-showing (phainesthai) of the truth (alētheia) as it makes itself manifest through the movement of the text. Similarly to the Straussians, Sallis’s key interpretative method for developing this conception of Plato is slow and careful reading, attending to the dramatic and implicit content of the dialogues as closely as the more explicitly “philosophical” stretches.  Sallis furthermore challenges and rejects many of the familiar and reigning 20th century interpretations of Plato, including that Plato wrote his dialogues in a “developmental” order that could be discovered by us or that Plato held “doctrines” of things like recollection that are spoken in the dialogues by the “mouthpiece” Socrates in some kind of straightforward manner. Indeed, one of Sallis’s aims in Chorology is to undermine the charge of simple metaphysical dualism through which readers have long understood Plato and his so-called and oft-misunderstood “doctrine of forms” by pointing to the chōra as a third kind that dissolves the very notion of the binary.

This reading served as a paradigm changer for continentally oriented philosophers interested in Plato, as the dialogues thus understood are full of philosophical riches discoverable by close and careful reading that, far from being thickets of confusion, in fact have much to offer us in our own time. But unlike him of the Straussians, Sallis’s Plato offers a programmatic for grasping the nature of the things themselves through noetic analysis that is necessarily bound up with a critique of the limits of human inquiry in general.   In short, on Sallis’s view, Plato teaches us that things show themselves to us through their look, but that this look is always partial, pointing beyond itself to that which continues to lie hidden.

Sallis’s interpretation of Plato might arguably find its fullest realization here in his monograph on Plato’s Timaeus, the riches of which demonstrate the value of this kind of orientation. In the Timaeus, we find Socrates regrouping with the old Critias, accomplished general Hermocrates, and wise Timaeus on a day following a discussion of a well-ordered polis that seems strikingly similar to that of the Republic. After short discourses on yesterday’s findings by Socrates (Tim. 17a-19b) and a mythical archaic city from Critias (Tim. 20c-27d), the bulk of the dialogue (Tim. 27d-92c) comprises Timaeus’ extended discussion of the origin and composition of the cosmos. The influence of the Timaeus in the history of philosophy is difficult to overstate, given this dialogue’s import in antiquity and the middle ages, impact on Enlightenment-era mathematics and physics, and profound influence on subsequent Platonisms, Christianity, German Idealism, and the metaphysical tradition broadly. (Sallis offers a summary of this influence at pg. 2-3, including fn. 2, and a critical engagement with it throughout the concluding Chapter 5.) The central notion of the chōra has, furthermore, been the site of serious interest from continental philosophers like Heidegger, Derrida, and Kristeva. Sallis’s reading of the dialogue thus represents an intersection of important themes taken from throughout the history of Western philosophy.

Sallis finds the chōra at the conceptual center of the dialogue, and his discussion of the chōra sits at the center of Chorology in its third of five chapters, which are augmented by a prologue, brief Greek lexicon, and indexHe begins in the prologue with a consideration of the Timaeus’ history of transmission and some reflections on interpretive principles.  In fact, the notions of beginning and its difficulties will be among several that Sallis traces in the book, a group that also includes the themes of the city, the relationship between production and procreation, the tensions between nous (meaning ‘intelligence,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘mind’ in the sense of ‘knowing’) and necessity, and the mathematical triad.

Chapter 1, ‘Remembrance of the City,’ thus appropriately is not the beginning, which indicates the sense in which a ‘beginning’ is, for Sallis, always both a continuation and a rupture.  Using this as an interpretive principle, Sallis will find the problem of beginning thematized throughout his reading of the Timaeus.  He argues that the text is inscribed and reinscribed with new beginnings, each drawing out while also decisively cutting away from what came previously.  In the case of the Timaeus’ beginning, Sallis focuses on Socrates’ opening count, “One, two, three…” (Tim. 17a), as the first of many appearances of the triad that will reappear throughout. Among other reasons, the triad is significant here as an enactment of tripartite structure that will characterize many stretches of the text, such as the three speeches (i.e., those of Socrates, Critias, and Timaeus), the three major phases of Timaeus’ speech (those tracing nous [Tim. 29d-47e], necessity [Tim. 47e-69a], and their blend [Tim. 69a-92c]), and the very theme of blending itself at play in several threefold distinctions, e.g., that among being, becoming, and the mix of these in which the chōra will first be addressed explicitly.

Later in Chapter 1, Sallis considers Socrates’ remembrance at the Timaeus’ outset of the ‘eidetic city’ that closely but not entirely resembles the well-known Kallipolis of the Republic (Tim. 17a-19b, pgs. 12-35). Sallis cannot resolve the controversy surrounding the relationship between Socrates’ cities-in-speech (logos) in the Republic and Timaeus (though pgs. 15-19 and 21-30 contain some provocative suggestions), but nevertheless uses the occasion to reflect on Socrates’ act of production of speech to reflect on the difficult but crucial relationships among central concepts like artistry (technē), production (poiēsis), and nature (phusis).  Through the course of the text, Sallis will ultimately argue that the Timaeus occasions a shift in our understanding of nature from the model of production to that of procreation.  The chapter also includes the first of many discussions of the significance of the chōra, with reflections on its difficult semantic range that always, according to Sallis’s insistence here, indicates that which is “posed at the margin of what can be fabricated, marking the limit of controlled production” (pg. 19; see also fn. 16 for development of the point).  The chapter also includes a thorough consideration of the dialogue’s dramatic elements and characters, as well as a discussion of Critias’ story of the archaic city (Tim. 20c-27d, pgs. 36-45), that sets the stage for Timaeus’ extended discourse.

In Chapter Two, Sallis turns his attention to Timaeus’ speech concerning the ‘Production of the Cosmos’ (Tim. 27d-47e) from which the chapter receives its name.  Timaeus’ speech begins with a prelude (Tim. 27d-29d, covered in pgs. 46-56), and Sallis discusses key notions found therein such as ‘that which always is’ (ti to on aei, pg. 47), the tension between nous and necessity (anankēs, esp. pg. 50), the well-known crafter (demiourgos) of the cosmos that Timaeus identifies throughout in scant detail (pg. 50), and the eidos typically understood to relate to Plato’s theory of forms (which Sallis addresses critically at pgs. 48-49 and 50-51).  Commentators on the Timaeus must make sense of Timaeus’ repeated assertions that his account is merely a “likely story” (eikōs muthos or eikōs logos, Tim. 29b ff.), and while Sallis does not thematize the point as much as some, he discusses it with reference to the relationships between being, becoming, truth, and belief (pg. 54-56).

This leads, finally, to the beginning of Timaeus’ discourse (Tim. 29d ff.), and Sallis notes that Timaeus begins with the goodness of the crafter before reflecting on the important notion of nous, which guides Timaeus in his first account.  Timaeus describes the cosmos with the image of a living being, made wisely with an eye to the paradigm of that being that always is and the ‘fairest’ of ‘mediating bonds’ (pgs. 60-61) and precise mathematical ratios (which Sallis unpacks through several geometric diagrams: pgs. 61, 71-72).  Sallis offers extended discussion of the controversy surrounding the proper interpretation of the passage concerning the production of soul (esp. Tim. 34b-37c), an ambiguous stretch of text yielding competing interpretations from early Academic philosophers to Nietzsche and 20th century commentators (pgs. 65-70).  Among the competing interpretations, in each instance what is at issue is an account of blending, i.e., of the mediation of two opposites by a third acting as a principle of mixture, as in (taking the example of the third interpretation) the blending of (1) being and (2) the generated that results in (3) their mixture.  Sallis takes these to be decisive in the development of the text as a ‘chorology,’ indicating as they do a kind of “double bind,” for “to preserve the distinction between selfsame being and the generated, there must be duplication of being; and yet, duplication of being has the effect of violating the very sense of selfsame being, its determination as such, thus eroding the very distinction that was preserved;” this calls for a ‘third’ outside of being and the generated that comes from “outside the twofold in a manner that disrupts it abysmally” (pg. 70).  In addition to this consideration of the preparation for the chōra, the chapter also includes discussion of key concepts in this stretch of the Timaeus like time (Tim. 37c-39e, pgs. 73 and 77-85, with Sallis here heavily engaging with the work of Rémi Brague), and the genealogy of gods and mortals leading to an account of causes and the embodied (Tim. 39e-47e, pg. 85-90).

In Chapter 3, Sallis turns attention to the central and titular notion of ‘The Chōra.’ The chōra arises at the point in which Timaeus breaks his discourse off from the works of nous and begins to address those of necessity (Tim. 47e ff.)  Sallis therefore understands the chōra with close reference to necessity in the senses both of ‘wandering’ and ‘errancy’ that are introduced precisely when Timaeus must account for the material conditions of the cosmos (pgs. 91-98).  Sallis discusses at length problems with the traditional understanding of the chōra and the textual ambiguities of these passages (pgs. 98-104).  He ties in these problems and ambiguities closely to Timaeus’ identification of the ‘difficulty’ and ‘danger’ (chalepon) of bringing this third kind to discourse, and the numerous (and occasionally contradictory) names and images that Timaeus uses to attempt to capture this fugitive third kind.  These include the gold, the matrix, the wax, and the perfume liquid that receive shape or scent while all the while remaining self-same and never fully taking on the received form (Tim. 48e-53b, pgs. 107-109).  These images have led readers beginning with Aristotle, and falsely on Sallis’s view, to associate the chōra with matter (hulē; see Chapter 5 discussion below).  Sallis further considers the shift in emphasis from production to procreation in the text when Timaeus begins to describe the third kind with reference to nature (phusis) and the “in-which” (en hō[i]) and “from-which” (to hothen) that which is generated is begotten (Tim. 49a-50b, pg. 109).  This set of images has led readers, again falsely on Sallis’s view, to associate the chōra with place (topos, also addressed in the Chapter 5 discussion below).  Instead of understandings rooted in matter or place, we should on Sallis’s reading understand the third kind with closer reference to pure receptivity that, so far as we can think of it at all, possesses a double character: it entails both the nurturing mother (mētēr, 50d and 51a) and that which always appears but never as itself and flees precisely as nous approaches it (pgs. 109-113).  This dual character of nurturer and fugitive is central in Sallis’s account and the perplexity of the chōra to which Sallis draws attention.

These considerations, finally, allow Sallis to begin the chorology (pgs. 113-124).  In the last section of the third chapter, he addresses Timaeus’ explicit discussion of the chōra directly.  This “kind beyond kind,” or “being beyond being” (pg. 113), derives its final and best-known name from this difficult-to-translate word, chōra (used explicitly at 52b1 and 52d3). He uses this occasion again to address its difficulty with regard to its uses elsewhere in Plato, and especially the Laws, Sophist, and Republic (pgs. 113-118).  Sallis summarizes that

The chōra is said to be everlasting, perpetual, always (aei), not admitting destruction, that is, ruin, corruption, passing away (phthora).  This corresponds to its being rigorously distinguished from the generated: it is that in which that which is generated comes to be and from which that which is destroyed passes away, departs.  It is presupposed by all generation and destruction and thus is not itself subject to generation and destruction” (pg. 119).

While Timaeus has given us several images (e.g., gold) through which the chōra can be partially disclosed, Sallis argues that we must now imagine the chōra as the very grounds through which images are imaged, or that which receives the images and, through itself, allows the images to show themselves.  The strangeness and wonder that such showing occasions is, for Sallis, the central issue of the dialogue.

In Chapter 4, ‘Traces of the Chōra,’ Sallis focuses mainly on the theme of the third kind and the mathematical triad as it reappears throughout the remainder of the dialogue (Tim. 52d-92c).  These include some reflections on several perplexing aspects of Timaeus’ account, including the triangle as the most basic unit of materiality (Tim. 53b ff.) and the relationship of the four material elements of earth, fire, air, and water (Tim. 55d ff., pgs. 128-130).  While Sallis does not address in much detail the lengthy third discourse on the blended with which the dialogue concludes (Tim. 69a-92c), he does challenge Aristotle’s complaint that Timaeus loses sight of the chōra (On Generation and Corruption 329a; pg. 131) by tracing some senses in which it remains at play in the discourse (pgs. 132-136).  Sallis furthermore offers some reflections on Timaeus’ third account with an eye to the roles of comedy, sex, and gender that mark this stretch of the dialogue as a kind of “downward discourse” (pgs. 136-138).  Chapter 4 concludes with Sallis’s consideration of the political frame of the dialogue that had begun with an account of the well-ordered city through comparative discussions of Republic Book 2 (pgs. 138-143) and the fragmentary Critias dialogue that follows the Timaeus dramatically (pgs. 143-145).

Finally, in Chapter 5 Sallis considers the ‘Reinscriptions’ of the dialogue in some of its many significant contexts in the subsequent history of philosophy.  Here he is most interested in tracing the forgetting of what he takes to be the originary sense of the chōra and its displacement through understandings rooted in notions of matter (hulē) and space (topos).  He discusses the view in antiquity that Plato had forged the dialogue (pg. 147) and the actual forgery, On the Nature of the Cosmos and the Soul, falsely attributed to a Timaeus of Locri and taken to be genuine by many Neoplatonists though almost surely written several centuries after Plato’s death (pgs. 148-149).  Sallis argues that this true forgery is one of many subsequent interpretations of the chōra that misses Plato’s most profound insights, and critically addresses the history of misunderstanding the chōra by overcommitting it to notions related to matter and space through Plutarch, Plotinus, and Aristotle (pgs. 150-154), footnoting related points concerning the interpretations of Irigaray (pg. 151 fn. 9) and Heidegger (pg. 154 fn. 12) along the way.  After a brief discussion of Kant (pgs. 154-155), the remainder of the chapter (pgs. 155-167) comprises an extended consideration of Schelling’s reception of the Timaeus and particularly the chōra.  Sallis finds in Schelling the tracing of his own understanding of the chōra, albeit one that begins to be conflated with the notion of matter as Schelling’s thinking develops.  Sallis addresses the role of the chōra in Schelling’s transcendental schematism, its appearance in Schelling’s notebooks, and the shifting understanding of it between Schelling’s own Timaeus commentary (c. 1794) and Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie (1801).  Sallis identifies a tension that develops in Schelling’s understanding of the chōra between the mere notion of matter and an “irrational principle that resists the understanding, or unity and order” (pg. 164).  Sallis interprets this both as a reawakening of tension between nous and necessity developed in the Timaeus and that which points beyond this distinction to what underlies it and remains hidden.

The depth and power of Sallis’s interpretation of the Timaeus clearly indicate the value of this approach to reading Plato.  I do stop short of suggesting that this ‘third kind’ of Plato reading has entirely mediated between the analytics and the Straussians in precisely the manner in which the chōra mediates between being and becoming.  (To be sure, Sallis certainly never suggests that this is the goal, though his pluralistic bibliography might point in this direction.)  If nothing else, it surely indicates an important set of philosophical issues that lies buried beneath the now-traditional divide in 20th century Plato scholarship and philosophy more broadly.

Furthermore, in the time since Sallis’s work began, readings like this ‘third kind’ have helped to blur the distinction altogether.  No longer can commentators from one tradition ignore the others, and those (for example) working on Plato from within the analytic tradition must consider Sallis’s contributions in Chorology to several 20th century analytic discussions.  This is perhaps most notable in his contributions to the ‘this’-‘such’ interpretive debate concerning Tim. 49c7-50a4 (pgs. 101-108), a storied debate among Timaeus commentators since the 1950s to which Sallis has some valuable insights on offer.

And of course, those looking for contemporary continental insights in an ancient register will be served well by this encounter with the chōra. Readers will recognize a set of Derridean insights underlying Sallis’s reading of Platonic metaphysics, and indeed ones that exceed the explicit connections that Derrida himself recognized in his own discussion of the chōra. (Sallis engages directly with Derrida, in terms both related and unrelated to Derrida’s own chorology, in several footnotes: pgs. 99 fn. 8, 111 fns. 21 and 22, and 113-114 fn. 23.)  And while Sallis counts Heidegger among those who have misunderstood the meaning of chōra in their own work (see pg. 154 fn. 12), he finds in Plato many anticipations of Heideggerian themes, such as the sense of truth as a kind of unconcealment of that which lies hidden that Heidegger develops at length.

Perhaps most of all, Chorology is of note to those interested in the account of the ‘end of metaphysics’ developed in 20th century continental philosophy.  The chōra, perhaps ultimately, marks the limit of the knowing of being in Sallis’s interpretation.  Sallis speaks to this directly as follows:

If one were to take metaphysics to be constituted precisely by the governance of the twofold, then the chorology could be said to bring both the founding of metaphysics and its displacement, both at once. Originating metaphysics would have been exposing it to the abyss, to the abysmal chōra, which is both origin and abyss, both at the same time. Then one could say—with the requisite reservations—that the beginning of metaphysics will have been already the end of metaphysics (pg. 123).

In other words, while many have taken Plato to be an originator of metaphysical dualism through simplistic readings of the so-called “doctrine of forms,” Sallis aims to show that Plato ends the metaphysical project already at its inception by pointing to the chōra, that ‘being beyond being’ that indicates the limit of nous, here in the Timaeus.  The chōra then replaces the traditional notions of dogmatic metaphysical rationalism with a principle of radical errancy, one possessing the double-character of mother and fugitive, and one in force “as hindering, diverting, leading astray the work of nous, as installing indeterminacy into what nous would otherwise render determinate” (pg. 132).

Sallis’s writing throughout Chorology is clear, crisp, and clean.  The book truly blurs the line between primary and secondary source, possessing value both as a Timaeus commentary and as an original piece of philosophy.  On rare occasion, the writing supporting Sallis’s creative and bold reading enters into the realm of self-indulgence.  For example, on 93: “Thus, another beginning is to be made, an other beginning, a different beginning, different from the beginning with which Timaeus began his first discourse.”  Aside from issues surrounding these occasional instances of excess, Sallis’ writing is a model of lucidity, and this text demonstrates that good philosophy can be as smooth and satisfying as good literature.  I won’t hazard to address the question of whether Sallis ultimately gets Plato right on my own view.  In any case, I do insist that readers of Plato from all philosophical traditions should learn from Sallis’s interpretation and, if they see fit, respond to, rather than ignore, its many provocations.

This new edition of Chorology is packaged nicely, designed as it is to sit on the shelf beside future editions of The Collected Writings of John Sallis series. The next generation of readers will be served well by this printing.  It is important to note, however, that aside from the outer packaging and minor front matter, this new printing contains no additions and no textual alterations to previous volumes.  The contents and pagination are, so far as I tracked through a comparative analysis, exactly the same as the previous edition.  This is hardly a complaint, as I found the text of both editions to be free of typos entirely; but it nevertheless bears noting in case any readers were, like me, hoping that this volume would offer some fresh insights from Sallis into the Timaeus.

Karol Wojtyla: Person and Act and Related Essays, The Catholic University of America Press, 2021

Person and Act and Related Essays Book Cover Person and Act and Related Essays
Karol Wojtyla. Foreword by Carl A Anderson, Translated by Grzegorz Ignatik
The Catholic University of America Press
Paperback $75.00

Michael Potter: The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879–1930: From Frege to Ramsey

The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879–1930: From Frege to Ramsey Book Cover The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879–1930: From Frege to Ramsey
Michael Potter
Paperback £31.99

Reviewed by: Piotr Stalmaszczyk (University of Lodz, Poland)

Michael Potter is Professor of Logic at Cambridge University, his studies in the history of analytic philosophy and the philosophical foundations of mathematics include an overview of philosophies of arithmetic from Kant to Carnap – Reason’s Nearest Kin (2000), a critical introduction to set theory – Set Theory and Its Philosophy (2004), and a study of Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic (2008). His most recent book, The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879-1930, is a comprehensive introduction to the work of four philosophers, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Frank Ramsey, in the half century, from 1879 (the year in which Frege’s Begriffsschrift was published), till Ramsey’s death in 1930.

Analytic philosophy is one of the most important sources for modern philosophy of logic and mathematics, for philosophy of language, and for philosophy of mind. According to some philosophers and historians of philosophy, it is not only one of the most important developments in twentieth-century philosophy, but the most important one, at least in the English-speaking world (cf. Beaney 2007: 1). Michael Dummett has famously defined it in the following way:

“A succinct definition would be: analytical philosophy is post-Fregean philosophy. Frege’s fundamental achievement was to alter our perspective in philosophy, to replace epistemology, as the starting point of the subject, by what he called ‘logic’. What Frege called ‘logic’ (…) embraced precisely what is now called ‘philosophy of language’.” (Dummett 1978: 441).

Though the above definition is far from being uncontroversial, there is a general consensus that the achievements of Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein were crucial for the early developments of analytic philosophy; with the work of Ramsey featuring less prominently in historical overviews. Several general and more detailed studies have already investigated the origins of this movement in considerable detail (it will suffice to mention the works by Michael Beaney, Michael Dummett, Hans-Johan Glock, Scott Soames, and Stephen Schwartz). However, there is still a need for studies analyzing, reanalyzing and contextualizing the achievements of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Ramsey. This is precisely what Potter does; additionally, the author’s ambition is to trace the changes within the philosophers’ thought (the ‘genetic approach’).

The choice of the four philosophers in Potter’s monograph is connected with their unquestionable and durable relevance to current philosophy: Frege’s notions of sense and reference are central to modern semantics, Russell’s theory of descriptions may be regarded as a “paradigm of philosophy”, philosophy of language continues to be influenced by Wittgenstein’s picture theory, and Ramsey’s argument against the particular/universal distinction retains its validity (2). Assuming that analytic philosophy originated in 1879 with the publication of Frege’s Begriffsschrift and the birth of quantifier-variable logic, it might be claimed that further work by Frege, and also by Russell, (early) Wittgenstein, and Ramsey, flowed directly from this new logic. Throughout his study, Potter hopes to convey “a sense of the exhilarating progress they made, and of the extent to which modern analytic philosophy is in their debt” (3).

The detailed organization of this book is similar to the approach  characteristic of the author’s former studies. The book is divided into four parts, further divided into numerous chapters (21 devoted to Frege, 24 to Russell, 18 to Wittgenstein, and 10 to Ramsey), and each chapter is followed by concise suggestions for further reading. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography and a detailed index. Each part starts with a short biographical sketch (in the case of Russell and Wittgenstein, concentrating on the relevant time span), in which Potter contextualizes the life of the respective philosopher. Further contextualization, which takes into consideration appropriate ideas and developments, is provided in the more thematic chapters. Thus conceived, the parts offer a detailed chronological and thematic guide to the work and legacy of the individual philosophers.

Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) is generally associated with developments in modern predicate logic and analyses of sense and reference crucial for contemporary philosophy of language. He devised a symbolic language for logic, provided the seminal analysis of the meaning of an expression, offered a semantic analysis of identity statements, and formulated the context principle; he is also credited with putting forward the assumptions that lead to formulation of the compositionality principle and introducing the notion of presupposition (of the assertion). In the part on Frege (5-144), Potter provides an overview of logic before 1879, from the Stoics, through Aristotelian logic, transcendental logic, empiricism and idealism, to Boole’s early example of modern axiomatic logic. Potter observes that The Mathematical Analysis of Logic (1847) is the only plausible competitor as the harbinger of modern logic; however, even though Boole “had devised an algebraic calculus of considerable sophistication for solving problems in categorical and hypothetical logic, it fell short of unifying the Aristotelian and Stoic traditions” (19).

Potter devotes five chapters exclusively to the Begriffsschrift (the German title is rendered by the author as ‘Concept-Script: A formula language, modelled on that of arithmetic, for pure thought’), one of “the most remarkable books in the history of human thought” (21). The five chapters are concerned with foundations of logic, propositional logic, quantification, identity, and the ancestral. In order to fully appreciate Frege’s achievements it is necessary to understand the aim of his concept-script, the significance of his notation, usage of particular symbols, and, especially, the revolutionary introduction of a notation of quantifier and variable to express generalizations, all explained by Potter. In the short presentation of Frege’s account of function and argument, Potter observes that three features are worth stressing: the fact that in the decomposition of sentences a function is obtained by removing part of an expression, not part of its content; the possibility of replacing grammatical predicates; and, most importantly, Frege aimed to “decompose, and hence discern function-argument structure in already existing sentences, not to explain how the sentences acquired their meanings in the first place” (29).

In the remaining chapters in this part, Potter discusses in detail other studies and ideas of Frege: the Grundlagen (in 4 chapters), sense and reference (3 chapters), the Grundgesetze (2 chapters). Potter also tackles the development of early philosophy of logic, the Frege-Hilbert correspondence, the importance of Frege’s late writings. The discussed issues include the crucial components of Fregean semantics and philosophy of mathematics: the context principle, the concept and object distinction, the status of numbers, names and descriptions, different conceptions of sense, the reference of a sentence, (un)saturated senses, and more. Paul Pietroski remarked once that Frege “bequeathed to us some tools – originally designed for the study of logic and arithmetic – that can be used in constructing theories of meaning for natural languages” (Pietroski, 2005: 29–30). The discussion provided by Potter demonstrates the relevance of these tools for a number of current disciplines – he mentions the Fregean legacy in logic, philosophy of language (especially formal semantics and pragmatics), and mathematics. A possible addition to this list would be philosophy of mind, where Frege’s legacy is seen in, for example, contemporary discussion on different approaches to reference.

In one of his earlier studies, Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic, Potter compared his analysis of Wittgenstein’s text to the work of a historical detective (Potter 2008: 3). Also, in The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, Potter offers analyses exemplary of a detective’s work; additionally, an important feature of his analyses is connected with discussing those ideas that were NOT followed by the individual philosophers; for example, he observes that although Frege introduced rules and basic laws of propositional logic, he did not discuss the question whether every logical truth expressible using only negation and the material conditional is provable in this system of truth-functional logic (35). Below, I mention the book Russell might have written (had he not met Wittgenstein); and, at yet another instance, Potter comments on the ‘one place we might expect to find Ramsey’s influence, given the closeness of their interactions in 1929, is in Wittgenstein’s later work, but in fact this influence is notably muted’ (468). Another example of Potter’s approach can be found in chapter 69, where he discusses Ramsey’s idea of universals, with the aim, among others, to unravel the (missing) influence on Wittgenstein’s departure from Frege’s views (the binary distinction between saturated and unsaturated entities).

Part II (145-312) is devoted to the achievements in the philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) during the appropriate period. In the sections tracing the early influences upon the philosopher, Potter focuses on Bradleyan idealism, and McTaggart’s reading of Hegel. He also discusses Russell’s early work on geometry (An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, 1897), moves next to Russell’s education in mathematics, and then the influence of, and further collaboration with, Alfred N. Whitehead. He also discusses G. E. Moore and his switch from absolute idealism to platonic realism, and the influence of the Italian mathematician, Giuseppe Peano. Important sections are devoted to Russell’s early, middle, and late logicism, his changing views on judgment, his studies of denoting, truth and theories of truth, types, the relationship between acquaintance and knowledge, the status and different understanding of facts, and approaches to monism. The list of topics important for Russell’s philosophy reads like an index of key topics in 20th century philosophy of language, with considerable implications outside this discipline.

The discussion demonstrates the importance of careful reading of texts, but even more so of direct contact – for Russell, meeting Peano, and the young Wittgenstein, was one of the turning points in his thinking about mathematics and philosophy of mathematics: ‘In May 1913 Russell began writing a book on the relationship between acquaintance and knowledge. He never completed it, partly as a consequence of Wittgenstein’s criticism” (365). One might only speculate about the developments in Russell’s philosophy had he not met Wittgenstein.

Russell’s (and Frege’s) influence and legacy in philosophy of language is indisputable. Potter offers an interesting comment on two crucial texts: ‘Much as Frege chose to write ‘On sense and reference’ as if it was about the philosophy of language, even though his real concern was primarily with logic, so also Russell presented ‘On denoting’ as if his concerns were with analyzing George IV’s curiosity about the authorship of Waverley rather than with solving the logical paradoxes’ (309). This resulted in both influence and controversies within analytic philosophy, and challenges offered by ordinary language philosophy, notably by Strawson. Potter notes that ‘ordinary language philosophy withered after Austin’s death (…) but its demise did not mark a return to Russellian analysis’ (312), which is a consequence of the linguistic turn in philosophy dominated by Rorty, Dummett, and Davidson. It might be added that the influence of ordinary language philosophy has been rediscovered in contemporary linguistics, especially pragmatics.

Though not directly connected with the topic of the book, it is interesting to observe that Russell ‘was the only one of the four philosophers discussed in this book to receive major public honours in his lifetime (the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Order of Merit)’ (149).

It would probably be difficult to find two philosophers so different in personality and way of life as Russell and Wittgenstein. Their philosophical concepts also differ, though they strongly influenced one another. Part III (313-415) is devoted to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1889-1951) early work. The first sections of this part provide insight into the development of Wittgenstein’s ideas, especially those connected with ‘facts’, ‘pictures’, and ‘propositions’. Potter offers here some ‘archeological’ research into the history of ideas and discusses the Bodleianus, the version (kept now in the Bodleian Library, hence the name) preceding even the typescript known as the Prototractatus. This first version of the Tractatus was concerned with theses 1-6: ‘what stands out straightway is that the outline ends not with the injunction to silence of the final published version but with a technical claim (..) about the expressive power of a certain notation. (…) The central claim of the 1916 Tractatus is thus that the world may be pictured logically by means of propositions obtained from elementary propositions by recursive application of the N-operator’ (319).

In the following chapters, Potter elucidates the changes Wittgenstein made to the final version, with fascinating discussion of the purported ‘solipsism’ (chapter 54), i.e. thesis 5.6. (‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’); this discussion is continued in the chapter on ‘the metaphysical subject’. Other chapters focus on ordinary language, on ethics, and on the mystical element in the Tractatus (chapter 62). This chapter also includes a useful – though brief – note on the possible reading of the Tractatus, which would distinguish, pace James Conant and Cora Diamond, the outer part and the inner part: the outer part (the ‘frame’) would consist of senseful instructions for reading the inner nonsensical part. As succinctly observed by Potter: ‘it is not altogether clear, however, which sentences belong to which part’ (405).

The final chapter of this part discusses the legacy of the Tractatus, and concentrates on issues such as elementary propositions, the picture theory, and briefly comments on the relation to, and legacy in, Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. Potter stresses that ‘the popular conception of two Wittgensteins was always too simplistic’ (409). He concludes his discussion by observing that Wittgenstein was right ‘to dismiss as incoherent the persistent attempts of philosophers to conceive of our representation of the world as undertaken from one viewpoint among many’ (415).

The last part of the book (417-471) is devoted to Frank Ramsey (1903-1930), a British philosopher, mathematician, and economist; the least known of the four philosophers discussed by Potter, due chiefly to his premature death at the age of 27. It has to be noted, however, that recent years have seen growing interest in his work and legacy, cf. the chapters in Lillehammer and Mellor, eds. (2005), and the most recent comprehensive monograph by Misak (2020). Ramsey’s contribution to philosophy is centered predominantly around the topics of truth, knowledge, belief, and universals. Potter also discusses his work on the foundations of mathematics, and traces the possible influence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus on Ramsey’s conception of truth. The chapters on truth and knowledge demonstrate the potential of Ramsey’s ideas for contemporary discussions not only in semantics, but also in pragmatism, and philosophy of mind. A similar observation is to be made in connection with the chapters on the foundations of mathematics; however, in the final chapter, Potter comments also on the unfortunate misunderstandings and problems with the appropriate reception of Ramsey’s work.

The four philosophers discussed in Potter’s book all contributed to the rise of analytic philosophy, their legacy is still important today in a wide variety of disciplines, including philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of mathematics, logic, and linguistics (especially pragmatics and semantics). Michael Potter’s study constitutes a comprehensive guide to their achievements and legacy. The book should be of considerable interest to anyone studying the roots of contemporary philosophy, and especially philosophy of logic, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. It would be most interesting to see a comparable study tracing the parallel developments of analytic philosophy and pragmatism and phenomenology (for some preliminary studies on analytic philosophy and phenomenology, see the contributions in Beaney 2007). Such a study might contribute to the development of ‘ideochronology’, dealing with the chronological relationship between philosophical ideas (modelled after glottochronology, which deals with the chronological relationship between languages).

Readers of Potter’s earlier books will recognize his ‘detective’s approach’ in this most recent volume. Potter meticulously traces the sources of ideas, discusses mutual influences, and carefully analyzes changes and shifts in theories, which makes his study almost a log-book for analytic philosophy.


Beaney, Michael. 2007. “The analytic turn in early twentieth-century philosophy.” In: Beaney (Ed.), The Analytic Turn. Analysis in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology. New York & London: Routledge, 1-30.

Beaney, Michael (Ed.) 2007. The Analytic Turn. Analysis in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology. New York & London: Routledge.

Dummett, Michael. 1978. Truth and Other Enigmas. London: Duckworth.

Lillehammer, Hallvard and D. H. Mellor (Eds.). 2005. Ramsey’s Legacy. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Misak, Cheryl. 2020. Frank Ramsey. A Sheer Excess of Powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pietroski, Paul M. 2005. Events and Semantic Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Potter, Michael. 2000. Reason’s Nearest Kin. Philosophies of Arithmetic from Kant to Carnap. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Potter, Michael. 2008. Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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