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The Grammar of Being Author(s): Seth Benardete Reviewed work(s): Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol.

The Grammar of Being Author(s): Seth Benardete Reviewed work(s):

Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Mar., 1977), pp. 486-496 Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.

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CRITICAL STUDY

THEGRAMMAROF BEING

SETH BENARDETE

vaharles

H.

kahn's

The

Verb

"Be"

in

Ancient

Greek

(Reidel:

1973) is the sixth part

title, The Verb

Studies;

of a series "Be" and

but

edited

by J.W.

M. Verhaar

its Synonyms:

Philosophi

from

the others

by

with

its

being devoted to a single language. This privilege is due to the link, which is still sensed as indissoluble, between philosophy proper and

the overall

cal and Grammatical

it differs

ancient Greek philosophy. To the Greek philosophers themselves, however, this link seems to have been of no importance, and itwould

have

come

as

a surprise

to most

of

them

that

grammar

and

philosophy

could be thought to overlap.

language; and whereas

They

spoke

of

logos; we

speak

for

them Greek

or Persian

exemplified

of

the

conventional,

to distinguish

and action

verb

the

theme

they

among

are

for

the

noun

us

parts

"natural

of

languages."

only

Plato

and

was

verb

content

(as

actor

speech

(Sophist

noun

respectively),

"to be"

or

the

is the problem

a distinction

"being";

that plainly

and

he

did

261e4-8).

did not cover either

so

in a dialogue

Indeed,

whose

as

the

of being

Eleatic

stranger

makes

clear,

being

belongs

with

same,

other,

mo

tion,

and

rest,

while

logos

belongs

with

opinion,

thought,

and

imagina

tion (266a5-6); and it is one of the sophist's delusions which he seeks to impose upon others that the problem of speech coincides with the

problem

of

being.

Aristotle's

pejorative

use

of

logikos

(Met.

1029b13, 1030a25) is fully in accord with Plato's understanding of the

"weakness

of

speeches."

Kahn ismore than sympathetic with the ancients' view; he be lieves in theWhorfian hypothesis only to the extent that the threefold

function

of

existential,

the

and

inherited

veridical?gave

Indo-European

Parmenides

root

*es?as

and

his

copulative,

successors

an

easier access to the problem

of being

than would have been the case if

truth,

wholly

predication,

and

existence

distinct

verbal

roots.

When

were

handled

in Greek

by

replies

Euripides'

Eteocles

three

to his

brother's

appeal

to the

simplicity

of truth,

he

asserts

that

only

in

words

is

there

equality

among

mortals,

"but

the

deed

is

not

this"

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GRAMMAROF

BEING

487

(Phoenissae

502).

Whether

eartv

?dTLv

If T?8e

T?Se

is

copulative,

is replaced

by

existential,

"as men

say,"

in

a

or

the

sentence

veridical

sentence

Kahn

calls veridical;1

but one can just as easily

existentially;

"Equality

does not exist"

(or, more

like

is

an

has

to

8'

epyov

ovk

idle

question.

the

form

which

express

the thought

literally,

"Equality

is not

the

case"),

and

there

is nothing

in the

structure

of

the

sentence

as such that distinguishes

readily acknowledges tion to a widespread

it from the copulative

construction.

Kahn

this kind of three-in-one;

view,

that

it led Plato

but he denies,

to ignore

in opposi

the difference

between,

Kahn,

rationis

for

what

example,

sub

is

a necessity.

"Zeus

is not"

and

"Socrates

is mortal."

For

specie

graecitatis

There

is a unity

a matter

of

fact

in the diversity

is

sub

specie

of eivaL that

truly

of

reflects,

however

truth,

existence,

and

Kahn,

in his eagerness

imprecisely,

predication.

to vindicate

the

relations

But

one may

among

the

question

concepts

whether

Greek

philosophy,

does not have

to make

rary

terization

to

too many

He

accommodations

does

not

cite

meaning

thought.

of the

ancient

orto

be a

subject

be a predicate

to

certain

fashions

of

contempo

any

ancient

source

for

his

of elvac

"For

for

rational

the Greeks,

discourse

and

own

true

charac

to be meant

state

ment"

(p. 404).

It is hard

to see how Aristotle,

let alone Plato,

could

agree

with

a

those beings

characterization

about which

of being

falsehood

that

must

is impossible

exclude

(Met. &

from

10).

being

Kahn's

procedure

is

inseparable

from

his

results.

Neither

is

as

neutral

to the evidence

to be.

Kahn himself

eivaL

as

a

"myth."

In

as,

often

order

it might

refers

to

see

be thought,

a grammar

is obliged

to his

syntactical

structuring

of

how

different

modern

linguistics

is from traditional philology, it isworthwhile to begin with a quotation

from J. H. H.

Schmidt's Synonomik

der griechischen

Sprache

(1878),

vol.

2,

pp.

528-529:

The

T?/jar)

sentence

7t?Xic

?o-tl Toj/jlt)

"Rome

exists"

"The

city

Rome

exists"

are,

and

we

its

expanded

form

assume,

complete

eari

and

adequate

should

to

and

statements,

say

'p?/xr)

?o-t?v

is

a

7ro\i?

substantive

the

ixrr?v

actual

kcrriv

with

a

complete

predicate.

longer

7r?Xic

But

us

we

that

we

"Rome

is a city,"

"copula,"

it no

but

or

appears

alone

is,

statement,

as

usually

designate

sentence-binder.

With

what

justification?

If

we

stress

7roXi?,

kcrTiv

looks

sec

1 I

am

not

sure

whether

Kahn

would

count

this

as

a variant

of

ovk

?cTTL TaOra,

(p. 366);

but

of which

cf.,

he

Euripides

56, 1 K; Aristophon non-philosophers,

9,

perhaps

fr.

4.

says

AIcestis

he

Since

found

no

1126; Ion

Kahn

seems

extra-philosophical

examples

341;

fr.

978,5;

Antiphanes

to put Xenophon

among

fr.

the

one

should

cite Oeconomicus

XIX.

17.

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488

SETH BENARDETE

ondary;

sentence.

we

can

But

omit

if the

it without

sentence

7roXi?,

logical

obscuring^

Tw/xr]

stress

our

i)v,

would

understanding

eorcu

still

or even

on

be

a different

were

(paiveTaL,

cated

noun,

Kake?TaL

unless

the main

constraints

required

of

the

yiyveTaL,

the

emphasis.

predi

Accordingly,

KaXevraL

cate,

"They

elvaCl

sentence

turn

the

etc.

laetus

like

as

in &ttl

verb

existence,

with

a great

cited

7roXi?

is, and

in the

not

7r?Xic

sentence

is

the

statement,

a closer

but

kvT?v,

t)v,

yiyveTaL,

is only

determination

.

.

of

the

. T e d a f i / x e v o L

. Tedafi/xevoL

predi

eLcriv

Is this

a new

use

other

another

use

one

the

essence

in

of

a

in

of

laetus

as

we

tov

all

Ionic

it means

shares

advenio.

are buried" If that were

ovro?

is the

the

same

case,

TeB?<paTaL.

have

should

a wholly

and

? kt)7to?

In

of other

differently,

?ao-iXcc?c

these

cases,

being

nominal

which

?ctt'lv,

is

not /xot k^7to?. distinct;

and

verb

however,

present

or

adverbial

designate

(Vorhandensein),

supplements

either

an

action

expressed

distinct

as

in

sub

But

con

.

and

.

nearest

at

important,

as merely

all.

this

number

that can be expanded in different ways.

the

stantives

since

sequently

its use

and we

hand,

existence

verbs,

or a condition

of action

 

that

can be

or

condition

is not

make

them

different,

cases,

participles

 

and

conditions,

actions

and

the

self-evident

one

and

or

an

"auxiliary

lying

least

verb,"

however,

it

is not

at

.

The

only

concept

the

adverbs,

totality

us

of

of

examples;

or

additions

concept,

adjectives,

the

is

the

most

seems

therefore

the

of

oblique

all

general

to

the most

a

copula

which,

speak

part

a formal

sentence,

This

quotation

is

all

ing which

Schmidt

the more

assigns

etymology,

almost

tive-existential"

coincides

of Kahn

German

wohnen.

revealing

to

with

eivaL,

Kahn's.

because

on

the

The

are

comprehended

the

basis

primitive

of

a

mean

specious

"stative"

and

"loca

by

Schmidt

in

the

Whatever

one may

think of Schmidt's

intuition,

it is still nothing

but

admits

by

Harris),

intuition,

of

and

articulated

Transformational

the

variety

extent

is neither

use

of

is able

to

a

the

large

of

syntactic

nor

unified.

Grammar

to generate

structures

on

the

which

eivaL

Kahn,

(in

the

version

other

of

way

hand,

Zellig

from

a

in a regular

posited

notion

eivaL

occurs.

of "kernel

sentence"

Kahn's

original

plan

all the Greek

sentences

was

"to

correlate

every

inwhich

intuitive

difference of meaning in the use of

of the corresponding sentence-type" cannot always do so. Whether this

elpi with

(p. 251), is a failure

a formal

but he

Kahn

the

success

it,

description

that he

admits

inherent

uses,

in Trans

can

for

the

and

are

another

in

order.

formational

Grammar

moment

be

left

aside.

of

the

failure

of

the

itself,

or

an

in the

version

of

First,

technique,

example

as

Kahn

practices

Kahn

formulates

the rule for the recognition

of periphrasis

the participle

somewhat

if and only

as follows:

eivaL is used periphrastically

to obtain

two kernel

with

sentences,

if it is impossible

one of which

has

a

finite

form of eivaL and the other

a finite

form of the

participle,

but

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GRAMMAROF BEING

489

if two

kernel

sentences

can

be

so obtained,

the

usage

is not

periphras

tic.

This

rule

is both

simple

and

elegant;

in time

a

standard

part

of Greek

grammar.

ever, which

mathematical

clarity

can cast

case

[not]

of

another

someone

construction,

who

.

.

.")

is not

(ovk)

uncommon.

?cttlv

it will

The

is best

?cttls

no doubt

become

how

in the

is

exis

enchantment,

illustrated

It

.

.

looks

.

like

("There

the

tential

often with

operator

ovk

of modern

than without

logic, and the fact that

seems

to be,

it occurs

far more

irrelevant.

linguistically,

Now,

he

could only find one (inPlato)

and he offers a proof as to why this should be the case (p. 299, n. 61).

Kahn

asserts

that,

though

he

inwhich

looked hard

for examples,

the second clause has the copula,

He

is mistaken.

864;

(Hecuba

cf.,

Zevs

(Trachiniae

Euripides

fr.

150N),

1278;

cf.,

has

ovk

earn

and

Antigone

Sophocles

dvr)T&v

737),

kol

and

oori?

oi)8?v

?or'

tovtcov

are

?Xevoepo?

tl

o

several

?jlj)

there

examples in just one passage of Plato's Charmides (167elff.). The

Sophoclean example is important since it illustrates a double "zeroing"

ofeLvaL,

are treated

and whereas

as

for

traditional

with

use

or

the

the

grammar

insertion

of Transformational

such

of

the

nominal

sentences

as

can

a secondary

distinc

allowed.

no

be

it might

primitive

primary,

in Kahn's

the

presence

?or?

development,

tion

Grammar

verb

and

between

deep

than

is said

absence

of

For

more

ing

structure,

an

apparent

to designate

the verb

paradox

presence,

is always

that

can

present,

whose

be no

mean

a verb,

in

its absence

make

its presence

equally

felt.

Can

a verb which

word

for reality

and truth?

Or

is almost is it because

always "being" is the only word

eliminable

be

the

that cannot be just aword that it can so easily be suppressed in speech?

If

a distinct

syntactic

ing

context-free

of

eivaL,

then

the

goal

translatability.

structure

of machine-translation

could

be

found

for

could

every

be

mean

achieved:

In

accordance

with

this

goal,

Kahn

had

to begin by treating eivaL as if itwere

admits his failure,

precisely because

any other

verb,

but

since he

to do

so

it is proper

it is not

to ask whether

verb.

he was

Is not

bound

like any other

the colorless

ness

of

the

copula

no

less

a sign

of

the wholly

context-bound

character

of being

Aristotle

than

says,

?TepaL

sort,

KaTa

but

other

is the

fact

that

existence

is not

a predicate?

eart

Tr?vTe

kinds

?xev ovv

rp?7rovc

are

77 av8pe?a

(EN

of

tl,

1116a15?17)?"Courage

tolovt?v

spoken

in five

ways"?ecrri

k?yovTaL

is

here

When

8e

of

kol

this

means

"in its being" only because

of X?yovTaL8e, etc.; without

the contrasted

clause,

that

the

beingness

of

?crri

the

degree

of negativity

vanishes.

in the

One

context

might

suspect,

then,

of eivaCs

occurrence

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490

SETH BENARDETE

determines

d e t e r m i n e s
necessarily

necessarily

Kahn

does,

its meaning.

is

on

so,

the

and

the

grounds

grounds

Being

negation

that

is

the

context-bound

of

eivaL

cannot

because

be

non-being

dismissed,

syntactic

forms

do

not

alter

as

re

gardless

ofwhether

they are affirmed

or denied.

When

eivaL by itself

means

when

been

to

be

alive

it occurs

far more

often

negatively

is the

case

comes

insists,

/xadcov

human

as

"to

be

dead";

just

only

of

he

you

it does mean

asked

whether

philosophers

over

have

yiyvecrdaL,

cited

and

become

rest.

kyo)

to be alive,

so-and-so

through

upon

Pindar's

it"),

does

it usually

Kahn

?crai

the

says

ovk

god,

that

to

light

it has

not

is dead.

non-being.

which

yevoC

not

olos

affect

Being

The

for

eivaL

could

are

over

oeo?

conceptual

and

for

("Learn

priority

o/acoc

but

priority

which

what

(IA

of motion

973-4),

Euripides'

Tr?(piqv?

to you

as

Achilles

to Clytaemnestra

H)v,

?XX'

not

being

so,

crot/^?yicrro?,

the

greatest

yevrjoropiaL

nevertheless

("I appear

I shall become

so"), and Aristotle

remarks

that

"motion

is especially

thought

assign

(Met.

to

be

motion

being-at-work

to non-beings,

1047a32-4).

(energeia),

but

(only)

and

some

therefore

of

the

other

men

do

not

categories"

Kahn

cites Achilles'

words

'philosophical' use

of eipi

out

loud

on

'

Ki8ao

the

departure

?o/xoicri

soul

finding

fails

and

wraith

here

to

just

stress

are

another

what

is suddenly

to

at Iliad XXIII,

inHomer"

of Patroclus'

Kai

103-4

as "perhaps

Achilles

o> ttottol,

it

is

house

true

the

most

(p. 274).

ghost:

("So

the

is speak

rj

after

p?

t?

all

ing

ecTTLKOLL kv

that

ipvxv

something

is

e?8(okov

even

of

in

the

astonishing

of Hades").2

passage.

would

By

example

truly

"locative-existential,"

about

what

we

this

Kahn

Achilles

forced

acknowledge

implicitly,

have

thought Homer's

heroes

believed

that the soul truly exists

in Hades.

Soul,

Achilles

says,

is not,

any

more

than

Hades

is,

just

a

manner

of speaking. for the poem, which

begun with Homer's assertion

This is in a sense the culmination of the Iliad,

ends with the burial of Hector's

corpse, that Achilles' wrath had cast forth into

had

Hades

many

stout

for dogs

souls of heroes

and birds.

by

and

fact

left themselves

significance

that

only

(avrov?)

to be

speech

of

the prey

for

The

the

of Achilles'

on the

the Iliad

is confirmed

occasion

Patroclus' and Hector's deaths does Homer himself say that the soul

2 If

of soul

one

reads,

sort

considerations

is etc.";

that

with

Kahn,

but

Propertius'

rt?

in

sunt

line

aliquid

103,

it qualifies

manes

is just

seem

to guarantee

the

lectio

difficilior.

ifwxy,

"some

one

of several

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GRAMMAROF BEING

491

went

at

the

to Hades,

start

that

and its significance

for us would

eivaL

primarily

means

"to

be

be that

something."

it establishes

soul,

If Greek

literature

begins of the being

with

a question of the gods

about

the being be far behind.

of

the questioning

cannot

Kahn,

meaning

however,

"to

first

ov8'

at

be

seems

alive"

at

to

deny

the

end

(Clouds

this,

strictly

for

he

existential

wishes

to

meaning

separate

which,

the

he

from

the

claims,

Socrates'

occurs

of the fifth

367)

century.

a

"eon

sentences

Aristophanes'

innova

existential

it

ecrT?v Zevs

the

same

represents

novel: