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Unpublished and Untenured, a Philosopher Inspired a Cult Following

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In other words, logic provides us not with an empirical understanding of how our thinking actually works (that’s the purview of psychology), but with a normative understanding of how thinking should work. There is no “I” in logic.

Kimhi argues that this view is wrong, and that the distinction between psychology and logic has led our understanding of thinking astray. Consider that the following statement does not, according to the standard view, constitute a logical contradiction: “It’s raining, but I don’t believe it’s raining.” Why? Because the first part of the sentence concerns a state of affairs in the world (“it’s raining”), whereas the second part concerns someone’s state of mind (“I don’t believe it’s raining”).

Kimhi wants to rescue the intuition that it is a logical contradiction to say, “It’s raining, but I don’t believe it’s raining.” But to do this, he has to reject the idea that when you assert a proposition, what you are doing is adding psychological force (“I think … ”) to abstract content (“it’s raining”). Instead, Kimhi argues that a self-conscious, first-person perspective — an “I” — is internal to logic. For him, to judge that “it’s raining” is the same as judging “I believe it’s raining,” which is the same as judging “it’s false that it’s not raining.” All are facets of a single act of mind.

One consequence of Kimhi’s view is that “It’s raining, but I don’t believe it’s raining” becomes a logical contradiction. Another consequence is that a contradiction becomes something that you cannot believe, as opposed to something that you psychologically can but logically ought not to believe (as the traditional cleavage between psychology and logic might suggest). A final consequence is that thinking is not just a cognitive psychological act, but also one that is governed by logical law.

In other words, the distinction between psychology and logic collapses. Logic is not a set of rules for how to think; it is how we think, just not in a way that can be captured in conventional scientific terms. Thinking emerges as a unique and peculiar activity, something that is part of the natural world, but which cannot be understood in the manner of other events in the natural world. Indeed, Kimhi sees his book, in large part, as lamenting “the different ways in which philosophers have failed to acknowledge — or even denied — the uniqueness of thinking.”

Genius? Folly? Something in between? It is hard to canvass a wide range of opinion about Kimhi’s work. He and his book have, until now, existed within a relatively small subsection of the philosophical world. But even within that world, there are those who are wary of his intellectual project — yet impressed by it all the same. Brandom, whose life’s work relies on the distinction between force and content that Kimhi attacks, admits to finding his former student’s ideas “deeply uncongenial” and “threatening.” He also describes them, however, as “radically original” and part of a new intellectual movement that is “bound to transform our philosophical understanding.”

At the very least, Kimhi may now have a shot at tenure.

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