The Problem of Logic

Foundationalism is always at work in conjunction with logic. By foundationalism I mean philosophical necessity. For example, in Heidegger’s view, Aristotle’s ontology is derived from phenomenological observation. According to Heidegger, Aristotle is astutely observing what shows itself as it is without trying to bring a previous theory (theoria) of what shows itself in the observation. Aristotle argues against Antiphon, heavily influenced by Plato and the Eleatic school founded by Parmenides, as forcing the thought of being into the one (hen) at the expense of the many (polumeres). Thus, the immutable and eternal are thought as being while change and multiplicity are relegated to the accidental and as such, non-being (see Aristotle sees multiplicity and unity (hen) in the dynamic (dunamis), potentiality and actuality, of being (1). Rather than insist on a preconceived idea, Aristotle wants to observe beings and try to think being. For Heidegger, Aristotle escapes the charge of foundationalism because he is not insisting based on dogma (doxa) that being is this way or that but only what he sees in the showing of what Heidegger states is commonly and mundanely thought as being. Foundationalism is brought about when philosophy is thought as terms of tautology.

Tautology is what is necessarily true. The simplest tautology is A = A. This is the principle of identity. If the universal is thought as an identity then the particular is also thought as ‘not’ universal. Thus, if A = A and A is the category of the universal then everything that is not universal is thought as the particular. If the universal means not contingent on anything then the particular, as contingent, ‘is’, by definition, not universal. The ‘is’ in this case, called the copula, denotes equivalence. Equivalence gives identity. Thus, the universal holds itself in its identity as not particular. The critique of foundationalism cannot rest on the attempt to invalidate tautology as this would be a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, foundationalism can be legitimately criticized when it takes a step from logic to forcing its terms on what does not belong to it as Antiphon tries to do in his argument with Aristotle. The subtlety that gets introduced comes about by creating the categorical identity. If the universal is thought as being then the particular necessarily is not being. Thus, beings are not universal and therefore not being. The error occurs because the identity of the universal gets enmeshed with being. The necessity of the tautology of identity which cannot be denied is then taken up in the thought of being and beings. However the thought of being and beings is not necessarily the same as the thought of the universal and the particular. In this case, there is an added equivalence of identity added into the argument between the universal and being and therefore, the particular and beings. The additional identity is precisely where the fallacy gets introduced and philosophy gets conflated with mere assertion or opinion (doxa). This example serves as a model of how logic gets conflated with philosophy and results in foundationalism as history.

The charge of foundationalism does not refer to all history or all philosophy. It refers to a logical necessity that gets conflated with a historical, canonical narrative. There are many aspects of how this conflation occurs that inevitably refer to power structures in history. These power structures show themselves in economic, religious, political/nationalistic and scientific histories. It seems that it would be hard to deny foundationalism in history as evidenced by the violence of history. When extreme nationalism is tied to the purity of the Aryan race, purity and nationalism are conflated with the logic of identity and the result is the inevitable holocaust of the ‘impure’. This is what I refer to as the violence of light.

Light shows, it illuminates. Light is a unity of perception. It is the necessary condition for seeing. What shows itself (aletheia) is made possible by light, the clearing (lichtung). Light is neumena, concept, unity and potential. Seeing is phenomenal, particular, manifold and actual. Light arranges what it illuminates. It orders, makes sense of, holds together. Logic gets introduced as ‘not’ light. ‘Not’ light is thought as darkness. It is thought as the absence of light. As such darkness, thought in terms of the identity of light, is falsely thought as nonsensical, chaotic, without any order and therefore, without value. In this case, ‘not’ light is the depleted form of light. The darkness gets its identity as the ‘not’ of light. It gets defined by what it is ‘not’. The attempt to define by negation, what it is not, is really only light as what it isn’t, the absolute depletion of light, its negation. Darkness, as a necessary result of the identity of light, is the narcissistic love of light. It is the love of Medusa that cannot turn its gaze. This conflation, the violence of light, is the history of foundationalism. The ‘leap’ from tautology to the phenomenon of light associates adjectives that do not necessarily belong to the negation of the category.

When light is considered as an ideal then we can state that Light = Light therefore Darkness = Not Light AND Light = Not Darkness. We have established a reversible relationship. The reversal can occur in either direction without violating the ideal tautology. The problem comes about when phenomena are brought into the tautology.

For example, we know that different lights show different orderings. Visible colors are reflected light in the electromagnetic range of 400THz (Terahertz) to 790THz (for the human eye). Opacity is the degree of visible light that is reflected. Transparency is when no light is reflected Infrared’s electromagnetic range is 1THz to 430THz. What shows itself with visible light is very different that what shows itself with infrared. In the foundationalism of the Occident, visible light shows us ‘objects’ (of which we are one). The ‘not’ of visible light is ‘thought’ as invisible but actually it is not. Infrared shows various degrees of heat. It is not nothing but something, it is just different. It has adjectives associated with it that cannot be contained by nothing, invisible or the ‘not’ of objects. The ‘not’ of infrared light isn’t equivalent to visible light. The relationship is not reversible. When the other of visible light is thought in terms of its ‘not’ it is not really “the other” but the same merely absolutely depleted. The absolute depletion of the identity of the same is still only the same. This is what Levinas refers to as totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism is an ideal that functions as a theoria. It functions as a grid that is cast in advance of our ‘seeing’. It orders and arranges in advance how beings show themselves. It does not arise spontaneously every time we perceive but preconditions perception. It sets up in advance what is possible to ‘see’. This is what is meant by humans are historical. We have the capacity to ‘see’ what has already been gathered or ordered by language, history. When we take this gathering as identity, as the logic of necessity, we become foundationalists. In this case, tautology gets mistakenly substituted as what ‘is’. Being gets taken as theoria, a way of seeing.

If ‘not’ is given in terms of tautological identity it is no wonder that the original term only rediscovers itself in its nemesis. The rediscovery is not a transformation but a trans-fixation. As Medusa, the gaze is fascination that turns to stone. When theoria only sees itself, it becomes a cataract to sight. Its total opacity petrifies itself in its own terms. This is the ‘not’ of foundationalism. It’s essential characteristic is reversibility. When the ‘not’ is only given in tautological terms it leaves out the in-between, the adjectives that do not quite fit, the kairos.

Kairos and chronos are two notions of time in Greek thinking. The chronos is chronological time, the succession of now moments that chronologically proceed from a past to a future. The chronos is given by discrete ‘now’ moments. The current moment negates the past moment and the next moment. The ‘now’ moment relegates the past and the future to non-being (me on). Chronos depends on its absolute opposition to the past and the future. It depends on them, in tautological terms, as what it is not. The ‘now’ moment is no longer ‘now’ when it is past or when it is to come. Its identity depends on its ‘not’ to be what it is. The kairos is the in-between that has no duration but rather a quality. It is the quality that requires the supreme moment of decision from privation, steresis.

“Heidegger says that the basic category of steresis dominates Aristotle’s ontology. Steresis means lack, privation. It can also mean loss or deprivation of something, as in the example of blindness, which is a loss of sight in one who by nature sees. Steresis can also mean confiscation, the violent appropriation of something for oneself that belongs to another (Met. 1022 b33). Finally, Aristotle often calls that which is held as other in an opposition of contraries a privation. Heidegger will point out in his later essay on Physics B1 that Aristotle understands this deprivation as itself a kind of eidos. Thus, steresis is the lack that belongs intrinsically to being. According to Heidegger, with the notion of steresis Aristotle reaches the pinnacle of his thinking about being. Heidegger even remarks that Hegel’s notion of negation needs to be returned to its dependency on Aristotle’s more primordial conception of the not.”(2)

The moment of decision is the supreme moment, the moment of moments, the being of beings. It is based on obligation to what it is not, to what it lacks. In this case, what is needed is the double ‘not’, the ‘not’s not’.

There are two ways of thinking about not’s not. The first is based on chronos. It is reversible. Specifically, the ‘now’ moment negates the past and the future AND the past and future negates the ‘now’ moment. This gives way to sublation. What gets lifted up out of this dialectic is the concept, the concept of time. The concept unifies the apparent opposition; it erases the appearance of the absolute other, the negation of each term for the other. The other as real is eradicated by the concept. The concept holds the other together and as such, shows them as unity. Unity, the one (hen), is without otherness. The second thinking about not’s not is based on kairos. It is not reversible. It allows for differences that are not totally subsumed by the categories of ‘now’ and not ‘now’. It recognizes the middle way (middle voice in Greek thought) AND adjectives that are not logically temporal. However, the recognition is not based on concept but decision. Decision is forced by lack. The fullness of the moment lacks its sublation, the ground for its resolution. It cannot return to light and not light. This is not due to the inevitability of the concept but to actualizing the possibility of decision. The moment of decision holds open the possibility of Ethics for Levinas.

For decision, the ‘not’ that ‘nots’ itself can release its hold on light and its deprivation in the actuality of Ethics or it can narcissistically cast its gaze to the light and its deprivation, the concept. It can disallow its own terminus and therefore hold itself in check. In this case, its telos is not determinate (viz. the concept) but opened by actualizing the supreme moment of choice, the encounter with the other. By understanding how logic gets conflated with ‘isness’, the immediacy of ‘now’, we resist the narcissism of light, the resolution of concept. We impose limits on the bounds of ‘seeing’ and are opened to what does not show itself in ‘theoria’, in light. Our gaze is not to confirm (re-confirm), sublate, our logical categories but to leave open what we cannot see, not as a ‘not’ but as not’s not, the other that is not reversible. To the degree that a philosophy universalizes identity in history is the degree that it becomes foundationalism. The resolution of concept (eidos) is not necessarily given by tautology when bound with what is seen in ‘now’ and not ‘now’. The sublation is a conflation. It sacrifices steresis to gain the ground of reversibility and the supreme resolve of concept, the eternity of self-determination. It violently appropriates the moment of decisionin privation (steresis), to deny otherness.

“Not’s not” is not neuter, an ‘it’. An ‘it’ is already a way of seeing. The ‘it’ here is understood in terms of what is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. The categories are built into the theoria of the Occident, the history of essence, substance. Other histories such as animism did not make that ‘leap’. An ‘it’ reflects a generic reduction to what is seen in the exclusive categories of ‘now’ and not ‘now’. The ‘it’ is a historical abbreviation for the concept. The semblance of the other is now lifted up into the ‘it’ of concept. As such, ‘it’ is no longer determined by the other but self-determined. Self-determination is pure ‘isness’. Pure ‘isness’ has become ‘itness’. Decision is lost to neutrality and as such, passivity. The lack of decision has become the passive resolution of ‘itness’. This is foundationalism in the form of totalitarianism. The totality, the universal, the unity, the ‘it’ is being. In its completion the he or she is a moment, a stage, and ethics, an addition to what has already been completed. Ethics is founded on concept and unity not he or she and steresis. Thus Hegel’s system is complete, almost.


(1) Heraclitus says at the beginning of Greek philosophy:
potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei.
B12. On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. (Cleanthes from Arius Didymus from Eusebius) (see and

This is from the famous fragment thought as ‘never stepping into the same river twice’. However, the original fragment has an intentional ambiguity regarding what is the same and what is changing, those stepping into rivers or the rivers. If the rivers (plural in the fragment) are changing they remain what they are by changing. One the other hand, if those stepping into rivers are changing then it is as if the flowing, changing environment constitutes those stepping into rivers as the same. The unity, the same, is given by change or flux.

Plato interprets this as:
Panta chōrei kai ouden menei
“Everything changes and nothing remains still”
Plato changes the word flow to choros, change.
The assertions of flow are coupled in many fragments with the enigmatic river File:[33]
“We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”

B88. As the same thing in us are living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old. For these things having changed around are those, and those in turn having changed around are these.

(2) Heidegger and Aristotle The Twofoldness of Being, Walter A. Brogan, State University of New York Press, Albany© 2005 State University of New York, page 19

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