The Grammar of Being

"The Grammar of Being," Review of Metaphysics 30, No. 3 (1977): 486-496. Reprinted in The Archaeology of the Soul, 2012.


“Charles H. Kahn’s The Verb “Be” in Ancient Greek is the sixth part of a series edited by JWM Verhaar with the overall title, The Verb “Be” and its Synonyms: Philosophical and Grammatical Studies; but it differs from the others by it being devoted to a single language. This privilege is due to the link, which is still sense as indissoluble, between philosophy proper and ancient Greek philosophy. To the Greek philosophers themselves, however, this link seems to have been of no importance, and it would have come as a surprise to most of them that grammar and philosophy could be thought to overlap. The spoke of logos; we speak of language; and whereas for them the Greek or Persian exemplified the conventional, they are for us “natural languages.” Plato was content to distinguish among the parts of speech only noun and verb (as actor and action respectively), a distinction that plainly did not cover either the verb “to be” or the noun “being”; and he did so in a dialogue whose theme is the problem of being (Sophist 251e4-8). Indeed, as the Eleatic strangers makes clear, being belongs with the same, other, motion, and rest, while logos belongs with opinion, thought, and imagination; 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 is fully in accord with Plato’s understanding of the “weakness of speeches.”