While contrasting the ontological systems of Parmenides and Kabbalists may seem arbitrary, I hope it will not be fruitless.

For now, I'm aiming to examine one specific concept: Ein Sof. As wiki puts it, sourcing the Zohar:

Ein Sof: Before He gave any shape to the world, before He produced any form, He was alone, without form and without resemblance to anything else. Who then can comprehend how He was before the Creation? Hence it is forbidden to lend Him any form or similitude, or even to call Him by His sacred name, or to indicate Him by a single letter or a single point.

I will attempt to frame this in philosophical terms. Ein Sof is the unconditional, the unknowable. However, convention among Kabbalists suggests that while one cannot proclaim what Ein Sof is, one can make a correct assertion by saying what Ein Sof is not. In fact, that is the only way permissible to assert the qualities of Ein Sof. I'm not an expert on Kabbalah, but as far as I know, this would resemble:

  • Ein Sof is holy [invalid]
  • Ein Sof is not evil [valid]

It is at this juncture where the ontological framework of Parmenides seems to offer an interesting counter-perspective. Recall that he asserts:

If you are speaking of what is not, then what you are speaking about is nothing, i.e., is not anything at all. That is, you are not speaking of anything, which is to say that you are not even speaking. For speaking is always speaking of something, and in the (alleged) case of “speaking of what is not” there is nothing that is being spoken of. So there is no such thing as “speaking of what is not.”


  1. ∀x (◇Tx → ◇Ex)
  2. ∀x (¬Ex → ¬◇Ex)
  3. ∀x (◇Ex → Ex)
  4. ∀x (◇Tx → Ex)
  5. ∀x (¬Ex→ ¬◇Tx)

Intuitively, it seems that by Parmenides' framework, if one is speaking about what is not, this reduces to nothing. It follows that if one is unable to articulate what Ein Sof is, rather only what it is not, then under Parmenides' logic, Ein Sof must not exist. But I would like to explore, formally, if that's the case.


Is it possible to derive a case where Ein Sof can exist while still observing Parmenides' ontological bounds/rules?

Formally, referring to 4 above: (A thing can be thought about only if it exists.) Perhaps: Though Ein Sof exists but there are limits on how it can be thought of Or: Ein Sof doesn't exist in the conventional sense, hence the caveats on order when thinking about it

These also make intuitive sense to me, but the logic is starting to become too blurry to formalize a solution to square Ein Sof with Parmenides.

  • 1
    You should ask Parmenides. Per him, he's still alive ... somewhere! Jokes aside, we would need to understand the universe of discourse in which Ein Sof is a thing. That of course from an interpretation of Ein Sof as Cantorian beast. Aug 4, 2023 at 6:03
  • Parmenides's framework has a doublespeak. In the strict sense, the One is inexplicable. But in the talk where it makes sense to use adjectives at all, "what is not" does not track uses of "not". It concerns (what he sees as) inconsistent concepts, like change. But red is and non-red also is, negated adjectives can well be thought. The problem for Ein Sof is not in Parmenides's "what is not", but in the obscurity of the assertion/denial distinction. "Ein Sof is holy" can be rephrased as "Ein Sof is not non-holy", so what can be thought seems to depend on contingency of adjectives in a language.
    – Conifold
    Aug 4, 2023 at 9:48
  • "Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent." - Wittgenstein
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 4, 2023 at 10:39
  • 1
    From Shaul Magid's review: "Excavating the intricacies of Ein Sof ... brings Wolfson to the conclusion that the most philosophically accurate approach to explaining this kabbalistic conundrum is through a Heideggerean lens. “Ein Sof thus can be said to correspond to Heidegger’s event of thinking that must constantly be thought as unthought, the one true being of which all beings are simultaneously the manifestation of the concealment and the concealment of the manifestation.” Or, “... as the indescribable nothing that nihilates, "" Aug 4, 2023 at 15:53
  • and from Heidegger's Parmenides , page 106 : "What shines into beings, though can never be explained on the basis of beings nor constructed out of beings, is Being itself." [Das in das Seiende Hereinscheinende, jedoch aus dem Seienden nie Erklärbare oder gar Machbare ist das Sein selbst.] (thanks Tang Huyen) Aug 4, 2023 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


I've been playing a lot recently... So here it goes...

Imagine you're playing a video game, and there's this fantastic character you've heard about called Ein Sof. Now, the funny thing about Ein Sof is that nobody really knows what it looks like or what it can do. It's like a character that hasn't been designed yet - there's no shape, no abilities, no color... nothing at all. It's like having a character slot without any character in it.

Now, Parmenides is like the game designer, and he says,

"If you can't describe your character, then it's like it doesn't exist."

According to him, if you can't tell what Ein Sof can do or what it looks like, then there's no character there at all.

But let's think about it differently. What if Ein Sof is a super special kind of character? It's like a ghost character that exists but can't be seen, heard, or interacted with in the usual ways. It's there, but we can't really understand what 'there' means for Ein Sof, because it's different from all the other characters.

In our game rules, a character should be able to do something or look like something. That's Parmenides' rule:

"A character exists only if it can be thought about or described." But Ein Sof is a unique character that breaks these rules. It's like saying, "Ein Sof is there, but we can't think about it or describe it like the other characters."

So, in a way, Ein Sof is a special kind of character in our game. It exists, but not in the way we usually understand a character to exist. It's like discovering a new kind of character that's never been seen before. It doesn't break our game, but makes it more interesting and mysterious.

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