# Is Levinas’s enunciation clause a contradiction?

I was reading Logique de Levinas by J. F. Lyotard, and came upon the following axiom, which Lyotard coins as the enunciation clause:

If "A is B", then "A is".

If we admit this axiom, which Lyotard states to be of dramatic importance in phenomenology, we're lead to aporia in some statements of Levinas.

For instance:

Le tout autre est autre que tout ce qui est.

Loosely translated, this reads, "The Other is different from everything that is".

But therefore, "The Other is"; which leads to a contradiction, because it is supposedly different from anything that is.

I'd like to know if there is material in the literature that discusses this problem in a pedagogical way.

• You can see it discussed in French in connection with Derrida (google translate helps): on the link below there is a comment "the formula 'Tout autre est tout autre' is untraductible. It may be enunciated litterally only in French" idixa.net/Pixa/pagixa-1703011128.html Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 18:37
• "A Unicorn is a Horse with a horn"; therefore "A Unicorn is (exists ?)". Do you agree with this kind of argument ? Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 18:54
• This paradox has a very long history, I will only give one pointer. Quine called it Plato's beard ("nonbeing must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that there is not?"), although it is, more properly, Parmenides's. Quine discusses the inference "Pegasus is a flying horse, therefore, Pegasus is", and Russell's solution, in On What There Is. But it would not work for Lyotard or Levinas. Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 6:00
• 'If god is the most perfect being, god exists'? Commented May 25, 2021 at 22:16
• @sand1, is derrida telling us that there exists a philosophical concept which can only be validly expressed in the french language and no other? Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 6:44

It's an interesting problem and not one that has a clear solution. I can provide two candidates that you might find interesting:

1. Quinean Approach

As Conifold suggested, there is a Quinean-Russel style answer here that may not entirely be appropriate but I am tempted to try anyway. Let us try to formalise the enunciation clause as: ∃x(Px) → ∃x(x)

Where "∃x" means "there is an x such that", Px means "x has the property of P", "→" signals entailment and "∃x(x)" means that there is an x such that x" which is just claiming that x exists. What we are saying then is that if there is an object x, such that x has the property that P, then necessarily there is an object x.

So, if I say, "That dog has teeth", my claim is: ∃x(Px)

When I say something like, "Pegasus has wings", we would not say ∃x(Px) where x is Pegasus and P is having wings. That's because Pegasus does not exist, he cannot have wings. What I'm really saying is not, "Pegasus has wings", what I'm saying is "If there was a Pegasus such that it existed, then it would have wings." Our formalisation would probably be something like: ∃x(x) → ∃x(Px), not just ∃x(Px)

The problem is that to seriously define Levinas, we'd have to formalise his as either: ∃x∀y(x =/= y) or ∃x(x) → ∃x∀y(x =/=y)

If we go with the first, then we are saying there is an x such that for all y, x is not equal to y. This seems in the spirit of Levinas but, you're right, it would violate the enunciation principle. The second does not violate the principle, but it would not be in the spirit of Levinas.

1. The Meignonian Approach

An alternative is an approach that suggests that the Other does not 'exist' per se but has being in a different way. Meignon has a fairly interesting philosophy of non-existent entities, and Zalta is a strong contemporary philosopher who carries on with these ideas.

The general principle is that non-existent entities cannot instantiate but can encode properties. The Other may not exist, but it still has being with properties that it embodies, etc. This may be a more promising way to apply an analytic framework onto the Levinas-style ideas.

A note of caution though, Levinas usually is not playing with the same rules that clauses like the enunciation clause do. Trying to find a strict ontology for Levinas may sometimes be missing the point of the continental-style philosophy he is engaging in.