Philo
Sophos
·org

philosophy is for everyone
and not just philosophers

philosophers should know lots
of things besides philosophy



PhiloSophos knowledge base

Philosophical Connections

Pathways to Philosophy programs

University of London BA

Pathways web sites

Philosophy lovers gallery

GVKlempner: complete videos

PhiloSophos home

Pathways to Philosophy

Philosophical Connections

Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


PARMENIDES

(c. 515 — c. 430 B.C.)

 

MATERIALISTIC MONISM

Parmenides came from Elea in Southern Italy. Philosophers belonging to the 'school' he founded are therefore usually called the Eleatics. His own thought was developed in an allegorical poem the main ideas of which were set out by Simplicius, a commentator of the sixth century A.D.

 

METAPHYSICS/ PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE

[1] The first part of the poem, narrated by a goddess, is the Prologue. The second part described a process of initiation involving two paths of inquiry "which alone are to be thought of":

one, that it is and that it is not possible for it not to be — the path of persuasion (for it attends truth); the other, that it is not and that it is necessary for it not to be — this track, I declare, is altogether inscrutable; for you could neither know what it is not (for that cannot be accomplished), nor speak of it. [Fr. 2]

These are his arguments against the inscrutable path:

The same thing is both for thinking and for existing. [Fr. 3]

What is for speaking of and for thinking must be; for it is for existing, but nothing is not: those things I [the goddess] bid you hold in mind; for from this way of enquiry first I bar you. [Fr. 6]

In these fragments Parmenides seems to be saying that there is a necessary connection between our thinking and the things which the thoughts are about. So if something does not exist, I cannot really think of it. It then follows that we can think only about things which can exist; and whatever can be thought about must exist — the claim of the Way of Truth.

The goddess goes on to show Parmenides that what exists ('Being') is the One n whole, of one kind, perfect, unchangeable, motionless [a], and "equally poised from the centre in all directions". It is indivisible, and there is no void [b]. Being could not come from Being, for then it would already have existed. But neither could it have arisen from not-Being, for this would have required the existence of not-Being, and this is self-contradictory. Moreover, there is no reason why Being should have been brought into existence at one time rather than any other [c], for this would mean that non-Being would have different qualities at different times. So change, movement, and time, which we attribute to individual things in the world, must be illusory: the physical world is unreal [d]. All we can say of the Real is that "It is", and that it is to be grasped only by Reason [e].

In the third part of the poem [Frs 6 and 7] there is reference to the way of ordinary opinion which appeals to sense-experience. This would seem to steer a middle course between the other two. But Parmenides argues that it is self-contradictory [f] and is the path followed by witless "two-headed" mortals. (He may have had Heraclitus in mind here.)

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Parmenides clearly emphasizes Being in contrast to the becoming stressed by Heraclitus. But there are difficulties with his thesis. Firstly, the word 'is' has four functions, which early Greek philosophers were not generally aware of (and which were not easily distinguishable in the Greek language) [a]. It may be used with a predicate (as in 'The table is round'); it may enable us to say something is true (as in ' "2 + 2 = 4" is true'); it may suggest that something exists ('John is', that is, exists); or lastly it may express identity (for example, 'Hesperus [the evening star] is Phosphorus [the Morning Star]' — both names referring to the planet Venus). There has been much dispute among scholars as to which meaning best fits Parmenides' fragments; and on balance it would seem that the existential interpretation makes most sense. But this leads to a second problem. Parmenides seems to be committed to the view that names can be meaningful only if they denote or refer to existent things. Unfortunately it is not clear whether he intends it to follow that we cannot therefore think about (1) things that do not happen (contingently) to exist (for example, unicorns); or (2) things that necessarily cannot exist (for example, a round square — which is a self-contradictory concept). Nevertheless, both views lead to the conclusion that what does not exist (for whatever reason) cannot be thought about. This claim does, however, depend on this 'denotative' theory of meaning, which many philosophers today reject. But despite such difficulties, Parmenides is significant in Greek philosophy (1) as the first thinker to introduce a priori deductive reasoning; (2) for his emphasis on the concept of Being. He may therefore perhaps be regarded as the first metaphysician.

 

READING

G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, & M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, ch. VIII.

R. D. McKirahan, Philosophy before Socrates, ch. 11.

S. Austin, Parmenides: Being, Bounds and Logic.

A. D. P. Mourelatos, The Route of Parmenides: a Study in Word, Image and Argument in the Fragments.

See also essays by G. E. L. Owen and Mourelatos (in Mourelatos); and by Owen and H. Frnkel (in Furley and Allen).

 

CONNECTIONS

Parmenides

 

[1a; see also 1d] Thinking and existing; Being as unchanging unity — the 'One'    Heraclitus

Pythagoras

Zeno

Anaxagoras

Empedocles

Democritus

Plato

Aristotle

   Bradley

Heidegger

[1a c i]

[1a]

[1b 2a]

[1a b]

[1b]

[1a]

[1c 2a 3a 3c]

[8a c e]

[3a 5a]

[1a 5a]

 

[1b] Void/ space

Democritus

Aristotle

[1d]

[12b]

 

[1c] Being eternal; no reason for its coming into existence at particular time    Anaximander

Anaxagoras

Empedocles

   Leibniz

   Spinoza

   Schopenhauer

[1e]

[1a]

[1a]

[1c]

[CSa]

[1a]

 

[1d] Change, movement, time illusory    Heraclitus

Anaxagoras

Empedocles

Zeno

Democritus

Plato

Aristotle

[1a]

[1a]

[1b]

[2a]

[1a]

[5e]

[12c]

 

[1e] Reality — only that 'it is'; accessible through Reason

Plato

   Bradley

[6a 7e]

[1e]

 

[1f] Self-contradictions in 'ordinary opinion'    Bradley [3b]

 

[CSa] Different functions of copula (not generally recognised in early Greek philosophy)    Plato

   Frege

[3d]

[2d]