Parmenides of Elea
Life and Work
Parmenides (b. c. 515 BC) flourished in the Greek colony of Elea in southern Italy. He is the founder of the Eleatic School which includes important philosophers such as Zeno and Melissus. He composed a book On Nature written in Homeric hexameter. His poem was divided in three sections: (1) Prologue; (2) The Way of Truth; (3) The Way of Human Opinion.
The Nature of Being
Whereas the Ionian hylozoists searched for the material originative source of cosmos, Parmenides posed a different kind of question: what is the nature of Being? The true ‘signs’ or predicates of Being (‘what there is’) are stated at the eighth survived fragment of his poem. Being is:
•one and complete
Being and Non-Being
Parmenides’ arguments for these predicates are the following:
1.non-being must be rejected, for there is no temporality nor generation or destruction for Being;
2.Being is undivided, outside any internal differentiation or contradiction;
3.Being is unchangeable, immobile and complete, recognised only by thinking;
4.Being is equal to itself from every direction, outside any spatial application, equally balanced and uniformly complete at every side like the bulk of a well-rounded sphere.
So the only reasonable conclusion that remains for Being is an unqualified is.
Thinking and Being
The next question that arises in Parmenides’ thought is how Being can be recognized and understood. Since it is impossible to recognise what is not and what can be thought needs necessarily to be then it follows that everything which can be thought presupposes necessarily that something has firstly to be in order to be recognised. That means that only essential being can be apprehended by reason and thinking and not non-being. Parmenides concludes that the same thing is for thinking and for being. Hence since what can be thought is the same as the object of the thought and there is nothing else apart from what there is, then the conclusion which arises is that it is impossible to find thinking without being.
Opinion and Cosmology
Parmenides’ arguments for Being are exposed in the second part of him poem about the Way of Truth. In the third part of his poem on the Way of Opinion (doxa) he criticizes humans for being mislead by their senses. Humans erroneously regard cosmos as not that of ‘one Being’ but that of ‘many beings’, opposition and plurality. Parmenides’ position is clearly directed against the Ionian thinkers and particularly the ever-flowing Becoming of Heraclitus. For Parmenides, Heraclitean Becoming must be rejected and replaced by an unqualified Being. In his cosmology the only acceptable factors that constitute every single entity is ‘fire’ and ‘night’. His position on this distinction remains not clear in the survived fragments.
1(1)'Young man, coming to our home in the company of immortal charioteers and the horses which carry you, welcome! It is no ill chance which has sent you to travel along this road, far from the way trodden by humans, but right and justice. You must learn about everything, both the unshaken heart of rounded truth and the opinions of mortals, in which there is no true belief. (from 1.24)
2(2) Come now, pay heed to my account and take it with you - I shall tell you only the ways of enquiry that are to be thought of: that it is and cannot not be is the path of persuasion, for it attends on truth, that it is not, and necessarily is not, is I tell you a path of which nothing can be learnt, for you could not recognise what is not (that is impossible) nor name it;
3(3) ... for what can be thought of is the same as what can be.
4(4) Contemplate steadily what is absent as present to your mind; for it will never cut off what is from holding to what it is, since it neither scatters in every direction in every away nor draws together in order.
5(5) It does not matter to me wherever I begin; for there again I shall return once more.
6(6)What can be spoken and thought of must exist, for it can exist but nothing can not; this I bid you ponder. This is the first way of enquiry from which I hold you back, and then from this second one too, along which men wander knowing nothing, two headed, for helplessness steers the wandering thought in their hearts. They move along deaf as well as blind, dazed uncritical crowds, who consider to be and not to be the same and not the same, and that for all things there is a path turning back again.
7(7) It shall never be proved that what-is-not is; keep your thought from this way of enquiry, and do not let habit-forming custom cause your heedless eye and echoing ear and your tongue to mislead you, but judge by reasoning the hard-hitting argument reported by me.
The Way of Truth (Aletheia)
8(8) One way only is left to speak of, namely that it is. Along this way are many signs: that what-is is (i) ungenerated and indestructible, (ii) unique, (iii) unmoved and (iv) complete; it never was nor will be, since it is now, all at once one, continuous.
(i) What creation will you seek for it? how did it grow? and from what source? I will not allow you to say or to think 'from what is not', for it is not possible to say or to think what is not. And if it did come from nothing what compulsion was there for it to arise later rather than earlier? so that it must either be all at once or not at all. And the strength of conviction will not allow anything else ever to arise from what is not. ... How could what-is later perish? how could it come into existence? for if it came into existence in the past or if it is going to exist at some time in the future it is not; so generation is extinguished and destruction incredible.
(ii) It is not divisible, since it is all alike; nor is there more at one time and less at another which would prevent its continuity, but all is full of what there is. So that it all holds together, for what-is stays close to what-is.
(iii) Moreover, without beginning and without end (since generation and destruction have been driven afar, and true conviction has cast them out) it is immobile in the bonds of great chains. Remaining the same and in the same it abides by itself and so stays firm, for harsh necessity keeps it in the chains of the limit which holds it around, because it is not right for what-is to be incomplete; for it is not in need - if it were it would need everything.
[What is there to be thought of is the same as what is thought, for you will not find thinking apart from what-is, which is what is referred to. There is and will be nothing apart from what-is, since Fate holds this as one and unchanged. This (i.e. what-is) had been called all that people have proposed, in their conviction of the truth birth and death, being and not being, shift of place and change of bright colour.]
(iv) Moreover, since it is utterly unchanging, it is complete on every side, like the bulk of a well-rounded sphere, equally balanced about the centre in every direction, for it cannot be more here and less there than what-is, since it is all continuous; being equal to itself on every side it rests uniformly in its limits.
The Way of Opinion (Doxa)
Here I end my reliable argument and thought concerning truth. From this point on learn about the opinions of humans, as you listen to the deceptive arrangement of my words. People have made up their minds to name two forms; they should not name even one of them that is where they have gone astray. They have distinguished them as opposites in appearance, and assigned them marks distinct from one another to one the aetherial flame of fire, gentle and very fine, identical with itself in every direction but different from the other. The other is its opposite dark night, a heavy and composite body. I am telling you the whole plausible arrangement of them, so that no one's thinking shall outpace you.
9(9) Since all things have been named light and night, and the names which belong to the powers of each have been assigned, all is full at once of light and dark night, both equal, since nothing is without either.
10(10) You shall know the nature of aether and all the signs in aether and the unseen workings of the shining sun's clear torch and from where they arose, and you will learn of the wandering workings of the round moon and its nature, and you will understand how the surrounding heaven came about and how necessity brought it to hold fast the limits of the stars.
11(11) ... how earth and sun and moon and universal aether and the Milky Way and the hot force of the stars rushed into being.
12(13) first of all the gods (s)he devised Eros.
13(14) A borrowed light shining in the night wanders round earth.
14(15) always looking to the rays of the sun
15(12) For the narrower <circles> were filled with unmixed fire, and those next to them with night, but alongside an allotted amount of fire; and in the middle of these the goddess who governs all. For she controls everything belonging to hated birth and intercourse, sending the female to unite with the male and again, the other way round, the male to the female.
16(17) on the right boys and on the left girls
18(16) According to the nature of the mixture of the wandering limbs that each one has, so does thought stand for each; that which thinks, the physis of the limbs, is the same for each and everyone; and what there is more of is that thought.
19(19) So according to belief they were and are now, and hereafter, having grown from this, the will come to an end, and, for each one, men laid down a distinguishing name.
Translation M. R. Wright - note: numbers in parentheses refer to the standard Diels/Kranz order