Text #9163"Parmenides", in .
Parmenides of Elea (fl. late sixth or early fifth century BCE) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia (Greater Greece, included Southern Italy). He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides describes two views of reality. In “the way of truth” (a part of the poem), he explains how reality (coined as “what-is”) is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, necessary, and unchanging. In “the way of opinion,” he explains the world of appearances, in which one’s sensory faculties lead to conceptions which are false and deceitful. These ideas had a strong effect on Plato, and in turn, influenced the whole of Western philosophy.
Parmenides was born in the Greek colony of Elea (now Ascea), which, according to Herodotus, had been founded shortly before 535 BCE. He was descended from a wealthy and illustrious family.
His dates are uncertain; according to Diogenes Laërtius, he flourished just before 500 BCE, which would put his year of birth near 540 BCE, but Plato has him visiting Athens at the age of 65, when Socrates was a young man, c. 450 BCE, which, if true, suggests a year of birth of c. 515 BCE. He was said to have been a pupil of Xenophanes, and regardless of whether they actually knew each other, Xenophanes’ philosophy is the most obvious influence on Parmenides. Diogenes Laërtius also describes Parmenides as a disciple of “Ameinias, son of Diochaites, the Pythagorean”; but there are no obvious Pythagorean elements in his thought.
Parmenides is one of the most significant of the pre-Socratic philosophers. His only known work, conventionally titled On Nature, is a poem which has only survived in fragmentary form. Approximately 160 lines of the poem remain today; reportedly the original text had 3,000 lines.
The proem is a narrative sequence in which the narrator travels “beyond the beaten paths of mortal men” to receive a revelation from an unnamed goddess (generally thought to be Persephone or Dikē) on the nature of reality. Aletheia, an estimated 90% of which has survived, and doxa, most of which no longer exists, are then presented as the spoken revelation of the goddess without any accompanying narrative.
The section known as “the way of truth” discusses that which is real and contrasts with the argument in the section called “the way of opinion,” which discusses that which is illusory. Under the “way of truth,” Parmenides stated that there are two ways of inquiry: that it is, on the one side, and that it is not. on the other side. He said that the latter argument is never feasible because there is no thing that can not be. Thus, he concluded that “Is” could not have “come into being” because “nothing comes from nothing”. Existence is necessarily eternal. That which truly is [x], has always been [x], and was never becoming [x]; that which is becoming [x] was never nothing (Not-[x]), but will never actually be. Parmenides was not struggling to formulate the laws of conservation of mass and conservation of energy; he was struggling with the metaphysics of change, which is still a relevant philosophical topic today. Moreover, he argued that movement was impossible because it requires moving into “the void”, and Parmenides identified “the void” with nothing, and therefore (by definition) it does not exist. That which does exist is The Parmenidean One, which is timeless, uniform, and unchanging.
Parmenides claimed that there is no truth in the opinions of the mortals. Genesis-and-destruction, as Parmenides emphasizes, is a false opinion, because to be means to be completely, once and for all. What exists can in no way not exist.
After the exposition of the arche (ἀρχή), i.e. the origin, the necessary part of reality that is understood through reason or logos (that [it] Is), in the next section, the Way of Appearance/Opinion/Seeming, Parmenides proceeds to explain the structure of the becoming cosmos (which is an illusion, of course) that comes from this origin.
The structure of the cosmos is a fundamental binary principle that governs the manifestations of all the particulars: “the aether fire of flame” (B 8.56), which is gentle, mild, soft, thin and clear, and self-identical, and the other is “ignorant night”, body thick and heavy.
Parmenides’ considerable influence on the thinking of Plato is undeniable, and in this respect Parmenides has influenced the whole history of Western philosophy, and is often seen as its grandfather. Even Plato himself, in the Sophist, refers to the work of “our Father Parmenides” as something to be taken very seriously and treated with respect. In the Parmenides, the Eleatic philosopher, which may well be Parmenides himself, and Socrates argue about dialectic. In the Theaetetus, Socrates says that Parmenides alone among the wise (Protagoras, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Epicharmus, and Homer) denied that everything is change and motion.
Parmenides is credited with a great deal of influence as the author of an “Eleatic challenge” that determined the course of subsequent philosophers’ enquiries. For example, the ideas of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus, and Democritus have been seen as in response to Parmenides’ arguments and conclusions.
Parmenides’ influence on philosophy reaches up till present times. The Italian philosopher Emanuele Severino has founded his extended philosophical investigations on the words of Parmenides. His philosophy is sometimes called Neo Parmenideism, and can be understood as an attempt to build a bridge between the poem on truth and the poem on opinion.
Parmenides made the ontological argument against nothingness, essentially denying the possible existence of a void. According to Aristotle, this led Democritus and Leucippus, and many other physicists, to propose the atomic theory, which supposes that everything in the universe is either atoms or voids, specifically to contradict Parmenides’ argument. Aristotle himself reasoned, in opposition to atomism, that in a complete vacuum, motion would encounter no resistance, and “no one could say why a thing once set in motion should stop anywhere; for why should it stop here rather than here? So that a thing will either be at rest or must be moved ad infinitum, unless something more powerful get in its way.”
Erwin Schrödinger identified Parmenides’ monad of the “Way of Truth” as being the conscious self in “Nature and the Greeks”. The scientific implications of this view have been discussed by scientist Anthony Hyman.
A shadow of Parmenides’ ideas can be seen in the physical concept of Block time, which considers existence to consist of past, present, and future, and the flow of time to be illusory. In his critique of this idea, Karl Popper called Einstein “Parmenides”.
Austin, Scott (1986). Parmenides: Being, Bounds and Logic. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03559-4.
Austin, Scott (2007), Parmenides and the History of Dialectic: Three Essays, Parmenides Publishing.
Coxon A. H. (2009), The Fragments of Parmenides: A Critical Text With Introduction and Translation, the Ancient Testimonia and a Commentary. Las Vegas, Parmenides Publishing (new edition of Coxon 1986)
Guthrie W. K. C. (1979), A History of Greek Philosophy – The Presocratic tradition from Parmenides to Democritus, Cambridge University Press.
Hermann, Arnold (2005), To Think Like God: Pythagoras and Parmenides-The Origins of Philosophy, Fully Annotated Edition, Parmenides Publishing