Ancient Greek philosopher
Parmenides of Elea /pɑːrˈmɛnɪdiːz ... ˈɛliə/; Greek: Παρμενίδης ὁ Ἐλεάτης; fl. late sixth or early fifth century BC was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia meaning "Great Greece," the term which Romans gave to Greek-populated coastal areas in Southern Italy. He is thought to have been in his prime or "floruit" around 475 BC.
Parmenides has been considered the founder of metaphysics or ontology and has influenced the whole history of Western philosophy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, which also included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Zeno's paradoxes of motion were to defend Parmenides' view.
The single known work by Parmenides is a poem whose original title is unknown but which is often referred to as On Nature. Only fragments of it survive, but its importance lies in the fact that it contains the first sustained argument in the history of Western philosophy. In his poem, Parmenides prescribes two views of reality. In "the way of truth" a part of the poem, he explains how all reality is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, and necessary. In "the way of opinion", Parmenides explains the world of appearances, in which one's sensory faculties lead to conceptions which are false and deceitful, yet he does offer a cosmology.
Parmenides' philosophy has been explained with the slogan "whatever is is, and what is not cannot be". He is also credited with the phrase out of nothing nothing comes. He argues that "A is not" can never be thought or said truthfully, and thus despite appearances everything exists as one, giant, unchanging thing. This is generally considered one of the first digressions into the philosophical concept of being, and has been contrasted with Heraclitus's statement that "No man ever steps into the same river twice" as one of the first digressions into the philosophical concept of becoming. Scholars have generally believed that either Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus, or Heraclitus to Parmenides.
Parmenides' views have remained relevant in philosophy, even thousands of years after his death. Alexius Meinong, much like Parmenides, defended the view that even the "golden mountain" is real since it can be talked about. The rivalry between Heraclitus and Parmenides has also been re-introduced in debates in the philosophy of time between A theory and B theory.
Parmenides was born in the Greek colony of Elea now Ascea, which, according to Herodotus, had been founded shortly before 535 BC. He was descended from a wealthy and illustrious family. It was said that he had written the laws of the city.
His dates are uncertain; according to doxographer Diogenes Laërtius, he flourished just before 500 BC, which would put his year of birth near 540 BC, but in the dialogue Parmenides Plato has him visiting Athens at the age of 65, when Socrates was a young man, c. 450 BC, which, if true, suggests a year of birth of c. 515 BC.
Parmenides was the founder of the School of Elea, which also included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. His most important pupil was Zeno, who according to Plato was 25 years his junior, and was regarded as his eromenos.
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. Eusebius quoting Aristocles of Messene says that Parmenides was part of a line of philosophy that culminated in Pyrrhonism. This line begins with Xenophenes and goes through Parmenides, Melissus of Samos, Zeno of Elea, Leucippus, Democritus, Protagoras, Nessas of Chios, Metrodorus of Chios, Diogenes of Smyrna, Anaxarchus, and finally Pyrrho.
Though there are no obvious Pythagorean elements in his thought, Diogenes Laërtius describes Parmenides as a disciple of "Ameinias, son of Diochaites, the Pythagorean". According to Sir William Smith, in Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 1870: "Others content themselves with reckoning Parmenides as well as Zeno as belonging to the Pythagorean school, or with speaking of a Parmenidean life, in the same way as a Pythagorean life is spoken of."
The first purported hero cult of a philosopher we know of was Parmenides' dedication of a heroon to his Ameinias in Elea.
Parmenides is one of the most significant of the pre-Socratic philosophers. His single known work, a poem conventionally titled On Nature, has survived only in fragments. Approximately 160 verses remain today from an original total that was probably near 800. The poem was originally divided into three parts:
- A proem Greek: προοίμιον, which introduced the entire work,
- A section known as "The Way of Truth" aletheia, ἀλήθεια, and
- A section known as "The Way of Appearance/Opinion" doxa, δόξα.
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.
Parmenides attempted to distinguish between the unity of nature and its variety, insisting in the Way of Truth upon the reality of its unity, which is therefore the object of knowledge, and upon the unreality of its variety, which is therefore the object, not of knowledge, but of opinion. In the Way of Opinion he propounded a theory of the world of seeming and its development, pointing out, however, that, in accordance with the principles already laid down, these cosmological speculations do not pretend to anything more than mere appearance.
In the proem, Parmenides describes the journey of the poet, escorted by maidens "the daughters of the Sun made haste to escort me, having left the halls of Night for the light", from the ordinary daytime world to a strange destination, outside our human paths. Carried in a whirling chariot, and attended by the daughters of Helios the Sun, the man reaches a temple sacred to an unnamed goddess variously identified by the commentators as Nature, Wisdom, Necessity or Themis, by whom the rest of the poem is spoken. The goddess resides in a well-known mythological space: where Night and Day have their meeting place. Its essential character is that here all opposites are undivided, or one. He must learn all things, she tells him – both truth, which is certain, and human opinions, which are uncertain – for though one cannot rely on human opinions, they represent an aspect of the whole truth.
The Way of Truth
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: "For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are."
Only one thing exists, which is timeless, uniform, and unchanging:
Perception vs. Logos
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.
The Way of Opinion
After the exposition of the arche ἀρχή, i.e. the origin, the necessary part of reality that is understood through reason or logos that Is, in the next section, the Way of Appearance/Opinion/Seeming, Parmenides gives a cosmology. He 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.
The structure of the cosmos then generated is recollected by Aetius II, 7, 1:
Cosmology originally comprised the greater part of his poem, him explaining the world's origins and operations. Some idea of the sphericity of the Earth seems to have been known to Parmenides.
Parmenides also outlined the phases of the moon, highlighted in a rhymed translation by Karl Popper:
The fragments read:
The traditional interpretation of Parmenides' work is that he argued that the every-day perception of reality of the physical world as described in doxa is mistaken, and that the reality of the world is 'One Being' as described in aletheia: an unchanging, ungenerated, indestructible whole. Under the Way of Opinion, Parmenides set out a contrasting but more conventional view of the world, thereby becoming an early exponent of the duality of appearance and reality. For him and his pupils, the phenomena of movement and change are simply appearances of a changeless, eternal reality.
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.
Since existence is an immediately intuited fact, non-existence is the wrong path because a thing cannot disappear, just as something cannot originate from nothing. In such mystical experience unio mystica, however, the distinction between subject and object disappears along with the distinctions between objects, in addition to the fact that if nothing cannot be, it cannot be the object of thought either:
William Smith also wrote in Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology:
The religious/mystical context of the poem has caused recent generations of scholars such as Peter Kingsley and M. Laura Gemelli Marciano to call parts of the traditional, rational logical/philosophical interpretation of Parmenides into question Kingsley in particular stating that Parmenides practiced iatromancy. The philosophy was, he says, given to him by a goddess. It has been claimed that previous scholars placed too little emphasis on the apocalyptic context in which Parmenides frames his revelation. As a result, traditional interpretations have put Parmenidean philosophy into a more modern, metaphysical context to which it is not necessarily well suited, which has led to misunderstanding of the true meaning and intention of Parmenides' message. The obscurity and fragmentary state of the text, however, renders almost every claim that can be made about Parmenides extremely contentious, and the traditional interpretation has by no means been abandoned. The "mythological" details in Parmenides' poem do not bear any close correspondence to anything known from traditional Greek mythology:
Issues of translation
One issue is the grammar. In the original Greek the two ways are simply named "that Is" ὅπως ἐστίν and "that Not-Is" ὡς οὐκ ἐστίν B 2.3 and 2.5 without the "it" inserted in our English translation. In ancient Greek, which, like many languages in the world, does not always require the presence of a subject for a verb, "is" functions as a grammatically complete sentence. Much debate has been focused on where and what the subject is. The simplest explanation as to why there is no subject here is that Parmenides wishes to express the simple, bare fact of existence in his mystical experience without the ordinary distinctions, just as the Latin "pluit" and the Greek huei ὕει "rains" mean "it rains"; there is no subject for these impersonal verbs because they express the simple fact of raining without specifying what is doing the raining. This is, for instance, Hermann Fränkel's thesis. Many scholars still reject this explanation and have produced more complex metaphysical explanations.
There is the possibility for various wrong translations of the fragments. For example, it is not at all clear that Parmenides refuted that which we call perception. The verb noein, used frequently by Parmenides, could better be translated as 'to be aware of' than as 'to think'. Furthermore, it is hard to believe that 'being' is only within our heads, according to Parmenides.
John Anderson Palmer notes "Parmenides’ distinction among the principal modes of being and his derivation of the attributes that must belong to what must be, simply as such, qualify him to be seen as the founder of metaphysics or ontology as a domain of inquiry distinct from theology."
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. In Plato's dialogue, the Sophist, the main speaker an unnamed character from Parmenides' hometown, Elea refers to the work of "our Father Parmenides" as something to be taken very seriously and treated with respect. In the Parmenides, Parmenides 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. "Even the censorious Timon allows Parmenides to have been a high-minded man; while Plato speaks of him with veneration, and Aristotle and others give him an unqualified preference over the rest of the Eleatics."
He is credited with a great deal of influence as the author of this "Eleatic challenge" or "Parmenides problem" that determined the course of subsequent philosophers' inquiries. For example, the ideas of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus, and Democritus have been seen as in response to Parmenides' arguments and conclusions. According to Aristotle, Democritus and Leucippus, and many other physicists, proposed the atomic theory, which supposes that everything in the universe is either atoms or voids, specifically to contradict Parmenides' argument. Karl Popper wrote:
Alexius Meinong, much like Parmenides, believed that while anything which can be spoken of meaningfully may not "exist", it must still "subsist" and therefore have being. Bertrand Russell famously responded to this view when he proposed a solution to the problem of negative existentials in "On Denoting", as did W.V.O. Quine in his "On What There Is".
A view analogous to Parmenides with respect to time can be seen in the B theory of time and the 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, Popper called Einstein "Parmenides".
His proto-monism of the One also influenced Plotinus and Neoplatonism against the third century AD background of Hellenistic philosophy, thus influencing many later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers of the Middle Ages as well.
Parmenides' influence on philosophy reaches up until 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. He also studies non-being, so-called meontology.
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.
Parmenides is a character in Giannina Braschi's postcolonial comic tragedy United States of Banana, the final section of which is composed of Socratic dialogues and features Parmenides, Diotima, and Alcibiades discussing love, liberty, and gratitude. Parmenides is a standing figure that appears in the painting The School of Athens 1509-1511 by Raphael. The painting was commissioned to decorate the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. In comic strips: Parmenides has been spoofed in several comic strips in the series Existential Comics, including one on the topic of discipline in the office.
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