Parmenides as The Refutation of

Parmenides as The Refutation of Skepticism.


We can trace back the fragments we have of Parmeides to the preservation efforts of Plato and Aristotle, but these two men disagreed about quality of the philosophy they were preserving. To hear Plato describe him, Parmenides seems like a god. He was “venerable and awful..a man of distinguished appearance… with hair almost white.” The proofs of Parmenides also command respect: “You (Parmenides) assert in your poem that all is one, and for this you advance many admirable proofs.” Aristotle’s estimation of these same proofs is- to say the least- different:

... Melissus and Parmenides both argue sophistically. Their premises are false and their conclusions do not follow.

Neither does Aristotle seem to think that it takes much to refute Parmenides: e.g. he seems to regard this refutation as complete:

His assumption that “one” is used only in one sense is wrong, because it is used in several.

This deep division of opinion about Parmenides cannot be explained away. To Plato, his proofs are the admirable and respectable products of venerable genius; to Aristotle, they are the patently absurd and easily dissmissable products of sophistical reasoning. What are we to do with such profound disagreement?

When confronted with so any divergent opinions, it helps to look for any common note of agreement among those who diverge from each other, and to compare that common note of agreement to its opposite. Now it can be generally admitted- with certain limitations and qualifications- that Aristotle, Plato, a Parmenides can all be called “philosophers”. All these men, moreover, are sharply distinguished from another sort of philosopher, sc. the skeptic*. It will be helpful, therefore, to look at Parmenides inasmuch as his philosophy is opposed to skeptical philosophy. The argument will proceed in three parts:

1.) A general account of skepticism
2.) Parmendes’ refutation of the problem of skepticism
3.) The resolution of certain apparent problems in the philosophy of Parmenides.

* the obvious objection to this is to say that Plato is a skeptic. This is in some sense true, but on the face of it, there are far too many claims to knowledge in Platonic philosophy to make him a skeptic in the fullest sense of the term. His most well known claims: that forms exist, that we learn by recollection, and that virtue is knowledge, are all claims that are grounded in the possibility (or necessity) of human knowledge, as opposed to opinion or belief.


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