Solutions to Apparent Difficulties in

Solutions to Apparent Difficulties in the Philosophy of Parmenides

The primary objection to the Philosophy of Parmenides is that it denies distinction and coming to be in any way. If the thesis of this paper holds, however, and Parmenides is treating in his “way of truth” all things as one, or being as such, etc. the objection has a hard time finding a proof text in Parmenides. The closest thing to a proof text is 11.8, 23-35:

Nor is it divided since it is all like…
But unchanging in the limits of great bonds,
is without start of finish, since coming to be and destruction
were banished far away, and true conviction drove them off…
Thinking and the thought that it is are the same.

If we read the “it” as we have suggested it be read, as opposed to seeing “it” as being the same as this or that being, or as a mere collection of this and that, taken diversely, then the objection vanishes.

The difficulty is with Parmeides’ characterization of things that at least appear t come to be and pass away- for he treats of these things in “the way of mortal opinion” about which the narrating goddess says:

listen to the deceitful ordering of my words
for [mortals] made up their minds to name two forms,
of which it is not right to name one- in this they have gone astray-
and they distinguished things opposite in body, and established signs-
the one apart from the other.

If one takes the above quotation as meaning “mortals confuse the sheerly many with being as such, and in this they err” or said another way, “mortals mistakenly think that ‘IT’ (being as such) is the same as this being + this being + this + that etc, then the above quotation is both true and perfectly in keeping with the reading of Parmenides set down here. If the passage is read to say “there is no such thing as coming to be, or distinction in any way” then Parmenides’ philosophy becomes problematic. It’s clear as day that “being as such” is different from “this being”- otherwise the entire universe would disappear with the death of a sparrow. It seems hard to believe however, that Parmenides would have missed this objection, and since there is a coherent account of the passage that does not degenerate into monism, we will take it.

A similar non- absurd reading can be given to this passage:

That which is there to be spoken and thought of must be
for it is possible for it to be,
but not possible for nothing to be.

If one reads this fragment in as following on and explaining the previous fragment, then there is a ready explanation of an apparent difficulty, for the previous fragment reads:

For me, where I am to begin from is the same,
for to there I will come back again.

Now we argue here that Parmenides sees the way of truth as beginning in the principle of contradiction, and so it would make sense to see fragment 11.6 is a correct explanation of the principle of contradiction, not simply any old thing that is thought of. Even if one denied that fragment 11.6 was an explanation of the “first thing thought of” mentioned in 11.5, there is still reasonable reading of 11.6, simply as a part of the way of truth, for on our reading of “the way of truth”, the way concerns “being as such”, as opposed to “this being”. It certainly seems inarguable that I can’t make a dodo bird or a donut by simply thinking of them, but the objection is irrelevant since the way of truth doesn’t concern itself with “this or that being” but rather being as such.

Neither is it unfitting for Parmenides to deny us knowledge of “the things distinguished as opposite in body”. After all, if we mean by knowledge the sort of knowledge that we have of the principle of contradiction, then it is true to say that we don’t know particular things like “dense and heavy body” or “aetherial fire” or the embryology of male and female persons. Contradiction, after all, evinces truth by nature, but these other things do not. Compared to this higher knowledge, the things treated of in the second half of the poem deserve to be called “opinion”. Even if we were to call our sciences of these things “knowledge” we would have to keep in mind that the word was not being used in the same way as we use it in the way of truth.

Conclusion

Parmenides give a definitive answer to the problem of skepticism, i.e. the problem of whether the human mind knows truth. He does so by harnessing the power of contradiction as such, i.e. contradiction not as it is understood in any particular set of beings, but in being a such. In being the first to turn his mind to being as such, Parmenides deserves to be called the Founder of Metaphysics, and in showing the first truth he deserves to be called the founder of that part of metaphysics that deals with human knowledge: epistemology. All objections to the philosophy of Parmenides can be reduced to a failure to understand “being” as he accounts for it his way of truth- in other words, the objections confound the distinction between the ‘it’ as Parmenides understands it, and the many particular ‘its’ or the ‘these’/’those’ that we see around us. There is a certain reading of Parmenides that claims that he himself confounds this distinction, but this reading does not seem to be demanded by the text. The philosophy of Parmenides, therefore, still remains as a necessary foundation for metaphysics. Unlike other foundations-say, the foundation of a house- the philosophy of Parmenides is worthwhile to contemplate in itself; but similar to other foundations, his philosophy was meant to be built on.

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