Variations on a theme by Parmenides

A: So then, what will count as being? Is it just what can serve as an object for our mind?

B: No, since this is broader than being. We can know the engine is aluminum and that it is broken, but in  the second case we only use “is” to indicate the absence of something.

A: So to get at being we need to narrow down the objects of our mind to exclude absences, impossibilities,  fictions, mere ideas, and perhaps many other things.

B: Yes.

A: And so it seems we need to set aside what is many as well.

B: I don’t see why. There really are multitudes.

A: But you know how it is when, after an investigation, we recognize that the categories we put things in were wrong? We call both fish and whales fish, gnats and fireflies flies, and we look for a cure for cancer for a long time before we figure out it is not one disease but many. We called these things one, but they were not one. Our mind, in truth, cannot  take these as an object, but only as objects, and so we cannot say that an object is unless it is really one.

B: But aren’t “red, white and blue” all objects of the mind, taken at once?

A: Yes, but as colors, or a flag, or a pattern, or some other real unity.

B: But this seems to be just a trick of grammar: we defined “being” as “what is an object of the mind, apart from fictions, etc.” So of course where there is multiplicity, there is not being. But this is a feature of the subject of the sentence, not of reality.

A: So you claim that we could have just as easily started by asking “what are beings?” and then we would have seen what is one as outside of this?

B: Exactly.

A: But doesn’t this involve some real standard in virtue of which they all count as beings?

B: Yes.

A: So then even this multitude can be an object only so far as it is one.

B: But then what about the prevailing view in metaphysics that being is not one but many? Just as what we called “fish” broke down on closer analysis into, fish, whales, and other swimming things, so too doesn’t being break down into entirely different categories of things? Isn’t this Aristotle’s doctrine of analogy?

A: But isn’t a cognitive object nothing but an object of some power?

B: Yes.

A: And so if there are really distinct objects there are really distinct powers?

B: that follows

A: And we agreed at the beginning that being is whatever serves as an object for us?

B: Yes, so it would seem that the only way for being to be really many is for I myself to be many.

A: And that’s riduculous.  Which leaves us having to deny that being is in any way many.

B: But then maybe there is a problem in our first account of being.

A: That seems right, and I suspect that it is this: tell me – it seems right to me that if there were no ears, then nothing would be heard.

B: Right.

A: But the same thing can be said of the possibilities of these things, namely, if there could be no ears, then nothing could be heard. 

B: Right

A:  But this is the same as saying that the possibility of there being some audible object depends on the hearing power being possible.

B: That’s right, and I suppose the same would go for all the other powers too.

A: But when it comes to mind, we won’t say the same thing? We would not say that the possibility of there being anything depends on there being some mind?

B: It doesn’t seem right to say that. At the very least, it’s not the sort of thing we can just assume.

A: And so when we say “being is whatever is an object of the mind” we don’t assume that this is because it is depending on mind to be?

B: Exactly.

A: So it doesn’t belong to being itself that it should be the object of mind?

B: Right.

A: And so it doesn’t follow that our account of being was an account of being itself. This would only be true if mind were a sense power, or rather, if mind were a sense power than things would only spring into existence with us.

B: And they don’t. Which leads us to the paradoxical conclusion that it is precisely the objectivity of being that keeps it from being an object.

A: Or that being as such is not an object, at any rate not an object for us.

B: But it does seem right that if being is an object for anything, it must be absolutely one.

1 Comment

  1. Brett said,

    November 26, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    In defense of Anselm’s ontological argument:

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