Parmenides (iii, the Platonic development)

A: So let’s start again with the idea that being is that which the mind knows.

B: Very well.

A: And we saw that, though we can make sense of this initially, we later saw that we needed to divide what the mind knows from fictions, impossibilities, the manifold, mere ideas, etc.

B: True, though we still describe all these things as negations of being.

A: Exactly. It is as though the first thing we know is being, but that being always casts a shadow, or appears as a radiant body with a black backdrop like a sort of theater in which it appears.

B: That’s true – whenever we think of something coming into existence we always imagine a sort of container for it: hence coming into existence.

A: And yet, upon reflection, we see that being makes the container intelligible, even if we cannot understand being apart from this containment?

B: That’s right.

A: This makes sense of why the principle of contradiction is first for us – we understand being from the beginning in relation to this shadow it casts, or this theater of nothingness in which it appears.

B: But the principle of contradiction isn’t first – we can first tell that the being is itself.

A: So you say that the first thing we know is the identity of being with itself, that A is A?

B: That’s right.

A: But if this is what is first, then we cannot first judge that A is.

B: Those are separate judgments.

A: But then doesn’t the idea of a shadow return in another way?

B: How so?

A: Because if the first judgment is that A is A, and this is a separate judgment than that A is, then the first judgment is indifferent to what is, and what is not.

B: Exactly.

A: And so on this account  there is a mixture of being and its shadow manifested in the principle of identity.

B: Right, though with the principle of contradiction we visualize the shadow as exterior to the being and with the principle of identity we visualize it as within the being itself.

A: But though we talk about them as “shadows” this is a metaphor that needs to be made more exact, correct? By “shadow” we don’t mean to indicate that they are absolutely nothing, only that they are secondary and other to the being?

B: Right. When I divided myself from you, I am being and you are the “shadow” in a sense, or there are the intrinsic properties of my self and my division or opposition to you.

A: So this theater of being is “non-being” in a very precise sense – it is the situation of finite beings, or beings that are this and not that. 

B: True, but even at that, is this what we were looking for?

A: Now I don’t know what you mean.

B: We were targeting being, after all, but what we’ve found is being-and-its-other.

A: Right, but it seems we can only make sense of being as being-and-its-other.

B: But that’s an obvious contradiction in terms. To identify those two things would destroy our very ability to distinguish them – it would even destroy the very idea of being-and-its-other.

A: But this identity is a condition of our knowing anything at all. For a being to enter into the theater of our consciousness, or even to be judged to be itself means that it is being-and-its-other.

B: But remember how we proved yesterday that when we say “being is what the mind knows” we are not speaking about being itself?

A: Yes.

A: And so given the argument here, it seems that being itself is something that must fall outside of the principle of contradiction or identity. It must be outside the theater of our mind, where things can only come if they cast shadows without and within.

B: And yet we can know that it is outside the theater of the mind, for the things that fall within this theater are not precisely being but being-and-its-opposite.

A: Exactly.


  1. Pseudonoma said,

    November 28, 2013 at 1:22 am

    B: And yet we can know that it is outside the theater of the mind, for the things that fall within this theater are not precisely being but being-and-its-opposite.

    A: Exactly.

    C: But I am confused. Are you two willing to say that the otherness that marks being as exterior to the theater of the mind is the same otherness that characterizes being-and-its-other, which you have also called “being-and-its-opposite”? But surely the “other” of Being must be nothing. Is the theater of consciousness the same as the theater of nothingness? But perhaps both of you will say they are not the same. Does the former cause the latter? Or the latter the former? Does the otherness of Being ground finitude or does finitude ground the otherness of Being? Does this shadow of Being not belong to it? Is it just an ens rationis based in the limitations of our mind?

    D: Excuse me, but I can’t help wanting to add to your litany of questions. I want to know if this “outside” where being can be found is to be thought apart from Being itself. Beside both the otherness of finite knowing and the otherness found in the content of the principle of non-contradiction (not-A, or, extremely, nothing), is there an other otherness implied in what is at once outside the mind but, being precisely outside the mind, not yet Being itself?

    • November 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      I wrote part IV with this comment in mind. I’ve tried to articulate more syllogistically the sort of distinctions I was driving at in the dialogue.

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