Philosophical thought begins with the Milesians, where intellectual curiosity propelled thinkers like Anaximander and Heraclitus to attempt to explain the phenomena of the universe by means of specific physical elements. During the 6th century BC, Eleatics, like Parmenides and Zeno, had rejected physical phenomena and propounded metaphysical paradoxes that cut at the roots of belief in the very existence of the natural world. Parmenides uproots the theories of his predecessors by bearing to light the logical possibilities of any philosophical inquiry. He argues that that the only things about which we can inquire about must exist, else our search is fruitless. Through deductive reasoning, Parmenides proves that if something exists, then it cannot come to be or perish, change or move, nor be the subject to any imperfection. His proteges were left with an enormous problem: how could one reconcile Parmenides’ rejection of change with the possibility of giving a rational account of the changing world of sense experience? By accepting only certain parts of his doctrine of being, his successors ultimately fail in their attempts to explain the changing universe in light of the Parmenidean paradox.
How does Parmenides draw the conclusion that if something is, then it is unchanging? A more formal examination of his arguments regarding subjects of inquiry shows how he comes to the conclusion that all is one. The only ways of inquiry there are for thinking: the one, that it is and that it is not possible for it not to be, is the path of Persuasion (for it attends upon the Truth), the other, that it is not and that it is necessary for it not to be, this I point out to you to be a path completely unlearnable, for neither may you know that which is not (for it is not to be accomplished) nor may you declare it (Curd fr.2 ll.3-8, pg.45).
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Parmenides’ subject of inquiry, as show in the fragment, either you must assume that your subject is or it is not. Careful consideration of the statement ‘is not’ shows that it is impossible to point out what does not exist, because it has no attributes or true predicate. Parmenides concludes that if something does not exist, then its non-existence cannot allow for it to come into being or perishing, because if it comes to be, then formally, it previously did not exist. Since we cannot know anything about things that do not exist, coming-into-being cannot be logically explained because it involves something that previously did not exist.
Parmenides’ entire concept of being rests upon this foundation that rules out the possibility of non-existence. A being must be one and continuous, eternal, for it has no beginning and has no end. Furthermore, he rules out combination and change because these things disrupt the continuous perfect order of the universe. Therefore, Parmenides rejects motion because being “remains the same in the same and by itself it lies and so stays there fixed” (Curd fr.8 ll.29-30, pg. 48), and as such, if a being would move then it would not remain the same.
His predecessors, the Pluralists Anaxagoras and Empedocles, respond to the Parmenidean problem of being by asserting that the basic substances, which make up the universe, are entities that have features genuine to the idea of being that he argues for. These entities are eternally real and unchanging, but at the same time they can be mixed and separated from each other. Anaxagoras imagines the original state of the cosmos in terms of eternal substances that have not been separated from one another. A divine Nous or mind sets this original mixture into motion, from which everything is separated. Anaxagoras tries to reconcile the Parmenidean idea of unity by stating that “in everything there is a portion of everything” (Curd fr.12 ll.1, pg.56), but his originative substance, although it is eternal, it still sets about motion and change, and does not remain a substantive whole that Parmenides imagined. Furthermore, the original state remains whole only until Nous separates it into a plurality of parts.
As I read all the varying accounts of what is, what is not, and what will never be, according to Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the Atomists, I am reminded of a fable my mother told me years ago. In this story there are three blind men. In order to understand what an elephant is, they each approach an elephant. The first blind man is feeling all over the leg of the elephant and says to the others, " ...
Empedocles, like Anaxagoras, wants to describe the universe in terms of particular elements, and he names them Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Love, and Strife. The action of Love and Strife upon the other four elements brings about their mixture and separation. This resembles coming-into-being and passing away, but Empedocles explains it in a twofold tale.
For at one time they grow to be only one out of many, but at another they grow apart to be many out of one. Double is their coming to be of mortal things, and double is their falling. For coming together of all things produces one birth and one destruction, and the other is nurtured and flies apart when they grow apart again. And these never cease continually interchanging, at one time coming together into one by Love and at another time being borne apart by the hatred of Strife (Curd fr.32 ll.1-7, pg. 63)
For Empedocles, plurality and unity recur ceaselessly from the same process, and the things involved in such a process are changeless in a sense that they will continuously be involved. The only problem that lies in Empedocles’ argument rises from the number of originative substances. The four creative elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, separate and combine through the power of Love and Strife; however, if these elements are a part of a unchanging whole, then in each separation, when two or more elements combine, then the other four elements, including Love and Hate, will necessarily be involved. There will be no true combination or separation, because Love and Strife, as a part of the elements involved in the combination will be at odds with one another.
The problematic nature of these arguments shows that by only accepting certain parts of the Parmenidean being, they ultimately fail to reconcile his doctrine of being with a rational account of the changing world of sense experience. Anaxagoras accepts the notion that all is uncreated and eternal, but he rejects the idea that everything is one and therefore no change can take place to disturb the one. The idea that ‘in everything there is a portion of everything’ tries to account for this oneness, but it ultimately falls short because it infers a plurality of things. Likewise, Empedocles accepts the Parmenidean doctrine that substances are uncreated and eternal; however, by positing that there are four creative and two controlling substances, he dubiously maintains that combination and separation, through their endless cycles bring about a whole. If Empedocles were to follow the Parmenidean notion of being absolutely, then his separation and combination would never take place, because each element would be continuously attracted and negated, so that no combination could ever take place.
Song This poem by John Donne is about a relationship with him and his lover. In this relationship he has to leave even though he does not want to. He compares their separation to death and says since they go through small separations like these that they will be ready for a big separation such as death. He says, "To use myself in jest, Thus by feigned deaths to die." This means that their parting ...
The Pluralists want to reconcile everything that they perceive through their senses with the Parmenidean idea of an uncreated, eternal, unchanging whole. The problem of such a task lies in the fact that Parmenides’ notion of being goes against everything that our sense experience tells us. With our eyes we see motion and change every day, be it our own self-motion or that of others around us. Furthermore, we experience coming-into-being and perishing through the cycle of birth and death. The Pluralists would had made better progress in extrapolating their own ideas if they would have either sided completely with Parmenides or taken means to discredit his work.