Elements of eleatic ontology

Journal of the History of Philosophy 6 (2):111 (1968)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Elements of Eleatic Ontology' MONTGOMERY FURTH THE TASKOF AN INTERPRETERof Parmenides is to find the simplest, historically most plausible, and philosophically most comprehensible set of assumptions that imply (in a suitably loose sense) the doctrine of 'being' set out in Parmenides' poem. In what follows I offer an interpretation that certainly is simple and that I think should be found comprehensible. Historically, only more cautious claims are possible, for several portions of the general view from which I 'deduce the poem' are not clearly stated in the poem itself; my explanation of this is that they are operating as tac/t assumptions, and indeed that the poem is best thought of as an attempt to force these very assumptions to the surface for formulation and criticism -that the poem is a challenge. To be sure, there are dangers in pretending, as for dramatic purposes I shall, that ideas are definite and explicit which for Parmenides himself must have been tacit or vague--that Parmenides knew what he was doing as clearly as I represent him; I try to avoid them, but the risk must be taken. I even believe that not to take it, in the name of preserving his thought pure from anachronous contamination, actually prevents us from seeing the extent to which he, pioneer, was ahead of his timc the argument works both ways. So let me hedge my historical claim in this way: the view I shall discuss could have been an active-indeed a controlling---element of Eleaticism; to suppose that Parmenides held it not only explains the poem, but also helps explain the subsequent reactions to Eleaticism of Anaxagoras, Democritus, and Plato (though there is not space to elaborate this here). In addition, it brings his thought astonishingly close to some contemporary philosophical preoccupations. In the first of the following sections, I lay down some sketchy but necessary groundwork concerning the early Greek concept of 'being.' Then in Section 2 an interpretation is given of what I take to be the central Parmenidean doctrine, that 'it cannot be said that anything is not.' This section is the lengthiest and most involved, but it also contains all the moves that appear to be important. Of the remaining sections, Section 3 exp]Mn.qthe principle: 'of what is, all that can be said is: it is,' Section 4 deals briefly with the remaining cosmology of "The Way of Truth," and Section 5 considers the question whether Parmenides himself believed the fantastic conclusions of his argument. There is a short postscript on a point of methodology. 1. A Word on 6v If we are to examine Parmenides' reasoning profitably, an indispensable pre1This paper wasprepared while the author was beneficiary of a Grant-in-Aid of Research from the American Council of Learned Societies, hereby gratefully acknowledged. [111] 112 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY liminary is to estabhsh at least a provisional reading for the Greek words translated "is" or "it is" (tar,v), "what is" or "being" (Sv,rb 5v), "to be" (alva0. For while it is evident enough that in his poem Parmenides purports to be delivering an insight of the utmost significance concerning rb tbv (as he calls it), still the construction which he puts upon the term and its cognates, and the understanding which he expects of his listener, are not so clear and have been topics of dispute. Especially notable, and often noted, is the fact that Parmenides' discussion of 'being' shows no sign of the conceptual distinction considered elementary nowadays, between the "is" linking subject and predicate and the "is" of existence; and in fact it needs no documentation here that this distinction was not reflected in either ordinary or philosophical Greek idiom until, at least, a much later date than his, the word tare expressing both concepts. Also highly visible in the poem is the abundance of occurrences of tare used absolutely, unaccompanied by any predicate expression. As a result of this last, the poem can create in the contemporary reader the impression that r5 tSv is being used to mean what is in the existential sense only, to mean what there is; indeed some students of the poem conclude not only that Parmenides...



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