Chapter 5: Parmenides

*this blogpost is one of my reading summary series of History of Western Philosophy. For chapter 4, you can read here

Book 1: Ancient Philosophy
Part 1: The Pre-Socratics
Chapter 5: Parmenides

Parmenides was from Elea, was an ancient city of Magna Graecia, and flourished before 500 B.C. 

picture was taken from Wikipedia

The south Italian and Sicilian philosophers were more inclined to mysticism and religion than those of Ionian philosophers who were more scientific and sceptical. Mathematics under Pythagoras' influence flourished more in Magna Graecia than in Ionia. However at that time, mathematics was entangled with mysticism. Parmenides was influenced by Pythagoras. What makes Parmenides important was he invented metaphysics based on logic. We will get to this very soon.

His doctrine was stated in his poem On Nature. He considered the senses was deceptive and multitude of sensible things as mere illusion. The only true being is "the One", which is infinite and indivisible. It is not a union of opposites since there are no opposites. For example he thought that "cold" means only "not hot" and "dark" means only "not light". Parmenides didn't conceive "the One" as God, but he thought of it as material and extended. (p. 56)

Parmenides divides his teaching into two parts which are called "the way of truth" and "the way of opinion". Russell only discussed the first tenet. Its essential points are:

"Thou canst not know what is not--that is impossbile--nor utter it; for it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be." 
"How, then, can what is be going to be in the future? Or how could it come into being? If it came into being, it is not; nor is it if it is going to be in the future. Thus is becoming extinguished and passing away not to be heard of." 
"The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that is to which it is uttered."

Russell explained this as follows: 

When you think, you think of something; when you use a name, it must be the name of something. Therefore both thought and language require objects outside themselves. And since you can think of a thing or speak of it at one time as well as at another, whatever can be thought of or spoken of must exist at all times. Consequently there can be no change, since change consists in things coming into being or ceasing to be. (p. 56)

You can't think and say without an object corroborates what you think and say. More he explained:

If language is not just nonsense, words must mean something, and in general they must not mean just other words, but something that is there whether we talk of it or not. Suppose, for example that you talk of George Washington. Unless there were a historical person who had that name, the name (it would seem) would be meaningless, and sentences containing the name would be nonsense. Parmenides maintains that not only must George Washington have existed in the past, but in some sense he must still exist, since we can still use his name significantly. (p. 56)

We are not speaking of words, but of what the words mean. Parmenides assumes that words have a constant meaning. Let's take George Washington again for an example. He could use his own name or "I" as synonyms. He could feel his movement and his own thoughts. If his friends were present, they could still perceive him in person and use "George Washington" name as concrete experience. But, after his death, people who knew him directly didn't know him as concrete anymore but only through memory and perception. For us who didn't know him, the mental processes are different. We may look his picture and only consider him as "The man who was called George Washington". 

Whatever the name suggests to us, it must be not the man himself, since we never knew him, but something now present to sense or memory or thought. (p. 58)

In other words, George Washington we know from history or books is still the George Washington because we can still use his name and in some sense he must still exist. Whatever we think of George Washington or whatever we know about him in the past is can't be really in the past. It exists now. This what Parmenides means that there is no such thing as change. 

Parmenides contends that, since we can now know what is commonly regardes as past, it cannot really be past, but must, in some sense, exist now. Hence he infers that there is no such thing as change.  (p. 58)

So, if I talk about my dad, according to Parmenides, my dad is still alive. Any memories of my dad that I have can't be in the past. He still exists. Nothing changes. He is still alive. Thank you, Parmenides, for making my day! ^_^ Although I know it's just me still in denial or just trying to comfort myself. By the way, this is what Russell means before as Parmenides' important invention: metaphysics based on logic.

And that was from chapter 5: Parmenides. Next on chapter 6, we will meet Empedocles. Stay tuned! \m/


  1. ehm... Tapi, Parmenides sendiri bilang kalau senses (penginderaan) kita itu menipu dan hanyalah ilusi. Kalau aku baca dari buku ini sih, teori Parmenides ini lebih ke soal logika antara berbahasa dan thought (pikiran). Misalnya, George Washington tadi. Dia kan sudah meninggal. Kaena kita masih membicarakan dia, menurut Parmenides, George Washington itu masih hidup. Balik lagi ke teorinya yang bilang semua hal yang kita bicarakan dan kita pikirkan itu harus ada objeknya. Dan semua words (kata) itu tidak ada perubahan arti. Jadi, George Washington itu pernah hidup dan akan selalu hidup karena tidak ada perubahan arti kata tadi itu. Itu menurut pemahamanku sih. Bagaimana menurutmu?

  2. Hmm, ok. Saya tunggu ulasannya seperti yang sudah-sudah. :)


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