2.11.2009

Parmenides Discussion Post

[Updated 2/13/09]

Mostly for B-town Thompson and Kat(i)e, old friends (or rediscovered parts of the one), this post is just for talking about Parmenides. Use the comments section. Anybody else who feels like playing is welcome to play.

Here's a link to the text of the dialogue I'll be working with.

(P.S. -- I can't believe you guys are reading this. I mean, what the hell? Was there something in the township water? Nobody reads Plato, and the Parmenides least of all. Anyway, thanks for being so intrepid. I have genuine curiosity about this thing, and I can't make it fit in my head right now. Questions, comments, and questions will be carefully considered.)
Wait: I feel like I should start by saying something... just to get the ball rolling. I'll start by saying that my unsophisticated understanding of this debate between the one & the many is based around the central question of whether, in short, we are really Casey, Bry, and Kate (that is, three separate things--Socrates calls them "ideas") or only One thing, One thought, playing tricks on itself by calling itself "Casey," "Bry," and "Kate."

And by extension (because Parmenides doesn't stop halfway): am I and this computer screen, this oxygen I'm apparently inhaling, my thoughts about what to type next, my memory of my popsicle parties... is all that "one?" Is it true that movement cannot be?

(Also, note: Zeno was Parmenides' best known student. It might help to read about his famous paradoxes, if you haven't recently. Evidently Zeno was tortured to death for his ideas, and he never made a sound on his way out). Being willing to die for the conviction that motion (all motion) is impossible is... weird.

***

Update: I'm reading an article by Michael C. Rea right now ( in Philosophical Perspectives, 2001) called "How to be an Eleatic Monist." Parmenides was from Elea, and he's the monist the article has in mind. The first two paragraphs might be of interest to us:
There is a tradition according to which Parmenides of Elea endorsed the following set of counterintuitive doctinres:

(A) There exists exactly one material thing.
(B) What exists does not change.
(C) Nothing is generated or destroyed.
(D) What exists is undivided.

...Eleatic monism flies in the face of common sense. Scholars of pre Socratic thought rarely have anything to say in its defense beyond what the Eleatic philosophers said themselves, and virtually no one treats it as a serious option in metaphysics today. Jonathan Barnes declares that (A) by itself (never mind the remaining doctrines) is "at best absurd and at worst unintelligible." It is not hard to see why. How could anyone possibly look at a sandy beach, witness the birth of a child or the death of a loved one, or gaze into the far reaches of space and believe that there exists exactly one thing that is neither generated nor destroyed, unchanging, and undivided?
Leave Heraclitus out of this, Santos.

2 comments:

Bryan said...

I'd like to start by saying that I need to read the dialogue again.

Casey said...

Well said. I found that the first five times I read it I sort of hated it... then the next three or four times I felt like I was numb while I read it. Then this last time I felt like I really badly need to figure out what it's about because I'm very tired of reading the dialogue.

How about you, Kate? Do you agree or disagree with Bry?