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Parmenides Argument For All Things Being Continuously One Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1327 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Describe and assess Parmenides argument for all things being continuously one. Parmenides argument for things being continuously one begins with the ways of inquiry into the reality of the world. He shows there to be the Way of truth and the Way of opinion. His criticism in his poem entitled On Nature is that the true nature of the reality of the world cannot be known by the way of opinion. The Way of opinion being the perception of the world as one would see it, not the reality of the world as these observations or perceptions only give truth to the appearance of the world. Appearance can be illusory. The ‘way of truth’ on the other hand gives the follower of this route a true idea of the reality of the world as it is based on logical deduction and it is from this that Parmenides reasons that all things are continuously one.

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In On Nature Parmenides presents the possible ‘way of truth’ in two ways with which one could deduce the world, one way being the way of ‘it is’ the other being ‘it is not’. ‘It’ in these propostions can be thought of as ‘anything one is thinking about’, the ‘is’ to be thought of as ‘exist’. Accepting that ‘is’ means ‘exist’ Parmenides comes to the conclusion that thinking ‘it is not’ is impossible. His argument is as follows.

Anything that one can think of is something that can exist

For something to be ‘it is not’ cannot exist (something cannot be nothing)

Therefore if thinking about something that cannot exist is impossible, one cannot think about something that is nothing (that ‘is not’)

Armed with this conclusion, Parmenides then follows the ‘way of truth’ that he has presented. In the world there is only ‘it is’ as ‘it is not’ is impossible and to think of the latter is impossible. To just empirically observe the world is not to know the reality of the world, such empirical observations would have you believe that the world is in constant motion; going through the constant changes of generation and destruction as a result of such movement. An example being Heraclitus’ statement that one cannot step into the same river twice as the waters are constantly moving and changing. In order these changes happen there must be space in the world in which all this movement can take place. This space; to be thought of as nothing or nothingness, is impossible by following the route of the ‘way of truth’. Thinking of nothing is thinking ‘it is not’ and therefore impossible. There is no nothing, or what Democritus and Leucippus named a ‘void’, in which movement is possible. Without a void, Parmenides states that everything must be unchanging. Heraclitus’ example of the river is to Parmenides the ‘way of opinion’; the appearance of the world but not the reality or truth. Generation and destruction also require nothing, generation; that something comes from nothing and destruction; that something will turn into nothing. Both are impossible to Parmenides and what he concludes from the impossibility of nothing is that all that what ‘is’ is eternal. As well as eternal the world must be infinitely continuous as if it did end at some point then what would be beyond that point? Parmenides can’t say nothing. Continuous with no spaces of nothingness the world is, in Parmenides own words from On Nature, ‘full of what is’.

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Let us look at Parmenides’ argument that concludes that thinking of something that ‘is not’ is impossible. The first premise that anything we think about can exist seems valid. How would it seem possible to think of something that doesn’t exist? Hume named thoughts ‘ideas’ and reasoned that all ‘ideas’ can be broken down to simple ‘ideas’ built up in different ways, where these ‘ideas’ came from was an ‘impression’ of something perceived in the world. For example the ‘idea’ of a blue horse is the amalgamation of the ‘impressions’ of the colour blue and the animal named a ‘horse’. What about imaginative thoughts though? Imagine magic, the Harry Potter books are testament to the human imagination but magic doesn’t exist. Hume would defend his argument by saying magic was the amalgamation of more simple ideas and mixed into something not possible, but Parmenides’ argument seems not allow for one to think of magic, but by typing these words or reading or them one has already thought of it. Also in this premise how does Parmenides justify the existence of anything? To justify any existence would be to justify through the ‘way of opinion’, but he has said himself in On Nature that this is not the route to seek truth, in order seek truth one must follow the course started by the first premise in question. It seems almost contradictory of Parmenides to justify the ‘way of truth’ by the ‘way of opinion’ when the ‘way of truth’ is taken by Parmenides to know the reality of the world as oppose to just the appearance granted by ‘the way of opinion’.

The second premise, something cannot be nothing, seems sound, something indeed cannot be nothing. But let us in assessment accept the argument that Parmenides gives for the impossibility of ‘it is not’ and see what we can make of this interpretation of nothing. Having accepted this must we accept the following conclusions that run from this argument, in entirety that the universe/world is continuously one? Accepting the conclusions depends upon the role played by ‘nothing’. Here in Parmenides argument the interpretation of nothing would be that nothingness is the necessary ingredient of change; the other being movement. Movement would be impossible if there was no place to move and a place to move must be unoccupied place; that being nothing. Does movement require nothing? Could there not be another form of ‘vacantness’ that isn’t necessarily ‘nothing’ but allows movement? Aristotle replaces nothingness with ‘space’, ‘space’ being a receptacle in which objects are placed in. By doing this Aristotle could be seen as accepting the argument of Parmenides that there is no ‘nothing’ but not accepting what follows logically for Parmenides that everything is continuously one. Aristotle’s ‘space’ is part of Parmenides’ ‘what is’ and allows for the movement and all that follows it to happen; allowing Heraclitus to step in different rivers forever.

Parmenides conclusion that there is no movement, no change, no destruction, no generation etc. almost seems counter intuitive. It seems that in the world there is movement and change. Parmenides said that his insight is an insight derived through logic; his central tenant being the impossibility of nothing, due to the contradiction pointed out that for nothing to exist; something would have to be nothing. But do his conclusions that the world is without start or end, and that it is infinite ask a few questions of logic themselves? If something never started how then can it exist? Everything it seems requires a start. The infinite has it self some strange paradoxes, one in mathematics being that there are as many even numbers in infinite as there are combined even and odd numbers; an infinite amount. Parmenides begins On Nature attempting to know the world without ‘nothing’ something that he sees as illogical. Discarding ‘nothing’ his logical conclusion leaves him with a set of descriptions of the world that seem slightly illogical in themselves.


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