Parmenides of Elea (ca. 515-440 BCE)


 Parmenides is a key figure in the history of Western thought.  In fact, Plato wrote a dialogue about him called, "The Parmenides."  You might say that Parmenides is diametrically opposed to the idea of all things being in a constant state of flux, as we find expressed by Heraclitus.  Furthermore, Parmenides, like Pythagoras, is a key representative of the so-called "Eleatic" school of thought, while thinkers like Thales and Anaximander are representative of the "Milesian" school of thought.  Eleatics tend to emphasize form over matter, while Milesians do the opposite.  He famously contrasts "The Way of Truth" with the "Way of Appearances" and, of course, sides with the Way of Truth, even though, supposedly on the basic of logic (reason) alone, he is driven to some very odd (unintuitive) conclusions.  Here are some fragments from Parmenides' remaining corpus.  These are all taken from The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd edition, edited by Kirk, Raven, and Schofield (Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 245-262. 

Banner Photo:  "The School of Athens" by Raphael, 1509, annotated version here

 291  Come now, and I will tell you (and you must carry my account away with you when you have heard it) the only ways of enquiry that are to be thought of.  The one, that [it] is and that it is impossible for [it] not to be, is the path of Persuasion [for she attends upon Truth]; the other, that [it] is not and that it is needful that it not be, that I declare to you is an altogether indiscernible track:  for you could not know what is not - that cannot be done - nor indicate it.

 293  What is there to be said and thought must needs be:  for it is there for being, but nothing is not.  I bid you ponder that, for this is the first way of enquiry from which I hold you back, but then from that on which mortals must wander knowing nothing, two-headed; for helpfulness guides the wandering throught in their breasts, and they are carried along, deaf and blind at once, dazed, undiscriminating hordes, who believe that to be and not to be are the same and not the same; and the path taken by them all is backward-turning.

 294  For never shall this be forcibly maintained, that things that are not are, but you must hold back your thought from this way of enquiry, nor let habit, born of much experience, force you down this way, by making you use an aimless eye or an ear and a tongue full of meaningless sound:  judge by reason the strife-encompassed refutation spoken by me.

 295 There still remainss just one account of a way, that it is.  On this way there are very many signs, that being uncreated and imperishable it is, whole and of a single kind and unshaken and perfect.

 296  It never was nor will be, since it is now, all together, one, continuous.  For what birth will you seek for it?  How and whence did it grow?  I shall not allow you to say nor to think from not being:  for it is not to be said nor thought that it is not; and what need would have driven it later rather than earlier, beginning from nothing, to grow?  Thus it must either be completely or not at all.  Nor will the force of conviction allow anything besides it to come to be ever from not being . . . And how could what is be in the future?  How could it come to be?  For if it came into being, it is not; nor is it if it is ever going to be in the future.  Thus coming to be is extinguished and perishing is unheard of.

 297  Nor is it divided, since it all exists alike; nor is it more here and less there, which would prevent it from holding together, but it is all full of being.  So it is all continuous:  for what is draws near to what is.

 298  But changelessness within the limits of great bonds it exists without beginning or ceasing, since coming to be and perishing have wandered very far away, and true conviction has thrust them off.  Remaining the same and in the same place it lies on its own and thus fixed it will remain.  For strong Necessity holds it within the bonds of a limit, which keeps it on every side.

 299  Therefore it is right that what is should not be imperfect; for it is not deficient - if it were it would be deficient in everything.  The same thing is there to be thought and is why there is thought.  For you will not find thinking without what is, in all that has been said.  For there neither is nor will be anything else besides what is, since Fate fettered it to be whole and changeless.  Therefore it has been named all the names which mortals have laid down believing them to be true - coming to be and perishing, being and not being, changing place and altering in bright color.  But since there is a furthest limit, it is perfected, like the bulk of a ball well-rounded on every side, equally balanced in every direction from the center.  For it needs must not be somewhat more or somewhat less here or there.  For neither is it non-existent in such a way that there would be more being here, less there, since it is all inviolate:  for being equal to itself on every side, it lies uniformly within its limits.

 303  But because all things have been named light and day, and things corresponding to their powers have been assigned to this and that, all is full of light and of obscure night at once, both equal, since neither has any share of nothing.

 312  Thus according to belief these things came to be and now are, and having matured will come to an end after this in the future; and for them people have laid down a name to distinguish each one.

 313  But look at things which, though far off, are securely present to the mind; for you will not cut off for yourself what is from holding to what is, neither scattering everywhere in every way in order [i.e., cosmic order] nor drawing together.