Some Arguments from Parmenides

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Yazata, Mar 9, 2016.

  1. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Looking at the "Kalam Cosmological" thread in the 'religion' forum made me think of this:

    These are among the very first logical arguments in Greek philosophy, attributed to the very influential Presocratic philosopher Parmenides. (He actually lived in Italy, but he was an ethnic Greek living in the Greek colony of Elea.) The Zeno of 'Zeno's paradoxes' fame was one of his younger associates there, one of the so-called 'Eleatic philosophers. But despite their being pioneers in logical argument, Parmenides and his associates used their logic to argue for some very peculiar conclusions. (Zeno tried very to argue that motion is impossible.)'s_paradoxes

    The way I'm presenting these arguments here is in paraphrase, attributable to Bertrand Russell in his 1945 History of Western Philosophy


    1. To think of nothing is to think of nothing as being something. (i.e. to think of what is not, that it is.) - (Premise.)

    2. To think of nothing as being something is contradictory, and so is to think something that is not in fact thinkable. - (Premise.)

    3. So it is not possible to think of nothing. (from 1 and 2.)

    4. To think that things come into or go out of existence is to think that they arise from nothing, or that they pass away into nothing. - (Premise.)

    5. So to think that things come into or go out of existence requires that one think of nothing. - (from 4)

    6. So to think that things come into or go out of existence is to try to think of something that is not in fact thinkable. (from 3 and 5).

    7. So it is not possible to think that things come into or go out of existence. (from 6.)

    8. Whatever is, is thinkable. (Premise.)

    9. Nothing ever comes into or goes out of existence. (from 7 and 8)


    Here's another one:

    1. The future is supposed to be where things that do not exist issue from, and the past is where things that cease to be go. - (Premise.)

    2. The future and the past are also supposed not to exist. (Premise.)

    3. So the future and the past are supposed both to be, and not to be, which is contradictory. (from 1 and 2)

    4. What is contradictory is unthinkable. - (Premise.)

    5. It is not possible to think of the future or the past. (from 3 and 4)

    6. What is, is thinkable. (Premise)

    7. There is no future or past. (from 5 and 6)
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2016
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  3. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I can't find any flaw in the logic, assuming when we think about nothing we are in fact thinking about something instead. If I consider an absolute absence, what being am I thinking of? A negative or antithesis of being for sure, but is still a form of being? "Being absent" as another state of being?

    Ironically the first argument seems to support eternalism, which is in line with the physic's view of every event that has happened, is happening, and will happen as existing forever all at once. But the second argument seems to support presentism, which is the notion that only this present moment exists. Maybe these two are the same---the present being ultimately indistinguishable from the vast timeless Omnipresent that contains all events past, present, and future.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
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  5. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Wasn't Parminedes also the first to give us the notion of what Descartes later became popular for: cogito ergo sum?
    Parminedes' version was roughly "for there is the same thing to think and to be".

    Anyhoo - his first argument above...
    The flaw would seem to be in getting from 2 to 3... just because something is contradictory does it mean that it can not be thought about?
    Afterall, he is thinking about "nothing" in his very argument, yet argues that it is not possible to think of "nothing" (3) - and thus the existence of his own argument surely shows the conclusion to be false. Thus either the form of his logic is wrong, or one or more of the premises are unsound.
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  7. PhysBang Valued Senior Member

    This seems to be the core problem with Parmenides' arguments. When we imagine an empty space, we are imagining place and the potential for relationships between objects, not simply nothing. Similarly, when we are considering the origins or the end of some thing, we are considering the world as it exists or could exist without a specific thing.
  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I think that might be another translation of the Greek that shows up as #8 in the first argument and #6 in the second. Russell spins it as 'what is, is thinkable', which is rather different than Descartes' version. But it's certainly possible (even likely) that Parmenides would have been more in tune with Descartes than Russell.

    Good point. I think that one problem is that we only have fragments of Parmenides' writings.

    Parmenides' surviving writings are in the form of fragments of a poem written in the style of Hesiod entitled On Nature. The arguments attributed to Parmenides himself are put into the mouth of a goddess who leads him from the World of Night (presumably illusion) to the World of Day (truth). She is presumably giving him the divine view of the reality of things, in which reality accords with pure reason as opposed to sensory experience. (This spin would make Parmenides the father of philosophical rationalism.)

    It seems to me that he/the goddess was probably arguing for the idea that in truth everything is a single timeless unchanging One (an idea that seemingly reappears in Neoplatonism), something like the Greek version of Advaita Vedanta's 'Brahman'. Which leaves us with the problem of explaining where all the change and multiplicity of observed reality comes from. Parmenides seems to have once had an elaborate account of that, but it no longer exists except in scattered quotes by later Greek philosophical writers. (His target may or may not have been the Pythagoreans whose assumptions arguably lead us into error and illusion.)

    I would speculate that he would respond to your objection by saying that when we think that we are thinking about 'nothing', we are just throwing around words. (Not unlike what atheists say when theists use the word 'God'.) We can use the word 'nothing', but it doesn't refer to anything when we use it. In order to have a reference it would have to have an existing referrant, which would be a contradiction in the case of nothing. It would be talking about nothing as if it was something. (That's essentially his #1 in his first argument.) He goes even go farther by insisting that due to the contradictions inherent in trying to do so, we can't even form a clear and distinct idea of 'nothing' (another hint of Descartes). All we are left with is a word, an empty token.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
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  9. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Sort of reminds me of the question:
    How can a cup that is empty be said to have nothing in it?
    or this statement:
    "This vessel is empty and has nothing in it."

  10. river

    He is thinking in terms of existence and non-existence ; strictly .

    Nothing can and does exist in practical terms ; the fridge has nothing in it ; but it does not follow that what you might put into the fridge therefore does not exist .
  11. river

    Imagination is crux here.

    Not any thing is possible .

    Concrete is not a living cell .

  12. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    "Nothing" only has meaning in context.

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