13 June 2005

The Legacy of Parmenides

A review of a reissuing of Patricia Curd's The Legacy of Parmenides in BMCR (see it here) concludes with this assessment:

Surely some of her claims cannot be accepted as they stand, partly because they highly complicate our perception of the early philosophical tradition.
Is this really the best one can say? I want to know what the reviewer's reasons are (the crucial or decisive ones) for rejecting Curd's view.

What do readers of Dissoi Blogoi think of Curd's reinterpretation of Parmenides?


Anonymous said...

I do not agree with Curd’s views, but I don’t agree with the standard interpretation either. Nearly every scholar talks as though Parmenides towered over everyone until Plato refuted him in the “Sophist,” but I have to disagree. My disagreement began when I first understood that Plato’s “Euthydemus” 286c contains a reference to Parmenides (in the phrase “and others before them”), a reference where it is quite clear that Plato INSULTED him. He essentially called him a sophist. Right then I knew that everything that scholars were saying about Parmenides’ legacy was utterly wrong. Why did Plato call him a sophist? Because, as is made clear in this same passage, Parmenides used fr. 2.7-8 – you cannot speak of what is not – as his starting premise, and that premise is self-refuting. You cannot prohibit people from speaking of what is not without speaking of what is not yourself just in making the prohibition. Who would use a self-refuting premise as the starting premise of their philosophy? Only a sophist (or a dimwit). Eventually, Plato changed his mind about Parmenides, but that wasn’t until his late period. For those who disagree, I suggest pondering the following:

1. The beginnings of the “Protagoras” and the “Parmenides” clearly show that Protagoras was more highly regarded than Parmenides was.

2. Porphyry makes it clear that Protagoras had presented a critique of Parmenides.

3. Cratylus (unlike Empedocles, Anaxagoras, etc.) made no accommodations with Parmenides’ conclusions. He believed in continual change, yet neither Plato nor Aristotle complained that he had failed to take Parmenides into account.

4. Plato mentioned Parmenides only twice throughout his entire middle period. Neither mention has anything to do with the Way of Truth. Certain passages, such as the end of the “Cratylus” and the end of “Republic” V, scream out for a mention of Parmenides, but Plato doesn’t oblige us.

5. Aristotle refused to acknowledge a Parmenidean influence on Plato.

6. The Eleatic movement died out in the fifth century, probably before Plato was born. Why would this have happened, if in fact Parmenides towered over his successors?

7. Athenaeus affirmed that Plato insulted Parmenides (“Deipnosophistae” XI.505d).

To say all of this again, the current view of Parmenides’ legacy is based not on any actual statement made by anyone from that period, but is instead a scholarly hypothesis based on paying attention to certain things and ignoring other things. Scholars pay attention to the similar beliefs of Plato and Parmenides, but ignore “Euthydemus” 286c. Scholars pay attention to what seems to be Parmenidean influence on Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the atomists, but ignore its absence on Cratylus. Scholars pay attention to the high praise of Parmenides that Plato utters in his late period, and ignore his earlier silence as well as Aristotle’s more moderate opinion.

At one time, everyone saw Orphic influences throughout Plato’s dialogues, but no one does that today. Instead, they see Parmenidean influences, but I hope that in time scholars will realize this is wrong. 

Posted by John Pepple

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Are there any publications that you recommend that further the position outlined above? Thanks, Anonymous 

Posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

A number of scholars have dissented against the claim that Parmenides overshadowed his successors doing cosmology (e.g., Empedocles). This includes Felix M. Cleve (“The Giants of Pre-Socratic Greek Philosophy” I, 323-324, and II, 329-331), M.L. West (“Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient,” pp. 218-219), and Alexander Mourelatos ("Quality, Structure, and Emergence," in “Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy” 2 [1987], 128-131), who has observed that the principle of charity has been used almost exclusively on the Eleatics and not on people like Anaxagoras. Most prominent is Martha Craven Nussbaum, (“Eleatic Conventionalism and Philolaus on the Conditions of Thought,” in “Harvard Studies in Classical Philosophy” 83 [1979], 63-108), who argues that Philolaus had leveled a critique against Parmenides. Finally, there is my own contribution, “A Lost Fragment of Empedocles,” in “The Journal of Value Inquiry” 30 (1996), 169-186, in which I argue that Empedocles, Anaxagoras and the atomists weakened Parmenides’ claim that “one cannot speak of what is not” to “one cannot speak of nothing.”

Some scholars have also registered disagreement concerning the influence of Parmenides on Plato in his middle period. These include Wicenty Lutoslawski (“The Origin and Growth of Plato's Logic,” pp. 409-410), perhaps Harold Cherniss ("Parmenides and the 'Parmenides' of Plato," in “American Journal of Philology” 53 [1932], 122-138, especially 125-126), W.D. Ross (“Plato's Theory of Ideas,” p. 164), William J. Prior (“Unity and Development in Plato's Metaphysics,” p. 166, n. 3), David Bostock (“Plato's Phaedo,” p. 15), Terence Irwin (“Plato: The Intellectual Background,” in Richard Kraut, “The Cambridge Companion to Plato,” pp. 70 ff), who argues that Plato corrects Parmenides at the end of “Republic” V, and most of all Rosamond Kent Sprague, who in “Plato’s Use of Fallacy” has argued that Plato’s discussion at “Euthydemus” 286c is intended as some sort of refutation of Parmenides. She like me believes that Plato saw Parmenides as a sophist (p. 42, n. 21). Unfortunately, her study was based on the earlier view that “einai” had just an existential meaning, which led her to maintain that Plato was using fallacious reasoning in his refutation. She also could never see that Plato had obviously changed his mind about Parmenides by the late period.

Posted by John Pepple

Christopher Robert said...

What I have always wondered in many of the writings of the pre socratic period is how much was lost. The writings exist as fragments, restated by later philosophers for some gain of their own. Were they fully truthful? But then again, I have always been somewhat of a cynic. 

Posted by xxcaedmonxx