28 September 2005

Eleatic Question: 1

I can post on Parmenides only if my questions are accepted in the spirit (again), what a non-expert might wonder about. One must allow thinking that wants to be intelligent but is not yet scholarly research.

Here is a question that, although small, nonetheless niggles away at me: What did Parmenides mean by a 'road' (path, way)? As you know, he distinguishes three roads ('it is'; 'it is not'; 'it is and is not'). But what sort of thing is a 'road'? Why did he select that word to mark out the alternatives?

You'll say that it is a road of inquiry, as Parmenides himself says. Fine, but what does that mean? A type of inquiry, and so there are three types of inquiry? Yet it seems clear that Parmenides acknowledges at most two types of inquiry ('it is not' being a complete non-starter). Moreover, a road suggests progress from a starting point to an endpoint, from premises to conclusion: but Parmenides allows only one of these. Also, are the tags--'it is', 'it is not', 'it is and it is not'--names of 'roads', or are they the starting points (premises) or end-points (conclusions)?

If this is a stupid question, why does it seem so difficult to give an answer, or to keep to an answer? Here's an example. Gwil Owen is an accurate thinker, for sure, and yet in "Eleatic Questions" he is constantly shifting about in what sort of thing he takes a 'road' to be. A 'road' is variously:

(1) a group of opinions, such as mortal opinions (49); or

(2) an'account of mortal ideas' (49); or

(3) a theory (such as Heraclitus') or a 'cosmology' (49n2); or

(4) a possible answer to the question 'Does it exist or not?' (56); or

(5) it's making a claim (viz. 'that there is nothing whatever in existence') (56); or

(6) it's a 'daily use of language' (60); or

(7) something that can be 'refuted from its premise' (60n47); or

(8) an argument or 'programme of an argument' (76).

Well, what is it?