11 October 2005

Curd's Way

Here is where I stand, at least. I have presumed in my thought and teaching that what Curd calls the 'Standard Account' of presocratic philosophy is correct. I was persuaded of this originally not only through my own study of the 'arguments' of the presocratics, but also (it must be confessed) because of Barnes' effective writing. But now, for reasons given, I think that this view is not correct. The Standard Account is a good story but, it seems, not a true story. I then naturally ask myself: Is there some alternative view that I should adopt?

Curd's alternative account is ingenious. It is better, I think, than the Standard Account. And yet it too, I believe, has serious deficiencies. Curd draws attention to most of these and tries to respond to them. But I think some of her responses are unconvincing. And then the difficulties she does not address are perhaps even more serious.

What is her view? Remember the inconsistent triad:
1. Parmenides is influential;
2. Parmenides uses philosophical logic to argue that only a single, unchanging, perfect being exists;
3. Those who come after Parmenides do not employ philosophical logic and hold that reality is plural, changing, and imperfect.

As I said, Curd rejects 2. She builds on the arguments of Mourelatos and maintains that Parmenides, in the nature and method of his philosophy, is continuous with the Ionian cosmologists who come before. She also says that Parmenides never asserted and never meant to assert that only one thing exists.

As to the nature and method of philosophy: Parmenides, she says, is not concerned with whether we can refer to or think about non-existence. ( This is a matter of philosophical logic). Rather, Parmenides holds that true assertions have to be revelatory of the nature of a thing. (This is a matter of 'philosophical cosmology', as it were.) To do so, an assertion needs to say what a thing is, not what it is not.

As to the conclusions Parmenides wished to draw from these conditions: Statements that attribute composition, internal change, internal variation, potentiality, variation in time, coming into existence, or going out of existence, are not revelatory of what you are talking about. So nothing about which we can make genuine statements about the world can be like this. We can make such statements only about a substance which is eternal, unchanging, homogeneous, and completely actual. But there is no reason why there cannot be many such substances.

Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the Atomists are all influenced, then, by Parmenides, in the sense that they engage in cosmology while accepting Parmenides' constraints and conclusions. All of these thinkers postulate basic substances which are eternal, unchanging, homogeneous, and completely actual. They reject the reality of anything besides these substances. They reject any change except in the external relations of these substances to one another.