02 October 2005

Eleatic Question: 5

A question about atomism.

It's usually held that the atomists accepted Parmenides' view, that generation and destruction are impossible, but that they denied (in a sense) Parmenides' claim that nothing cannot exist, by positing the void, which, they claimed, is not nothing.

The void was meant to explain why, at one time, there can exist a plurality of objects: the void (not nothing) separates existing atoms one from another.

Fine; allow this. But then, why, on this view, should an atomist continue to insist that generation and destruction are impossible? Parmenides argues that generation is impossible because existence cannot be preceded by non-existence; and that destruction is impossible, because existence cannot be followed by non-existence. Why could not an atomist say: in a case of generation, existence is preceded, not by non-existence, but by 'void'; similarly, in a case of destruction, existence is followed, not by nothing, but by void? Diachronically, atoms begin to exist and cease existing, separated by 'void', just as, synchronically, void keeps different atoms separate. If void can separate being from being at the same time, why not being from being at different times?

If someone were to say: "But it would be inexplicable why existence should follow, if previously there were void, or why void should follow, if previously there were existence", one could retort: "But there is no more reason for the thing to exist than the no-thing. In just the same way, it is 'inexplicable' why, at one and the same time, existence should have void next to it, or void should have existence next to it. The random position of atoms across space mirrors the random coming into existence and disappearance of atoms across time."


Anonymous said...

Perhaps void is a type of existence, and therefor it would stand that no amount of void can be generated with the destruction of atoms. If the atomists were to view void as an existence by itself, an unreal but not a nothing, then it follows that generation and destruction may not possible. If you were to have a set amount of void and atoms at all times, then to allow for destruction of void, would allow for nothing to exist. And it seems that atomists did not deny Parmenides' claim that nothing cannot exist...it seems that they also believed that nothing cannot exist. However, their treatment of what does exist was different from that of Parmenides', in that what exists is void and atoms, and neither of these is considered to be nothing.