Parmenides

Tuesday 🔥

0743  |  I am reading Plato’s Parmenides this morning — and also [the real] Parmenides’ Proem — both side by side, and it appears to me that the Ancient Greeks already had an understanding of what forms/images/representations/ideas were prior to Socrates. Which means that Plato did not invent them, as is commonly said. Furthermore, the division between the name and the thing-in-the-world also preexisted, since not only Socrates makes this distinction, but so did Aeschylus in the third act of the Oresteia, and the actual Parmenides in his Proem.

But I will say this: it seems that the notion of the “forms” is given another dimension of definition by the discourse that occurs between Parmenides and Socrates. It’s not so much that the notion of “forms” is changed, as it is shown by Parmenides to Socrates, that it is something transcendent in nature. This is evidenced by the bit of exchange at 134d: “…those forms [εἴδη] do not have their power in relation to things in our world, and things in our world do not have theirs in relation to forms, but that things in each group have their power in relation to themselves.” And if this is true and correct, yet still the forms and the thing-in-the-world seem to somehow be joined, then what we know as “forms” are really transcendent things that somehow partake of both worlds — in the way that a non-parallel line can cross with two other lines which are parallel to each other.

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0824 |  The thing that Parmenides says to Socrates at 136a-d that he must do for himself if he is to “achieve a full view of the truth,” is to examine one form in relation to itself and in turn also in relation to the myriad of other things that it can encounter. This seems to be something like what Socrates was doing, when he began to go around asking people questions in town. He was comparing his own body of “hypotheses” with that of others, to get a better grasp of whatever truth that he could know. It ended up making people upset though, because the people thought that he was asking them questions in order to judge/assess them, and not so that he could get at self-knowledge and truth by means of the method that Parmenides recommended.

It appears that “ordinary people don’t know that without this comprehensive and circuitous treatment we cannot hit upon the truth and gain insight.” And this is why some of the “ordinary people” took offense to Socrates; they’re not used to all that questioning by an adult (especially if that adult is an older person), and they don’t see the real purpose of it. And surely, if the dialectic proves a person in power to be contradictory and therefore unaware or unconscious of the things that he claims to know, then that’s bound to have been embarrassing, and also an irreversible blow to their reputation (since it was done in public).

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0940 |  I studied for two hours this morning, and then I had the urge to send my mother an email; all my studying should be good for something at least once in a while. I sent her two questions, regarding Romans 14:12-23, since the Bible is a book that she is familiar with and that I am also somewhat familiar with. I asked her two questions to engage her: (1) What does “sin” mean in verse 23 (given the context of the chapter), and (2) what does it mean at verse 22 where it says, “the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.”

She likes to explain and teach. But, likely, nobody ever asked her any questions — though, she’s very intelligent. I think that she would have liked attending HS and college in America. The good ones ask the students questions.

Yesterday was a “wood” day, and the fire burned high. Today is a “water” day.

Verse 22 also says, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” If Selah is any kind of mother at all in her heart, then she is pained by being angry with me. Perhaps with this gesture, she can see the good (with her soul) in the thing that her body is naturally inclined to approve. It is a difficult and bittersweet thing to have to bear, to hate the thing that one’s body wants to love.

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1100 |  Took a break to write a couple emails, and enjoy some music, have tea, and indulge in my emotions for a spell. Now, I am back to Parmenides.

I found a professor on the internet who says that Parmenides didn’t believe in motion. But that seems to be nonsense to me, since if the real Parmenides believed in the reasoning-process, and the reasoning-process itself involves change (which is what motion is made of), then it would be contradictory to say that Parmenides does not believe in motion while he does believe in the reasoning process.

It seems to me that the real Parmenides does believe in the reasoning process, for he says in his proem:
“κόμισαι δὲ σὺ μῦθον ἀκούσας, αἵπερ ὁδοὶ μοῦναι διζήσιός εἰσι νοῆσαι· ἡ μὲν ὅπως ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς οὐκ ἔστι μὴ εἶναι, Πειθοῦς ἐστι κέλευθος – Ἀληθείῃ γὰρ ὀπηδεῖ – ἡ δ΄ ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς χρεών ἐστι μὴ εἶναι, τὴν δή τοι φράζω παναπευθέα ἔμμεν ἀταρπόν· οὔτε γὰρ ἂν γνοίης τό γε μὴ ἐὸν – οὐ γὰρ ἀνυστόν – οὔτε φράσαις·”

My translation: “Pay attention to the story that you hear, whether you think that it is the only way of searching. Now then, just as “it-is” [is] so also as “not-it-is” is not, Persuasion is the path — discovery [ie, “truth”] attends it — even as the “not-it-is” also must not be, I show to you that to follow that way is wholly unaccountable. Neither, then, would you experience* the “not-being” — that’s just not possible/accomplishable — nor be pointing it out.”

(I’ve translated “γνοίης” as “experience” rather than “know,” since the sort of knowing that I think that Parmenides is talking about here is not the merely cerebral-type of knowing, but the carnal type that’s related to perception and experience. I just wanted to highlight this key difference.)

Now I think that this means that Parmenides thinks that you cannot rely on “non-self-evident” things as a way of seeking understanding, since a thought or proposition that is not already self-evident to a person, cannot be put into that person as if a thought were a liquid that you might just pour into a person. You have to start with whatever the person does know (ie, what “is” the case for them), and then start from there towards the path of inquiry. As Plato would say, you have to help them remember what is already inside of them. For instance, a congenitally blind person cannot be “told” the color red, for it simply does not and cannot exist for them — even if it is plainly true and knowable for someone who does have color-vision. For a congenitally blind person, “red” is a thing that is a “not-it-is”; they are ignorant to “red.” Thus, the way of persuasion requires that some fundamental premises are shared by minds. And furthermore, this way of “persuasion” is the way of discovery, of “aletheia” or — as we moderns call it — “truth.”

It seems to me that Parmenides is advocating for the way of persuasion, over brute coercion or “mysticism and magic.” It’s the way of appealing to common-reason over unspeakable intuition. I suppose, to some people, it doesn’t matter so much whether the intuition is correct or not. Perhaps it matters more that people can all come to an agreement on an issue — and the correct way of doing this is by means of persuasion and the reasoning-process, since this is the way that is attended by aletheia-truth.

So, that said, it is very clear to me (based on this) that Parmenides believed in the reasoning-process.

And furthermore, if this is true, then Parmenides believes in motion and change, since the reasoning-process necessarily involves changes as you go from one step to the next on the path of inquiry. And this activity of change just simply is what “motion” is. Therefore, it is nonsense to say that Parmenides does not believe in motion or time. The reasoning-process is supervenient on the preexisting fact of change/motion/time.

Now, Plato’s Parmenides thought that “the one” is “unmoved.” However, it is obviously possible to believe in motion — the motion of a thinker while she goes through the reasoning-process — while still claiming that the forms themselves do not move, and that the thinker is not herself changed (she is still the same thinker, just thinking different thoughts). Furthermore, “the one” (ie, τό ἕν) is not necessarily the “mind,” since at 137c, the discourse concerning “the one” is put forth as a conditional statement. So the entire argument hinges on whether the mind is “the one,” or whether the nameless-material (ie, chaos) is “the one.” I think the latter, and that Plato thought so too. As proof, Parmenides concludes at 141e-142a that “the one” does not partake of “being” and “in no way is,” and that “no name belongs to it, nor is there an account or any knowledge or perception or opinion of it.” And so, returning to the real Parmenides’ proem, the “is-not,” then, is “the one”.

I also found him to be equivocating “existence” in the mental space with “existence” in the other realm of nameless-material. It was confusing, and I didn’t like his youtube video because of it. But it is clear that according to Plato’s Parmenides, “the one” is not identical with “the-is”, for he says at 142b that there is “the being of the one, and that is not the same as the one.” But this professor, he equivocates being-ness of “the is” with the reality of “the one.” (Due to an Aristotelian influence, no doubt.)

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