Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
157. Dialectic 159. What Is the Unit?

From Chapter VIII., The Younger Eleatics

158. Zeno and Pythagoreanism
That Zeno's dialectic was mainly directed against the Pythagoreans is certainly suggested by Plato's statement, that it was addressed to the adversaries of Parmenides, who held that things were "a many."21 Zeller holds, indeed that it was merely the popular form of the belief that things are many that Zeno set himself to confute;22 but it is surely not true that ordinary people believe things to be "a many" in the sense required. Plato tells us that the premisses of Zeno's arguments were the beliefs of the adversaries of Parmenides, and the postulate from which all his contradictions are derived is the view that space, and therefore body, is made up of a number of discrete units, which is just the Pythagorean doctrine. We know from Plato that Zeno's book was the work of his youth.23 It follows that he must have written it in Italy, and the Pythagoreans are the only people who can have criticised the views of Parmenides there and at that date.24

It will be noted how much clearer the historical position of Zeno becomes if we follow Plato in assigning him to a later date than is usual. We have first Parmenides, then the Pluralists, and then the criticism of Zeno. This, at any rate, seems to have been the view Aristotle took of the historical development.25

Burnet's Notes


21. The view that Zeno's arguments were directed against Pythagoreanism has been maintained in recent times by Tannery (Science hellène, pp. 249 sqq.), and Bäumker (Das Problem der Materie, pp. 60 sqq.).

22. Zeller. p. 589 (Eng. trans. p. 612).

23. Parm., loc. cit.

24. Empedokles has been suggested. He was about the same age as Zeno, indeed (§ 98), and he seems to criticise Parmenides (§ 106), but the arguments of Zeno have no special applicability to his theories. Anaxagoras is still less likely.

25. Arist. Phys. A, 3. 187 a 1 (R. P: 134 b). See below, § 173.

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