Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
165. The Fragments 167. Reality Spatially Infinite

From Chapter VIII., The Younger Eleatics

166. Theory of Reality
It has been pointed out that Melissos was not perhaps originally a member of the Eleatic school; but he certainly adopted all the views of Parmenides as to the true nature of reality with one remarkable exception. He appears to have opened his treatise with a reassertion of the Parmenidean "Nothing is not" (fr. 1a), and the arguments by which he supported this view are those with which we are already familiar (fr. 1). Reality, as with Parmenides, is eternal, a point which Melissos expressed in a way of his own. He argued that since everything that has come into being has a beginning and an end, everything that has not come into being has no beginning or end. Aristotle is very hard on him for this simple conversion of a universal affirmative proposition;54 but, of course, his belief was not founded on that. His whole conception of reality made it necessary for him to regard it as eternal.55 It would be more serious if Aristotle were right in believing, as he seems to have done, that Melissos inferred that what is must be infinite in space, because it had neither beginning nor end in time.56 As, however, we have the fragment which Aristotle interprets in this way (fr. 2), we are quite entitled to understand it for ourselves, and I cannot see anything to justify Aristotle's assumption that the expression "without limit" means without limit in space.57

Burnet's Notes


54. Arist. Phys. A, 3. 186 a 7 (R. P. 143 a). The false conversion is also mentioned in Soph. El. 168 b 35 (R. P. ib.). So Eudemos ap. Simpl. Phys. p. 105, 24, οὐ γάρ, εἰ τὸ γενόμενον ἀρχὴν ἔχει, τὸ μὴ γενόμενον ἀρχὴν οὐκ ἔχει, μᾶλλον δὲ τὸ μὴ ἔχον ἀρχὴν οὐκ ἐγένετο..

55. The real reason is given in the paraphrase in Simpl. Phys. p. 103, 21 (R. P. 142 a), συγχωρεῖται γὰρ καὶ τοῦτο ὑπὸ τῶν φυσικῶν, though Melissos himself would not have put it in that way. He regarded himself as a φυσικός like the rest; but, from the time of Aristotle, it was a commonplace that the Eleatics were not φυσικοί, since they denied motion.

56. Cf. especially Soph. El. 168 b 39, ὡς ἄμφω ταὐτὰ ὄντα τῷ ἀρχὴν ἔχειν, τότε γεγονὸς καὶ τὸ πεπαρασμένον.. The same point is made in 167 b 13 and 181 a 27.

57. The words ἀλλ' ἄπειρόν ἐστι mean simply "but it is without limit," and this is simply a repetition of the statement that it has no beginning or end. The nature of the limit can only be determined by the context, and accordingly, when Melissos does introduce the subject of spatial infinity, he is careful to say τὸ μέγεθος ἄπειρον (fr. 3).

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