Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
169. Opposition to Pythagoreans 171. Leucippus and Democritus

From Chapter VIII., The Younger Eleatics

170. Opposition to Anaxagoras
The most remarkable fragment of Melissos is, perhaps, the last (fr. 8). It seems to be directed against Anaxagoras; at least the language seems more applicable to him than any one else. Anaxagoras had admitted (§ 137, fin.) that, so far as our perceptions go, they do not agree with his theory, though he held this was due solely to their weakness. Melissos, taking advantage of this admission, urges that, if we give up the senses as the test of reality, we are not entitled to reject the Eleatic theory. With wonderful penetration he points out that if we are to say, with Anaxagoras, that things are a many, we are bound also to say that each one of them is such as the Eleatics declared the One to be. In other words, the only consistent pluralism is the atomic theory.

Melissos has been unduly depreciated owing to the criticisms of Aristotle; but these, we have seen, are based mainly on a somewhat pedantic objection to the false conversion in the early part of the argument. Melissos knew nothing about the rules of conversion; and he could easily have made his reasoning formally correct without modifying his system. His greatness consisted in this, that not only was he the real systematiser of Eleaticism, but he was also able to see, before the pluralists saw it themselves, the only way in which the theory that things are a many could be consistently worked out.68 It is significant that Polybos, the nephew of Hippokrates, reproaches those "sophists" who taught there was only one primary substance with " putting the doctrine of Melissos on its feet."69

Burnet's Notes

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68. Bäumker, op. cit. p. 58, n. 3: "That Melissos was a weakling is a fable convenue that people repeat after Aristotle, who was unable to appreciate the Eleatics in general, and in particular misunderstood Melissos not inconsiderably."

69. Περὶ φύσιος ἀνθρώπου, C. 1. ἀλλ' ἔμοιγε δοκέουσιν οἱ τοιοῦτοι ἄνθρωποι αὐτοὶ ἑωυτοὺς καταβάλλειν ἐν τοῖσιν ὀνόμασι τῶν λόγων αὐτῶν ὑπὸ ἀσυνεσίης, τὸν δὲ Μελίσσου λόγον ὀρθοῦν. The metaphors are taken from wrestling, and were current at this date (cf. the καταβάλλοντες of Protagoras). Plato implies a more generous appreciation of Melissos than Aristotle's. In Theaet. 180 e 2, he refers to the Eleatics as Μέλισσοί τε καὶ Παρμενίδαι, and in 183 e 4 he almost apologises for giving the pre-eminence to Parmenides.






















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