Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
86. "It Is" 88. Parmenides, the Father of Materialism

From Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea

87. The Method of Parmenides
The great novelty in the poem of Parmenides is the method of argument. He first asks what is the common presupposition of all the views he has to deal with, and he finds that this is the existence of what is not. The next question is whether this can be thought, and the answer is that it cannot. If you think at all, you must think of something. Therefore there is no nothing. Only that can be which can be thought (fr. 5); for thought exists for the sake of what is (fr. 8, 34).

This method Parmenides carries out with the utmost rigour. He will not have us pretend that we think what we must admit to be unthinkable. It is true that if we resolve to allow nothing but what we can understand, we come into direct conflict with our senses, which present us with a world of change and decay. So much the worse for the senses, says Parmenides. That is the inevitable outcome of a corporeal monism, and this bold declaration of it ought to have destroyed that theory for ever. If Parmenides had lacked courage to work out the prevailing views of his time to their logical conclusion, and to accept that conclusion, however paradoxical it might appear, men might have gone on in the endless circle of opposition, rarefaction, and condensation, one and many, for ever. It was the thorough-going dialectic of Parmenides that made progress possible. Philosophy must now cease to be monistic or cease to be corporealist. It could not cease to be corporealist; for the incorporeal was still unknown. It therefore ceased to be monistic, and arrived ultimately at the atomic theory, which, so far as we know, is the last word of the view that the world is body in motion.31

Burnet's Notes


31. From the point of view we are now taking, it is doubtful if even Atomism can rightly be called Monism, since it implies the real existence of space. The most modern forms of Monism are not corporealist, since they replace body by energy as the ultimate reality.

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