Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
89. General Characteristcs of Greek Cosmology 91. The Dualist Cosmology

From Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea

90. The Beliefs of "Mortals"
It is commonly held that, in the Second Part of his poem, Parmenides offered a dualistic theory of the origin of things as his own conjectural explanation of the sensible world, or that, as Gomperz says, "What he offered were the Opinions of Mortals; and this description did not merely cover other people's opinions. It included his own as well, as far as they were not confined to the unassailable ground of an apparent philosophical necessity."34 Now it is true that in one place Aristotle appears to countenance a view of this sort, but nevertheless it is an anachronism.35 Nor is it really Aristotle's view. He was well aware that Parmenides did not admit the existence of "not-being " in any degree whatever; but it was a natural way of speaking to call the cosmology of the Second Part of the poem that of Parmenides. His hearers would understand in what sense this was meant. At any rate, the Peripatetic tradition was that Parmenides, in the Second Part of the poem, meant to give the belief of "the many." This is how Theophrastos put the matter, [/183] and Alexander seems to have spoken of the cosmology as something which Parmenides himself regarded as wholly false.36 The other view comes from the Neoplatonists, and especially Simplicius, who regarded the Way of Truth as an account of the intelligible world, and the Way of Opinion as a description of the sensible. It need hardly be said that this is almost as great an anachronism as the Kantian parallelism suggested by Gomperz.37 Parmenides himself tells us in the most unequivocal language that there is no truth at all in the theory which he expounds, and that he gives it merely as the belief of "mortals." It was this that led Theophrastos to speak of it as the opinion of " the many."

His explanation however, though preferable to that of Simplicius, is not convincing either. "The many" are as far as possible from believing in an elaborate dualism such as Parmenides expounded, and it is a highly artificial hypothesis to assume that he wished to show how the popular view of the world could best be systematised. "The many" would hardly be convinced of their error by having their beliefs presented to them in a form they would certainly fail to recognise them in. This, indeed, seems the most incredible interpretation of all. It still, however, finds adherents, so it is necessary to point out that the beliefs in question are only called "the opinions of mortals" for the very simple reason that the speaker is a goddess. Further, we have to note that Parmenides forbids two ways of research, and we have seen that the second of these, which is also expressly ascribed to "mortals," must be the system of Herakleitos. We should expect, then, to find that the other way is also the system of some contemporary school, and it seems hard to discover any of sufficient importance at this date except the Pythagorean. Now it is admitted by every one that there are Pythagorean ideas in the Second Part of the poem, and it is therefore to be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the whole of its cosmology comes from the same source. It does not appear that Parmenides said any more about Herakleitos than the words to which we have just referred, in which he forbids the second way of inquiry. He implies, indeed, that there are really only two ways that can be thought of, and that the attempt of Herakleitos to combine them was futile.38 In any case, the Pythagoreans were far more serious opponents at that date in Italy, and it is certainly to them that we should expect Parmenides to define his attitude.

It is still not quite clear, however, why he should have thought it worth while to put into hexameters a view he believed to be false. Here it becomes important to remember that he had been a Pythagorean himself, and that the poem is a renunciation of his former beliefs. In the introductory verses, he tells us distinctly that he has passed from darkness into the light. In such cases men commonly feel the necessity of showing where their old views were wrong. The goddess tells him that he must learn of those beliefs also "how one ought to pass right through all things and judge the things that seem to be." We get a further hint in another place. He is to learn these beliefs, "and so no opinion of mortals will ever get the better of him " (fr. 8, 61). If we remember that the Pythagorean system at this time was handed down by oral tradition alone, we shall see what this may mean. Parmenides was founding a dissident school, and it was necessary for him to instruct his disciples in the system they might be called upon to oppose. In any case, they could not reject it intelligently without a knowledge of it, and this Parmenides had to supply himself.39

Burnet's Notes


34. Greek Thinkers, vol. i. pp. 18o sqq.

35. Met. A, 5. 986 b 31 (R. P. 121 a). Aristotle's way of putting the matter is due to his interpretation of fr. 8, 54, which he took to mean that one of the two "forms" was to be identified with τὸ ὄν and the other with τὸ μὴ ὄν. Cf. De gen. corr. A, 3. 318 b 6, ὥσπερ Παρμενίδης λέγει δύο, τὸ ὂν καὶ τὸ μὴ ὂν εἶναι φάσκων. This last sentence shows clearly that when Aristotle says Παρμενίδης, he sometimes means what we should call "Parmenides."

36. Theophr. Phys. Op. fr. 6 (Dox. p. 482 ; R. P. 121 a), κατὰ δόξαν δὲ τῶν πολλῶν εἰς τὸ γένεσιν ἀποδοῦναι τῶν φαινομένων δύο ποιῶν τὰς ἀρχάς . For Alexander, cf. Simpl. Phys. p. 38, 24, εἰ δὲ ψευδεῖς πάντῃ τοὺς λόγους οἴεται ἐκείνους (Ἀλέξανδρος) κτλ.

37. Simpl. Phys. p. 39, 10 (R. P. 121 b). Gomperz, Greek Thinkers, Vol. 1. P. 180.

38. Cf. frs. 4 and 6, especially the words αἵπερ ὁδοὶ μοῦναι διζήσιός εἰσι νοῆσαι. The third way, that of Herakleitos, is only added as an afterthought—αὐτὰρ ἔπειτ' ἀπὸ τῆς κτλ.

39. I read χρῆν δοκιμῶσ' εἶναι in fr. 1, 32 with Diels. The view that the opinions contained in the Second Part are those of others, and are not given as true in any sense whatsoever, is shared by Diels. The objections of Wilamowitz (Hermes, xxxiv. pp. 203 sqq.) do not appear to me cogent. If we interpret him rightly, Parmenides never says that "this hypothetical explanation is . . . better than that of any one else." What he does say is that it is untrue altogether.

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