Credo in Unum Deum

I Believe in One God

Parmenides’ Problem and Aristotle’s Attempt to Solve That Problem

Parmenides Denial of Change and Motion. In the second section of a fragment we have of Parmenides’ poem which has been the cause of so much philosophical, logical and even theological distress over the centuries, Parmenides states the following:

[B]eing… is ungenerated and undestroyed, whole, of one kind and motionless, and balanced… For if it came into being, it is not, nor if it is[,] about to be at some time. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction is unheard of. Nor is it divided, since it is all alike and neither more here nor less, but it is all full of what is.

The basic idea is this: What is, is. What isn’t, isn’t. What is always has existed and always will. This must be the case since what is cannot come from what is not; something cannot come from nothing. Immediately he states the most upsetting and vexing part of his philosophy to natural philosophers:

And motionless in the limits of great chains it is, beginningless, endless… And the same, remaining in the same state, it lies in itself and thus firmly remains there. For a strong necessity holds it in chains of a limit which fences it about, because it is not right for what is to be incomplete; for it is not lacking—otherwise it would want everything.

This seems to deny motion or change, although Jonathan Barnes notes that, “In [these lines], little is clear and nothing is explicit and detailed.”
The argument basically runs this way, with a few exegetical fill-ins that I believe are there in the text, but need to be drawn out:

1. A exists.
2. Whatever exists cannot have not existed, since that would mean that non-Being could become Being.
3. Since A exist, then A necessarily exists, having always existed and will always exist. (1,2)
4. What necessarily exists must not lack any perfection of existence.
5. Motion and change entail a lack of perfection.
6. Therefore, A cannot undergo change or motion. (4,5)
7. There is no such thing as change or motion since all that is is and what is not is not, and what is cannot undergo change or motion. (2,4,5,6)
Thus we have it that appearance and reality are at odds with one another. It seems that science is really an idiot’s enterprise.

Aristotle’s Answer to the Charge. Aristotle, while respecting the old philosopher Parmenides, thinks that he Parmenides “made an [sic] rather elementary mistake, but at the same time he says it is a plausible one.” Aristotle responds to Parmenides by offering a distinction between some change being attributed to a thing’s essence or to the thing incidentally. Dr. McInerny, in the class notes, gives us the example of a block of wood that is whittled into a certain shape. That the wood has shape is an essential characteristic. However, what that shape is is not essential but incidental. So if it is square shaped at one moment, and later on, after some whittling, it becomes man-shaped the change is not essential but incidental.
Aristotle takes Parmenides to have attributed essentialness to these incidental properties. Of course, a block of wood cannot at once be essentially block shaped and essentially man shaped since the square shape was initially non-man-shaped. Then the man shaped piece of wood would be non-square-shaped. But if these are essential properties of the wood then the square shaped block which existed passed out of existence when the wood was whittled into a man shape. We therefore have a newly existing entity that came from nothing. Remember that being cannot come from non-being. But if we understand shape to be an incidental attribute the problem goes away.

My Critique of Aristotle’s Critique. It seems that Aristotle added a dilemma to Parmenides’ thesis. Parmenides says in his poem that something cannot come from nothing. “being… is ungenerated and undestroyed, whole, of one kind and motionless, and balanced… For if it came into being, it is not, nor if it is about to be at some time. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction is unheard of. Nor is it divided, since it is all alike and neither more here nor less, but it is all full of what is.” Melissus, following Parm and assuming the turth of the Way of Truth argues likewise in Concerning Nature or What Is. “Whatever is always was and always will be. For if it came into being, it is necessary that it was nothing before coming into being; now if it was nothing, in no way might anything come into being from nothing.” As far as I know Parmenides never says anything about being becoming being. It seems that he was arguing in some sense at least for the eternality of the universe, or maybe just being. That is what is confusing to me. Didn’t Aristotle agree in principle that the world was eternal? It seems that Aristotle might have been using “becoming” somewhat equivocally and might even prove Parmenides’ point by doing that. Things may seem to change and “become” but really being is and that is it. Sure, block shape becomes man shape, but are we using “become” the same way Parmenides was? It seems that “become” in the above example simply means “rearranged what is already there”. But Parmenides seems to be using becoming in the ex nihilo sense, not in the rearranging sense. So maybe the “scientific method” he was refuting was one that violated this basic principle that previously non-existent “things” (whatever that means!) were caused to exist by some existing things. This seems plausible if you are a physicalist or materialist. I do not see how a “better” view of causality would be harmed by Parmenides’ criticism. But this is all an hypothetical scenario! I do not know if that was indeed the case with the supposed “scientific method” that I proposed Parmenides may be refuting!! Fun for thought though! I don’t know. This is the offering of a floundering man who wants to be an amateur philosopher someday. I could be and probably am way off, traveling down the Way of Opinion and stuck in the crud of falsity.

[1] Barnes, Jonathan. The Presocratic Philosophers. London and New York:Routledge,1982. 178
[2] Ibid., 178
[3] Ibid., 222
[4] McInerny, Ralph. “2: Ancient and Medieval Philosophy.” International Catholic University. <http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02402.htm&gt;
[5] Ibid.

Advertisements

September 10, 2007 - Posted by | Religion

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: