Trik Menulis Efektif Perspektif Jurnalis Terkenal

Para aktivis dunia maya, para blogger dan khususnya kalangan mahasiswa -lebih khusus lagi mahasiswa Jurusan Tafsir Hadis Fak. Ushuluddin IAIN Sunan Ampel Surabaya, sangat disarankan membaca kumpulan artikel dalam judul besar “Belajar Menulis Efektif” ini. Artikel-artikel tersebut ditulis jurnalis kebanggaan Indonesia dan telah banyak menginspirasi gaya penulisan artikel kontemporer.

16 tahun lalu (1996) saya berlatih menulis dengan bimbingan artikel-artikel tersebut, dan sampai saat ini tetap menjadi rujukan. Maka dengan segala hormat saya samapaikan terimakasih dan penghargaan setinggi-tingginya kepada Goenawan Mohammad dan Farid Gaban, penulis artikel-artikel emas tersebut.

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Democritus (460—370 BCE)

The Greek natural philosopher Democritus (460-370 BC) promulgated the atomic theory, which asserted that the universe is composed of two elements: the atoms and the void in which they exist and move.

Democritus was born in Abdera, the leading Greek city on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. Although the ancient accounts of Democritus’s career differ widely, they all agree that he lived to a ripe old age, 90 being the lowest figure. During that long career Democritus wrote many books. Little Cosmology, a veritable encyclopedia, has perished because its contents displeased those, such as the philosopher Plato, whose decisions determined which works should be preserved. Of all of Democritus’s many-sided interests, his espousal of the atomic theory accounts for his renown and also for the disappearance of the treatises which won him that renown.

Atomic Theory

Democritus did not originate the atomic theory; he learned it from its founder, Leucippus, the author of the Big Cosmology. While this work too has vanished, some conception of its contents may be obtained from Aristotle. He opposed the atomic theory, but in doing so he summarized its principal doctrines. Thus he attributed to Leucippus the ideas that the atoms are “infinite in number and imperceptible because of the minuteness of their size. They move about in empty space (for there is empty space) and by joining together they produce perceptible objects, which are destroyed when the atoms separate.” The point at which Leucippus’s elaboration of the atomic theory stopped and Democritus’s contributions to it began can no longer be identified. In antiquity the theory’s major features were sometimes ascribed to Leucippus and Democritus jointly and sometimes to Democritus alone.

Perhaps according to both of them and certainly according to Democritus, the atom was the irreducibly minimal quantity of matter. The concept of the infinite divisibility of matter was flatly contradicted by the atomic theory, since within the interior of the atom there could be no physical parts or unoccupied space. Every atom was exactly like every other atom as a piece of corporeal stuff. But the atoms differed in shape, and since their contours showed an infinite variety and could be oriented in any direction and arranged in any order, the atoms could enter into countless combinations. In their solid interior there was no motion, while they themselves could move about in empty space. Thus, for the atomic theory, the physical universe had two basic ingredients: impenetrable atoms and penetrable space. For Democritus, space was infinite in extent, and the atoms were infinite in number.

By their very nature the atoms were endowed with a motion that was eternal and not initiated by any outside force. Since the atoms were not created at any time in the past and would never disintegrate at any time in the future, the total quantity of matter in the universe remained constant: this fundamental principle of Democritus’s atomic theory implies the conservation of matter, the sum total of which in the universe neither increases nor diminishes. Though Democritus’s conception of the atom has been modified in several essential respects in modern times, his atomic theory remains the foundation of modern science.

For Democritus, “time was uncreated.” His atomic universe was temporally everlasting and spatially boundless, without beginning and without end in either space or time. Just as no special act of creation brought Democritus’s universe into being, so the operations of his cosmos did not serve any particular purpose. Consequently, Democritus’s atomic theory was irreconcilable with the teleological view, which regarded the world as having been planned to fulfill some inscrutable destiny. As the founder of the atomic theory declared in his only surviving statement, “Nothing occurs at random, but everything happens for a reason and by necessity.”

Moral Teachings

Just as Democritus’s cosmogony invoked no creator-god, so his moral teachings appealed to no supernatural judge of human conduct. He attributed the popular belief in Zeus and other deities to primitive man’s incomprehension of meteorological and astronomical phenomena. To support his theory about the origin of worship of the various divinities, Democritus assailed the widespread notion that rewards for righteous actions and punishments for wrongdoing were administered in an afterlife. In the long history of Greek speculation Democritus was the first thinker to deny that every human being has an individual soul which survives the death of the body.

Democritus sought to diminish pain during life, of which “the goal is cheerfulness.” Cheerfulness is identical not with pleasure, as he was misinterpreted by some people, but “with a calm and steady mind, undisturbed by any fear or superstition or other irrational feeling.” Yet Democritus did not advocate a quiet life of repose. His was not the outlook of the retired citizen, drowsing in his rocking chair on the front porch and idly watching the world go by. Democritus taught a naturalistic morality, avoiding ascetic renunciation as well as excessive indulgence, and urging energetic participation in beneficial activities. In particular, “Democritus recommends mastering the art of politics as most important, and undertaking its tasks, from which significant and magnificent benefits are obtained for the people.” Perhaps from his governmental experience in Abdera, Democritus learned that “good conduct seems to be procured better by the use of encouraging and convincing words than by statute and coercion. For he who is restrained by law from wrongdoing is likely to commit crime covertly. On the other hand, he who is attracted to uprightness by persuasion is unlikely to transgress either secretly or openly.”

Probing the Infinitesimal

Archimedes, the most brilliant mathematician of antiquity, gave Democritus credit for the discovery that the volume of a cone is one-third that of a cylinder having the same base and altitude. Archimedes added, however, that this theorem was enunciated by Democritus “without proof.” In Democritus’s time Greek geometry had not yet reached the stage at which it demanded rigorous proofs of its theorems. Democritus stated: “If a cone is cut by a plane parallel to its base, shall we regard the surfaces forming the sections as equal or unequal? If unequal, they make the cone uneven, having numerous indentations and protrusions, like a flight of stairs. But if the surfaces are equal, the sections will be equal and the cone comes to look like a cylinder, consisting of equal circles.” Democritus’s conception of the cylinder as being made up of an indefinite number of minutely thin circular layers shows him beginning to probe the momentous question of the infinitesimal, the starting point of a most valuable branch of modern mathematics.

Anaxagoras (c.500—428 BCE)

Anaxagoras of Clazomenae was an important Presocratic natural philosopher and scientist who lived and taught in Athens for approximately thirty years. He gained notoriety for his materialistic views, particularly his contention that the sun was a fiery rock. This led to charges of impiety, and he was sentenced to death by the Athenian court. He avoided this penalty by leaving Athens, and he spent his remaining years in exile. While Anaxagoras proposed theories on a variety of subjects, he is most noted for two theories. First, he speculated that in the physical world everything contains a portion of everything else. His observation of how nutrition works in animals led him to conclude that in order for the food an animal eats to turn into bone, hair, flesh, and so forth, it must already contain all of those constituents within it. The second theory of significance is Anaxagoras’ postulation of Mind (Nous) as the initiating and governing principle of the cosmos.

Table of Contents

  1. Life and Writing
  2. The Structure of Things: A Portion of Everything in Everything
    1. The Challenge of Parmenides
    2. Empedocles’s Theory
    3. The Lesson of Nutrition
    4. The Divisibility of “Stuffs”
    5. Why is Something What It Is?
  3. The Origins of the Cosmos
  4. Mind (nous)
    1. The Role of Mind
    2. The Nature of Mind
  5. Other Theories
  6. References and Further Reading

1. Life and Writing

The exact chronology of Anaxagoras is unknown, but most accounts place his dates around 500-428 BCE. Some have argued for dates of c. 534-467 BCE, but the 500-428 time period is the most commonly accepted among scholars. Anaxagoras was born in Ionia in the town of Clazomenae, a lively port city on the coast of present-day Turkey. As such, he is considered to be both the geographical and theoretical successor to the earliest Ionian philosophers, particularly Anaximenes. Eventually, Anaxagoras made his way to Athens and he is often credited with making her the home of Western philosophical and physical speculation. Anaxagoras remained in Athens for some thirty years, according to most accounts, until he was indicted on the charge of impiety and sentenced to death. Rather than endure this penalty, Anaxagoras, with the help of his close friend and student, Pericles, went to Lampsacus, in Asia Minor, where he lived until his death.

Anaxagoras’ trial and sentencing in Athens were motivated by a combination of political and religious concerns. His close association with Pericles left him vulnerable to those who wished to discredit the powerful and controversial student through the teacher. Furthermore, his materialistic beliefs and teachings were quite contrary to the standard orthodoxy of the time, particularly his view that the heavenly bodies were fiery masses of rock whirling around the earth in ether. Such convictions are famously attested to inPlato’s Apology when Socrates, accused by Meletus of believing that the sun is stone and the moon is earth, distances himself from such atheistic notions:

My dear Meletus, do you think you are prosecuting Anaxagoras? Are you so contemptuous of the jury and think them so ignorant of letters as not to know that the books of Anaxagoras of Clazomenae are full of those theories, and further, that the young men learn from me what they can buy from time to time for a drachma, at most, in the bookshops, and ridicule Socrates if he pretends that these theories are his own, especially as they are so absurd? (26d)

As with the dates of his birth and death, the chronology of Anaxagoras’ exile and subsequent time in Lampsacus are a bit of a mystery. Some of the historical testimonies indicate that his trial occurred shortly before the Peloponnesian War, around 431 BCE. If this is the case, then Anaxagoras’ time in exile would have lasted no more than a few years. Other records indicate that his trial and exile occurred much earlier, and his time in Lampsacus enabled him to start an influential school where he taught for nearly twenty years. With regard to the persona of Anaxagoras, there are quite a few interesting anecdotes that paint a picture of an ivory tower scientist and philosopher who was extremely detached from the general concerns and practical matters of life. While the stories are possibly fanciful, the consistent image of Anaxagoras presented throughout antiquity is that of a person entirely consumed by the pursuit of knowledge. In fact, he apparently maintained that the opportunity to study the universe was the fundamental reason why it is better to be born than to not exist.

In his Lives of the PhilosophersDiogenes Laertius states that Anaxagoras is among those philosophers who wrote only one book. This work was a treatise on natural philosophy and, as the above quote from the Apology indicates, it was probably not a very long work, since it could be purchased for “a drachma, at most.” Although the book has not survived, it was available until at least the sixth-century CE. While it is impossible to recreate the entire content and order of his work, various ancient sources have provided scholars with enough information to fairly represent Anaxagoras’ philosophy. Noteworthy among these sources are AristotleTheophrastus (ca. 372-288 BCE) and Themistius (ca. 317-387 CE). We are primarily indebted, however, to Simplicius (sixth-century CE) for most of our knowledge of, and access to, the fragments of Anaxagoras’ work. Before moving on to the theories of Anaxagoras, it should be noted that there are some rather wide ranging disagreements among scholars today about some of the basic tenets of his philosophy. In fact, within the past twenty years or so, there have been a greater variety of interpretations of Anaxagoras than perhaps any other Presocratic philosopher.

2. The Structure of Things: A Portion of Everything in Everything

Anaxagoras’ innovative theory of physical nature is encapsulated in the phrase, “a portion of everything in everything.” Its primary expression is found in the following difficult fragment:

And since the portions of both the large and the small are equal in amount, in this way too all things would be in everything; nor can they be separate, but all things have a portion of everything. Since there cannot be a smallest, nothing can be separated or come to be by itself, but as in the beginning now too all things are together. But in all things there are many things, equal in amount, both in the larger and the smaller of the things being separated off. (frag. 6)

It should be pointed out that it is rather difficult to determine what exactly Anaxagoras meant by “things.” It is tempting to view this as a theory of matter, but this would be misguided as it tends to apply later Aristotelian categories and interpretations onto Anaxagoras. At times, the term “seeds” has been utilized but it would seem that many scholars today prefer the neutral term “stuffs” to depict this notion. In any case, this rather complex theory is best understood as Anaxagoras’ attempt to reconcile his perceptions of the world with an influential argument (presented some time earlier by Parmenides) about how reality must be conceived.

a. The Challenge of Parmenides

According to Parmenides, whatever is, is (being) and whatever is not, is not (nonbeing). As a result, whatever constitutes the nature of reality must always “have been” since nothing can come into being from nothing. Furthermore, reality must always “be” since being (what is) cannot become nonbeing (what is not). This argument led Parmenides to a monistic and static conception of reality. As such, the world of changing particulars is deceptive, despite appearances to the contrary. Anaxagoras appears to accept this argument of Parmenides as the following statement indicates: “The Greeks are wrong to accept coming to be and perishing, for no thing comes to be, nor does it perish.” (frag. 17) Anaxagoras could not, however, square the thesis of radical monism with his experience of a world that seems to admit plurality and change. In fact, if all of the theses of Parmenides are correct, there is no possibility of science because all empirically gathered data is misleading. Therefore, the challenge for Anaxagoras and other post-Parmenidian philosophers was to present a proper account of nature while maintaining the demand that the stuff that constitutes reality can neither come into being from nothing nor pass away into nonbeing.

b. Empedocles’s Theory

Empedocles was a contemporary of Anaxagoras and, while the historical records are inconclusive, it is possible that the latter was partially reacting to the theory of the former in the development of his own views. In response to Parmenides, Empedocles maintained that the four elements—earth, air, fire, water—were the constituents or “roots” of all matter. These four roots cannot come into being, be destroyed or admit any change. Therefore, apart from the fact that there are four, they are essentially identical to the “one” of Parmenides. The roots mix together in various proportions to account for all the things in the world that we suppose to be real, such as apples, horses, etc. As an apple dissolves, it does not collapse into nonbeing, rather the mixture that has accounted for the apparent apple of our senses has simply been rearranged. Apples, and other “mortal things,” as Empedocles called them, do not actually come to be, nor are they actually destroyed. This is simply the way humans like to talk about entities which appear to exist but do not.

Anaxagoras’ relationship to Empedocles is difficult to discern, but it is possible that he was not satisfied with Empedocles’ response to Parmenides and the Eliatics. On Aristotle’s interpretation, Anaxagoras maintained that the pluralism of Empedocles unduly singled out certain substances as primary and others as secondary. According to Anaxagoras, the testimony of our senses maintains that hair or flesh exist as assuredly as earth, air, water or fire. In fact, all of the infinite numbers of substances are as real as the root substances. Therefore, under this interpretation the key problem for Anaxagoras is that under Empodocles’ theory it would be possible to divide a hair into smaller and smaller pieces until it was no longer hair, but a composite of the root substances. As such, this would no longer satisfy the requirement that a definite substance cannot pass into nonbeing. According to other interpretations, however, some of the textual evidence from Anaxagoras seems to suggest that he treated some “things” (ala Empedocles) as more basic and primary than others. In any case, the theoretical distinctions between the two philosophers are somewhat unclear. Despite these difficulties, it is clear that Anaxagoras proposes a theory of things that is distinct from Empedocles while encountering the challenges of Parmenides.

c. The Lesson of Nutrition

While there is some recent scholarly debate about this, Anaxagoras’ contention that all things have a portion of everything may have had its genesis in the phenomenon of nutrition. He observed among animals that the food that is used to nourish develops into flesh, hair, etc. For this to be the case, Anaxagoras believed that rice, for instance, must contain within it the substances hair and flesh. Again, this is in keeping with the notion that definite substances cannot arise from nothing: “For how can hair come to be from not hair or flesh from not flesh?” (frag. 10). Moreover, not only does a piece of rice contain hair and flesh, it in fact contains the entirety of all the infinite amount of stuffs (a portion of everything). But how is this possible?

d. The Divisibility of “Stuffs”

To understand how it is possible for there to be a portion of everything in everything, it is necessary to develop Anaxagoras’ contention that stuff is infinitely divisible. In practical terms, this can be explained by continuing with the example of the rice kernel. For Anaxagoras, if one were to begin dividing it into smaller and smaller portions there would be no point at which the rice would no longer exist. Each infinitesimally small piece could be divided into another, and each piece would continue to contain rice, as well as hair, flesh and a portion of everything else. Prior to Anaxagoras, Zeno, a disciple of Parmenides, argued against the notion that matter could be divided at all, let alone infinitely. Apparently, Zeno had about forty reductio ad absurdum attacks on pluralism, four of which are known to us. For our purposes, it is not necessary to delve into these arguments, but a key assumption that arises from Zeno is the contention that a plurality of things would make the notion of magnitude meaningless. For Zeno, if an infinite division of things were possible then the following paradox would arise. The divisions would conceivably be so small that they would have no magnitude at all. At the same time, things would have to be considered infinitely large in order to be able to be infinitely divided. While the scholarly evidence is not conclusive, it seems quite possible that Anaxagoras was replying to Zeno as he developed his notion of infinite divisibility.

As the following fragment indicates, Anaxagoras did not consider the consequence that Zeno presented to be problematic: “For of the small there is no smallest, but always a smaller (for what is cannot not be). But also of the large there is always a larger, and it is equal in amount to the small. But in relation to itself, each is both large and small” (frag. 3). According to some interpreters, what is remarkable about this fragment, and others similar to it, is that it indicates the extent to which Anaxagoras grasped the notion of infinity. As W.K.C. Guthrie points out, “Anaxagoras’ reply shows an understanding of the meaning of infinity which no Greek before him had attained: things are indeed infinite in quantity and at the same time infinitely small, but they can go on becoming smaller to infinity without thereby becoming mere points without magnitude” (289). Other interpretations are somewhat less charitable toward Anaxagoras’ grasp of infinity, however, and point out that he may not have been conceptualizing about the notion of mathematical infinity when speaking about divisibility.

In any case, as strange as it may appear to modern eyes, Anaxagoras’ unique and subtle theory accomplished what it set out to do. It satisfied the Parmenidian demand that nothing can come into or out of being and it accounted for the plurality and change that constitutes our world of experience. A difficult question remains for Anaxagoras’ theory, however.

e. Why is Something What It Is?

If, according to Anaxagoras, everything contains a portion of everything, then what makes something (rice, for instance) what it is? Anaxagoras does not provide a clear response to this question, but an answer is alluded to in his claim that “each single thing is and was most plainly those things of which it contains most.” (frag. 12) Presumably, this can be taken to mean that each constituent of matter also has a part of matter that is predominant in it. Commentators from Aristotle onward have struggled to make sense of this notion, but it is perhaps Guthrie’s interpretation that is most helpful: “Everything contains a portion of everything else, and a large piece of something contains as many portions as a small piece of it, though they differ in size; but every substance does not contain all the infinite number of substances in equal proportions” (291). As such, a substance like rice, while containing everything, contains a higher proportion of white, hardness, etc. than a substance like wood. Simply stated, rice contains more stuff that makes it rice than wood or any other substance. Presumably, rice also contains higher proportions of flesh and hair than wood does. This would explain why, from Anaxagoras’ perspective, an animal can become nourished by rice by not by wood.

Anaxagoras’ theory of nature is quite innovative and complex, but unfortunately his fragments do not provide us with very many details as to how things work on a micro level. He does, however, provide us with a macro level explanation for the origins of the world as we experience it. It is to his cosmogony that we now turn our attention.

3. The Origins of the Cosmos

Anaxagoras’ theory of the origins of the world is reminiscent of the cosmogonies that had been previously developed in the Ionion tradition, particularly through Anaximenes and Anaximander. The traditional theories generally depict an original unity which begins to become separated off into a series of opposites. Anaxagoras maintained many of the key elements of these theories, however he also updated these cosmogonies, most notably through the introduction of a causal agent (Mind or nous) that is the initiator of the origination process.

Prior to the beginning of world as we know it everything was combined together in such a unified manner that there were no qualities or individual substances that could be discerned. “All things were together, unlimited in both amount and smallness.” (frag. 1) As such, reality was like the Parmenidian whole, except this whole contained all the primary matters or “seeds,” which are represented in the following passages through a series of opposites:

But before these things separated off, when [or, since] all things were together, not even any color was manifest, for the mixture of all things prevented it—the wet and the dry, the hot and the cold, the bright and the dark, there being also much earth in the mixture and seeds unlimited in amount, in no way like one another. For none of the other things are alike either, the one to the other. Since this is so, it is necessary to suppose that all things were in the whole. (frag. 4b) The things in the single cosmos are not separate from one another, nor are they split apart with an axe, either the hot from the cold or the cold from the hot (frag. 8).

At some point, the unity is spurred into a vortex motion at a force and a speed “of nothing now found among humans, but altogether many times as fast” (frag. 9). This motion begins the separation and it is “air and aither” that are the first constituents of matter to become distinct. Again, this is not to be seen in Empedoclean terms to indicate that air and ether are primary elements They are simply a part of the infinite constituents of matter represented by the phrase “mixture and seeds.” As the air and ether became separated off, all other elements become manifest in this mixture as well: “From these things as they are being separated off, earth is being compounded; for water is being separated off out of the clouds, earth out of water, and out of the earthy stones are being compounded by the cold, and these [i.e., stones] move further out than the water” (frag. 16).

Therefore, the origin of the world is depicted through this process of motion and separation from the unified mixture. As mentioned above, in answering the “how” of cosmogony, Anaxagoras is fairly traditional in his theory. In proposing an initiator or causal explanation for the origins of the process, however, Anaxagoras separates himself from his predecessors.

4. Mind (nous)

a. The Role of Mind

According to Anaxagoras, the agent responsible for the rotation and separation of the primordial mixture is Mind or nous: “And when Mind began to cause motion, separating off proceeded to occur from all that was moved, and all that Mind moved was separated apart, and as things were being moved and separated apart, the rotation caused much more separating apart to occur” (fr. 13). As is previously mentioned, it is rather significant that Anaxagoras postulates an explanation for the movement of the cosmos, something that prior cosmogonies did not provide. But how is this explanation to be understood? From the passage above, one may infer that Mind serves simply as the initial cause for the motion, and once the rotation is occurring, the momentum sets everything else into place. In this instance it is tempting to assign a rather deistic function to Mind. In other passages, however, Mind is depicted as “ruling” the rotation and setting everything in order as well as having supreme power and knowledge of all things (see fr. 12 and Simplicius’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, 495.20). In this case it is tempting to characterize Mind in theistic terms. Both of these temptations should be avoided, for Anaxagoras remained fully naturalistic in his philosophy. In fact, the uniqueness of Anaxagoras is that he proposed a rationalistic governing principle that remained free from the mythical or theological characteristics of prior cosmogonies. His philosophical successors, particularly Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, are very excited to find in Anaxagoras a unifying cosmic principle which does not allude to the whims of the gods. They hope to find in him an extension of this principle into a purpose-driven explanation for the universe. Alas, they are all disappointed that Anaxagoras makes no attempt to develop his theory of Mind in such a way.

What Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were hoping to discover in Anaxagoras was not simply an account of how the cosmos originated (an efficient cause), but an explanation for why and for what purpose the cosmos was initiated (a final cause). Their initial excitement about his theory is replaced by disillusionment in the fact that Anaxagoras does not venture beyond mechanistic explanatory principles and offer an account for how Mind has ordered everything for the best. For example, in the Phaedo, Socrates discusses how he followed Anaxagoras’ argument with great joy, and thought that he had found, “a teacher about the cause of things after my own heart” (97d). Socrates’ joy is rather short-lived: “This wonderful hope was dashed as I went on reading and saw that the man made no use of Mind, nor gave it any responsibility for the management of things, but mentioned as causes air and ether and water and many other strange things” (98b). Similarly, Aristotle calls Anaxagoras a sober and original thinker, yet chastises him for using Mind as a deus ex machina to account for the creation of the world: “When he cannot explain why something is necessarily as it is, he drags in Mind, but otherwise hew will use anything rather than Mind to explain a particular phenomenon” (Metaphysics, 985a18). Despite the fact that Anaxagoras did not pursue matters as far as his teleologically-minded successors would have liked, his theory of Mind served as an impetus toward the development of cosmological systems that speculated on final causes. On the flip side, Anaxagoras’ lack of conjecture into the non-mechanistic forces in the world also served as an inspiration to the more materialistic cosmological systems that followed.

b. The Nature of Mind

Thus far, we have examined the role of Mind in the development of the world. But what exactly is Mind, according to Anaxagoras? Based on the evidence in the fragments, this is a rather difficult question to answer, for Mind appears to have contradictory properties. In one small fragment, for example, Anaxagoras claims that mind is the sole exception to the principle that there is a portion of everything in everything, yet this claim is immediately followed by the counter claim, “but Mind is in some things too” (frag. 11). Elsewhere, Anaxagoras emphasizes the autonomy and separateness of Mind:

The rest have a portion of everything, but Mind is unlimited and self-ruled and is mixed with no thing, but is alone and by itself. For if it were not by itself but were mixed with something else, it would have a share of all things, if it were mixed with anything. For in everything there is a portion of everything, as I have said before. And the things mixed together with it would hinder it so that it would rule no thing in the same way as it does being alone and by itself. For it is the finest of all things and the purest, and it has all judgment about everything and the greatest power. (frag. 12)

He goes on to say, however, that Mind “is very much even now where all other things are too, in the surrounding multitude and in things that have come together in the process of separating and in things that have separated off” (frag. 14).

Most commentators maintain that Anaxagoras is committed to a dualism of some sort with his theory of Mind. But his Mind/matter dualism is such that both constituents appear to be corporeal in nature. Mind is material, but it is distinguished from the rest of matter in that it is finer, purer and it appears to act freely. This theory is best understood by considering Anaxagoras’ contention that plants possess minds. It is the mind of a plant which enables it to seek nourishment and grow, but this dynamic agent in a plant is not distinct from the plant itself. This would have been a common biological view for the time, but where Anaxagoras is novel is that he extends the workings of “mind” at the level of plants and animals into a cosmic principle which governs all things. The Mind of the cosmos is a dynamic governing principle which is immanent to the entire natural system while still maintaining its transcendental determining power. From Anaxagoras’ perspective it appears to be a principle which is both natural and divine.

5. Other Theories

Anaxagoras’ theory of things and his postulation of Mind as a cosmic principle are the most important and unique aspects of his philosophy. A few other theories are worth mentioning, though it should be pointed out that many of them are probably not original and our primary knowledge of these views arises from second-hand sources.

As a natural scientist and philosopher of his day, Anaxagoras would have been particularly concerned with the subjects of astronomy and meteorology and he made some significant contributions in these areas. It was mentioned above that his outlook on the heavenly bodies played a part in his condemnation in Athens. His beliefs about the earth, moon and sun are clearly articulated in the following lengthy quote from Hippolytus, a source from the late second century CE:

The earth [according to Anaxagoras] is flat in shape. It stays up because of its size, because there is no void, and because the air, which is very resistant, supports the earth, which rests on it. Now we turn to the liquids on the earth: The sea existed all along, but the water in it became the way it is because it suffered evaporation, and it is also added to from the rivers which flow into it. Rivers originate from rains and also from subterranean water; for the earth is hollow and has water in its hollows. The Nile rises in the summer because water is carried down into it from the snow in the north.The sun, the moon, and all the heavenly bodies are red-hot stones which have been snatched up by the rotation of the aether. Below the heavenly bodies there exist certain bodies which revolve along with the sun and the moon and are invisible….The moon is below the sun, closer to us. The sun is larger than the Peloponnesus. The moon does not shine with its own light, but receives its light from the sun…. Eclipses of the moon occur when the earth cuts off the light, and sometimes when the bodies below the moon cut off the light. Eclipses of the sun take place at new moon, when the moon cuts off the light…. Anaxagoras was the first to describe the circumstances under which eclipses occur and the way light is reflected by the moon. He said that the moon is made of earth and has plains and gullies on it. The Milky Way is the light of those stars which are not lit up by the sun. (A Refutation of All Heresies, 1, epitome, 3)

A key advantage of Anaxagoras’ belief that the heavenly bodies were simply stone masses was that it enabled him to provide an account of meteorites as bodies that occasionally become dislodged from the cosmic vortex and plummet to earth. Plutarch attests that Anaxagoras was credited with predicting the fall of a meteorite in 467 BCE, but it is unclear from the historical attestations whether Anaxagoras’ theory predated or was prompted by the event.

Along with his contributions in Astronomy and Meteorology, Anaxagoras proposed a theory of sensation that works on the principle of difference. The assumption behind Anaxagoras’ theory is that there is some sort of qualitative change that occurs with any sensation or perception. When a cold hand touches a hot object the agent will only experience the sensation of heat because her hand is cold and the hot object has brought about some sort of change. Therefore, in order for this change (the sensation) to occur, it is necessary that unlike things interact with each other, i.e., hot with cold, light with dark. If like things interact—hot with hot, for example—then no change occurs and there is no sensation. Perception works the same way as our sense of touch. Humans are able to see better during the daytime because our eyes are generally dark. Furthermore, perception works the same way as touch for Anaxagoras in that there is a physical interaction with the perceiver and the object perceived. Since a sensation requires an encounter with an opposite, Anaxagoras also maintained that every sensory act is accompanied by some sort of irritation. As Theophrastus notes, “Anaxagoras comes to this conclusion because bright colors are excessively loud noises are irritating, and it is impossible to bear them very long” (On Sense Perception, 27). Anaxagoras theory of sensation and perception is in direct opposition to Empedocles who maintained that perception could be accounted for by an action between like objects.

A couple of final speculations that are worth mentioning pertain to the science of biology. It has already been noted that Anaxagoras believes plants to have minds along with animals and humans. What places humans in a higher category of intelligence, however, is the fact that we were equipped with hands, for it is through these unique instruments that we are able to handle and manipulate objects. Finally, Anaxagoras proposed an hypothesis on how the sex of an infant is determined. If the sperm comes from the right testicle it will attach itself to the right side of the womb and the baby will be a male. If the sperm comes from the left testicle it will attach itself to the left side of the womb and the baby will be a female.

6. References and Further Reading

  • Barnes, Jonathan. The Presocratic Philosophers. New York, NY: Routledge, 1996.
  • Furley, David. Anaxagoras, “Plato and Naming of Parts.” Presocratic Philosophy. Eds. Victor Caston and Daniel W. Graham. Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2002. 119-126.
  • Gershenson, Daniel E. and Greenberg, Daniel A. Anaxagoras and the Birth of Physics. New York: Blaisdell Publishing Company, 1964. [It should be pointed out that scholars have been rather critical of this work, but it is a rather helpful reference for sources on Anaxagoras.]
  • Graham, Daniel, “The Postulates of Anaxagoras”, Apeiron 27 (1994), pp.77-121.
  • Guthrie, W.K.C. A History of Greek Philosophy.Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965.
  • Kirk, G.S., Raven, J.E. and Schofield, M. The Presocratic Philosophers. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • McKirahan, Richard D. Philosophy Before Socrates. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.
  • Schofield, Malcolm. An Essay on Anaxagoras. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
  • Sider, David. The Fragments of Anaxagoras. 2nd ed. revised. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2005

Taylor, C.C.W. “Anaxagoras and the Atomists.” From the Beginning to Plato: Routledge History of Philosophy, Vol. I. Ed. C.C.W. Taylor. New York, NY: Routledge, 1997. 208-243.

Empedocles (ca. 495-435 BCE)

Empedocles (of Acagras in Sicily) was a philosopher and poet: one of the most important of the philosophers working before Socrates (the Presocratics), and a poet of outstanding ability and of great influence upon later poets such as Lucretius. His works On Nature and Purifications (whether they are two poems or only one – see below) exist in more than 150 fragments. He has been regarded variously as a materialist physicist, a shamanic magician, a mystical theologian, a healer, a democratic politician, a living god, and a fraud. To him is attributed the invention of the four-element theory of matter (earth, air, fire, and water), one of the earliest theories of particle physics, put forward seemingly to rescue the phenomenal world from the static monism of Parmenides. Empedocles’ world-view is of a cosmic cycle of eternal change, growth and decay, in which two personified cosmic forces, Love and Strife, engage in an eternal battle for supremacy. In psychology and ethics Empedocles was a follower of Pythagoras, hence a believer in the transmigration of souls, and hence also a vegetarian. He claims to be a daimôn, a divine or potentially divine being, who, having been banished from the immortals gods for ‘three times countless years’ for committing the sin of meat-eating and forced to suffer successive reincarnations in an purificatory journey through the different orders of nature and elements of the cosmos, has now achieved the most perfect of human states and will be reborn as an immortal. He also claims seemingly magical powers including the ability to revive the dead and to control the winds and rains.

1. Life

The most detailed source for Empedocles’ life is Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 8.51-75. Perhaps because of his claims to divine status and magical powers a remarkable number of apocryphal stories gathered around the life of Empedocles in antiquity. His death in particular attracted attention and is reported to have occurred in several, clearly bathetic, ways: that he fell overboard from a ship and drowned; that he fell from his carriage, broke his leg and died; that he hanged himself; or the most famous account that, when he felt he was shortly to die and because he wished to appear to have been apotheosized, he leapt into the crater of Etna. In this story the ruse was unfortunately discovered when one of his trademark bronze sandals was thrown up by the volcano.

From more reliable sources it seems that he was born at Acragas in Sicily around 492 BC and died at the age of sixty. He was the son of a certain Meton, and was from an important and wealthy local aristocratic family: his grandfather, also called Empedocles, is reported to have been victorious in horse-racing at the Olympic Games in 496 BC. It is not known where or with whom he studied philosophy, but various teachers are assigned to him by ancient sources, among them Parmenides, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Anaxagoras and Anaximander (from whom he is said to have inherited his extravagant mode of dress). Whether or not he was his pupil, Empedocles was certainly very familiar with the work of Parmenides from whom he took the inspiration to write in hexameter verse, and whose physical system he adopts in part, and partly seeks to rectify.

He is reported to have been wealthy and to have kept a train of boy attendants and also to have provided dowries for many girls of Acragas. In dress he affected a purple robe with a golden girdle, bronze sandals, and a Delphic laurel-wreath, and in his manner he was grave and cultivated a regal public persona. These attributes contrast with his political outlook which is uniformly reported to have been actively pro-democratic. He began his political career with the prosecution of two state officials for their arrogant behaviour towards foreign guests which was seen as a sign of incipient tyrannical tendencies. He is also credited with activities against other anti-democratic citizens, and even with putting down an oligarchy and instituting a democracy at Acragas by use of his powers of rhetorical persuasion. Two speeches of his in favour of equality are also mentioned. His surviving poetry certainly shows considerable rhetorical skills, and indeed he is credited by Aristotle with the invention of rhetoric itself. Another report is of his breaking up a shadowy aristocratic political organisation called the ‘Thousand’. As a whole the tradition presents a picture of Empedocles as a popular politician, rhetorician, and champion of democracy and equality. This appears to fit in with the known history of Acragas where after the death of the popular and enlightened tyrant Theron in 473 BC his son Thrasydaeus proved to be a violent despot. After his forcible removal a democracy was established despite continuing political tensions.

As well as a being a philosopher, poet and politician, Empedocles was famous for his medical skills and healing powers. In his works he presents himself as a wandering healer offering to thousands of eager followers ‘prophecies’ and ‘words of healing for all kinds of illnesses’ (fr. 112 (Fragment numbers are those of Diels-Kranz)). He also promises his addressee Pausanias ‘you will learn remedies (pharmaka) for ills and help against old age’ and even ‘you will lead from Hades the life-force of a dead man’. To what degree this represents the real Empedocles is not known, but a tradition grew up of him as both a renowned physician and a practitioner of more magical cures, or as a charlatan. These stories however, may well derive from Empedocles’ own words in his poetry. On the other hand his work does show considerable interest in biology and especially in embryology and he was eminent enough as a writer on medicine to be attack ed by the writer of the Hippocratic treatise On Ancient Medicine who attempts to separate medicine from philosophy and rejects Empedocles’ work along with all philosophical medical works as irrelevant. The stories of his wonder-working such as curing entire plagues, reviving the dead and controlling the elements are clearly exaggerated at least, but it is becoming clearer, especially since the discovery of the Strasbourg fragments (see below), that, contrary to many former interpretations, Empedocles did not make a clear separation between his philosophy of nature and the more mystical, theological aspects of his philosophy, and so may well have seen no great difference in kind between healing ills through empirical understanding of human physiognomy and healing by means of sacred incantations and ritual purifications. His public as well may have made no great distinction between ‘scientific’ and sacred medicine as is suggested by the account of Empedocles curing a plague by restoring a fresh water-supply, after which he was venerated as a god.

2. Works

Empedocles work survives only in fragments, but luckily in a far greater number than any of the other Presocratics. These fragments are mostly quotations found in other authors such as Aristotle and Plutarch. Although many works, including tragedies and a medical treatise, are attributed to Empedocles by ancient sources no fragments of these have survived, and the extant fragments all come from a work of hexameter poetry traditionally entitled On Nature (Peri Phuseôs) or Physics (Phusika) and some from a possibly separate work called Purifications (Katharmoi). Of these two titles On Nature is by far the better attested and nearly all the fragments which are cited by ancient authors along with the title of the work they came from are attributed to On Nature, while only two are attributed to the Purifications. Because the fragments contain both material that clearly refers to physics and cosmology – the four elements, the cosmic cycle etc. – and also material concerning the fate of the soul, sin and purification, traditionally the former were placed in reconstructions of On Nature, and the latter in the Purifications. Indeed Empedocles’ writings contain ideas and themes that may seem quite incompatible with one another. On Natureas usually reconstructed seemed the work of a mechanist physicist which seeks to replace the traditional gods with four lifeless impersonal elements and two cosmic forces of attraction and repulsion, Love and Strife. The Purifications on the other hand seemed the work of a deeply religious Pythagorean mystic: it was often thought that Empedocles either wrote the Purifications as a move away from the mechanistic materialist position in On Nature, or that the Purifications were an addendum to On Nature, looking at the world from quite a different perspective.

However there have long been doubts about whether there were really two poems or only one poem (perhaps called On Nature and Purifications or with On Nature and Purifications as alternative titles for the same work) which contained both physical and religious material. First, although we may think of a poem called Physics as restricting itself to physical concerns alone, this may well be an anachronistic retrojection of modern rationalistic ideas of a gulf between physics and religion. Further, ancient book titles tend to be generic and there is a long tradition of works called either On Nature (Peri Phuseôs) or Physics (Physika) by various authors, with the earliest attested title for such works being On the Nature of the Universe (Peri Phuseôs tôn Ontôn ‘On the Nature of Things that Exist’), and so neither title may be Empedocles’ own and the two may perhaps be interchangeable different titles for the same work. Although there is still argument on this subject the Strasbourg fragments now suggest strongly that both physical and religious material was originally together in On Nature.

In 1990 the first ancient papyrus fragments of Empedocles were rediscovered at the University of Strasbourg and were published in 1999. Since these were also the first papyrus fragments of any of the Presocratics their discovery caused considerable excitement. Among other important new information they give about Empedocles’ philosophy, with great good fortune fr. a, the longest of the new fragments, was found to be a continuation of the longest of the previously known fragments (fr. 17) and thus now the two together form a continuous text of 69 lines. Fr. 17 is cited by Simplicius as being from book one of On Nature, and again very fortunately Strasbourg fr. a(ii) contains a marginal note by the manuscript copyist identifying line 30 of fr. a(ii) as line 300 of book one of On Nature. Since the Strasbourg fragments seem to have come from a single piece of papyrus, and they also overlap with a formerly known religious fragment usually placed in the Purifications (fr. 1 39) it now seems very likely that Empedocles introduced the themes of sin and purification early on in the physical poem. In fact it can now be argued that all of the fragments of the Purifications can be accommodated in the early part of book one of On Nature.

3. Physics and Cosmology

a. Physics

The foundations of Empedocles’ physics lie in the assumption that there are four ‘elements’ of matter, or ‘roots’ as he calls them, using a botanical metaphor that stresses their creative potential: earth, air, fire and water. These are able to create all things, including all living creatures, by being ‘mixed’ in different combinations and proportions. Each of the elements however, retains its own characteristics in the mixture, and each is eternal and unchanging. The positing of these four roots of matter forms part of a tradition of opposite material creative principles in Presocratic philosophy, but it also has its origins in an attempt to counter the theories of Parmenides who had argued that the world is single and unchanging since nothing can come from nothing and nothing can be destroyed into nothing: the theory known as Eleatic monism. Empedocles’ response was to appropriate Parmenides’ ideas and to use them against themselves. Nothing can come from nothing nor be destroyed into nothing (fr. 12), and therefore, in order to rescue the reality of the phenomenal world, there must be assumed to exist something eternal and unchanging beneath the constant change, growth and decay of the visible world. Empedocles then, transfers the changelessness that Parmenides attributes to the entire world to his four elements, and replaces the static singularity Parmenides’ world with a dynamic plurality. The four elements correspond closely to their expression at the macroscopic level of nature, with the traditional quadripartite division of the cosmos into earth, sea, air, and the fiery aether of the heavenly bodies: these four naturally occurring ‘elements’ of the cosmos clearly represent a fundamental natural division of matter at the largest scale. This division at the macroscopic level of reality is applied reductively at the microscopic level to produce a parallelism between the constituents of matter and the fundamental constituents of the cosmos, but the reduction of the world into four types of material particles does not deny the reality of the world we see, but instead validates it. Empedocles stresses this parallel between the elements at the different levels of reality by using the terms ‘sun’ ‘sea’ and ‘Earth’ interchangeably with ‘fire’, ‘water’ and ‘earth’. Of the four elements, although Empedocles stresses their equality of powers, fire is also granted a special role both in its hardening effect on mixtures of the other elements and also as the fundamental principle of living things.

b. Cosmology

Empedocles also posits two cosmic forces which work upon the elements in both creative and destructive ways. These he personifies as Love (Philia) – a force of attraction and combination – and Strife (Neikos) – a force of repulsion and separation. Whether these cosmic forces are to be envisaged in simply mechanistic terms as descriptions of the way things happen, or as expressions of internal properties of the elements, or as external forces that act upon the elements, is not clear. It is also unclear whether the two forces are to be seen as impersonal mechanistic physical forces or as intelligent divinities that act in purposive ways in creation and destruction. Evidence can be found for all these interpretations. What is clear is that these two forces are engaged in an eternal battle for domination of the cosmos and that they each prevail in turn in an endless cosmic cycle. The details of this cosmic cycle are also difficult to establish, but the most widely accepted interpretation is represented in the following diagram:

Beginning from the top of the diagram and proceeding clockwise, when Love is completely dominant she draws all the elements fully together into a Sphere in which, although the elements are not fused together into a single mass, each is indistinguishable from the others. The Sphere then, is an a-cosmic state during which no matter can exist, and no life is possible. Then as Love’s power gradually weakens and Strife begins to grow in power, he gradually separates out the elements from the Sphere until there is enough separation for matter to come into existence, for the world to be created and for all life to be born. When Strife has achieved total domination we again get an a-cosmic state in which the elements are separated completely and the world and all life is destroyed in a Whirl. Then Love begins to increase in power and to draw the elements together again, and as she does so the world is again created and life is again born. When Love has achieved full dominan ce we return once more to the sphere. As Empedocles puts it in fr. 17.1-8:

A twofold tale I shall tell: at one time it grew to be one only from many, and at another again it divided to be many from one. There is a double birth of what is mortal, and a double passing away; for the uniting of all things brings one generation into being and destroys it, and the other is reared and scattered as they are again being divided. And these things never cease their continuous exchange of position, at one time all coming together into one through Love, at another again being borne away from each other by Strife’s repulsion.

The cosmos exists in a state of constant flux then, beneath which there is a certain sort of stability in the eternity of the elements. The world is in a constant state of organic evolution, and there appear to be two different creations and two different worlds which have no direct link between them. According the most widely accepted interpretation Empedocles considered that we ourselves inhabit the world under the increasing power of Strife.

4. Biology

Empedocles’ physics have a particularly biological focus as is indicated by his choice of the botanical metaphor of ‘roots’ for what were later called ‘elements’. The term ‘roots’ stresses the creative potential of the roots rather than illustrating the way they create things by being mixed in different combinations: ‘elements’ (stoicheia in Greek, elementa in Latin) is the word for the letters of the alphabet, and is a metaphor that stresses the ability of the elements of matter to form different types of matter by interchange of position just as a limited number of letters are able to form all sorts of different words on the page. To illustrate this aspect of the creative abilities of his roots Empedocles uses an analogy with the way painters can use a limited number of colours to create all sorts of different colours and represent all the different productions of nature.
Fr. 23:

As painters, men well taught by wisdom in the practice of their art, decorate temple offerings when they take in their hands pigments of various colours, and after fitting them in close combination – more of some and less of others – they produce from them shapes resembling all things, creating trees and men and women, animals and birds and water-nourished fish, and long-lived gods too, highest in honor; so let not error convince you in your mind that there is any other source for the countless perishables that are seen, but know this clearly, since the account you have heard is divinely revealed.

Among other aspects, this analogy exhibits Empedocles’ tendency to think about the creative abilities of the elements in terms of their biological products, here a characteristically Empedoclean list of creatures representing the different orders of nature: plants, humans, land animals, birds, and fish, as well as gods. If painters use a mixture of a small number of pigments to produce copies of the works of nature, then the same process is productive of those works of nature. In other ways as well in his presentation of the cosmic cycle and the endless combination and separation of the elements he tends to elide the distinction between the elements and the life-forms they produce. Just as in the parallel he draws between the elements of the cosmos on both microscopic and macroscopic levels, so a close parallel is drawn between living creatures and their constituent elements.

a. Origin of Species

Empedocles presents us with the earliest extant attempt at producing a detailed rational mechanism for the origin of species. Greek traditions include the aetiological myths of the origin of a particular species of animal by transformation from a human being (many of these ancient mythological aetiologies are collected by Ovid in the Metamorphoses). The origins of humans, or of particular heroes, founders of cities or of races is frequently explained by what I term a botanical analogy: they originally emerged autochthonously from the ground just as plants do today, and this is also standard in ancient scientific theories as well: the original spontaneous generation of life from the earth, with all creatures emerging in their present species. Empedocles attempts to provide a comprehensive mechanism for the origins not simply of humans or of a particular animal but of all animal life, including humans, and a rational mechanism that would seem to do away with the need for any design in creatures or any external agency to order them and separate them into their individual species.

In Strasbourg fr. a(ii) 23-30 we now find the following lines in which Empedocles seemingly introduces his account of zoogony:

I will show you to your eyes too, where they find a larger body: first the coming together and the unfolding of birth, and as many as are now remaining of this generation. This [is to be seen] among the wilder species of mountain-roaming beasts; this [is to be seen] in the twofold offspring of men, this [is to be seen] in the produce of the root-bearing fields and of the cluster of grapes mounting on the vine. From these convey to your mind unerring proofs of my account: for you will see the coming together and unfolding of birth.

Empedocles promises an exposition of zoogony and the origin of species which, from the examples he gives – wild animals, humans and plants – is clearly intended to encompass all animal and plant life, including humans. He appeals to present day species as proofs of his theories: we can see both the products of this process of zoogony around us in nature today and also, it seems, we can see the same processes still going on today. That the theory refers to present day species rather than creatures in some counter world is underlined by the stress Empedocles puts on ‘as many as are now remaining of this generation’. So the theory is intended to explain the origin and development of all life and refers specifically to the animals and plants around us today, both as examples of and as proofs of the theory he will propose. This process of generation he describes by the repeated ‘the coming together and the unfolding of birth’. This seems to posit two processes which work, either together or separately, to produce the life we see around us today: a process of coming together and also a process of unfolding or perhaps more strictly ‘unleafing’ since the metaphor originates from the leaves of plants. So the second part of this process of zoogony involves a botanical metaphor: just as in the traditional botanical analogy of the myths of autochthony, an appeal to the development and growth of plants is used to describe the process of the development of all life.

According to fragments B57, B59, B60, and B61, first of all individual limbs and organs were produced from the earth. These wandered separately at first and then under the combining power of Love they came together in all sorts of wild and seemingly random hybrid combinations, producing double fronted creatures, hermaphrodites, ox-faced man creatures and man-faced ox-creatures. This weird picture is explained by Aristotle in the Physics and later in more detail by Simplicius in his commentary on the Physics as a theory of the origin of species in which, as we would put it, a certain form of natural selection is operative. The creatures assembled wrongly from parts of disparate animals will die out, either immediately, or by being unable to breed, and only the creatures by chance put together from homogeneous limbs will survive and so go on to found the species that we see today. The production of species and their ordering then is explained by a mechanistic process long recognised as a forerunner of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Unlike in Darwin’s theory however, there would seem to be no gradual evolution of one species into another, and all of the variety of nature is produced in a great burst of birth in the beginning and is then whittled down by extinctions into the creatures we see today. That this theory intends to account for the origins of both humans and animals is ensured by the component parts of the ox-headed man-creatures and man-headed ox-creatures. There will clearly also be created by this system man-headed man-creatures and ox-headed ox-creatures, that is to say normal oxen and normal humans, although they are not mentioned. Further evidence that this zoogony relates to present day creatures is given by Aristotle and Simplicius who tell us that this process is still going on today.

However, Empedocles also adds to this theory another explanation of the origins of humans very much along the lines of traditional myths of autochthony. In fr. B62 and Strasbourg fr. d he describes the ‘shoots’ of men and women arising from the earth, drawn up by fire as it separates out from the other elements during the creation under the power of increasing Strife. As his choice of the word ‘shoots’ indicates these are not yet fully articulated people with distinct limbs but ‘whole-nature forms’ that ‘did not as yet show the lovely shape of limbs, or voice or language native to man’. We may assume that as Strife increases in power these ‘shoots’ will, just as plant buds do, gradually become fully articulated with distinct limbs and features. So human origins are accounted for by a botanical analogy, with humans as biological productions of the earth itself. This theory is also intended to account for modern-day as humans, as Strasbourg fr. d tells us ‘even now daylight beholds their remains’. So both the creation under Love and the creation under Strife refer to the origins of modern plants, animals, and humans. This is problematic since according to the picture of the cosmic cycle given above the world created by Strife is quite separate from that created by Love, and two quite different explanations are given by Empedocles for each creation of life. Various attempts have been made to account for this, including a radical revision of the cosmic cycle in order to allow both creations of life to take place within the same world, and also seeing the two different worlds of the cosmic cycle as more useful devices for examining different aspects of creation separately than absolutely chronologically separate phases of a cycle: the work of Love in combining creatures and the work of Strife in articulating them would then actually take place at the same time, but are simply described as operative in chronologically separate phases.

b. Embryology

Empedocles is an exponent of the pangenetic theory of embryology. In this theory inheritance of characteristics from both mother and father is explained by each of the two parents’ limbs and organs creating tiny copies of themselves. These miniature limbs and organs then flow together in the generative seed and when the two seeds combine in the womb the father’s seed may provide the model for the nose, while the mother’s seed the model for the eyes and so on. This is an elegant way of accounting for inheritance of characteristics, but this is unlikely to be the whole story. As Aristotle points out there are strong conceptual similarities between Empedocles’ embryology and the creation under Love in which we see the coming together of pre-formed limbs creating life. So Empedocles thinks of the original formation of animals as a process analogous to the present day formation of the embryo in the womb. From his description in Strasbourg fr. a (ii) 23-30 ‘the coming together and unfolding of birth’ we seem to have two processes that are at work in the formation of both present day creatures and the original creation of life. The ‘coming together’ describes both the original coming together of the limbs of the first creatures and also the coming together of the tiny limbs in conception. The other side of the creative process, the ‘unfolding’ is illustrated by the creation under Strife of the ‘shoots of men and pitiable women’ whose limbs are at first not fully articulated or defined: they will undergo a process of ‘unfolding’ just like plant buds and become fully developed humans. This ‘unfolding’ is clearly paralleled in embryology by the gradual development and growth of the embryo in the womb. Therefore it may be best to think of the tiny limbs and organs contained in the generative seed not as fully developed limbs and organs, but as the genetic material that contains the potential for the development of limbs and organs. This is so mewhat speculative, but would provide Empedocles with a much more nearly truly evolutionary theory of the origin of species than had previously been ascribed to him. Certainly the differentiation into the two sexes is described in terms of potential: the warmth of the womb determines whether the embryo will be male or female, cf. fr B 65: ‘They were poured in pure places; some met with cold and became women’, fr. B 67: ‘For the male was warmer . . . this is the reason why men are dark, more powerfully built, and hairier’. It may be that other characteristics are also determined or informed by environmental factors as well.

c. Perception and Thought

Empedocles seems to have been the first philosopher to give a detailed explanation of the mechanism by which we perceive things. His theory, criticised by Aristotle and Theophrastus, is that all things give off effluences and that these enter pores in the sense organs. The pores and the effluences will be of varying shapes and sizes and so only certain effluences enter certain sense-organs if they meet pores of the correct size and shape to admit them. Further, perception is achieved by the attraction of similars: we perceive light colours with fire in the eye, dark colours with water, smell is achieved by the presence of breath in the nostrils etc.

As Theophrastus complains, perception is closely linked to thought by Empedocles, cf. fr. B109:

With earth, we perceive earth, with water water, with air divine fire, with fire destructive fire, with love love, and strife with baneful strife.

fr. B 107:

All things are fitted together and constructed out of these, and by means of them they think and feel pleasure and pain.

In B 109 Empedocles moves from perception of physical elements to ethical perceptions using the same theory of perception by similars, while in B 107 we can see the theory used to account more directly for thought itself. Hence for Empedocles there is a close link between what we perceive and what we think. Further our thoughts will also be affected by our own physical constitutions (B 108). This process of the attraction of like to like is operative from the most fundamental level with the parts of the roots of matter being attracted to their like, right up to the highest level of the purest mixture which is the highest form of thought. Hence it seems that everything in nature has a share in perception and intelligence, cf. fr. 110.10: ‘know that all things have intelligence and a share of thought’.

5. Ethics and the Journey of the Soul

a. The Daimôns and Transmigration of Souls

Plutarch cites the following fragment as coming from ‘the beginning of Empedocles’ philosophy’, fr. B 115:

There is a decree of necessity, ratified long ago by gods, eternal and sealed by broad oaths, that whenever one in error, from fear, defiles his own limbs, having by his error made false the oath he swore – daimôns to whom life long-lasting is apportioned – he wanders from the blessed ones for three-times countless years, being born throughout the time as all kinds of mortal forms, exchanging one hard way of life for another. For the force of air pursues him into the sea, and sea spits him out onto earth’s surface, earth casts him in the rays of blazing sun, and sun into the eddies of air; one takes him from another, and all abhor him. I too am now one of these, an exile from the gods and a wanderer, having put my trust in raving Strife.

Traditionally Plutarch’s seeming attribution of this fragment to On Naturewas assumed to be incorrect and it was placed in the Purifications instead. However from the evidence of the Strasbourg fragments it seems that it may well be that Plutarch was correct, since they contain a description of the details of the sin Empedocles accuses himself of in fr. 115, cf. Strasbourg fr. d lines 5-6:

‘Alas that merciless day did not destroy me sooner, before I devised with my claws terrible deeds for the sake of food’

In fr. 115 Empedocles describes himself as a ‘daimôn’, a being to whom long life has been granted, but who has committed the sin of meat-eating and bloodshed and consequently is punished by banishment from the company of the immortal gods. The banishment lasts three myriads of years, either ‘three-times countless years’ or thirty thousand years. In either case he must atone for his sin by being repeatedly reincarnated into all the different living forms of the different orders of nature. Elsewhere he says: ‘For before now I have been at some time boy and girl, bush, bird, and a mute fish in the sea’ (fr. B 117). Empedocles then, has already suffered this nearly endless cycle of reincarnations having been seemingly hurled down to the lowest rung of the scale of nature but has worked his way up, has been purified at last and, as he tells us in fr. B. 112, is himself now an immortal god. There are others too numbered among the daimôns, those who ‘at the end … come among men on earth as prophets, minstrels, physicians and leaders, and from these they arise as gods, highest in honour.’ (fr. 146). It is not entirely clear whether we are meant to imagine the daimôns as an entirely separate class of blessed being with a different creation and a different fate from ourselves, the ordinary mortals, or as people who began as ordinary mortals but who, having purified themselves and having achieved perfection, are now approaching divine status. The latter reading would perhaps make more sense in terms of Empedocles’ didactic ethical mission: if we are all potentially perfectable, then his purificatory teaching becomes much more crucial. Empedocles himself, as his life shows, has achieved all four of the states that qualify the daimôns for immortality, he is a prophet, a minstrel, a physician and a leader, and can now pass on his wisdom to those on earth whom he is about to leave behind when he rejoins the company of the immortals. As can be seen from the description above, there are strong similarities between Empedocles and the teachings of Pythagoras on the transmigration of souls. Empedocles is clearly a follower of Pythagoras, in his ethics and psychology at least, and shares his vegetarianism and pacifism.

b. Meat-eating and Sin

Slaughter and meat-eating are the most terrible of sins, indeed for him animal slaughter is murder and meat-eating is cannibalism, as shown by fr. 137:

The father will lift up his dear son in changed form, and blind fool, as he prays he will slay him, and those who take part in the sacrifice bring the victim as he pleads. But the father, deaf to his cries, slays him in his house and prepares an evil feast. In the same way son seizes father, and children their mother, and having bereaved them of life devour the flesh of those they love.

Here, in terms reminiscent of Hesiod’s description of the coming horrors of the Iron Age in Works and Days, we see the appalling consequences of meat-eating: murder, cannibalism, the destruction of whole families and, by extrapolation, of entire societies. This is a radical position in both political and religious terms. Plato’s Protagoras in the eponymous dialogue can simply assume that all men agree that warfare is ‘a fine and noble thing’. For Empedocles warfare, one fundamental plank of the Greek city state, is the most appalling of all evils and is punished by the immortals by hurling the perpetrators not only out of their society, but out of human society and even down to the level of the lowest forms of nature.

c. Theology

In religious terms as well traditional animal sacrifice, another fundamental basis of Greek society, becomes the grossest impiety of all. A probably apocryphal tale reports that Empedocles sacrificed an ox made of honey and meal at Olympia, the religious heart of Greece: a pointed act of criticism of traditional religion. Further evidence for his radical theology lies in his appropriation of the names of the Olympian gods for his roots of matter and his cosmic forces. Implicitly he argues that the Olympian gods came into being as misinterpretations of the natural world: the real ‘gods’ are the elements of nature and the cosmic forces that direct their endless evolutionary cycle. His religious and ethical teachings then are of purification of the soul in an attempt to achieve perfection and unity with perfect Love. He pictures a time in the past, a sort of golden age, when this universal harmony existed, fr. B 128:

They did not have Ares as god or Kydoimos, nor king Zeus, nor Kronos, nor Poseidon but queen Kypris [Love]. Her they propitiated with holy images and painted animal figures, with perfumes of subtle fragrance and offerings of distilled myrrh and sweet-smelling frankincense, and pouring on the earth libations of golden honey. Their altar was not drenched by the unspeakable slaughter of bulls, but this was the greatest defilement among men – to bereave of life and eat noble limbs.

fr. B 130:

All creatures, both animals and birds, were tame and gentle to men, and bright was the flame of their friendship.

Originally people worshipped only one god, Love, and this resulted in universal harmony, even between humans and animals. Implicitly the argument runs that the worship of the Olympian gods he mentions, Ares, Zeus and Poseidon, and the sacrifices they demand have destroyed this harmony, resulting in worship also of Kydoimos, the personification of the noise of battle. Traditional religion with their sacrificial slaughter and meat-eating have had a degrading effect on society.

d. Physics and Theology

As I say above it now seems very likely that Empedocles discussed purificatory topics early on in his poem On Nature. Unlike for modern rationalists then, it seems that for Empedocles there was no fundamental divide between physics and religion. Indeed as can be seen from fr. B 115 above the sin of the daimôn results in an expiatory journey of the soul not only through the different orders of living creatures but through the physical elements of the cosmos. Empedocles draws a close analogy between the cycle of the soul and the cycle of the cosmos itself. This is a hallmark of his work: frequently he uses the same language whether describing the journey of the soul or the cycle of the elements. Sometimes in the Strasbourg fragments the description of the elements coming together under the power of Love is rendered as ‘we are coming together’. His sin, in fr. 115, he describes as resulting from having put his trust in raving Strife, one of his cosmic forces, and conversely in fr. 130 we see the people of the golden age worshipping the other cosmic force, Love. Clearly there is more than a little cross-over between physics and ethics for Empedocles. How this works in detail is hard to pin down but perhaps the best reading we can give of On Natureis that it represents the detailed expression of the cycle of the soul at the level of the entire cosmos. The endless evolutionary cycling of the elements is in fact part of the cycle of the soul.

(Note: all translations are by M. R. Wright except those of the Strasbourg fragments which are by O. Primavesi and A. Martin.)

6. References and Further Reading

a. Texts and Commentaries

  • Bollack, J. Empédocle, (Paris, 1965-9), 4 vols. With Greek text, French translation, and commentary.
  • Diels, H. and W. Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (Berlin, 1952), vol. 1, ch. 31, 276-375. Greek text of both fragments (B) and testimonia (A) with German translation.
  • Wright, M. R. (2nd edn.), Empedocles the Extant Fragments (London, 1995). With Greek text, English translation, introduction and commentary.
  • Inwood, B. The Poem of Empedocles (Toronto, 1992). With Greek text, facing English translation and introduction.
  • Martin, A. and O. Primavesi, L’Empédocle de Strasbourg: (P. Strasb. gr. Inv. 1665-1666) (Berlin/Strasbourg, 1998). With Greek text, French and English translations, introduction, commentary, and English summary.

b. Studies

  • Gemelli Marciano, L. “Le ‘demonologie’ empedoclee: problemi di metodo e altro”, Aevum Antiquum 1 (2003), 205-35
  • Gemelli Marciano, L. Le metamorfosi della tradizione: mutamenti de significato e neologismi nel Peri physeos di Empedocle (Bari, 1999).
  • Guthrie, W.K.C. A History of Greek Philosophy vol. 2 (Cambridge 1969), ch. 3
  • Kingsley, P. Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford, 1995)
  • Kirk, G. S. and J.E. Raven, M. Schofield, (2nd edn.), The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge 1983), ch. 10.
  • O’Brien, D. Empedocles’ Cosmic Cycle (Cambridge, 1969)
  • Osborne, C. ‘Empedocles recycled’, Classical Quarterly NS 37 (1987), 24-50
  • Osbourne, C. ‘Rummaging in the recycling bins of Upper Egypt: a discussion of A. Martin and O. Primavesi, ZL’ Empédocle de Strasbourg’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 18 (Oxford, 2000), 329-56.
  • Sedley, D. N. ‘Empedocles’ life cycles’, in Proceedings of the Symposium Tertium Mykonense (forthcoming, 2004)
  • Solmsen, F. ‘Love and Strife in Empedocles’ cosmology’, Phronesis 10 (1965), 123-45; repr. in R.E. Allen and D.J. Furley (eds), Studies in Presocratic Philosophy, (London, 1975), vol. 2, 221-64.
  • Trépanier, S. ‘Empedocles on the ultimate symmetry of the world’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 24 (2003), 1-57
  • Trépanier, S. Empedocles: An Interpretation (London, 2004)


Parmenides (5th c. BCE)

Parmenides of Elea, active in the earlier part of the 5th c. BCE, authored a difficult metaphysical poem that has earned him a reputation as early Greek philosophy’s most profound and challenging thinker. His philosophical stance has typically been understood as at once extremely paradoxical and yet crucial for the broader development of Greek natural philosophy and metaphysics. He has been seen as a metaphysical monist (of one stripe or another) who so challenged the naïve cosmological theories of his predecessors that his major successors among the Presocratics were all driven to develop more sophisticated physical theories in response to his arguments. The difficulties involved in the interpretation of his poem have resulted in disagreement about many fundamental questions concerning his philosophical views, such as: whether he actually was a monist and, if so, what kind of monist he was; whether his system reflects a critical attitude toward earlier thinkers such as the Milesians, Pythagoreans, and Heraclitus, or whether he was motivated simply by more strictly logical concerns, such as the paradox of negative existentials that Bertrand Russell detected at the heart of his thought; whether he considered the world of our everyday awareness, with its vast population of entities changing and affecting one another in all manner of ways, to be simply an illusion, and thus whether the lengthy cosmological portion of his poem represented a genuine attempt to understand this world at all. This entry aims to provide an overview of Parmenides’ work and of some of the major interpretive approaches advanced over the past few decades. It concludes by suggesting that understanding his thought and his place in the development of early Greek philosophy requires taking due account of the fundamental modal distinctions that he was the first to articulate and explore with any precision.

1. Life and Writings

The dramatic occasion of Plato’s dialogue, Parmenides, is a fictionalized visit to Athens by the eminent Parmenides and his younger associate, Zeno, to attend the festival of the Great Panathenaea. Plato describes Parmenides as about sixty-five years old and Socrates, with whom he converses in the first part of the dialogue, as “quite young then,” which is normally taken to mean about twenty. Given that Socrates was a little past seventy when executed by the Athenians in 399 BCE, one can infer from this description that Parmenides was born about 515 BCE. He would thus appear to have been active during the early to mid-fifth century BCE. Speusippus, Plato’s successor as head of the Academy, is said to have reported in his On Philosophers that Parmenides established the laws for the citizens of his native Elea, one of the Greek colonies along southern Italy’s Tyrrhenian coast (Speus. fr. 3 Tarán ap. D.L. 9.23; cf. Plu. Col. 1126A), though Elea was founded some 30 years before Parmenides’ birth. The ancient historiographic tradition naturally associates Parmenides with thinkers such as Xenophanes and the Pythagoreans active in Magna Graecia, the Greek-speaking regions of southern Italy, whom he may well have encountered. A 1st c. CE portrait head of Parmenides was discovered at Castellamare della Bruca (ancient Elea) in the 1960’s with an inscription—“Parmeneides, son of Pyres, Ouliadês, Natural Philosopher”—that associates him with a cult of Apollo Oulios or Apollo the Healer.

According to Diogenes Laertius, Parmenides composed only a single work (D.L. 1.16). This was a metaphysical and cosmological poem composed in the traditional epic medium of hexameter verse. The title “On Nature” under which it was transmitted is probably not authentic. The poem originally extended to perhaps eight hundred verses, roughly one hundred and sixty of which have survived as “fragments” that vary in length from a single word (fr. 15a: “water-rooted,” describing the earth) to the sixty-two verses of fragment 8. That any portion of his poem survives is due entirely to the fact that later ancient authors, beginning with Plato, for one reason or another felt the need to quote some portion of it in the course of their own writings. Sextus Empiricus quotes thirty of the thirty-two verses of fragment 1 (the opening Proem of the poem), though apparently from some sort of Hellenistic digest rather than from an actual manuscript copy, for his quotation of fr. 1.1-30 continues uninterruptedly with five and a half verses from fragments 7 and 8. The Alexandrian Neoplatonist Simplicius (6th c. CE) appears to have possessed a good copy of the work, from which he quoted extensively in his commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics and De Caelo. He introduces his lengthy quotation of fr. 8.1-52 as follows: “Even if one might think it pedantic, I would gladly transcribe in this commentary the verses of Parmenides on the one being, which aren’t numerous, both as evidence for what I have said and because of the scarcity of Parmenides’ treatise.” Thanks to Simplicius’ lengthy transcription, we appear to have entire Parmenides’ major metaphysical argument demonstrating the attributes of “What Is” (to eon) or “true reality” (alêtheia).

We are much less well informed about the cosmology Parmenides expounded in the latter part of the poem and so must supplement the primary evidence of the fragments with testimonia, that is, with various reports or paraphrases of his theories that we also find in later authors. (A number of these testimonia are collected among the fifty-four “A-Fragmente” in the Parmenides section of Diels and Kranz’s Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. A more comprehensive collection of testimonia is to be found in Coxon 1986, 95-155.) As always when dealing with an ancient philosopher whose work has not survived entire, one must take into account how the philosophical and other concerns of later authors thanks to whom we know what we do of Parmenides’ original poem are likely to have shaped the transmission of the extant fragments and testimonia. Certainly the partial and imperfect preservation of his poem is one factor that complicates understanding of his thought.

2. Overview of Parmenides’ Poem

2.1 The Proem

Parmenides’ poem began with a proem describing a journey he figuratively once made to the abode of a goddess. He described how he was conveyed on “the far-fabled path of the divinity” (fr. 1.3) in a chariot by a team of mares and how the maiden daughters of Helios, the sun-god, led the way. These maidens take Parmenides to whence they themselves have come, to “the halls of Night” (fr. 1.9), before which stand “the gates of the paths of night and day” (fr. 1.11). The maidens gently persuade Justice, guardian of these gates, to open them so that Parmenides himself may pass through to the abode within. Parmenides thus describes how the goddess who dwells there welcomed him upon his arrival:

And the goddess received me kindly, and in her hand she took/ my right hand, and she spoke and addressed me thus:/ “O young man, accompanied by immortal charioteers/ [25] and mares who bear you as you arrive at our abode,/ welcome, since a fate by no means ill sent you ahead to travel/ this way (for surely it is far from the track of humans),/ but Right and Justice did.” (Fr. 1.1-28a)

Parmenides’ proem is no epistemological allegory of enlightenment but a topographically specific description of a mystical journey to the halls of Night. In Hesiod, the “horrible dwelling of dark Night” (Th. 744) is where the goddesses Night and Day alternately reside as the other traverses the sky above the Earth. Both Parmenides’ and Hesiod’s conception of this place have their precedent in the Babylonian mythology of the sun god’s abode. This abode also traditionally served as a place of judgment, and this fact tends to confirm that when Parmenides’ goddess tells him that no ill fate has sent him ahead to this place (fr. 1.26-27a), she is indicating that he has miraculously reached the place to which travel the souls of the dead.

In the proem, then, Parmenides casts himself in the role of an initiate into the kind of mysteries that were during his day part of the religious milieu of Magna Graecia. The motif of the initiate is important, for it informs Parmenides’ portrayal of himself as one whose encounter with a major divinity has yielded a special knowledge or wisdom. The divinity in this instance would seem to be Night herself: Parmenides goes to “the halls of Night” (fr. 1.9), and the goddess who greets him welcomes him to “our home” (fr. 1.25). The goddess Night serves as counselor to Zeus in some of the major Orphic cosmologies, including the Derveni cosmology. In the closely related Orphic Rhapsodies, Night instructs Zeus on how to preserve the unity produced by his absorption of all things into himself as he sets about initiating a new cosmogonic phase. It is thus appropriate that Night should be the source of Parmenides’ revelation, for Parmenidean metaphysics is very much concerned with the principle of unity in the cosmos.

2.2 The Ways of Inquiry

Immediately after welcoming Parmenides to her abode, the goddess describes as follows the content of the revelation he is about to receive:

You must needs learn all things,/ both the unshaken heart of well-rounded reality/ [30] and the notions of mortals, in which there is no genuine conviction./ Nonetheless these things too will you learn, how what they resolved/ had actually to be, all through all pervading. (Fr. 1.28b-32)

This programmatic announcement already indicates that the goddess’ revelation will come in two major phases. The goddess provides some further instruction and admonition before commencing the first phase, the demonstration of the nature of what she here mysteriously calls “the unshaken heart of well-rounded reality” (fr. 1.29). She then follows this first phase of her revelation with what in the originally complete poem was a much longer account of the principles, origins, and operation of the cosmos and its constituents, from the heavens and the sun, moon, and stars right down to the earth and its population of living creatures, including humans themselves. This second phase, a cosmological account in the traditional Presocratic mold, is what she here refers to as “the notions of mortals, in which there is no genuine conviction” (fr. 1.30).

The governing motif of the goddess’ revelation is that of the “ways of inquiry.” In the all-important fragment 2, she specifies two such ways:

Come now, I shall tell—and convey home the tale once you have heard—/just which ways of inquiry alone there are for thinking:/ the one, that [it] is and that [it] is not not to be,/ is the path of conviction, for it attends upon true reality,/ [5] but the other, that [it] is not and that [it] must not be,/ this, I tell you, is a path wholly without report:/ for neither could you apprehend what is not, for it is not to be accomplished,/ nor could you indicate it. (Fr. 2)

The second way of inquiry is here set aside virtually as soon as it is introduced. The goddess goes on to refer back to the first way of inquiry and then speaks of another way as characteristic of mortal inquiry:

It is necessary to say and to think that What Is is; for it is to be,/ but nothing it is not. These things I bid you ponder./ For I shall begin for you from this first way of inquiry,/ then yet again from that along which mortals who know nothing/ [5] wander two-headed: for haplessness in their/ breasts directs wandering thought. They are borne along/ deaf and blind at once, bedazzled, undiscriminating hordes,/ who have supposed that it is and is not the same/ and not the same; but the path of all these turns back on itself. (Fr. 6, supplementing the lacuna at the end of fr. 6.3 with arxô and taking s’ earlier in the line as an elision of soi, as per Nehamas 1981, 103-5; cf. the similar proposal at Cordero 1984, ch. 3, expanding parts of Cordero 1979.)

Here the goddess again articulates the division of her revelation into the two major phases first announced at the end of fragment 1. Compare her subsequent pronouncement at the point of transition from the first phase’s account of reality to the second phase’s cosmology: “At this point I cease for you the trustworthy account and thought/ about true reality; from this point on mortal notions/ learn, listening to the deceptive order of my verses” (fr. 8.50-2).

Clearly, the goddess’ account of “true reality” proceeds along the first way of inquiry introduced in fragment 2. Some have thought the cosmology proceeds along the second way of inquiry introduced at fr. 2.5, on the ground that the two ways introduced in fragment 2 appear to be presented as the only conceivable ways of inquiry. However, the way presented in fragment 6, as that along which wanders the thought of mortals “who have supposed that it is and is not the same and not the same” (fr. 6.7-8a), involves an intermingling of being and not-being altogether different from what one sees in the way of inquiry earlier specified as “that [it] is not and that [it] must not be” (fr. 2.5). Fragment 6 thus appears to be introducing a third and different way, one not to be identified with fragment 2’s second way, which has already been set aside. The same mixture of being and non-being likewise features in the goddess’ warning to Parmenides in fragment 7 not to allow his thought to proceed along the way typical of mortal inquiries: “…for this may never be made manageable, that things that are not are./ But you from this way of inquiry restrain your thought,/ and do not let habit born of much experience force you along this way,/ to employ aimless sight and echoing hearing/ [5] and tongue. But judge by reason the strife-filled critique/ I have delivered” (fr. 7). Some have thought that here the goddess’s last directive signals that some argument, with identifiable premises and conclusion, has been presented in the preceding verses. She in fact appears to be indicating that her harsh criticism of the inapprehension of ordinary humans, resulting from their exclusive reliance on the senses, has been designed to keep Parmenides firmly planted on the first way of inquiry.

2.3 The Way of Conviction

The goddess begins her account of “true reality,” or what is to be discovered along this first path, as follows: “As yet a single tale of a way/ remains, that it is; and along this path markers are there/ very many, that What Is is ungenerated and deathless,/ whole and uniform, and still and perfect …” (fr. 8.1-4). What Is (to eon) has by this point become a name for what Parmenides will form a fuller conception of by following the goddess’ directions. These now include the programmatic description here in fr. 8.3-4 of the attributes What Is will be shown to have in the ensuing arguments. Thanks primarily to Simplicius’ transcription, we still possess in its entirety the portion of Parmenides’ poem comprising the goddess’ revelation of the nature of “true reality.” This account constitutes one of the philosophical tradition’s earliest, most extensive, and most important stretches of metaphysical reasoning.

The arguments here proceed methodically in accordance with the program announced at fr. 8.3-4. The goddess begins by arguing, in fr. 8.5-21, that What Is must be “ungenerated and deathless”:

[5] … but not ever was it, nor yet will it be, since it is now together entire,/ single, continuous; for what birth will you seek of it?/ How, whence increased? From not being I shall not allow/ you to say or to think: for not to be said and not to be thought/ is it that it is not. And indeed what need could have aroused it/ [10] later rather than before, beginning from nothing, to grow?/ Thus it must either be altogether or not at all./ Nor ever from not being will the force of conviction allow/ something to come to be beyond it: on account of this neither to be born/ nor to die has Justice allowed it, having loosed its bonds,/ [15] but she holds it fast. And the decision about these matter lies in this:/ it is or it is not; but it has in fact been decided, just as is necessary,/ to leave the one unthought and nameless (for no true/ way is it), and <it has been decided> that the one that it is indeed is genuine./ And how could What Is be hereafter? And how might it have been?/ [20] For if it was, it is not, nor if ever it is going to be:/ thus generation is extinguished and destruction unheard of.

Fr. 8.5-6a, at the outset here, have often been taken as a declaration that What Is has some type of timeless existence. Given, hoever, that this verse and a half opens a chain of continuous argumentation, claiming that What Is does not come to be or pass away, these words are probably better understood as a declaration of What Is’s uninterrupted existence.

Continuing on, in fr. 8.22-5 the goddess presents a much briefer argument for What Is’s being “whole and uniform”: “Nor is it divided, since it is all alike;/ and it is not any more there, which would keep it from holding together,/ nor any worser, but it is all replete with What Is./ [25] Therefore it is all continuous: for What Is approaches What Is.” Then, at fr. 8.26-33, she argues that it is “still” or motionless:

And unmoved within the limits of great bonds/ it is unbeginning unending, since generation and destruction/ have wandered quite far away, and genuine conviction has expelled them./ And remaining the same, in the same place, and on its own, it rests,/ [30] and thus steadfast right there it remains; for powerful Necessity/ holds it in the bonds of a limit, which encloses it all around,/ wherefore it is right that What Is be not unfulfilled; for it is not lacking: if it were, it would lack everything.

Finally, at fr. 8.42-9 (which Ebert 1989 has shown originally followed immediately after fr. 8.33, verses 34-41 having suffered transposition from their original position following verse 52), the goddess concludes by arguing that What Is must be “perfect,” before transitioning to the second phase of her revelation:

But since there is a furthest limit, it is perfected/ from every side, like the bulk of a well-rounded globe,/ from the middle equal every way: for that it be neither any greater/ [45] nor any smaller in this place or in that is necessary;/ for neither is there non-being, which would stop it reaching/ to its like, nor is What Is such that it might be more than What Is/ here and less there. Since it is all inviolate,/ for it is equal to itself from every side, it extends uniformly in limits.

2.4 The Way of Mortals

We have decidedly less complete evidence for the revelation’s second phase, Parmenides’ cosmology. The direct evidence provided by the last lines of fragment 8 (50-64) and by the other fragments plausibly assigned to this portion of the poem (frs. 9 through 19) originally accounted for perhaps only ten percent of the cosmology’s original length. Since a number of these fragments are programmatic, we still have a good idea of some of the major subjects it treated. From the end of fragments 8 and fragments 9 through 15a we know that these included accounts of the cosmos’ two basic principles, light and night, and then of the origin, nature, and behavior of the heavens and their inhabitants, including the stars, sun, moon, the Milky Way, and the earth itself. Witness the programmatic remarks of fragments 10 and 11:

You will know the aither’s nature, and in the aither all the/ signs, and the unseen works of the pure torch/ of the brilliant sun, and from whence they came to be,/ and you will learn the wandering works of the round-eyed moon/ [5] and its nature, and you will know too the surrounding heaven,/ both whence it grew and how Necessity directing it bound it/ to furnish the limits of the stars. (Fr. 10)

…how the earth and sun and moon/ and the shared aither and the heavenly milk and Olympos/ outermost and the hot might of the stars began/ to come to be. (Fr. 11)

A few fragments, including one known only via Latin translation, show that Parmenides also dealt with the physiology of reproduction (frs. 17-18) and with human thought (fr. 16). Fortunately, the sketchy picture of the cosmology furnished by the fragments is significantly improved by the testimonia. The impression given by the fragments of the range of subjects is confirmed by both Simplicius, who comments after quoting fr. 11 that Parmenides’ account of the genesis of things extended down to the parts of animals (Simp. in Cael. 559.26-7), and likewise by Plutarch’s judgment that Parmenides’ cosmology has so much to say about the earth, heaven, sun, moon, and stars, right down to the genesis of human beings, that it omits none of the major subjects typically treated by ancient natural philosophers (Plu. Col. 1114B-C). A particularly important testimonium in the doxographer Aëtius paraphrases, explicates, and supplements fr. 12 in ways that give us a better picture of the structure of Parmenides’ cosmos (Aët. 2.7.1 = 28A37a Diels-Kranz). Likewise, Theophrastus’ comments on fragment 16 at De Sensibus 1-4 appear to provide more information about Parmenides’ views on cognition. The ancient testimonia tend to confirm that Parmenides sought to explain an incredibly wide range of natural phenomena, including especially the origins and specific behaviors of both the heavenly bodies and the terrestrial population. One fundamental problem for developing a coherent view of Parmenides’ philosophical achievement has been how to understand the relation between the two major phases of the goddess’ revelation.

3. Some Principal Types of Interpretation

While Parmenides is generally recognized as having played a major role in the development of ancient Greek natural philosophy and metaphysics, fundamental disagreement persists about the upshot of his philosophy and thus about the precise nature of his influence. Sections 3.1 through 3.3 of what follows describe in brief outline the types of interpretation that have played the most prominent roles in the development of broader narratives for the history of early Greek philosophy. These sections do not purport to present a comprehensive taxonomy of modern interpretations, nor do they make any attempt to reference all the representatives and variants of the principal types of interpretation here described. They are not meant to be a history of modern Parmenides interpretation, as worthy and fascinating a topic as that is. Since some advocates of the interpretations outlined in sections 3.1 to 3.3 have claimed to find ancient authority for their views via selective appeal to certain facets of the ancient Parmenides reception, it will be worthwhile indicating what was in fact the prevailing view of Parmenides in antiquity. After doing so in section 3.4, the final section of this article will outline a type of interpretation that takes the prevailing ancient view more seriously while responding to at least one major problem it encounters in the fragments.

3.1 The Strict Monist Interpretation

A good many interpreters have taken the poem’s first major phase as an argument for strict monism, or the paradoxical view that there exists exactly one thing, and for this lone entity’s being totally unchanging and undifferentiated. On this view, Parmenides considers the world of our ordinary experience non-existent and our normal beliefs in the existence of change, plurality, and even, it seems, our own selves to be entirely deceptive. Although less common than it once was, this type of view still has its adherents and is probably familiar to many who have only a superficial acquaintance with Parmenides.

The strict monist interpretation is influentially represented in the first two volumes of W. K. C. Guthrie’s A History of Greek Philosophy, where it is accorded a critical role in the development of early Greek natural philosophy from the purported material monism of the early Milesians to the pluralist physical theories of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the early atomists, Leucippus and Democritus. On Guthrie’s strict monist reading, Parmenides’ deduction of the nature of reality led him to conclude “that reality [is], and must be, a unity in the strictest sense and that any change in it [is] impossible” and therefore that “the world as perceived by the senses is unreal” (Guthrie 1965, 4-5). Finding reason and sensation to yield wildly contradictory views of reality, he presumed reason must be preferred and sensory evidence thereby rejected as altogether deceptive. Parmenides’ strict monism, on Guthrie’s view, took particular aim at the monistic material principles of Milesian cosmology:

[Parmenides] argues with devastating precision that once one has said that something is, one is debarred from saying that it was or will be, of attributing to it an origin or a dissolution in time, or any alteration or motion whatsoever. But this was just what the Milesians had done. They supposed that the world had not always existed in its present cosmic state. They derived it from one substance, which they asserted to have changed or moved in various ways—becoming hotter or colder, drier or wetter, rarer or denser—in order to produce the present world-order. (Guthrie 1965, 15-16)

A particular focus of Parmenides’ criticism, on this view, was Anaximander’s idea that the opposites are initially latent within the originative principle he called “the Boundless” (to apeiron) prior to being separated out from it: if these opposite characteristics existed prior to being separated out, then the Boundless was not a true unity, but if they did not exist prior to being separated out, then how could they possibly come into existence? It is thus illegitimate to suppose that everything came into being out of one thing (Guthrie 1962, 86-7). In addition to thus criticizing the theoretical viability of the monistic material principles of the early Milesian cosmologists, Parmenides also is supposed to have criticized the Milesian union of the material and moving cause in their principles by arguing that motion and change are impossible and inadmissible conceptions (Guthrie 1965, 5-6, 52).

As we have seen, Parmenides’ insistence on the point that whatever is, is, and cannot ever not be leads him to be harshly critical of the ordinary run of mortals who rely on their senses in supposing that things are generated and undergo all manner of changes. Parmenides directs us to judge reality by reason and not to trust the senses. Reason, as deployed in the intricate, multi-staged deduction of fragment 8, reveals what attributes whatever is must possess: whatever is must be ungenerated and imperishable; one, continuous and indivisible; and motionless and altogether unchanging, such that past and future are meaningless for it. This is “all that can be said about what truly exists,” and reality is thus revealed as “something utterly different from the world in which each one of us supposes himself to live,” a world which is nothing but a “deceitful show” (Guthrie 1965, 51). Parmenides nonetheless proceeded in the second part of his poem to present an elaborate cosmology along traditional lines, thus presenting readers with the following crux: “Why should Parmenides take the trouble to narrate a detailed cosmogony when he has already proved that opposites cannot exist and there can be no cosmogony because plurality and change are inadmissible conceptions?” (Guthrie 1965, 5). Guthrie suggests that Parmenides is “doing his best for the sensible world…by giving as coherent an account of it as he can,” on the practical ground that our senses continue to deceive us about its existence: “His account of appearances will excel those of others. To ask ‘But if it is unreal, what is the point of trying to give an account of it at all?’ is to put a question that is not likely to have occurred to him” (Guthrie 1965, 5 and 52).

3.2 The Logical-Dialectical Interpretation

One problem with Guthrie’s view of Parmenides is that the supposition that Parmenides’ strict monism was developed as a critical reductio of Milesian material monism sits uncomfortably with the notion that he actually embraced this wildly counter-intuitive metaphysical position. There is the same type of tension in the outmoded proposals that Parmenides was targeting certain supposedly Pythagorean doctrines (a view developed in Raven 1948 and ensconced in Kirk and Raven 1957). Even as Guthrie was writing the first two volumes of his History, a shift was underway toward understanding Parmenides’ arguments as driven by strictly logical considerations rather than by any critical agenda with respect to the theories of his Ionian or Pythagorean predecessors. Here the watershed event was the publication of G. E. L. Owen’s “Eleatic Questions” (Owen 1960). Owen found inspiration in Bertrand Russell for his positive interpretation of Parmenides’ argument in fragment 2, the essential point of which Owen took to be that what can be talked or thought about exists.

Russell’s treatment of Parmenides in his A History of Western Philosophy was conditioned by his own abiding concern with the problems of analysis posed by negative existential statements. The essence of Parmenides’ argument, according to Russell, is as follows:

When you think, you think of something; when you use a name, it must be the name of something. Therefore both thought and language require objects outside themselves. And since you can think of a thing or speak of it at one time as well as another, whatever can be thought of or spoken of must exist at all times. Consequently there can be no change, since change consists in things coming into being or ceasing to be (Russell 1945, 49).

Here the unargued identification of the subject of Parmenides’ discourse as “whatever can be thought of or spoken of” prefigures Owen’s identification of it as “whatever can be thought and talked about,” with both deriving from fr. 2.7-8. There follows in Russell’s History an exposition of the problems involved in speaking meaningfully about (currently) non-existent subjects, such as George Washington or Hamlet, after which Russell restates the first stage of Parmenides’ argument as follows: “if a word can be used significantly it must mean something, not nothing, and therefore what the word means must in some sense exist” (Russell 1945, 50). So influential has Russell’s understanding been, thanks in no small part to Owen’s careful development of it, that it is not uncommon for the problem of negative existential statements to be referred to as “Parmenides’ paradox.”

The arguments of fragment 8, on this view, are then understood as showing that what can be thought and talked about is, surprisingly, without variation in time and space, that is, absolutely one and unchanging. Owen adapted an image from Wittgenstein in characterizing these arguments, ones which “can only show the vacuousness of temporal and spatial distinctions by a proof which employs them,” as “a ladder which must be thrown away when one has climbed it” (Owen 1960, 67). Owen also vigorously opposed the assumption that “Parmenides wrote his poem in the broad tradition of Ionian and Italian cosmology,” arguing that Parmenides claims no measure of truth or reliability for the cosmogony in the latter part of his poem and that his own arguments in the “Truth” (i.e., the “Way of Conviction”) neither derive from this earlier tradition nor depict the cosmos as spherical in shape (Owen 1960, 48). On Owen’s reading, not so very differently from Guthrie’s, Parmenides’ cosmology is “no more than a dialectical device,” that is, “the correct or the most plausible analysis of those presuppositions on which ordinary men, and not just theorists, seem to build their picture of the physical world,” these being “the existence of at least two irreducibly different things in a constant process of interaction,” whereas Parmenides’ own arguments have by this point shown both the plurality and change this picture presupposes to be unacceptable (Owen 1960, 50 and 54-5).

Owen’s view of Parmenidean metaphysics as driven by primarily logical concerns and of his cosmology as no more than a dialectical device would have a deep influence on the two most important surveys of Presocratic thought since Guthrie—Jonathan Barnes’s The Presocratic Philosophers (19791, 19822) and Kirk, Raven, and Schofield’s The Presocratic Philosophers (19832). While abandoning the idea that Parmenidean monism was a specific reaction to the theories of any of his predecessors, these two works continue to depict his impact on later Presocratic systems as decisive. On their Owenian line, the story becomes that the arguments of Parmenides and his Eleatic successors were meant to be generally destructive of all previous cosmological theorizing, in so far as they purported to show that the existence of change, time, and plurality cannot be naively presumed. Parmenides’ arguments in fragment 8 effectively become, for advocates of this line, a generalized rather than a specific reductio of early Greek cosmological theorizing. Barnes, furthermore, responded to an objection that had been raised against Owen’s identification of Parmenides’ subject as whatever can be talked and thought about—namely, that this identification derives from the reason given at fr. 2.7-8 for rejecting the second path of inquiry, whereas an audience could not be expected to understand this to be the goddess’ subject when she introduces the first two ways of inquiry in fr. 2.3 and 2.5. Barnes modified Owen’s identification of Parmenides’ subject so that it might be found in the immediate context, specifically in the implicit object of fr. 2.2’s description of the paths as “ways of inquiry”; thus, according to Barnes, the first path “says that whatever we inquire into exists, and cannot not exist” (Barnes 1982, 163). Barnes’s modified Owenian line has since been endorsed by prominent interpreters (including Schofield in Kirk, Raven, and Schofield 1983, 245; cf. Brown 1994, 217). Barnes also advanced the more heterodox proposal that Parmenides was not necessarily a monist at all, arguing that the fragments are compatible with the existence of a plurality of “Parmenidean Beings” (Barnes 1979, cf. Untersteiner 1955). While this proposal has had fewer adherents among other interpreters favoring the Russell-Owen line, it has been taken up by certain advocates of the next type of interpretation.

3.3 The Meta-Principle Interpretation

One influential alternative to interpretations of Parmenides as a strict monist, certainly among scholars working in America, has been that developed by Alexander Mourelatos in his 1970 monograph, The Route of Parmenides. (See Mourelatos 1979 for a succinct presentation of this alternative in response to perceived shortcomings in Owen’s logical-dialectical reading.) Mourelatos saw Parmenides as utilizing a specialized, predicative sense of the verb “to be” in speaking of “what is”: this is used to reveal a thing’s nature or essence. This sense of the verb, dubbed by Mourelatos “the ‘is’ of speculative predication,” is supposed to feature in statements of the form, “X is Y,” where the predicate “belongs essentially to, or is a necessary condition for, the subject” and thus gives X‘s reality, essence, nature, or true constitution (Mourelatos 1970, 56-60). Alexander Nehamas would likewise propose that Parmenides employs “is” in the very strong sense of “is what it is to be,” so that his concern is with “things which are F in the strong sense of being what it is to be F” (Nehamas 1981, 107; although Nehamas cites Owen as well as Mourelatos as an influence, Owen himself took Parmenides’ use of the verb “to be” in “what is” as existential [see Owen 1960, 94]). On the resulting type of interpretation, the first major phase of Parmenides’ poem provides a higher-order account of what the fundamental entities of any ontology would have to be like: they would have to be F, for some F, in this specially strong way. As such, it is not an account of what there is (namely, one thing, the only one that exists) but, rather, of whatever is in the manner required to be an ontologically fundamental entity—a thing that is F, for some F, in an essential way. Thus Nehamas has more recently written:

the “signposts” along the way of Being which Parmenides describes in B 8 [may be taken] as adverbs that characterize a particular and very restrictive way of being. The signposts then tell us what conditions must be met if a subject is to be something in the appropriate way, if it is to be really something, and thus be a real subject. And to be really something, F, is to be F—B 8 tells us—ungenerably and imperishably, wholly, only and indivisibly, unchangingly, perfectly and completely. … Parmenides uses “being” to express a very strong notion, which Aristotle eventually was to capture with his concept of “what it is to be.” To say of something that it is F is to say that F constitutes its nature (Nehamas 2002, 50).

A variant of the meta-principle interpretation, one that also draws upon Barnes’s suggestion that nothing in the “Truth” precludes there being a plurality of Parmenidean Beings, has been developed by Patricia Curd. On her view, Parmenides was not a strict monist but, rather, a proponent of what she terms “predicational monism,” which she defines as “the claim that each thing that is can be only one thing; it can hold only the one predicate that indicates what it is, and must hold it in a particularly strong way. To be a genuine entity, a thing must be a predicational unity, with a single account of what it is; but it need not be the case that there exists only one such thing. Rather, the thing itself must be a unified whole. If it is, say, F, it must be all, only, and completely F. On predicational monism, a numerical plurality of such one-beings (as we might call them) is possible” (Curd 1998, 66).

Mourelatos, Nehamas, and Curd all take Parmenides to be concerned with specifying in an abstract way what it is to be the nature or essence of a thing, rather than simply with specifying what there in fact is, as he is presumed to be doing on both the logical-dialectical and the more traditional strict monist readings. Since the meta-principle reading takes Parmenides’ major argument in fragment 8 to be programmatic instead of merely paradoxical or destructive, it suggests a somewhat different narrative structure for the history early Greek philosophy, one where the so-called “post-Parmenidean pluralists”—Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the early atomists, Leucippus and Democritus—were not reacting against Parmenides, but actually endorsing his requirements that what really is be ungenerated, imperishable, and absolutely changeless, when they conceived of the principles of their respective physical systems in these terms. The meta-principle reading has also seemed to re-open the possibility that Parmenides was engaged in critical reflection upon the principles of his predecessors’ physical systems. (This possibility is thoroughly explored in Graham 2006.)

If the first phase of Parmenides’ poem provides a higher-order description of the features that must belong to any proper physical principle, then one would naturally expect the ensuing cosmology to deploy principles that meet Parmenides’ own requirements. The goddess describes the cosmology, however, as an account of “the beliefs of mortals, in which there is no genuine conviction” (fr. 1.30, cf. fr. 8.50-2) and commences this part of her revelation by describing how mortals have wandered astray by picking out two forms, light and night, to serve as the basis for an account of the cosmos’ origin and operation (fr. 8.53-9). Advocates of the meta-principle reading here face a dilemma. On the one hand, they cannot plausibly maintain that the cosmology is what their overall interpretation would lead one to expect, namely Parmenides’ own effort at developing a cosmology in accordance with his own strictures upon what the principles of such an account must be like. The cosmological principles light and night do not in fact conform to those strictures (pace Graham 2006, 170-1). But then why should Parmenides have bothered to present a fundamentally flawed or “near-correct” cosmology, founded upon principles that fail to satisfy the very requirements he himself has supposedly specified? Curd responds to this problem by falling back to the position that the poem’s cosmology is not really Parmenides’ own but one targeted against the use of opposites in previous cosmological theories (Curd 1998, ch. 3).

The presence of the cosmology in Parmenides’ poem continues to be problematic for advocates of the meta-principle interpretation. just as it is for advocates of the other major types of interpretation discussed thus far. Guthrie views the cosmology as Parmenides’ best attempt at giving an account of the sensible world, given that we will continue to be deceived into thinking it exists despite his arguments to the contrary. Not only is this an unstable interpretive position, it imputes confusion to Parmenides rather than acknowledge its own difficulties. It is hardly more satisfying to be told by Owen that Parmenides’ cosmology has a purpose that is “wholly dialectical”:

Parmenides set himself to give the correct or the most plausible analysis of those presuppositions on which ordinary men, and not just theorists, seem to build their picture of the physical world. … Whittled down to their simplest and most economical they can be seen still to require the existence of at least two irreducibly different things in a constant process of interaction; and both the plurality and the process have now, on Parmenides’ view, been proven absurd. (Owen 1960, 54-5; cf. Long 1963 for a more detailed development of this line.)

Although they repeat the essentials of Owen’s view, Kirk, Raven, and Schofield finally acknowledge that the presence of the elaborate cosmology remains problematic for this line of interpretation: “Why [the cosmology] was included in the poem remains a mystery: the goddess seeks to save the phenomena so far as is possible, but she knows and tells us that the project is impossible” (Kirk, Raven, and Schofield 1983, 262, after advancing the Owenian line on the cosmology’s dialectical character at 254-6). While the meta-principle interpretation raises the expectation, which fails to be met, that the principles of Parmenides’ own cosmology in the poem will conform to the requirements he has supposedly specified earlier in the poem, the strict monist and logical-dialectical interpretations leave even some of their own advocates wondering why Parmenides devoted the bulk of his poem to an account of things his own reasoning is supposed to have shown do not exist.

3.4 The Aspectual Interpretation Prevailing in Antiquity

The idea that Parmenides’ arguments so problematized the phenomenon of change as to make developing an adequate theoretical account of it the central preoccupation of subsequent Presocratic natural philosophers is a commonplace of modern historical narratives. Unfortunately, this notion has no real ancient authority. Aristotle’s account at Physics 1.8.191a23-33 of the wrong turn he claims earlier natural philosophers took in trying to understand the principles of change has often been thought to legitimate this view, given the Eleatic-sounding argument it records. But Aristotle mentions Parmenides nowhere in the passage, and his complaint is in fact broadly directed against all the early Greek philosophers whose views he has been surveying previously in the book. This is the complaint that they naively adopted the view that no fundamental entity or substance comes to be or perishes, the result being that they are unable to account for, because they disavow, substantial change, which is the very phenomenon Aristotle is most interested in explaining. Aristotle actually understands Parmenides’ thesis that what is is one (hen to on) and not subject to generation and change as belonging, not to natural philosophy, but to first philosophy or metaphysics (Cael. 3.1.298b14-24; cf. Metaph. 1.5.986b14-18, Ph. 1.2.184a25-b12).

In the complex treatment of Parmenides in Physics 1.2-3, Aristotle introduces Parmenides together with Melissus as representing the position, within the Gorgianic doxographical schema structuring his own examination of earlier archê-theories, that there is a single and unchanging archê or principle (Ph. 1.2.184b15-16). Aristotle recognizes, however, that this grouping obscures very real differences between the two thinkers’ views. According to Aristotle, Melissus held that everything is a single, i.e. continuous or indivisible, and unlimited quantity (or extension). Parmenides, on Aristotle’s reconstruction, recognized only a use of “being” indicating what something is in respect of its substance or essence; he accordingly supposed that everything that is is substance, and he supposed everything to be one in the sense that the account of the essence of everything is identical. Furthermore, on Aristotle’s view of Parmenides, whatever might differentiate what is cannot do so with respect to its essence but only accidentally. But no accident of what just is can belong to its essence, and since Parmenides admits only a use of “being” indicating what something is in respect of its substance or essence, no differentiating accident of what is can be said to be. Such is the thrust of Aristotle’s reconstruction of Parmenides’ reasoning at Physics 1.3.186a34-b4 and, likewise, of his summary allusion to this passage at Metaphysics 1.5.986b28-31.

The only point, in fact, where Aristotle’s representation of Parmenides in Metaphysics 1.5 appears to differ from the major treatment in Physics 1.2-3 is in following up this summary with the qualification that, being compelled to go with the phenomena, and supposing that what is is one with respect to the account (sc. of its essence) but plural with respect to perception, he posited a duality of principles as the basis for his account of the phenomena (986b27-34, reading to on hen men at 986b31, as per Alexander of Aphrodisias’s paraphrase). This is only a superficial difference, given how at Physics 1.5.188a19-22 Aristotle points to the Parmenidean duality of principles to support his thesis that all his predecessors had made the opposites principles, including those who maintained that everything is one and unchanging. Nonetheless, the representation of Parmenides’ position in Metaphysics 1.5, according to which what is is one with respect to the account of its essence but plural with respect to perception, is more indulgent than the reconstruction of Parmenides’ reasoning in Physics 1.3 in that it allows for a differentiated aspect of what is. By allowing that what is may be differentiated with respect to its phenomenal qualities, Aristotle seems to have recognized at some level the mistake in assuming that Parmenides’ failure to distinguish explicitly among the senses of “being” entails that he could only have employed the term in one sense.

Despite the assimilation of Melissus and Parmenides under the rubric inherited from Gorgias, Aristotle recognized that grouping the two figures together under this convenient label obscured fundamental differences in their positions. The fact is that “monism” does not denote a unique metaphysical position but a family of positions. Among its species are strict monism or the thesis that just one thing exists, which is the position that Melissus advocated and that no serious metaphysician should want to adopt. More familiar species include both numerical and generic substance monism, according to which, respectively, there is a single substance or a single kind of substance. Aristotle seems ultimately to have inclined toward attributing this first type of “generous” monism to Parmenides. In viewing Parmenides as a generous monist, whose position allowed for the existence of other entities, rather than as a “strict” monist holding that only one thing exists, Aristotle is in accord with the majority view of Parmenides in antiquity.

That some in antiquity viewed Parmenides as a strict monist is evident from Plutarch’s report of the Epicurean Colotes’ treatment of Parmenides in his treatise, That One Cannot Live According to the Doctrines of Other Philosophers. Colotes’ main claim appears to have been that Parmenides prevents us from living by maintaining that “the universe is one” (hen to pan), which tag Colotes apparently took to mean that Parmenides denied the existence of fire and water and, indeed, “the inhabited cities in Europe and Asia”; he may also have claimed that if one accepts Parmenides’ thesis, there will be nothing to prevent one from walking off a precipice, since on his view there are no such things (Plut. Col. 1114B). In short, as Plutarch reports, Colotes said that “Parmenides abolishes everything by hypothesizing that being is one” (1114D). Plutarch himself, however, takes strong issue with Colotes’ view, charging him with imputing to Parmenides “disgraceful sophisms” (1113F) and with deliberate misconstrual (1114D). Plutarch explains that Parmenides was in fact the first to distinguish between the mutable objects of sensation and the unchanging character of the intelligible: “Parmenides…abolishes neither nature. Instead, assigning to each what is appropriate, he places the intelligible in the class of what is one and being—calling it ‘being’ in so far as it is eternal and imperishable, and ‘one’ because of its likeness unto itself and its not admitting differentiation—while he locates the perceptible among what is disordered and changing” (1114D). Plutarch insists that Parmenides’ distinction between what really is and things which are what they are at one time, or in one context, but not another should not be misconstrued as an abolition of the latter class of entities: “how could he have let perception and doxa remain without leaving what is apprehended by perception and doxa?” (1114E-F). Plutarch’s discussion of Parmenides in Against Colotes is particularly significant in that it is a substantial discussion of the relation between his account of Being and his cosmology by an ancient author later than Aristotle that is not overtly influenced by Aristotle’s own discussions. In many ways it anticipates the Neoplatonic interpretation, represented in Simplicius, according to which, broadly speaking, the two accounts delivered by Parmenides’ goddess describe two levels of reality, the immutable intelligible realm and the plural and changing sensible realm (see especially Simplicius’s commentary on Arist. Cael. 3.1.298b14-24; cf. Procl. in Ti. 1.345.18-24).

Later Platonists naturally understood Parmenides as thus anticipating Plato, for Plato himself seems to have adopted a “Platonist” understanding of this philosopher whose influence on his philosophy was every bit as profound as that of Socrates and the Pythagoreans. Aristotle attributes to both Parmenides and Plato the recognition that knowledge requires as its objects certain natures or entities not susceptible to change—to Parmenides in De Caelo 3.1, and to Plato, in remarkably similar language, in Metaphysics 13.4. The arguments at the end of Republic 5 that confirm Aristotle’s attribution of this line of reasoning to Plato are in fact suffused with echoes of Parmenides. Plato likewise has his fictionalized Parmenides present something very close to this line of argument in the dialogue bearing his name: “if someone will not admit that there are general kinds of entities…and will not specify some form for each individual thing, he will have nowhere to turn his intellect, since he does not admit that there is a character for each of the things that are that is always the same, and in this manner he will destroy the possibility of discourse altogether” (Prm. 135b5-c2). The Platonic “natures” Aristotle has in mind are clearly the Forms that Plato himself is prone to describing in language that echoes the attributes of Parmenidean Being, most notably at Symposium 210e-211b and Phaedo 78d and 80b. That Plato’s Forms are made to look like a plurality of Parmenidean Beings might seem to supply Platonic authority for the meta-principle interpretation. This would be a rash conclusion, however, for Plato consistently represents Parmenides as a monist in later dialogues (see, e.g., Prm. 128a8-b1, d1, Tht. 180e2-4, 183e3-4, Sph. 242d6, 244b6). Determining just what type of monism Plato means to attribute to Parmenides in these dialogues ultimately requires plunging into the intricacies of the examination of Parmenides’ thesis in the latter part of the Parmenides.

There Plato’s understanding of Parmenides is best reflected in the exploration of his thesis in the Second Deduction. There the One is shown to have a number of properties that reflect those Parmenides himself attributed to Being in the course of fr. 8: that it is in itself and the same as itself, that it is at rest, that it is like itself, that it is in contact with itself, etc. In the Second Deduction, all these properties prove to belong to the One in virtue of its own nature and in relation to itself. This deduction also shows that the One has apparently contrary attributes, though these prove to belong to it in other aspects, that is, not in virtue of its own nature and/or not in relation to itself. Plato would have found a model for his complex account of the various and seemingly conflicting properties of the One in the two majors phases of Parmenides’ poem, if he, too, subscribed to an “aspectual” interpretation of Parmenides, according to which the Way of Conviction describes the cosmos in its intelligible aspect qua being, while allowing that this description is compatible with an alternate description of this self-same entity as a world system comprised of differentiated and changing objects. These two perspectives are notably reflected, respectively, in the Timaeus‘s descriptions of the intelligible living creature and of the visible cosmos modelled upon it, both of which are suffused with echoes of Parmenides (see especially Ti. 30d2, 31a7-b3, 32c5-33a2, 33b4-6, d2-3, 34a3-4, b1-2, and 92c6-9).

That Aristotle also viewed the two major phases of Parmenides’ poem as dual accounts of the same entity in different aspects is perhaps most apparent in his characterization of Parmenides, in the course of the discussion at Metaphysics 1.5.986b27-34, as having supposed that “what is is one in account but plural with respect to perception.” Theophrastus likewise seems to have adopted such a line. Alexander of Aphrodisias quotes him as having written the following of Parmenides in the first book of his On the Natural Philosophers:

Coming after this man [sc. Xenophanes], Parmenides of Elea, son of Pyres, went along both paths. For he both declares that the universe is eternal and also attempts to explain the generation of the things that are, though without taking the same view of them both, but supposing that in accordance with truth the universe is one and ungenerated and spherical in shape, while in accordance with the view of the multitude, and with a view to explaining the generation of things as they appear to us, making the principles two, fire and earth, the one as matter and the other as cause and agent (Alex.Aphr. in Metaph. 31.7-16; cf. Simp. in Ph. 25.15-16, D.L. 9.21-2).

Many of Theophrastus’s points here can be traced back to Aristotle, including the identification of Parmenides’ elemental light and night as, respectively, fire functioning as an efficient principle and earth functioning as a material principle (cf. Arist. Ph. 1.5.188a20-2, GC 1.3.318b6-7, 2.3.330b13-14, Metaph. 1.5.986b28-987a2). The passage on the whole suggests that, like Plato and Aristotle, Theophrastus understood Parmenides as furnishing dual accounts of the universe, first in its intelligible and then in its phenomenal aspects.

While it would be going too far to claim that Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and the ancient thinkers who follow their broad view of Parmenides as a generous monist got Parmenides right on all points, nonetheless the impulse toward “correcting” (or just ignoring) the ancient evidence for Presocratic thought has in this case gone too far. Both Plato and Aristotle understood Parmenides as perhaps the first to have developed the idea that apprehension of what is unchanging is of a different order epistemologically than apprehension of things subject to change. More fundamentally, Plato and Aristotle both came to understand Parmenides as a type of generous monist whose conception of what is belongs more to theology or first philosophy than to natural science. This involved understanding Parmenides’ cosmology as his own account of the world in so far as it is subject to change. It also involved understanding the first part of Parmenides’ poem as metaphysical, in the proper Aristotelian sense of being concerned with what is not subject to change and enjoys a non-dependent existence. Most importantly, both Plato and Aristotle recognized that a distinction between the fundamental modalities or ways of being was central to Parmenides’ system. None of these major points is tainted by the kind of obvious anachronism that rightly makes one suspicious, for instance, about Aristotle’s identification of Parmenides’ light and night with the elements fire and earth. None of these broad points, in other words, involves Plato or Aristotle viewing Parmenides through the distortive lens of their own concepetual apparatus. The next section will outline the view of Parmenides’ philosophical achievement that results from attending to his modal distinctions and to the epistemological distinctions he builds upon them.

3.5 The Modal Interpretation

Numerous interpreters have variously resisted the idea that Parmenides meant to deny the very existence of the world we experience. They have consequently advocated some more robust status for the cosmological portion of his poem. (See, e.g., Minar 1949, Woodbury 1958, Chalmers 1960, Clark 1969, Owens 1974, Robinson 1979, de Rijk 1983, and Finkelberg 1986, 1988, and 1999, and Hussey 1990.) Unfortunately, too many interpretations of this type deploy the terms “reality,” “phenomena,” and “appearance” so ambiguously that it can be difficult to tell whether they intend to attribute an objective or merely some subjective existence to the inhabitants of the “phenomenal” world. More positively, a number of these interpreters have recognized the important point that the two parts of the goddess’ revelation are presented as having different epistemic status. (See also the proposal at Kahn 1969, 710 and n. 13, to identify Parmenides’ subject in the Way of Conviction as “the object of knowing, what is or can be known.”) They have nonetheless failed to take proper account of the modal distinctions that define Parmenides’ presentation of the ways of inquiry. In this omission they are not alone, of course, since none of the types of interpretation reviewed so far recognizes that Parmenides was the first philosopher rigorously to distinguish what must be, what must not be, and what is but need not be.

In the crucial fragment 2, the goddess says she will describe for Parmenides “which ways of inquiry alone there are for thinking” (fr. 2.2). The common understanding of this as tantamount to the only conceivable ways of inquiry has been one of the principal spurs for readings according to which only two, not three, paths feature in the poem, for it is natural to wonder how the goddess can present fragment 2’s two paths as the only conceivable paths of inquiry and nonetheless in fragment 6 present still another path, that along which mortals are said to wander. Two-path interpretations respond to this apparent difficulty by identifying the path of mortal inquiry with fragment 2’s second path (though implausibly so, as noted above, sect. 2.2). Parmenides’ goddess in fact has good reason to distinguish the two ways of inquiry presented in fragment 2 from the way subsequently presented in fragment 6. The two ways of fragment 2, unlike the third way, are marked as ways “for thinking,” that is, for achieving the kind of thought that contrasts with the “wandering thought” the goddess later says is characteristic of mortals. The use of the Greek datival infinitive in the phrase, “there are for thinking” (eisi noêsai, fr. 2.2b; cf. Empedocles fr. 3.12 for the identical construction) distinguishes the two ways introduced in this fragment from the one subsequently introduced in fragment 6, as ways for thinking. That the goal is specifically thought that does not wander becomes clear when she subsequently presents the third way as one followed by “mortals who know nothing” (fr. 6.4), which leads to “wandering thought” (plagkton nöon, fr. 6.6). Comparison with fr. 8.34-6a’s retrospective indication that “thought” or “thinking” (noêma, to noein), by which is apparently meant trustworthy thought (cf. fr. 8.50), has been a major goal of the inquiry suggests that a way for thinking is one along which this goal of attaining trustworthy thought might be achieved.

The two ways of inquiry that lead to thought that does not wander are: “that [it] is and that [it] is not not to be” (fr. 2.3)—i.e., “that [it] is and that [it] cannot not be”—and “that [it] is not and that [it] must not be” (fr. 2.5). Each verse appears to demarcate a distinct modality or way of being. One might find it natural to call these modalities, respectively, the modality of necessary being and the modality of necessary non-being or impossibility. Parmenides conceives of these modalities as ways of being or ways an entity might be rather than as logical properties. If one respects the organizing metaphor of the ways of inquiry, one can, even at this stage of the goddess’ revelation, appreciate what it means for “that [it] is and that [it] cannot not be” to define a way of inquiry. This specification indicates that what Parmenides is looking for is what is and cannot not be—or, more simply, what must be. Pursuing this way of inquiry requires maintaining a constant focus on the modality of the object of his search as he tries to attain a fuller conception of what an entity that is and cannot not be, or that must be, must be like. To remain on this path Parmenides must resolutely reject any conception of the object of his search that proves incompatible with its mode of being, as the goddess reminds him at numerous points.

What one looks for along this path of inquiry is what is and cannot not be, or, more simply, what must be. It is therefore appropriate to think of the first path as the path of necessary being and of what lies along it as what is (what it is) necessarily. What is and cannot not be will be whatever is (what it is) actually throughout the history of this world. Likewise, what is not and must not be will be whatever is not (anything) actually at any moment in the world’s history. There are of course other ways for things to be, but not, according to Parmenides, other ways for things to be such that apprehension of them will figure as thought that does not wander. The second way is introduced alongside the first because the modality of necessary non-being or impossibility specified in fr. 2.5 is just as constant and invariable as the modality of necessary being specified in fr. 2.3. Whatever thought there may be about what lies along this second way will be unwavering and, as such, will contrast with the wandering thought typical of mortals. Even if the effort to think about what lies along the second way ends (as it does) in a total failure of apprehension, this non-apprehension remains unwavering. Inquiry along the second way involves, first, keeping in mind that what one is looking for is not and must not be, and thereby trying to discover what an entity that is in this way must be like. It is immediately evident, though, what an entity that is not and must not be is like: nothing at all. The goddess warns Parmenides not to set out on the second way because there is no prospect of finding or forming any conception of what must not be. She thus tells Parmenides at fr. 2.6 that this is a path where nothing at all can be learned by inquiry.

Paying proper attention to the modal clauses in the goddess’ specification of the first two ways of inquiry enables us to understand the last two verses of fragment 2 as making a sound philosophical point rather than committing a fallacy, however famous or interesting that fallacy might be. She says, again, at fr. 2.7-8:“neither could you apprehend what is not, for it is not to be accomplished,/ nor could you indicate it.” Here she is warning Parmenides against proceeding along the second way, and it should be clear that “what is not” (to mê on) is the goddess’ way of referring to what is in the manner specified just two verses above: “that [it] is not and that [it] must not be” (fr. 2.5). She declares that Parmenides could neither know nor indicate “what is not” by way of explaining her assertion in the preceding verse that the second way is a way wholly without report. Thus here “what is not” (to mê on) serves as shorthand for “what is not and must not be.” (Given the awkwardness of having to deploy the phrase “what is not and must not be” whenever referring to what enjoys the second way’s mode of being, one would expect Parmenides to have employed such a device even if he had written in prose.) Parmenides is making a sound philosophical point. One cannot, in fact, form any definite conception of what is not and must not be, and a fortiori one cannot indicate it in any way. (Try to picture a round square, or to point one out to someone else.) Parmenides has not fallen prey here to the purportedly paradoxical character of negative existential statements but makes a perfectly acceptable point about the inconceivability of what necessarily is not. Any philosopher with an interest in the relation between conceivability and possibility should be prepared to recognize in Parmenides’ assertion that you could neither apprehend nor indicate what is not (and must not be) one of the earliest instances of a form of inference—that from inconceivability to impossibility—that continues to occupy a central position in metaphysical reasoning.

Before undertaking to guide Parmenides toward a fuller conception of what is and cannot not be, the goddess properly warns him away from a third possible path of inquiry in fragments 6 and 7, while at the same time reminding him of the imperative to think of what is in the manner specified in fr. 2.3 only as being (what it is). Fragment 6 begins with the goddess instructing Parmenides that it is necessary to say and think that “What Is” (to on) is, and that he is not to think of it as not being. (Here to on functions as a shorthand designation for what is and cannot not be, paralleling fr. 2.7’s use of to mê on or “what is not” as shorthand for what is not and must not be.) This is the essential directive for following her guidance along the first path of inquiry. The goddess also indicates in this fragment that the second major phase of her revelation will proceed along the path typically pursued by mortals whose reliance upon sensation has yielded only wandering thought. She provides what amounts to a modal specification of this path of inquiry when she describes mortals as supposing “that it is and is not the same/ and not the same” (fr. 6.8-9a). The sense of this difficult clause seems to be that mortals mistakenly suppose that an object of genuine understanding may be subject to the variableness implicit in their conception of it as being and not being the same, and being and not being not the same. This is not to say that the things upon which ordinary humans have exclusively focused their attention, because of their reliance upon sensation, do not exist. It is merely to say that they do not enjoy the mode of necessary being required of an object of unwandering thought. The imagery in fr. 6.4-7 that paints mortals as wandering blind and helpless portrays them as having failed entirely to realize that there is something that must be and that this is available for them to apprehend if only they could awaken from their stupor. Even so, the goddess does not say that mortals have no apprehension. Thought that wanders is still thought.

The goddess, however, reveals to Parmenides the possibility of achieving thought that does not wander or that is stable and unchanging, because its object itself is such. The third way of inquiry can never lead to this, and thus it is not presented by the goddess as a path of inquiry for thinking. It directs the inquirer’s attention to things that are (what they are) only contingently or temporarily: they are and then again are not, or they are a certain way and then again are not that way. The problem with this path is not, as too many interpreters have understood it to be, that nothing exists to be discovered along this way. There are innumerably many things that are (and exist) in the manner specified at fr. 6.8-9a (and fr. 8.40-1). However, since their being is merely contingent, Parmenides thinks there can be no stable apprehension of them, no thoughts about them that remain steadfast and do not wander, and thus no true or reliable conviction. According to Parmenides, genuine conviction cannot be found by focusing one’s attention on things that are subject to change. This is why he has the goddess repeatedly characterize the cosmology in the second phase of her revelation as deceptive or untrustworthy. The modal interpretation thus makes it relatively straightforward to understand the presence of the poem’s cosmology. It is an account of the principles, origins, and operation of the world’s mutable population. It is Parmenides’ own account, the best he was able to provide, and one firmly in the tradition of Presocratic cosmology. At the same time, however, Parmenides supposed there was more to the world than all those things that have grown, now are, and will hereafter end (as he describes them in fragment 19). There is also what is (what it is) and cannot not be (what it is).

The first major phase of the goddess’ revelation in fragment 8 is, on the modal interpretation, a meditation on the nature of what must be. The goddess leads Parmenides to form a conception of what whatever must be has to be like just in virtue of its modality. Appreciating that Parmenides is concerned with determining what can be inferred about the nature or character of What Is simply from its mode of being enables one to see that he is in fact entitled to the inferences he draws in the major deductions of fragment 8. Certainly what must be cannot have come to be, nor can it cease to be. Both possibilities are incompatible with its mode of being. Likewise, what must be cannot change in any respect, for this would involve its not being what it is, which is also incompatible with its mode of being, since what must be must be what it is. On the assumption, inevitable at the time, that it is a spatially extended or physical entity, certain other attributes can also be inferred. What must be must be free from any internal variation. Such variation would involve its being something or having a certain character in some place(s) while being something else or having another character in others, which is incompatible with the necessity of its (all) being what it is. For much the same reason, it must be free from variation at its extremity. Since the only solid that is uniform at its extremity is a sphere, what must be must be spherical.

It is difficult to see what more Parmenides could have inferred as to the character of what must be simply on the basis of its modality as a necessary being. In fact, the attributes of the main program have an underlying systematic character suggesting they are meant to exhaust the logical possibilities: What Is both must be (or exist), and it must be what it is, not only temporally but also spatially. For What Is to be (or exist) across times is for it to be ungenerated and deathless; and for it to be what it is across times is for it to be “still” or unchanging. For What Is to be (or exist) everywhere is for it to be whole. For it to be what it is at every place internally is for it to be uniform; and to be so everywhere at its extremity is for it to be “perfect” or “complete.” Taken together, the attributes shown to belong to what must be amount to a set of perfections: everlasting existence, immutability, the internal invariances of wholeness and uniformity, and the invariance at its extremity of being optimally shaped. What Is has thus proven to be not only a necessary but, in many ways, a perfect entity.

On the modal interpretation, Parmenides may be counted a “generous” monist. While he reasons that there is only one entity that must be, he also sees that there are manifold entities that are but need not be (what they are). Parmenides was a “generous” monist because the existence of what must be does not preclude the existence of all the things that are but need not be. There are at least two options for envisaging how this is supposed to be the case. Some who have understood Parmenides as a generous monist have adopted a view similar to Aristotle’s. In Metaphysics 1.5, Aristotle remarks that Parmenides seems to have had a conception of formal unity (986b18-19), and he gives a compressed account of the reasoning by which he takes Parmenides to have arrived at such a conception (986b27-31). Then, as already noted, he adds the comment that Parmenides, being compelled to go with the phenomena, and supposing that what is is one with respect to the account (sc. of its essence) but plural with respect to perception, posited a duality of principles as the basis for his account of the phenomena (986b27-34). Thus, for Aristotle, Parmenides held that what is is one, in a strong and strict sense, but it is also many (in and for perception). A number of modern interpreters have also advocated some form of what amounts to the ancient “aspectual” view of the relation between the two phases of the goddess’ revelation. (See Owens 1974 and Finkelberg 1999, who explicitly position their views as heirs to that at Arist. Metaph. 1.5.986b27-34.) Parmenides would certainly have been a generous monist if he envisioned What Is as consubstantial with the cosmos’s perceptible and mutable population. But an apparently insurmountable difficulty for this response comes in the suggestive verses of fr. 4: “but behold things that, while absent, are steadfastly present to thought:/ for you will not cut off What Is from holding fast to What Is,/ neither dispersing everywhere every way in a world-order (kata kosmon)/ nor drawing together.”

It thus seems preferable to understand What Is as coterminous but not consubstantial with the perceptible cosmos: it is in exactly the same place where the perceptible cosmos is, but is a separate and distinct “substance.” (Note the parallels between fr. 8.30b-31 and fr. 10.5-7, as well as between fr. 8.24 and fr. 9.3.) On this view, What Is imperceptibly interpenetrates or runs through all things while yet maintaining its own identity distinct from theirs. Something like this seems to be how Anaxagoras envisioned the relation between Mind and the rest of the world’s things: Mind, he says, “is now where also all the others are, in that which surrounds many things and in those which have accreted and in those which have separated out” (Anaxag. fr. 14). Parmenides’ vision of the relation between What Is and the developed cosmos, as coterminous but not consubstantial, also has its analogue in Xenophanes’ conception of the relation between his one greatest god and the cosmos, as well as in Empedocles’ conception of the divinity that is the persistent aspect of the cosmos’ perfectly unified condition, darting throughout the cosmos with its swift thought. Both appear to be coterminous but not consubstantial with the cosmos they penetrate.

Although What Is in Parmenides has its nearest analogue in these divine principles, Parmenides himself never in the extant fragments calls What Is divine or otherwise suggests that it is a god. Instead, he develops an exhaustive conception of what that which must be, must be like, by systematically pursuing the fundamental idea that what must be both must be or exist, and must be what it is, not only temporally but also spatially. Whatever other attributes it might have that cannot be understood to belong to it in one of these ways do not enter into Parmenides’ conception of What Is. Thus it has none of the features of the religious tradition’s heavenly gods that persist as attributes of Xenophanes’ greatest god, despite resembling it in other respects. If Xenophanes can be seen as a founder of rational theology, then Parmenides’ distinction among the principal modes of being and his derivation of the attributes that must belong to what must be, simply as such, qualify him to be seen as the founder of metaphysics or ontology as a domain of inquiry distinct from theology.


References to items prior to 1980 are much more selective than those to more recent items. For a nearly exhaustive and annotated listing of Parmenidean scholarship down to 1980, consult L. Paquet, M. Roussel, and Y. Lafrance, Les Présocratiques: Bibliographie analytique (1879-1980), vol. 2 (Montreal: Bellarmin/Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1989): 19-104.

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The standard collection of the fragments of the Presocratics and sophists, together with testimonia pertaining to their lives and thought, remains:

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The principal editions or other presentation of the fragments of Parmenides’ poem and testimonia include:

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  • Reinhardt, K., 1916. Parmenides und die Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie. Bonn: Cohen.
  • Robinson, T. M., 1979. “Parmenides on the real in its totality.” The Monist, 62: 54-60.
  • Russell, B., 1945. A History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Schofield, M., 1970. “Did Parmenides discover eternity?” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 52: 113-35.
  • Schwabl, H., 1953. “Sein und Doxa bei Parmenides.” Wiener Studien, 66: 50-75.
  • Schwabl, H., 1963. “Hesiod und Parmenides: zur Formung des parmenideischen Prooimions (28B1).” Rheinisches Museum, 106: 134-42.
  • Sedley, D., 1999. “Parmenides and Melissus.” In A. A. Long, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): 113-33.
  • Steele, L. D., 2002. “Mesopotamian elements in the proem of Parmenides? Correspondences between the sun-gods Helios and Shamash.” Classical Quarterly, 52: 583-8.
  • Tarán, L., 1979. “Perpetual duration and atemporal eternity in Parmenides and Plato.” The Monist, 62: 43-53.
  • Untersteiner, M., 1955. “L’essere di Parmenide è oúlon non hen.” Rivista critica di storia della filosofia, 10: 5-23.
  • Vlastos, G., 1946. “Parmenides’ theory of knowledge.” Transaction and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 77: 66-77.
  • Woodbury, L., 1958. “Parmenides on names.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 63: 145-60.
  • Woodbury, L., 1986. “Parmenides on naming by mortal men: fr. B8.53-56.” Ancient Philosophy, 6: 1-11.

Herakleitos (550-480 SM)

A. Pengantar

Tulisan di bawah ini merupakan sebuah rangkuman singkat dari bab empat dalam buku Presocratics, karangan James Warren (2007), yang membahas mengenai pemikiran Herakleitos. Di dalam rangkuman ini, saya juga menambahkan beberapa data atau penjelasan yang diambil dari sumber lain sebagai pelengkap. Pada akhir rangkuman, sebagai penutup, saya mencoba menyampaikan pendapat pribadi tentang pemikiran Herakleitos dalam tulisan James Warren.

B. Riwayat Hidup Herakleitos

Herakleitos (Ηράκλειτος) adalah seorang filsuf Yunani yang hidup pada tahun 550-480 SM, abad 6-5 SM. Tidak banyak data sejarah yang medeskripsikan kehidupan filsuf ini. Dia hidup di Efesus (Προς Εφεσίους), sebuah kota penting di Pantai Ionia, Asia kecil, tidak jauh dari Miletus, tempat kelahiran filsafat.[1] Dirinya dikenal sebagai Si Gelap (το σκοτάδι) karena perkataannya yang sukar dipahami artinya dan “nama itu menunjuk pesimisme yang ada padanya”. “Pesimisme ini ditimbulkan dari keadaan politik pada waktu itu atau akibat pengajarannya tentang kefanaan dunia”.[2] Fragmen-fragmennya yang ditemukan ditulis dalam bentuk kalimat-kalimat yang estetis dan rumit sehingga bisa menyebabkan salah penafsiran bagi pembacanya. Hal ini adalah kekhasan dalam diri Herakleitos karena dia memang mencoba mengungkapkan pemikirannya dalam bentuk puisi atau epigram yang elegan. Dalam hidupnya, Herakleitos mengabdikan diri untuk mendalami filsafat lewat pemikiran-pemikirannya yang bersifat spekulatif.

C. Pemikiran Herakleitos

Herakleitos seringkali dikenal dengan pemikiran-pemikirannya mengenai perubahan dalam kosmos dan keseimbangan yang ada di dalamnya. Dia juga banyak mengulas mengenai pertentangan yang ada di dunia. Ini diutarakannya lewat ungkapan bahwa perang adalah bapak dari segala-galanya [Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι] (DK 22 B53, Hippolyte,Réfutation de toutes les hérésies, IX, 9, 4.). Pernyataan ini ingin menegaskan bahwa dalam pertentangan yang terdapat di alam semesta tercipta sebuah harmoni kehidupan.

C.1. Logos

DK 22 B50 (Hippolyte, Réfutation de toutes les hérésies, IX, 9, 1.) “It is wise to hearken, not to me, but to my Word, and to confess that all things are one.” [οὐκ ἐμοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῦ λόγου ἀκούσαντας ὁμολογεῖν σοφόν ἐστιν ἓν πάντα εἶναι][3]

Herakleitos menginginkan supaya para pendengarnya tidak terperangkap untuk mendengarkan dia saja. Dia meminta agar mereka mendengarkan logositu sendiri. Dalam Bahasa Yunani, kata logos (λογότυπα) bisa berarti sebuah kata atau sebuah pernyataan. Kata ini juga dapat memiliki arti sebagai sebuah perhitungan cermat, evaluasi, relasi atau ketersalingan, atau rasio. Dapat dikatakan bahwa logos merupakan proses pemikiran manusia sendiri. Namun, ketika berjumpa dengan logos dalam alam pemikiran Herakleitos, pembacanya akan masuk ke dalam berbagai macam bentuk tafsiran. Bisa jadi tafsiran atau interpretasi mengalami bias atau malah tidak dimengerti sama sekali. Sebab, Herakleitos sendiri mengatakan bahwa orang-orang (pendengarnya) tidak dapat memahami apa yang dimaksudkannya denganlogos itu. Bahkan, dia juga mengungkapkan bahwa mereka salah mengerti tentang logos, baik sebelum mendengarnya maupun ketika pertama kali mendengarnya. Ternyata, mengenai hal ini, James Warren berpendapat bahwa kita mesti memisahkan antara logos yang menjadi isi dari apa yang menjadi karya Herakleitos dan logos yang adalah karya Herakleitos itu sendiri. Jelas sekali bahwa untuk sampai pada gagasan yang dimaksudkan oleh Herakleitos pendengarnya perlu bertekun untuk sungguh mendengarkan perkataannya.

Untuk memperjelas pengertian mengenai logos, Herakleitos mengungkapkan bahwa pendengarnya tidak sanggup memahami logos karena mereka hidup dalam dunia mereka sendiri. Mereka tidak sadar bahwa mereka terkungkung dalam alam pemikiran mereka sendiri sehingga tidak dapat membuka diri pada logos. Padahal dalam pandangan saat itu, bisa dikatakan bahwa logosmenjadi sumber dari segala sesuatu yang terjadi di alam semesta ini. Herakleitos, lewat pemikirannya, ingin mendorong, mengusik, dan mendesak pendengarnya untuk menjadi sadar dan berpikir secara lebih luas tentang dunia sekitarnya.

C.2. Api

Herakleitos adalah sosok pribadi yang terpesona dengan perubahan dan transformasi yang terjadi di alam semesta ini. Bukti nyata yang menunjukkan keterpesonaannya ini adalah uraian pemikirannya tentang API (πυρκαγιάς). Herakleitos berpandangan bahwa kosmos (σύμπαν) ini terbentuk dari API. API-lah yang menyebabkan terjadi berbagai perubahan di alam semesta. Cara berpikir ini adalah kekhasan orang-orang sezamannya yang mencari materi utama (phusis) dari dunia ini. Demikian pula dengan Herakleitos, dia memahami bahwa dunia ini dibentuk dari perubahan-perubahan yang nyata terjadi pada API. API yang dimaksud oleh Herakleitos ini bukan api yang ditemukan dalam kehidupan sehari-hari manusia pada umumnya. Herakleitos ingin menunjukkan bahwa API ini memiliki daya-daya untuk menciptakan sesuatu lewat panas dan pijar cahanya. Hal ini dinyatakan dalam fragmennya: Kosmos ini, sama bagi semua, tidak pernah dibuat oleh manusia maupun tuhan, kosmos ini selalu ada, sekarang ada, dan aka nada seperti api yang selalu hidup, menyala dan meredup sesuai masanya[4] (DK 22 B30, Klemens dari Alexandria, Stromata V, xiv, 104. 1).

Herakleitos memandang API secara istimewa karena API dipahaminya sebagai unsur penting yang memengaruhi kosmos. Pengaruh yang diberikan oleh API ini adalah siklus tetap perubahan yang terjadi di alam semesta. Semuanya yang ada dibentuk dan berasal dari api sebagai sumber utamanya karena “Segala sesuatunya dapat dipertukarkan dengan API, dan API adalah alat tukar bagi segala sesuatu, sama halnya semua harta milik bisa dipertukarkan dengan emas, dan emas dengan segala harta milik (DK 22 B90, Plutarchus, De E Delpico, p. 388e)[5]”. API juga dipahami sebagai sesuatu yang sanggup memisah-misahkan dan merengkuh semua hal sekaligus. Karena itulah, Herakleitos melihat API sebagai sesuatu yang dinamis, yang sanggup memberikan tranformasi nyata bagi kehidupan dalam kosmos dankosmos itu sendiri.

C.3. Harmoni

Herakleitos memiliki pemikiran yang menarik mengenai harmoni (αρμονία). Dia melihat bahwa semua perubahan berasal dari API dan rangkaian perubahan yang terjadi ini menciptakan kesatuan dalam suatu waktu tertentu. Pandangan ini memengaruhi alam pemikirannya sehingga dia pun memiliki pandangan akan sesuatu yang dinamis di alam semesta ini. Maksud dari sesuatu yang dinamis di sini adalah keberadaan perlawanan-perlawanan yang sebenarnya terdapat dalam satu hal yang sama. Kesatuan yang ada tersebut justru dibentuk dari apa yang saling bertentangan dalam pandangan manusia pada umumnya. Perbedaan-perbedaan di alam semesta ini dipahami sebagai sebuah rangkaian yang memiliki keterkaitan satu sama lain. Selain itu, apa yang satu, dalam alam pemikiran Herakleitos bisa ditangkap sebagai hasil dari dua hal yang berbeda. Sebagai contoh yang sering kali diutarakan antara lain: ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή.[6] “… jalan yang naik dan turun adalah satu jalan yang sama.” (DK 22 B60, Hippolyte, Réfutation de toutes les hérésies, IX, 10, 4.)[7] atau “Hidup atau mati, bangun atau tidur, muda atau tua, semua sama saja, karena masing-masing berubah ke lawannya dan sebaliknya.” (DK 22 B88, Plutarchus, Consolation d’Apollonius, 106 E. )[8]. Pernyataan ini ingin menunjukkan bahwa pada dua hal yang berbeda terdapat kesatuan yang menjadi hakikat dari suatu hal. Meski dua hal tersebut berlawanan sekalipun tetapi tetap saja diakui sebagai satu kesatuan.

Secara menarik, James Warren mencoba menggambarkan pemikiran Herakleitos ini dengan harmoni pada alat musik yang berdawai. Tegangan karena perbedaan yang terjadi pada dawai itulah yang menghasilkan sebuah harmoni yang dapat dinikmati. Hal ini berlaku juga pada pernyataan bahwa yang satu mendapat arti dan makna dari yang lainnya. Realitas bahwa kesehatan adalah kondisi yang berharga mendapat penegasan dari lawannya, yakni keadaan sakit. Demikian pula, rasa kenyang mendapat makna karena adanya rasa lapar pada manusia. Jadi, disimpulkan bahwa hal-hal yang bertentangan ini merupakan suatu kesatuan yang saling melengkapi satu sama lain.

Pemikiran ini pula yang kemudian mendasari ajaran Herakleitos mengenai para dewa, manusia, kehidupan dan kematian. Dalam ajarannya itu Herakleitos banyak membahas mengenai ketidakabadian dan keabadian. Berkaitan dengan itu, dia tertarik untuk membahas mengenai siklus kehidupan dan kematian manusia. Dalam salah satu fragmennya, dia membandingkan kehidupan dan kematian dengan siklus harian dari bangun dan tidur[9]. Baginya kesatuan antara kehidupan dan kematian di dunia ini adalah gambaran perubahan dari waktu ke waktu dan menjadi prinsip dari kesatuan. Dia mengajak pendengarnya untuk merenungkan secara mendalam dan mengambil sebuah pengertian tentang hidup mereka di dunia ini. Namun, Herakleitos tidak memberi keterangan lebih lanjut mengenai kehidupan setelah kematian karena dia menyadari bahwa dia sendiri masih hidup dan belum mengalami secara langsung kematian itu sendiri.

C.4. Sungai

DK 22 B91 (Plutarchus, Sur l’E de Delphes, 392 B.) “Kamu tidak mungkin masuk dua kali ke dalam sungai yang sama” [ποταμῷ γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμϐῆναι δὶς τῷ αὐτῷ καθ΄.][10]

Herakleitos mengajarkan bahwa dunia yang ada ini senantiasa berubah dari waktu ke waktu. Ajaran ini terkenal dengan slogan panta rhei (Πάντα Ρει), semuanya mengalir. Pemikiran Herakleitos ini menegaskan bahwa tidak ada yang stabil sama sekali karena terjadi perubahan terus menerus di alam semesta. Perubahan itu sendiri merupakan siklus yang akan selalu terjadi dalam kosmos. Perubahan yang terjadi ini mengambil sungai yang mengalir sebagai contoh untuk menggambarkan bagaiman air terus bergerak dan tidak tetap. Namun, menurut James Warren, kebingungan terjadi sewaktu menginterpretasikan fragmen mengenai sungai ini. Pertanyaan yang muncul adalah apakah yang dimaksud dengan sungai oleh Herakleitos itu sungai itu sendiri atau air sungai yang mengalir. Kemudian diyakini bahwa yang ditunjuk adalah aliran dalam sungai. Sebab, sungai itu sendiri disebut sebagai sungai karena memang terjadi aliran air pada sungai. Karena itulah sungai dapat dibedakan dengan danau. Hal yang menarik, masih mengenai sungai, pandangan Herakleitos ini sempat ditafsirkan secara lebih ekstrem oleh pengikutnya, Kratylos. Kratylos ini malahan berpandangan bahwa tidak mungkin manusia masuk ke dalam sungai yang sama bahkan untuk pertama kalinya.

Pada intinya, menurut James Warren, contoh sungai yang diambil oleh Herakleitos dalam fragmennya ingin menunjuk pada perubahan yang terjadi pada diri manusia. Pribadi manusia yang hidup di alam semesta ini mengalami perkembangan secara bertahap. Manusia lahir, betumbuh, menjadi tua, dan akhirnya meninggal. Perkembangan itulah yang disebut sebagai perubahan. Dalam mengalami perkembangannya itu, manusia tetap berada di alam semesta yang juga mengalami siklus perubahan.

D. Pandangan tentang Pemikiran Herakleitos

Hal pertama yang muncul ketika pertama kali masuk dalam alam pemikiran Herakleitos adalah kebingungan. Ungkapan-ungkapan yang mengutarakan gagasannya sukar untuk dipahami dengan sekali membaca. Namun, uraian James Warren setidaknya memberi deskripsi yang baik tentang apa yang ingin disampaikan oleh Herakleitos. Saya terbantu lewat pemaparannya yang masuk akal dalam menafsirkan pandangan Herakleitos. Yang menarik adalah keterpesonaan, kecermatan pengamatan, dan cara pengungkapan gagasan yang dimiliki Herakleitos. Karena keterpesonaannya, dia mencermati apa yang terjadi di dalam kosmos dan menarik sebuah korelasi keterikatan antara satu dengan yang lainnya dalam menghasilkan perubahan. Itu semua diungkapkannya dengan indah dalam kalimat-kalimat ringkas yang bisa disalahmengerti karena menimbulkan banyak arti.

Ajarannya yang penting bagi kehidupan sehari-hari, secara konkrit, adalah kesadaran akan kehidupan yang berlangsung di alam semesta dan pentingnya keselerasan lewat perbedaan. Menyadari apa yang sedang terjadi dan berlangsung di sekitarnya membuat manusia hidup secara utuh dan sadar bahwa dirinya benar-benar hidup dan berkembang. Sedangkan keselarasan lewat perbedaan membuat manusia memahami arti penting kehidupan, kesehatan, kedamaian, dan kebalikannya, kematian, rasa sakit, dan peperangan. Itu semua telah ada, sedang berlangsung, dan akan terus berjalan di alam semesta.

Sumber Utama                                      :

Warren, James, Presocratics, Stockfield: Acumen, 2007.

Pustaka Pendukung                              :

Sudiarja, Antonius, dkk. (eds.), Karya Lengkap Driyarkara: Esai-esai Filsafat Pemikir yang Terlibat Penuh dalam Perjuangan Bangsanya, Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 2006.

Sumber Pendukung dari Internet         : pada hari Senin, 18 Oktober 2010, pk. 20.30 WIB) (diunduh pada hari Senin, 18 Oktober 2010, pk. 21.50 WIB) (diunduh pada hari Sabtu, 16 Oktober 2010, pk. 15.30 WIB) (diunduh pada hari Senin, 18 Oktober 2010, pk. 22.00 WIB)

salemba. 2010

[1], Daniel W. Graham, Brigham Young University, Heraclitus (fl. c.500 BCE), 1. Life and Times, “Heraclitus lived in Ephesus, an important city on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor, not far from Miletus, the birthplace of philosophy.” (diunduh pada hari Sabtu, 16 Oktober 2010, pk. 15.30 WIB)

[2] Sudiarja, Dr. Antonius, dkk. Karya Lengkap Driyarkara: Esai-esai Filsafat Pemikir yang Terlibat Penuh dalam Perjuangan Bangsanya, (2006), Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 5. Herakleitos (± 540-475), a. Riwayat Hidup, hlm. 1096

[3] Fragment 50 , hlm. 7, (diunduh pada hari Senin, 18 Oktober 2010, pk. 21.50 WIB)

[4] Terjemahan DK 22 B30 dalam Bahasa Indonesia diambil dari diktat mata kuliah Sejarah Filsafat Yunani, Dr. Setyo Wibowo, Herakleitos, hlm. 13

[5] Terjemahan DK 22 B90 dalam Bahasa Indonesia diambil dari diktat mata kuliah Sejarah Filsafat Yunani, Dr. Setyo Wibowo, Herakleitos, hlm. 13

[6] Fragment 60, hlm. 9, (diunduh pada hari Senin, 18 Oktober 2010, pk. 21.50 WIB)

[7] Terjemahan DK 22 B60 dalam Bahasa Indonesia diambil dari diktat mata kuliah Sejarah Filsafat Yunani, Dr. Setyo Wibowo, Herakleitos, hlm. 14

[8] Terjemahan DK 22 B88 dalam Bahasa Indonesia diambil dari diktat mata kuliah Sejarah Filsafat Yunani, Dr. Setyo Wibowo, Herakleitos, hlm. 14

[9] Bdk. DK 22 B21, Clément, Stromates, III, 3, 21, 1.

[10] Fragment 91, hlm. 13, (diunduh pada hari Senin, 18 Oktober 2010, pk. 21.50 WIB)


Dalam kalangan para filsuf, Heraklitus seorang filosof yang sangat kontroversi, bukan saja Parmenides yang mengkritiknya, tetapi juga filsuf-filsuf lain pada zaman itu. Karena sulitnya mengerti maksud pikiran Herakleitos (baik dimasa sekarang maupun dimasa para filsuf dahulu) ia pun dijuluki dengan nama “si Gelap” (ho skoteinos) . Pertentangan antara Heraklitus dan Parmenides termasuk pada persoalan gagasan tentang perubahan yang konstan atas segala sesuatu . Heraklitus berbeda dengan Parmenides, ia menekankan pada indra lahir. Heraklitus melontarkan gagasan tentang perubahan yang konstan atas segala sesuatu dan berkeyakinan bahwa dengan adanya perubahan yang terus menerus pada segala sesuatu, maka perolehan ilmu menjadi hal yang mustahil, karena ilmu memestikan kekonstanan dan ketetapan, akan tetapi, dengan keberadaan hal-hal yang senantiasa berubah itu, maka mustahil terwujud sifat-sifat khusus dari ilmu tersebut. Untuk hal ini, saya menganggap pemikirannya sebagai dasar Skeptisisme.

Mengenai alam semesta ia berpendapat, “ Tiada sesuatu hal pun yang betul-betul ada, semuanya menjadi”. Atas landasan bahwa alam semesta ini memang ‘semuanya menjadi’, maka saya mendukung pendapat Herakleitos ini. Artinya bisa dijelaskan bahwa, sebelumnya segala sesuatu itu, telah ada sebagai bahan dasar untuk beranjak ke ‘proses menjadi’ tersebut. Untuk membuat sesuatu hal yang baru, memang harus memerlukan bahan dasar untuk membentuk: ‘Apa yang akan kita pikirkan atau rencanakan’. Bagaikan membuat suatu kursi, kita harus memerlukan kayu atau besi dan juga bahan-bahan lain yang menunjang untuk membuat kursi tersebut. Maka bagi saya, alam semesta ada karena ada sesuatu yang sudah ada sebelumnya. Dan perkataan ini, sama halnya dengan pandangan Andrew Lang terhadap kepercayaan akan allah. Ia mengatakan bahwa, “ sebelum atau kepercayaan asli ini terbentuk, sudah ada yang tertinggi atau supreme being.” , sama halnya dengan alam semesta ini yang mulai mengalami proses menjadi, maka ada sesuatu yang sudah ada terlebih dahulu.

Pada hal lain dari pengalamannya sebagai filosof, Heraklitus mengambil suatu sudut pandang yang sangat rumit untuk dimengerti para filsuf lainnya. Ia berpendapat bahwa alam semesta adalah sesuatu yang berlawanan satu sama lain. Ia mengatakan bahwa, “ Tiap-tiap benda terdiri dari hal-hal yang saling berlawanan dan hal yang berlawanan itu mempunyai kesatuan. Singkatnya satu adalah banyak dan banyak adalah satu”. Dari pendapat ini, salah satu filosof bernama Anaximandros berpendapat bahwa pertentangan dinilai sebagai suatu ketidakadilan: “ Musim panas mengalahkan musim dingin dan sebaliknya.”. Heraklitus mengambil beberapa contoh dengan sudut pandang yang berbeda, mengenai perlawanan untuk mengadu argumentasi dengan Anaximandros. Dalam perdebatan itu, Heraklitus berpendapat bahwa, “ Musim panas mempunyai arti yang spesifik, karena adanya musim dingin dan juga sebaliknya, siang sekan-akan ‘menjadi’ karena adanya malam.”

Inti perdebatan ini, memang sulit untuk dijelaskan atau dijalankan, akerna menyangkut suatu sudut pandang yang berbeda-beda. Anaximandros mengenai kejadian alam semesta mengatakan pendapatnya: “ to apeiron-yang tidak terbatas.” (peras: batas). Apeiron itu bersifat ilahi, abadi, tidak berubah (Bertens). Dari pendapat Aniximandros itu, saya menilai bahwa alam semesta itu adalah sesuatu yang paling ilahi, abadi dan merupakan misteri yang mendasar.

Heraklitus sendiri memiliki pendapat yang ‘sangat lain’. Penglihatannya mengenai hal ini hanya terpaku pada realita yang terjadi di alam semesta ini. Inilah sebabnya, dalam perdebatan anatara Heraklitus dan Aanaximandros, keduanya tidak menemukan titik terang atau titik penyelesaiannya. Mereka memandang dengan sudut pandang yang berbeda. Di lain sisi, Heraklitus melihat suatu keadilan berdasarkan perjuangan, sedangkan Anaximandros memandang keadilan harus berdarakan nilai moral-sosial. Hal tersebut jelas menyimpulkan, bahwa kedua pandangan ini mengalami benturan satu sama lain. Namun dikaitkan dengan dunia masa modern ini, apa yang dikatakan Heraklitus masih sungguh relevan, walaupun di lain sisi juga sanagt bertolak belakang dengan apa yang dikatakannya. Memang, kita melihat dan menafsirkan pendapat Heraklitus ada nilai positifnya, bahwa pada zaman sekarang untuk menentukan yang benar dan salah atau menang dan kalah hanya dapat diperoleh melalui suatu perlawanan. Sebuah contoh dalam Ilmu Politik, untuk mendudukkan satu kursi kekuasaan, seseorang harus melalui perdebatan dan perlawanan yang begitu hebatnya. Misalnya saja perdebatan sengit antara pasangan John McCain dengan Barack Obama dalam kampanye pemilu Presiden yang berakhir dengan kemenangan Obama. Menurut saya, dunia zaman ini memerlukan suatu perlawanan, sebab kalau tidak ada perlawanan, maka akan meucul suatu bentuk kekuasaan yang otoriter. Kita harus jeli melihat segi-segi yang tidak menguntungkan, bahwa segala sesuatu yang akan ‘menjadi’ tetapi hanya berdasarkan atas perlawanan akan terjadi, ketidakseimbangan, keserasian, dan kedamaian, pasti tidak akan terjamin. Perlawanan dan pertentangan itu akan selalu muncul. Dari hal itu akan timbul ketidakadilan didalam dunia ini. Sama halnya dengan alam semesta ini, seandainya segalanya berlawanan, maka tidak ada sesuatu yang namanya ‘proses menjadi’. Kita melihat kembali musim panas dan musim dingin sebagai sesuatu yang berlawanan. Menurut ilmu Alam, musim adalah suatu kondisi perputaran dalam lingkaran medio yang memberikan jeda waktu kepada musim lainnya, seperti skema dibawah ini :

Jika pada kenyataannya perputaran musim adalah demikian yang digambarkan diatas, maka sangatlaj jelas, bahwa terjadinya musim panas tidak bisa dilepaskan dari hubungannya dengan musim sebelumnya. Sehingga benar pendapat Heraklitus. Saya pun menarik kesimpulan dari pendapatnya bahwa “ Segala sesuatu yang ada, hanya proses menjadi dari sesuatu yang sebelumnya memang telah ada.”

Pythagoras (582 SM – 496 SM)

Phytagoras lahir pada tahun 570 SM, di pulau Samos, di daerah Ionia. Pythagoras (582 SM – 496 SM, bahasa Yunani: Πυθαγόρας) adalah seorang matematikawan dan filsuf Yunani yang paling dikenal melalui teoremanya.Dikenal sebagai “Bapak Bilangan”, dia memberikan sumbangan yang penting terhadap filsafat dan ajaran keagamaan pada akhir abad ke-6 SM. Kehidupan dan ajarannya tidak begitu jelas akibat banyaknya legenda dan kisah-kisah buatan mengenai dirinya.

Dalam tradisi Yunani, diceritakan bahwa ia banyak melakukan perjalanan, diantaranya ke Mesir. Perjalanan Phytagoras ke Mesir merupakan salah satu bentuk usahanya untuk berguru, menimba ilmu, pada imam-imam di Mesir. Konon, karena kecerdasannya yang luar biasa, para imam yang dikunjunginya merasa tidak sanggup untuk menerima Phytagoras sebagai murid. Namun, pada akhirnya ia diterima sebagai murid oleh para imam di Thebe. Disini ia belajar berbagai macam misteri. Selain itu, Phytagoras juga berguru pada imam-imam Caldei untuk belajar Astronomi, pada para imam Phoenesia untuk belajar Logistik dan Geometri, pada para Magi untuk belajar ritus-ritus mistik, dan dalam perjumpaannya dengan Zarathustra, ia belajar teori perlawanan.

Selepas berkelana untuk mencari ilmu, Phytagoras kembali ke Samos dan meneruskan pencarian filsafatnya serta menjadi guru untuk anak Polycartes, penguasa tiran di Samos. Kira-kira pada tahun 530, karena tidak setuju dengan pemerintahan tyrannos Polycartes, ia berpindah ke kota Kroton di Italia Selatan. Di kota ini, Phytagoras mendirikan sebuah tarekat beragama yang kemudian dikenal dengan sebutan “Kaum Phytagorean.”


Kaum phytagorean sangat berjasa dalam meneruskan pemikiran-pemikiran Phytagoras. Semboyan mereka yang terkenal adalah “authos epha, ipse dixit” (dia sendiri yang telah mengatakan demikian).2 Kaum ini diorganisir menurut aturan-aturan hidup bersama, dan setiap orang wajib menaatinya. Mereka menganggap filsafat dan ilmu pengetahuan sebagai jalan hidup, sarana supaya setiap orang menjadi tahir, sehingga luput dari perpindahan jiwa terus-menerus.

Diantara pengikut-pengikut Phytagoras di kemudian hari berkembang dua aliran. Yang pertama disebut akusmatikoi (akusma = apa yang telah didengar; peraturan): mereka mengindahkan penyucian dengan menaati semua peraturan secara seksama. Yang kedua disebut mathematikoi (mathesis = ilmu pengetahuan): mereka mengutamakan ilmu pengetahuan, khususnya ilmu pasti.


Phytagoras percaya bahwa angka bukan unsur seperti udara dan air yang banyak dipercaya sebagai unsur semua benda. Angka bukan anasir alam. Pada dasarnya kaum Phytagorean menganggap bahwa pandangan Anaximandros tentang to Apeiron dekat juga dengan pandangan Phytagoras. To Apeiron melepaskan unsur-unsur berlawanan agar terjadi keseimbangan atau keadilan (dikhe). Pandangan Phytagoras mengungkapkan bahwa harmoni terjadi berkat angka. Bila segala hal adalah angka, maka hal ini tidak saja berarti bahwa segalanya bisa dihitung, dinilai dan diukur dengan angka dalam hubungan yang proporsional dan teratur, melainkan berkat angka-angka itu segala sesuatu menjadi harmonis, seimbang. Dengan kata lain tata tertib terjadi melalui angka-angka.

Salah satu peninggalan Phytagoras yang terkenal adalah teorema Pythagoras, yang menyatakan bahwa kuadrat hipotenusa dari suatu segitiga siku-siku adalah sama dengan jumlah kuadrat dari kaki-kakinya (sisi-sisi siku-sikunya). Walaupun fakta di dalam teorema ini telah banyak diketahui sebelum lahirnya Pythagoras, namun teorema ini dikreditkan kepada Pythagoras karena ia lah yang pertama membuktikan pengamatan ini secara matematis.[1]

Pythagoras dan murid-muridnya percaya bahwa segala sesuatu di dunia ini berhubungan dengan matematika, dan merasa bahwa segalanya dapat diprediksikan dan diukur dalam siklus beritme. Ia percaya keindahan matematika disebabkan segala fenomena alam dapat dinyatakan dalam bilangan-bilangan atau perbandingan bilangan. Ketika muridnya Hippasus menemukan bahwa \sqrt{2}, hipotenusa dari segitiga siku-siku sama kaki dengan sisi siku-siku masing-masing 1, adalah bilangan irasional, Pythagoras memutuskan untuk membunuhnya karena tidak dapat membantah bukti yang diajukan Hippasus.



Teorema pythagoras boleh dibilang adalah teorema paling terkenal di matematika, kalo gak salah kita sudah mempelajari theorema tersebut sejak SMP (cmiiw). Pada tahun 572 sebelum masehi Pythagoras berkata bahwa jumlah kuadrat kedua sisi siku-siku pada segitiga siku-siku sama dengan panjang kuadrat sisi miringnya. Konon 1000 tahun sebelum Pytagiras lahir  bangsa babylonia telah menyadari hubungan antara sisi siku-siku dengan sisi miringnya pada segitiga siku-siku, tapi pythagoraslah yang pertamakali menyatakan hubungan tersebut dalam persamaan matematika.

Sebenarnya ada 79 cara untuk membuktikan teorema pytagoras. Tapi saya akan menggunakan cara pembuktian yang paling terkenal, pembuktian oleh astronom India Bhaskara (1114-1185).

Langkah pertama buat 4 buah segitiga siku-siku yang sama

Lalu susun menjadi bentuk dibawah ini

bujur sangkar dengan panjang sisi b+a

Perhatikan daerah diasir kuning, sebuah belah ketupat dengan panjang sisi C

maka kita tau bahwa luas belahketupat ditambah luas 4 segitiga siku-siku sama denagn luas bujur sangkar