Ancient philosophy can be divided into different stages. The philosophers before Socrates are called “pre-Socratics” and are known to move from myths, which were the means of explaining and apprehending the world at the time, to logos, which is based on the use of reason to the search for the truth.
Parmenides was born in a small Greek town in the Anatolian province of Elea around 515 BC. AD, about thirty years before Socrates, he was therefore part of the group of “pre-Socratic” philosophers, and would become one of its thinkers. eloquent and profound of his time.
Coming from a wealthy and illustrious family like many other philosophers of the time, he defied current theories and their predecessors. He was the founder with other philosophers of the Eleatic school, whose main doctrine holds that a perceivable thing is essentially a single unchanging entity, that is, things inherently exist, are united and are inseparable. Initiating an ontological debate between dualism and ever-living monism, things present a single reality or they can be separated into different substances, for Parmenides “what is and being is the same thing”, a point of view that belongs to monism.
He also conveyed his ideas and the division between truth and perception. Through the arts, he wrote a great poem entitled “On Nature” in which he prescribed two visions of reality: “the way of truth” and “the way of opinion” where he separated rational thought from feelings. Parmenides died around 450 BC. J.-C., at the age of 65 years. In this article we will delve into the life and work of Parmenideshighlighting certain thoughts and ideas, no doubt old, but being the first to better understand contemporary philosophy.
Brief biography of Parmenides
Parmenides’ life is not lacking in unknowns and voids; even the year of her death and birth is not known with certainty, although she is surrounded by other great names of the time. It seems that the only thing we can establish without risk of error is the place of his birth, Elea, city of Magna Graecia and from which the Eleática school takes its name. Also its origin in an influential and well-placed family of ancient Greece.
His first steps into the world of philosophy are doubtful. While some claim he was a disciple of Arminias, who was a well-known disciple of Pythagoras, other well-known philosophers of the time such as Plato and Aristotle stated through their testimonies that Parmenides began in the world of philosophy thanks to Coprofen, which is already considered part of the Eleática school and its thought.
Parmenides he is considered a great man in the world of philosophy and bears the title of father of metaphysics. He encouraged those who followed him to rethink certain ideas that had hitherto reigned in ancient Greece, where the world and the existence of human beings were explained mainly through mythology and the meaning it gave to the world. . The philosophers of the time, including Parmenides, worked tirelessly to seek the truth, the origin of all things, using reason as an instrument. But how to explain a constantly changing world? Not only was the constant becoming of the world the problem, but also our limited and unreliable capacity for sense perception.
He was also known for challenging the great contemporaries of the time. One of his best-known confrontations was against Heraclitus, a materialistic philosopher, who considered that the existence of things was given by opposition, according to Heraclitus it is joy that makes it possible to experience sadness. One of the best-known pupils of the Eleatic school was Zeno of Elea, who, following the approach of his master, tried to show that being was something unique and whole, it does not There are not a certain number of different and distinct elements that constitute it, but at the same time be so as if the universe were part of the same base, “Nothing comes out of nowhere” as your mentor would say.
Like other philosophers concerned with the city and its development, he would also have participated in the political life of the time. Parmenides did this actively, serving in government and helping to draft the laws of his city.
Apparently in the last years of his life he lived in Athens with his most famous disciple, Zeno, with whom he also reportedly shared a relationship, and was considered his eromenos. It was in Athens that a very young Socrates was able to hear his teachings, apparently he was not the only one to be imbued with his ideas and theories. Pericles is also said to have attended his speeches with great interest. Parmenides thus influenced not only the thinking of his time, but also the future through the transmission of his knowledge.
Parmenides he was the first to establish the superiority of reason over perception and he acquired his prestige above all thanks to this idea. What we see and perceive through our senses is not true. By our sight, our hearing, our touch or our feelings, always according to Parmenides, only false beliefs and opinions will arise that will make us deceive ourselves and confuse the truth with what we are able to perceive.
Plato deeply admired him not only for his ideas, but for his way of defending them. analytically and profoundly in his dialogue work with Parmenides. Plato would recognize in him a spiritual father and would see in his ways of thinking different from his own a kind of sentimental betrayal by the admiration he felt for him.
His only written work: the poem “On Nature”
His teachings and thoughts are still much debated, especially about what feelings and situations can tell us about truth. Although we may not have everything he wrote, his thoughts are broader. The only work that we know of is a vast didactic poem entitled “On Nature”, which has been reconstructed thanks to the various fragments found.
The poem is divided into two main parts and a preamble; each part shows and follows a different path, that of reason and that of opinion, existing for Parmenides a real winner: reason leads us to the truth of things, the senses can only capture appearance, which has to be true, moreover, can lead us to completely false beliefs and unfounded opinions.
A thought that we can now try to counter by highlighting certain capacities such as intuition and feelings when it comes to knowing and apprehending the world, but important for an era certainly influenced by religions and the lack of critical thinking.
The thought of Parmenides
Parmenides continued the research begun by the school of Miletus in the 6th century BC. J.-C., trying to explain and establish an origin of nature, or more precisely of existence, because his research focused mainly on living beings. For its main representative, the Tales of Miletus, this principle or fundamental origin was none other than water (arjé, in Greek), and from this substance all living beings were created, a theory which, far from being unreasonable , largely agrees with the theory of evolution.
The importance of this idea, which we have now somewhat integrated, because we know that we evolved from the same elements and then from living beings, was that it became the earliest Western theory about the physical world that we know ofestablishing a common origin for all.
Parmenides’ goal was therefore to know the world. But what if he keeps changing? This seemed to be the main obstacle he faced. This is why the rational approach he proposed was very important, this perspective also came to influence the very origin of things, which according to him would not be water, but the capacity to be that things had. in common.
Among the characteristics which are proper and innate to them would appear the capacity to be. All beings are, exist, beings that are not, do not exist. It’s complicated to understand and above all it lends itself to misinterpretation which are given by later thought between thought and existence. To make it more accessible and understandable, we can use an example suggested by Parmenides himself, according to him, sound and light are beings and silence and darkness do not exist and, therefore, they are not not beings. For Parmenides it was not water but existence which was common to all things which were evidently.
This principle of to be or not to be is at the origin of his poem. This revelation is given to him, as to others, by a goddess. More than anything, this axiom or principle comes to say that space or the vacuum would not exist and that nothing either, and therefore the human being or the rest of the things cannot come from something that does not exist , if that’s the one thing we all share.
Once being is and non-being is not established, it attempts to define what are the properties of being or of being. Thus being or reality cannot die and is therefore eternal. On the one hand, it cannot come from non-being or nothingness, because these simply do not exist, nor can they cease to exist. It is the senses and what we get out of them that make us believe that things really appear and disappear, “everything is full of Being”, this last property, cannot be divided, cannot disappear and cannot change. . That is to say, it cannot become non-existent.
These conclusions clearly contradict the information provided by the senses., because thanks to them what we perceive is an ever-changing world, not immutable things. This makes Parmenides present an argument in favor of reason, which is the only one that can bring us closer to the truth.
- Austin, S. (1986). Parmenides: Being, Limits and Logic. Yale University Press.
- Bakalis Nikolaos (2005), Handbook of Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Stoic Analysis and Fragments. Bloomington: Trafford Publishing.