Born: 515 BC
Died At Age: 65
Also Known As: Parmenides of Elea
Born Country: Greece
Born in: Elea, Magna Graecia
Famous as: Philosopher
Died on: 450 BC
Parmenides was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He authored a metaphysical poem that established him as one of the most eloquent and profound thinkers of his era. Regarded as the father of metaphysics, he conceptualized the notable idea that states that “Thought and being are the same.” Parmenides wrote a poem titled ‘On Nature’ in which he prescribed two views of reality - "the way of truth" and "the way of opinion". He is also known to have composed the phrase “Nothing comes from nothing”. Born in c. 515 BC to a rich and illustrious family, Parmenides has been viewed as a central figure in the history of philosophy. He was the one who challenged the theories of his predecessors and encouraged his successors to re-think their philosophies. He founded the Eleatic school of philosophy where one of his pupils was Zeno of Elea. During his lifetime, the great philosopher challenged many contemporaries, including Heraclitus of Ephesus who stood against the former’s philosophical concept of ‘being’. Parmenides died in 450 BC, at the age of 65.
Childhood & Early Life
Parmenides was born in around c. 515 BC in Elea, a Greek settlement now located in the commune of Ascea in Italy. His father was named Pyres; he was a wealthy aristocrat and one of the original colonizers.
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Composition of On Nature
Parmenides composed only a single work: a metaphysical poem titled ‘On Nature’. The poem that consisted of nearly 800 verses in its original form has survived only in fragments with 160 verses.
The poem is divided into three parts: a proem or a brief introduction by Parmenides, a section called ‘The Way of Truth’, and another section titled ‘The Way of Appearance/Opinion’.
Overview of Parmenidesï¿½
Parmenides’ proem describes the journey he once made to the abode of a goddess in a chariot, escorted by the daughters of Helios, the sun-god.
These maidens take him to “the halls of night” where night and day have their meeting place. The poet describes how the maidens persuade the guardian of these gates, Justice, to open them.
After successfully passing through the gates, Parmenides is finally welcomed by an unnamed goddess.
The Way of Truth
This section discusses what is ‘reality’ and contrasts with the argument in the other section of ‘the way of opinion’.
In ‘reality’, Parmenides states that there are two ‘routes of inquiry’ - “what-is” is, that is completely trustworthy, and ‘what-is-not’ necessarily cannot be that is not feasible.
A third possible ‘route of inquiry’ was devised which holds being and not-being to be both the same and not the same. This is the route that mortals wander into ‘without judgment.’
Parmenides stated that there is no certainty in the opinions of mortals.
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The Way of Opinion
’The Way of Appearance/Opinion’ is described via cosmology. The range of content of this section consists of metaphysical critiques of how mortals err in “naming” things, light/night duality and origin of celestial bodies.
It also describes the behavior of the “heavens,” including sun, moon, and the earth itself. It even accounts for the relationship between body and mind, and issues related to procreation of humans.
According to the section, it is either wrong for mortals to name both night as well as light, or naming one of these is wrong and the other acceptable.
’Naming’ only one opposite (for instance, night) requires thinking of its opposite (i.e. “day” is “not-dark”). This is contrary to the route of only thinking ‘what is’ and not “what is not”.
As per the traditional interpretation of Parmenides' work, the poet argued that the everyday perception of the ‘reality’ of the world is mistaken. Also, the reality of the physical world is 'One Being' that is unchanging and indestructible as a whole.
According to Parmenides, the phenomena of change and movement are appearances of an unchanging, eternal reality.
Parmenides also argued that movement was not possible for it needs moving into "the void", which is ‘nothing’ in his opinion and therefore, it does not exist.
Many scholars, including Charles H. Kahn, Peter Kingsley, and Alexander P. Mourelatos have debated over the intended interpretations of his work. It has been claimed that the true meaning of the poet’s message hasn’t been understood well.
The "mythological" details in his poem do not bear any relation to anything identified from traditional Greek mythology.
He is believed to have died around 440 or 450 BC. Nothing is known about his family life.
According to John Palmer, Parmenides’ distinction among the chief modes of ‘being’ qualifies to be seen as the foundation of metaphysics.
A view analogous to his with respect to time is found in the B theory of time as well as the concept of Block time.
Emanuele Severino, noted Italian philosopher, has created his philosophical investigations on the words of the great philosopher. The former’s philosophy is often termed as ‘Neo Parmenideism’.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger identified Parmenides' idea of the “supreme being” in ‘Way of Truth’ as the conscious self in "Nature and the Greeks".