Page images
PDF
EPUB

is no break between being and being; consequently these are no atoms. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there existed a void, a break between the assumed parts of the universe. If this interval is something real . it is what being is, it continues being, instead of interrupting it; it unites the bodies instead of dividing them into parts. If the void does not exist, then it can no longer divide them. There is then no interval between being and being, and all beings constitute but one single being. Being (the universe) is absolute and self-sufficient; it has neither desires nor wants nor feelings of any kind. If it were relative, it could depend only on that which is or on that which is not. If being depends on being, it depends upon itself or is independent; if it depends on that which does not exist, it is still independent; which excludes from it all desire, all need, all feeling. When one is everything one has no desires. Finally, being is one; for a second being or a third being would be but a continuation of it, that is, itself. Hence, to sum up: Being can only be conceived as eternal, immutable, immovable, continuous indivisible, infinite, unique. There is for the thinker but one single being, the All-One, in whom all individual dif. ferences are merged. The being that thinks and the being that is thought are the same thing (τωυτόν δ' έστι νοείν τε και ούνεκέν έστι νόημα).

In the second part of his poem, Parmenides deals with opinion (doča), which depends on the senses and is concerned with what is merely illusory. The universe, which reason conceives as an indivisible unity, is divided by the senses into two realms or rival elements: night or cold; and light, fire, or heat. The universe, which to reason is without beginning or end, has its apparent origin, its genesis ; and this genesis is the successive victory of the principle of light over the principle of darkness. Night is the mother, the luminous principle is the father, of all forms (eľon). The world shows the traces of the two elements to which it owes its origin even in its smallest parts. The warm and the cold, the clear and the obscure, are universally combined in constant proportions. The universe is composed of a series of concentric spheres, in which the light and warm spheres alternate with the dark and cold spheres. The outermost sphere, which encloses all the rest (Tò TEPLéxov), is solid, cold, and dark; beneath it lies the fiery sphere of the fixed stars ("Oluutos šo xatos). The central sphere is also solid and cold, but it is surrounded by a sphere of light and life. This fiery sphere which encircles the solid core of the earth is the source of movement (that is, of illusion ), the hearth of universal life (éoría TOU Tavtós), the seat of the Divinity (Aaiuwv), the Queen of the world (kubepvýtns), Justice (Ain), Necessity ('Avárykn), the Mother of Love ('Αφροδίτη).

1 Simplicius In Phys., f. 19 A, 31 B.

These doctrines, which partially reproduce Ionian and Pythagorean speculations, are not offered as the truth, but as hypotheses intended to orient us in the world of illusion. They have not for Parmenides the importance which they have for the Ionians. Inasmuch as he does not grant the existence of motion, but rejects as illusory that which constitutes the essence of nature, he accepts no other science than metaphysics, no other metaphysics than that of a priori reasoning. On account of the opposition which he creates between the real and the intelligible, he is the chief forerunner of Platonic idealism, without, however, being a spiritualist in the modern sense. Spiritualism distinguishes between corporeal substance and soul-substance; Eleatic metaphysics makes no such distinction. The being which it affirms is neither body nor soul, neither matter nor: spirit; it is being, nothing but being; and everything else

1 Cf. the Maja of the Hindoos, the mother of illusions.

a

is merely an accident, an appearance, an illusion. Nay, if we interpret the word matter in the subtle, metaphysical sense of substance or universal substratum, we may reckon Parmenides among the materialists, like his modern imitator Spinoza. But it would be a mistake to call him a materialist in the sense in which the term is applied to Democritus and the modern materialists; for materialism, properly so-called, exists only in opposition to spiritualism, which is later than Parmenides. The monism of Parmenides and lleraclitus is like the block of marble which may be formed into a basin or a Jupiter, or like the mothercell from which, according to circumstances, a Socrates or an Erostratus may come; it is capable of being differentiated and developed into materialistic or spiritualistic monism.

3. Plato deduces idealisin from it, while MELISSUS of Samos (410) interprets it in an altogether materialistic sense. This philosopher, who was also a brave general and a clever politician, opposes the Ionian cosmogonies with the Eleatic doctrine of the eternity of the world. If becoming is impossible, it is henceforth useless and absurd to inquire into the manner in which the universe originated. Being (Tò óv) is infinite in time, and — which is contrary to the view of Parmenides, who conceived it as a sphere infinite in space (ώσπερ έστι αιεί, ούτω και το μέγαθος άπειρον aiei xpn civai). This latter trait, which leaves no doubt as to the materialism of Melissus, gives his system a wholly modern stamp, and distinguishes it froin most of the ancient systems, particularly from that of Aristotle. For the Greek, who judges of things artistically, regards the infinite as the imperfect, as without limitation ; and the universe, which is the acme of perfection, is surely the perfect

1 The author of a book, Tepi Toù Övros (in the Ionian dialect), quoted in different passages by Simplicius, In Phys., f. 22, and passim : [Ritter and Preller pp. 106-111; Mullach, I., pp. 261 ff.; Burnet, 335 ff. - Tr.}

.

[ocr errors]

sphere, one half of which is revealed to us by the sense of sight, and of which the earth is the centre.

4. ZENO, a pupil and follower of Parmenides, is the controversialist of the school, the inventor of the process of demonstration called reductio ad absurdum, the father of dialectics and sophistry. The One alone is conceivable; extension, magnitude, motion, and space, cannot be conceived. If there is such a thing as a (limited) magnitude, it must be infinitely great and infinitely small: infinitely great, because, being infinitely divisible, it is composed of an infinite number of parts; infinitely small, because unextended parts, even though multiplied by infinity, cannot produce extension or magnitude.

Movement cannot be conceived; for the line which separates its starting-point from its point of rest is composed of points, and, since the point has no extension, of an infinite number of points. Hence every distance, even the smallest, is infinite, and the stopping-point can never be reached. However near you may imagine the swift Achilles to be to the slow tortoise, he will never be able to overtake it, since, in order to do so, he would first have to pass over one half of the clistance, however small, which separates him from the tortoise, and, in order to pass over this half, he would first have to pass over the half of the half, and so on to infinity. The infinite divisibility of the line is for him an insurmountable obstacle. You have an idea that the arrow flies through space. But in order to reach its destination, it must pass over a series of points in space; hence it must successively occupy these different points. Now, to occupy a point of space, at a given moment, means to be at rest: therefore the arrow is at rest and its movement is but illusory.

Aristotle, Phys., VI., 2, 9; Simplicius, In Phys., f. 30, 130, 255; Mullach, L., pp. 266 ff.; Ritter and Preller, pp. 100 ff.; [Burnet, pp 328 ff.)

2

Furthermore, if movement takes place, it can take place only in space. Now, if space is a reality, it exists somewhere, that is, in a space, which in turn exists in another space, and so on eis ä teipov. Motion is, therefore, impossible from every point of view, and we cannot suppose it to be real, unless we are willing to affirm an absurdity. Being alone exists, and this being is immutable matter.

5. GORGIAS ? of Leontinum, the rhetorician, a pupil of Zeno, who was sent by his country as an ambassador to Athens in 427, deduces the ultimate consequences from the Eleatic principle and ends in nihilism. He is not, like Zeno, content with denying motion and space; as his treatise, trepi toll un óvtos Tepi púoews, shows, he negates being itself. Nothing exists, he says; for if a being existed, t would have to be eternal, as was proved by Parmenides. Now, an eternal being is infinite. But an infinite being cannot exist in space or in time without being limited by them; Hence it is nowhere, and that which is nowhere does not exist. And even if, assuming the impossible, something did exist, we could not know it; and even if we could, this knowledge could not in any wise be communicated to others.

Gorgias is the enfant terrible of the Eleatic school, whose extravagances turn the tide in favor of the Heraclitean principle: Being is nothing, becoming is everything. The being of Parmenides and Zeno, which is eternal and immutable, but devoid of all positive attributes, is, in fact, a mere abstraction. It resembles the garment of the king, the fine texture of which everybody pretended to admire, until, at last, a little child exclaimed, in the simplicity of its heart: “Why, the king is naked !”

1 Aristotle, Met., III., 4, 41.

2 Aristotle, De Xenophane, Zenone, et Gorgia; Sextus Empir., Ado. malk., VII., 65, 77; Ritter and Preller, 187 ff.

« PreviousContinue »