Ein Gott vermags. Wie aber, sag mir, soll
ein Mann ihm folgen durch die schmale Leier?
Sein Sinn ist Zwiespalt.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Die Sonette an Orpheus I.3
- 1 I want to avoid interpretive problems associated with the word “influence.” I think it is unquestio (...)
1Why did the earliest Greek philosophical thinkers suppose that knowledge is possible? My inquiry concerns the foundations of early Greek epistemology, and involves both a historical story, broadly developmental, and a philosophical story of emerging complexities in the notions of divinity, the nature of the knower and the known, and the very idea of knowledge itself. Taking the fragments and testimonia about the early Greek thinkers as evidence, I am in search of a rational reconstruction that helps us understand why the views we find about nature and knowledge in ancient Greek philosophy developed as they did.1
- 2 DK 21.B2.10-12: Ῥώμης γὰρ ἀμείνων ἀνδρῶν ἠδ’ ἵππων ἡμετέρη σοφίη (For better than the strength of m (...)
2Confident claims are not hard to find: The Ionians make claims about the fundamental structure of the cosmos and the principles that govern it. Their assertions presuppose that they have knowledge of things far beyond their own (or any human) experience. As far as I know, neither Anaximander nor Anaximenes explored the epistemological implications of their cosmological theorizing, but it does not take long for concerns about human knowing to make their appearance in Presocratic thought. Although there are perhaps sceptical aspects to his work (see 21.B34, B35), Xenophanes glorifies claims for the power of human understanding.2 While Heraclitus laments how few human beings actually exercise their capacities for understanding, he clearly supposes that humans can acquire knowledge. The same is true for Parmenides.
- 3 An additional underlying aspect is the Presocratic revision of the notion of divinity that can be f (...)
3The question of my larger project is: what could justify the Presocratic conviction that human beings can have knowledge? The answer that I am arguing for in the larger project is that most Presocratic thinkers share a commitment to the possibility of a “natural fit” between the world and human understanding. Two claims underlie this commitment: the first is the basic intelligibility of the cosmos. The second is that human beings, having capacities for perception, thought, and understanding can come to know things beyond their limited daily sensory experience, and that in properly exercising these capacities, they can come to have the knowledge that earlier Greeks thought was reserved for the gods.3 Here I explore a small part of one important chapter of the story I want to tell: Parmenides’ accounts of what-is and of thinking and the implications of these views for the possibility of human knowledge about the world around us. This paper concentrates on Parmenides, beginning with a few comments about Heraclitus.
- 4 Heraclitus B40: “Much learning (πολυμαθίη) does not teach understanding (νόος) – or else it would h (...)
- 5 This general claim oversimplifies the individual character of Heraclitus’ disagreements with each o (...)
- 6 See also DK22 B28a: the most esteemed merely suppose; B42: Homer and Archilochus deserve thrashing; (...)
- 7 B79: “A man hears himself called νήπιος by a divinity, just as a child does by a man.” See “Divine (...)
4Heraclitus’ criticisms of his predecessors are well known: DK22 B404 (against the polymaths) is a good example, but hardly the only one. The wise men and polymaths fail because they do not grasp that within the mass of material they accumulate, there is a unifying structure; like Homer (in 22 B56) they do not appreciate the importance of what is not obvious, nor do they understand the logos, the account of how the world is organized. Heraclitus will argue that their ignorance of the logos is especially deplorable because the logos is manifest in the cosmos to those who know how to see and understand it (22 B1, B2).5 If lack of understanding (ignorance) is the only epistemic state open to humans, it makes little sense for Heraclitus to berate them.6 Even B79, with its epistemic scale of child, adult, and god leaves room for the possibility that human beings can have some knowledge.7 To support this view, Heraclitus must show what the wise person knows, how he can come to know it, and how this wisdom can be manifested in “speaking and acting what is true” (B112). Underlying all this, Heraclitus must have views about the structure of the world and the nature of human understanding that can allow for the possibility of knowledge. That is, he must think of the world as intelligible and of human thought as actually capable of grasping and understanding it and its structure. The logos as a whole constitutes and contains the account of that structure: understanding the nature of a single thing can help in grasping what the logos is and how it functions; yet full understanding requires understanding the entire logos itself. It is this genuine understanding that Heraclitus holds out as a possibility for some humans.
5While Heraclitus rejects certain kinds of uninformed and merely acquisitive inquiry (ἱστορία), he also says that “those who are lovers of wisdom must be inquirers (ἵστορες) into many things” (B35), and asserts (in B101) that “I inquired into myself (ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν).” Heraclitean search or inquiry, when successful, reaches toward or achieves an account (logos) of how things really are; Heraclitus, who presumes that he has inquired successfully, asserts that he will “distinguish each thing in accordance with its nature, saying how it is” (B1). Yet, B45 may suggest, some inquiry by humans might never be fully successful:
- 8 I follow Betegh (“Limits”) for both the text and the translation. Betegh’s masterful discussion of (...)
ψυχῆς πείρατα [ἰών] οὐκ ἄν ἐξεύροι ὁ πᾶσαν ἐπιπορευόμενος ὁδόν·
οὕτω βαθὺν λόγον ἔχει.8
He who travels every road will not find out the limits of soul [as he goes],
so deep a logos does it have.
- 9 Other roads in Heraclitus: B59, B60. In both cases the road is backward turning: crooked and straig (...)
- 10 See Betegh, “Limits,” for discussion of the many layers of ambiguity in the fragment. As Betegh poi (...)
- 11 Betegh, “Limits;” A.A. Long, “Measure;” E. Hülsz, “Logos.”
6On a sceptical reading of B45, there are two problems in the inquiry: first, there is the character of the object of inquiry. The logos of soul is said to be so deep that one might never reach the end of inquiry into its nature (or, given B101, inquiry into oneself); as having a deep logos, the soul might be “unlimited” in the sense of ungraspable or unreachable and so it cannot be completely understood. The second is that Heraclitus here presents the inquiry into soul as a kind of journey, a going along a road. While Heraclitus probably means something like “searching far and wide” or making every effort, the image of a road along which one goes to discover (or not) the limits of soul is suggestive. The effort involved in finding out is like the difficulty of travel: discovery is a voyage of some sort. The problem that the fragment suggests is that the journey seems to be along a road without end; and one might not even know whether one has taken the correct route.9 The fragment need not be taken this way; Heraclitus certainly claims that the soul is (among other things) a cognitive capacity, and Heraclitus clearly thinks of himself as a human who has knowledge and understanding.10 The depth (βαθύς) of the logos of the soul here can refer to the soul’s deep or profound capacity to learn and take in more and more. The journeying implied in the search suggests that the systematic project of inquiring and so coming to understand can go on as long as one is awake to the world. In recent studies, G. Betegh, A.A. Long and E. Hülsz support the more optimistic view, and they are correct to do so on Heraclitus’ behalf.11
- 12 As Betegh puts it: “. . . the deep or extended logos of the soul is not a given but a potentiality. (...)
7Heraclitus would not claim that all humans can succeed in this (recall the sleepers of B1 and those who turn away from the common logos to a ‘private understanding’ in B2).12 Consider B79:
ἀνὴρ νήπιος ἤκουσε πρὸς δαίμονος ὅκωσπερ παῖς πρὸς ἀνδρός
A man hears himself called childish by a divinity, just as a child does by a man
- 13 This problem is discussed more fully in “Divine and Thinkable.”
8Here there is a continuum between human and divine powers of knowledge (just as there is a continuum between individual and cosmic soul): a human may be epistemically almost anywhere along the scale. Nevertheless, there are troubling aspects in some of what Heraclitus says about human knowing. Confidence in one’s knowledge is no guarantee that one actually knows. Those whom Heraclitus castigates for ignorance and polymathy have been taken by many (including themselves) to be wise. While it is clear that Heraclitus takes himself to understand the logos, and while he provides some hints about how one might go about gaining this understanding oneself, Heraclitus’ failure to provide any sign for the successful achievement of sure and certain truth (as Xenophanes puts it in DK21.B34) is troubling. Without some criterion for determining the legitimacy of knowledge claims, we can never be sure that we have not deceived ourselves about what we claim to know.13
- 14 For how the kouros might have come to be in the chariot, see the comments by Schofield (in his revi (...)
- 15 I follow the traditional order of the fragments in DK.
9Parmenides, taking up the challenge, addresses this problem in his poem, presented as an address by an unnamed goddess to a kouros who, having somehow escaped the mundane world, is carried in a chariot led by maidens and so brought to her in a place “far from the beaten track of men.”14 Once the scene is set in the proem, the beginning of the goddess’ argument in B2 and B3 provides clues for the solution.15
εἰ δ’ ἄγ’ ἐγὼν ἐρέω, κόμισαι δὲ σὺ μῦθον ἀκούσας,
αἵπερ ὁδοὶ μοῦναι διζήσιός εἰσι νοῆσαι·
ἡ μὲν ὅπως ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς οὐκ ἔστι μὴ εἶναι,
πειθοῦς ἐστι κέλευθος (ἀληθείῃ γὰρ ὀπηδεῖ),
ἡ δ’ ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς χρεών ἐστι μὴ εἶναι,
τὴν δή τοι φράζω παναπευθέα ἔμμεν ἀταρπόν·
οὔτε γὰρ ἄν γνοίης τό γε μὴ ἐόν (οὐ γὰρ ἀνυστόν)
οὔτε φράσαις . . . (B2)
τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι. (B3)
Come now, and I will tell, and you, hearing, preserve the story
the only routes of inquiry there are for thinking;
the one, that it is and that it is not possible that it not be,
is the way of persuasion (for it attends upon/accompanies truth),
the other, that it is not, and that it is right not to be,
this I point out to you is a way altogether indiscernible:
for you could not know what is not (for it is not to be accomplished)
nor could you point it out. . . (B2)
for the same thing is for thinking and for being. (B3)
- 16 I should note here that I do not take the esti in Parmenides to be primarily existential but predic (...)
- 17 Parmenides’ arguments show how what-is is; hence he gives criteria that must be met for anything to (...)
10Here, in the programmatic announcement with which the goddess begins her account, we are told that there are routes that inquiry (δίζησις) may take. Δίζησις is in the same family as Xenophanean and Heraclitean inquiry: it involves a seeking out or a quest for what can be ascertained. The goddess describes routes or ways of inquiry: the route that it is, and the route that it is not. It is not the routes themselves that are or are not in the relevant sense; rather, it is their destinations (that to which they lead) that are or are not.16 The routes succeed or fail insofar as their destinations are achievable. So, as Parmenides considers (in B8) the problem of how we could be sure that we have taken the correct path, the nature of the route and the nature of its goal, end, or destination are intertwined. First, he argues that the real object of any genuine inquiry and thinking (what-is) is limited, bounded, contained: a whole of a single kind that is genuinely real. Thus, it could in principle be grasped and understood. B8.2-4 asserts that there are signs or indications along the only correct route of inquiry that allow the inquirer to be sure or certain that there has been no mistake. These indications, making use of the fundamental krisis or judgment: “is or is not,” place limits on the sort of thing that can be the object of genuine inquiry and and hence be knowable, so that one inquiring in this way will reach the destination.17 Second, in connecting the routes of inquiry with thinking/apprehending, and in stating that the supposed object of the negative route is altogether unknown/unknowable (for grasping its supposed object is “not to be accomplished”), Parmenides implies that he can offer an account of successful inquiry into and thought about what-is (that which is ἀνυστόν and hence can be accomplished, perfected, completed). B3 (which I take as following on from B2) holds out the promise of this: the same thing is for thinking and for being, i.e., what-is is connected with right thinking in a fundamental way: it is the natural home of correct thinking.
- 18 Lesher provides clear and helpful discussions of Parmenides’ analyses and criticisms of human think (...)
11It is obvious that most human activities (seeing, athletics, speech-making, building, piano-playing etc.) can be done well or badly. Sometimes humans are less successful at activities because their bodies fail them (bad sight, inability to run); at other times the lack of achievement can be attributed to lack of attention and the failure to exercise the appropriate skill (not learning rhetoric, failing to practice carpentry or piano-playing enough to become a master). Almost anyone can pick up a saw or strike the keys of a piano; only some can genuinely practice carpentry or truly play the piano (when by using these adverbs we mean that they do these things well and successfully). I suggest that Parmenides recognizes that thinking (and other noetic activity) is a central characteristic of human beings, and that he also supposes that there can be degrees of success in thinking. The best kind of human thinking (like the best kind of carpentry or piano-playing) requires practiced skill and attention. This is made clearer in B6, where the “wandering noos” of mortals on their “backward turning path” is clearly contrasted with the directed thinking aiming at what-is that the best thinkers take (these are those who are able to judge by reasoning at B7.5)18 Parmenides characterizes the ordinary, everyday (and sometimes inattentive) thinking of humans as “mortal,” and he contrasts this with the truth that is to be learned by applying the lessons of the goddess (B1.28-30):
- 19 Palmer Parmenides, pp. 378-80, accepts εὐκυκλέος, as does Tor, who follows him. For reasons not to (...)
. . . χρεὼ δέ σε πάντα πυθέσθαι,
ἠμὲν ἀληθείης εὐπειθέος19 ἀτρεμὲς ἦτορ
ἠδὲ βροτῶν δόξας, ταῖς οὐκ ἔνι πίστις ἀληθής.
. . . it is right that you learn all things,
both the unshaken heart of well-persuasive truth
and also the beliefs of mortals, in which there is no true trust.
- 20 I have argued for this in Legacy and elsewhere. See now Tor on mortal thinking in “Epistemology;” T (...)
12There are references to mortals (βροτοί) here at B1.30, at B6.4 (wandering, know-nothing mortals), at B8.39 (mortals imposed names), at B8.51 (beliefs/opinions [δόξαι] of mortals), and B8.61 (opinion [γνώμη]). In none of these cases, is the term used as one of approbation. At B1.29-30 mortal beliefs are explicitly contrasted with truth (as they are in B8.51; B8.61 contains an implicit warning against them). This use suggests that thinking always like a mortal can be avoided.20 The question is how a human being can avoid being trapped by mortal thought; I have suggested that reasoned control of one’s noos is the charm that wards off mortal mistakes (again, the contrasts in B6 and B7 are important here). Nόος, νόημα, νοητόν, and νοεῖν all occur in the fragments; and interestingly, νόος turns up in positive claims about how one ought to think and judge, in the rejection of mortal thinking, and especially in B16. These occurrences suggest that noos, as a power or capacity [not a faculty] for thinking (noos-ing) can be done well or badly, and is not just to be identified with a successful state of understanding (as Heraclitus 22B40 might suggest). All humans can think, but not all humans successfully control noos. So, learning to go beyond mortal thinking would be learning to think well: to use noos properly.
- 21 See Tor’s arguments about B1, pp. 25-29; quotation from p. 29. Tor carefully integrates his account (...)
- 22 P. 32. Tor’s view includes a discussion, pp. 23-25 (using evidence from Aëtius A45 and Simplicius – (...)
- 23 Working out the details of this is the larger project mentioned in note 1. Part of my claim is that (...)
13Shaul Tor argues that the journey of the kouros to the goddess is presented “as one which takes its culmination to be a transformative divinisation of the mortal through an identification with his divine soul.”21 Tor explains the divinisation this way: “a human’s mind can reason about ‘is’ and ‘is not,’ but it is then a divinised and no longer human mind, thinking in non-human, divine ways and attaining non-human, divine knowledge.”22 While I agree (and have argued) that there is a sense in which for Parmenides (as well as other Presocratics) the “man who knows” has a god-like view, I do not accept that the activity of excellent knowing entails that one attains a “non-human” knowledge. Overcoming mortal thinking is not overcoming human thinking. For a number of the early Greek philosophers, to be human just is to occupy a peculiar space between non-human animals and the divine, sharing both in animal nature dependent on what happens to one in the moment, and in intellectual capacities for power and knowledge that can, because of their truth and power, be classed as divine.23
14B16 suggests the starting place: it provides an account of how thinking must begin in all humans.
- 24 Text as in Tarán, Mourelatos, Graham. Bredlow suggests the Aristotelian ἑκάστῳ in line 1 rather th (...)
ὡς γὰρ ἑκάστοτ’ ἔχει κρᾶσις μελέων πολυπλάγκτων
τὼς νόος ἀνθρώποισι παρέστηκεν· τὸ γὰρ αὐτό
ἔστιν ὅπερ φρονέει μελέων φύσις ἀνθρώποισιν
καὶ πᾶσιν καὶ παντί· τὸ γὰρ πλέον ἐστὶ νόημα.24
- 25 This translation (a) does not follow the exact word order of the text (more literal versions are ev (...)
For just as is the mixture of the much wandering limbs on each occasion,
so is noos present to humans; for the same thing
is the very thing that cognizes – in all humans and in each: the nature of the limbs; for the full is thought.25
- 26 This accepts that the Doxa may indeed give a correct account of appearances, a view that has become (...)
15Here are the conditions for thinking in human beings (note that the word here is not βροτοί, mortals). Interaction of the external conditions with our bodies (through the senses) constitutes both the necessary condition for any kind of awareness, and is also the ordinary cognitive state of humans. B16 suggests that changing states of mind are connected with the “much wandering” body; “on each occasion” indicates that such states of mind are ordinary, customary, and habitual. The ever-present ever-changing state of the body quite naturally leads humans to suppose that what produces the mixture and is apparently indicated by it (i.e. what they are of aware of) at any given time in this way is all that there is. These mixtures or states of mind are that on account of which there is what humans are accustomed to accept as thought. There is no escaping this as an original condition for all of us, and B16 does not condemn this state (“for all humans and for each”). It is the first step in developing our particularly human cognitive capacities, and becoming capable of moving on to truer (more genuine) thought about truer (more genuine) objects. Human thought begins this way because we all begin with the experience of the senses, which for Parmenides occurs through the effects of Light and Night on the body, and indeed this is a necessary part of living in and interpreting the world of sensory appearances as it is explained in the Doxa.26 The question is whether a human must remain tethered to the evidence of sensation (as in the case of the two-headed mortals in B6 who are compelled along by custom in B7).
- 27 Alternatively, reading περῶντα: “all things passing through all things” or “passing the whole way t (...)
- 28 I agree with Betegh (on Heraclitus in his “Physical”) and with Tor (on Parmenides in “Epistemology” (...)
- 29 Hussey suggests that “despite his archaic language of mental states . . . Parmenides is here up to (...)
16Satisfaction with the cognition that B16 describes is the source of mortal error: uncritically accepting the evidence of experience is what leads mortals (the ἄκριτα φῦλα of B6.7) to suppose that “the things that seem had to be reliably, being indeed, the whole of things” (28B1.31-32; reading περ ὂντα in line 3227). The best human thought involves critical analysis of the objects of thinking and of experience. To get to the unshaking heart of truth requires going beyond the experiences of sense-based beliefs. B2, which describes the possible path(s) of inquiry – only one path is a genuine route – indicates that this path, like the road to the goddess, “is far from the beaten track of humans.” Not only is the genuine object of thought (to which the true route leads) something beyond what seems to mortals to be the case in ordinary life (because of the mixture in the limbs), but the genuine activity of thought goes beyond simply being affected by those mixtures. This is a kind of intellectual awareness that may not be reducible to a state of the body.28 I think that Parmenides (like Heraclitus) accepts that not every thing or process is merely what we would call material or physical. (Neither of these words is fully appropriate, for both are embedded in and belong to later theories that have different assumptions and presuppositions.) What I am suggesting is that Parmenides rejects the notion that all there is to thinking and awareness is a certain state of the body and a certain mixture of stuffs in the world.29
- 30 Hussey (“Thinking”) suggests that Parmenides is “correcting” Homer and Hesiod.
17Humans are, in ordinary or default mortal mode, passive thinkers, affected by sensations, accepting what everyone else accepts, and supposing that the customary names, stories, and opinions are adequate as accounts of how things are. (Compare with Xenophanes and Heraclitus on the roles of Homer and Hesiod in shaping human views of the world, for instance.30) Yet Parmenides shows that such a conventional, non-critical (ἄκριτος) mortal is not a genuine, active, and controlled human thinker; such a mortal has a wandering noos with thoughts passively implanted by the things that seem to be the case (τὰ δοκοῦντα). These states constitute the opinions/beliefs of mortals in which there is no true trust (δόξαι βροτῶν, ταῖς οὐκ ἔνι πίστις ἀληθής B1.30). Two core fragments warn against being deceived that mortal thinking is all there is, and so following the path that mortals attempt to take:
. . . ἣν δὴ βροτοὶ εἰδότες οὐδέν
πλάττονται, δίκρανοι· ἀμηχανίη γὰρ ἐν αὐτῶν
στήθεσιν ἰθύνει πλακτὸν νόον· οἱ δὲ φοροῦνται
κωφοὶ ὁμῶς τυφλοί τε, τεθηπότες, ἄκριτα φῦλα,
οἷς τὸ πέλειν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶναι ταὐτὸν νενόμισται
κοὐ ταὐτόν, πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος (28.Β6)
. . . οὐ γὰρ μήποτε τοῦτο δαμῇ εἶναι μὴ ἐόντα·
ἀλλὰ σὺ τῆσδ’ ἀφ’ ὁδοῦ διζήσιος εἶργε νόημα,
μηδέ σ’ ἔθος πολύπειρον ὁδὸν κατὰ τήνδε βιάσθω,
νωμᾶν ἄσκοπον ὄμμα καὶ ἠχήεσσαν ἀκουήν
καὶ γλῶσσαν, κρῖναι δὲ λόγῳ πολύδηριν ἔλεγχον
ἐξ ἐμέθεν ῥηθέντα. (28.B7)
. . . [the path] on which mortals, knowing nothing,
wander, two headed; for helplessness in their
breast directs their wandering thought; they are carried along
deaf and blind alike, amazed, uncritical hordes
for whom to be and not to be are supposed to be the same
and not the same, and the path of all is backward-turning.
Never shall this be forced through: that things that are not are;
but you, hold back your thought/thinking/mind (νόημα) from this route of inquiry
nor let much-experienced custom force you along this route,
to ply an aimless eye and echoing ear
and tongue; but you judge by reasoning the much-contested testing spoken by me. (28.B6 and 7)
18These feckless and reckless folk (they literally lack reckoning) are at the mercy of much-experienced custom, which puts names on the things that seem and takes the names to be trustworthy and true (B8.38-41; B8.53-54).
19How could a human know whether he is, as a matter of fact, thinking as a mortal? How could a human then learn to avoid mortal thinking? My suggestion is that Parmenides sees the way to solve both of these problems at the same time, by arguing that there is an isomorphism between what-is and genuine thought, such that successful, i.e., non-mortal, thinking bears signs of its own success in reaching its object, what-is. This is indicated in B3 as well as in B8.34-38, which both assert that the same thing is for thinking and for being, i.e., what-is is that for the sake of which there is thought. What-is itself is knowable as the correct object of thought by fitting or fulfilling certain criteria which constitute what it is to be a genuine being. Using the signs along the route that it is, the traveler can test any proposed candidate for what-is by applying the krisis “is or is not?”. If at any point, the candidate fails a test, it must be rejected. Successfully travelling the correct path, then, just is coming to grasp what-is. If Parmenides can complete this project of linking genuine thought and genuine being, he will have begun to solve the epistemic problems that remain from the pioneering work of Xenophanes and Heraclitus.
- 31 For an intriguing account of this, see Tor (2105). A part of the story I am trying to tell about th (...)
20The poem shows that the capacity for thinking can allow human beings to have the knowledge that previously seemed to have been denied to them and reserved for (some of) the gods.31 The key is coming to see that thinking can be freed from its dependence on passing states of the body (mortal thinking), that its power allows one to have insight into what is eternal and true. This power involves thinking about or reflecting on one’s own thinking. The general account of the default state of human cognition in B16 apparently limits supposition to what is immediately present and constituting the state of the body: sensations and what are taken to be the objects of those perceptions. It is only thought unencumbered by the passing states of the wandering limbs that can give one the view of things enunciated in B4:
λεῦσσε δ’ ὅμως ἀπεόντα νόῳ παρεόντα βεβαίως·
οὐ γὰρ ἀποτμήξει τὸ ἐὸν τοῦ ἐόντος ἔχεσθαι
οὔτε σκιδνάμενον πάντῃ πάντως κατὰ κόσμον
- 32 Third person singular active of ἀποτμήγω; see analysis of this construal in Coxon, p. 307.
- 33 See Fronterra on this passage.
Look on absent things as nevertheless firmly present to noos;
for it [i.e., noos] will not cut off32 what-is from holding fast to what-is
neither being scattered nor gathered in every direction in every way in order.33
21Parmenides here claims that noos has the power to go beyond the passive state of B16, to grasp what-is, which is always genuine, always real, and always accompanies what is true and trustworthy. This claim will work only if there is (a) a capacity for such genuine thought that is not limited to the account of noos in B16, and (b) there indeed is what genuinely is. This is part of what suggests that Parmenides is beginning to conceive of thought as that which can be cut loose from states of the body and can grasp (i.e., be about) what is not itself a present bodily state. Genuine thought involves escaping from the sensory world. The genuine object of genuine thought is not that which appears to the senses or seems to be the case, i.e., the present mixture of the wandering limbs.
22Parmenidean mortals mistakenly take their passing cognitive states as thinking, and thus take the wrong things to be thinkable. In B2, B3, the beginning of B6, and in B8.1-49, Parmenides’ analysis is as much about genuine (non-mortal) thought as it is about what-is, for the two stand together. This is the claim of B3, “the same thing is for thinking and for being (. . . τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι)” and of B8.34-38:
ταὐτὸν δ’ ἐστὶ νοεῖν τε καὶ οὕνεκέν ἐστι νόημα·
οὐ γὰρ ἄνευ τοῦ ἐόντος, ἐν ᾧ πεφατισμένον ἐστίν,
εὑρήσεις τὸ νοεῖν· οὑδὲν γὰρ <ἤ> ἐστιν ἤ ἔσται
ἄλλο πάρεξ τοῦ ἐόντος, ἐπεὶ τό γε Μοῖρ’ ἐπέδησεν
οὖλον ἀκίνητόν τ’ ἔμεναι . . .
The same thing is for thinking and is that on account of which there is thought;
For not without what-is, in which it is expressed,
will you find thinking; for nothing else either is or will be
except what is, since it was indeed this that fate shackled
to be whole and unchanging . . .
- 34 See Palmer, p. 164 n.40.
- 35 Does what-is think? It might well be the case that Parmenides accepts a version of pan-psychism. Se (...)
23I take these lines to be claiming an unbreakable connection between thinking/understanding and what-is. What-is is the ground of thought, and its cause (it is “that on account of which there is thinking”) and it is that in which (or: depending on which34) thinking is expressed, or what thinking has its object. Only what-is is thinkable, and genuine thought always picks up/out what-is.35 As I suggested above, this is a commitment to the ultimate intelligibility of what-is, and B2 promises that thinking/inquiry that stays on the proper route (the route of what-is) will reach the goal and have genuine knowledge and understanding. As B1.26-30 says:
. . .οὒτι σε μοῖρα κακὴ προὔπεμπε νέεσθαι
τὴνδ’ ὁδόν (ἦ γὰρ ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων ἐκτὸς πάτου ἐστίν),
ἀλλὰ Θέμις τε Δίκη τε. χρεὼ δέ σε πάντα πυθέσθαι
ἠμὲν ἀληθείης εὐπειθέος ἀτρεμὲς ἦτορ . . .
. . .it was no evil fate that sent you to go along
this road (for truly it is far from the beaten path of men),
but Right and Justice. It is right that you learn all things,
[a] the unshaking heart of well-persuasive truth . . .
- 36 See Cherubin on personification.
- 37 The best discussion of this is still Mourelatos, Route. This is one of the reasons why I do not acc (...)
24To learn the truth is to know what-is. The appearance of Right and Justice (Θέμις τε Δίκη τε) in these lines (as well as the presence of Πειθώ at B2.4, and Μοῖρa at B8.37) gives an air of inevitability to the learning, and to the connection between thinking and what-is. I do not think that the divine entities referred to here are meant as literal personifications.36 Rather, I take them as indications of the strength of the claims that are made; they are proto-modal operators for a thinker who has no technical logical terms. Similarly, the uses of χρεών and χρή do not specify logical necessity, but rather a need that it is urgent to fulfill, because it is right that such be done. This is a necessity that can encompass both logical and normative overtones. When what is right is fulfilled, all is right with the world, as it were.37 This is solemn language, and the repetitions of “it is and must be” throughout the poem, along with the claim that nothing else than what-is is, was, or will be (B8.36) sounds like the language that other Presocratics applied to the divine, both Xenophanes’ claims about divinity at 21B 23-26, and Heraclitus’s 22 B30:
- 38 I accept the τόνδε of Simplicius and Plutarch. Dilcher argues for accepting it and rejecting τὸν αὐ (...)
κόσμον τόνδε38 τὸν αὐτὸν ἁπάντων οὔτε τις θεῶν οὔτε ἀνθρώπων
ἐποίησεν, ἀλλ᾿ ἦν ἀεὶ καὶ ἔστιν καὶ ἔσται, πῦρ ἀείζωον, ἁπτόμενον μέτρα καὶ ἀποσβεννύμενον μέτρα.
This ordered world the same for all no one of gods nor men made, but it was always, and is, and will be, fire everlasting, being kindled in measures and being extinguished in measures.
- 39 “Divine,” pp. 237-8.
- 40 Nehamas, “Being/Fire;” Curd, “Heraclitus.”
25I argue elsewhere that Heraclitus’ logos constitutes a natural world-order whose divinity and intelligibility is internal to the self-regulating system of changes itself.39 Heraclitus B30 points to this divine aspect, and while Parmenides’ what-is differs importantly from Heraclitus’ logos whose sign is fire, I agree that there is a shared metaphysical conception at work here. Whatever it is that is fundamental and is the object of knowledge must be real in a certain way.40 I take it that Parmenides could agree with some of the formal aspects of Heraclitus’ claims, but would insist that Heraclitus (a) gets wrong the details about what it is that is the proper object of knowledge and so (b) cannot give a sign by which to judge that sure and certain knowledge has been acquired. In correcting Heraclitus on both (a) and (b), Parmenides offers a guarantee of human knowledge, as long as humans stop thinking only as mortals. To overcome the tendency to take the mortal view (to think that only passing experience can be known) is to acquire the divine-like knowledge that Heraclitus sought and that Xenophanes may have thought would remain out of reach.
26What is this knowledge, both as a “state” of the knower and as object? As I mentioned earlier, to know, to go beyond the mortal, is to think what-is. Travelling the first (and indeed the only real) route of inquiry for thought, described as the route “that it is and is not possible not to be,” takes noos to what-is. I take it that to eon (what-is) is a placeholder for what is genuinely real, keeping in mind that the signs of B8, although adjectives, are aspectual; they are signs of how what-is is what it is. That these signs correctly point to how what-is is can be determined by reasoning (or logos). To deny that these ways of being belong to what-is is to commit oneself to the reality of what-is-not; an impossible task. What-is is then the fundamental structure of the world (whatever that is). There may be only one such genuine entity, there may be more than one, but the signs point to the fact that anything that genuinely is must be ungeneratedly, imperishably, unchangingly, completely, wholly of the single kind that it is. It is because what-is is in this way (unchangingly the same all the way through, as we might put it) that what-is can be grasped as a complete whole by noos, and can thus be the unwavering object of sure and certain unwavering understanding.
27Parmenides contrasts the man who knows (who travels straight along the route) with those mortals, who wander, two headed. They suppose that what seems is what-is, and apply names to what seems to them. In B8 Parmenides asserts that mortals are persuaded that the names they give are true, i.e. are actually names of what-is. This is implied by the lines at B 8.38-40 that follow those I quoted earlier, that say that it is what-is that Moira shackled to be whole and unchanging:
. . . τῷ πάντ(α) ὀνόμασται
ὅσσα βροτοὶ κατέθεντο πεποιθότες εἶναι ἀληθῆ,
γίγνεσθαί τε καὶ ὄλλυσθαι, εἶναί τε καὶ οὐχί,
καὶ τόπον ἀλλάσσειν διά τε χρόα φανὸν ἀμείβειν.
. . .to it (to eon, 8.37) all names have been given,
as many as mortals have laid down, trusting that they are true,
both to come to be and pass away, both to be and not,
and to change place and to exchange bright color.
28The names that mortals use aim at what-is, but miss, and so name nothing at all, i.e. what-is-not. The naming comes from the echoing ears and tongues of the mortals who attempt to follow the path that is not; these mortals are those who suppose that to be and not to be are the same and not the same.
29Mortal naming and its errors present a problem. How does mortal error stand to genuine thought? Are they parallel in the sense that both are in some sense about the same thing? Mortals have beliefs, and they make suppositions about the things that seem (τὰ δοκοῦντα). On the other hand, the kouros seems to be promised real knowledge of some sort that should, I think, contrast meaningfully with the beliefs of mortals, and so should be knowledge of “the world.” B10, if we were not antecedently convinced that it must belong to the catalogue of the beliefs of mortals (not everyone is so convinced), could well be taken as a real promise of genuine knowledge about the world and its nature (physis):
εἴσῃ δ’ αἰθερίαν τε φύσιν τά τ’ ἐν αἰθέρι πάντα
σήματα καὶ καθαρᾶς εὐαγέος ἠελίοιο
λαμπάδος ἔργ’ ἀίδηλα καὶ ὁππόθεν ἐξεγένoντο,
ἔργα τε κύκλωπος πεύσῃ περίφοιτα σελήνης
καὶ φύσιν, εἰδήσεις δὲ καὶ οὐρανὸν ἀμφὶς ἔχοντα
ἔνθεν ἔφυ τε καὶ ὥς μιν ἄγουσ’ ἐπέδησεν Ἀνάγκη
πείρατ’ ἔχειν ἄστρων.
You shall know the nature of the aether and all the signs in the aether
and the invisible works of the pure torch of the bright sun
and whence they were born,
And you will learn the wandering works of the round-eyed moon
and its nature, and you will know the heaven around them
both whence it grew and how Necessity leading bound it
to hold the limit of the stars.
- 41 A recent example: Cosgrove, “True Doxai?”
- 42 Palmer, p. 179.
- 43 Palmer, p. 179. Palmer, in putting this in terms of necessary being and necessary non-being, seems (...)
- 44 Thus Parmenides might have to be a Platonist, in the sense that the objects of sense-perception (su (...)
30The worrying thing about this passage is that it contains verbs of knowing and learning. These are the same words that appear in B1 where the kouros is told that he will “learn both the unshaking heart of well-persuasive truth and the beliefs of mortals in which there is no true trust.” That claim indicates that the one who understands, controls noos, thinks correctly, and so on, will have knowledge of what is real and understand why mortals go astray (i.e., why it is wrong when they just stick names on the things that seem). So what is the status of the knowledge here and in B11 (which seems to be a continuation of B10)? Many think that this is just a set of false claims about the heavens as they appear.41 Palmer, in a better account, recognizes that the claims are about “the things apparent to us in perception . . . the goddess does not criticize mortals for merely believing that these things exist,” but rather for taking them as necessary beings that can be the objects of “conviction and understanding that does not wander.”42 Palmer claims that while humans need to understand the nature of what is and cannot not be (necessary being in Palmer’s terms), “it is nevertheless important also for mortals to understand the origin and behavior of the mutable kind,” i.e., what is but need not be.43 I am not convinced that Parmenides would refer to everything that follows B8 (in the traditional ordering) as subject to understanding, and I do not think we can attribute any genuine understanding to mortal thinking, or to claims about (even true) seemings or appearings. Such knowledge would have to be grounded in some explanation of how the entities discussed (sun, moon, stars, etc.) could be genuine and real.44
- 45 This is a revision (but not yet a complete rejection) of the view I developed in Legacy, and is rel (...)
31No matter how many routes of inquiry one supposes there are (I am a two-route person, for reasons I have given elsewhere), these assertions about knowing and physis are difficult. We should not countenance all those claims as knowledge, and should not think that the goddess who tells the story would consider it to be so. Yet I now think that some of the claims that follow B8 in our versions of the text are supposed to be accurate accounts of appearances.45 I am beginning to wonder if what-is for Parmenides might turn out to be less an entity (thing) and more a principle or set of principles that describe and order the cosmos. Thus, understanding “the invisible works of the pure torch of the bright sun” and “the wandering works of the round-eyed moon” would entail seeing why the moon which seems to shine (i.e. to have a preponderance of light in it) is not a mixture of light and night, but is a celestial object of a certain sort that actually acquires its light from the sun (B14 and B15). Why do the sun and moon move in parallel and predictable ways? Parmenides may suggest that the permanent and unchanging being of the principles that govern all things provides that explanation. Heraclitus can be seen to have a similar view, if we think that the content of the logos is the set of laws of the cosmos that explains how “all things are one.” My suspicion/suggestion makes Parmenides look more like Heraclitus, which might seem to be a bad thing; but it makes him less obviously a Platonist, which I take to be a good thing.
Versions of this paper were first presented at a meeting of the London University School of Advanced Study Institute of Classical Studies Ancient Philosophy Seminar on Being in Ancient Greek Philosophy (February, 2013), and a meeting Séminaire de la Société d’études Platoniciennes, “Platon et Parménide,” organized by Université de Franche-Comté, EA 2274, Laboratoire de Recherches philosophiques sur les Logiques de l’Agir; Université Paris Ouest Nanterre-La Défense, EA373; Institut de Recherches Philosophiques (IREPH-DIPSA); CNRS - UPR76, Centre Jean Pépin; et la participation de l’Université Paris 1 - Panthéon-Sorbonne, (March, 2013). In both Paris and London I benefitted from friendly and helpful discussions and disagreements from members of the seminars especially Jenny Bryan, M.M. McCabe, and Shaul Tor (in London) and Arnaud Macé, Jaap Mansfeld, and Jean-Claude Picot (in Paris). I especially thank Arnaud Macé for encouraging me to turn the seminar presentation into an article. This paper is part of a much larger work in progress on divinity, intelligibility, and human knowledge in early Greek thought;” other material related to the project has appeared in “Divinity,” and in “Divine and Thinkable.”