Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Plato’s Parmenides

The majority of this recitation is a discussion between a venerable philosopher, Parmenides, his younger friend Zeno, a very young Socrates, and an even younger boy called Aristotle by Plato. The original narrator in the dialogue, Cephalus, says that he knows a fellow named Antiphon who can recite by heart the discussion.  The crew shows up at that fellow’s home and prevails on him to present the discussion.  After some coxing, he presents his masterpiece.   

I have fought my way through the 38 pages of the Parmenides.  The majority of the dialogue is a question/answer exercise between the aged and respected Parmenides and the youthful Aristotle on the subject of "the one".  The back and forth goes on for 27 pages through 524 questions.  

Some of these quotes are interesting points – others just give a taste of the arguments.

On the Recitation: . . . Antiphon . . . can recite from memory the discussion that Socrates and Zeno and Parmenides once had, since he heard it often from Pythodorus.  p 361

On Not Knowing:

Parmenides: So none of the forms is know by us, because we don’t partake of knowledge itself.

Socrates: It seems not.

Parmenides: Then the beautiful itself, what it is, cannot be known by us, nor can the good, nor, indeed, can any of the things we take to be characters themselves.

Socrates: It looks that way.

Parmenides: Here’s something even more shocking than that.

Socrates: What’s that?

Parmenides: Surely you would say that if in fact there is knowledge – a kind itself – it is much more precise than is knowledge that belongs to us.  And the same goes for beauty and all the others.

Socrates: Yes. p.368

On a Difficult task for an Old Man: Parmenides said: “I am obliged to go along with you.  And yet I feel like the horse in the poem by Ibycus.  Ibycus compares himself to a horse – a champion but no longer young, on the point of drawing a chariot in a race and trembling at what experience tells him is about to happen – and says that he himself, old man that he is, is being forced against his will to compete in Love’s game.  I too, when I think back, feel a good deal of anxiety as to how at my age I am to make my way across such a vast and formidable sea of words.  Even so, I’ll do it, since it is right for me to oblige you; and besides, we are, as Zeno says, by ourselves.” p. 371

On the One: Parmenides – Shall I hypothesize about the one itself and consider what the consequences must be, if it is one or if it is not one?  p. 371

On What?:
Parmenides: Therefore the one, as it seems, is both different from the others and itself, and the same as the others and itself.

Aristotle: It certainly looks that way from our argument. p. 380

On What the One Is:
Parmenides: Therefore the one is both equal to, and greater and less than, itself and the others. p. 384

On How the Young Catch Up with the Old in Age:
Parmenides: So the one’s difference in age in relation to the others will not be in the future just what it was at first.  On the contrary, by getting an increment of time equal to the others, it will differ from them in age always less than it did before.  Isn’t that so?

Aristotle: Yes.

Parmenides: Wouldn’t that which differs from anything in age less than before come to be younger than before in relation to those things it was previously older than?

Aristotle: Younger.

Parmenides: And if the one comes to be younger, don’t those others, in turn, come to be older than before in relation to it?

Aristotle: Certainly.

Parmenides: So what is younger comes to be older in relation to what has come to be earlier and is older, but it never is older. On the contrary, it always comes to be older than that thing.  For the older advances toward the younger, while the younger advances toward the older.  P 387

On the Instant:  Parmenides: The instant seems to signify something such that changing occurs from it to each of two states.  For a thing doesn’t change from rest while rest continues, or from motion while motion continues.  Rather, this queer creature, the instant, lurks between motion and rest – being in no time at all – and to it and from it the moving thing changes to resting and the resting thing changes to moving.

On Art:
 Parmenides: Just as, to someone standing at a distance, all things in the painting, appearing one, appear to have a property the same and to be like.

Aristotle: Certainly.

Parmenides: But when a person comes closer, they appear many and different and, by the appearance of the different, different in kind and unlike themselves. 

Aristotle: Just so.

Parmenides: So the masses must also appear both like and unlike themselves and each other.

Aristotle: Of course.  p. 396


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