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Parmenides by Plato

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This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher


by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


The awe with which Plato regarded the character of 'the great' Parmenides
has extended to the dialogue which he calls by his name. None of the
writings of Plato have been more copiously illustrated, both in ancient and
modern times, and in none of them have the interpreters been more at
variance with one another. Nor is this surprising. For the Parmenides is
more fragmentary and isolated than any other dialogue, and the design of
the writer is not expressly stated. The date is uncertain; the relation to
the other writings of Plato is also uncertain; the connexion between the
two parts is at first sight extremely obscure; and in the latter of the two
we are left in doubt as to whether Plato is speaking his own sentiments by
the lips of Parmenides, and overthrowing him out of his own mouth, or
whether he is propounding consequences which would have been admitted by
Zeno and Parmenides themselves. The contradictions which follow from the
hypotheses of the one and many have been regarded by some as transcendental
mysteries; by others as a mere illustration, taken at random, of a new
method. They seem to have been inspired by a sort of dialectical frenzy,
such as may be supposed to have prevailed in the Megarian School (compare
Cratylus, etc.). The criticism on his own doctrine of Ideas has also been
considered, not as a real criticism, but as an exuberance of the
metaphysical imagination which enabled Plato to go beyond himself. To the
latter part of the dialogue we may certainly apply the words in which he
himself describes the earlier philosophers in the Sophist: 'They went on
their way rather regardless of whether we understood them or not.'

The Parmenides in point of style is one of the best of the Platonic
writings; the first portion of the dialogue is in no way defective in ease
and grace and dramatic interest; nor in the second part, where there was no
room for such qualities, is there any want of clearness or precision. The
latter half is an exquisite mosaic, of which the small pieces are with the
utmost fineness and regularity adapted to one another. Like the
Protagoras, Phaedo, and others, the whole is a narrated dialogue, combining
with the mere recital of the words spoken, the observations of the reciter
on the effect produced by them. Thus we are informed by him that Zeno and
Parmenides were not altogether pleased at the request of Socrates that they
would examine into the nature of the one and many in the sphere of Ideas,
although they received his suggestion with approving smiles. And we are
glad to be told that Parmenides was 'aged but well-favoured,' and that Zeno
was 'very good-looking'; also that Parmenides affected to decline the great
argument, on which, as Zeno knew from experience, he was not unwilling to
enter. The character of Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato, who had once
been inclined to philosophy, but has now shown the hereditary disposition
for horses, is very naturally described. He is the sole depositary of the
famous dialogue; but, although he receives the strangers like a courteous
gentleman, he is impatient of the trouble of reciting it. As they enter,
he has been giving orders to a bridle-maker; by this slight touch Plato
verifies the previous description of him. After a little persuasion he is
induced to favour the Clazomenians, who come from a distance, with a
rehearsal. Respecting the visit of Zeno and Parmenides to Athens, we may
observe--first, that such a visit is consistent with dates, and may
possibly have occurred; secondly, that Plato is very likely to have
invented the meeting ('You, Socrates, can easily invent Egyptian tales or
anything else,' Phaedrus); thirdly, that no reliance can be placed on the
circumstance as determining the date of Parmenides and Zeno; fourthly, that
the same occasion appears to be referred to by Plato in two other places
(Theaet., Soph.).

Many interpreters have regarded the Parmenides as a 'reductio ad absurdum'
of the Eleatic philosophy. But would Plato have been likely to place this
in the mouth of the great Parmenides himself, who appeared to him, in
Homeric language, to be 'venerable and awful,' and to have a 'glorious
depth of mind'? (Theaet.). It may be admitted that he has ascribed to an
Eleatic stranger in the Sophist opinions which went beyond the doctrines of
the Eleatics. But the Eleatic stranger expressly criticises the doctrines
in which he had been brought up; he admits that he is going to 'lay hands
on his father Parmenides.' Nothing of this kind is said of Zeno and
Parmenides. How then, without a word of explanation, could Plato assign to
them the refutation of their own tenets?

The conclusion at which we must arrive is that the Parmenides is not a
refutation of the Eleatic philosophy. Nor would such an explanation afford
any satisfactory connexion of the first and second parts of the dialogue.
And it is quite inconsistent with Plato's own relation to the Eleatics.
For of all the pre-Socratic philosophers, he speaks of them with the
greatest respect. But he could hardly have passed upon them a more
unmeaning slight than to ascribe to their great master tenets the reverse
of those which he actually held.

Two preliminary remarks may be made. First, that whatever latitude we may
allow to Plato in bringing together by a 'tour de force,' as in the
Phaedrus, dissimilar themes, yet he always in some way seeks to find a
connexion for them. Many threads join together in one the love and
dialectic of the Phaedrus. We cannot conceive that the great artist would
place in juxtaposition two absolutely divided and incoherent subjects. And
hence we are led to make a second remark: viz. that no explanation of the
Parmenides can be satisfactory which does not indicate the connexion of the
first and second parts. To suppose that Plato would first go out of his
way to make Parmenides attack the Platonic Ideas, and then proceed to a
similar but more fatal assault on his own doctrine of Being, appears to be
the height of absurdity.

Perhaps there is no passage in Plato showing greater metaphysical power
than that in which he assails his own theory of Ideas. The arguments are
nearly, if not quite, those of Aristotle; they are the objections which
naturally occur to a modern student of philosophy. Many persons will be
surprised to find Plato criticizing the very conceptions which have been
supposed in after ages to be peculiarly characteristic of him. How can he
have placed himself so completely without them? How can he have ever
persisted in them after seeing the fatal objections which might be urged
against them? The consideration of this difficulty has led a recent critic
(Ueberweg), who in general accepts the authorised canon of the Platonic
writings, to condemn the Parmenides as spurious. The accidental want of
external evidence, at first sight, seems to favour this opinion.

In answer, it might be sufficient to say, that no ancient writing of equal
length and excellence is known to be spurious. Nor is the silence of
Aristotle to be hastily assumed; there is at least a doubt whether his use
of the same arguments does not involve the inference that he knew the work.
And, if the Parmenides is spurious, like Ueberweg, we are led on further
than we originally intended, to pass a similar condemnation on the
Theaetetus and Sophist, and therefore on the Politicus (compare Theaet.,
Soph.). But the objection is in reality fanciful, and rests on the
assumption that the doctrine of the Ideas was held by Plato throughout his
life in the same form. For the truth is, that the Platonic Ideas were in
constant process of growth and transmutation; sometimes veiled in poetry
and mythology, then again emerging as fixed Ideas, in some passages
regarded as absolute and eternal, and in others as relative to the human
mind, existing in and derived from external objects as well as transcending
them. The anamnesis of the Ideas is chiefly insisted upon in the mythical
portions of the dialogues, and really occupies a very small space in the
entire works of Plato. Their transcendental existence is not asserted, and
is therefore implicitly denied in the Philebus; different forms are
ascribed to them in the Republic, and they are mentioned in the Theaetetus,
the Sophist, the Politicus, and the Laws, much as Universals would be
spoken of in modern books. Indeed, there are very faint traces of the
transcendental doctrine of Ideas, that is, of their existence apart from
the mind, in any of Plato's writings, with the exception of the Meno, the
Phaedrus, the Phaedo, and in portions of the Republic. The stereotyped
form which Aristotle has given to them is not found in Plato (compare Essay
on the Platonic Ideas in the Introduction to the Meno.)

The full discussion of this subject involves a comprehensive survey of the
philosophy of Plato, which would be out of place here. But, without
digressing further from the immediate subject of the Parmenides, we may
remark that Plato is quite serious in his objections to his own doctrines:
nor does Socrates attempt to offer any answer to them. The perplexities
which surround the one and many in the sphere of the Ideas are also alluded
to in the Philebus, and no answer is given to them. Nor have they ever
been answered, nor can they be answered by any one else who separates the
phenomenal from the real. To suppose that Plato, at a later period of his
life, reached a point of view from which he was able to answer them, is a
groundless assumption. The real progress of Plato's own mind has been
partly concealed from us by the dogmatic statements of Aristotle, and also
by the degeneracy of his own followers, with whom a doctrine of numbers
quickly superseded Ideas.

As a preparation for answering some of the difficulties which have been
suggested, we may begin by sketching the first portion of the dialogue:--

Cephalus, of Clazomenae in Ionia, the birthplace of Anaxagoras, a citizen
of no mean city in the history of philosophy, who is the narrator of the
dialogue, describes himself as meeting Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Agora
at Athens. 'Welcome, Cephalus: can we do anything for you in Athens?'
'Why, yes: I came to ask a favour of you. First, tell me your half-
brother's name, which I have forgotten--he was a mere child when I was last
here;--I know his father's, which is Pyrilampes.' 'Yes, and the name of
our brother is Antiphon. But why do you ask?' 'Let me introduce to you
some countrymen of mine, who are lovers of philosophy; they have heard that
Antiphon remembers a conversation of Socrates with Parmenides and Zeno, of
which the report came to him from Pythodorus, Zeno's friend.' 'That is
quite true.' 'And can they hear the dialogue?' 'Nothing easier; in the
days of his youth he made a careful study of the piece; at present, his
thoughts have another direction: he takes after his grandfather, and has
given up philosophy for horses.'

'We went to look for him, and found him giving instructions to a worker in
brass about a bridle. When he had done with him, and had learned from his
brothers the purpose of our visit, he saluted me as an old acquaintance,
and we asked him to repeat the dialogue. At first, he complained of the
trouble, but he soon consented. He told us that Pythodorus had described
to him the appearance of Parmenides and Zeno; they had come to Athens at
the great Panathenaea, the former being at the time about sixty-five years
old, aged but well-favoured--Zeno, who was said to have been beloved of
Parmenides in the days of his youth, about forty, and very good-looking:--
that they lodged with Pythodorus at the Ceramicus outside the wall, whither
Socrates, then a very young man, came to see them: Zeno was reading one of
his theses, which he had nearly finished, when Pythodorus entered with
Parmenides and Aristoteles, who was afterwards one of the Thirty. When the
recitation was completed, Socrates requested that the first thesis of the
treatise might be read again.'

'You mean, Zeno,' said Socrates, 'to argue that being, if it is many, must
be both like and unlike, which is a contradiction; and each division of
your argument is intended to elicit a similar absurdity, which may be
supposed to follow from the assumption that being is many.' 'Such is my
meaning.' 'I see,' said Socrates, turning to Parmenides, 'that Zeno is
your second self in his writings too; you prove admirably that the all is
one: he gives proofs no less convincing that the many are nought. To
deceive the world by saying the same thing in entirely different forms, is
a strain of art beyond most of us.' 'Yes, Socrates,' said Zeno; 'but
though you are as keen as a Spartan hound, you do not quite catch the
motive of the piece, which was only intended to protect Parmenides against
ridicule by showing that the hypothesis of the existence of the many
involved greater absurdities than the hypothesis of the one. The book was
a youthful composition of mine, which was stolen from me, and therefore I
had no choice about the publication.' 'I quite believe you,' said
Socrates; 'but will you answer me a question? I should like to know,
whether you would assume an idea of likeness in the abstract, which is the
contradictory of unlikeness in the abstract, by participation in either or
both of which things are like or unlike or partly both. For the same
things may very well partake of like and unlike in the concrete, though
like and unlike in the abstract are irreconcilable. Nor does there appear
to me to be any absurdity in maintaining that the same things may partake
of the one and many, though I should be indeed surprised to hear that the
absolute one is also many. For example, I, being many, that is to say,
having many parts or members, am yet also one, and partake of the one,
being one of seven who are here present (compare Philebus). This is not an
absurdity, but a truism. But I should be amazed if there were a similar
entanglement in the nature of the ideas themselves, nor can I believe that
one and many, like and unlike, rest and motion, in the abstract, are
capable either of admixture or of separation.'

Pythodorus said that in his opinion Parmenides and Zeno were not very well
pleased at the questions which were raised; nevertheless, they looked at
one another and smiled in seeming delight and admiration of Socrates.
'Tell me,' said Parmenides, 'do you think that the abstract ideas of
likeness, unity, and the rest, exist apart from individuals which partake
of them? and is this your own distinction?' 'I think that there are such
ideas.' 'And would you make abstract ideas of the just, the beautiful, the
good?' 'Yes,' he said. 'And of human beings like ourselves, of water,
fire, and the like?' 'I am not certain.' 'And would you be undecided also
about ideas of which the mention will, perhaps, appear laughable: of hair,
mud, filth, and other things which are base and vile?' 'No, Parmenides;
visible things like these are, as I believe, only what they appear to be:
though I am sometimes disposed to imagine that there is nothing without an
idea; but I repress any such notion, from a fear of falling into an abyss
of nonsense.' 'You are young, Socrates, and therefore naturally regard the
opinions of men; the time will come when philosophy will have a firmer hold
of you, and you will not despise even the meanest things. But tell me, is
your meaning that things become like by partaking of likeness, great by
partaking of greatness, just and beautiful by partaking of justice and
beauty, and so of other ideas?' 'Yes, that is my meaning.' 'And do you
suppose the individual to partake of the whole, or of the part?' 'Why not
of the whole?' said Socrates. 'Because,' said Parmenides, 'in that case
the whole, which is one, will become many.' 'Nay,' said Socrates, 'the
whole may be like the day, which is one and in many places: in this way
the ideas may be one and also many.' 'In the same sort of way,' said
Parmenides, 'as a sail, which is one, may be a cover to many--that is your
meaning?' 'Yes.' 'And would you say that each man is covered by the whole
sail, or by a part only?' 'By a part.' 'Then the ideas have parts, and
the objects partake of a part of them only?' 'That seems to follow.' 'And
would you like to say that the ideas are really divisible and yet remain
one?' 'Certainly not.' 'Would you venture to affirm that great objects
have a portion only of greatness transferred to them; or that small or
equal objects are small or equal because they are only portions of
smallness or equality?' 'Impossible.' 'But how can individuals
participate in ideas, except in the ways which I have mentioned?' 'That is
not an easy question to answer.' 'I should imagine the conception of ideas
to arise as follows: you see great objects pervaded by a common form or
idea of greatness, which you abstract.' 'That is quite true.' 'And
supposing you embrace in one view the idea of greatness thus gained and the
individuals which it comprises, a further idea of greatness arises, which
makes both great; and this may go on to infinity.' Socrates replies that
the ideas may be thoughts in the mind only; in this case, the consequence
would no longer follow. 'But must not the thought be of something which is
the same in all and is the idea? And if the world partakes in the ideas,
and the ideas are thoughts, must not all things think? Or can thought be
without thought?' 'I acknowledge the unmeaningness of this,' says
Socrates, 'and would rather have recourse to the explanation that the ideas
are types in nature, and that other things partake of them by becoming like
them.' 'But to become like them is to be comprehended in the same idea;
and the likeness of the idea and the individuals implies another idea of
likeness, and another without end.' 'Quite true.' 'The theory, then, of
participation by likeness has to be given up. You have hardly yet,
Socrates, found out the real difficulty of maintaining abstract ideas.'
'What difficulty?' 'The greatest of all perhaps is this: an opponent will
argue that the ideas are not within the range of human knowledge; and you
cannot disprove the assertion without a long and laborious demonstration,
which he may be unable or unwilling to follow. In the first place, neither
you nor any one who maintains the existence of absolute ideas will affirm
that they are subjective.' 'That would be a contradiction.' 'True; and
therefore any relation in these ideas is a relation which concerns
themselves only; and the objects which are named after them, are relative
to one another only, and have nothing to do with the ideas themselves.'
'How do you mean?' said Socrates. 'I may illustrate my meaning in this
way: one of us has a slave; and the idea of a slave in the abstract is
relative to the idea of a master in the abstract; this correspondence of
ideas, however, has nothing to do with the particular relation of our slave
to us.--Do you see my meaning?' 'Perfectly.' 'And absolute knowledge in
the same way corresponds to absolute truth and being, and particular
knowledge to particular truth and being.' Clearly.' 'And there is a
subjective knowledge which is of subjective truth, having many kinds,
general and particular. But the ideas themselves are not subjective, and
therefore are not within our ken.' 'They are not.' 'Then the beautiful
and the good in their own nature are unknown to us?' 'It would seem so.'
'There is a worse consequence yet.' 'What is that?' 'I think we must
admit that absolute knowledge is the most exact knowledge, which we must
therefore attribute to God. But then see what follows: God, having this
exact knowledge, can have no knowledge of human things, as we have divided
the two spheres, and forbidden any passing from one to the other:--the gods
have knowledge and authority in their world only, as we have in ours.'
'Yet, surely, to deprive God of knowledge is monstrous.'--'These are some
of the difficulties which are involved in the assumption of absolute ideas;
the learner will find them nearly impossible to understand, and the teacher
who has to impart them will require superhuman ability; there will always
be a suspicion, either that they have no existence, or are beyond human
knowledge.' 'There I agree with you,' said Socrates. 'Yet if these
difficulties induce you to give up universal ideas, what becomes of the
mind? and where are the reasoning and reflecting powers? philosophy is at
an end.' 'I certainly do not see my way.' 'I think,' said Parmenides,
'that this arises out of your attempting to define abstractions, such as
the good and the beautiful and the just, before you have had sufficient
previous training; I noticed your deficiency when you were talking with
Aristoteles, the day before yesterday. Your enthusiasm is a wonderful
gift; but I fear that unless you discipline yourself by dialectic while you
are young, truth will elude your grasp.' 'And what kind of discipline
would you recommend?' 'The training which you heard Zeno practising; at
the same time, I admire your saying to him that you did not care to
consider the difficulty in reference to visible objects, but only in
relation to ideas.' 'Yes; because I think that in visible objects you may
easily show any number of inconsistent consequences.' 'Yes; and you should
consider, not only the consequences which follow from a given hypothesis,
but the consequences also which follow from the denial of the hypothesis.
For example, what follows from the assumption of the existence of the many,
and the counter-argument of what follows from the denial of the existence
of the many: and similarly of likeness and unlikeness, motion, rest,
generation, corruption, being and not being. And the consequences must
include consequences to the things supposed and to other things, in
themselves and in relation to one another, to individuals whom you select,
to the many, and to the all; these must be drawn out both on the
affirmative and on the negative hypothesis,--that is, if you are to train
yourself perfectly to the intelligence of the truth.' 'What you are
suggesting seems to be a tremendous process, and one of which I do not
quite understand the nature,' said Socrates; 'will you give me an example?'
'You must not impose such a task on a man of my years,' said Parmenides.
'Then will you, Zeno?' 'Let us rather,' said Zeno, with a smile, 'ask
Parmenides, for the undertaking is a serious one, as he truly says; nor
could I urge him to make the attempt, except in a select audience of
persons who will understand him.' The whole party joined in the request.

Here we have, first of all, an unmistakable attack made by the youthful
Socrates on the paradoxes of Zeno. He perfectly understands their drift,
and Zeno himself is supposed to admit this. But they appear to him, as he
says in the Philebus also, to be rather truisms than paradoxes. For every
one must acknowledge the obvious fact, that the body being one has many
members, and that, in a thousand ways, the like partakes of the unlike, the
many of the one. The real difficulty begins with the relations of ideas in
themselves, whether of the one and many, or of any other ideas, to one
another and to the mind. But this was a problem which the Eleatic
philosophers had never considered; their thoughts had not gone beyond the
contradictions of matter, motion, space, and the like.

It was no wonder that Parmenides and Zeno should hear the novel
speculations of Socrates with mixed feelings of admiration and displeasure.
He was going out of the received circle of disputation into a region in
which they could hardly follow him. From the crude idea of Being in the
abstract, he was about to proceed to universals or general notions. There
is no contradiction in material things partaking of the ideas of one and
many; neither is there any contradiction in the ideas of one and many, like
and unlike, in themselves. But the contradiction arises when we attempt to
conceive ideas in their connexion, or to ascertain their relation to
phenomena. Still he affirms the existence of such ideas; and this is the
position which is now in turn submitted to the criticisms of Parmenides.

To appreciate truly the character of these criticisms, we must remember the
place held by Parmenides in the history of Greek philosophy. He is the
founder of idealism, and also of dialectic, or, in modern phraseology, of
metaphysics and logic (Theaet., Soph.). Like Plato, he is struggling after
something wider and deeper than satisfied the contemporary Pythagoreans.
And Plato with a true instinct recognizes him as his spiritual father, whom
he 'revered and honoured more than all other philosophers together.' He
may be supposed to have thought more than he said, or was able to express.
And, although he could not, as a matter of fact, have criticized the ideas
of Plato without an anachronism, the criticism is appropriately placed in
the mouth of the founder of the ideal philosophy.

There was probably a time in the life of Plato when the ethical teaching of
Socrates came into conflict with the metaphysical theories of the earlier
philosophers, and he sought to supplement the one by the other. The older
philosophers were great and awful; and they had the charm of antiquity.
Something which found a response in his own mind seemed to have been lost
as well as gained in the Socratic dialectic. He felt no incongruity in the
veteran Parmenides correcting the youthful Socrates. Two points in his
criticism are especially deserving of notice. First of all, Parmenides
tries him by the test of consistency. Socrates is willing to assume ideas
or principles of the just, the beautiful, the good, and to extend them to
man (compare Phaedo); but he is reluctant to admit that there are general
ideas of hair, mud, filth, etc. There is an ethical universal or idea, but
is there also a universal of physics?--of the meanest things in the world
as well as of the greatest? Parmenides rebukes this want of consistency in
Socrates, which he attributes to his youth. As he grows older, philosophy
will take a firmer hold of him, and then he will despise neither great
things nor small, and he will think less of the opinions of mankind
(compare Soph.). Here is lightly touched one of the most familiar
principles of modern philosophy, that in the meanest operations of nature,
as well as in the noblest, in mud and filth, as well as in the sun and
stars, great truths are contained. At the same time, we may note also the
transition in the mind of Plato, to which Aristotle alludes (Met.), when,
as he says, he transferred the Socratic universal of ethics to the whole of

The other criticism of Parmenides on Socrates attributes to him a want of
practice in dialectic. He has observed this deficiency in him when talking
to Aristoteles on a previous occasion. Plato seems to imply that there was
something more in the dialectic of Zeno than in the mere interrogation of
Socrates. Here, again, he may perhaps be describing the process which his
own mind went through when he first became more intimately acquainted,
whether at Megara or elsewhere, with the Eleatic and Megarian philosophers.
Still, Parmenides does not deny to Socrates the credit of having gone
beyond them in seeking to apply the paradoxes of Zeno to ideas; and this is
the application which he himself makes of them in the latter part of the
dialogue. He then proceeds to explain to him the sort of mental gymnastic
which he should practise. He should consider not only what would follow
from a given hypothesis, but what would follow from the denial of it, to
that which is the subject of the hypothesis, and to all other things.
There is no trace in the Memorabilia of Xenophon of any such method being
attributed to Socrates; nor is the dialectic here spoken of that 'favourite
method' of proceeding by regular divisions, which is described in the
Phaedrus and Philebus, and of which examples are given in the Politicus and
in the Sophist. It is expressly spoken of as the method which Socrates had
heard Zeno practise in the days of his youth (compare Soph.).

The discussion of Socrates with Parmenides is one of the most remarkable
passages in Plato. Few writers have ever been able to anticipate 'the
criticism of the morrow' on their favourite notions. But Plato may here be
said to anticipate the judgment not only of the morrow, but of all after-
ages on the Platonic Ideas. For in some points he touches questions which
have not yet received their solution in modern philosophy.

The first difficulty which Parmenides raises respecting the Platonic ideas
relates to the manner in which individuals are connected with them. Do
they participate in the ideas, or do they merely resemble them? Parmenides
shows that objections may be urged against either of these modes of
conceiving the connection. Things are little by partaking of littleness,
great by partaking of greatness, and the like. But they cannot partake of
a part of greatness, for that will not make them great, etc.; nor can each
object monopolise the whole. The only answer to this is, that 'partaking'
is a figure of speech, really corresponding to the processes which a later
logic designates by the terms 'abstraction' and 'generalization.' When we
have described accurately the methods or forms which the mind employs, we
cannot further criticize them; at least we can only criticize them with
reference to their fitness as instruments of thought to express facts.

Socrates attempts to support his view of the ideas by the parallel of the
day, which is one and in many places; but he is easily driven from his
position by a counter illustration of Parmenides, who compares the idea of
greatness to a sail. He truly explains to Socrates that he has attained
the conception of ideas by a process of generalization. At the same time,
he points out a difficulty, which appears to be involved--viz. that the
process of generalization will go on to infinity. Socrates meets the
supposed difficulty by a flash of light, which is indeed the true answer
'that the ideas are in our minds only.' Neither realism is the truth, nor
nominalism is the truth, but conceptualism; and conceptualism or any other
psychological theory falls very far short of the infinite subtlety of
language and thought.

But the realism of ancient philosophy will not admit of this answer, which
is repelled by Parmenides with another truth or half-truth of later
philosophy, 'Every subject or subjective must have an object.' Here is the
great though unconscious truth (shall we say?) or error, which underlay the
early Greek philosophy. 'Ideas must have a real existence;' they are not
mere forms or opinions, which may be changed arbitrarily by individuals.
But the early Greek philosopher never clearly saw that true ideas were only
universal facts, and that there might be error in universals as well as in

Socrates makes one more attempt to defend the Platonic Ideas by
representing them as paradigms; this is again answered by the 'argumentum
ad infinitum.' We may remark, in passing, that the process which is thus
described has no real existence. The mind, after having obtained a general
idea, does not really go on to form another which includes that, and all
the individuals contained under it, and another and another without end.
The difficulty belongs in fact to the Megarian age of philosophy, and is
due to their illogical logic, and to the general ignorance of the ancients
respecting the part played by language in the process of thought. No such
perplexity could ever trouble a modern metaphysician, any more than the
fallacy of 'calvus' or 'acervus,' or of 'Achilles and the tortoise.' These
'surds' of metaphysics ought to occasion no more difficulty in speculation
than a perpetually recurring fraction in arithmetic.

It is otherwise with the objection which follows: How are we to bridge the
chasm between human truth and absolute truth, between gods and men? This
is the difficulty of philosophy in all ages: How can we get beyond the
circle of our own ideas, or how, remaining within them, can we have any
criterion of a truth beyond and independent of them? Parmenides draws out
this difficulty with great clearness. According to him, there are not only
one but two chasms: the first, between individuals and the ideas which
have a common name; the second, between the ideas in us and the ideas
absolute. The first of these two difficulties mankind, as we may say, a
little parodying the language of the Philebus, have long agreed to treat as
obsolete; the second remains a difficulty for us as well as for the Greeks
of the fourth century before Christ, and is the stumblingblock of Kant's
Kritik, and of the Hamiltonian adaptation of Kant, as well as of the
Platonic ideas. It has been said that 'you cannot criticize Revelation.'
'Then how do you know what is Revelation, or that there is one at all,' is
the immediate rejoinder--'You know nothing of things in themselves.' 'Then
how do you know that there are things in themselves?' In some respects,
the difficulty pressed harder upon the Greek than upon ourselves. For
conceiving of God more under the attribute of knowledge than we do, he was
more under the necessity of separating the divine from the human, as two
spheres which had no communication with one another.

It is remarkable that Plato, speaking by the mouth of Parmenides, does not
treat even this second class of difficulties as hopeless or insoluble. He
says only that they cannot be explained without a long and laborious
demonstration: 'The teacher will require superhuman ability, and the
learner will be hard of understanding.' But an attempt must be made to
find an answer to them; for, as Socrates and Parmenides both admit, the
denial of abstract ideas is the destruction of the mind. We can easily
imagine that among the Greek schools of philosophy in the fourth century
before Christ a panic might arise from the denial of universals, similar to
that which arose in the last century from Hume's denial of our ideas of
cause and effect. Men do not at first recognize that thought, like
digestion, will go on much the same, notwithstanding any theories which may
be entertained respecting the nature of the process. Parmenides attributes
the difficulties in which Socrates is involved to a want of
comprehensiveness in his mode of reasoning; he should consider every
question on the negative as well as the positive hypothesis, with reference
to the consequences which flow from the denial as well as from the
assertion of a given statement.

The argument which follows is the most singular in Plato. It appears to be
an imitation, or parody, of the Zenonian dialectic, just as the speeches in
the Phaedrus are an imitation of the style of Lysias, or as the derivations
in the Cratylus or the fallacies of the Euthydemus are a parody of some
contemporary Sophist. The interlocutor is not supposed, as in most of the
other Platonic dialogues, to take a living part in the argument; he is only
required to say 'Yes' and 'No' in the right places. A hint has been
already given that the paradoxes of Zeno admitted of a higher application.
This hint is the thread by which Plato connects the two parts of the

The paradoxes of Parmenides seem trivial to us, because the words to which
they relate have become trivial; their true nature as abstract terms is
perfectly understood by us, and we are inclined to regard the treatment of
them in Plato as a mere straw-splitting, or legerdemain of words. Yet
there was a power in them which fascinated the Neoplatonists for centuries
afterwards. Something that they found in them, or brought to them--some
echo or anticipation of a great truth or error, exercised a wonderful
influence over their minds. To do the Parmenides justice, we should
imagine similar aporiai raised on themes as sacred to us, as the notions of
One or Being were to an ancient Eleatic. 'If God is, what follows? If God
is not, what follows?' Or again: If God is or is not the world; or if God
is or is not many, or has or has not parts, or is or is not in the world,
or in time; or is or is not finite or infinite. Or if the world is or is
not; or has or has not a beginning or end; or is or is not infinite, or
infinitely divisible. Or again: if God is or is not identical with his
laws; or if man is or is not identical with the laws of nature. We can
easily see that here are many subjects for thought, and that from these and
similar hypotheses questions of great interest might arise. And we also
remark, that the conclusions derived from either of the two alternative
propositions might be equally impossible and contradictory.

When we ask what is the object of these paradoxes, some have answered that
they are a mere logical puzzle, while others have seen in them an Hegelian
propaedeutic of the doctrine of Ideas. The first of these views derives
support from the manner in which Parmenides speaks of a similar method
being applied to all Ideas. Yet it is hard to suppose that Plato would
have furnished so elaborate an example, not of his own but of the Eleatic
dialectic, had he intended only to give an illustration of method. The
second view has been often overstated by those who, like Hegel himself,
have tended to confuse ancient with modern philosophy. We need not deny
that Plato, trained in the school of Cratylus and Heracleitus, may have
seen that a contradiction in terms is sometimes the best expression of a
truth higher than either (compare Soph.). But his ideal theory is not
based on antinomies. The correlation of Ideas was the metaphysical
difficulty of the age in which he lived; and the Megarian and Cynic
philosophy was a 'reductio ad absurdum' of their isolation. To restore
them to their natural connexion and to detect the negative element in them
is the aim of Plato in the Sophist. But his view of their connexion falls
very far short of the Hegelian identity of Being and Not-being. The Being
and Not-being of Plato never merge in each other, though he is aware that
'determination is only negation.'

After criticizing the hypotheses of others, it may appear presumptuous to
add another guess to the many which have been already offered. May we say,
in Platonic language, that we still seem to see vestiges of a track which
has not yet been taken? It is quite possible that the obscurity of the
Parmenides would not have existed to a contemporary student of philosophy,
and, like the similar difficulty in the Philebus, is really due to our
ignorance of the mind of the age. There is an obscure Megarian influence
on Plato which cannot wholly be cleared up, and is not much illustrated by
the doubtful tradition of his retirement to Megara after the death of
Socrates. For Megara was within a walk of Athens (Phaedr.), and Plato
might have learned the Megarian doctrines without settling there.

We may begin by remarking that the theses of Parmenides are expressly said
to follow the method of Zeno, and that the complex dilemma, though declared
to be capable of universal application, is applied in this instance to
Zeno's familiar question of the 'one and many.' Here, then, is a double
indication of the connexion of the Parmenides with the Eristic school. The
old Eleatics had asserted the existence of Being, which they at first
regarded as finite, then as infinite, then as neither finite nor infinite,
to which some of them had given what Aristotle calls 'a form,' others had
ascribed a material nature only. The tendency of their philosophy was to
deny to Being all predicates. The Megarians, who succeeded them, like the
Cynics, affirmed that no predicate could be asserted of any subject; they
also converted the idea of Being into an abstraction of Good, perhaps with
the view of preserving a sort of neutrality or indifference between the
mind and things. As if they had said, in the language of modern
philosophy: 'Being is not only neither finite nor infinite, neither at
rest nor in motion, but neither subjective nor objective.'

This is the track along which Plato is leading us. Zeno had attempted to
prove the existence of the one by disproving the existence of the many, and
Parmenides seems to aim at proving the existence of the subject by showing
the contradictions which follow from the assertion of any predicates. Take
the simplest of all notions, 'unity'; you cannot even assert being or time
of this without involving a contradiction. But is the contradiction also
the final conclusion? Probably no more than of Zeno's denial of the many,
or of Parmenides' assault upon the Ideas; no more than of the earlier
dialogues 'of search.' To us there seems to be no residuum of this long
piece of dialectics. But to the mind of Parmenides and Plato, 'Gott-
betrunkene Menschen,' there still remained the idea of 'being' or 'good,'
which could not be conceived, defined, uttered, but could not be got rid
of. Neither of them would have imagined that their disputation ever
touched the Divine Being (compare Phil.). The same difficulties about
Unity and Being are raised in the Sophist; but there only as preliminary to
their final solution.

If this view is correct, the real aim of the hypotheses of Parmenides is to
criticize the earlier Eleatic philosophy from the point of view of Zeno or
the Megarians. It is the same kind of criticism which Plato has extended
to his own doctrine of Ideas. Nor is there any want of poetical
consistency in attributing to the 'father Parmenides' the last review of
the Eleatic doctrines. The latest phases of all philosophies were fathered
upon the founder of the school.

Other critics have regarded the final conclusion of the Parmenides either
as sceptical or as Heracleitean. In the first case, they assume that Plato
means to show the impossibility of any truth. But this is not the spirit
of Plato, and could not with propriety be put into the mouth of Parmenides,
who, in this very dialogue, is urging Socrates, not to doubt everything,
but to discipline his mind with a view to the more precise attainment of
truth. The same remark applies to the second of the two theories. Plato
everywhere ridicules (perhaps unfairly) his Heracleitean contemporaries:
and if he had intended to support an Heracleitean thesis, would hardly have
chosen Parmenides, the condemner of the 'undiscerning tribe who say that
things both are and are not,' to be the speaker. Nor, thirdly, can we
easily persuade ourselves with Zeller that by the 'one' he means the Idea;
and that he is seeking to prove indirectly the unity of the Idea in the
multiplicity of phenomena.

We may now endeavour to thread the mazes of the labyrinth which Parmenides
knew so well, and trembled at the thought of them.

The argument has two divisions: There is the hypothesis that

1. One is.
2. One is not.
If one is, it is nothing.
If one is not, it is everything.

But is and is not may be taken in two senses:
Either one is one,
Or, one has being,

from which opposite consequences are deduced,
1.a. If one is one, it is nothing.
1.b. If one has being, it is all things.

To which are appended two subordinate consequences:
1.aa. If one has being, all other things are.
1.bb. If one is one, all other things are not.

The same distinction is then applied to the negative hypothesis:
2.a. If one is not one, it is all things.
2.b. If one has not being, it is nothing.

Involving two parallel consequences respecting the other or remainder:
2.aa. If one is not one, other things are all.
2.bb. If one has not being, other things are not.


'I cannot refuse,' said Parmenides, 'since, as Zeno remarks, we are alone,
though I may say with Ibycus, who in his old age fell in love, I, like the
old racehorse, tremble at the prospect of the course which I am to run, and
which I know so well. But as I must attempt this laborious game, what
shall be the subject? Suppose I take my own hypothesis of the one.' 'By
all means,' said Zeno. 'And who will answer me? Shall I propose the
youngest? he will be the most likely to say what he thinks, and his answers
will give me time to breathe.' 'I am the youngest,' said Aristoteles, 'and
at your service; proceed with your questions.'--The result may be summed up
as follows:--

1.a. One is not many, and therefore has no parts, and therefore is not a
whole, which is a sum of parts, and therefore has neither beginning,
middle, nor end, and is therefore unlimited, and therefore formless, being
neither round nor straight, for neither round nor straight can be defined
without assuming that they have parts; and therefore is not in place,
whether in another which would encircle and touch the one at many points;
or in itself, because that which is self-containing is also contained, and
therefore not one but two. This being premised, let us consider whether
one is capable either of motion or rest. For motion is either change of
substance, or motion on an axis, or from one place to another. But the one
is incapable of change of substance, which implies that it ceases to be
itself, or of motion on an axis, because there would be parts around the
axis; and any other motion involves change of place. But existence in
place has been already shown to be impossible; and yet more impossible is
coming into being in place, which implies partial existence in two places
at once, or entire existence neither within nor without the same; and how
can this be? And more impossible still is the coming into being either as
a whole or parts of that which is neither a whole nor parts. The one,
then, is incapable of motion. But neither can the one be in anything, and
therefore not in the same, whether itself or some other, and is therefore
incapable of rest. Neither is one the same with itself or any other, or
other than itself or any other. For if other than itself, then other than
one, and therefore not one; and, if the same with other, it would be other,
and other than one. Neither can one while remaining one be other than
other; for other, and not one, is the other than other. But if not other
by virtue of being one, not by virtue of itself; and if not by virtue of
itself, not itself other, and if not itself other, not other than anything.
Neither will one be the same with itself. For the nature of the same is
not that of the one, but a thing which becomes the same with anything does
not become one; for example, that which becomes the same with the many
becomes many and not one. And therefore if the one is the same with
itself, the one is not one with itself; and therefore one and not one. And
therefore one is neither other than other, nor the same with itself.
Neither will the one be like or unlike itself or other; for likeness is
sameness of affections, and the one and the same are different. And one
having any affection which is other than being one would be more than one.
The one, then, cannot have the same affection with and therefore cannot be
like itself or other; nor can the one have any other affection than its
own, that is, be unlike itself or any other, for this would imply that it
was more than one. The one, then, is neither like nor unlike itself or
other. This being the case, neither can the one be equal or unequal to
itself or other. For equality implies sameness of measure, as inequality
implies a greater or less number of measures. But the one, not having
sameness, cannot have sameness of measure; nor a greater or less number of
measures, for that would imply parts and multitude. Once more, can one be
older or younger than itself or other? or of the same age with itself or
other? That would imply likeness and unlikeness, equality and inequality.
Therefore one cannot be in time, because that which is in time is ever
becoming older and younger than itself, (for older and younger are relative
terms, and he who becomes older becomes younger,) and is also of the same
age with itself. None of which, or any other expressions of time, whether
past, future, or present, can be affirmed of one. One neither is, has
been, nor will be, nor becomes, nor has, nor will become. And, as these
are the only modes of being, one is not, and is not one. But to that which
is not, there is no attribute or relative, neither name nor word nor idea
nor science nor perception nor opinion appertaining. One, then, is neither
named, nor uttered, nor known, nor perceived, nor imagined. But can all
this be true? 'I think not.'

1.b. Let us, however, commence the inquiry again. We have to work out all
the consequences which follow on the assumption that the one is. If one
is, one partakes of being, which is not the same with one; the words
'being' and 'one' have different meanings. Observe the consequence: In
the one of being or the being of one are two parts, being and one, which
form one whole. And each of the two parts is also a whole, and involves
the other, and may be further subdivided into one and being, and is
therefore not one but two; and thus one is never one, and in this way the
one, if it is, becomes many and infinite. Again, let us conceive of a one
which by an effort of abstraction we separate from being: will this
abstract one be one or many? You say one only; let us see. In the first
place, the being of one is other than one; and one and being, if different,
are so because they both partake of the nature of other, which is therefore
neither one nor being; and whether we take being and other, or being and
one, or one and other, in any case we have two things which separately are
called either, and together both. And both are two and either of two is
severally one, and if one be added to any of the pairs, the sum is three;
and two is an even number, three an odd; and two units exist twice, and
therefore there are twice two; and three units exist thrice, and therefore
there are thrice three, and taken together they give twice three and thrice
two: we have even numbers multiplied into even, and odd into even, and
even into odd numbers. But if one is, and both odd and even numbers are
implied in one, must not every number exist? And number is infinite, and
therefore existence must be infinite, for all and every number partakes of
being; therefore being has the greatest number of parts, and every part,
however great or however small, is equally one. But can one be in many
places and yet be a whole? If not a whole it must be divided into parts
and represented by a number corresponding to the number of the parts. And
if so, we were wrong in saying that being has the greatest number of parts;
for being is coequal and coextensive with one, and has no more parts than
one; and so the abstract one broken up into parts by being is many and
infinite. But the parts are parts of a whole, and the whole is their
containing limit, and the one is therefore limited as well as infinite in
number; and that which is a whole has beginning, middle, and end, and a
middle is equidistant from the extremes; and one is therefore of a certain
figure, round or straight, or a combination of the two, and being a whole
includes all the parts which are the whole, and is therefore self-
contained. But then, again, the whole is not in the parts, whether all or
some. Not in all, because, if in all, also in one; for, if wanting in any
one, how in all?--not in some, because the greater would then be contained
in the less. But if not in all, nor in any, nor in some, either nowhere or
in other. And if nowhere, nothing; therefore in other. The one as a
whole, then, is in another, but regarded as a sum of parts is in itself;
and is, therefore, both in itself and in another. This being the case, the
one is at once both at rest and in motion: at rest, because resting in
itself; in motion, because it is ever in other. And if there is truth in
what has preceded, one is the same and not the same with itself and other.
For everything in relation to every other thing is either the same with it
or other; or if neither the same nor other, then in the relation of part to
a whole or whole to a part. But one cannot be a part or whole in relation
to one, nor other than one; and is therefore the same with one. Yet this
sameness is again contradicted by one being in another place from itself
which is in the same place; this follows from one being in itself and in
another; one, therefore, is other than itself. But if anything is other
than anything, will it not be other than other? And the not one is other
than the one, and the one than the not one; therefore one is other than all
others. But the same and the other exclude one another, and therefore the
other can never be in the same; nor can the other be in anything for ever
so short a time, as for that time the other will be in the same. And the
other, if never in the same, cannot be either in the one or in the not one.
And one is not other than not one, either by reason of other or of itself;
and therefore they are not other than one another at all. Neither can the
not one partake or be part of one, for in that case it would be one; nor
can the not one be number, for that also involves one. And therefore, not
being other than the one or related to the one as a whole to parts or parts
to a whole, not one is the same as one. Wherefore the one is the same and
also not the same with the others and also with itself; and is therefore
like and unlike itself and the others, and just as different from the
others as they are from the one, neither more nor less. But if neither
more nor less, equally different; and therefore the one and the others have
the same relations. This may be illustrated by the case of names: when
you repeat the same name twice over, you mean the same thing; and when you
say that the other is other than the one, or the one other than the other,
this very word other (eteron), which is attributed to both, implies
sameness. One, then, as being other than others, and other as being other
than one, are alike in that they have the relation of otherness; and
likeness is similarity of relations. And everything as being other of
everything is also like everything. Again, same and other, like and
unlike, are opposites: and since in virtue of being other than the others
the one is like them, in virtue of being the same it must be unlike.
Again, one, as having the same relations, has no difference of relation,
and is therefore not unlike, and therefore like; or, as having different
relations, is different and unlike. Thus, one, as being the same and not
the same with itself and others--for both these reasons and for either of
them--is also like and unlike itself and the others. Again, how far can
one touch itself and the others? As existing in others, it touches the
others; and as existing in itself, touches only itself. But from another
point of view, that which touches another must be next in order of place;
one, therefore, must be next in order of place to itself, and would
therefore be two, and in two places. But one cannot be two, and therefore
cannot be in contact with itself. Nor again can one touch the other. Two
objects are required to make one contact; three objects make two contacts;
and all the objects in the world, if placed in a series, would have as many
contacts as there are objects, less one. But if one only exists, and not
two, there is no contact. And the others, being other than one, have no
part in one, and therefore none in number, and therefore two has no
existence, and therefore there is no contact. For all which reasons, one
has and has not contact with itself and the others.

Once more, Is one equal and unequal to itself and the others? Suppose one
and the others to be greater or less than each other or equal to one
another, they will be greater or less or equal by reason of equality or
greatness or smallness inhering in them in addition to their own proper
nature. Let us begin by assuming smallness to be inherent in one: in this
case the inherence is either in the whole or in a part. If the first,
smallness is either coextensive with the whole one, or contains the whole,
and, if coextensive with the one, is equal to the one, or if containing the
one will be greater than the one. But smallness thus performs the function
of equality or of greatness, which is impossible. Again, if the inherence
be in a part, the same contradiction follows: smallness will be equal to
the part or greater than the part; therefore smallness will not inhere in
anything, and except the idea of smallness there will be nothing small.
Neither will greatness; for greatness will have a greater;--and there will
be no small in relation to which it is great. And there will be no great
or small in objects, but greatness and smallness will be relative only to
each other; therefore the others cannot be greater or less than the one;
also the one can neither exceed nor be exceeded by the others, and they are
therefore equal to one another. And this will be true also of the one in
relation to itself: one will be equal to itself as well as to the others
(talla). Yet one, being in itself, must also be about itself, containing
and contained, and is therefore greater and less than itself. Further,
there is nothing beside the one and the others; and as these must be in
something, they must therefore be in one another; and as that in which a
thing is is greater than the thing, the inference is that they are both
greater and less than one another, because containing and contained in one
another. Therefore the one is equal to and greater and less than itself or
other, having also measures or parts or numbers equal to or greater or less
than itself or other.

But does one partake of time? This must be acknowledged, if the one
partakes of being. For 'to be' is the participation of being in present
time, 'to have been' in past, 'to be about to be' in future time. And as
time is ever moving forward, the one becomes older than itself; and
therefore younger than itself; and is older and also younger when in the
process of becoming it arrives at the present; and it is always older and
younger, for at any moment the one is, and therefore it becomes and is not
older and younger than itself but during an equal time with itself, and is
therefore contemporary with itself.

And what are the relations of the one to the others? Is it or does it
become older or younger than they? At any rate the others are more than
one, and one, being the least of all numbers, must be prior in time to
greater numbers. But on the other hand, one must come into being in a
manner accordant with its own nature. Now one has parts or others, and has
therefore a beginning, middle, and end, of which the beginning is first and
the end last. And the parts come into existence first; last of all the
whole, contemporaneously with the end, being therefore younger, while the
parts or others are older than the one. But, again, the one comes into
being in each of the parts as much as in the whole, and must be of the same
age with them. Therefore one is at once older and younger than the parts
or others, and also contemporaneous with them, for no part can be a part
which is not one. Is this true of becoming as well as being? Thus much
may be affirmed, that the same things which are older or younger cannot
become older or younger in a greater degree than they were at first by the
addition of equal times. But, on the other hand, the one, if older than
others, has come into being a longer time than they have. And when equal
time is added to a longer and shorter, the relative difference between them
is diminished. In this way that which was older becomes younger, and that
which was younger becomes older, that is to say, younger and older than at
first; and they ever become and never have become, for then they would be.
Thus the one and others always are and are becoming and not becoming
younger and also older than one another. And one, partaking of time and
also partaking of becoming older and younger, admits of all time, present,
past, and future--was, is, shall be--was becoming, is becoming, will
become. And there is science of the one, and opinion and name and
expression, as is already implied in the fact of our inquiry.

Yet once more, if one be one and many, and neither one nor many, and also
participant of time, must there not be a time at which one as being one
partakes of being, and a time when one as not being one is deprived of
being? But these two contradictory states cannot be experienced by the one
both together: there must be a time of transition. And the transition is
a process of generation and destruction, into and from being and not-being,
the one and the others. For the generation of the one is the destruction
of the others, and the generation of the others is the destruction of the
one. There is also separation and aggregation, assimilation and
dissimilation, increase, diminution, equalization, a passage from motion to
rest, and from rest to motion in the one and many. But when do all these
changes take place? When does motion become rest, or rest motion? The
answer to this question will throw a light upon all the others. Nothing
can be in motion and at rest at the same time; and therefore the change
takes place 'in a moment'--which is a strange expression, and seems to mean
change in no time. Which is true also of all the other changes, which
likewise take place in no time.

1.aa. But if one is, what happens to the others, which in the first place
are not one, yet may partake of one in a certain way? The others are other
than the one because they have parts, for if they had no parts they would
be simply one, and parts imply a whole to which they belong; otherwise each
part would be a part of many, and being itself one of them, of itself, and
if a part of all, of each one of the other parts, which is absurd. For a
part, if not a part of one, must be a part of all but this one, and if so
not a part of each one; and if not a part of each one, not a part of any
one of many, and so not of one; and if of none, how of all? Therefore a
part is neither a part of many nor of all, but of an absolute and perfect
whole or one. And if the others have parts, they must partake of the
whole, and must be the whole of which they are the parts. And each part,
as the word 'each' implies, is also an absolute one. And both the whole
and the parts partake of one, for the whole of which the parts are parts is
one, and each part is one part of the whole; and whole and parts as
participating in one are other than one, and as being other than one are
many and infinite; and however small a fraction you separate from them is
many and not one. Yet the fact of their being parts furnishes the others
with a limit towards other parts and towards the whole; they are finite and
also infinite: finite through participation in the one, infinite in their
own nature. And as being finite, they are alike; and as being infinite,
they are alike; but as being both finite and also infinite, they are in the
highest degree unlike. And all other opposites might without difficulty be
shown to unite in them.

1.bb. Once more, leaving all this: Is there not also an opposite series
of consequences which is equally true of the others, and may be deduced
from the existence of one? There is. One is distinct from the others, and
the others from one; for one and the others are all things, and there is no
third existence besides them. And the whole of one cannot be in others nor
parts of it, for it is separated from others and has no parts, and
therefore the others have no unity, nor plurality, nor duality, nor any
other number, nor any opposition or distinction, such as likeness and
unlikeness, some and other, generation and corruption, odd and even. For
if they had these they would partake either of one opposite, and this would
be a participation in one; or of two opposites, and this would be a
participation in two. Thus if one exists, one is all things, and likewise
nothing, in relation to one and to the others.

2.a. But, again, assume the opposite hypothesis, that the one is not, and
what is the consequence? In the first place, the proposition, that one is
not, is clearly opposed to the proposition, that not one is not. The
subject of any negative proposition implies at once knowledge and
difference. Thus 'one' in the proposition--'The one is not,' must be
something known, or the words would be unintelligible; and again this 'one
which is not' is something different from other things. Moreover, this and
that, some and other, may be all attributed or related to the one which is
not, and which though non-existent may and must have plurality, if the one
only is non-existent and nothing else; but if all is not-being there is
nothing which can be spoken of. Also the one which is not differs, and is
different in kind from the others, and therefore unlike them; and they
being other than the one, are unlike the one, which is therefore unlike
them. But one, being unlike other, must be like itself; for the unlikeness
of one to itself is the destruction of the hypothesis; and one cannot be
equal to the others; for that would suppose being in the one, and the
others would be equal to one and like one; both which are impossible, if
one does not exist. The one which is not, then, if not equal is unequal to
the others, and in equality implies great and small, and equality lies
between great and small, and therefore the one which is not partakes of
equality. Further, the one which is not has being; for that which is true
is, and it is true that the one is not. And so the one which is not, if
remitting aught of the being of non-existence, would become existent. For
not being implies the being of not-being, and being the not-being of not-
being; or more truly being partakes of the being of being and not of the
being of not-being, and not-being of the being of not-being and not of the
not-being of not-being. And therefore the one which is not has being and
also not-being. And the union of being and not-being involves change or
motion. But how can not-being, which is nowhere, move or change, either
from one place to another or in the same place? And whether it is or is
not, it would cease to be one if experiencing a change of substance. The
one which is not, then, is both in motion and at rest, is altered and
unaltered, and becomes and is destroyed, and does not become and is not

2.b. Once more, let us ask the question, If one is not, what happens in
regard to one? The expression 'is not' implies negation of being:--do we
mean by this to say that a thing, which is not, in a certain sense is? or
do we mean absolutely to deny being of it? The latter. Then the one which
is not can neither be nor become nor perish nor experience change of
substance or place. Neither can rest, or motion, or greatness, or
smallness, or equality, or unlikeness, or likeness either to itself or
other, or attribute or relation, or now or hereafter or formerly, or
knowledge or opinion or perception or name or anything else be asserted of
that which is not.

2.aa. Once more, if one is not, what becomes of the others? If we speak
of them they must be, and their very name implies difference, and
difference implies relation, not to the one, which is not, but to one
another. And they are others of each other not as units but as infinities,
the least of which is also infinity, and capable of infinitesimal division.
And they will have no unity or number, but only a semblance of unity and
number; and the least of them will appear large and manifold in comparison
with the infinitesimal fractions into which it may be divided. Further,
each particle will have the appearance of being equal with the fractions.
For in passing from the greater to the less it must reach an intermediate
point, which is equality. Moreover, each particle although having a limit
in relation to itself and to other particles, yet it has neither beginning,
middle, nor end; for there is always a beginning before the beginning, and
a middle within the middle, and an end beyond the end, because the
infinitesimal division is never arrested by the one. Thus all being is one
at a distance, and broken up when near, and like at a distance and unlike
when near; and also the particles which compose being seem to be like and
unlike, in rest and motion, in generation and corruption, in contact and
separation, if one is not.

2.bb. Once more, let us inquire, If the one is not, and the others of the
one are, what follows? In the first place, the others will not be the one,
nor the many, for in that case the one would be contained in them; neither
will they appear to be one or many; because they have no communion or
participation in that which is not, nor semblance of that which is not. If
one is not, the others neither are, nor appear to be one or many, like or
unlike, in contact or separation. In short, if one is not, nothing is.

The result of all which is, that whether one is or is not, one and the
others, in relation to themselves and to one another, are and are not, and
appear to be and appear not to be, in all manner of ways.

I. On the first hypothesis we may remark: first, That one is one is an
identical proposition, from which we might expect that no further
consequences could be deduced. The train of consequences which follows, is
inferred by altering the predicate into 'not many.' Yet, perhaps, if a
strict Eristic had been present, oios aner ei kai nun paren, he might have
affirmed that the not many presented a different aspect of the conception
from the one, and was therefore not identical with it. Such a subtlety
would be very much in character with the Zenonian dialectic. Secondly, We
may note, that the conclusion is really involved in the premises. For one
is conceived as one, in a sense which excludes all predicates. When the
meaning of one has been reduced to a point, there is no use in saying that
it has neither parts nor magnitude. Thirdly, The conception of the same
is, first of all, identified with the one; and then by a further analysis
distinguished from, and even opposed to it. Fourthly, We may detect
notions, which have reappeared in modern philosophy, e.g. the bare
abstraction of undefined unity, answering to the Hegelian 'Seyn,' or the
identity of contradictions 'that which is older is also younger,' etc., or
the Kantian conception of an a priori synthetical proposition 'one is.'

II. In the first series of propositions the word 'is' is really the
copula; in the second, the verb of existence. As in the first series, the
negative consequence followed from one being affirmed to be equivalent to
the not many; so here the affirmative consequence is deduced from one being
equivalent to the many.

In the former case, nothing could be predicated of the one, but now
everything--multitude, relation, place, time, transition. One is regarded
in all the aspects of one, and with a reference to all the consequences
which flow, either from the combination or the separation of them. The
notion of transition involves the singular extra-temporal conception of
'suddenness.' This idea of 'suddenness' is based upon the contradiction
which is involved in supposing that anything can be in two places at once.
It is a mere fiction; and we may observe that similar antinomies have led
modern philosophers to deny the reality of time and space. It is not the
infinitesimal of time, but the negative of time. By the help of this
invention the conception of change, which sorely exercised the minds of
early thinkers, seems to be, but is not really at all explained. The
difficulty arises out of the imperfection of language, and should therefore
be no longer regarded as a difficulty at all. The only way of meeting it,
if it exists, is to acknowledge that this rather puzzling double conception
is necessary to the expression of the phenomena of motion or change, and
that this and similar double notions, instead of being anomalies, are among
the higher and more potent instruments of human thought.

The processes by which Parmenides obtains his remarkable results may be
summed up as follows: (1) Compound or correlative ideas which involve each
other, such as, being and not-being, one and many, are conceived sometimes
in a state of composition, and sometimes of division: (2) The division or
distinction is sometimes heightened into total opposition, e.g. between one
and same, one and other: or (3) The idea, which has been already divided,
is regarded, like a number, as capable of further infinite subdivision:
(4) The argument often proceeds 'a dicto secundum quid ad dictum
simpliciter' and conversely: (5) The analogy of opposites is misused by
him; he argues indiscriminately sometimes from what is like, sometimes from
what is unlike in them: (6) The idea of being or not-being is identified
with existence or non-existence in place or time: (7) The same ideas are
regarded sometimes as in process of transition, sometimes as alternatives
or opposites: (8) There are no degrees or kinds of sameness, likeness,
difference, nor any adequate conception of motion or change: (9) One,
being, time, like space in Zeno's puzzle of Achilles and the tortoise, are
regarded sometimes as continuous and sometimes as discrete: (10) In some
parts of the argument the abstraction is so rarefied as to become not only
fallacious, but almost unintelligible, e.g. in the contradiction which is
elicited out of the relative terms older and younger: (11) The relation
between two terms is regarded under contradictory aspects, as for example
when the existence of the one and the non-existence of the one are equally
assumed to involve the existence of the many: (12) Words are used through
long chains of argument, sometimes loosely, sometimes with the precision of
numbers or of geometrical figures.

The argument is a very curious piece of work, unique in literature. It
seems to be an exposition or rather a 'reductio ad absurdum' of the
Megarian philosophy, but we are too imperfectly acquainted with this last
to speak with confidence about it. It would be safer to say that it is an
indication of the sceptical, hyperlogical fancies which prevailed among the
contemporaries of Socrates. It throws an indistinct light upon Aristotle,
and makes us aware of the debt which the world owes to him or his school.
It also bears a resemblance to some modern speculations, in which an
attempt is made to narrow language in such a manner that number and figure
may be made a calculus of thought. It exaggerates one side of logic and
forgets the rest. It has the appearance of a mathematical process; the
inventor of it delights, as mathematicians do, in eliciting or discovering
an unexpected result. It also helps to guard us against some fallacies by
showing the consequences which flow from them.

In the Parmenides we seem to breathe the spirit of the Megarian philosophy,
though we cannot compare the two in detail. But Plato also goes beyond his
Megarian contemporaries; he has split their straws over again, and admitted
more than they would have desired. He is indulging the analytical
tendencies of his age, which can divide but not combine. And he does not
stop to inquire whether the distinctions which he makes are shadowy and
fallacious, but 'whither the argument blows' he follows.

III. The negative series of propositions contains the first conception of
the negation of a negation. Two minus signs in arithmetic or algebra make
a plus. Two negatives destroy each other. This abstruse notion is the
foundation of the Hegelian logic. The mind must not only admit that
determination is negation, but must get through negation into affirmation.
Whether this process is real, or in any way an assistance to thought, or,
like some other logical forms, a mere figure of speech transferred from the
sphere of mathematics, may be doubted. That Plato and the most subtle
philosopher of the nineteenth century should have lighted upon the same
notion, is a singular coincidence of ancient and modern thought.

IV. The one and the many or others are reduced to their strictest
arithmetical meaning. That one is three or three one, is a proposition
which has, perhaps, given rise to more controversy in the world than any
other. But no one has ever meant to say that three and one are to be taken
in the same sense. Whereas the one and many of the Parmenides have
precisely the same meaning; there is no notion of one personality or
substance having many attributes or qualities. The truth seems to be
rather the opposite of that which Socrates implies: There is no
contradiction in the concrete, but in the abstract; and the more abstract
the idea, the more palpable will be the contradiction. For just as nothing
can persuade us that the number one is the number three, so neither can we
be persuaded that any abstract idea is identical with its opposite,
although they may both inhere together in some external object, or some
more comprehensive conception. Ideas, persons, things may be one in one
sense and many in another, and may have various degrees of unity and
plurality. But in whatever sense and in whatever degree they are one they
cease to be many; and in whatever degree or sense they are many they cease
to be one.

Two points remain to be considered: 1st, the connexion between the first
and second parts of the dialogue; 2ndly, the relation of the Parmenides to
the other dialogues.

I. In both divisions of the dialogue the principal speaker is the same,
and the method pursued by him is also the same, being a criticism on
received opinions: first, on the doctrine of Ideas; secondly, of Being.
From the Platonic Ideas we naturally proceed to the Eleatic One or Being
which is the foundation of them. They are the same philosophy in two
forms, and the simpler form is the truer and deeper. For the Platonic
Ideas are mere numerical differences, and the moment we attempt to
distinguish between them, their transcendental character is lost; ideas of
justice, temperance, and good, are really distinguishable only with
reference to their application in the world. If we once ask how they are
related to individuals or to the ideas of the divine mind, they are again
merged in the aboriginal notion of Being. No one can answer the questions
which Parmenides asks of Socrates. And yet these questions are asked with
the express acknowledgment that the denial of ideas will be the destruction
of the human mind. The true answer to the difficulty here thrown out is
the establishment of a rational psychology; and this is a work which is
commenced in the Sophist. Plato, in urging the difficulty of his own
doctrine of Ideas, is far from denying that some doctrine of Ideas is
necessary, and for this he is paving the way.

In a similar spirit he criticizes the Eleatic doctrine of Being, not
intending to deny Ontology, but showing that the old Eleatic notion, and
the very name 'Being,' is unable to maintain itself against the subtleties
of the Megarians. He did not mean to say that Being or Substance had no
existence, but he is preparing for the development of his later view, that
ideas were capable of relation. The fact that contradictory consequences
follow from the existence or non-existence of one or many, does not prove
that they have or have not existence, but rather that some different mode
of conceiving them is required. Parmenides may still have thought that
'Being was,' just as Kant would have asserted the existence of 'things in
themselves,' while denying the transcendental use of the Categories.

Several lesser links also connect the first and second parts of the
dialogue: (1) The thesis is the same as that which Zeno has been already
discussing: (2) Parmenides has intimated in the first part, that the
method of Zeno should, as Socrates desired, be extended to Ideas: (3) The
difficulty of participating in greatness, smallness, equality is urged
against the Ideas as well as against the One.

II. The Parmenides is not only a criticism of the Eleatic notion of Being,
but also of the methods of reasoning then in existence, and in this point
of view, as well as in the other, may be regarded as an introduction to the
Sophist. Long ago, in the Euthydemus, the vulgar application of the 'both
and neither' Eristic had been subjected to a similar criticism, which there
takes the form of banter and irony, here of illustration.

The attack upon the Ideas is resumed in the Philebus, and is followed by a
return to a more rational philosophy. The perplexity of the One and Many
is there confined to the region of Ideas, and replaced by a theory of
classification; the Good arranged in classes is also contrasted with the
barren abstraction of the Megarians. The war is carried on against the
Eristics in all the later dialogues, sometimes with a playful irony, at
other times with a sort of contempt. But there is no lengthened refutation
of them. The Parmenides belongs to that stage of the dialogues of Plato in
which he is partially under their influence, using them as a sort of
'critics or diviners' of the truth of his own, and of the Eleatic theories.
In the Theaetetus a similar negative dialectic is employed in the attempt
to define science, which after every effort remains undefined still. The
same question is revived from the objective side in the Sophist: Being and
Not-being are no longer exhibited in opposition, but are now reconciled;
and the true nature of Not-being is discovered and made the basis of the
correlation of ideas. Some links are probably missing which might have
been supplied if we had trustworthy accounts of Plato's oral teaching.

To sum up: the Parmenides of Plato is a critique, first, of the Platonic
Ideas, and secondly, of the Eleatic doctrine of Being. Neither are
absolutely denied. But certain difficulties and consequences are shown in
the assumption of either, which prove that the Platonic as well as the
Eleatic doctrine must be remodelled. The negation and contradiction which
are involved in the conception of the One and Many are preliminary to their
final adjustment. The Platonic Ideas are tested by the interrogative
method of Socrates; the Eleatic One or Being is tried by the severer and
perhaps impossible method of hypothetical consequences, negative and
affirmative. In the latter we have an example of the Zenonian or Megarian
dialectic, which proceeded, not 'by assailing premises, but conclusions';
this is worked out and improved by Plato. When primary abstractions are
used in every conceivable sense, any or every conclusion may be deduced
from them. The words 'one,' 'other,' 'being,' 'like,' 'same,' 'whole,' and
their opposites, have slightly different meanings, as they are applied to
objects of thought or objects of sense--to number, time, place, and to the
higher ideas of the reason;--and out of their different meanings this
'feast' of contradictions 'has been provided.'


The Parmenides of Plato belongs to a stage of philosophy which has passed
away. At first we read it with a purely antiquarian or historical
interest; and with difficulty throw ourselves back into a state of the
human mind in which Unity and Being occupied the attention of philosophers.
We admire the precision of the language, in which, as in some curious
puzzle, each word is exactly fitted into every other, and long trains of
argument are carried out with a sort of geometrical accuracy. We doubt
whether any abstract notion could stand the searching cross-examination of
Parmenides; and may at last perhaps arrive at the conclusion that Plato has
been using an imaginary method to work out an unmeaning conclusion. But
the truth is, that he is carrying on a process which is not either useless
or unnecessary in any age of philosophy. We fail to understand him,
because we do not realize that the questions which he is discussing could
have had any value or importance. We suppose them to be like the
speculations of some of the Schoolmen, which end in nothing. But in truth
he is trying to get rid of the stumblingblocks of thought which beset his
contemporaries. Seeing that the Megarians and Cynics were making knowledge
impossible, he takes their 'catch-words' and analyzes them from every
conceivable point of view. He is criticizing the simplest and most general
of our ideas, in which, as they are the most comprehensive, the danger of
error is the most serious; for, if they remain unexamined, as in a
mathematical demonstration, all that flows from them is affected, and the
error pervades knowledge far and wide. In the beginning of philosophy this
correction of human ideas was even more necessary than in our own times,
because they were more bound up with words; and words when once presented
to the mind exercised a greater power over thought. There is a natural
realism which says, 'Can there be a word devoid of meaning, or an idea
which is an idea of nothing?' In modern times mankind have often given too
great importance to a word or idea. The philosophy of the ancients was
still more in slavery to them, because they had not the experience of
error, which would have placed them above the illusion.

The method of the Parmenides may be compared with the process of purgation,
which Bacon sought to introduce into philosophy. Plato is warning us
against two sorts of 'Idols of the Den': first, his own Ideas, which he
himself having created is unable to connect in any way with the external
world; secondly, against two idols in particular, 'Unity' and 'Being,'
which had grown up in the pre-Socratic philosophy, and were still standing
in the way of all progress and development of thought. He does not say
with Bacon, 'Let us make truth by experiment,' or 'From these vague and
inexact notions let us turn to facts.' The time has not yet arrived for a
purely inductive philosophy. The instruments of thought must first be
forged, that they may be used hereafter by modern inquirers. How, while
mankind were disputing about universals, could they classify phenomena?
How could they investigate causes, when they had not as yet learned to
distinguish between a cause and an end? How could they make any progress
in the sciences without first arranging them? These are the deficiencies
which Plato is seeking to supply in an age when knowledge was a shadow of a
name only. In the earlier dialogues the Socratic conception of universals
is illustrated by his genius; in the Phaedrus the nature of division is
explained; in the Republic the law of contradiction and the unity of
knowledge are asserted; in the later dialogues he is constantly engaged
both with the theory and practice of classification. These were the 'new
weapons,' as he terms them in the Philebus, which he was preparing for the
use of some who, in after ages, would be found ready enough to disown their
obligations to the great master, or rather, perhaps, would be incapable of
understanding them.

Numberless fallacies, as we are often truly told, have originated in a
confusion of the 'copula,' and the 'verb of existence.' Would not the
distinction which Plato by the mouth of Parmenides makes between 'One is
one' and 'One has being' have saved us from this and many similar
confusions? We see again that a long period in the history of philosophy
was a barren tract, not uncultivated, but unfruitful, because there was no
inquiry into the relation of language and thought, and the metaphysical
imagination was incapable of supplying the missing link between words and
things. The famous dispute between Nominalists and Realists would never
have been heard of, if, instead of transferring the Platonic Ideas into a
crude Latin phraseology, the spirit of Plato had been truly understood and
appreciated. Upon the term substance at least two celebrated theological
controversies appear to hinge, which would not have existed, or at least
not in their present form, if we had 'interrogated' the word substance, as
Plato has the notions of Unity and Being. These weeds of philosophy have
struck their roots deep into the soil, and are always tending to reappear,
sometimes in new-fangled forms; while similar words, such as development,
evolution, law, and the like, are constantly put in the place of facts,
even by writers who profess to base truth entirely upon fact. In an
unmetaphysical age there is probably more metaphysics in the common sense
(i.e. more a priori assumption) than in any other, because there is more
complete unconsciousness that we are resting on our own ideas, while we
please ourselves with the conviction that we are resting on facts. We do
not consider how much metaphysics are required to place us above
metaphysics, or how difficult it is to prevent the forms of expression
which are ready made for our use from outrunning actual observation and

In the last century the educated world were astonished to find that the
whole fabric of their ideas was falling to pieces, because Hume amused
himself by analyzing the word 'cause' into uniform sequence. Then arose a
philosophy which, equally regardless of the history of the mind, sought to
save mankind from scepticism by assigning to our notions of 'cause and
effect,' 'substance and accident,' 'whole and part,' a necessary place in
human thought. Without them we could have no experience, and therefore
they were supposed to be prior to experience--to be incrusted on the 'I';
although in the phraseology of Kant there could be no transcendental use of
them, or, in other words, they were only applicable within the range of our
knowledge. But into the origin of these ideas, which he obtains partly by
an analysis of the proposition, partly by development of the 'ego,' he
never inquires--they seem to him to have a necessary existence; nor does he
attempt to analyse the various senses in which the word 'cause' or
'substance' may be employed.

The philosophy of Berkeley could never have had any meaning, even to
himself, if he had first analyzed from every point of view the conception
of 'matter.' This poor forgotten word (which was 'a very good word' to
describe the simplest generalization of external objects) is now superseded
in the vocabulary of physical philosophers by 'force,' which seems to be
accepted without any rigid examination of its meaning, as if the general
idea of 'force' in our minds furnished an explanation of the infinite
variety of forces which exist in the universe. A similar ambiguity occurs
in the use of the favourite word 'law,' which is sometimes regarded as a
mere abstraction, and then elevated into a real power or entity, almost
taking the place of God. Theology, again, is full of undefined terms which
have distracted the human mind for ages. Mankind have reasoned from them,
but not to them; they have drawn out the conclusions without proving the
premises; they have asserted the premises without examining the terms. The
passions of religious parties have been roused to the utmost about words of
which they could have given no explanation, and which had really no
distinct meaning. One sort of them, faith, grace, justification, have been
the symbols of one class of disputes; as the words substance, nature,
person, of another, revelation, inspiration, and the like, of a third. All
of them have been the subject of endless reasonings and inferences; but a
spell has hung over the minds of theologians or philosophers which has
prevented them from examining the words themselves. Either the effort to
rise above and beyond their own first ideas was too great for them, or
there might, perhaps, have seemed to be an irreverence in doing so. About
the Divine Being Himself, in whom all true theological ideas live and move,
men have spoken and reasoned much, and have fancied that they instinctively
know Him. But they hardly suspect that under the name of God even
Christians have included two characters or natures as much opposed as the
good and evil principle of the Persians.

To have the true use of words we must compare them with things; in using
them we acknowledge that they seldom give a perfect representation of our
meaning. In like manner when we interrogate our ideas we find that we are
not using them always in the sense which we supposed. And Plato, while he
criticizes the inconsistency of his own doctrine of universals and draws
out the endless consequences which flow from the assertion either that
'Being is' or that 'Being is not,' by no means intends to deny the
existence of universals or the unity under which they are comprehended.
There is nothing further from his thoughts than scepticism. But before
proceeding he must examine the foundations which he and others have been
laying; there is nothing true which is not from some point of view untrue,
nothing absolute which is not also relative (compare Republic).

And so, in modern times, because we are called upon to analyze our ideas
and to come to a distinct understanding about the meaning of words; because
we know that the powers of language are very unequal to the subtlety of
nature or of mind, we do not therefore renounce the use of them; but we
replace them in their old connexion, having first tested their meaning and
quality, and having corrected the error which is involved in them; or
rather always remembering to make allowance for the adulteration or alloy
which they contain. We cannot call a new metaphysical world into existence
any more than we can frame a new universal language; in thought as in
speech, we are dependent on the past. We know that the words 'cause' and
'effect' are very far from representing to us the continuity or the
complexity of nature or the different modes or degrees in which phenomena
are connected. Yet we accept them as the best expression which we have of
the correlation of forces or objects. We see that the term 'law' is a mere
abstraction, under which laws of matter and of mind, the law of nature and
the law of the land are included, and some of these uses of the word are
confusing, because they introduce into one sphere of thought associations
which belong to another; for example, order or sequence is apt to be
confounded with external compulsion and the internal workings of the mind
with their material antecedents. Yet none of them can be dispensed with;
we can only be on our guard against the error or confusion which arises out
of them. Thus in the use of the word 'substance' we are far from supposing
that there is any mysterious substratum apart from the objects which we
see, and we acknowledge that the negative notion is very likely to become a
positive one. Still we retain the word as a convenient generalization,
though not without a double sense, substance, and essence, derived from the
two-fold translation of the Greek ousia.

So the human mind makes the reflection that God is not a person like
ourselves--is not a cause like the material causes in nature, nor even an
intelligent cause like a human agent--nor an individual, for He is
universal; and that every possible conception which we can form of Him is
limited by the human faculties. We cannot by any effort of thought or
exertion of faith be in and out of our own minds at the same instant. How
can we conceive Him under the forms of time and space, who is out of time
and space? How get rid of such forms and see Him as He is? How can we
imagine His relation to the world or to ourselves? Innumerable
contradictions follow from either of the two alternatives, that God is or
that He is not. Yet we are far from saying that we know nothing of Him,
because all that we know is subject to the conditions of human thought. To
the old belief in Him we return, but with corrections. He is a person, but
not like ourselves; a mind, but not a human mind; a cause, but not a
material cause, nor yet a maker or artificer. The words which we use are
imperfect expressions of His true nature; but we do not therefore lose
faith in what is best and highest in ourselves and in the world.

'A little philosophy takes us away from God; a great deal brings us back to
Him.' When we begin to reflect, our first thoughts respecting Him and
ourselves are apt to be sceptical. For we can analyze our religious as
well as our other ideas; we can trace their history; we can criticize their
perversion; we see that they are relative to the human mind and to one
another. But when we have carried our criticism to the furthest point,
they still remain, a necessity of our moral nature, better known and
understood by us, and less liable to be shaken, because we are more aware
of their necessary imperfection. They come to us with 'better opinion,
better confirmation,' not merely as the inspirations either of ourselves or
of another, but deeply rooted in history and in the human mind.




Translated by Benjamin Jowett

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Cephalus, Adeimantus, Glaucon, Antiphon,
Pythodorus, Socrates, Zeno, Parmenides, Aristoteles.

Cephalus rehearses a dialogue which is supposed to have been narrated in
his presence by Antiphon, the half-brother of Adeimantus and Glaucon, to
certain Clazomenians.

We had come from our home at Clazomenae to Athens, and met Adeimantus and
Glaucon in the Agora. Welcome, Cephalus, said Adeimantus, taking me by the
hand; is there anything which we can do for you in Athens?

Yes; that is why I am here; I wish to ask a favour of you.

What may that be? he said.

I want you to tell me the name of your half brother, which I have
forgotten; he was a mere child when I last came hither from Clazomenae, but
that was a long time ago; his father's name, if I remember rightly, was

Yes, he said, and the name of our brother, Antiphon; but why do you ask?

Let me introduce some countrymen of mine, I said; they are lovers of
philosophy, and have heard that Antiphon was intimate with a certain
Pythodorus, a friend of Zeno, and remembers a conversation which took place
between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides many years ago, Pythodorus having
often recited it to him.

Quite true.

And could we hear it? I asked.

Nothing easier, he replied; when he was a youth he made a careful study of
the piece; at present his thoughts run in another direction; like his
grandfather Antiphon he is devoted to horses. But, if that is what you
want, let us go and look for him; he dwells at Melita, which is quite near,
and he has only just left us to go home.

Accordingly we went to look for him; he was at home, and in the act of
giving a bridle to a smith to be fitted. When he had done with the smith,
his brothers told him the purpose of our visit; and he saluted me as an
acquaintance whom he remembered from my former visit, and we asked him to
repeat the dialogue. At first he was not very willing, and complained of
the trouble, but at length he consented. He told us that Pythodorus had
described to him the appearance of Parmenides and Zeno; they came to
Athens, as he said, at the great Panathenaea; the former was, at the time
of his visit, about 65 years old, very white with age, but well favoured.
Zeno was nearly 40 years of age, tall and fair to look upon; in the days of
his youth he was reported to have been beloved by Parmenides. He said that
they lodged with Pythodorus in the Ceramicus, outside the wall, whither
Socrates, then a very young man, came to see them, and many others with
him; they wanted to hear the writings of Zeno, which had been brought to
Athens for the first time on the occasion of their visit. These Zeno
himself read to them in the absence of Parmenides, and had very nearly
finished when Pythodorus entered, and with him Parmenides and Aristoteles
who was afterwards one of the Thirty, and heard the little that remained of
the dialogue. Pythodorus had heard Zeno repeat them before.

When the recitation was completed, Socrates requested that the first thesis
of the first argument might be read over again, and this having been done,
he said: What is your meaning, Zeno? Do you maintain that if being is
many, it must be both like and unlike, and that this is impossible, for
neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like--is that your position?

Just so, said Zeno.

And if the unlike cannot be like, or the like unlike, then according to
you, being could not be many; for this would involve an impossibility. In
all that you say have you any other purpose except to disprove the being of
the many? and is not each division of your treatise intended to furnish a
separate proof of this, there being in all as many proofs of the not-being
of the many as you have composed arguments? Is that your meaning, or have
I misunderstood you?

No, said Zeno; you have correctly understood my general purpose.

I see, Parmenides, said Socrates, that Zeno would like to be not only one
with you in friendship but your second self in his writings too; he puts
what you say in another way, and would fain make believe that he is telling
us something which is new. For you, in your poems, say The All is one, and
of this you adduce excellent proofs; and he on the other hand says There is
no many; and on behalf of this he offers overwhelming evidence. You affirm
unity, he denies plurality. And so you deceive the world into believing
that you are saying different things when really you are saying much the
same. This is a strain of art beyond the reach of most of us.

Yes, Socrates, said Zeno. But although you are as keen as a Spartan hound
in pursuing the track, you do not fully apprehend the true motive of the
composition, which is not really such an artificial work as you imagine;
for what you speak of was an accident; there was no pretence of a great
purpose; nor any serious intention of deceiving the world. The truth is,
that these writings of mine were meant to protect the arguments of
Parmenides against those who make fun of him and seek to show the many
ridiculous and contradictory results which they suppose to follow from the
affirmation of the one. My answer is addressed to the partisans of the
many, whose attack I return with interest by retorting upon them that their
hypothesis of the being of many, if carried out, appears to be still more
ridiculous than the hypothesis of the being of one. Zeal for my master led
me to write the book in the days of my youth, but some one stole the copy;
and therefore I had no choice whether it should be published or not; the
motive, however, of writing, was not the ambition of an elder man, but the
pugnacity of a young one. This you do not seem to see, Socrates; though in
other respects, as I was saying, your notion is a very just one.

I understand, said Socrates, and quite accept your account. But tell me,
Zeno, do you not further think that there is an idea of likeness in itself,
and another idea of unlikeness, which is the opposite of likeness, and that
in these two, you and I and all other things to which we apply the term
many, participate--things which participate in likeness become in that
degree and manner like; and so far as they participate in unlikeness become
in that degree unlike, or both like and unlike in the degree in which they
participate in both? And may not all things partake of both opposites, and
be both like and unlike, by reason of this participation?--Where is the
wonder? Now if a person could prove the absolute like to become unlike, or
the absolute unlike to become like, that, in my opinion, would indeed be a
wonder; but there is nothing extraordinary, Zeno, in showing that the
things which only partake of likeness and unlikeness experience both. Nor,
again, if a person were to show that all is one by partaking of one, and at
the same time many by partaking of many, would that be very astonishing.
But if he were to show me that the absolute one was many, or the absolute
many one, I should be truly amazed. And so of all the rest: I should be
surprised to hear that the natures or ideas themselves had these opposite
qualities; but not if a person wanted to prove of me that I was many and
also one. When he wanted to show that I was many he would say that I have
a right and a left side, and a front and a back, and an upper and a lower
half, for I cannot deny that I partake of multitude; when, on the other
hand, he wants to prove that I am one, he will say, that we who are here
assembled are seven, and that I am one and partake of the one. In both
instances he proves his case. So again, if a person shows that such things
as wood, stones, and the like, being many are also one, we admit that he
shows the coexistence of the one and many, but he does not show that the
many are one or the one many; he is uttering not a paradox but a truism.
If however, as I just now suggested, some one were to abstract simple
notions of like, unlike, one, many, rest, motion, and similar ideas, and
then to show that these admit of admixture and separation in themselves, I
should be very much astonished. This part of the argument appears to be
treated by you, Zeno, in a very spirited manner; but, as I was saying, I
should be far more amazed if any one found in the ideas themselves which
are apprehended by reason, the same puzzle and entanglement which you have
shown to exist in visible objects.

While Socrates was speaking, Pythodorus thought that Parmenides and Zeno
were not altogether pleased at the successive steps of the argument; but
still they gave the closest attention, and often looked at one another, and
smiled as if in admiration of him. When he had finished, Parmenides
expressed their feelings in the following words:--

Socrates, he said, I admire the bent of your mind towards philosophy; tell
me now, was this your own distinction between ideas in themselves and the
things which partake of them? and do you think that there is an idea of
likeness apart from the likeness which we possess, and of the one and many,
and of the other things which Zeno mentioned?

I think that there are such ideas, said Socrates.

Parmenides proceeded: And would you also make absolute ideas of the just
and the beautiful and the good, and of all that class?

Yes, he said, I should.

And would you make an idea of man apart from us and from all other human
creatures, or of fire and water?

I am often undecided, Parmenides, as to whether I ought to include them or

And would you feel equally undecided, Socrates, about things of which the
mention may provoke a smile?--I mean such things as hair, mud, dirt, or
anything else which is vile and paltry; would you suppose that each of
these has an idea distinct from the actual objects with which we come into
contact, or not?

Certainly not, said Socrates; visible things like these are such as they
appear to us, and I am afraid that there would be an absurdity in assuming
any idea of them, although I sometimes get disturbed, and begin to think
that there is nothing without an idea; but then again, when I have taken up
this position, I run away, because I am afraid that I may fall into a
bottomless pit of nonsense, and perish; and so I return to the ideas of
which I was just now speaking, and occupy myself with them.

Yes, Socrates, said Parmenides; that is because you are still young; the
time will come, if I am not mistaken, when philosophy will have a firmer
grasp of you, and then you will not despise even the meanest things; at
your age, you are too much disposed to regard the opinions of men. But I
should like to know whether you mean that there are certain ideas of which
all other things partake, and from which they derive their names; that
similars, for example, become similar, because they partake of similarity;
and great things become great, because they partake of greatness; and that
just and beautiful things become just and beautiful, because they partake
of justice and beauty?

Yes, certainly, said Socrates that is my meaning.

Then each individual partakes either of the whole of the idea or else of a
part of the idea? Can there be any other mode of participation?

There cannot be, he said.

Then do you think that the whole idea is one, and yet, being one, is in
each one of the many?

Why not, Parmenides? said Socrates.

Because one and the same thing will exist as a whole at the same time in
many separate individuals, and will therefore be in a state of separation
from itself.

Nay, but the idea may be like the day which is one and the same in many
places at once, and yet continuous with itself; in this way each idea may
be one and the same in all at the same time.

I like your way, Socrates, of making one in many places at once. You mean
to say, that if I were to spread out a sail and cover a number of men,
there would be one whole including many--is not that your meaning?

I think so.

And would you say that the whole sail includes each man, or a part of it
only, and different parts different men?

The latter.

Then, Socrates, the ideas themselves will be divisible, and things which
participate in them will have a part of them only and not the whole idea
existing in each of them?

That seems to follow.

Then would you like to say, Socrates, that the one idea is really divisible
and yet remains one?

Certainly not, he said.

Suppose that you divide absolute greatness, and that of the many great
things, each one is great in virtue of a portion of greatness less than
absolute greatness--is that conceivable?


Or will each equal thing, if possessing some small portion of equality less
than absolute equality, be equal to some other thing by virtue of that
portion only?


Or suppose one of us to have a portion of smallness; this is but a part of
the small, and therefore the absolutely small is greater; if the absolutely
small be greater, that to which the part of the small is added will be
smaller and not greater than before.

How absurd!

Then in what way, Socrates, will all things participate in the ideas, if
they are unable to participate in them either as parts or wholes?

Indeed, he said, you have asked a question which is not easily answered.

Well, said Parmenides, and what do you say of another question?

What question?

I imagine that the way in which you are led to assume one idea of each kind
is as follows:--You see a number of great objects, and when you look at
them there seems to you to be one and the same idea (or nature) in them
all; hence you conceive of greatness as one.

Very true, said Socrates.

And if you go on and allow your mind in like manner to embrace in one view
the idea of greatness and of great things which are not the idea, and to
compare them, will not another greatness arise, which will appear to be the
source of all these?

It would seem so.

Then another idea of greatness now comes into view over and above absolute
greatness, and the individuals which partake of it; and then another, over
and above all these, by virtue of which they will all be great, and so each
idea instead of being one will be infinitely multiplied.

But may not the ideas, asked Socrates, be thoughts only, and have no proper
existence except in our minds, Parmenides? For in that case each idea may
still be one, and not experience this infinite multiplication.

And can there be individual thoughts which are thoughts of nothing?

Impossible, he said.

The thought must be of something?


Of something which is or which is not?

Of something which is.

Must it not be of a single something, which the thought recognizes as
attaching to all, being a single form or nature?


And will not the something which is apprehended as one and the same in all,
be an idea?

From that, again, there is no escape.

Then, said Parmenides, if you say that everything else participates in the
ideas, must you not say either that everything is made up of thoughts, and
that all things think; or that they are thoughts but have no thought?

The latter view, Parmenides, is no more rational than the previous one. In
my opinion, the ideas are, as it were, patterns fixed in nature, and other
things are like them, and resemblances of them--what is meant by the
participation of other things in the ideas, is really assimilation to them.

But if, said he, the individual is like the idea, must not the idea also be
like the individual, in so far as the individual is a resemblance of the
idea? That which is like, cannot be conceived of as other than the like of


And when two things are alike, must they not partake of the same idea?

They must.

And will not that of which the two partake, and which makes them alike, be
the idea itself?


Then the idea cannot be like the individual, or the individual like the
idea; for if they are alike, some further idea of likeness will always be
coming to light, and if that be like anything else, another; and new ideas
will be always arising, if the idea resembles that which partakes of it?

Quite true.

The theory, then, that other things participate in the ideas by
resemblance, has to be given up, and some other mode of participation

It would seem so.

Do you see then, Socrates, how great is the difficulty of affirming the
ideas to be absolute?

Yes, indeed.

And, further, let me say that as yet you only understand a small part of
the difficulty which is involved if you make of each thing a single idea,
parting it off from other things.

What difficulty? he said.

There are many, but the greatest of all is this:--If an opponent argues
that these ideas, being such as we say they ought to be, must remain
unknown, no one can prove to him that he is wrong, unless he who denies
their existence be a man of great ability and knowledge, and is willing to
follow a long and laborious demonstration; he will remain unconvinced, and
still insist that they cannot be known.

What do you mean, Parmenides? said Socrates.

In the first place, I think, Socrates, that you, or any one who maintains
the existence of absolute essences, will admit that they cannot exist in

No, said Socrates; for then they would be no longer absolute.

True, he said; and therefore when ideas are what they are in relation to
one another, their essence is determined by a relation among themselves,
and has nothing to do with the resemblances, or whatever they are to be
termed, which are in our sphere, and from which we receive this or that
name when we partake of them. And the things which are within our sphere
and have the same names with them, are likewise only relative to one
another, and not to the ideas which have the same names with them, but
belong to themselves and not to them.

What do you mean? said Socrates.

I may illustrate my meaning in this way, said Parmenides:--A master has a
slave; now there is nothing absolute in the relation between them, which is
simply a relation of one man to another. But there is also an idea of
mastership in the abstract, which is relative to the idea of slavery in the
abstract. These natures have nothing to do with us, nor we with them; they
are concerned with themselves only, and we with ourselves. Do you see my

Yes, said Socrates, I quite see your meaning.

And will not knowledge--I mean absolute knowledge--answer to absolute


And each kind of absolute knowledge will answer to each kind of absolute


But the knowledge which we have, will answer to the truth which we have;
and again, each kind of knowledge which we have, will be a knowledge of
each kind of being which we have?


But the ideas themselves, as you admit, we have not, and cannot have?

No, we cannot.

And the absolute natures or kinds are known severally by the absolute idea
of knowledge?


And we have not got the idea of knowledge?


Then none of the ideas are known to us, because we have no share in
absolute knowledge?

I suppose not.

Then the nature of the beautiful in itself, and of the good in itself, and
all other ideas which we suppose to exist absolutely, are unknown to us?

It would seem so.

I think that there is a stranger consequence still.

What is it?

Would you, or would you not say, that absolute knowledge, if there is such
a thing, must be a far more exact knowledge than our knowledge; and the
same of beauty and of the rest?


And if there be such a thing as participation in absolute knowledge, no one
is more likely than God to have this most exact knowledge?


But then, will God, having absolute knowledge, have a knowledge of human

Why not?

Because, Socrates, said Parmenides, we have admitted that the ideas are not
valid in relation to human things; nor human things in relation to them;
the relations of either are limited to their respective spheres.

Yes, that has been admitted.

And if God has this perfect authority, and perfect knowledge, his authority
cannot rule us, nor his knowledge know us, or any human thing; just as our
authority does not extend to the gods, nor our knowledge know anything
which is divine, so by parity of reason they, being gods, are not our
masters, neither do they know the things of men.

Yet, surely, said Socrates, to deprive God of knowledge is monstrous.

These, Socrates, said Parmenides, are a few, and only a few of the
difficulties in which we are involved if ideas really are and we determine
each one of them to be an absolute unity. He who hears what may be said
against them will deny the very existence of them--and even if they do
exist, he will say that they must of necessity be unknown to man; and he
will seem to have reason on his side, and as we were remarking just now,
will be very difficult to convince; a man must be gifted with very
considerable ability before he can learn that everything has a class and an
absolute essence; and still more remarkable will he be who discovers all
these things for himself, and having thoroughly investigated them is able
to teach them to others.

I agree with you, Parmenides, said Socrates; and what you say is very much
to my mind.

And yet, Socrates, said Parmenides, if a man, fixing his attention on these
and the like difficulties, does away with ideas of things and will not
admit that every individual thing has its own determinate idea which is
always one and the same, he will have nothing on which his mind can rest;
and so he will utterly destroy the power of reasoning, as you seem to me to
have particularly noted.

Very true, he said.

But, then, what is to become of philosophy? Whither shall we turn, if the
ideas are unknown?

I certainly do not see my way at present.

Yes, said Parmenides; and I think that this arises, Socrates, out of your
attempting to define the beautiful, the just, the good, and the ideas
generally, without sufficient previous training. I noticed your
deficiency, when I heard you talking here with your friend Aristoteles, the
day before yesterday. The impulse that carries you towards philosophy is
assuredly noble and divine; but there is an art which is called by the
vulgar idle talking, and which is often imagined to be useless; in that you
must train and exercise yourself, now that you are young, or truth will
elude your grasp.

And what is the nature of this exercise, Parmenides, which you would

That which you heard Zeno practising; at the same time, I give you credit
for saying to him that you did not care to examine the perplexity in
reference to visible things, or to consider the question that way; but only
in reference to objects of thought, and to what may be called ideas.

Why, yes, he said, there appears to me to be no difficulty in showing by
this method that visible things are like and unlike and may experience

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