Parmenides: who was, contributions and phrases

Parmenides is one of the most renowned pre-Socratic philosophers. His ideas and his reflections on Being had a great impact on the creation of later philosophical theories.

Last update: 30 March, 2022

Parmenides of Elea was a ancient Greek philosopher considered the father of Western metaphysics and founder of the Eleatic school. His main reflections and teachings have been extracted from his only written work, a poem entitled about nature.

This great thinker defended that the movement, the change and the variety of the existing things were pure appearance. There was only one eternal reality: Being. Let’s see in detail his philosophy and most significant contributions.

Who was Parmenides?

Parmenides was a Greek philosopher who was born between 530 BC and 515 BC in the city of Elea, a Greek colony in Magna Graecia (now southern Italy). Very little is known about the life of this thinker, since the records we have are stories and stories of his disciples and later philosophers. It is said that he was born into a wealthy family and that they held positions in the nobility.

So from a very young age he was immersed in political life and is believed to have held political office in Elea. In fact, it is claimed that he was responsible for establishing the first laws of the city.

Throughout his life, Parmenides wrote only one play, a philosophical poem titled about natureof which some fragments are preserved and from which their contributions and teachings have been reconstructed.

Some sources claim that his training as a philosopher began with Xenophanes and then continued with Aminias, a Pythagorean whom he preferred as a teacher. However, other references state that he was a disciple of Anaximander, one of the most influential natural philosophers.

Ancient Greece was the cradle of various philosophers and schools of thought that marked the West.


Philosophy and contributions of Parmenides

From the preserved extracts of his poem, the rational approach to Parmenides’ philosophy has been deduced. Among his reflections and contributions, the following stand out.

Being as something eternal and indivisible

The central foundation of Parmenides’ philosophy is the concept of Be, which is eternal, immutable and indivisible. His arguments to substantiate it are as follows:

  • The Being could not have been created, because if so, before its creation it was a “non-being”, that is, it did not exist. And if something does not exist, it simply is not. Therefore, being has always existed, is eternal.
  • Being does not change or transform in any waybecause if it becomes something else, then it is no longer, it ceases to be, so it becomes a “non-being” and this is impossible.
  • The division implies the existence of the void, that is, of the “non-being”. Therefore, it is necessary that the being be indivisible, a single unit. To explain this notion, Parmenides resorts to the image of the sphere, in which all spaces are made up of the same thing and have the same size. Thus, the Self is conceived as something that cannot be separated and that is equal to itself in all its areas.

This position makes him the extreme opponent of the thought of Heraclitus, another great pre-Socratic philosopher who argued that all things in the world were constantly changing.

pathways to knowledge

Parmenides was one of the first thinkers to reflect on the acquisition of knowledge. So there are two ways for him:

  • The way of truth (aletheia), which is acquired through reason and deals with what it really is. Therefore, it leads us to true knowledge.
  • The way of opiniondoxa)based on the illusions generated by the senses and the opinions of mortals, which leads us to a false, misleading knowledge and acceptance of non-being.

For Parmenides, the path of truth constantly seeks to refer to Being, name it and give it all the necessary importance. Since his access is obtained through reason, he states that thought and reality must coexist harmoniously, without any contradiction or objection.

The primacy of reason

For Parmenides, reality was not known by the senses, but through reason. Well, when knowledge depends on the senses, it will only be possible to obtain destabilizing elements that echo a world that is in constant transformation.

In this way, the reality that is shown as a result of perception does not exist, it is an illusion. In other words, it is an appearance of reality.

Years later, this thought led Plato to create his philosophical doctrine of forms; and that Aristotle developed metaphysics from him. It is because of that Parmenides is considered by many philosophers and philologists to be the founder of western metaphysics.

Furthermore, some argue that Parmenides competes with Aristotle for the title of father of logicsince it uses deductive arguments and formulates the logical principle of identity and non-contradiction.

The similarities with Aristotle lie in the logical deduction that both applied to draw conclusions.


Some famous phrases

To finish, we present the best phrases that Parmenides left:

  • “Change is an illusion.”
  • “Let reason decide alone.”
  • “You cannot recognize non-being, you cannot talk about it, because thought and non-being are the same thing.”
  • “Everything there is has always existed. Nothing can come from nothing. And something that exists cannot be turned into anything either.”
  • “We can only talk and think about what exists. And what exists has not been created and is imperishable because it is a whole, complete and does not change. It was not or should not be different from what it is now, all at once, one and continuous.

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