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PLATO'S AND ARISTOTLE'S ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM

Author(s): C. J. WOLFE
Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 65, No. 4 (JUNE 2012), pp. 747-764
Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.
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PLATO'S AND ARISTOTLE'S ANSWERS TO THE
PARMENIDES PROBLEM

C. J. WOLFE

The QUESTIONS RAISED by the great pre-Socratic philosoph


Parmenides were perhaps the main challenge for Plato and Aristotle
two of the greatest post-Socratic philosophers. To summarize the
challenge briefly: Parmenides denied that there was any change in t
world. Although the average person has intuitions from sense
experience that run contrary to this claim, Parmenides had a logically
valid argument that proved his theory. Parmenides denounced the
intuitions of sense experience as falsities, the way of opinion. The way
of truth was to accept his theory, that there is no change, all being is
one, and the multiplicity of individual beings is a mere illusion.
Parmenides' line of argument is as follows. Change is coming into
being. If something comes into being, it comes into being from
something that existed before. What was it before? There are only
two possibilities, which make up the Parmenides problem:
either : 1. Being comes from being.

or. 2. Being comes from nonbeing.

If #1 is correct and being comes from being, in that case the same thing
exists before and after, and no change occurs. If #2 is correct and
being comes from nonbeing, in that case nothing comes to be.
Nothing comes from nothing after all, so no change occurs. The
conclusion is that there is no such thing as nonbeing, and no such
thing as change. The world is all one being, and there is no division
into separate individual beings that interact and change.
If Parmenides' argument seems tricky, it ought to. It has seemed
tricky to all thinkers who have followed Parmenides. There were even
a few unscrupulous thinkers who took advantage of this trickiness and
used it as a justification for moral relativism. These thinkers were the
sophists, and the most brilliant of them was Protagoras. Protagoras

Correspondence to: C. J. Wolfe, School of Politics and Economics,


Claremont Graduate University, 150 E. 10th Street, Claremont, CA 91711.

The Review of Metaphysics 65 (June 2012): 747-764. Copyright © 2012 by The Review of
Metaphysics.

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748 C. J. WOLFE

claimed that each


the same thing th
another based on
was no measure of
nature as a separat
as Parmenides argu
reality is an illusio
version of the soph
and phusis). As Pl
problem had implic
No philosopher w
Parmenides problem
important way in
up with the compl
is that Plato's answer would have been good enough to defeat
Protagoras in extended argument, thereby remedying the political
aspects of the Parmenides problem. However, Aristotle's answer is
required to answer some additional philosophical and scientific
aspects.
The first section of this paper will summarize the history of pre-
Socratic philosophy and explain why Parmenides was a turning-point.
The second section will explain the sophist Protagoras' relation to the
Parmenides problem. The third part will present Aristotle's complete
answer to the Parmenides problem, and in the fourth part I will
compare that approach with Plato's solution in the Sophist. Lastly, I
will sum up by characterizing how I think Plato and Aristotle would
have responded to Protagoras' Parmenidean sophistry in political life.

From what we know about early pre-Socratic thought, the


speculations of the philosophers did not clash against the intuitions of
the average man as they did after Parmenides and the sophists. The
typical pattern of the school of Miletus was to propose an underlying

1 See Joe Sachs' footnote 10 on page 214 in his translation of Aristotle's


Metaphysics (Santa Fe, NM: Green Lion Press, 2002).

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 749

element that could explain the world that philoso


around them. Thaïes proposed water, Aniximand
indefinite," and Anaximenes proposed air. Each ha
their principle element, and development occurred a
were debated. These scientific debates did not have much notable
impact on the ethics, politics, or theory of knowledge of the average
man, other than perhaps some influence on theology. The second
major school of philosophy, the Pythagoreans, took a different tack
when they proposed that abstract numbers were the ordering
principles of everything, as opposed to a physical element. They made
serious contributions to the Greek body of knowledge through
discoveries in mathematics, music, and astronomy, and in this way had
an impact on the advancement of Greek technology. However, the
Pythagoreans' ideas about life and ascetic rituals were somewhat
disconnected from their mathematical theories, so they did not cause
too great of a disturbance for the views of the average Greek either.
Greek philosophy entered a quite different stage during the time
of Heraclitus and Parmenides. These thinkers began the first serious
discussions about "being," incorporating the physical elements of the
Miletians and the formal/abstract elements of the Pythagoreans.
Heraclitus argued that everything is in flux, at war, and changing. Only
the divine principle of "logos" keeps everything in nature together in
harmony. Parmenides can be thought of as a near polar opposite of
Heraclitus. Instead of thinking of everything as motion and "be-
coming," Parmenides claimed that everything is stationary and that all
is "being." As was previously mentioned in the introduction of this
paper, Parmenides' proof denying nonbeing and change made his
claims appear irrefutable. A clash between common sense and the
theories of the philosophers developed as a result of Parmenides'
work. As Plato's Stranger says in the Sophist, the "Eleatic tribe" of
philosophers "look down upon us the many and despise us to excess,
for they don't care whether we're following them as they speak or we
fall behind, but they severally get on with their own thing."2 That is a

2Plato, Sophist, trans. Seth Bernadette (Chicago: University of Chicago


Press, 1986), 243b. Also see Aristotle, Aristotle's Metaphysics, trans. Joe
Sachs (Santa Fe, NM: Green Lion Press, 2002), lOOOaõ.

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750 C. J. WOLFE

good way to descr


before Plato.

The generation of philosophers after the introduction of the


Parmenides problem was forced to accept it or find some way to
bypass it. Zeno, one of the followers of Parmenides, came up with
dialectical arguments to further back up his claims about the oneness
of all being. In Zeno's proofs, he would agree with the opposition's
claim and then use a reductio ad, absurdam argument to show how
that claim was flawed.3 One strategy for dealing with the Parmenides
problem, taken by Anaxagoras, was to accept the seemingly absurd
premise that there are an infinite number of basically different
elements. Another philosopher, Empedocles, proposed four elements
that would maintain the characteristics of Parmenides' one "being,"
while the compounds and separations of those elements would
constitute the world of appearances and plurality.4 Diogenes accepted
Empedocles' four elements, but claimed those elements and
everything else is made up of one unchanging being, again agreeing
with Parmenides.5 These natural philosophers tried many different
ways to deal with the Parmenides problem and retain the world of
common sense, but the theories did not quite work.
One other school of philosophy that was created in response to
the Parmenides problem lived on in different ways after the problem
was solved. It was called atomism, and included thinkers like
Leucippus and Democritus. The atomista claimed that all bodies are
made up of an infinite number of tiny, indestructible particles. The
beings we see are in fact aggregates of these atoms. This is why
human beings think change can exist; they see different arrangements
of atoms. However, the atomists argued that no change can ever
happen to the atoms themselves. In this way they were able to agree
with Parmenides while still explaining the phenomenon of motion.
The atomists' theory was not wholly satisfactory in explaining what
keeps the atoms bonded together, but it was sufficiently convincing to
be maintained in Hellenistic times by the Epicureans, and was later

3 Richard D. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates: An Introduction


with Texts and Commentary (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company,
1994), 181.
McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates, 267.
McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates, 346.

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 751

revived (after a fashion) in modern science. A satisf


the Parmenides problem was developed in the mean
be said that the theory outlived the initial question t
existence.
None of the authors discussed in this section solved the

Parmenides problem. The next section will discuss one last gr


ancient thinkers who did not have a solution to the problem
original interpretation of it: Protagoras and the sophists.

II

Parmenides' argument bore political fruit when his theory was


adopted by Protagoras, an unscrupulous teacher of law and
persuasion. Protagoras reacted to the Parmenides problem in a
different way than the natural philosophers did. Instead of seeing it as
a problem, he saw it as an opportunity for gain. Protagoras taught
justifications for relativism, which his students used to write off
evidence in court and often to defend bad actions.

In Plato's Sophist, one of the appellations the sophists receive is


the title of "contradictors," and the "teachers of contradiction."6
Specifically in private associations, the sophists were very skilled at
contradicting general statements "about being and becoming."7 With
regard to law and political things, the sophists applied contradiction to
"all arts" and "each craftsman," telling them how to do their jobs.8 In
Plato's Meno, Socrates says that "for more than forty years all Greece
failed to notice that Protagoras was corrupting his classes and sending
his pupils away in a worse state than when he took charge of them."9
Aristotle paints an equally negative picture of Protagoras in his
Rhetoric : "[making the weaker argument the stronger] is why human
beings were justly disgusted at Protagoras's pronouncement. For it is
false, and not a true but an apparent likelihood, and not present in any

6 Sophist, 232b.
7 Sophist, 232c.
8 Sophist, 232e. The Eleatic Stranger mentions the "Protagorean writings
on wrestling" specifically in this regard.
Plato, Meno, trans. W.R.M. Lamb (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1952), 91e.

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752 C. J. WOLFE

art other than rhe


that the misleading
at play in the Parm
Since Parmenides'
belongs to the real
by individuals upo
status of opinions
they seem to me.
human being is the
that what seems s
different to you, b
sophistry brings a
"make the weaker
brings the concept
for them [the Prot
that there is not any
be an animal."13 D
some bizarre conclu
wall and a human b
denied of everythi
Protagoras."14
In tracking down
can be resolved "b
sources that Arist
sense intuition tha
same things, but t
opposite to others
things that were no
source of Protagor
about for some peo

10 Aristotle, Rhetor
Joe Sachs (Newburypo
11 At Physics 186al,
like debaters."
12 Metaphysics, 1062b 12.
13 Metaphysics, 1007a22.
14 Metaphysics, 1007b20.
16 Metaphysics, 1062b25.
16 Metaphysics, 1062b24.

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 753

that is, the natural philosophers, Heraclitus, and Pa


that the natural philosophers had been stymied by the Parmenides
problem,17 Protagoras was free to weave his lies, and dismantle
arguments that might appeal to an objective standard of truth. Both
sources of Protagoras' relativism needed to be dealt with for
philosophy and science to regain their rightful epistemologica!
statuses.

Plato and Aristotle both have extended arguments against


Protagoras, as well as shorter answers. The extended arguments
against Protagoras involve a refutation of Parmenides' theory, but the
shorter answers focus on the common sense and perception of the
average man. Plato's Theatetus offers a set of short answers to
Protagoras in the context of the question of whether all knowledge is
sense-perception. Sense-perception is tied to the question of being and
nonbeing and Heraclitus' contention that everything is in motion.
Plato's Socrates argues that "if all things are in motion- every answer,
about whatever one answers is similarly correct. Or if you want . . .
every answer becomes correct."18 This argument works well with
Protagoras' relativistic statement that each man is the measure of all
things. Classics scholar Richard McKirahan summarized the short
answers offered in the Theatetus against Protagoras in this way:
Perceptual and ethical judgments apart, how plausible is relativism?
If I think 2+2=5, does that make it true? If I think I can survive a fall
from the roof of the Parthenon, does that guarantee I will? If I think
Protagorean relativism is false, does that make it false?19

Plato's contention in the Theatetus was that not all opinions are
equally true, and not all judgments are equally good. Plato makes a
similar argument in the Sophist when the Stranger says that we "share
in becoming through perception"; sense-perception itself is a certain
motion in the mind necessary for the intake of knowledge.20 The
Stranger's advice to those who love wisdom is to "refuse to accept the

"Physics, 191a25.
18 Plato, Theatetus, trans. Seth Bernadette (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1986), 183b. Emphasis added.
1 McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates, 380.
Sophist, 248a. Compare with Aristotle, On the Soul, book 2, chapter 12.

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754 C. J. WOLFE

all as stationary,"2
gaining knowledge.
Aristotle repeats
places, particularly
and humorous passages Aristotle ever wrote, he explains why
Protagoras is wrong on the level of common sense:
But if everyone alike is both in the wrong and speaks the truth, it
will not be possible for a person to utter or say anything; for at the
same time he says both these things and not these things. . . . And
from this most of all it is most obvious that no one is in this
condition, neither anyone else nor those stating this argument. . . .
And why does he not march straight into a well in the morning, or
straight off a cliff, if it happens that way, but why does he take care,
as though not believing that falling was both good and not good?
Therefore it is clear that he does conceive of one thing as better and
the other as not better. . . . For one who has an opinion, as
compared with the one who has knowledge, is not disposed in a
healthy way toward truth.22

These short answers to Protagoras by Plato and Aristotle would work


well in a debate, but in extended argument Protagoras might still
appeal to the Parmenides problem. Plato's Socrates demurred from
taking up the Parmenides problem in the Theatetus, even though his
interlocutors asked to have it answered. Socrates' reason was that
"the speech we now awaken makes it impossible to handle by its
immensity."23 Plato's response to Parmenides as found in the Sophist,
and Aristotle's response as found in the Physics, will be discussed in
the next two sections.

Ill

Aristotle's answer to the Parmenides problem can be found in


Physics, book 1, chapter 8. Aristotle takes the common opinion that
change is real as the starting point for an extended philosophical
argument against Parmenides. Philosophers had doubted their com-
mon sense intuitions because of Parmenides' theory. Aristotle's

21 Sophist, 249c.
Metaphysics, 1008M0-30.
Theatetus, 184a.

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 755

argument is that the premises of Parmenides' theo


sense, but false in another sense.
The key to Aristotle's argument is the distinc
accidens truths and per se truths. Something is a p
true through itself, almost like a definition. It is p
golfer golfs." It may also be true that "a teacher gol
true per accidens. Nothing about being a teacher
he would be a golfer. The example used by Aristotle
who might build a house. As Aristotle says, "the doc
a house not as a doctor but as a housebuilder . . . but he heals

( iatreuei ) or becomes a failure at healing as a doctor."24


Aristotle keeps the per se/per accidens distinction in mind
looking at the two possibilities of the Parmenides problem, that
either. 1. Being comes from being.

or: 2. Being comes from nonbeing.

Aristotle argues that #1 and #2 are both per accidens truths, but
neither is a per se truth.25 In a per accidens way, animals are born
from other animals, and "being comes from being." In another per
accidens way, new animals come into existence that did not exist
before, and "being comes from non-being."26 Parmenides had treated
each premise as if it were per se true, and that is how he moved to his
absurd conclusion that no coming into being occurs. The Parmenides
prob-lem is therefore a game played with per accidens truths
pretending to be per se truths.

24 Physics, 191b5. I heard this golf example from Lance Simmons, whose
seminar on philosophy of Being at the University of Dallas greatly influenced
my thinking on these topics. It is a good example because the English verb
"golf' and noun "golfer" nicely share the same base, just as iatros and
iatreuei do in Greek. Ralph Mclnerny also used this example in Aquinas:
Classic Thinkers (Maiden, MA: Polity Press, 2004), 54.
Aristotle both says that "nothing comes into being simply from what is
not, but surely in some way a thing comes into being from what is not, for
example incidentally" ( Physics , 191bl5) and that "likewise, neither does a
thing come into being from what is, nor does what is come into being, except
incidentally" (Physics, 191bl9).
26 Physics, 191b25.

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756 C. J. WOLFE

Aristotle propose
encompasses the e
cannot. The per se t
3. Potential being be

The truth is that a


rational animal ca
potency at a given
what they are. Pote
golf instead of teac
potencies that I ca
Eleatic Stranger say
thing.28 Today, w
would fly, but he w
not be due to the f
kind of thing give
then actualize. Animals come from other animals because animals

have a potency to produce offspring, which may or may not b


actualized. In order for change to be real, there must be a pluralit
beings before and after change,29 although an infinite number is
necessary.
Individual beings have potencies because they are composites of
form and matter. Parmenides' two premises focus either on the form
alone or the matter alone, and therefore end up as per se false. With
#1, "being comes from being," we tend to think of the forms which are
reproduced in a new being from parents who look the same. With #2,
"being comes from non-being," we tend to think of the new matter that
makes up the being, which we did not see before the change.
However, change is not attributed to form or matter as such, but to
composite beings made up of both. Composite beings have potencies
that are not completely actualized, and can lead to generation or
corruption. This shows in what way "a thing that comes to be comes

27 Physics, 191b30.
28 Sophist, 263b.
29 Metaphysics, 1032b32.

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 757

from what is not and in what way [a thing comes to be]


Consequently, what Aristotle calls "the very thing w
pure actuality, admitting of no change.
Another misleading aspect of the Parmenides pro
with the ambiguity of the term "being." As Aristot
book 1, chapter 3, "he [Parmenides] takes being to
when it is meant in more than one way."31 We are m
individual being or animal when the Parmenides p
However, when Parmenides spells out the consequences of the
argument, he refers to "being" as both "one thing" and "the very thing
which is and is one."32 It is not valid for Parmenides to switch back
and forth by treating the two as the same.33 Aristotle holds that being
refers both to "one thing" and to "the very thing which is," and shows
that Parmenides simply could not do the same given his argument.
This is yet another strike against Parmenides for those who believe in
common sense. Aristotle says, "For who understands being itself other
than as being some very thing that is? But if this is so, still nothing
prevents things from being many, as was said."34
In the context of Aristotle's discussion in the Physics, these
arguments against Parmenides are important for explaining what
motion is. Aristotle says that motion is an incomplete actualization,
which is only completely actualized when the object comes to a rest.
To give an example, a book that is dropped has the potency to fall until
it hits the floor. Solving the Parmenides problem and formulating the
concept of potency contributed to perhaps Aristotle's greatest
scientific discovery: a definition of motion. Aristotle's precise

30 Metaphysics , 1062b30. Aristotle or a subsequent editor cross-


references the Physics in this same sentence: "it has been said in the writings
about nature."
Physics, 186a26. Aristotle's Metaphysics, book 7, focuses on the senses
in which "being" is meant and offers further clarification of the Parmenides
problem.
32 Physics, 186a34.
33 Physics, 186b 12. "The very thing which is cannot be a being." Aristotle
also makes the different (but significant) claim at Physics 186b34 that: "The
verv thing which is cannot be an attribute of anything."
" Physics, 187al0.

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758 C. J. WOLFE

definition of mo
work-staying-itself
In a broader cont
important becau
senses.36 Aristot
problem on a case by case basis by pointing to change in the real
world around him. If Parmenides were right, he could not even know
it, since his claims would not be able to escape the way of opinion. We
would not be able to know if we ourselves were real or unreal.

Thankfully, Parmenides was wrong, and Aristotle provided a pe


true basis to explain change, being, and nonbeing.
There is an upshot from Aristotle's argument that should mak
reconsider some of the things Plato said in his various dialog
follows from Aristotle's argument that individual men are truly r
is the form of humanity. By contrast, in the Republic Plato str
that the form of humanity is more real than individual humans
Aristotle and Plato stress that the form of humanity is real, wh
answers Protagoras' moral relativism, but in the Republic P
describes individual humans as if they were known only thr
Parmenides' way of mortal opinion. However, Plato did not r
such notions for his account of change in his dialogue the So
which I will now discuss.

IV

The majority of Plato's Sophist is a discussion between Theatetus


and the Stranger from Elea, who, we are told, was a "comrade of the
circle of Parmenides and Zeno, and a man very much a philosopher."37
Socrates asks the Stranger if he has come to "look us over and refute

Physics, 201al0. Joe Sachs makes an interesting comment about the


relation between motion and the distinction of form and material on page 48
of his translation: "Aristotle is often accused of taking this distinction from
the realm of art and imposing it arbitrarily on nature. One needs only read
chapters 5 through 9 of book 1 of the Physics to see that this distinction is in
fact deduced as a necessary condition of change in general."
36 See Aristotle's On the Soul, 424al7-22.
37 Sophist, 216a.

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 759

us,"38 but instead the Stranger ends up refut


Parmenides. The Stranger is asked by Socrates to discuss with
Theatetus three different topics: the sophist, the statesman, and the
philosopher. The Stranger says this inquiry will require "a very lengthy
speech,"39 and chooses first to discuss the sophist. The sophist, as it
turns out in the course of the analysis, is a "fugitive into the darkness
of 'that which is not.'"40
The Stranger first touches on the Parmenides problem in arguing
that when the sophists say "false things in their being are," it is easy to
get tangled in the contradiction of saying "that which is not is."41 The
Stranger tells us that Parmenides had instructed him "on every
occasion both in prose and meter" never to say that nonbeing is.
However, the Stranger suspects that Parmenides himself knew that
nonbeing does exist in some sense; rejecting his teaching, the Stranger
says that "if it should be put to a fair degree of torture, [it] would as
certain as anything make its own confession."42 Nonbeing has a
tendency to hide or be "woven in with 'that which is.'"43 In a strict
sense, nonbeing does not exist "alone by itself,"44 but is mixed into
other things, such as images and false opinions.46 To say that nonbeing
exists by itself would be to "talk as if it were one,"46 and assign it
number - which the Stranger tells us we should "not even try" to do.47
On the other hand, if nonbeing is not mixed with opinion and speech,
then "it is necessary that all things be true,"48 which was the contention
of the relativist Protagoras. The main aspect that Plato observes in his
diagnosis of the Parmenides problem is the confusion caused by the
parasitical relationship of nonbeing to being.
Plato's explanation of nonbeing is that it exists in what Aristotle
would later call a per accidens way. As was said in the Aristotle

18 Sophist, 216c.
39 Sophist, 217e.
Sophist, 254a.
41 Sophist, 236e-237a.
42 Sophist, 237b.
43 Sophist, 240c.
44 Sophist, 238c.
45 Sophist, 239d.
46 Sophist, 239a.
47 Sophist, 238b.
48 Sophist, 260c.

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760 C. J. WOLFE

section of this pape


that can be said of
things, such as "Th
is' is extensive, but
Stranger defines n
else, scattered and
uses a special term
The Stranger expla
not saying, it seem
other."61 The sophi
participates in bei
proves his teacher
the other both is an
things that are' in
nonbeing inasmuch
and yet, both the p
says, the sophist's
the main refutation
Sophist.
In some of the m
argues against the
"being." At Sophist
best of our ability
they mean by 'tha
beings and being i
spherical "whole." H
and extremes,"55
contention that the
of this arrangemen
and being itself ex
The Stranger prop

49 Sophist, 256d5.
60 Sophist, 260b5.
61 Sophist, 257b2.
62 Sovhist. 260d.
53 Sophist, 258e.
54 Sophist, 263c.
55 Sophist, 244e.
Sophist, 245a.

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 761

these matters. It would proceed "through speech


"which of the genera are constant with which and
one another," and "whether there are some that ho
through all of them."67 The subject matter of this "
would be the senses "being."68
Plato comes close to making Aristotle's potency a
end of the Sophist. The Stranger says, "every po
whichever became a cause for the things which pre
become subsequently, was a making."59 In this pass
per se truth of the potency argument only to the
"being comes from non-being," while for Arist
incorporates the per accidens case of "being com
Plato's conception is also different because the Stra
that the potency would be actualized by "a divine
outside of the being itself.60 This point highlights
differences between Plato and Aristotle: Plato argues that there is
participation in being in the Sophist, while participation is a concept
foreign to Aristotle's teachings. In two different passages, the Stranger
argues that both motion and "the other" participate in "that which is."61
This participation is an important difference between Plato and
Aristotle, and perhaps is the reason for their different ways of handling
the Parmenides problem.
Plato's refutation of the Parmenides problem in the Sophist
focuses on the question of how nonbeing exists. So, when looking at
the problem,
either. 1. Being comes from being.

or: 2. Being comes from nonbeing.

57 Sophist, 253c.
68 Sophist, 253c. One cannot help but think of Aristotle's description of
the "science of being qua being" in book 4 of the Metaphysics when reading
this passage in the Sophist.
69 Sophist, 265b7. At Sophist 248c, the Stranger says "the definition of
the things which are" is that they have "the power of being affected or
affecting," and at 247e, '"the things which are' are not anything else but
power."
Sophist, 265e.
61 Sophist, 256d and Sophist, 259a.

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762 C. J. WOLFE

Plato argues that P


Parmenides' conte
being is nothing, n
Aristotle picks up
"impasse of an anci

all beings would be


with and refuted t
brought under the y
necessary to show t
many, beings would

This is precisely what Plato does in the Sophist. In addition, Plato


makes the same point in the Sophist that Aristotle makes in Physics
book 1, chapter 9, namely, that Parmenides switches between the
senses of "being" when spelling out the consequences of his argument.
Although Plato does not lay down the complete per se truth about
change that Aristotle does using the concept of potency, Plato's
Sophist shows that he can at the very least refute the Parmenides
problem.

In the preceding three sections, I discussed Aristotle's and Plato's


answers to the Parmenides problem. In section II, I discussed their
short answers that appealed to the common sense arid perception of
the average man. In sections III and IV, I discussed their extended
arguments that involved a solution to the Parmenides problem, which
prove that change is real through a proper understanding of being and
nonbeing. There was even another longer and more complicated way
of answering Parmenides that involved distinguishing the senses of the
term "being."63 Some interesting questions remain: how would Plato
and Aristotle have responded to Protagoras' sophistic use of the
Parmenides problem, if they came across it in political life? Which
arguments would they have presented before the people of Athens?

62 Metaphysics, 1089a5. Compare with Sophist 258d.


63 See, Aristotle's Metaphysics book 7 and Plato's Sophist 244e-245a.

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ANSWERS TO THE PARMENIDES PROBLEM 763

I think it likely that both Aristotle and Plato w


the short proofs that appeal to common sense. R
persuasion, relies on making connections with
experience is an ultimate shared term that every
Perhaps it would have been necessary for Aristot
present the extended arguments about being and nonbeing once or
twice during their lifetimes, just often enough that the public would
remember that Parmenides' denial of change had been decisively
refuted. I doubt that Aristotle and Plato would ever have presented
their teachings on the senses of "being" in a public debate, since the
concepts involved in those proofs are too complicated.
In Plato's Theatetus , Socrates imagines an argument with
Protagoras and uses the short proofs appealing to common sense and
perception.64 I would argue that Aristotle would have used similar
short proofs based on what he says in his Sophistical Refutations.
Sophistical refutations are defined as "arguments which appear to be
refutations but are really fallacies, not refutations."65 Certainly
Parmenides' proof that change does not exist and Protagoras' argu-
ment in favor of relativism are sophistical refutations. Aristotle
discusses the Parmenides case explicitly in Chapter 33:
For an argument must be called identical when it depends on the
same principle, but the same argument might be held by some
people to depend on diction, by others on accident and by
others on something else, because each, when applied in
different contexts, is not equally clear. So, just as [of] fallacies
due to equivocation, which are generally regarded as the
stupidest form of fallacy, some are obvious even to ordinary
minds (for almost all the most laughable remarks depend upon
diction). . . . And so with almost all the rest of the ambiguities,
but some even the most expert seem to fail to discern. A proof
of this is that people often dispute about the terms used, for
example, whether "Being" and "Unity" always mean the same
thing or some thing different; for some people hold that "Being"
and "Unity" are identical in meaning, while others solve the
argument of Zeno and Parmenides by saying that "Unity" and
"Being" are used in several senses. Similarly, too, of the
arguments which are dependent on some accident and each of

64 Theatetus , 166a-168c. Socrates uses court language throughout the


discussion, asking what court arguments Protagoras would offer in response
at 178e.
65 Aristotle, On Sophistical Refutations , trans. E.S. Forster (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1955), 164a20.

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764 C. J. WOLFE

the other classes, s


difficult, and it is
class they fall and w

Aristotle mentions
Parmenides among
to ordinary mind
sometimes fail to d
arguments which
other classes." The
and "being comes
arguments that ma
are the reasons wh
from debating the
have used the short answers.

Regardless of the difficulty of the arguments involved, the fact


remains that sophistical refutations must be refuted in order for the
false to be rejected and for truth to prevail. Plato and Aristotle did a
monumental service to philosophy by resolving the Parmenides
problem.
Claremont Graduate University

"'On Sophistical Refutations, 182bl0-182b30. See also On Sophistical


Refutations, 167al-20 for a discussion of fallacies connected with per
accidens predication. "That which is not" and "that which is" are specifically
mentioned.
67 Aristotle's example of the doctor who heals and the doctor who builds
a house are easier to detect, and demonstrate the pattern. See Physics,
191b5.

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