Parmenides: The Path of Nothing

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Deckard
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 10:19 pm
Parmenides describes three paths in his poem, none of which I understand very well.

The first path is sometimes described as the path of objective truth...the path of Being. The second path is described as the path of non-Being which I read as Nothing. The third path is some sort of combination of the two; something like Being both is and is not and this third path is a path of confusion that leads many philosophers astray for they think about what is as if it were not and about what is not as if it were; whereas in the case of the first two paths the philosopher is at least thinking correctly about what is on the first path and what is not on the second path. The third path is a path of errors while neither the 1st nor the 2nd path involves error.

The first and third path are somewhat comprehensible to me. The 2nd path not so much.

In this thread I would like to focus on the 2nd path rather than tackle all three. Of course the 2nd path may be best understood only with reference to the 1st and 3rd paths but I'm trying to narrow things down a little bit in hopes that it will facilitate a more coherent discussion.

The 2nd path is the least comprehensible and really it is Parmenides that says this is the case. (bold text describes the 2nd path)

Quote:

Fragment II (Of Parmenides poem)

Come now, I will tell thee - and do thou hearken to my
saying and carry it away - the only two ways of search that
can be thought of. The first, namely, that It is, and that it is
impossible for anything not to be, is the way of. conviction,

5 for truth is its companion.. The other, namely, that It is not,
and that something must needs not be, - that, I tell thee, is a
wholly untrustworthy path. For you cannot know what is
not - that is impossible - nor utter it;
Yet, though though it is impossible to know this path or really to speak about it Pramenides does just that; he says that this path exists. This leads me to conclude that Parmenides has either seen others go down this path or he has traveled the path himself. For if that road has never been traveled how does Parmenides know that it is there?

So here are some fledgling hypothesises regarding the 2nd path. Can we make reference to Buddhism to understand this path...the path to Nirvana (literally: the extinguishing of the flame existence)? Or perhaps to negative or Apophatic theology e.g. Plotinus?

Parmenides points out the 2nd path but even if we avoid it comletely we must still think about it now and then. What should we think about it?

I think this translation of Parmenides' Poem (link below) is decent but if anyone has a better one please post a link.

Poem of Parmenides : on nature
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 10:27 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;164470 wrote:
Parmenides describes three paths in his poem, none of which I understand very well.

The first path is sometimes described as the path of objective truth...the path of Being. The second path is described as the path of non-Being which I read as Nothing. The third path is some sort of combination of the two; something like Being both is and is not and this third path is a path of confusion that leads many philosophers astray for they think about what is as if it were not and about what is not as if it were; whereas in the case of the first two paths the philosopher is at least thinking correctly about what is on the first path and what is not on the second path. The third path is a path of errors while neither the 1st nor the 2nd path involves error.

The first and third path are somewhat comprehensible to me. The 2nd path not so much.

In this thread I would like to focus on the 2nd path rather than tackle all three. Of course the 2nd path may be best understood only with reference to the 1st and 3rd paths but I'm trying to narrow things down a little bit in hopes that it will facilitate a more coherent discussion.

The 2nd path is the least comprehensible and really it is Parmenides that says this is the case. (bold text describes the 2nd path)

Yet, though though it is impossible to know this path or really to speak about it Pramenides does just that; he says that this path exists. This leads me to conclude that Parmenides has either seen others go down this path or he has traveled the path himself. For if that road has never been traveled how does Parmenides know that it is there?

So here are some fledgling hypothesises regarding the 2nd path. Can we make reference to Buddhism to understand this path...the path to Nirvana (literally: the extinguishing of the flame existence)? Or perhaps to negative or Apophatic theology e.g. Plotinus?

Parmenides points out the 2nd path but even if we avoid it comletely we must still think about it now and then. What should we think about it?

I think this translation of Parmenides' Poem (link below) is decent but if anyone has a better one please post a link.

Poem of Parmenides : on nature


I am sure Parmenides is flattered by your taking him so literally, but do you think you should. It is after all a poem. When Wordsworth, in his famous poem, Daffodils tells us that he saw ten thousand of them, he would have been disappointed to learn that anyone took him literally.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 11:01 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;164473 wrote:
I am sure Parmenides is flattered by your taking him so literally, but do you think you should. It is after all a poem. When Wordsworth, in his famous poem, Daffodils tells us that he saw ten thousand of them, he would have been disappointed to learn that anyone took him literally.


I'm not sure which part you are saying that I took too literally. I don't think I went any further into the figurative than Parmenides himself did.

But yes it is indeed a poem and a comparison with the 19th century poet philosophers (e.g. Wordsworth) seems very apt. though Daffodils probably doesn't have much in common with Parmenides Poem. Maybe a better comparison could be found among the metaphysical poets of the 17th century but I really don't know or have such a poem in mind.

Wordsworth is using Ten Thousand to represent a great number, that is transparent enough but though Parmenides 3 paths are some kind of metaphor or figure of speech, the meaning behind them is much less clear. I take them to be three ways of philosophizing. I even wonder if the 2nd path might be a reference to some group of philosophers that were active in the Greek world at that time.

Furthermore, the description of the 1st path seems to discourage metaphors.
Quote:
"It needs must be that what can be thought and spoken of is;
for it is possible for it to be, and it is not possible for, what is
nothing to be."
Speaking and thinking in metaphors might be a slippery slope that leads to the third path...
Quote:
upon which mortals knowing naught wander in two minds; for
hesitation guides the wandering thought in their breasts, so that
they are borne along stupefied like men deaf and blind.
Undiscerning crowds, in whose eyes the same thing and not the
same is and is not, and all things travel in opposite directions !

The literal and the figurative often travel in opposite directions and may cause us to think in two minds about the same thing.

But of course Parmenides employs more than a little figurative speech in his poem. On what point(s) did I take Parmenides too literally?

 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 11:08 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;164478 wrote:
I'm not sure which part you are saying that I took too literally. I don't think I went any further into the figurative than Parmenides himself did.

But yes it is indeed a poem and a comparison with the 19th century poet philosophers (e.g. Wordsworth) seems very apt. though Daffodils probably doesn't have much in common with Parmenides Poem. Maybe a better comparison could be found among the metaphysical poets of the 17th century but I really don't know or have such a poem in mind.

Wordsworth is using Ten Thousand to represent a great number, that is transparent enough but though Parmenides 3 paths are some kind of metaphor or figure of speech, the meaning behind them is much less clear. I take them to be three ways of philosophizing. I even wonder if the 2nd path might be a reference to some group of philosophers that were active in the Greek world at that time.

Furthermore, the description of the 1st path seems to discourage metaphors. Speaking and thinking in metaphors might be a slippery slope that leads to the third path...

The literal and the figurative often travel in opposite directions and may cause us to think in two minds about the same thing.

But of course Parmenides employs more than a little figurative speech in his poem. On what point(s) did I take Parmenides too literally?



All I meant is that it should be treated as a poem, and not as a philosophical argument. But, then of course, back then, that kind of distinction was not drawn. It just seems to me that although, by all means, you should try to understand Parmenides, he is not doing the same kind of thing as (say) Hume, or Kant, or even, Socrates. He is as much expressing vague feeling as he is arguing for something.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Fri 14 May, 2010 11:12 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;164479 wrote:
All I meant is that it should be treated as a poem, and not as a philosophical argument. But, then of course, back then, that kind of distinction was not drawn. It just seems to me that although, by all means, you should try to understand Parmenides, he is not doing the same kind of thing as (say) Hume, or Kant, or even, Socrates. He is as much expressing vague feeling as he is arguing for something.


The attempt to understand Parmenides Poem is perhaps closer to (what is commonly called) literary criticism than it is to (what is commonly called) philosophical analysis. It's a good point.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sat 15 May, 2010 12:13 am
@Deckard,
Well, I do not know. To me it sounds like positive or affirmative worldviews vs negative or sceptical or solipism worldviews and the third path is a warning to choose one or the other for to vacillate between the two is hopeless confusion.
Be ye either hot or cold, for the lukewarm I will spew forth-
 
Deckard
 
Reply Sat 15 May, 2010 12:50 am
@prothero,
prothero;164490 wrote:
Well, I do not know. To me it sounds like positive or affirmative worldviews vs negative or sceptical or solipism worldviews and the third path is a warning to choose one or the other for to vacillate between the two is hopeless confusion.
Be ye either hot or cold, for the lukewarm I will spew forth-


The first path would be that of objective Being and Truth but I dont think that the 2nd path implies leads to solipsism, skepticism maybe but not solipsism. The 2nd path would deny even solipsism.

Truth and Being as merely subjective and the extreme case of solipsism would probably fall within the realm of the 3rd path as thinking and speaking of what IS (i.e. objective Being) as if it is not (i.e. Being is merely subjective)

The Path of Being and the Path of Nothing seem to be equally true. We can look at Being or we can look at Nothing. It is easier and more productive to take the Path of Being when compared to staring into the abyss that is the Path of Nothing (and not because the abyss may stare back but precisely because it does not stare back). The abyss is there but we cant say anything about it or think about it beyond recognizing that it is there. I think some techniques of meditation could be described as staring into that abyss of nothingness.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 15 May, 2010 02:19 am
@prothero,
prothero;164490 wrote:
Well, I do not know. To me it sounds like positive or affirmative worldviews vs negative or sceptical or solipism worldviews and the third path is a warning to choose one or the other for to vacillate between the two is hopeless confusion.
Be ye either hot or cold, for the lukewarm I will spew forth-


Yes, there are many ways of interpretation. The vaguer and more "poetic" the more the possibilities. A little like one of those ink-blot test where the particular interpretation tells us more about the interpreter than about the text he is interpreting. Some, of course, believe all interpretations are like that, but that is of course an exaggeration. Parmenides is just vaguer than most. That is why the tendency is to say something like, "well your guess is as good as any".
 
 

 
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