• Plato’s Account of Eleaticism: A New Interpretation of Parmenides

    D. Gregory MacIsaac (see profile)
    Ancient Philosophy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy & Theory
    Philosophy, Ancient, Philosophy, Classics
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    Eleaticism, qualitative monism, whole and part, participation, plato, parmenides
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    I propose a new interpretation of Plato’s Parmenides. I avoid the assumption of Developmentalism, that Plato is criticising his own ‘middle’ theory of forms. Instead, I read the dialogue as Plato’s serious presentation of the Eleatic position. He shows that Eleatics’s counterintuitive thesis follows from the fundamental assumption of qualitative monism. The animating idea of the dialogue is indicated by Zeno. Whereas Parmenides’ critics said many laughable things followed from his thesis of the One, Zeno’s book showed that what follows from the many is more laughable. The dialogue is a step-by-step elimination of the many, so that its readers have no choice but to accept the sole One. Against other interpreters, I argue that the first step in the argument isn’t a survey of the levels of Forms, but a demonstration that Socrates cannot explain how the many material things could possess contradictory characters. I argue that the five problems of participation are not a criticism of Forms, but of participation itself, and are solved by eliminating participants. I argue that the eight hypotheses are meant to show that a One without any characteristics is less laughable than a One with a totality of contradictory characteristics, and that only an intelligible world with a single One would yield this more plausible result. The first part of the dialogue, consequently, eliminates the material world and the second part eliminates all Forms but the One. Parmenides, consequently, is not a reductio of Eleaticism, but a presentation of Eleaticism from the inside, as a serious philosophical position. However, having made the best case he can for Eleaticism in Parmenides, Plato will diagnose its mistaken assumption, in Sophist, as the idea that things are ‘one in formula’ and propose the mixing of Forms as its remedy.
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