- The Legacy of Parmenides, Eleatic Monism and Later Presocratic Thought by Patricia Curd
Curd confronts a puzzle in early Greek philosophy. Parmenides’ teaching is traditionally understood as “numerical monism”: “there is only one thing or item in the universe” (66). But his successors, though accepting his key claims that “what-is-not” is not to be thought and becoming must therefore be denied, begin straightaway, without argument, from a plurality of ultimate entities—Anaxagoras from the chremata, Empedocles from his four roots and Love and Strife, Leucippus and Democritus from atoms and the void. Did they peremptorily reject Parmenides’ monism? Did they simply fail to understand it? Curd proposes, instead, that Parmenides was not a “numerical monist” in the first place. Recasting Mourelatos’ notion of speculative predication, she offers accounts of the Aletheia- and the Doxa-sections of the poem in which Parmenides emerges as a “predicational monist.” In the Aletheia, Curd’s Parmenides subjects to critique the predications by which inquiry arrives at the “nature” of something; the “signs” of B8 are the criteria that, in accord with his rejection of negative predications as uninformative, each “nature” must meet. It is not the “universe” but rather each “nature” by itself that must be “a whole of a single kind” (B8.3), “all together one, cohesive” (B8.5–6), and “not divisible” (B8.22)—how many such “natures” a theory may posit is simply not at issue. In the Doxa, Curd’s Parmenides has a twofold purpose: by the “deceptive order of [the goddess’] words” Parmenides poses a test, challenging his hearers to recognize that since “Light” and “Night” are “enantiomorphic opposites” with each in its very “nature” not the other, they fail to meet the criteria of B8; at the same time, he provides a model that we can use to assess or construct cosmological theories. By this interpretation of Parmenides Curd clears the ground for her account of his “legacy.” In her final chapters she offers pointed readings of Anaxagoras, Empedocles, the Atomists, Philolaus, Diogenes of Apollonia, and early Plato, arguing that each adopts Parmenides’ “predicational monism,” affirming the indivisibly one and unchanging character of each of the “natures” fundamental to the sensible world.
This major new proposal will be of compelling interest to all scholars of the presocratics. Some possible limitations and basic questions to consider:
1. There are significant regions of the proem, of presocratic thought, and of modern commentary yet to be examined. B9, crucial to interpreting the error of mortals at B8.53–54, and the orienting symbolism in the proem are only cursorily treated. Hesiod gets barely a mention in Curd’s otherwise valuable survey of the appeals to opposites in pre-Parmenidean thought. In taking the early Owen’s existential reading of Parmenides’ [End Page 157] esti and her own notion of the “is” of “informative identity” as the two fundamental alternatives, she leaves undiscussed the so-called “fused” predicative-existential reading.
2. How narrowly focused does Curd’s reading require us to keep Parmenides’ esti? When she discusses B8, she speaks of “what-is” and “what-is-not.” But if we approach B8 in light of her reading of B2 and read to eon in the context of a speculative predication of the form “x is F,” shouldn’t we speak of it as “what x is”—and of the corresponding negation as “what x is not”? Does Curd seek to preserve the veridical-existential implication of “x is F,” namely, that as the nature that defines x, it is F that truly or most fully exists? Clarification of this issue need not require an either/or choice between senses of “is.” It may well be that to appreciate fully Parmenides’ krisis, “is or is not,” and his paradoxical notion of “nothing,” we need to recover an interplay between speculative-predicative, existential, and veridical nuances—especially if, with Curd, we open ourselves to an unfolding history of perspectives extending all the way to Plato.
3. To construe Parmenides as only a “predicational monist” requires...