- Parmenides’ Grand Deduction: A Logical Reconstruction of the Way of Truth by Michael V. Wedin
Over the past few decades there has been a rebellion brewing in the world of Parmenides scholarship. Most of the things you probably think you know about the man have come under serious and sustained attack. No longer is it safe to accept on trust the view—which G. E. L. Owen so forcefully defended in his 1960 paper “Eleatic Questions”—that according to Parmenides there exists only one thing, ungenerated, indestructible, unchanging, indivisible, and (in some sense) spherical. Nor is it safe to assume that he had no real commitment to empirical theorizing, and sought only to demolish the cosmological tradition that was initiated and developed by his Ionian predecessors Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. All of this has been cast into doubt by the rebels, who seem to be growing stronger and more numerous by the year.
One of the central aims of Michael Wedin’s new book is to crush this rebellion, and to restore Owen’s view—or rather a retooled and revitalized version of it—to its previous position of dominance. As readers of Wedin’s earlier work can attest, he brings a lot of firepower to the task: a super-sharp analytical mind, an enviable fluency with first-order logic, a nose for conceptual confusion, and a fine sense of wit and style. All are very much in evidence here. Specialists will learn a great deal from the book, whether or not they are persuaded by it, and one way or another they will need to reckon with its arguments.
But we doubt it will succeed in crushing the rebellion.
One problem is that Wedin systematically refuses to attend to the cosmological section of Parmenides’s poem, and to the longstanding question of how this section relates to what Wedin calls “The Way of Truth” (WT)—the only section of the poem he is genuinely interested in. Since most of the rebels are driven, at least in part, by dissatisfaction with Owen’s answer to this very question, we have trouble seeing how Wedin expects to prevail over them if he will not even allow himself to raise it. By focusing so narrowly on WT, he effectively blinds himself to interpretive possibilities that any persuasive reading of the poem as a whole—and thus also of WT—would need to address.
Wedin’s justification for this hyper-narrow approach is both revealing and odd. Instead of agreeing with most of his fellow historians that any attempt to reconstruct the arguments of WT should be constrained by the best available evidence of the context in which it was written, Wedin asserts the exact opposite: “Thus, for example, claims about the influence of the epic tradition should not constrain, but rather be constrained by, the structure of WT’s deductions” (5). This strikes us as a recipe for disaster. Because the structure of WT’s deductions is itself a matter of dispute, and because many of the parties to this dispute base their claims on uncontested facts about the context in which WT was written, Wedin’s approach essentially guarantees in advance that his arguments will fail to convince.
Wedin’s treatment of the question of Parmenides’s monism can be seen to illustrate some of the weaknesses of this approach. In Part II of the book Wedin works through a variety of different kinds of monism—logical, ontological, relational, holistic, material, subject, predicate, fact, and the like—but it is not until very late in Part III that he even considers the kinds of monism that several prominent rebels claim to find in WT. Well before that, [End Page 775] however, and early in part II, he concludes that Parmenides holds what we will call strict monism—the view that there exists only one thing. But his argument for this conclusion is peculiar. He appears to concede Barnes’s claim that there is nothing in the deductions of B8...