Friday, September 21, 2012


Néstor-Luis Cordero (ed.), Parmenides, Venerable and Awesome (Plato, Theaetetus 183e). Proceedings of the international symposium, Buenos Aires, October 29-November 2, 2007. Las Vegas; Zurich; Athens: Parmenides Publishing, 2011. Pp. xvi, 414. ISBN 9781930972339. $65.00 (pb).

Reviewed by William H. F. Altman, Glass High School (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Each of the sixteen principal speakers at the 2007 Symposium "Parmenides, Venerable and Awesome" organized by Néstor- Luis Cordero at the University of Buenos Aires "shared the distinction of having published at least one, if not several books on Parmenides" (xiii) and these papers—translated into English at the behest of Parmenides Publishing, a co-host of the conference (xi)—were originally delivered in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Some sense of the almost surreal intersection of Jorge Borges' trans-historical imagination, the baffling richness of Parmenides' own thought, and the polyglot cosmopolitanism of the Symposium itself can be had by reading "Parmenides and His Precursors: A Borgesian Reading of Cordero's Parmenides" by Lucas Soares, one of eight supplemental papers by younger Argentinian scholars included in this handsome volume. Limited space precludes discussion of these briefer papers; the contributions of the principals, discretely arranged in alphabetical order by the editor, will be discussed here in a rather more thematic order, beginning with Cordero's own contribution, entitled: "Parmenidean 'Physics' is not part of what Parmenides calls 'doxa'."

Cordero argues that the correct ordering of fragments was botched, beginning with Henri Estienne (97), then hardened into an erroneous orthodoxy by Diels (96-7) and Reinhardt (106): Parmenides did not regard his cosmology as "a deceitful discourse, something not true" (95) and, as a result, fragments 10-11 and 13-18 should not be included in the Doxa, leaving it with only fragments 9, 12, and 19 (113). Despite this historical background, the real culprit here is Plato: the current arrangement of the fragments reflects what Cordero calls "terminal Platonitis" (100), because Plato is ultimately responsible for the "appearances vs. real being" dichotomy, a "dangerous dualism" (103), whereas (105): "For Parmenides, there is a single reality, looked at in two different ways." But with the possible exceptions of Patricia Curd and Ezequiel Ludueña, one of the younger scholars whose sensitive paper on Plato's Symposium doesn't even mention Parmenides, it is difficult to detect any trace of "Platonitis" in the papers assembled here: Cordero's is simply the most radical instantiation of what appears to be an ongoing, international rehabilitation of the Doxa, tending, in concert, to blur the distinction between it and Truth.

Because Alexander Mourelatos offered a particularly powerful way of looking at this distinction in The Route of Parmenides, his "Parmenides, Early Greek Astronomy, and Modern Scientific Realism" is perhaps the best evidence of this trend: it is, as it were, the truth contained in Doxa that leads Mourelatos to claim (170) that Parmenides "must have found enthralling and even congenial" the "impressive inferential nexus in the astronomical tenets" it contains. Mourelatos's philosophical depth is on display in the comparisons he draws to Kant (180-4) and Wilfrid Sellars (184-8) but the important thing is his masterful elucidation of the link between both Light and Night (on the one hand) and Parmenides' discoveries about Venus and the Moon. "The Astronomical Section in Parmenides' Poem" is likewise the subject of Giovanni Cerri's essay and he confirms the importance of Parmenides' discoveries in this field by explaining his "notably sophisticated truths-hypotheses, implying meticulous and deliberately planned surveys, quite complex reckonings, [and] geometrical- temporal projections far from the ordinary".

A rehabilitation of Parmenides' cosmology in general is the purpose of Giovanni Casertano's "Parmenides—Scholar of Nature". The keynote of this rich and complicated piece is stuck at 35 n. 44: "human experiences . . . can be deceptive if they are not placed in rational order, that is, in a well-coordinated, rational system that will account for them, making them likely, precisely, if not truths." Particularly provocative is his discussion of B16 (44-9) in support of the proposition that (44): "man is an unsplittable oneness of body and thought, and this is one more piece of evidence of how impossible it is in Parmenides to separate and oppose sensibility and reason." Although pervasively critical of Aristotle, Casertano emphasizes that the Stagirite was correct to place Parmenides among the physicists (see also the contribution of Pilar Spangenberg), and revealingly refers to Empedocles as Parmenides' "great disciple" (37). Seconding Cordero, he also argues that: "a necessary distinction has to be made between two ways of looking at one and only reality and not an opposition between reality and a non-reality" (27). An analogous critique of Plato is at the heart of Arnold Hermann's "Parricide or Heir? Plato's Uncertain Relationship to Parmenides". He provides Parmenides, whom he likens to Houdini (162), with two ways to escape the strictures of the Eleatic Stranger—whose relationship to Parmenides is also explored by Fabián Mié and Gabriel Livov—while showing the origins of "the myth of Parmenidean Monism" (162).

By far the most interesting, original, and well-argued essay in the collection is "Parmenidean Dualisms" by Panagiotis Thanassas. Taking up the problem of Parmenidean Monism, Thanassas reaches an elegantly dialectical conclusion at 304: "Ontic pluralism is thus the ground of an ontological survey which operates with a dual scheme in order to lead to the monism of Being . . . The truth of Being thus requires plurality (of entities or appearances), an oppositional duality (of Being and Non-Being), identicative duality (of Being and Thinking) and compatibility with cosmological duality (Light and Night appearing equally in Being)." It is a dialectical necessity that likewise explains the need for the poem's two different parts as well as their compatibility.

In addition to being valuable in its own right, Thanassas's essay , provides a useful architectonic for discussing six more pieces in the collection, each numbered topic being the subject of a pair of them: (1) its rehabilitation of "a good Doxa", (2) its assertion of the compatibility of Doxa and Alêtheia, and (3) its emphasis on fragment B3. The "good Doxa" theme is developed in Jean Frère's "Mortals (brotoi) According to Parmenides". Frère's indirect approach to the rehabilitation of Doxa —Parmenides' "mono-dualist conception of the cosmos" (141)—is to argue that the "mortals" against whom Parmenides directs his criticism are, above all, Hesiod and Heraclitus. Less radical than Cordero's approach, his attack on "the erroneous use of sense perception" ("bad Doxa") allows him to see fragments B9-19 as an examination of "the genesis and structure of the cosmos with the help of sense perception coupled with reason" (140), i.e. "good Doxa". More direct is Massimo Pulpito's rehabilitation project in "Parmenides and the Forms": "good Doxa" actually yields "correct physical theories" (191; cf. 202) once we grasp that Fire and Night (the two Forms in his title) "may, in fact, be interpreted in an inadequate manner, and hence generate false opinions; but they may also be the object of correct theories". Although evidently in spiritual harmony with the dialectical approach of Thanassas, Pulpito's arguably self-contradictory formulation at 206 offers indirect support for my prior claim about the former's preeminence: "Parmenides not only reduces objects to mere external forms of a single Being that is the same everywhere, but explains their genesis by imagining a hot-cold dynamic within an unchanging and unitary cosmos."

No recourse to dialectics is required to prove the compatibility of Alêtheia and Doxa in José Solana Dueso's "Parmenides: Logic and Ontology". In support of Aristotle (273), Solana endorses the view that Parmenides "supposed that reality is confined to sensible things" and that these alone are therefore the subject of the poem's two parts. More specifically (278): "if ontology is in the second part of the poem, because Parmenides only admits the existence of sensible things, the first part should be understood in a logical and epistemological sense, as a propaedeutic, prior to the development of physical theory." Dialectics are required to support the otherwise similar claim advanced in Jean Bollack's "From Being to the World and Vice Versa" that Doxa and Alêtheia are "perfectly" (9) compatible and indeed mutually dependent (10): "It seems that, within the very definition of Being, when the conditions of its constitution are put forward, the composition of the world, the Doxa, is already anticipated" (19). Here again is the echo of Hegel—already heard in Thanassas—with respect to the poem's two parts (11): "The radical distinction leads to a reconciliation of the two orders, reconciliation that takes the separation completely into account."

Completing the triad of themes synthesized in Thanassas is the identity of Being and Thinking asserted in fragment B3. In addition to being the subject of one of shorter papers from the younger scholars—María Elena Diaz usefully juxtaposes it with B16—the centrality of B3 is the subject of Chiara Robbiano's "What is Parmenides' Being?" and José Trindade Santos' "The Role of 'Thought' in the Argument of Parmenides' Poem". Robbiano's thesis is that B3 indicates the truly unifying principal in Parmenides (227): since "truth is one homogeneous unity", and "even the most useful of names always split that unity: even the name Being is just a name, since it suggests the reality of its opposite, not-being", only "Being is the unity of what is (stable, unchangeable, homogeneous and perfect) and what understands". Even more provocative is the argument advanced by Santos to support the view that "the whole argument of the Way of Truth" (253) depends on the identity expressed in B3. Because " 'being' is the thought 'is' " (263; cf. 261 n. 26), "there are not two worlds" because (267): "Whatever is thought must be what is." Influenced by these airily idealist claims as well as by Cordero's bold proposal that several fragments traditionally allocated to Doxa be transferred to Alêtheia—and suffering from an acute Platonitis exacerbated by the Borgesian atmosphere that survives even in the translated records of this wonderful symposium —I found my doubts increasing that Hermann Diels had been correct to place B3 in Truth. Surely it does not say exactly the same thing as B2.7-8, B8.8-9, and B8.34-6 (52-3), while Diels was hardly immune to the influence of German Idealism. The fragment's contexts in Clement and Plotinus scarcely confirm his placement and there is still enough Mourelatos left in Mourelatos (170 n. 6) to interpret resemblances between the poem's two parts in terms of "irony and ambiguity" rather than in accordance with "the opinions of mortals".

Scott Austin's brief "Existence and Essence in Parmenides" creates a happy coincidence of alphabetical and thematic order: standing first, it provides a good introduction to the dialectical fireworks to come (8): "The ontology of a what a thing is, the source of later metaphysics from Socrates to Heidegger, together with a dialectical method in which negation is redeemed and included, radiate out from the nucleus of Parmenidean Being." And although the claim may reflect nothing more than Anglophone parochialism, a refreshing modesty characterizes Patricia Curd's "Thought and Body in Parmenides", especially because her goal is to illuminate "conflicts between B16 and the claims of the Alêtheia section of Parmenides' poem", a goal—as should now be obvious—that sets her apart from most of her fellow contributors. In direct conflict with several of them, she attacks (125-9) "the presumption that for the early Greek thinkers, to be is to be matter or body extended in space" and concludes (131): "The intelligible is not to be found in the stuffs of the sensible world."

By concentrating on specific historical questions, Esteban Bieda and Claudia T. Mársico achieve perhaps the most solid results among the younger scholars; Fernando Santoro's "Ta Sêmata: On a Genealogy of the Idea of Ontological Categories" also benefits by maintaining a tight focus and this brilliant (especially at 243) exploration of the origins of Parmenides' language in Homer and Hesiod as well as in forensic rhetoric—arranged in connection with the concepts of "catalogue" and "genealogy"—is well worth reading. But more in keeping with heady springtime atmosphere of Buenos Aires is Barbara Cassin's equally brilliant "Parmenides Lost in Translation", where an apparent modesty with respect to our capacity to translate the fragments blooms into a profundity that perfectly epitomizes the polyglot pyrotechnics still inspired by Parmenides.

Table of Contents

Foreword, vii.
About the Contributors, xiii.

Part I: On Parmenides
Scott Austin, "Existence and Essence in Parmenides", 1.
Jean Bollack, "From Being to the World and Vice Versa", 9.
Giovanni Casertano, "Parmenides—Scholar of Nature", 21.
Barbara Cassin, "Parmenides Lost in Translation", 59.
Giovanni Cerri, "The Astronomical Section in Parmenides' Poem", 81.
Néstor-Luis Cordero, "Parmenidean 'Physics' is not part of what Parmenides calls 'doxa'", 95.
Patricia Curd, "Thought and Body in Parmenides", 115.
Jean Frère, "Mortals (brotoi) According to Parmenides", 135.
Arnold Hermann, "Parricide or Heir? Plato's Uncertain Relationship to Parmenides", 147.
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos, "Parmenides, Early Greek Astronomy, and Modern Scientific Realism", 167.
Massimo Pulpito, "Parmenides and the Forms", 191.
Chiara Robbiano, "What is Parmenides' Being?", 213.
Fernando Santoro, "Ta Sêmata: On a Genealogy of the Idea of Ontological Categories", 233.
José Trindade Santos, "The Role of 'Thought' in the Argument of Parmenides' Poem", 251.
José Solana Dueso, "Parmenides: Logic and Ontology", 271.
Panagiotis Thanassas, "Parmenidean Dualisms", 289.

Part II: Parmenides in the Tradition and Cognate Themes
Esteban Bieda, "Persuasion and Deception in Gorgias' Encomium to Helen. About the Powers and Limits of logos", 311.
María Elena Diaz, "Thought and Perception: Aristotle's Criticism of Parmenides in Metaphysics. IV, 5", 319.
Gabriel Livov, "The Father and the Sophist: Platonic Parricide in the Statesman", 331.
Ezequiel Ludueña, "'Thinking That I Did Something…': Apollodorus and Diotima's Teaching", 345.
Claudia T. Mársico, "Megaric Philosophy Between Socrates' Influence and Parmenides' Ghost", 353.
Fabián Mié, "Plato's Sophist on Negation and Not-Being", 363.
Lucas Soares, "Parmenides and His Precursors: A Borgesian Reading of Cordero's Parmenides", 373.
Pilar Spangenberg, "Aristotle on the Semantic Unity of the Parmenidean Being", 383.

Index Locorum, 393.
General Index, 403.
Index of Greek Terms Discussed, 413.

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