The Parmenides of Plato

By Thomas Maguire


The following edition is intended chiefly for the Metaphysician. That reading, accordingly, has always been preferred which makes the argument more plain. Trinity College, January 1882.

§1. Existence is an aspect of thought. All existence is thought — thought either actual or possible. That is to say, every mode of existence, when grasped by cognition, would be found to be a mode of thought. Such is the position of the Idealist.

§2. The Idealist thinks his case made out, because all such notions as Matter and Things in themselves, when examined, prove to be figments — figments made up of elements so incompatible, that to affirm the one is to deny the other. So Berkeley disposes of Matter, by the bare statement that what is inactive is not causal, and vice versa. The Idealist rejects a monster whose sole function is to fill a gap, where there is no gap.

§3. The rejection of a zero, made up of incompatibilities which cancel one another, has nothing to do with the position of Plato and Hegel, that Existence, when analysed, yields opposite moments. This brings us to the question — What is Philosophy?

§4. Philosophy makes explicit to thought what is implicitly contained in thought. Berkeley showed that Sensible Qualities are modes of consciousness. Kant showed that consciousness contained a Necessary and Universal element, meaning by necessary what is construed to thought as not possibly otherwise than it is; and by universal what is thought as exceptionless. These characteristics, Necessity and Universality, Hegel extended to the object, and so to the universe. Philosophy is thus the explicitness of universal thought.

§5. The other day, G. H. Lewes, while showing that Physiology could not supersede Psychology, pointed out that while Force could be translated into Feeling, Feeling could not be expressed in Force. Thus the most advanced Empiricism is idealistic.

§6. It may be said that Science will in time express Feeling in terms of Force — that it will translate Psychosis into Neurosis. Granted: it is nothing to the point: Neurosis is the antecedent, and so can never be the consequent. Psychosis — thought — will keep its coign of vantage.

§7. According to the Idealist, thought is the only object of thought — thought is the sole instrument of thought; and the product of thought is thought.

§8. The instrument of thought is thought only; that is to say, we analyse a synthesis and reconstruct a synthesis out of our analysis. We do nothing more; yet this process condemns as impossible the prevalent opinion that Psychology is Philosophy.

§9. In the Timaeus, the Demiurge mixes various ingredients in a bowl. Everyone sees that this is Allegory. But when a Psychologist talks of the interaction of Subject and Object — of the action of the Object on the Subject, he is unconsciously allegorical.

§10. The older hypothesis was that of Impulse, e.g. Locke's. Yet impulse implies weight, and weight, or gravity, is the result of the whole universe, and, so, cannot account for it. A billiard player may assume that the weight is in the ball; but a thinker ought to see that weight, or any property of a part, must be the result of the whole, and, so, cannot be prior to it. So of Force: it is another word for Movement, and cannot, therefore, originate.

§11. So of Chemical Action: chemical action is only possible, because it is the result of certain conditions, and, therefore, cannot cause them. It is easy to say, let Oxygen represent the Subject, Hydrogen the Object, and Water — the result — Consciousness. But the chemist can retranslate: and the weight of the new product is that of the old elements. Dewar has shown that old elements will form that new substance which is attended by the greatest evolution of heat. On the other hand, in the mental product the old constituents survive, and so the analogy breaks down on every point.

§12. So, Psychology starts with a Subject and an Object; and by bringing the two into combination, and by feigning some reciprocal action — either mechanical or chemical — generates the Universe of Consciousness. As before, Subject and Object are results of consciousness at a certain stage, and, therefore, cannot generate it.

§13. DesCartes assumes an Ego, isolated from the rest of the Universe. It is obvious that the Ego is in contrast to the non-Ego; to evolve the non-Ego from the Ego is to offer a proof of that which the proof presupposes, and without which the proof would be unmeaning.

§14. Locke's Essay is of value as a reply to the Psychology of Des Cartes. As a piece of philosophy, it assumes that there is a Mind on one side, and a set of Things on the other. It is mere Psychology.

§15. Natural Realism is not Philosophy. Natural Realism tells us "that along with the presentation of the Object there is always a simultaneous presentation of the Subject, the two being mutually related to each other." [Monck's Hamilton, p. 83, n.] True; but this postulates Subject and Object: that is, a Universe, and that Universe cut in two. It is mere Psychology.

§16. Atomic theories cannot be Philosophy: they assume Space and Quantity; that is, from an aspect of the Universe they explain the whole.

§17. Molecular theories cannot be Philosophy. To the assumptions of Atomism they add the assumption of Quality, and of Difference of Quality. Quality, like quantity and space, must be a result of the Universe. Clerk Maxwell considers that the family likeness of the molecules is an argument that they are not original.

§18. Sir John Lubbock has calculated, on the authority of Loschmidt, Stoney, and Sir W. Thomson, that the molecules of gases are not more than the fifty-millionth part of an inch in diameter. It is obvious that any one of these molecules involves the whole problem of Natural Realism, aud of the relation of Psychology to Philosophy. Sorby is of opinion that in a length of 1/80,000 of an inch there would probably be from 500 to 2000 molecules — 500, for instance, in albumen, and 2000 in water. The nameless fraction of an inch presents us with space and its contents as surely as the field of the seventy-five millions of worlds, of one of which our earth is but a fraction.

§19. Movement in the line of Least Resistance assumes Space, and a System of Pressures. Granting that Space and Motion are Metaphysical Ultima, Philosophy asks why Space and Motion are found in combination. How did the Atom acquire its tenure of Space, and why did Space tolerate the intrusion?

§20. Evolution is not Philosophy. If a thing is evolved from within, the process is more than the mere accretion with which the doctrine starts. If the thing gathers material from without, like a rolling snowball, then the process belongs to Mechanics or to Chemistry.

§21. "Life," as Virchow expresses it, "is the sum of the joint action of all parts, of the higher or vital ones as of the lower or inferior. There is no one seat of life, but every truly elementary part, especially every cell, is a seat of life." Granting that this statement gives us the results of Physiology, the philosopher must ask, "What brings 'the parts' into juxtaposition? Is it merely a case of juxtaposition, or how otherwise? What is a part? What is higher? What is lower? What is joint action?" Socrates would not have had much trouble with a man who described Life as the action of vital parts.

§22. Huxley enunciates the hypothesis of Evolution thus: — "The successive species of animals and plants have arisen, the later by the gradual modification of the earlier." As before, if the modification be from within, the fact explodes the theory: if from without, modification is accretion.

§23. Sir John Lubbock tells us that "an astonishing variety of most beautiful contrivances have been observed and described by many botanists, especially Hooker, Axel, Delpino, Hildebrand, Bennett, Fritz Müller, and above all Herman Müller and Darwin himself. The general result is, that to insects, and especially to bees, we owe the beauty of our gardens, the sweetness of our fields. To their beneficent, though unconscious action, flowers owe their scent and colour, their honey — nay, in many cases, their form. Their present shape and varied arrangements, their brilliant colours, their honey, and their sweet scent are all due to the selection exercised by insects. In these cases the relation between plants and insects is one of mutual advantage." A Platonist might put it thus: "Insects select flowers by selection." That is, the idea dominates the process, not vice versa. At all events, the process implies prior capacity, and therefore reserves for discussion What is Capacity, What is Relation. That is, Physical Science, as always, owes its existence to notions which its professors discard.

§24. Professor Huxley, in referring to the nervous system as "that which coordinates and regulates Physiological units into an organic whole," uses more metaphysical terms than Virchow. That is, both use terms borrowed from thought to explain that which, according to them, is the explanation of thought. Neurosis is explained by Psychosis, while Neurosis is the only scientific explanation of Psychosis.

§25. Spontaneous generation throws no light on Philosophy. Waiving the decisive objection that it would describe a process which takes place in Time, what does the doctrine amount to, if established? That a mixture of turnip-juice and cheese is, under certain conditions, an antecedent to life. The doctrine is invested with importance by the ignorant, who persist in obtruding on Science the notion Cause, which Science affects to discard.

§26. The Scientist, to set aside Metaphysics, reduces Causation to Sequence. If Causation be Sequence only, Thought is not caused by Neurosis. But, in order to degrade Thought, he invests Neurosis with causal power, so that the destruction of Neurosis involves the destruction of Thought. Thought is the Whole of which Causation and Sequence in time are parts — very small parts, indeed.

§27. Professor Williamson, in his opening address, gives a sketch of the theories which guided Chemistry fifty years ago, and of the changes wrought in them by fifty years' work. Chemical explanation has got rid of predisposing affinities. "Our present explanation" (of a certain phenomenon) "is a simple statement of the fact that under the conditions described, zinc displaces hydrogen from its sulphate." The statement is anything but simple, as it amounts to this: — zinc — one set of relations — displaces hydrogen — a second set of relations — from its sulphate — a third set of relations. A Hegelian would not ask for a more idealistic position than Professor Williamson's simple statement of the fact.

§28. Physical Science is not Philosophy, for it requires antecedence and consequence only as an explicit basis. As an explicit basis, for the analysis of antecedence and consequence may lead to a great deal more. In fact, it led to the Idealism of Kant.

§29. That Science is apparently content with antecedence and consequence is seen in Professor Burdon-Sanderson's address: "Science can hardly be said to begin until we have by experiment acquired such a knowledge of the relation between events and their antecedents, between processes and their products, that in our own sphere we are able to forecast the operations of Nature, even when they lie beyond the reach of desired observation." That is, we predict consequents, because they are caused.

§30. Clifford and Lewes hold that the Uniformity of Nature ought to be expressed as the Law of the Collocations of Changes. That is, they merely postulate Simultaneity, Succession, and Fixed Order. What more could an Idealist require?

§31. Herbert Spencer's Heredity may account for Necessity as a fact. It does not explain what the Idealist contends for — not merely that a notion is what it is, but that it is explicitly thought as not possibly otherwise — the Necessity of Leibnitz, Kant, and Hegel.

§32. Mr. Whittaker, in the interest of Empiricism, reconciles Empiricism with Idealism: "in the final statement of Empiricism, 'relations' are just as fundamental as 'feelings.' All that afterwards becomes thought is implicit not in mere feeling, but in the primitive relations between 'feelings.'" [Mind, No. 24, p. 507] Feelings are capable of primitive relations, simply because both presuppose one intelligible whole — the position of the Idealist.

§33. Taking a portion of the Universe, in order to account for the Universe, is as idle as to suppose that a square on a chess-board is the cause of the board. There can be no fraction outside the whole, and the business of Philosophy must be analysis.

§34. Taking analysis as the instrument of thought, Plato, in the Parmenides, analyses the Universe into τὸ ἓν and τἄλλα τοῦ ἑνός; the position of τὸ ἓν explaining everything, and its negation nullifying everything.

§35. Positing τὸ ἓν, the Universe, as conceived by Plato, may be best described in the words of Hegel: [Logic, p. 204, Wallace's translation.] "Free and infinite Form, as a Totality, involves the principle of Matter in itself" — taking Form in his sense of Complete Whole of Characteristics. Without τὸ ἓν, we may have provisionally an Empiricism like that of Hume and Mill, Parmenides 164b; but this, when examined, will end in Nihilism, Parmenides165e.

§36. The intelligible element, vindicated by Kant and elaborated by Hegel, is variously termed Ideas and Numbers. The Ideas and Numbers are substantially identical, but Idea denotes the intelligible in relation to the sensibility, while the Numbers are the movements of the pure, intelligible process.

§37. τὸ ἓν brings the Parmenides into close relation with the notices of Platonic doctrine preserved in Aristotle and his Scholiasts, as τὸ ἓν is the formative element in the Idea, and the spring from which the Numbers flow.

§38. Xenocrates has given a hypothetic genesis of the Ideas. It is only to assist apprehension, as γένεσις implies evolution in time, which of course does not apply to the Ideas, ἐκ τοῦ μεγάλου καὶ μικροῦ ὑπὸ Τοῦ Ένὸς ἰσασθέντων ἐγένοντο ἄν, εἰ δυνατὸν αὐτὰς ᾖν γενέσθαι. – Scholia 828 a, 1, 2.

§39. τὸ ἓν is neither Number nor Idea, although without it we should have neither Number nor Idea. Number — ἀριθμὸς — is, according to Greek arithmeticians, σύστημα μονάδων. – Theon of Smyrna 23. τὸ ἓν is the ἀρχὴ of Numerables.

§40. As τὸ ἓν has for its contre-coup τὸ ἄπειρον — indefinite plasticity — the first Number is the Dyad, αὐτοδυάς. That is, The One and τὸ ἄπειρον, as two items, constitute the System of Two Monads — ἡ αὐτοδυάς — the Prime Dyad. – Aristotle Metaphysics B. iii. The Dyad has for its Material τὸ ἄπειρον, and for its Form τὸ ἓν: αἱ πρῶτον γεγονυῖαι δύο μονάδες ὡς ἐξ ὕλης μὲ τῆς Άορίστου Δυάδος, εἴδους δὲ τοῦ Άρχικοῶ Ένὸς — τοῦ Αὐτοενὸς δηλονότι — αὗται πεποιήκασι τὴν πρώτην Δυάδα. – Syrianus ap. Scholia 818 b, 46-9.

§41. As the Indefinite Dyad is Majus and Minus — τὸ μέγα and τὸ μικρὸν — each moiety is a monad. These two monads, with τὸ ἓν as unifier and equator, constitute the System of Three Monads the Prime Triad — ἡ αὐτοτριάς: αἱ δὲ πάλιν δευτέρως γεγονυῖαι τρεῖς μονάδες, ὡς ἐξ ληςὕ μὲν καὶ αὗται τῆς Άορίστου Δυάδος, δὲ τοῦ Αὐτοενός, πεποιήκασι τὴν Αὐτοτριάδα. – Syranius ib. 819 a.

§42. Lastly, the Indefinite Dyad as plastic, taking on itself the Prime Dyad as formal, constitutes the System of Four Monads the Prime Tetrad — ἡ αὐτοτριάς: ἐκ τῆς Αὐτοδυάδος καὶ τῆς Ἀρχικοῦ Δυάδος ἣν 'Αόριςτον καλεῖ Δυάδα, ἀπετέλουν τῆν Τετράδα· οὐ αὐτὰς (sc. τὰς δυάδας) οὐδὲ κατὰ πρόσθεσιν αὔξοντες, ἀλλὰ τῆς Ἀορίστου Δυάδος διπλασιάσης τῆν Αὐτοδυάδα, καὶ οὕτως ἀτεκούσης τῆν Τετράδα. – Syranius ib. 819b, 26-31.

§43. The Archic Dyad — ἀόριστος δυάς — is no blank infinite. It is plasticity, ἀνεκλειπτός, Syrianus ib. 907a, 25. Its virtues are best given in the words of Syrianus: κινητικὴν οὖσαν ἀρχὴν πάντα τὰ εἴδη γονίμου πληροῦν δυνάμεως καὶ προάγειν εἰς ἀπογέννησιν τῶν δευτέρων καὶ τρίτων ἀύλων εἴδων – Syrianus ib. 906b, 3032. δευτέρων καὶ τρίτων ἀύλων εἴδων are the squares and cubes of the Prime Numbers.

§44. The Archic Dyad — ἀόριστος δυὰς — is the link between Plato's Physics and Metaphysics. It is Movement both logical and mechanical. All mechanical movement, whether purely mechanical or chemical, is in reality a brief description of relation between two moments. All qualities are relations in disguise. Analysis, therefore, is the supreme organon.

§45. The two components of all things, τὸ ἓν and τὸ ἄπειρον, are thus Metaphysical Ultima discovered by analysis, and not agents in the mechanical, chemical, or so-called psychological sense.

§46. Why did Plato use such barren terms as τὸ ἓν — The One, and τἄλλα — All the rest of it? τὸ ἓν is the geometrical unit, and Geometry is the medium between Sense and Intellect. Aristotle's usual term for Mathematics, as Plato viewed them, is τὰ μεταξύ.

§47. Previous to Plato, the notion The One had been so far developed:

a. Xenophanes deduced Unity from the theological notion Moral Perfection, making Unity a predicate of Essence:

b. Parmenides, by identifying subject and object, made Unity both the logical and substantive essence of all real existence:

c. Melissus made Unity a predicate, but deduced it from infinity:

d. Zeno defended Unity by proving plurality impossible.

§48. In Aristotle's hands the notion Unity became Substance, and in that shape was transmitted by the schoolmen to modern thought. It is obvious that the modern atom is a Lilliputian substance.

§49. The One being positive, τἄλλα τοῦ ἑνὸς is thrown off as its contre-coup, by the process which Hegel elaborated.

§50. Anti-Platonists, from Aristotle to Jowett, ask — Where are the Ideas? "Would a Kantian entertain the question — Where are the Categories, and Ideas, and Forms?

§51. According to Hegel, evolution is Specification: according to Haeckel, specification is Evolution. That the road up is the road down must be seen in time.

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The Parmenides of Plato: Analysis

The philosophical portion of the Dialogue is divided into two parts: the first extends from 127d to 135; and the second from 135 to the end, 166. The first part deals with the question of the relation of the Ideas to sensible things; the second with the relation of the head-Idea — The One — to everything else. The first part discusses generally the relation between the supersensible and the sensible; the second elaborates the relations of the paramount metaphysical entity — The One — to all its subordinates, including sensible things. The second part is thus a particular application of the first; but, as The One is the paramount entity, its relations are all-pervading.

With regard to the first portion, we are told by Mr. Jowett that Plato has anticipated the criticism of all future ages on his Ideas. Mr. Grote declares that there are no dialogues in which the Parmenidean objections to the doctrine of Ideas are elucidated or even recited. But surely all the objections which are urged in the Parmenides are based on an assumption with which the sound doctrine of Ideas has nothing to do.

(1). The Idea is spaceless and timeless. This disposes of the objections illustrated by the day and by the sail: 130e-b-131e, par. 6.

(2). The Idea must either admit of finiteness or proceed to infinity. This disposes of the objections urged in 132a-b, and in 132d-133a, pars. 7 and 9.

(3). The Idea cannot depend for its cognition and existence on man. Its essence cannot be concipi: B. 2, b-d, par. 8. This to Plato would be a truism.

(4). The Idea cannot exist in total aloofness from man; for this would deprive man on the one hand of all objective knowledge, and God on the other of all knowledge of human knowledge. The obvious conclusions are, that we have a knowledge of the Idea, and that God has so too. These conclusions are quite in accordance with the other Dialogues. It is curious that what Mr. Jowett regards as the true theory of Ideas — that they exist only in the mind — is deliberately rejected by Plato in this Dialogue. If the paramount One does not exist, the result is Phenomenalism and Nihilism. In the same way, Mr. Green, in his introduction to Hume, shows that without Identity and Causation the sensualism of Hume and the phenomenalism of J. S. Mill are impossible, and with them untrue.

To moderns, the difficulty is to conceive that the Idea, while timeless and spaceless, is likewise objectively existing. That Plato held the Idea to be timeless is evident from numberless passages, from the authoritative passage in the Timaeus, and the express statement of Aristotle that Plato was the only philosopher who held Time to be the result of what we may call creation. The Idea is likewise a fortiori spaceless. Space, according to Plato, is the creature of an illicit process of reasoning, and it is not an object of the senses nor of natural belief. Its double function is to express the apparent but unreal identity of phenomena in a state of flux, and their dependence on the higher essence of the Idea. Aristotle's testimony is conclusive on the point. He asks why Plato does not locate the Idea in space. – Physics iv. ii. 5.

If the Idea be not in time or in space, how does it exist? In the mind, says Mr. Jowett. In what mind? If mind means the human mind, qua human, then we are reduced to individualism. I may infer, or I may not, that there may be some other being with a mind like mine, more or less. If we say in the Divine mind, or in the Universal mind, then the Idea will only be an accident of the higher consciousness. But if we mean by Idea, as Plato did — the Form which perfectly and completely dominates pure thought, and which dominates ours to a smaller extent — then it is true to say that the Idea is not only logically but substantially prior to thought and volition, Divine as well as human, and is therefore independent of both. Surely in a narrower sphere, where a man has consciously grasped the Law of Identity or the Law of Contradiction, he sees at once that these Laws are something more than the facts of his own brain — something more than actual clearness or passing confusion. But, first, as human thought is dominated consciously or unconsciously by the Laws of thinking, so the Divine Thinking is dominated by the Ideas. To say that Ideas exist in the mind is much the same as saying that the Law of Gravity exists in a man's watch.

The relation of the Idea to sensible things, and of God to both, is somewhat as follows: The Idea consists of two elements, the One and the Indefinite. The Indefinite is pure Passivity. Neither of these elements is created. They are co-eternal with God. God is good. As Aristotle explains it, Goodness is the matter, and One, the form, of the highest Ens. God is also Cause, the notion which brings the One and Goodness into communion. Goodness works through Causality, according to the type set by the Idea of Good. Consequently, the Law which dominates Goodness in its Causal Energy is logically prior to that Energy. On what does the Summum Ens work? On the Indefinite, or the passive element in the Idea, the space, or rather place, of the Timaeus. The first causal act of Summum Ens imposes the Law of mere sequence on Passivity. The result is, a chaos of unpredictable sequences, a notion grasped by Milton. The second causal act of Summum Ens is to impose on Chaotic sequence predictable sequence or physical Law, and the result is, the Sensible World. The God of Plato thus creates nothing, he organises Passivity. Aristotle's question, Why the Idea is not in space, if pressed home, comes to this: Why is the whole Idea, with all its Form and Matter, not in a small fractional result of its Matter misconceived, namely, Place? That Space is not an independent Entity can be proved by other considerations. The non-existence of a Vacuum inside the world is stated positively in the Timaeus, where its existence would seem necessary, in the case of one moving body displacing another. This phenomenon Plato explains by the hypothesis of circular motion, a motion which may be exemplified by moving a set of balls round the edge of a "solitaire" board. He has been charged with inconsistency in allowing the structural solids, the Tetrahedron, the Octahedron, and the Icosahedron, to combine in different proportions, all the while he denies the existence of Vacuum. He may easily be defended by the consideration that the complement of the interstices is furnished by τὸ ἄπειρον — the element of Passivity or Receptivity in the Idea.

What then is the Sensible Thing, the Sensible Idea of Locke and Berkeley? Relatively to us, it is strictly τὸ φαινόμενον, τὸ γιγνόμενον, that which is in course of presentation, and which, therefore, ex vi termini, is passing away. Objectively, it is the causal action of God, working through the Idea, on the senses. Logically, and chronologically, it is distinct from the Idea. In essence, it is the contrary of the Idea, as the one is ever abiding and the other is momentary; and finally, with regard to theories of perception, the sensible thing bears to its Idea — or rather congeries of Ideas — the relation only of a sign to the thing signified.

"Mind," says Shelley, "cannot create, it can only perceive." This is the popular view. It is the usual confounding of Brain and Thought. In the individual, Sensation precedes Thought; Neurosis precedes Psychosis; but Neurosis Brain presupposes Space, Time, and all the constituents of Intelligibility. Everybody agrees that what is in consciousness may be safely dealt with. But the question arises: Is there anything outside consciousness? In the language of the Dialogue, if τὸ ἓν is the formative element, what is τἄλλα τοῦ ἑνός? In other words, What is τὸ ἄπειρον which Aristotle represents as the second element in the Idea? It is food for Form — τὸ πέρας. To alter Clifford's term, it may be called Form-stuff. And this Form-stuff, at a certain stage of development, is the χώρα or space of the Timaeus — the only passage in Plato's writings which Aristotle finds at variance with the official statements in Plato's lectures. Physics iv. ii. 5.

To make Space an ultimum in the Platonic Genesis is as preposterous as to make Hegel a Hamiltonian because he allows Richtigkeit to the pabulum of the senses. τὸ ἄπειρον is not outside consciousness. It is part of consciousness: it is there as τὸ ἄπειρον. The chemical metaphor has taken such hold, that when we talk of an element of consciousness, we almost eo ipso assert that it is not to be found in the mature consciousness, except in a totally different shape. But, in Plato, the original aspect of the element reappears in the compound: τὸ ἄπειρον is τὸ ἄπειρον, and will not be anything else. Plato is thus a thorough-going Idealist: τὸ ἄπειρον is part of the domain of thought.

In applying the terms of modern speculation to Plato, it is not meant that he had before him modern problems in their present shape. But the best teaching of our time is the importance of history as a basis of criticism, and this teaching shatters the doctrine that we must read a philosopher by what went before and not by what comes after him.

Hegel allows Richtigkeit, but not Wahrheit, to the sensible element. Plato is more idealistic; for while in the Phaedo he combats the notion that the sensible element is delusive, in the Republic he argues that the same volume of raw material may and does admit of opposite relations.

The most striking passage in the Dialogue is where Parmenides rebukes Socrates for withholding ideas from mean objects. This is not really at variance with the passage in the Timaeus, 66d-67a. There he states that Smells are the result of air and water affecting the organs, and that they are distinguished merely as pleasant or the reverse. In the Philebus, Smells are not preceded by any craving, and so far are higher than the pleasures of repletion. In our day a great poet has written:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

This is genuine Idealism. What we call a single thing is the concourse of all relations the complexus of all Ideas all in all.

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The Parmenides of Plato: Notes on the Dialogue

Characters in the Introduction: Cephalus. Adeimantus. Glaucon. Antiphon.

Characters in the Main Discussion: Pythodorus. Socrates. Zeno. Parmenides. Aristoteles.

1. Cephalus relates his introduction to Antiphon.

2. Antiphon relates, on the authority of Pythodorus, a conversation between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides; the particulars of the meeting; Zeno is reading his treatise on Existence.

First part of the dialogue: preliminary discussion, the relation of Τὰ Εἴδη to sensible things.

3. Socrates criticizes Zeno, and wishes to know if he is right the view he takes. Zeno says he is. "Then you, Zeno," says Socrates, "agree with Parmenides, but you put your views in the negative form, that Existence is non-plural, while Parmenides puts his in the affirmative, that Existence is one." Zeno explain that his thesis is a reductio ad absurdum of the antagonistic thesis, i.e. greater absurdities follow from supposing Existence plural than from supposing Existence one.

4. Socrates sets forth his theory of Generalization, that the things denoted by general words may participate in opposite εἴδη, but the εἴδη themselves cannot admit of incompatible affections: e.g. a man is one, and so participates in Unity: but he may be also one of many, in which case he participates in Plurality: but the εἴδος Plurality, nor vice versa.

5. Socrates denies the universality of εἴδη. He allows that there are εἴδη of Beauty, Goodness, and suchlike; he is doubtful about the existence of εἴδη for such things as Man, Fire, and Water; and he is quite positive that there are no εἴδη for such things as Hair, Mud, Filth. Parmenides replies that this is a human way of thinking, and that nothing is really vile.

6. Parmenides discusses the rationale of Participation: he shows that particular things cannot participate with the εἴδη by any mode of Extension, either by way of whole or by way of part, either simultaneously or successively, i.e. the εἴδος is both spaceless and timeless.

7. The origin of the theory of the unique εἴδος: if the εἴδος be absolutely distinct from the sum of particulars, εἴδος in quantity is infinite, which is an absurdity; it is therefore unique.

8. The εἴδος perhaps may be an intellectual Concept which exists only in the mind of the concipient: but this hypothesis eventuates in a dilemma, and either alternative is an absurdity.

9. εἴδη may perhaps exist objectively as Types to which sensible things conform: but this hypothesis would involve an infinite series of mediating εἴδη, which is absurd: for the εἴδος is unique.

10. If the εἴδη exist absolutely, we cannot them, since an absolute object implies as its correlative a faculty of absolute knowledge; and, conversely, Deity, as possessing absolute knowledge, could not have less than absolute knowledge, that is could not have our knowledge, and therefore would be without some knowledge, which is absurd.

11. Without knowledge there can be no philosophy.

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Thomas Maguire, 1831–1889,
A.M., LL.D. Trinity College, Dublin; classical scholar and metaphysician, was the first Roman catholic fellow of Trinity College. A thorough idealist in philosophy, Maguire's chosen masters were Plato and Berkeley. His published works are: Essays on the Platonic Idea, 1866; Essays on the Platonic Ethics, 1870; The Parmenides, with Notes, etc., 1882; and Lectures on Philosophy, 1885.


Maguire, Thomas. The Parmenides of Plato. London: Longmans, Green, & Co. 1882. This work is in the public domain.