7 - The Road Less Traveled: Parmenides

Posted on

Peter  discusses the "father of metaphysics," Parmenides, and his argument that all being is one.



Further Reading

P. Curd, “Parmenidean monism.” Phronesis, 36 (1991), 241-64.

P. Curd, The Legacy of Parmenides (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

M.M. MacKenzie, “Parmenides’ dilemma,” in Phronesis, 27 (1982), 1-12.

A.A. Long, “Parmenides on Thinking Being,” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 12 (1996), 125-51.

G.E.L. Owen, “Eleatic questions.” Classical Quarterly, n.s. 10 (1960) 84-102. Reprinted with additions in R.E. Allen and D.J. Furley (eds.), Studies in Presocratic Philosophy, 2: Eleatics and Pluralist (London: Routledge, 1975), 48-81.

Stanford Encyclopedia: Parmenides


emiliano castro on 24 November 2011

on Parmenides and his roads

Hi, first of all, I want to thank you for answering my question on Heraclitus on the McCabe podcast. The new interpretation on b.125 really changes the sense of the fragment and even its philosophical value. In another subject (appealing to Pico’s interpretation of Heraclitus considering that philosophy comes from conflict and discussion) I’d like to comment a thing or two on Parmenides, particularly on the subject of the roads of truth and opinion. I think that we have some good evidence that lead us to think that the cosmology on the road of opinion is a way to recover our basic intuitions on how tings appear to us in the day to day world. The fact that we have more than 100 testimonies that refer to Parmenides cosmology and natural philosophy suggests that this road is not to be taken as a sort of exoteric philosophy, opposed to the esoteric doctrine of the road of thud.
I think this is important because, under this interpretation, both roads on Parmenides poem can be taken as part of a complementary doctrine. To ways of dealing with reality: by pure reason and with the intervention of senses. Under this interpretation Parmenides is not to be taken as someone who ignores or denigrates senses, but as someone who integrates senses and reason on one doctrine. I think that there is one more thing that motivates this interpretation and it’s the interpretation of Sextus Empiricus in the first part of Parmenides Poem (S. E. Adversus Mathematicos VII, 111-114). In this passage, he interprets the first part of the poem as a metaphor of senses (eyes and ears particularly) guided by reason. I must admit that this testimony can carry a lot of free interpretation on its back but it can be taken as least as a provocative road for Parmenides interpretation.
I’ll be glad to know your opinion on this subject. Keep on with the good work. Me and some colleges hear in Mexico are following your podcasts and supporting your effort.

In reply to by emiliano castro

Peter Adamson on 27 November 2011

The way of opinion

Hi Emliano,

This is a difficult topic, in fact for my money one of the harder issues with Parmenides is the question of how the first part of the poem (the "way of truth") relates to the second ("the way of opinion"). In fact I recently saw a thought-provoking paper on this by Andy Gregory who was saying that the second part is basically an internal critique of previous cosmological theories. I tend to interpret it broadly along the lines you suggest, so I would also take the cosmological part seriously given its extent and complexity. I suspect the idea is something like, "if you can't accept my theory of being, you should instead accept this cosmology," as being the best such theory possible (or in a tie for the best with several other possibilities, something Gregory pointed out in his paper). But this is not a topic one can have too much confidence about, I suspect.


melody_hill on 28 July 2012

Peter, I've been working on a


I've been working on a project for school (NSNVA) concerning Plato's theory of Forms. I encountered Parmenides through reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on "Plato's Middle Period Metaphysics and Epistemology" and utilized this podcast as I tried to comprehend the material. A basic understanding of Parmenides is essential to understanding where Plato's theories may have come from (as far as the relevance of his work to my research is of concern). I've posed all of my notes for this project at http://cogitoetnoesis.blogspot.com/ for my content advisor to reference and monitor. I may have gotten a few things wrong or not specifically cited a concept or explanation particular to you. It's a rough draft at best and not close to the final research paper which is one of the end goals. I was a bit confused towards the end of this podcast, once you began exploring the question "what does Is refer to" or something like that. Anyways, I was wondering if you could *very* quickly glance over the few paragraphs I have written as notes on this podcast, to make sure I'm not sufficiently crediting your work and maybe if by reading my understanding of the material--you can explain the bits I need to know but don't understand?? I know this is a lot to ask, and really your podcasts as a whole have been extraordinarily comprehensive and useful for me. Needless to say, you're in no way obligated to respond to this comment, etc. And yes, I am aware that you additionally have an episode on Plato Parmenides, and the theory of forms--also quite useful.

Thank you,

In reply to by melody_hill

Peter Adamson on 30 July 2012


Hi Melody,

Is "NSNVA" the New School of Northern Virginia? Just curious. Anyway if it's just a few paragraphs, then sure. Perhaps you can email it to my work email address (peter.adamson@kcl.ac.uk) so you aren't broadcasting it to the whole internet!


Douglass Pinkard on 29 July 2012

Parmenides' "Quantum Leap"

To begin with, thank you for this podcast. Moreover, I found myself thinking exactly of what a new day for philosophizing Parmenides' poem clearly represented not 30 seconds before you yourself refer to it as a "quantum leap," suggesting that my (very) late-in-the-day effort at catching up on a corner of my education shamefully neglected when I was in school shows every sign of getting through to my greying grey matter. With this installment it feels suddenly as if the story of the history of philosophy has become the podcast equivalent of a "page-turner." Again, thanks.

In reply to by Douglass Pinkard

Peter Adamson on 30 July 2012

Quantum leap

Thanks very much! For a long time in each episode I would always add the phrase "now I know what you're thinking" though I stopped doing that after a while, when I got to late antiquity (didn't want to annoy people). In this case, sounds like it was true!


Alexandra Lorenz on 30 November 2012


Thank you so very much for these incredibly interesting and informative podcasts. I am hooked.

This may be a silly question but I find it hard to understand why Parmenides claims we are not able to think or speak of non-being and yet we ARE able to think and speak about the CONCEPT of non-being. If we are able to speak of non-being as a concept then doesn't it exist at least in some form, even if only a theoretical one?


In reply to by Alexandra Lorenz

Peter Adamson on 30 November 2012

Talking about non-being

That's not a silly question, it's a really good question! One could sharpen it by saying that Parmenides is (arguably) committed to he claim "non-being does not exist" which looks like it might commit him to the reality of non-being twice over: once because it is non-being that does not exist, and second because "does not exist" sounds like non-being.

In fact the problem is more general for Parmenides: for instance he also rejects the possibility of change, yet here we are talking about change. It is tempting to say (as you're implying) that we have false concepts that do not represent reality as it is. But he seems to be committed to the claim that one can only think that which is. Thus this does seem to be a deep problem within his theory, and in fact it's the kind of objection Plato often makes to Presocratics (they can't state their own theories without contradicting themselves).

One possible solution is that when Parmenides says that we can only think what is, he means "we can only succeed in thinking, or think successfully, by thinking what is." So the critique of non-being would not be a case of "thinking proper" where we are grasping an object; it would just be a ground-clearing exercise after which you would go on to think adequately, i.e. think about being, and then discover that it is one, spherical, unchanging, etc.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Alexandra Lorenz on 30 November 2012

That was helpful. Thank you

That was helpful. Thank you for the clarification!

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Robin on 7 March 2017

Talking about non-being

Hi, I know it's a late reply, but I just started watching the podcast (thanks Reddit).

I think non-being does exist however. Imagine a color that does not exist. Did it work? No it didn't, because we simply cannot imagine a color we don't know. However, we know that those colors exist: infrared, ultraviolet, etc. Those colors exist and certain animals can see them. In other words, we are able to think about the concept of non-being, but not non-being itself. Could this kind of example be what Parmenides is talking about? What is your opinion on this?

In reply to by Robin

Peter Adamson on 8 March 2017


I'm not sure I understand your example: assuming infrared is a color, then it is an invisible color, not a non-existent color.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Background on 6 November 2019

Parmenides and change

I have a question. If according to Parmenides, 'opposites' were not/could not have been latent in Anaximander's "apeiron" , otherwise unity wouldn't have been possible so whatever we think is, is. But then this also means that ALL that we think is. Isn't he dismissing ALL our thoughts? Therefore we can also think of non being.
This might be a silly question but for a layperson like me this is so confusing!!

In reply to by Background

Peter Adamson on 6 November 2019

Parmenides and thought

Maybe think about it like this: if thinking is something you can do successfully or not, then he would be saying that when you successfully think, you must be grasping something that is. Namely, being, not non-being (since you cannot think what is not). Our apparent thoughts about things like multiplicity and motion are therefore only attempts to think without really grasping a genuine object, like seeing something that isn't there, perhaps. Does that help?

TD on 13 March 2014

How could Parmenides be wrong

So far my favorite philosopher as I make my way through these sessions.

All his claims seem to make rational sense. There must be just the One otherwise we could not exist and certainly the One is the precursor to intellection.

His thesis is likely the most important observation in mankind's history.

Man I love this series.

In reply to by TD

Arjuna on 15 March 2014

yes, how could he be wrong?

Yes! the simplicity and the power of this is crushing.

The same argument, slightly rephrased was given on the other side of the world, in perhaps the most famous and important classical Indian philosophical text "The Bhagavad Gita": "That which is non-existant never comes into being, that which is existent never goes to non being" (chapter 2 verse 16)

AUbrey Richard… on 16 May 2014

Aesthetics and logic

Lieber Herr Prof. Dr. Peter Adamson!

Why have you excluded aesthetics and logic from philosophy, since you do not list them in what you claim to be a comprehensive itemisation of its branches?

The exclusion of logic I would understand since it may reasonably be argued that at some time between 1879 and 1913, or strictly speaking in fact 1927, logic was annexed by mathematics, though as regards the period of philosophy preceding this, this point of view can only be maintained by insisting on limiting the extent to which one attempts to adopt the point of view of the past in a way strongly constrained by our present knowledge of what logic can be and presently is in its latest incarnation.

As for aesthetics, in which part of my own work takes place, I was not aware it was not pert of philosophy, nor presumably then are parts of philosophy: Plato's views on tragedy and poetry, Aristotle's Poetics, Kant's Kritik der Urteilskraft, Hegel's Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, and so on. Of course I'm open to any point of view for which I find the arguments overwhelming or better than the arguments for any other point of view where it seems sufficiently paramount to have one, however I am not familiar with the arguments in favour of this thesis that conform to these characteristics.

May I know please either i) where your or the relevant writings showing aesthetics is not part of philosophy are, or ii) why you take the view that easthetics is not part of philosophy, or iii) why you asserted, together with logic, that they were not part of philosophy? Thankyou.

This is all very intriguing and as fas as I know revolutionary, though perhaps a few logical positivists would have agreed to exclude logic and aesthetics from philosophy, and indeed argued for this. In any case it is revolutionary to hold such views in 2014, including the views that from the modern standpoint, Kant's Logik and Hegel's Wisseschaft der Logik do not belong to philosophy. I will be continuing to listen to the whole series you are in part responsible for, but am very perplexed by these views of yours I confess, though simultaneously tantalised since the arguments in favour of such unorthodox assertions must be staggering.

Yrs. v. sincerely, gratefully and truthfully,
Aubrey Richard Wanliss-Orlebar

In reply to by AUbrey Richard…

Peter Adamson on 16 May 2014

Logic and aesthetics

Oh sure, I definitely see those as parts of philosophy. In fact both have been covered quite a lot in the podcast. For instance episode 95 is about late ancient aesthetics; you mention Plato's views on myth and poetry, and there is a whole episode on that (number 33). Also logic has been covered very extensively (in Aristotle and the Stoics, for instance, and in fact in a couple of weeks there will be a new episode on logic in the Islamic world).

I guess you are thinking of the bit at the start of this episode where I went through the "main areas" of philosophy, but that was certainly not intended to be an exhaustive list of philosophy's branches! I just meant something like, "the areas of philosophy that first leap to mind" or that get studied most frequently in universities.

Really the point that I was making in the passage you mention is that the branches of philosophy get their names from Greek, and of course that holds of aesthetics and logic too.

Leni on 1 June 2015

Blue giraffes

Coincidentally blue giraffes, or even blue paint, would be something Parmenides would be unable to speak of. The colour blue didn't enter into discourse until modern times. You could even argue that blue didn't exist until people created it. Which I suppose wouldn't go down well with Parmenides. So perhaps we should say that blue always was, but it was only on the road of truth and not on the road of opinion?


In reply to by Leni

Peter Adamson on 1 June 2015


I've actually heard that episode of RadioLab! But after I wrote this episode, I guess. That's my excuse. Maybe it should have been "wine dark sea colored giraffe."

Andrew C. Whitelaw on 24 June 2015

Advaita Vedanta fathered Parmenides

I applaud your goal of time-lining Philosophy with no gaps.

It would be more appropriate to call it Western Philosophy with no gaps.

Parmenides, the father of Metaphysics, was almost entirely influenced by the most cogent and beautiful philosophies/metaphysics ever written:


Yup.  Socrates and Plato were deeply influenced, carrying it on, and Aristotle most ceratinly reacted to it, unable to turn inward, beyond the limits of language.  hence, all the focus on logos and gategorization.  All works built on the shoulders of Indian giants (or in reaction to...).

Do a google search for 'advaita vedanta eleatic monism' to find reference.  I can't paste any urls here.

Consider yourself an Indiana Jones when you step into that cave, because most people think philosophy started with the Greeks-- you will be discovering an unknown culture that understood well the limits of language, and that predeceded our deluded materialist worldview (that we have Aristotle and Descartes to blame for).

Elliot Deutsch from U. of Hawaii wrote a brilliant book called Advaita Vedanta, and the article out of New Zealand, that you'll find performing the google search above, is very straightforward.

In reply to by Andrew C. Whitelaw

Peter Adamson on 24 June 2015

Eastern philosophy

Did you see the announcements about my covering Indian philosophy soon? See the first item under FAQ and on the Blog, at the bottom of the screen.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Andrew C. Whitelaw on 25 June 2015

Sounds good

Yes.  Interesting to note similarities between the dualistic schools and the nondualists of both Chinese and Indian antiquity.

"The Meditative Mind" by Daniel Goleman (written long before he became known for 'emotional intelligence') charts the rungs on the ladder of ascension toward enlightenment through the esoteric meditative practices of the world's major religions.  Here, you'll see what is inside the overlapping circles of the venn diagram 9instead of the exoteric points of difference), and what is at the experiential core of world religions (spoiler alert:  it involves the dissolution of language and ego).  It is specifically here that Aristotle went off the rails, and the west lost the informative meditative reveries of Socrates-- the source of internal authority that grounded and tempered logic and materialism.  One can easily see here Plato's progression up the rungs toward the Good as virtually commensurate with the progression toward samadhi or Brahman in hindu traditions...  Another aspect of difference/sticking point, is that, in the west, we don't allow for paradox or care for use of the via negativa, while in the east, there's an inclusive dualism that allows for both/and (versus exclusive either/or of the west).  When Descartes assumed a 'method' of doubt, he missed the opportunity of bringing the illusory self to anihilation, while another frenchman, Sartre ran language and logic to their limits, and, then into the ground.  But we, in the west, have real trouble sitting in silence.  Our linguistic minds can't stop playing games and making up new words, and calling literary criticism 'philosophy'.

Stephen on 1 August 2016

The Eleatic Mind

I have only just stumbled upon this blog. Congratulations, Peter, on such a wonderful project.

I too have long puzzled over the Eleatic problem. How could Parmenides and his followers deny the reality of the world in which they lived, breathed and philosophised?

Your podcast and the subsequent discussions led me to take another look at the Parmenides poem, and I might have found a couple of insights into the Eleatic mindset. 

First the isolated fragment  3: "For Thinking and Being are the same."

Secondly, towards the end of the extensive fragment 8 revealing the nature of the One:

lines 34-37: "Thinking, and that for the sake of which there is thought, are the same.

      For you will not find Thinking without the Being, in which it is expressed*;

      For nothing else was, is or will be, except Being."

(*is this the best translation of 'pephatismenon'?)

If I understand this correctly, Parmenides takes it as axiomatic that there is no distinction between what we might call the Subjective and the Objective, between thoughts in the mind and events in the external world. So when you think of the One, as you are supposed to do, that thought is part of the One, and since the One has no parts or internal divisions, your mind is in a sort of communion with the One. 

And presumably the same axiom applies to the Way of Opinions: thoughts and things are part of the same nexus, your process of thinking about a giraffe and the alleged life and times of the giraffe are ontologically identical - and, in addition, equally false.

What do you think?


In reply to by Stephen

Peter Adamson on 1 August 2016

Eleatic mind

Thanks, glad you like the podcast! I think I probably wouldn't go along with that way of putting it, since it presupposes that Parmenides is challenging some kind of opposition between mind and the external world. That sort of opposition comes along astonishingly late in the history of philosophy - basically early modernity or perhaps late medieval. I don't think it is plausible to say that Parmenides is somehow insisting that the subjective and objective are one, given that no one had been saying that they weren't one. In fact no one had really pointed to what we might take as the obvious phenomenon of subjectivity itself. So I would rather understand the move in terms of epistemology or language: what can be known/spoken of is just being, and cannot be anything else. The real key to his theory is this contrast between being and non-being, not a worry about being and the mind; and what he's saying is that any kind of differentiation would involve non-being.

By the way I would just translate pephatismenon as "what is spoken/said" - Kirk Raven and Schofield translate the lines "you will not find thinking without what is, in all that has been said" and give as an alternative translation "in which thinking is expressed". The problem is not how to understand pephatismenon but rather the dative construction "en ho" because it is unclear what that dative pronoun refers to: back to tou eontos, as in the second translation, or just a vague reference to what Parmenides has been saying so far, as in their first translation.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Stephen on 1 August 2016

Thanks very much, Peter, for

Thanks very much, Peter, for responding so quickly. I completely agree that Parmenides is relying on an assumption about the continuity of Mind and the external world that would not be contested by his readers. That's why I described this as axiomatic: it is a truism that he can rely upon his audience agreeing to, in the same way they would agree to the proposition "what is cannot come from what is not." I was only trying to highlight the indeed astonishing gap between modern and ancient concepts of mind; perhaps it is the main reason why our first reaction to Parmenides is usually that he is talking nonsense, whereas subsequent ancient philosophers took him seriously and felt they had to build an underpinning of eternal Oneness into their systems, e.g. Democritus gave every Atom immortality!

And yet...why does he feel he has to mention the relationship between Thinking and Being at all? By line 34 he has nailed the argument about the One as the only Truth. Is he trying to pre-empt this very possibility, that critics will posit the mind as a bastion of differentiation? After all, it's not that the Greeks had no concept of a separate mind: As early as Homer, Odysseus has conversations with his, Agamemnon blames the gods for putting bad thoughts into his, - and soon Anaxagoras will elevate Mind to be the prime mover in his cosmology...

Thanks for the note on pephatismenon. Still not sure if it might be a textual corruption, or an unusual usage. Burnet's translation has 'betrothed'!


In reply to by Stephen

Peter Adamson on 2 August 2016

Thinking and being

Well, that's a good question which has attracted a lot of discussion by historians. My own hunch is that Parmenides is thinking that speaking-of and thinking-of are activities that must have an object. In other words, if I think of X then X must be real (otherwise I would not be thinking at all), and the same for speaking of X. Hence being is the only possible target of thought and language, non-being is excluded. That's a fundamental premise for everything that comes after, e.g. being must be spherical, to avoid being "unbalanced" because that unbalance would entail a kind of difference or contrast, which is a sort of non-being... which is unthinkable.

Josh Boam on 1 May 2018

Pre- Cartesian principles?

Hi there,

Thanks so so much for the podcasts, Peter. I discovered the series a few weeks ago and I absolutely love it!
I don't know much about philosophy, but I'm enjoying learning about it a lot.
Did I understand correctly that Permenides is dubious of harnessing sensory-derived information?
Would you say this anticipates Descartes' rejection of the Greek scholastic method? Can it even be said to indicate an early form of dualism?
I hope that makes sense. As I said, I'm relatively new to engaging with philosophy. :)

In reply to by Josh Boam

Peter Adamson on 2 May 2018


Well, if we assume the standard reading of Parmenides as a monist (which I presented in the podcast) then the answer is yes and no.

Yes because on that reading he certainly was rejecting the deliverances of sensation, at least in the Way of Truth (not the Way of Opinion) since to state the obvious, the senses do not tell us that being is one, and is an undifferentiated sphere. But I think you are moving too fast when you equate empiricism or trust in the senses with scholastic method: like, Hume was an empiricist, but not a scholastic!

Then no, because if Parmenides was a monist then he was not a dualist, in other words he is not saying that there are two levels of reality, one for the mind and one for physical objects, but rather that _all_ things are one. However there are readings, including in late antiquity, which claimed that Parmenides' discussion of being is actually only about the intelligible world; I guess no one reads him that way anymore but there is precedent for it.

Hope you enjoy the rest of the series!

Senne on 14 October 2018

Parmenides about death

First of all, congratulations with these great series, I'm fairly new to the subject and it's a great way to discover philosophy. I really enjoyed the first 6 episodes, but Parmenides is a bit harder to wrap my head around. Concerning the giraffe: if the giraffe dies, in my "way of opinion" it ceases to be a giraffe. It still has features of a giraffe, the body is still there, but it won't eat leaves anymore, won't move, walk, mate etc, so logically you can't talk about a giraffe anymore, since essential parts of the giraffe are no more. If Parmenides would have to explain this, would he argue that in the "way of truth" the giraffe remains a giraffe (since nothing stops from being) and how would he do so? I searched around a bit but didn't find a lot about Parmenides and how he explained death. He could argue, I guess, that body and consciousness (soul) are mere human believes/opinions and that in the way of truth, all these things are "one", which I can understand, but how can he deny the change the giraffe has undergone? If I ask my 6 year old daughter "what is a giraffe?", she will probably answer: "an animal with a long neck that eats leaves from trees." If it no longer eats leaves from trees, it's no longer a giraffe, so it has changed, stopped being a giraffe and went on being something else, no? What would Parmenides tell my daughter? :-) 


In reply to by Senne

Peter Adamson on 14 October 2018

Parmenides on death

Thanks, glad you found the series and hope you will enjoy the rest of it! To answer your question: in general destruction is not something Parmenides can allow according to the monist theory of the Way of Truth. Indeed, at least on the traditional understanding of what he is arguing, the view is far more radical than claiming that giraffes can't die. There aren't even any giraffes, at least not in any way that involves giraffes being different from other things. There is only Being. According to the traditional reading, things like giraffes and death would just be illusions masking the true oneness of Being. How he can explain the arising of illusions is, of course, itself rather mysterious - and there are various ways to try to get him to be saying something else that is less radical. But I think he would just have said that talk or thought about giraffes, living or dead, is mere false belief and a failure to engage in genuine, successful thought, which can only grasp undifferentiated Being.

For a perhaps comparable view check out the episodes on Vedanta in the India series.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Senne on 17 October 2018

 More on Parmenides

Thanks a lot for your insights and taking the time to answer. Wow, this goes way deeper then I initially thought. Makes me ponder all kinds of other questions. There's only being. You can't talk about non-being, since that implies a subject you have to think about but then you go on and subsequently deny you could have thought about it, since it doesn't exist (non-existential paradox). If that is true, than how can you possibly devote a whole part of your work ("the way of opinion") to something that is exactly that: "non being"? You've just "forbiden" yourself to talk about it? Seems in itself a paradox.

Another, maybe too rational question: what's the point? :) I could argue that all true things are grey and forbid myself to talk about colors and then go on explaining that the whole world as we perceive it is full of colors and therefor an illusion. Whilst I'm of course unable to logically build up and defend my grey/color concept the way Parmenides brilliantly arguments his being/non-being concept, the outcome is still the same: what we perceive is an illusion and what we've just thought about and conceptualized is truth. But that seems absurd: how can we rationally think about truth if what surround us and makes us us, is false? What is the additional value? I won't argue with the fact that it's amazingly done, but it seems more like mathematics/logics to me than philosophy (and since presocratic philosophers were as I understand it men of science in the broadest sense, maybe one should look at it that way?)

In reply to by Senne

Peter Adamson on 18 October 2018

What's the point

Obviously those are big and difficult questions, but for what it's worth: I tend to think that the "way of opinion" is offered in something of the spirit of a second best solution, like, if you were going to have a cosmology at all then here is the one you should accept. The epistemological justification of doing that is, I agree, rather elusive but it at least makes sense as a contribution to and perhaps competition with ther earlier Presocratic tradition.

Re. the second point, I think that Parmenides could rightly say that it is obviously meaningful to think about how the world would have to be if it is consistent with our thought; that is what makes it seem like logic or math, that it proceeds from an analysis of the rules of thought rather than, say, empirical evidence. But what are you going to say, that the world might be totally at odds with the way thought works? How could you think about it, if that were true? If this is a correct interpretation then Parmenides is anticipating a long-running tradition of rationalist approaches that arguably culminates in Kant.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Senne on 18 October 2018


Thank you once again for your time and reply. That's truely nicely put: "how would the world have to be if it is consistent with our thought". Suddenly it makes total sense to me. And also kind of "solves" my first question, like he would be saying: "if the world is consistent with my thought, this is what the world has to be, but if you can't "follow" my thinking and you want to have a cosmology, this is the one you should accept". Quiet nice of him actually if you look at it that way.

Anyway, maybe this is what you've been saying from the beginning, but somehow it didn't make sense to me at first (and google only confused me more). But with your help I finally seem to grasp him (and Zeno also actually). I'm really grateful for that. Thank you, sir, looking forward to Kant! :)

Carroll Boswell on 10 November 2019

non-being and fiction

I think I do not understand. Don't all fiction writers talk about non-being? Or more specifically, doesn't Homer? I realize that fiction as we have it today was not a literary genre in Parmenides' day. But on his hypothesis that all is one, there could be no gods either, right?

In reply to by Carroll Boswell

Peter Adamson on 10 November 2019


Well, Parmenides is not convicting only fictional discourse as failing to grasp "truth" but almost all "factual" discourse too: to say something like "I had breakfast today" also implies non-being (e.g. difference between yesterday and today, or between me and breakfast). You are right though that fictional language might be a model for how we can talk about "non-being": he would say that such language fails really to "say" anything, much as if you see an illusion you are not seeing anything. Does that help?

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Carroll Boswell on 10 November 2019

Yes, that does help. Thank

Yes, that does help. Thank you.

Carroll Boswell on 15 November 2019

Christian vs Parmenides

Parmenides would have been non-plussed then at the Christian idea of creation ex nihilo. Not only do Christians traditionally believe that Being comes from Non-Being but the reverse as well, that Being can cease to be. This is based, I think, on a different understanding of the nature of existence. Only God has existence in Himself. For all other things, existence is a borrowed property. Things exist because God wills them to exist, and if He ceases to will their existence, then they cease to exist. It is interesting to me how some simple idea like existence can entail certain logical imperatives for one person and not for another. What is self-evident for one may not be at all self-evident for another, particularly when such basic concepts as existence are involved. In mathematical jargon, Parmenides and Christians start with different sets of axioms.


Edip on 3 July 2021

Thoughts are being

Firstly I must say I love this podcast, thank you for all the effort you have put in. I had 2 questions:

1)When Parmenides says if I can think of something it must exist, does he include thoughts in the realm of existence? For example a unicorn exist in my thoughts but not in the material world, but Parmenides would not classify a unicorn as non being since I can think about it.

2)When Parmenides says I cant say « It is not » is it for all negative prepositions ex. « My cat is not blue » what would be problematic in that sentence according to Parmenides. Or is it just problematic when we talk about existence of things « my cat is not » 

In reply to by Edip

Peter Adamson on 3 July 2021

Thinking and non-being

Thanks, glad you like the podcast!

Both of these questions are very controversial, but:

I think it's pretty unlikely that Parmenides himself gave any attention to the status of fictional objects, so your first question should I think be considered from the point of view of "what should he say, given his overall philosophical position?" And I guess here the answer should be that, as objects of thought, unicorns fulfill one criterion for being. However he could rule out that they have being on other grounds, like, that they are distinct from other things (from centaurs, say) and distinction implies non-being. Remember he's a monist, so he apparently doesn't in the end think that even horses are real, never mind unicorns.

It's a bit more explicit in the Poem what he'd say about your second question: for him claims about non-being would, as I just said, include all negations and not only denial of existence. So if you say "my cat is not blue" you are somehow attempting to grasp/think non-being, like in respect of the blueness of the cat; and that cannot be done. So that is how he is going to get to his monist position which denies multiplicity and difference.

Does that help?

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Edip on 3 July 2021

It definitely does thank you…

It definitely does thank you for taking the time to respond, I really appreciate it.

Solomiya on 24 June 2022

Book recommendation for Parmenides’ On Nature Poem

Dear Peter,

thank you so much for creating this wonderful podcast. On one hand it’s a shame I only discovered it now but on the other hand I am looking forward to having nearly 400 episodes still ahead of me! 

So far, Parmenides got me thinking a lot and I would love to be able to read (the fragments) of his poem  and let my thoughts ‘chew on it’. Obviously, I stumbled into the problem of not mastering the Ancient Greek and thus I am looking for a good translation. Do you have any recommendations for which you consider the best English translation?

Thank you very much in advance!


In reply to by Solomiya

Peter Adamson on 25 June 2022

Parmenides' poem

I'd just get a hold of this:

G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983).

It is the standard collection of Presocratic fragments in translation. Another option would be this:

Graham, D. W. (ed.), 2010, The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, two volumes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Loeb series from Harvard University Press has a facing-page Greek and English collection now of the Presocratics in nine volumes (!) so you could just get the one including Parmenides but I suspect one of the above would suit your needs more.

Jaxson on 10 May 2023

Rene Decart inspiration

Do you think Parmenides has inspired the later philospoher, Rene Decart?

In reply to by Jaxson

Peter Adamson on 10 May 2023


Well, Descartes was not a monist (I mean, he didn't think that all of reality is one), so he is not an obvious person to connect to Parmenides. But he had a good scholastic education so would have at least known what Aristotle says about Parmenides, thus would have been aware of his teachings.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Jaxson on 11 May 2023

Ok, thank you.

Ok, thank you.

Donald on 8 December 2023

Quran 112 - Al-Parmenides

Hey professor. Love your work.

Is the Quran referring to Parmenidean Being at Quran 112?

Being (now Allah) is one and already complete, void of multiplicity.

And so it does not beget (create) and no part of it was begotten (created)?

Many thanks.

In reply to by Donald

Peter Adamson on 9 December 2023

The Quran and Parmenides

Well, if you mean to ask whether there could be a historical link, I guess definitely not, but if you want to see a resonance between the ideas then sure, why not? And later in the Islamic tradition we have heavily Quran-based traditions that at least flirt with monism, especially in Sufism. Though obviously Parmenides rules out the possibility of creation, so that would seem to me to be very un-Quranic. 

Hisham Ali on 14 January 2024

Thank you

This is the best podcast in the history of philosoph .


Thank you Peter

Kester on 21 March 2024

If the bookshelf theory of…

If the bookshelf theory of the etymology of metaphysics is correct, does that mean that, if Aristotle's books had been arranged differently, it could have been named 'aftermath'?

In reply to by Kester

Peter Adamson on 21 March 2024

Bookshelf theory

Ha, nice! Slightly undermined by the fact that Aristotle didn't write a book about mathematics, but still I'm giving that top marks.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.