Thursday, January 03, 2008

Raymond Tallis writes on the "intellectual revolution" sparked by the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides [the subject of his forthcoming book] in Prospect:

One attraction of Parmenides is that you can read his complete surviving works in 15 minutes. His arguments are set out in On Nature, a rather prosaic poem of which only 150 lines survive. The heart of his case is in Fragments 3, 6 and 8, where he sets out a worldview that even by the standards of philosophy is, as Aristotle said, "near to madness." His central argument is so quick that if you blink, you will miss it.

It goes as follows. That which is not, is not. "What-is-not" does not exist. Since anything that comes into being must arise out of what-is-not, objects, states of affairs and so on cannot come into being. Likewise, they cannot pass away, because in order to do so they would have to enter the realm of what-is-not. Since it does not exist, what-is-not cannot be the womb of generation, or the tomb of that which perishes. The no-longer and the not-yet are variants of what-is-not, and so the past and future do not exist either. Change, then, is impossible. Equally, multiplicity is unreal. The empty space necessary to separate one object from another would be another example of what-is-not. And since things cannot be anything to a greater or lesser degree—this would require what-is to be mixed with the diluting effect of what-is-not—the universe must be homogeneous.
Pascal Dusapin discusses his sixth opera Faustus, The Last Night on the occasion of its production in Lyon last year.