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Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Parmenides Theory

of Cognition (B 16)1
LUIS ANDRS BREDLOW (BARCELONA)
Universitat de Barcelona
Facultat de Filosofia
Montalegre, 68
E-08001 Barcelona
e-mail: luisbredlow@ub.edu

Abstract
This paper proposes a new interpretation of Parmenides B 16. After a short review
of the status quaestionis (section 1), I will proceed to a detailed examination of the
context of quotation in Aristotle (section 2) and Theophrastus, whose report will be
shown to disclose some new possibilities for our understanding of the fragment. I
shall argue that B 16 is not a theory of sense-perception, but a fragment of a comprehensive theory of cognition (section 3). This theory is consistent with Parmenides own claims to genuine knowledge of Being (section 4), once we recognize that
neither a dualism of ontological domains (intelligible vs. sensible) nor of cognitive faculties (reason vs. the senses) can be consistently ascribed to Parmenides.
Moreover, our discussion will provide some elements for a reappraisal of Aristotle
and Theophrastus as interpreters of their predecessors.
Keywords: Parmenides; Aristotle; Theophrastus; cognition

1 Introduction
Aristotle and Theophrastus have had a rather bad reputation as historians
of philosophy ever since the ground-breaking studies of Cherniss (1935)
and McDiarmid (1953) on the subject. Aristotle, when discussing earlier
philosophers, was not interested in historical fact as such it was said

This paper is part of the work of the research project NESIS. La tradicin gnoseolgica aristotlica y los orgenes de la filosofa de la mente (FFI 2009-11795, Ministerio
de Ciencia, Spain). I am indebted to an anonymous referee of Apeiron for helpful
comment and criticism.

apeiron, vol. 44, pp. 219263


Walter de Gruyter 2011

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but in finding support for his own system of philosophy; to this end, he
did not hesitate to modify or distort the views of his predecessors.2 Theophrastus accounts on the Presocratics, in the extant fragments of his Physical Opinions, are essentially simple repetitions of some of the interpretations he found in Aristotle and hence have the same deficiencies,
aggravated by isolation from their context; even his direct reading of the
authors he dealt with was thoroughly biased by his dependence on Aristotle, to the point of distorting the meaning of his quotations in order to
adjust it to the Aristotelian interpretation.3
I shall not deny that there is a certain part of truth in this view. It
should be uncontroversial that Aristotle was not writing as a historian of
philosophy. His interest in earlier philosophers is systematical, not historical; so when discussing their views he regularly reshapes them in terms of
his own philosophy, making them often take sides on problems that were
clearly not their own. Theophrastus obviously shared Aristotles terminology and his general outlook on the history of science and philosophy.
Both Aristotles and Theophrastus accounts rely on a thoroughly schematic systematization of what they took to be the real problems of philosophy, which would easily lead them to misrepresent the views of their
predecessors and thus become a major source of misunderstanding, though
probably not the only one.
But an all too hasty dismissal of the historical value of Aristotles and
Theophrastus testimonies has its own dangers. If Aristotle and Theophrastus were capable of utterly misunderstanding the views of the ancient
philosophers whose writings they had at their disposal, then anyone to
whom, as to ourselves, these writings are not available anymore will find
himself in even far worse a position to assess what these authors really
meant to say. Giving the fragmentary evidence we have on Presocratic philosophy, one may all too easily risk replacing the authority of Aristotle
and Theophrastus by the authority of modern interpretations,4 which at
the end may turn out to be hardly less questionable than Aristotles own.

2
3
4

See McDiarmid 1953, 86, summarizing the results of Cherniss 1935.


See Mc Diarmid 1953, 133.
This danger was pointed out already by Guthrie 1957, 40, in a lucid and well-argued
criticism of some of the more extreme conclusions of Cherniss and McDiarmid: To
substitute uncritical rejection for sympathetic criticism of Aristotles account leads, in
the absence of any better source of information, to the erection of a purely modern
dogmatism in its place. For further discussion of the Cherniss-McDiarmid-Guthrie
controversy, see Stevenson 1974 and Collobert 2002; cf. also Palmer 2009, 28. A
more equitable judgment of Theophrastus historical work has been convincingly argued for by Kahn 1960, 1724, and, in a most detailed way, by Baltussen 2000, esp.
2729 (against Cherniss and McDiarmids view that Aristotle and Theophrastus are
guilty of gross misrepresentation of their predecessors theories; instead of distor-

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A striking example can be found in modern discussion on Aristotles


and Theophrastus accounts on Parmenides. At the end of the nineteenth
century, Burnet and Diels had put forward the hypothesis that the physical theories expounded in the second part of the poem the so-called
doxa part, of which but a few literal fragments have survived did not
actually reflect Parmenides own convictions, but rather the theories of
earlier philosophers he described for polemical or simply informative purposes (a doxography, as Diels put it, or, on Burnets view, a Pythagorean
doctrine criticized by Parmenides himself).5 Cherniss, taking this hypothesis for historical fact, argues that Aristotle interpreted the second part of
the poem as the authors own theory just in order to find support for his
conviction that all philosophers regarded the elements as principles6 or for
the claim that almost all ancient philosophers identified knowledge with
sensation, in spite of the fact that Parmenides denied the truth of ordinary
sense-perception: Aristotle has misunderstood Parmenides as usual.7 Similarly, McDiarmid blames Theophrastus for basing his account on Parmenides on the supposition that the second part of the poem presents
Parmenides own views, even though the care with which he distinguishes
the two parts of the poem shows clearly that he is aware that the second
part of the poem does not represent Parmenides orthodox doctrine: this
fact reveals how much he is disposed to follow the pattern of Aristotles
accounts even when he appears to know that Aristotles interpretation
is contrary to the Presocratic writings; and in de Sensibus 34 he even
derives his report of Parmenides psychology from the Way of Opinion
without giving a hint that the views he is stating are not Parmenides
own.8 On McDiarmids view, it would seem that Theophrastus was ready
to carry blind faith in Aristotles authority to the point of outright dishonesty; we should conclude that only the worst can be expected from a
historian of philosophy capable of manipulating his sources in so unscrupulous a manner.
During the last half century, however, a growing number of scholars
have reached the conclusion that the physical theories of the second part
of the poem actually were, after all, Parmenides own,9 just as Aristotle and

5
6
7
8
9

tion, we should rather think of reception as determined by the scope of Peripatetic


dialectic), 9094, 168169 (evidence for Theophrastus serious interpretative effort), 238 (The great amount of detail in the reports indicates that he had access to
good sources), etc.
Diels 1897, 63; Burnet 1930, 183196.
Cherniss 1935, 48, referring to Ph 188a20, GC 318b6, 330b14, and Metaph 986b33.
Cherniss 1935, 81, on Metaph 1009b1225.
McDiarmid 1953, 1212.
See Verdenius 1964, 4563; Clark 1969; Heitsch 1974a, 7280, 1974b, 416; Finkelberg 1986 and 1999; Schmitz 1988, 2021; Kerferd 1991; Reale and Ruggiu 1991,

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Theophrastus and, for that matter, all ancient readers of the poem who
are known to us took them to be. This would entail that Parmenides
did not simply deny the existence of the sensible world;10 rather the two
parts of the poem should be read as presenting two different and complementary views on the same reality,11 the physical universe or, as Aristotle
would say, the reality of sensible things: again, this was exactly how Aristotle and Theophrastus understood it,12 whatever be their mistakes on
other points.
This should suggest the advisability of a more cautious reassessment of
our judgment on Aristotles and Theophrastus accounts on Presocratic
philosophy.13 In the present paper, I will limit myself to one particular
fragment of Parmenides, B 16 DK, cited both by Aristotle (Metaphysics
5, 1009b2225) and Theophrastus (de Sensibus 3),14 and its context of
quotation in both authors. To this end, I will begin with a rather sum-

10
11

12
13

14

226234; Conche 1996, 28; Thanassas 1997, 165170; Palmer 1999, ch. 9, and
2009, 159188; Cerri 1999, 6985 and passim; Hermann 2004, 204208; Graham
2006, 172179; Robbiano 2006; Bollack 2006; Solana Dueso 2006, 21; Gemelli
Marciano 2009, 6263. Palmer 2009, 162, states that it is now generally and rightly
recognized that the cosmology must be judged the product of Parmenides own reflection on the worlds origin and operation. It should be noted, however, that the
rehabilitation of the doxa is not unanimous: the contrary view is still defended by
Granger 2002 and Cordero 2004, 151163 (but see now Cordero 2008 for a radically different view: the physical theories, as opposed to the opinions of mortals, are
part of the Way of Truth).
As he is still taken to do, e.g., by Tarn 1965, 283.
What Parmenides, in the first part of his poem, calls that which is is best understood as being the world of seeming as such when this world is correctly understood
and is stripped by the application of Parmenidean logic and cleansed of the plurality
of names which mortals assign to it (Kerferd 1991, 6). In other words, what is
described in the Way of Seeming is not a different reality from that described in the
Way of Truth, but a different knowledge of the same reality (Finkelberg 1986, 405).
I will not try to show here that this view is right (since a detailed discussion of the
doxa problem would largely exceed the limits of this paper, I will deal with this topic
in another paper, Parmenides Physics and the Beliefs of Mortals [in progress]), but
it is surely consistent with the interpretation of B 16 I will suggest (see section 4).
See, e.g., Metaph 986b31; Cael 298b2228; cf. Kerferd 1991, and section 2, text corresponding to ns. 5052.
A valuable advance in this direction has been accomplished by Mansfelds (1996) and
Baltussens (2000) thoroughly well-documented studies on Theophrastus de Sensibus
and its relation to the writings of Aristotle. Baltussen (cf. n. 4), however, pays scarce
attention to the passage on Parmenides (Sens 34) I shall be concerned with here;
my agreements and disagreements with Mansfelds point of view will emerge throughout this paper.
The fragment is quoted also by Alexander of Aphrodisias (in Metaph 306, 2930
and 306, 36307, 1 Hayduck) and Asclepius (in Metaph 277, 1920 and 2427);
but these quotations depend on Aristotle and therefore lack any independent source

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mary review of the present state of discussion on the problems of interpretation posed by the fragment B 16 in itself (this section); then I will proceed to re-examine its context of quotation in Aristotle (section 2) and
Theophrastus. I hope to show that a careful reading of Theophrastus report may disclose new possibilities for our understanding of Parmenides
own words at B 16 (section 3) and, to a certain extent, of his conception
of knowledge as a whole (section 4).
According to a majority of recent scholars (Tarn, Mourelatos, KirkRaven-Schofield, OBrien-Frre, Collobert, and Conche, among others)
the text of B 16 should be read as follows:



.
1 () Theophr. Arist. E1J: Ab: E2 Arist. AbJ: ( ?)
15
E: Theophr. Stephanus: libri Theophr. FO:
Arist. sec. Ross, Coxon, DK: sec. Cordero
2 Karsten (- Theophr.): Arist.16

As to the understanding of these lines, we may take OBriens (in OBrien


and Frre 1987) rendering as fairly representative of the present day standard interpretation:
For as at each moment is the condition of the mixture in the wandering limbs, so
the mind turns out to be for men.
For what the limbs think of is just the same for all men and for every <man>. For
what there is more of is thought.

For a number of minor problems concerning text and translation, I see no


need to question this consensus. So we may accept for verse 1, with most
editors, as making better sense than Aristotles ,
and at verse 2, as clearly preferable to the unmetrical (or, if read
, grammatically awkward) .17 At verses 1 and 3, is best

15
16

17

value, though they may shed at least in the case of Alexander some indirect light
on the manuscript tradition of the Metaphysics itself.
Arist. E, S, Bb Cordero 1984, 33, in his app. crit. to the fragment; Ross 1924,
app. crit. ad loc., and Coxon 1986, 91, give as the reading of E.
For a full apparatus criticus to the fragment, see Cordero 1984, 33; Coxon 1986, 91,
and OBrien-Frere 1987, 7374; here I give only short notice of the main textual
variants relevant to the discussion.
See Snell 1958; cf. Frnkel 1955, 175; Heitsch 1974a, 191192, and Coxon 1986,
249. Among recent editors, is still preferred by Cordero 1984, 33, and
2004, 190, and Reale and Ruggiu 1991. Alternative conjectures like
(Ellis 1902, 269) or (Garca Calvo 1981, 221)
might be worth considering, but are of scarce relevance for interpretation.

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understood as members (in the Homeric sense of body18), rather than as


organs of the senses,19 elements,20 or even musical harmonies.21
The only strictly textual problem that is still to a certain degree controversial concerns the beginning of verse 1. The variant is all too evidently a lectio facilior.22 At first sight, () seems to
be best supported by the MSS;23 if we choose this reading, we may either
accept, with most editors, Stephanus correction , or else suppose
that depends on some implicit subject (for example, man or , both
mentioned in the next verse).24 On any of these interpretations, these
verses would refer not so much to discrepancies between individuals as to
the inconstancy of each individuals mind, as in the well-known verses of
Homer (Od 18.1367):

,

and Archilochus (fr. 68 Diehl = fr. 70 Bergk):


, , ,
, ,
, .

Frnkel saw in these verses Parmenides source of inspiration for this passage, and hence a compelling reason for preferring .25 His argu-

18

19
20
21
22
23
24

25

It should be remembered that Epic Greek lacks a special term for the living body as
an organic whole: in Homer, means only the dead body, the corpse; what we
(and later Greeks) would call a persons body was usually referred to by plural nouns
such as or : see Snell 1953, 58; for Parmenides, Frnkel 1955, 175; Coxon
1986, 248; Conche 1996, 245.
Diels 1897, 112.
Verdenius 1964, 67 (but cf. the authors retraction 1949, 126 n. 51); Schwabl 1953,
70; Bollack 1957, 67; Laks 1990, 6 n. 51.
Philip 1958, 6465.
Nevertheless, this was the reading of Diels-Kranz, and is still accepted by Cordero
1984, 33, and 2004, 190.
See Ross 1924, 275; for some critical discussion of this generally accepted judgment,
see section 3, text corresponding to ns. 9294.
For Diels 1897, 45; Bormann 1971, 107; Coxon 1986, 248; Cassin and Narcy 1987,
288, and Cassin 1998, 142 the implicit subject of is ; for Schwabl 1953, 70
with n. 22, , and for Mansfeld 1964, 176177, the goddess who determines
the mixture, while Laks 1990, 5 n. prefers a word like . Cerri 1999, 280,
conjectures as an implicit subject, perhaps mentioned in one of the preceding
lines; Dilcher 2006, 43, suggests an indefinite , someone. Gemelli Marciano
2009, 94, infers from the context of Theophrastus quotation that the subject might
be das Warme oder das Feuer. Palmer 2009, 387, states, more cautiously, that it is
likely that the subject could originally be inferred from the context of the poem.
Frnkel 1955, 174.

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ment, however, is somewhat less cogent than it seems. Both discrepancies


between the of different individuals or nations and the fluctuations of
each individual mind were recurrent topics of Greek thought, from
Homer to the sophists;26 moreover, both were of interest to Parmenides,
who shows himself concerned with the inconstancy of human affairs,
which never remain in the same state (cf. B 8.29 with B 8.3841), no less
than with distinguishing the of truth (B 8.8, 34, 36; cf. B 4.1)
from the vagrant of mortals who know nothing (B 6.6). Therefore
the mere resemblance of his verses to those of Homer and Archilochus
does not prove all too much, even if he deliberately imitated them, since
Parmenides habitually uses his mainly Homeric models quite freely
and sometimes with a sense quite different from the original.27
The last two lines of the fragment are fortunately free of textual problems, but not of syntactical and semantic ambiguities which pose serious
problems for interpretation. Thus it is far from evident whether Parmenides is saying that the nature of the members is the same as that which
thinks, or as what it thinks, or rather that what thinks or what it thinks
is the same for each and every man, or even that is the same as
what the nature of the members thinks; still other translations are possible.28 And finally, at v. 4, can be understood as the more (the
element which prevails in the mixture),29 or as the full.30
Even the general scope and purpose of the fragment is controversial:
are we dealing with a physiological theory of sense-perception31 or with a
comprehensive theory of knowledge or cognition in general,32 or even with
a theory about the general nature of mental states33? And if one of the
latter, how does this, as it seems, rather materialistic conception of knowledge relate to the knowledge of true Being expounded in the first part of
26

27
28
29

30
31
32
33

For the first motif in Homer, see Von Fritz 1943, 8182; a juxtaposition of both
topics is found in Democritus (68A112 DK = Arist. Metaph 5, 1009a38), Protagoras (80A14 DK = Sext. P I 218219), and Gorgias (apud [Arist.] MXG 980b9
17).
The most notorious example is the play of (B14) with the Homeric
(Il 5.214).
For a detailed discussion of this passage and its interpretations, see section 3, text
corresponding to ns. 95103.
This is what we might call the standard interpretation, shared by Zeller 187681,
529 n. 2, Diels-Kranz, Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, Coxon, and OBrien-Frre, and
still accepted in the recent works of Conche 1996, 243, cf. 251252; Cassin 1998,
115, cf. 143; Cerri 1999, 159, cf. 281282; Hermann 2004, 161; Bernab and Prez
de Tudela 2007, 31, and Palmer 2009, 375 (the greater).
See ns. 88 and 113.
See e.g., Vlastos 1946, 66 and 7172; Cerri 1999, 277278.
See Philip 1958; Verdenius 1964, 10; Finkelberg 1986; Laks 1990, 11.
Hussey 2006, 16.

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the poem? In particular, how would this notion of as dependent on


the mixture of the wandering members fit in with those passages of the
Way of Truth (B 3; B6.1; B 8.3, 346; cf. B 4.1) where and
seem to be inextricably connected with what-is and hence with knowledge
of truth?34
If one thing should be evident from this rapid overview, it is that the
possible interpretations of B 16, on the basis of the text alone (and even
taking into account the rest of the extant fragments) are far more numerous than we would desire. So before engaging in a detailed discussion of
the fragment (which I will give in the second half of section 3), it may be
useful to ask what exactly Aristotle and Theophrastus would have understood when quoting these lines, even if their interpretations might possibly
turn out to be wrong; but at any rate, this should be carefully proved in
detail rather than assumed from the outset. Although Theophrastus commentary on the fragment is doubtlessly far more informative, I will begin
with Aristotle, since Theophrastus account is generally held to be largely
dependent on Aristotle;35 some important qualifications on this point will
emerge from the discussion (see section 3, at the end).

2 The Aristotelian context


Aristotle cites the four lines of our fragment, rather surprisingly, in the
context of his polemic against Protagorean relativism. After having outlined the relativistic argument drawing from the relativity of sense-perception (Metaphysics 5, 1009a38b12),36 he continues:
In general it is because they suppose sense-perception to be understanding, and the
former to be alteration, that they say that what appears to sense-perception is necessarily true. For it is for these reasons that Empedocles, Democritus, and, one may
almost say, all the others have become liable for this sort of opinions. For Empedocles actually says that a persons understanding changes as he changes his state [Aristotle quotes Empedocles 31 B 106 and 108 DK], and Parmenides pronounces in
the same sense [here follows the quotation of Parmenides B 16].37
34
35

36
37

See von Fritz 1945, 236242, and Mourelatos 1970, 175177 and 253259.
It should be pointed out that there is no strictly compelling chronological reason to
prefer this order, since it seems at least probable that most of Theophrastus historical
writings were composed still during the lifetime of Aristotle (see Steinmetz 1964,
350); we might even consider the possibility suggested by Gigon 1969, 122 that
Aristotle relied for his historical accounts in the Physics and Metaphysics on the specialized research of Theophrastus in his Physical Opinions.
For detailed discussion of this argument and Aristotles refutation, see Kenny 1967
and the commentaries ad loc. of Ross 1924, 273278, and Kirwan 1971, 108112.
Metaph 5, 1009b1222: ,
,

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The quotation, as it seems, is meant to substantiate merely the claim that


for Parmenides, as for Empedocles, a persons understanding changes as
he changes his state. As far as it goes, this may be correct, but is not very
illuminating. The beginning of the passage is frankly disconcerting: They
suppose sense-perception to be understanding. This claim is paralleled in
Theophrastus commentary on his own quotation of B 16, this time with
explicit reference to Parmenides: He speaks of perceiving and understanding as being the same thing (
, de Sensibus 4). Theophrastus wording reproduces here almost literally that of another passage of Aristotle (de Anima 417a21), where he
remarks that the ancients say that understanding and perceiving are the
same thing ( );
Aristotle supports this claim by the same quotations of Empedocles he
used at Metaphysics , although Parmenides is not explicitly mentioned
this time.
We may assume, of course, that Aristotle and Theophrastus meant to
say only that Parmenides and the other ancient thinkers had not yet
clearly distinguished thinking or understanding from sense-perception,
rather than explicitly asserting their identity.38 But even if this is right,
their assertions seem still objectionable. Certainly, in archaic Greek and
in non-philosophical usage frequently even later the semantic fields of
and were not yet clearly differentiated in the way of a
neat opposition between intellectual and perceptual processes;39 so we
should hardly expect Presocratic writers to have used these terms in the
specific sense they were to acquire in Aristotelian and post-Aristotelian
philosophy. But this fact of language would surely not have precluded
them from distinguishing, if necessary, processes of thought or reasoning
from acts of direct sense-perception: in fact, there is evidence that at least
Democritus (68 B 11) and probably Alcmaeon40 actually did make quite

38
39

40

. ..., . For a
detailed discussion of this passage, see Bredlow 2010a.
Zeller 187681, 530 n. 1; Stratton 1917, 158 n. 7; Ross 1924, 275; Cherniss 1935,
81.
Thus could also mean to be sensible, to be in possession of ones senses
(see LSJ s. v. , IV, with references), whereas could sometimes refer
to mental perception or understanding (e.g., Hipp. Off 1 ; cf. LSJ,
s. v. , I.2). The fact that as denoting the totality of the five senses
is nowhere found in Presocratic writings was already emphasized by Langerbeck
1967, 44.
24 A 5 DK = Theophr. Sens 25; cf. Cherniss 1935, 299 n. 32. For other probable
instances of a distinction between intellectual and perceptual processes in the Preso-

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explicitly such a distinction; and so did at least according to a once


influential interpretation Parmenides when he opposed to the
unseeing eye and the echoing ear and tongue (B 7.36).41 Moreover, it
has been argued42 that Aristotle seems to contradict his own statements
when he speaks elsewhere of Parmenides and Melissus as passing over
sense-perception and disregarding it, on the ground that one ought to follow reason ( ) (GC 325a1315), or of Parmenides as assuming
that what is one is many according to sense-perception
(Metaphysics 986b3133).
Now before deciding whether Aristotles view is in accordance with itself
or with available evidence on Parmenides or other Presocratic writers, we
should try to understand what exactly he meant to say. If we do not want to
assume that Aristotle, when claiming that the ancients failed to distinguish
thought from sense-perception, simply ignored what he emphasizes himself
in other contexts,43 we might suppose his remarks were meant in some more
specific sense: e.g., that the ancient thinkers did not yet have an elaborated
theory of sense-perception or of reasoning,44 or more probably that they
simply considered thought and sensation to be essentially the same kind of
natural phenomenon.45 But the most obvious interpretation, I think, would
be that he blames the ancients for not having distinguished thought from
sense-perception in the exact terms these should be distinguished on his own
view. And what these terms are is quite plain from the discussion in the
following chapters of de Anima (III 48). Thought or intellect () is defined there as that which is capable of receiving the form of an object ( , 429a15), or even, with a somewhat Platonic turn of phrase,
as the place of forms ( , 429a27). Thus by means of the sensitive
faculty we discriminate the sensible qualities (hot and cold, etc.) which constitute, e.g., flesh or water; but the fact that something is flesh or water, its
form or essence, is apprehended either by a wholly different faculty or by the
same faculty in a different state (429b1018).
The distinction between and , as Aristotle understands it, is hence strictly correlative to the distinction between and
(de Anima 429a17; cf. 431b21).46 And this distinction seems to

41
42
43
44
45
46

cratics (Heraclitus, Xenophanes, and Parmenides), see Lesher 1994; for a similar distinction in the Homeric poems, Lesher 1981, 14, and 1994, 67.
For a critical discussion of the traditional interpretation of B 7, see the end of this
section, text corresponding to ns. 537.
Lesher 1994, 12; Mansfeld 1996, 165166; 1999, 342.
Mansfeld 1996, 165: ... lui permet dignorer ce quil souligne dans dautres contexts.
Mansfeld 1999, 342.
Lesher 1994, 12; similarly Caston 1996, 26, and Dilcher 2006, 37.
This correlation reflects the general principle set out in de Anima II 4, 415a1622
that each psychic faculty is to be identified in terms of its function, and its func-

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be, in Aristotles opinion, what the ancient thinkers cannot account for,
since they suppose thinking to be something bodily, just like perceiving,
and that the like is perceived and known by the like (427a26). The fundamental flaw of like by like theories of cognition, as Aristotle sees it, has
been pointed out already in the first book of de Anima (409b26410a13):
even if one concedes that each element present in the soul perceives or
knows its like when present in external objects fire is perceived by fire,
earth by earth, etc. (cf. Empedocles B 109) , this will still not explain
how we can perceive or know not only elements but actual objects, such as
man, flesh, or bone, which are not simply the same as the elements
they are composed of, but those elements combined in a certain proportion and composition. If we confront this aporetic discussion of the problem (where Aristotle still avoids introducing his own terminology) with
Aristotles own solution given in Book III, it seems obvious that what like
by like theories fail on his view to account for is knowledge of forms (),
i.e., the specific function of as distinct from sense-perception.
This should make plain that, when Aristotle says that the ancients
took thinking and perceiving to be the same thing, he does not mean to
convey that these thinkers were unable to see any difference between
thought or reasoning and direct sense-perception; nor does he mean only
that they conceived both as physical or bodily processes, although this tenet is clearly one important aspect of the conviction he ascribes to them.
What Aristotle means is, as I take it, that the early philosophers did not
conceive thought or intellect as a distinct function or faculty whose specific objects are the forms and other intelligible objects; and since no Presocratic philosopher is known to have posited any such intelligible objects,
in the Aristotelian or the Platonic sense, he might well have been right
after all.
However, the view Aristotle ascribes to the ancient thinkers in Metaphysics 5, where Parmenides is explicitly included, is not quite exactly
that thinking and perceiving are the same thing, but that sense-perception
is . This might simply mean that sense-perception is an instance of
thought, knowledge, or understanding or, as Mansfeld puts it, a species
of the genus knowledge ,47 without entailing that, inversely, all knowl-

47

tion in terms of its objects; i.e., what Wedin 1988, 13, calls the FFO (faculty/function/object) condition. For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that the
include, for Aristotle, in addition to , also abstractions ( ) such as
number or geometrical properties (de An 429b18); but this is of secondary relevance
to the present discussion.
Mansfeld 1996, 165. According to Mansfeld (ibid. 166), Aristotle could attribute to
Parmenides the view that perception is (a species of the genus) knowledge (Metaph
5), but not that perception and knowledge are identical (de An III 3), without
flagrantly contradicting his own remarks on Parmenides distinction between reason-

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edge is the same kind of thing as sense-perception. Moreover, the more


specific formulation of this view is not that the like is perceived and
known by the like, but that sense-perception is an alteration (). Nevertheless, the line of argument is strictly parallel to that of de
Anima III 3: just as the like by like theory, the alteration theory of cognition is unable to account for the difference of truth and error,48 and hence
leads up to the fatal consequence surely unforeseen by the ancient thinkers that what appears to sense-perception is necessarily true
(1009b13).
The parallelism with de Anima III 3, on the interpretation I have suggested, becomes even more evident in the passage immediately following
in the text, where Aristotle explains that the ground of this opinion of
theirs was that, in searching for the truth about the things-that-are, they
supposed to be things-that-are only the sensible things.49 This seems to
be a somewhat Platonizing way of saying that the ancient thinkers failed
to conceive formal causes: these were, according to Aristotle, the great discovery of Plato and his school (cf. Metaphysics 988a34b1). For Aristotle,
after all, are divided, just like for Plato, into and (de
Anima 431b21) with the main difference that for Aristotle the latter
are not separate but inherent to sensible forms (ibid., 432a4) , and
is related to the just as the is to (ibid.,
429a17). Thus it becomes transparent why the supposition that only the
are is said to have been, for the pre-Platonic philosophers,
the origin or cause (, Metaphysics 1010a1) of their opinion that
sense-perception is knowledge or understanding: their failure to conceive a
distinct ontological domain of thinkable or intelligible objects ()
made them equally unable to conceive thought or intellect () as a dis-

48

49

ing and sense-perception at Metaph 5 and GC I 8. On the interpretation I suggest,


there would be no such contradiction. The more restricted formulation of the ancient philosophers view at Metaph 5 Sense-perception is (an instance of?)
knowledge or understanding may be readily explained by the fact that only this
side of the equation is relevant in the context, since the relativistic argument Aristotle
is concerned with here (1009a38b12) draws exclusively on examples of divergent
sense-perceptions, with the obvious implication that these are to be taken as representative instances of knowledge; and this is the first flaw of the relativistic argument
Aristotle wants to point out (though by no means the only nor the most important
one: see his refutation of the argument at 1010b326).
Metaph 1009b911; b251010a1; cf. de An 427a29b6. For an explicit rejection of
the view that sense-perception is an alteration, see de An 431a46; for a more detailed argument, ibid., 417b219; cf. also Ph 247b113, and the discussion of these
passages in Bredlow 2010a, 214219.
Metaph 1010a13:
, .

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tinct mental function or faculty correlative to this kind of objects, i.e., as


(de Anima 429a15).
On this interpretation, it should be plain that Aristotle does not modify or even contradict his general judgment on the pre-Platonic philosophers when he speaks elsewhere of Parmenides as assuming that what is
one is many according to sense-perception (Metaphysics
986b31). We may doubt whether means here according
to the argument the famous (and surely apocryphal) argument of Parmenides50 reported immediately before (986b2830) or rather according to definition.51 But at any rate, there is nothing to suggest that it
should mean according to reason, understood as a distinct mental function or faculty, and even less as a faculty concerned with a specific kind of
object distinct from objects of sense-perception. Quite at the contrary,
Aristotle explicitly states that for Parmenides the same objects which are
many according to sense-perception are but one according to argument or
definition; and he is even more explicit on this point when he states elsewhere that Parmenides and Melissus supposed only sensible things to be
real, and hence misapplied to these the argument that knowledge or
science requires eternal and unchanging objects the very same argument
which led Plato to postulate intelligible objects distinct from sensible
things , denying generation, destruction, and change in the physical
world.52 But if Parmenides and Melissus, like all other pre-Platonic thinkers, did not conceive any object of knowledge distinct from things perceived, it is evident that, on Aristotles view, they could not distinguish
thought from sense-perception in the only exact way this distinction
should be made according to Aristotle himself, i.e., in strict correlation
with the respective object fields of and .
But this would not mean, of course, that they were wholly unable to
distinguish logical argument from observation; and this latter distinction is
what Aristotle has in mind at Metaphysics 986b31, as well as when he
refers to Parmenides and Melissus as (GC I 8, 325a13), i.e., passing
over sense-perception and disregarding it, on the ground that one ought
50
51
52

See Simplicius, in Ph 115,11, Diels (Parmenides 28A28 DK) ,


with detailed reference to the earlier commentators of Aristotle.
Cf. 986b19, with Ross 1924, 153, commentary ad loc.
Cael 298b1425 (Parmenides 28 A 25 DK), esp. b2225:
,
, , .
(cf. the remark on Plato at Metaph 1078b15: ... ,
,
); for a well-argued defense of Aristotles view on this point, see
Kerferd 1991.

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to stick to the argument, rather than to follow reason. Aristotle is not


distinguishing here two mental faculties, reason and sense-perception,
nor does he ascribe any such distinction to Parmenides and Melissus;
rather he opposes abstract reasoning or argument to elementary facts of
observation such as change and plurality of physical objects. This is evident already from the immediately following remark that although according to the arguments ( ) all this [sc. the supposed
Eleatic negation of change and plurality] may seem fairly consistent, according to the facts ( ) it would be next door to madness to believe it (ibid., 325a17).
To sum up, on Aristotles view, Parmenides and Melissus surely distinguished logical argument or reasoning (, ) from observation, and
preferred the former to the latter; but they failed to recognize thought as
a distinct mental function or faculty, correlative to a kind of object which
is fundamentally different from sensible things; and in this precise sense
he could still maintain, without contradicting himself, that they took
thinking and perceiving to be the same thing. Presocratic thought is
here, as usual, thoroughly recast in Aristotles own terminology; but if we
accept reading his statements in the precise terminological sense they were
intended, they may appear much less discordant with historical evidence
than on a more superficial reading.
Now before going on, I have to deal with an apparent difficulty
for this interpretation which does not arise from Aristotles testimony,
but from a certain interpretation of Parmenides own words. It has
been held by many interpreters, both ancient and modern, that Parmenides explicitly opposes reason () to sense-perception when he
writes (B 7.36):


,
.
Let not habit, too full of experiences, drag you along this way and force you to
exercise an aimless eye, an echoing ear and tongue; but judge by reason the refutation that has been uttered by me, a refutation arousing much controversy. (Translation OBrien)

Sextus, when quoting these lines, comments that Parmenides makes plain
that one ought not to trust in sense-perceptions, but in reason.53 But this
is not what Parmenides says. As a growing number of scholars have come
to recognize, the echoing tongue is not the organ of taste but, quite

53

Sext. M VII 114 (Vors I 233,16):


.

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evidently, the organ of language:54 for Parmenides, it is indeed language


or, more exactly, names or naming , not trust in sense-perception,
that is at the origin of the error of mortals.55 What Parmenides condemns
in these lines is not sense-perception, but the vulgar attitude which gives
more credit to hearsay and established belief than to what is seen with
ones own eyes.
On the other hand, is probably to be understood here as reasoning, argument, or discourse,56 rather than reason as a faculty of
rational thought.57 Parmenides, in a word, is not concerned here with
mental faculties at all, but with mental attitudes: with judging by argument
and reasoning as opposed to passive acceptance of established belief. A
dualism of cognitive faculties (reason vs. the senses) cannot be attributed to Parmenides, neither on the grounds of his own extant fragments,
nor of the testimonies of Aristotle.

3 The Theophrastean context and B 16


Theophrastus comment on B 16 should be read taking into account the
whole context of the first chapters of de Sensibus. The treatise begins with
a schematic classification of views on the subject: Concerning sensation,
the most widespread and general opinions are two: some attribute it to
the like, others to contraries (de Sensibus 1). Parmenides is ranged, together with Empedocles and Plato, with the representatives of the first
opinion. After enumerating what he takes to be the main reasons supporting either view, Theophrastus goes on:
, . 3 ,
.
, ,

54

55

56
57

See Gigon 1945, 259; Calvo 1977, 252253; Barnes 1982, 297; Conche 1996, 121;
Curd 1998, 1314; Mansfeld 1999, 331333; Narecki 2003, 4546 and 4950; Dilcher 2006, 38.
See Parmenides B 8.3839 and 53; B 9.1; B 19.3. For a pertinent interpretation of
these passages, see the fundamental paper of Owens 1975; cf. also Coxon 1986, 256;
Conche 1996, 195196, and Barrett 2004, 282287.
This was already seen by Burnet 1930, 173 n. 1, and Verdenius 1964, 64; cf. Lesher
1994, 24 n. 46.
As Lesher 1994, 24 n. 46, remarks, this would move forward the earliest use of
in this sense by about a century; cf. Guthrie 196281, I 423424. Despite this insight, Lesher still clings to the other half of the traditional interpretation of B 7.36
when he writes, in the same paper, that Parmenides in this passage expressly contrasts
deductive inference with the faculties of sense (Lesher, 1994, 9); cf. the accurate
critical remarks of Mansfeld 1999, 331333.

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, , ... . 4 ,

, , , .
,
,
, .
.
As to each particular kind of sensation, the others almost leave them aside, whereas
Empedocles tries to relate them to likeness also. (3) Indeed, Parmenides did not
define anything, except that there are two elements and that cognition occurs according to the one which is in excess. For thinking varies as hot or cold is in excess,
and the better and purer thinking will be due to the hot; however, even this requires a certain proportion. (de Sensibus 23)

Here follows the literal fragment, after which Theophrastus continues:


(4) Indeed, he speaks of perceiving and thinking as being the same thing; hence also
memory and forgetting come from these [elements], according to the mixture; but
as to whether there will be thought or not, and what will be its disposition, when
both elements are equal in the mixture, he did not define anything. And that he
attributes sensation also to the contrary element in itself is evident from where he
says that the corpse does not perceive light, nor heat, nor sound, due to the loss of
fire, but that it does perceive cold and silence and the [other] contraries, and that
absolutely all there is has some knowledge. Thus, at any rate, he seems to avoid, by
this assertion, the difficulties resulting from this supposition.

The crucial question is obviously how Theophrastus would have understood the four lines he is quoting, and to what purpose he might have
deemed it useful to cite them. To this end, we should first try to carefully
isolate Theophrastus paraphrase-interpretation of the fragment from his
general assessments of ancient theories of sensation (most of them easily
identifiable from their parallels in Aristotle), on the one hand, and, on the
other hand, from what seems to be information derived from other passages, lost to us, of the poem. This short detour will furnish us, moreover,
a general view of Parmenides theory as Theophrastus understood it.
I begin with the second group: there are several points in Theophrastus summary that are clearly not paralleled by anything we can find in B
16 or any other extant fragment of Parmenides (nor, for that matter, by
any of Aristotles or Theophrastus own general statements about ancient
thinkers), and hence have to be taken, with due caution, as genuine testimony of what Theophrastus read in the lost parts of the poem. This is
the case, in the last section of the summary, of the explanation of memory
and forgetting according to the mixture, and, most evidently, the passage
on the corpses perception, for which Theophrastus explicitly invokes a
different passage of the poem;58 the same goes for the cognitive superiority
58

As observed by Laks 1990, 5; also Mansfeld 1996, 173, adverts that here Thophraste renvoie un passage pour nous perdu.

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of the hot in the opening section.59 The names of the elements hot and
cold are, of course, standard Aristotelian terms for what Parmenides
himself named Fire ( B 8.56; B 12.1) or Light ( B 9.1 and 3)
and Night ( B 8.64; B 9.1 and 3; B 12.2).60 These might have been
mentioned in the immediate context of the fragment, or just been deduced
by Theophrastus from the mention of the mixture at B 16.1; however,
since in the fragment there is no mention of Fire or Light, nor of its relation to better and purer thinking, it seems necessary to conclude that
Theophrastus must have relied for this specific information on some different verses of the poem.
On the other hand, as we have already seen, the statement that Parmenides speaks of perceiving and thinking as being the same thing61 is
clearly paralleled in Aristotle (Metaphysics 5, 1009b12; cf. de Anima
427a21); and so is the general principle of like by like (de Anima
427a28). This does not exclude, of course, that Theophrastus might have
found or believed he found some direct support for this latter claim
in the text of Parmenides. At the very least we should expect that what he
read would have been in some way consistent with this principle.62
This seems all the more plausible since at least some of the assumptions underlying the like by like principle belonged to the common heritage of Greek folk science. The attraction of like by like is proverbial already in Homer;63 in early Greek science this general principle was used to
explain a wide variety of phenomena, from the absorption of food or
drugs by the human body in the Hippocratic writers64 to the movement
of fire in Empedocles (31 B 62.6) and of atoms in Leucippus.65 It inspired
the theories of perception of Empedocles (31 B 109) and of Democritus66
59

60
61

62

63
64
65
66

See Laks 1990, 5. This was already seen by Vlastos 1946, 68, and Coxon 1986, 247.
Verdenius 1964, 23, even conjectured that was probably one of Parmenides own terms (cf. B 10.2 and Empedocles B 110.2).
Cf. Metaph 986b34; Ph 188a20.
As Baltussen 2000, 91, rightly remarks, the qualifying (as if identical) shows how
carefully Theophrastus distinguishes his own interpretation from Parmenides actual
wording.
Unless, of course, we suppose that blind faith in Aristotles authority misguided him
up to the point of inflicting overt violence to the texts he read; but this is very unlikely, since Theophrastus proves well capable of critical distance from Aristotles
points of view, e.g., when he introduces, correcting his teacher, the group of ancient
thinkers who explained sense-perception by the contraries (Sens 1); cf. Mansfeld
1996, 169170; for some other instances of Theophrastus correcting Aristotle, see
Kahn 1960, 1920, and Hussey 2006, 2425.
Od 17.218; cf. Arist. Rh I 11, 1371b1317.
Hipp. Morb IV 334 L VII 544; Nat Hom 6 L VI 44.
Diogenes Laertius IX 31 = Leucippus 67 A 1.
Democritus 68 B 164 (Sext. M VII 11617), A 128 (Aetius IV 19, 3 = Dox 408).

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(in the latter the reference to the folk tradition is explicit), and hence may
well have been present in the mind of Parmenides as well.
Moreover, for a theory of perception of like by like there was also a
more specific precedent in archaic beliefs about visual perception. For the
archaic Greeks the eyes not only receive light from the outside, but also
emit light of their own;67 the association of sight with the emission of light
is patent in the belief that Helios, universal source of light, is also the one
who sees everything68 or looks down with his rays.69 From there it
would have been only a short step to the conclusion that vision occurs
when the light emanating from the eyes meets with external light. This is
what we find in the optical theories of Empedocles and Plato,70 but the
basic assumption may well have been of much earlier origin; so it would
not seem all too surprising that Parmenides should have held some vaguely
similar belief.71
But Theophrastus says that Parmenides extended the like by like
principle to the dark and cold elements also and, generally, to all there
is, without shrinking away from the implication that any contact of like
with like must consequently produce some sort of perception: hence he
had to conclude (even if only in order to avoid the difficulties resulting
from this supposition, as Theophrastus insinuates72) that all there is has
some kind of knowledge or consciousness. We may doubt, of course,
whether this last point was explicitly stated by Parmenides or is Theo67

68

69
70
71

72

Cf. Onians 1951, 767. The fiery nature of the eye, commonly assumed by early
philosophers (Arist. Sens 437a22), was already familiar to Homer: eyes are brilliant
or sparkling ( Il 13.3 and 7; 13.435; the same adjective applied
to fire [Il 5.215], dawn [Od 4.188], and the moon [Il 8.555]) or simply lights (
Od 16.5, 17.39, 19.417); they contain fire, visible in angry persons or animals (Il
12.466, 13.474; Od 4.662, 19.446).
Il 3.277, 14.345, Od 11.109, 12.323; cf. Classen 1965, 100101, and Bultmann 1948,
1415. An association of the emission of light with seeing might have been suggested
also by the polysemy (from our perspective) of the verb , see, look at...,
and flash, gleam (see LSJ s. v.; cf. Snell 1953, 15).
Od 11.16; cf. h Cer 70.
Empedocles A 86 (Theophr. Sens 78), B 84; Plat. Tim 45b, 67e; see Beare 1906,
4449, Schneider 1923, 668, and Onians 1951, 7679.
This does not imply, of course, that Parmenides elaborated an explicit theory of vision. Aetius (4.13.9.10= Parm. A 48) remarks, somewhat hesitantly, that some people
attributed to Parmenides a theory of vision similar to that of the Pythagorean Hipparchus; but this second-hand notice can hardly be trusted, since Theophrastus states
explicitly that Parmenides did not define anything about each particular kind of
sensation.
That this is the difficulty Theophrastus has in mind can be inferred from his objections to Empedocles (Sens 12), Anaxagoras (36), and Diogenes (46): their theories of
sensation do not allow for any distinction between animate and inanimate matter; cf.
Baltussen 2000, 181 with n. 146.

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phrastus own conclusion;73 but I think the former is far more probable,
for grammatical as well as logical reasons: grammatically, the infinitive
is still dependent on , and hence meant as a part of the
quotation; logically, if Theophrastus goes on commenting that by this
assertion ( ) Parmenides tried to avoid the difficulties resulting
from his theory, we are to understand that the assertion at issue is Parmenides own and not a courtesy of the commentator. Moreover, the lost
verse of Parmenides referred to by Theophrastus seems to be echoed like
so many other well-known ones 74 by Empedocles, when he declares that
all things have intelligence and a share of thought.75 It might be worth
noting also that a strikingly similar theory was attributed to Democritus:
All things have a share in some kind of soul, even dead bodies, because
they obviously share always something hot and sensitive, even when most
of it has been expired.76
Now in Parmenides theory, as Theophrastus summarizes it, each ones
share of thinking depends on the proportion of hot and cold in the
body, so that thinking is better and purer when hot is in excess. When
Theophrastus says, rewording another lost portion of the poem, that also
memory and forgetting come from these elements, according to the mixture, we should infer that a better memory corresponds to a greater proportion of heat or Light, while forgetfulness is due to a cooling-down of
the mixture, as according to the doxographers are sleep and old age.77
Still more extreme is the loss of fire in the dead body, whose faculty of
perception is minimal. The gist of all this seems to be that there is no
exclusive opposition between thinking and sense-perception, between
memory and forgetfulness, or even between life and death, but only a
quantitative difference in the proportions of the mixture.78
73
74
75

76

77
78

As suspected by Calogero 1932, 48 n., and Tarn 1965, 261.


See the Empedoclean parallels to Parmenides verses in the app. crit. of Coxon 1986,
5591.
Empedocles B 110.10: ... ; cf. B 103 and B
107. Coxon 1986, 248, already conjectured that Empedocles B 103 and 110.10 may
be modelled on lines of Parmenides. As to the sense of these fragments, Verdenius
1964, 24, rightly acknowledged that there is no ground for doubting that Empedocles, like Parmenides, attributed the faculty of knowing and knowledge to all reality.
Democritus 68A117 = Aetius 4.4.7: ,
, . The belief that the dead still conserve some residual degree of life, sensation, or awareness was rather common in archaic Greek tradition: see Untersteiner
1958, CCVIIICCIX.
A 46a (Aetius 5.30 = Dox 443,12): . ;
A 46b (Tert. de An 45): somnum... refrigerationem.
Reduction of apparently exclusive oppositions to mere differences of degree (i.e., different proportions of the mixture of elements) seems to be a general feature of Par-

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This would give a quite precise meaning to the remark that Parmenides speaks of perceiving and understanding as being the same thing: in
Parmenides theory, as Theophrastus understands it, sense-perception and
thought are not two distinct faculties, but merely different degrees of one
and the same physical phenomenon, the mixture of hot and cold in the
body. Moreover, this remark should be read in close connection with
Theophrastus introducing statement that Parmenides did not define anything at all. Some recent interpreters have taken this to mean that what
Parmenides did not define at all is not sensation, but the distinctive mechanism of each of the five senses.79 But I think it is quite plain from the
entire context that what Theophrastus actually means is, just as this phrase
has been traditionally understood, that Parmenides did not define anything at all with regard to sensation or sense-perception, which is the subject of Theophrastus study.
Indeed, it should be noticed that actually none of Theophrastus references to the text of Parmenides bear any direct relation to sense-perception. In the verses of B 16 Parmenides speaks of and . The exact
meaning of these words is certainly problematic: the verb can mean
to know or to understand80 or simply to think;81 so might be
knowledge, understanding, or just thought. But at any rate, there is
nothing to suggest that or could refer, in Parmenides or anywhere else, to what one would normally regard as instances of sense-perception.82 I think this should suffice to exclude any possibility of interpreting B 16 as a doctrine of sense-perception.
On the other hand, Theophrastus paraphrases of Parmenides text refer to thinking (), memory, forgetting, and the residual perceptions of the corpse. Surely none of these is an instance of normal senseperception. But Theophrastus was writing, after all, a treatise
; so if Parmenides had something to say on this topic, why
should Theophrastus have failed to point this out explicitly, instead of
bothering to bring up these rather irrelevant quotes on thinking, memory,

79
80

81
82

menides physical world-view; a closely similar pattern can be discerned in his genetic
theory: see B 18, with the accurate commentary of Frnkel 1955, 182 n. 2.
Laks 1990, 10, followed by Mansfeld 1996, 172 n. 49.
According to Mourelatos 1970, 164, this would be the more suitable translation for
in Parmenides; similarly Kahn 196970, 703 n. 4: a term like cognition or
knowledge, and Coxon 1986, 174: in Parmenides denotes always intellectual
apprehension.
For the text of Parmenides, this rendering is argued for by Barnes 1982, 158159,
and Lesher 1994, 27 n. 54; cf. also Conche 1996, 257.
Indeed, as von Fritz 1943, 88, has pointed out, already in Homer is, if we use
our modern terminology , a purely mental act and does not belong to sensual perception proper.

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and the mental life of corpses? For this time, I think, the argumentum ex
silentio is decisive: if Theophrastus does not mention any passage of Parmenides specifically referring to his subject of inquiry, we may safely conclude that there was none to be found in his text. Indeed, Theophrastus,
far from trying to conceal this fact from the reader, makes it plain from
the outset: .
Nonetheless, Theophrastus clearly thinks that something can be got
out of the text for his subject, since he expressly remarks that Parmenides
speaks of as the same thing as . If taken merely as a
comment on Parmenides use at B 16, this is probably not right: although
, in archaic usage, could sometimes refer to sensibility or sensual
awareness in a broad sense,83 the connection with and makes
quite clear that this is not the meaning intended here. But since Parmenides theory of mixture, at least as Theophrastus understands it, refers to
cognition () in general, and since thinking, , memory, and even
the residual awareness of dead matter count for him as legitimate instances
of , Theophrastus sees fit to conclude that so should normal senseperception too, even though Parmenides does not explicitly mention it. In
this broad sense, he could say that Parmenides speaks of perceiving and
understanding as the same thing, i.e., as instances of cognition depending on the same physical mechanism of the mixture of elements.
If we return now to our initial question of what might exactly correspond, in Theophrastus summary, to his reading of our fragment B 16,
we are left with the few phrases of the opening section, especially the mention of excess ( ) and proportion (). On this
point, most modern interpreters seem to agree; but the exact relation of
the fragment to Theophrastus paraphrase is still controversial. On the
most widely accepted interpretation, is taken as referring to
the preponderance of one of the two elements over the other (the element which prevails over the other), and hence as equivalent to
(understood as the more) in the last line of the fragment;84 correspondingly, is understood as the proportion of the two elements in
the mixture, supposedly referred to in the first two lines of the fragment.
However, this interpretation is not free from difficulties. Several scholars have noted that if is understood as the more, the logical
connection between the last two sentences, and especially the explanative
value () of the last, remains obscure.85 We might add that, even if

83
84

85

See n. 39.
This interpretation goes back to Alexanders commentary on Aristotles Metaphysics
(307,13 Hayduck); cf. Zeller 187681, 529 n. 2; Verdenius 1964, 17 n. 3; Coxon
1986, 250.
Frnkel 1955, 175; Tarn 1965, 2567; Laks 1990, 8.

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were to be understood in this sense, thought would not be that


which prevails, but according to that which prevails ( ):
thinking varies in quality according to the relative excess of Light or
Night, but without ever becoming identical to either one of them only;
this is at least what Theophrastus insists in when he states that even better
and purer thinking requires a certain proportion.86
Furthermore, it seems at least doubtful whether can mean
the proportion between the two elements in the mixture. Frnkel observed
that in Theophrastus text the term is regularly used to express the idea
that an organ of perception (e.g., an eye or ear) is commensurable with
its object (light, sound) and so arranged as to receive it adequately;87 so
we should expect it to have the same meaning in this context. Indeed, if
thinking grows better and purer as hot becomes preponderant over cold,
then why should this require a certain proportion i.e., why would not
just any proportion do as long as hot prevails , if not because some
proportions are adequate to the object and others are not? This is just
plain common sense. But then, does this reading of find any
support in the text of Parmenides? Or are we to conclude that Theophrastus misunderstood his text?
Both these difficulties have been accurately pointed out and extensively
discussed by Laks (1990); but I think the solution he proposes raises more
problems than it succeeds at resolving. Laks suggests, following Bollack
and Untersteiner, that at B 16.4 is not to be understood as the
more (neuter of the comparative ), but as the full (neuter of
full), just like in the two other occurrences of in the fragments of
86

87

This incongruity has been accurately observed by Dilcher 2006, 44, who concludes
that Theophrastus misunderstood the text and changed its meaning by adding the
preposition . But since What is more is thought, if taken as literally identifying
thought with only one of the two elements the one that prevails , does not seem
to make any acceptable sense (indeed it would virtually annihilate the explanatory
power of the theory of mixture), he suggests that should be understood as
that which is more than the mixture ( ), i.e., mind as separated
from the physical constitution of the body (Dilcher 2006, 45). But I doubt that the
Greek can bear that meaning: would be most naturally understood as the greater part of the mixture (like Il 1.165 ); more
than [in the sense of different from and of higher rank than] the mixture would
rather be . Moreover, since in the world of the doxa all is full of
Light and Night (B 9.3), there is no room left for there being anything more than
the mixture, just as in the Way of Truth there is no room for anything more than
what-is itself. Therefore, the first vague formulation of the transcendence of mind
(Dilcher 2006, 46) is probably not to be found in these verses of Parmenides.
Frnkel 1955, 175 (see Sens 711 = Empedocles A 86; cf. Plat. Men 76cd; Arist.
GC I 8, 324b2635). This was already observed by Stratton 1917, 157 n. 5; cf. the
discussion in Laks 1990, 1516.

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Parmenides (B 8.24; B 9.3).88 This reading, however, entails a difficulty


which seemed to have gone unnoticed by its former proponents: if Theophrastus had indeed correctly understood the role of preponderance (
) in Parmenides theory as all of these interpreters seem to
agree he had , where then did he find this expressed in the text of the
poem, if not in the last half of B 16.4? Laks suggests that the relevant
passage of Theophrastus report (up to ) paraphrases the first two lines of the fragment, plus some lost verse in the
immediate context of the quotation, where he might have read or its Parmenidean equivalent.89 But this solution gives rise to a
fresh problem: if the first two lines of B 16 correspond to the beginning
of Theophrastus report and not, as habitually understood, to the immediately preceding remark on , and if, moreover, , as Laks
argues (I think rightly), does not refer to the proportion of the elements
in the mixture, but to the adaptation of the perceiving organ to its object,
where then did Theophrastus read in Parmenides about such a theory of
adaptation? Laks proposes to understand in an Empedoclean
sense, as the adapting of emanations from the objects to the sensible
pores or passages they are to fill up; hence Theophrastus would have
understood (correctly, in Laks opinion) the last phrase of the quotation
(B 16.4b), , as meaning the full is thought.90
But this reconstruction is hardly convincing. After all, there is no evidence for a theory of pores in Parmenides, except the hardly trustworthy
report of Aetius (4.9.6 = A47), where Parmenides is summarily ranged
together with Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus, Epicurus, and Heraclitus. If there had been any such notion in Parmenides, we surely should
have expected Theophrastus to say so. Instead, Theophrastus explicitly
states that Parmenides did not define anything concerning the specific
mechanisms of sense-perception. We might understand this to mean, of
course, as Laks argues, that Parmenides did not define the distinctive mechanism of each of the five senses in particular; this would leave him with
the chance of having theorized about sensation just in general terms. But
should we really believe that Parmenides was able to formulate a general
theory of sense-perception, including such details like emanations, passages, and their filling up, without ever referring to how this would
88

89
90

Laks 1990, 89; cf. Bollack 1957, 6869, and Untersteiner 1958, CCV n. 134. The
same reading anticipated already by Ritter 1836, I 508, who translated denn das
Volle ist der Gedanke has been accepted since by Deichgrber 1959, 71; Mansfeld
1964, 191192, and 1996, 173; Tarn 1965, 256257; Mourelatos 1970, 253255;
Hershbell 1970, 13; Gallop 1984, 87; Cordero 1984, 42, and 2004, 195; Schmitz
1988, 78; Colli 2003, 190, and Gemelli Marciano 2009, 95.
Laks 1990, 12.
Laks 1990, 1718.

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work for any particular sense? I think this is rather incredible; and without such detailed theoretical context, the relation of to the full
lacks any ground.
To sum up, I think we may retain the idea that means, in a
broad sense, the adaptation of the perceiving or thinking organ to its object, though without Empedoclean-style technical details such as emanations or passages to be filled up, altogether unwarranted by the fragments
and testimonies concerning Parmenides. What Theophrastus means is, as
I take it, that even for better and purer thinking the mixture of elements
in the thinking subject must be proportional to the mixture found in
the object to be known or thought of.91
But where, after all, did Theophrastus find this notion of
expressed in the text of Parmenides? I suggest that the passage of reference
is to be found just where it is most natural to expect it, that is, in the first
two lines of B 16. Indeed, almost all modern interpreters agree that the
quotation of these two lines was meant to illustrate the immediately preceding remark on . We have seen, however, that this term cannot
denote the proportion of the two elements in the mixture to each other,
but must refer to the commensurability of the mixture of Light and Night
in the thinking subject (the mixture in the wandering members) with
that of its object.
Now it should hardly be mere coincidence that this is precisely the
sense we obtain if accepting, together with Stephanus correction ,
the Aristotelian variant , though understood not as masculine but
as neuter (cf. B19.3): For such as the mixture of the wandering members
is in relation to each thing, so is mind present to men.92
This reading, I think, is palaeographically far less implausible than it
might seem at first sight. Indeed, is the reading of Ab (Laurentianus 87), a manuscript of the twelfth century AD and hence more recent
than the other two main MSS of the Metaphysics, E (Parisinus gr. 1853)
and J (Vindobonensis phil. gr. C), both from the tenth century, but which
according to Christ and Ross presents more traces of uncial corruption
and other evidence which points to an original older than that of EJ.93
This would suffice to credit as corresponding to the older textual
tradition. On the other hand, the variant found in all MSS of
Theophrastus can be easily accounted for as a later correction of Theophrastus text. It should be remembered that the textual tradition of the

91

92
93

On this general sense of in the text, my view is closest to that of Conche


1996, 253254, with some discrepancies in detail I will address later (see text corresponding to n. 104).
For + dat., see LSJ s. v. B II b.
Ross 1924, CLXI.

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de Sensibus is far more recent than that of the Metaphysics: the oldest
extant MSS, P (Parisinus gr. 1921) and F (Laurentianus gr. 87,20), from
which all the others descend, are both of the fourteenth century, and both
seem to be independent copies of a common original.94 Since () is
found in the manuscript tradition of the Metaphysics at least from the
ninth or tenth century onwards it must have been the reading already
of the archetypus common to E and J , some four or five centuries
before the date of the oldest MSS of de Sensibus, it seems quite possible
that at some moment of this long period some scholar had corrected his
text of Theophrastus, replacing the original reading by what he found in
his copy of Aristotle.
Moreover, the reference of , to each [thing], probably explicit
in the immediate context of the fragment, must have been obvious to
Theophrastus himself, who had the complete text of the poem before
him, but was surely opaque to his readers and copyists, who would have
easily misunderstood these verses just like most of their modern interpreters as referring only to the mixture of elements in the thinking subject, and therefore may have adjusted the text, deliberately or by distraction, to their own understanding of it.
The lines which follow in the fragment (B 16.2b4a) are probably the
most difficult to relate to anything said by Theophrastus, and perhaps the
most difficult to make sense of: |
| . Scholars disagree as to whether is to be
taken (a) as the subject or (b) as the object of , and whether
is to be understood (1) as referring to (the same for all men),
(2) as connecting with , or (3) with , or, finally,
(4) as pronominal. The resulting possibilities for interpretation are:
(1a) For that which thinks is the same, namely, the substance of the
limbs, in each and every man95
(1b) For the same thing is that the nature of the body thinks in each
and in all men96
(2a) For the nature of the members is the same as that which thinks,
in each 97
94
95

96
97

On the manuscript tradition of the de Sensibus, see Diels 1879, 114118, and
McDiarmid 1962.
Burnet 1930, 177178; similarly Diels 1897, 45; Diels-Kranz; Guthrie 196281,
2.67; Austin 1986, 171; Collobert 1993, 24; Colli 2003, 189; Hermann 2004, 161;
Palmer 2009, 375.
Tarn 1965, 169; similarly Heitsch 1974a, 198; OBrien and Frre 1987, 74; Wiesner
1996, 60; Hussey 2006, 18; Dilcher 2006, 43; Gemelli Marciano 2009, 95.
Cordero 1984, 42, and 2004, 195 (for men, both in general and in particular, the
nature of the limbs is the same that thinks); Conche 1996, 243 (Car, chez les

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(2b) For the nature of the members is the same as what it thinks, in
each 98
(3b) For mind is the same as what the nature of the members thinks,
in each 99
(4b) For this is precisely what the nature of the members thinks, in
each 100
None of these interpretations is satisfactory. Against (1a) and (1b) it has
been objected that the identity of what thinks (or of what is thought) in
each and every man would hardly agree with the universal variance of
minds stated immediately before.101 On the other hand, on interpretations
(2a)(4b) these very same words in each and every man become utterly
redundant.102 This should make us suspect that it is precisely in these
words where we have to seek the root of the problem. I suggest that the
mistake common to all these translations was to have taken
as an apposition to , and hence as masculine, without
noticing that these datives, if understood as neuter, offer a ready complement to . This seems indeed the most natural reading of the passage: for a Greek reader or listener, in a sentence introduced by saying that
something is , the most normal thing to expect would be a dative
complement, just as in English, when someone says that x is the same...,
we would normally expect him to continue the same as (even though
other constructions are equally admissible, in Greek as well as in English).
The subject is ; so we have: For what the nature of the members thinks in men is the same as each and every thing.103 This seems to

98

99
100
101
102

103

hommes, en tous et en chacun, la nature du corps est cela mme qui pense); Cerri
1999, 159 and 281.
This interpretation was first proposed in 1930 by Frnkel 1955, 175: (Der Art
nach) dasselbe wie das <was> man denkt ist die Beschaffenheit der Glieder, and
followed by Cherniss 1935, 80 n. 330, Vlastos 1946, 66 n. 5; Verdenius 1949, 66 n.
5; Bollack 1957, 68 n. 39; Finkelberg 1986, 406, and Laks 1990, 7, with n. 18, among
others.
Mansfeld 1964, 188; Coxon 1986, 90 (for it [sc. mind] is the awareness belonging
to the nature of the body for all and each); Thanassas 1997, 187 n. 69.
Hlscher 1968, 115 (cf. 1956, 396397): Denn dies eben ist es, was die Beschaffenheit der Gliedmassen denkt.
Austin 1986, 170 n. 35; Conche 1996, 249250.
As observed by Frnkel 1955, 175 n. 3, against version (2a); though the same criticism may be applied to his own translation (see n. 98), where these words simply
disappear.
On this reading, the syntax (and even the sense) of these lines becomes strictly parallel to that of Aristotles famous sentence (de An 430a19):
. I would not exclude the possibility of a deliberate
reminiscence of Parmenides verses, well-known to Aristotle, as his quotation at Me-

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be, after all, the Parmenidean formulation of the principle of like by


like: the varying mixture of Light and Night in the body can indeed reproduce any object, so to speak, in a scaled-down version, whenever there
is the right proportion () between both mixtures; in this sense,
thought is the same as its object.
Now before passing over to the last half verse of the fragment, we will
have to address a difficulty which the interpretation suggested here shares
with several others. If we accept as genuine Theophrastus notice that for
Parmenides the preponderance of the hot in the mixture produces better
and purer thinking, and if at the same time we understand the
required for this kind of thinking as the right proportion between the
mixtures of the elements in the object and in the thinking or perceiving
subject, then we run into a serious problem. For what should this right
proportion consist in? The principle of like by like might suggest at
first blush that the mixture of Light and Night in the members of the
thinking subject must simply be of the same proportion as in the object
known.104 But this will not work, since in this case any increase of Light
beyond the just proportion would unfailingly entail, instead of better and
purer thinking, a progressively deficient perception, analogous though in
inverted direction to that which in sleeping persons and in the dead is
caused by lack of Light or heat: a subject suffering from an excess of Light
would become gradually blind to the dark sides of things, just as corpses
are to the bright.
Frnkel, who proposed to understand in the technical sense
of an adjustment or commensurability between the object and the receiving organ, held that for Parmenides knowledge which is due to the
hot is better and purer, but is not sufficient in itself, since that which is to
be perceived must, in a certain way, fit with the organ (so that the hot
element in the perceiving subject is, so to speak, blind to the cold).105
The final parenthesis shows that also Frnkels interpretation fails to explain how a kind of perception blind to half of the world could be considered better and purer than another more balanced and comprehensive,
albeit less luminous one. If Parmenides really held some version of the like
by like theory, or of a symmetry between the perceiver and the perceived,

104

105

taphysics 5 shows; and Presocratic writers were surely present to his mind when
writing the last chapters of de Anima, as shown by the unusually well-humored
references to Anaxagoras (429b24) and Empedocles (430a28) in the immediate context.
This is the interpretation of Conche 1996, 254: ... pour que soit peru tel objet
lumineux et chaud comme il est en ralit, il faut que le rapport de la lumire la
nuit ou du chaud au froid dans le mlange corporel corresponde ce quil est dans
lobjet.
Frnkel 1955, 175.

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then the problem, in one word, is how to bring this principle into line
with the superiority of thinking in which Light prevails.106
In order to get out of this dilemma, we should remember again that
Theophrastus, though the subject of his study is sense-perception, expressly
states that Parmenides, in the verses he paraphrases, was referring to
knowledge or cognition () in general. Within the frame of this theory, as Theophrastus construes it, sense-perception would be but a particular case of cognition, on a continuous scale with memory and thought;
the difference between these various levels of cognition depends on the
proportions of the mixture of Light and Night. Now the simplest supposition to start from would be that, according to the principle of like by
like, correct sense-perception occurs whenever our senses contain both
elements in the same proportion as the perceived object does (if this seems
gratuitous, any other level for the right proportion will do just as well).
Moreover, we already know that any decrease in the luminous component
below this just proportion causes a deficiency in perception, progressively
confining sensation to the dark and cold aspects of reality. But inversely,
as Theophrastus states, an increase in Light above this very proportion, far
from producing a symmetrically inverse deficiency, gives rise to better and
purer thinking. I take this to refer to those mental functions which transcend mere sensation, such as memory or reason. In any case, it seems to
correspond to the mentioned in the fragment (B 16.2), in which we
may perhaps recognize the same to whom, according to another fragment, absent things become firmly present (B 4.1).107
Now these better and purer forms of thinking are said to require
also a certain proportion. This refers, as we have seen, to the proportion
between the respective mixtures of elements in the thinking subject and in
the object of thought. But this proportion cannot consist in simple equality, for in this case, there could be no other form of consciousness but
direct sense-perception; moreover, Theophrastus clearly distinguishes and (see de Sensibus 13 and 15). Rather we will have to

106

107

Von Fritz 1945, 239 n. 90, seems to have most clearly seen this problem when he
wrote: It is not easy to determine how the preference for one side of the contrast fits
in with the postulated symmetry; though the solution he proposes (perception by
Light only seems purer to us mortals, who lack a balanced or symmetrical perception: ibid., 240 n. 92) seems rather hard to bring into agreement with the text of
Theophrastus.
It should be remembered that , in archaic use, includes not only reasoning, but
also the functions of imagination and memory, and, generally, any mental representation of what is not present: see Calvo 1977, 247. On , see also the fundamental
studies of von Fritz 1943 and 194546; on Parmenides, 1945, 236242; some relevant modifications of von Fritzs views have been suggested by Mourelatos 1970,
175177, and Lesher 1981, 910, and 1994, 27 n. 54.

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understand as a certain commensurability between different


magnitudes, approximately in the sense in which the diagonal of a square
cannot be commensurable () with its sides. In Greek medicine,
health was identified with the just proportion () among the elements within the body, and between these and the physical environment.108 By a similar concept of , Parmenides may have explained
why we are able, at each moment, to remember, imagine, or conceive certain objects and not others.
Thus we begin to see how the principle of like by like could become
compatible with the superiority of Light. Let us call LB and NB the respective portions of Light and Night in the body of the cognizing (thinking,
perceiving, remembering ) subject, LO and NO the portions of these elements in the object. Then, on the one hand, the simple proportion of Light
and Night to each other within the body, LB/NB, will determine the nature
and quality of the different degrees of cognition, from more or less complete
sense-perception to memory and reasoning (the better and purer kind of
thinking). On the other hand, the adaptation of mind to its objects will
depend on the complex proportion () between the mixture of elements in the body and the mixture of elements in the object, LB/NB //
LO/NO, i.e., their likeness in a broad sense, which only in the particular
case of direct sense-perception coincides with simple equality (LB/NB =
LO/NO). For the higher mental functions i.e., those where LB/NB >
LO/NO we might suppose that, in order for adequate cognition to be
possible, LB/NB would have to be, e.g., some integer multiple of LO/NO,
or any other determinate kind of proportion we might think of. In any case,
it is plain that, if there is to be knowledge or perception, the mixtures of
elements in the body and in the object must have an adequate proportion
to each other; the mere preponderance of Light in the body will not grant
by itself the cognition of any specific object (though presumably it would
entail a far higher probability of knowing a wider range of possible objects):
in this sense, it requires a certain proportion too.
I am aware that this reconstruction is to a large degree conjectural; but I
think something on these lines is needed if we want to make coherent sense
of Theophrastus report. We may doubt whether this theory was actually
worked out in much detail in the text of the poem; Parmenides might have
limited himself to a rather vague outline perhaps not much more than what
Theophrastus gives in paraphrase , leaving the details to oral teaching.109
This would account for Theophrastus perplexity on some minor points.

108
109

Arist. Ph VII 3, 246b5; Hipp. Nat Hom 4.


On the probable relation of Parmenides writing to a context of oral teaching and
discussion, see the somewhat speculative, but highly suggestive remarks of Cerri
1999, 9395.

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For if this conjectural reconstruction of Parmenides theory is approximately right, this would entail three important consequences for the understanding of our text. First, cannot be, as it is habitually
translated, and as already Theophrastus himself seems to have understood,
the element which prevails over the other, but must be the one which exceeds the just proportion required for normal sense-perception: an excess
of Light above this proportion produces better and purer thinking
(memory, imagination, and reason), an excess of Night or darkness deficient perception.110
Secondly, this would readily explain why Theophrastus could not find
in the poem any indication as to whether there will be thought or not,
and what will be its disposition, when both elements are equalled in the
mixture. The problem simply disappears if we suppose that excess ( ) is not measured in relation to the equality of both elements
within the members of the knowing subject, but with respect to the point
where both mixtures of elements, in the subject and in the object of
knowledge, are equalled.
And, thirdly, if Theophrastus did not properly grasp the exact sense of
(the element which exceeds the proportion equivalent to
that of the object, but which he takes to mean the element which prevails over the other), we must infer that this expression is not, as most
interpreters would have it, a prosaic substitute for Parmenides
(B16.4), but reproduces, more or less faithfully, something he read in some
verse, lost to us, of the poem.111
Thus the interpretation I suggest would confirm the suspicion, already
avowed by Tarn and Laks,112 that cannot be equivalent to Theophrastus , as so many interpreters have taken it to be, understanding the predominant (element), since for Parmenides, as it
seems, is not the element which prevails over the other (
), but the one which exceeds the normal proportion of the thinking
mixture to the object. On the other hand, the alternative interpretation of
as the full does not seem to offer any very plausible sense
either.113 Therefore, since none of the proposed interpretations has suc110

111

112
113

Cf. Democritus (B 11b) distinction between rational or genuine knowledge and the
obscure () knowledge of the senses; though this is, of course, only a metaphor, as probably is in Empedocles (B 132.2); the Parmenidean inspiration of this expression was noticed by Classen 1965, 112.
This would confirm, though for entirely different reasons, Laks conjecture that
Theophrastus read , or its Parmenidean equivalent, in the immediate
context of the quotation (before the first line, for example) (Laks 1990, 12).
See n. 81.
Bollack 1957, 6869; Untersteiner 1958, CCV n. 134; Hershbell 1970, 13; Schmitz
1988, 78; Colli 2003, 190, and Gemelli Marciano 2009, 70 and 95, relate the full

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ceeded so far at making any really coherent sense of the manuscript text as
it stands, we might consider accepting the conjecture proposed by
Garca Calvo,114 but understanding as a demonstrative pronoun:
, For being this (sc. the same as each and every thing) it
is knowledge. This reading would offer at least a perfectly coherent logical
connection with the preceding sentence: what the nature of the members
thinks is knowledge or understanding precisely insofar as it is the same
as the object of thought; and this is the case when the mixture of elements
in the thinking subjects body is proportional to the composition of the
object.
Thus the whole of the fragment should be read as follows:



.
For such as the mixture of the wandering members is in relation to each thing,
so is understanding present to men;
for what the nature of the members thinks in men is the same
as each and every thing: for being this it is knowledge.

If we return for a moment to Theophrastus report, we may observe that,


after a first general remark on cognition and the two elements, the exposition follows a clearly descending order of mental functions: (1) better
and purer thinking, due to an excess of hot (probably the of B 16.2);
(2) memory and forgetting, according to the mixture of hot and cold; and
(3) the minimal degree of perception in the corpse, due to the loss of
fire; the summary concludes with another generalizing statement: All
there is has some knowledge. I think the most likely explanation of this
arrangement is that this was the exact order in which Theophrastus found

114

to the plenitude of Being (B 8.24) or of the two elements (B 9.3), but this seems of
rather doubtful pertinence in this context. On Laks 1990 interpretation, see text
corresponding to ns. 8891.
Garca Calvo 1981, 221, understands as equivalent to and translates:
For that-which-is is the idea (Pues aquello que es es idea, ibid. 220). The corruption of the rare epic form into can be easily explained by the influence of
at B 8.24 and B 9.3. Garca Calvos conjecture which, as it seems, has not yet
received due attention by scholars outside Spain has been accepted also by A. Bernab in the two editions of his Spanish Fragmentos presocrticos (Bernab 1988, 158;
2nd ed. 2001, 154). In his recent edition of Parmenides, however, Bernab returns to
the manuscript reading, arguing that this was what Theophrastus read and interpreted as (Bernab and Prez de Tudela 2007, 38); I have tried to
show in this section that this view is implausible. The same conjecture was
proposed independently two years later by H. Tarrant 1983, 77, with the rather unconvincing translation for what is is what he is conscious of.

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these topics treated in the text of the poem; also the fact that the summary both begins and ends with a generalizing statement on the matter
( occurs in both contexts)115 points to a pattern of circular composition, characteristic of archaic poetry and of Parmenides way of writing in
particular. The remarks on sleep (A 46b) and old age (A 46a) as due to a
decrease in heat, remembered by the doxographers,116 would probably have
followed between (2) and (3).
On the whole, on the interpretation I suggest, Theophrastus reading
of Parmenides would deserve a far more favorable judgment than it has
usually received in recent times. His remarks on Parmenides are clearly
not simple repetitions of some of the interpretations that he found in
Aristotle,117 even if the similarity of wording is sometimes almost literal.
When Theophrastus ranges Parmenides with the partisans of the like by
like theory, he is not just mechanically applying Aristotles general view on
the ancient philosophers (in fact, he corrects this view118 at the same moment, remarking that some of these philosophers attributed sensation to
contraries), but offers an interpretation based on his own reading of the
poem, supported not only by the passage on the corpse perception, but
also by the literal quotation of B 16.24, where we read that what the
nature of the members thinks in men is the same as each and every thing.
Parmenides, it is true, speaks here of or, as Theophrastus says, of better and purer thinking, not of sensation; Theophrastus is aware of this
fact and if his initial statement that Parmenides did not define anything
about sensation, but referred to cognition () in general should not
be sufficient adds that Parmenides speaks of perceiving and thinking as
being the same thing. Again, despite the almost literal resemblance to
Aristotles general statements on the ancients at de Anima III 3 and
Metaphysics 5, Theophrastus remark has in this context, as we have
seen, a much more precise meaning: he is not simply saying that Parmenides still ignored the correct distinction between thought and sense-perception set forth by Aristotle in the last book of de Anima, nor that he
somehow conceived both as bodily processes; rather he is pointing out that
115

116
117
118

Since both occurrences of this word, at the beginning and at the end of Theophrastus summary, belong to passages referring to lost verses of the poem rather than to
the text of B 16, it seems likely that was Parmenides own wording, or at least
something quite close to it, rather than an equivalent for at B16.2; indeed, Theophrastus equivalent for seems to be , since the fragment is quoted in order
to illustrate the statement that even better and purer requires a certain proportion.
See n. 77.
McDiarmid 1953, 133.
Mansfeld (1996, 169: Thophraste corrige son matre en dclarant que les doctrines
portant sur la perception peuvent tre divises en deux ... .

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for Parmenides thought and sense-perception, as well as memory and forgetting, are but different manifestations of the same physical phenomenon,
the mixture of elements in the body.119 Indeed, as Theophrastus has made
clear at the beginning of his summary, Parmenides did not define anything in particular about the senses, but spoke of cognition () in
general and at least some of its various degrees of manifestation: thinking,
memory, down to the minimal awareness of the corpse and of matter.
Since the underlying physical mechanism the mixture of hot and cold
is the same throughout, Theophrastus consequently and, I think, correctly concludes that what is exemplified for the upper () and the
lower end (the corpse) of the scale viz. that the like perceives the like
should apply as well to ordinary sense-perception, which is, after all, the
subject of his study, although Parmenides, as it seems, had nothing very
specific to say on this point. Theophrastus is well aware that the textual
references he is able to give are of rather indirect relevance to his subject;
so he feels compelled to remind the reader that Parmenides did not make
any essential difference between thinking and perceiving. At any rate, this
is not a simple repetition of Aristotles opinions, but an honest effort to
substantiate his interpretation by a scrupulous examination of the text.
Even Theophrastus remark on might perhaps be seen as an
implicit criticism of Aristotles views. According to Aristotle (de Anima
409b26410a13), the notion that the like is known by the like could at
most account for perception of the elements, but not for knowledge of
objects () such as flesh, bone, or man, for each of these is not just
the elements put together in any way whatever, but combined in a determinate proportion and composition ( ) (410a12).
Aristotle continues:
So nothing will be gained by the presence of the elements in the soul, unless there
be present in it also their proportions and composition ( ).
For each element will indeed know its like, but there will be nothing to know
bone or man, unless these too are present in the soul. There is no need to point
out that this is impossible: for who would suggest that there is a stone or a man in
the soul? (410a711)

The argument seems not entirely convincing: a partisan of the like by like
theory might object that, even if the soul does not actually contain stones
or men, nonetheless the elements could be present in the soul in an analo-

119

Therefore I cannot agree with Mansfelds 1996, 173, suggestion that Theophrastus
quotation of B 16 a comme but principal de souligner la justesse de linterprtation
aristotlicienne de ces vers. Indeed, Theophrastus is quite ready to correct, when
necessary, Aristotles view on the ancient philosophers identification of sense-perception and thought, as he does in the case of Alcmaeon (Sens 25 = Alcmaeon 24 A 5
DK).

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gous proportion and composition as in external objects, producing some


sort of scaled-down images of things. But this seems to be just the kind of
theory Theophrastus ascribes to Parmenides: knowledge occurs when the
combination of hot and cold in the members is proportional to that in
the object; not only the elements are the same within the body and outside, but what the nature of the members thinks is the same as each and
every thing. So on Theophrastus account, Parmenides version of the like
by like theory would be able to explain knowledge of objects in a much
more sophisticated manner than Aristotle had envisaged in his summary
refutation.

4 Theory of knowledge and knowledge of Being


The picture emerging from this reconstruction is that of a comprehensive
theory of knowledge or cognition () conceived as a feature inherent
to all there is. Knowledge varies in degree, from a residual awareness inherent even to dead matter up to human intelligence (, ), according
to the proportion of Light and Night in each part of the mixture: the
more Light prevails in the body of the knowing subject, the more thinking
becomes better and purer. But actual knowledge of objects occurs only
when both mixtures, in the thinking subject and in the object, are in an
adequate proportion () to each other: human understanding varies as the mixture of Light and Night in the body is more or less proportional to each object (B 16.12); knowledge or understanding is possible
because what the human body thinks is the same as each and every thing
(B 16.24), i.e., because the mixture of the elements in the body can reproduce the composition of any object in adequate proportion. The text
of B 16 refers explicitly to human understanding only; but Theophrastus
infers that the same mechanism would explain sense-perception, since Parmenides takes perceiving and understanding to be the same thing, i.e.,
instances or degrees of , depending on the mixture of the elements,
as Parmenides explicitly states for the case of memory. Indeed, even the
cold and the silence the dead body perceives might still be said to be the
same as what the nature of its members thinks; so it seems plausible that
the same mechanism of mixture and proportion should work for any degree of throughout the scale.
This seems to be, at any rate, Theophrastus reconstruction of Parmenides theory; but could this theory really be Parmenides own? To answer
this question, we should ask how this theory of knowledge would fit in
with the whole of what we know about Parmenides philosophy, and in
particular with his claims to true knowledge about Being set forth in the
first part of the poem. The problem would not arise, of course, if one
takes for granted that the second part of the poem does not reflect ParmeBrought to you by | UNAM
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nides own convictions anyway. But if we assume that the physical theories
set out in the second part were actually a genuine part of Parmenides
philosophy,120 we should expect his physiological theory of cognition to be
somehow consistent with the doctrine of the Way of Truth, and even to
be able to account for Parmenides own proclaimed knowledge of Being
or what-is.
However, scholars even those who share our basic assumption concerning the coherence of the two parts of the poem have usually been
rather skeptical about this point. According to Reinhardt, it should be
evident that his [Parmenides] knowledge is of a different and superior
kind than that of ordinary mortals.121 An extreme variant of this view is
defended by Mansfeld: for Parmenides, the knowledge available to ordinary men is nothing but the mixture of their members, but his own knowledge is of supernatural origin.122 Thus the knowledge revealed to Parmenides by the goddess would bear no relation whatsoever to the mixture of
elements which determines the knowledge of ordinary mortals. But the
symbolism of Light and Night in the proem points to the contrary: the
sunmaidens, divinities of Light, leave the abode of Night and move towards Light (B 1.10) to escort the man of knowledge (B 1.3) on his way
to the goddess, crossing the gates of night and day (B 1.11). All this seems
to fit quite neatly with the theory of mixture reported by Theophrastus:
however intricate the details of this symbolism may be, it is patent at least
that the two elements Light and Night play a prominent role in it, and
that Parmenides quest for knowledge is fostered by potencies of Light
(the sunmaidens). So we might surmise that his own better and purer
understanding of reality is due to a preponderance of Light too, albeit in a
much higher degree than in ordinary mortals. The theory of mixture, after
all, might account for knowledge of Being as well.

120

121
122

The same goes obviously for those interpreters who hold that B 16 actually belonged
to the first part of the poem, such as Loenen 1959, 5860, Hershbell 1970, Schmitz
1988, 7071, or Cordero 2008, 72.
Reinhardt 1916/1985, 23.
Il ny a, pour Parmnide et Empdocle, dchappatoire que ... dans le surnaturel personnifi ou dans la personnalit qui chappe la condition humaine, comme le prouvent lappel la Muse dEmpdocle et la rvlation de la Desse dans le cas de Parmnide, writes Mansfeld 1999, 344; cf. already his 1964, 261. But for the archaic
Greeks divine intervention in human life was surely nothing supernatural: rather
they conceived the order of nature itself as resulting from the action of living divinities; so did Parmenides himself in his theory of the physical world (B 1213; cf. A
37; for detailed discussion of this point, see Bredlow 2011). Hence the divine origin
of his own knowledge even if taken literally and not only as a metaphorical device
would not conflict with the possibility of an explanation in terms of physical process.

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But a reconstruction of the theory on these lines, as attempted by


Frnkel, Vlastos, and Finkelberg, raises some problems as soon as we ask
what should exactly be the proportion of Light and Night in our members
that would furnish us the kind of knowledge of Being Parmenides claims
to possess. Vlastos holds that the knowledge of Being represents a state of
unmixed light, where the ratio of light to darkness must be one to
zero.123 But this means to ignore Theophrastus explicit observation that
even the purest thinking needs some proportion of both elements (indeed,
Vlastos disposes of this important clue in a footnote, dismissing it as a
mere evidence of Theophrastus confusion124); moreover, this interpretation presupposes Aristotles identification of Parmenidean Being with
Light,125 reasonably questioned by most modern scholars.126
Finkelbergs reconstruction takes account of these difficulties, but
raises other no less serious ones. On his interpretation, the cognition of
the universe as being takes place when the ratio of forms in an individuals body is identical with that in the universe as a whole. This would
certainly save proportion, but at the cost of sacrificing the law that luminous thinking is better and purer, which would become invalidated as
soon as the component of Light grows above the just proportion; hence
Finkelberg has to conclude once again that Theophrastus was confused on this point.127
After all, for Finkelberg, just as for Vlastos, Theophrastus was utterly
mistaken about the meaning of his text, although in the inverse sense: on
Vlastos view, Theophrastus took for a general theory of knowledge what
actually was no more than a doctrine of sense-perception; on Finkelbergs interpretation, at the contrary, he misread Parmenides words on
the cognition of Being as merely a doctrine about the nature of perception.128 I hope to have shown, however, that what Theophrastus found
in the text of Parmenides neither was a doctrine of sense-perception, nor
did he take it as such (in fact, he makes plain from the outset that Parmenides did not define anything on the subject): rather he took it quite

123

124
125
126

127
128

Vlastos 1946, 66; cf. 72. Similarly Frnkel 1955, 177178, imagines Parmenides, in
his moments of enlightenment, as nothing else but a being of light (nichts als ein
lichthaftes Sein), conscious only of his own being.
Vlastos 1946, 71 n. 38.
Arist. Metaph 5, 987a12; GC I 3, 318b67.
See Burnet 1930, 182, 186; Cherniss 1935, 48 n. 192; Verdenius 1949, 130 n. 61;
Frnkel 1955, 180; Untersteiner 1958, 6162; Hlscher 1968, 117; Stokes 1971,
144; Furley 1973, 6, among others. For a defense of Aristotles interpretation see,
apart from Vlastos 1946, 7374, Schmitz 1988, 45, and Sedley 1999, 124.
Finkelberg 1986, 410411.
Finkelberg 1986, 408.

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plainly as what it probably was, as a comprehensive theory of cognition in


the widest sense.
In order to see how Parmenides own knowledge of Being would fit in
with this theory, we just have to take seriously Theophrastus words, assuming that thinking grows better as Light increases, though without ever
losing a well-proportioned admixture of the dark element: a mind made of
pure Light would not be able to perceive anything but Light itself. Hence
the most faithful image of true knowledge of Being as conceived by Parmenides would not be that of Light contemplating Light, but rather of
Light penetrating down to the utmost depths of darkness, thanks to the
minimal proportion of darkness it carries within itself. This would be consistent with all we know about archaic light symbolism: as Bultmann has
shown, in archaic and classical Greece light is never conceived as the object
of direct contemplation (as it was to be later, in the Hellenistic mystery
cults and in Neoplatonic mysticism), but as the medium through which
objects in general become visible.129
As the component of Light within the mixture of the body increases,
so increases also, and above all, the scope of awareness in time, giving rise
to memory, and in space, bringing to presence what is absent (cf. B 4.1).
As Hlscher130 observed, the cognitive superiority of Light is not due to
its rather dubious kinship with Being, but to the fact that vision, the luminous sense par excellence, is distinguished from the other senses by its
ability to reach instantaneously even the most distant objects; and this
ability must be even more developed in itself, to which absent things
are immediately present.
At the beginning of his proem, Parmenides pictures himself as being
carried as far as ever the spirit reaches ( , B 1.1),
guided by the daughters of the sun, possibly sunbeams,131 and, in any case,
divinities of light and hence of velocity.132 We may surmise that this velocity is that of thought itself. It may be useful to remember that the velocity of thought is proverbial in Greek tradition: according to a saying attributed to Thales (11 A 1 DK, Vors I 71,12 = Diogenes Laertius I 35),
the quickest of all things is thought (), for it runs through everything. In Homer, Hera travels ...
(Iliad 15.8083), and the ships of the Phaeacians are fast like wings or
thoughts ( , Odyssey 7.36).
These similes may seem trivial to modern readers, accustomed to taking them as mere metaphors; but to the archaic mind they doubtlessly had

129
130
131
132

Bultmann 1948, 2123.


Hlscher 1968, 117, and 1969, 115.
Frnkel 1955, 169 n. 2; cf. Pindar, Ol 7.70.
Deichgrber 1959, 657; cf. Od 12.374.

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a much more literal meaning. The velocity of thought was conceived of as


being of the same kind of fact as that of physical bodies: so the author of
the Pseudo-Aristotelian treatise On Indivisible Lines (969a30b2) still feels
the need to explain to his readers that the difference between the movement of thought and that of material bodies consists in something more
than greater velocity; and still for Epicurus the unsurpassable speed of
atoms is, quite literally, that of thought ( , Ep 48 and 61).
Nevertheless, Epicurus takes pains to point out that even an atom, however fast it moves, cannot actually arrive at more than one place at the
same time (Ep 47); hence any velocity, even that of light, is necessarily
finite. Parmenides, as it seems, was bold enough not to resign himself to
this sort of limitation: on his view, the movement of the enlightened
travelling along the Way of Truth, grasping at once the totality of what-is,
implies the suppression of any distance in space and time. Absent things
become present to the mind (B 4.1); what-is never was nor will be, since
it is now all together, one and continuous (B 8.56). Such formulations
may become more plausible to us if we recognize them as a first attempt
to express the universality of logical truth, for which determinations of
time and space are indeed irrelevant. In a situation in which logical abstraction had not yet detached itself as a distinct object of thought from
the physical world, this discovery of the universal scope of abstract reasoning must have seemed to require some kind of explanation in terms of
material processes; and the seemingly unlimited velocity of light would
have offered the most coherent available answer to this question.
Thus the physiology of knowledge of B 16 would become coherent
with Parmenides own claim to a superior knowledge of truth founded on
logical reasoning. This account may also resolve a further problem some
interpreters have seen in the use of and in the fragments. Several
passages of the first part of the poem (B 3; B 6.1; B 8.8; B 8.3436) seem
clearly to imply that and are necessarily connected with what-is
and therefore with truth; but at B 6.6 Parmenides speaks of the
of mortals who know nothing (B 6.4), and also the of B 16,
dependent on the mixture of the wandering members, seems to be that
of ordinary mortals, which would imply that can be in error.133 The
essentially correct answer to this problem has already been given by Mourelatos: although and its derivatives are primarily achievement words,
on occasion they may bear a sense of task or failure134 (just as in English,
even though to understand something normally means to have got it
right, nonetheless we may speak of someones wrong or deficient understanding of something).
133
134

Von Fritz 1945, 237.


Mourelatos 1970, 175.

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This becomes even clearer if we take into account that for Parmenides
is, as anything else in the physical world, a question of degree. Even
the wandering thoughts of ordinary mortals refer, albeit confusedly, to
what-is,135 since there actually is nothing else they could refer to. Since
what the nature of their members thinks is the same as each and every
thing (B 16.24), it may be said of them too that is the same as
(B 3). But varies in degree, according to the mixture of the elements in the body. In ordinary men, the range of does not reach very
far beyond what they perceive by their senses, or even less: since blind
subservience to established convention and routine has made their eyes
unseeing (, B 7.4; cf. , B 6.7), we might infer
that their level of comprehension of reality is even below that of ordinary
sense-perception. At any rate, their is limited and partial; they cannot apprehend what-is qua what-is, but only those aspects of reality which
are in exact correspondence to the mixture of elements in their bodies at
each moment.136 Only the of the man who knows (or perhaps
rather that of the divinities of Light to whom he owes his knowledge), in
whose members Light prevails over Night to a far stronger degree than in
ordinary mortals, is able to understand what-is qua what-is: his thought
moves at the velocity of Light itself, beyond the limits of space and time
which sensation and knowledge are normally subject to, and hence can
grasp instantaneously the totality of what-is.
There is still a possible objection to this account: the of ordinary
mortals may be a question of degree, but truth, as Parmenides understands
it, admits no degrees; it is a question of yes or no you either take
the right path or the wrong one (B 2) , and so is Being or what-is itself:
it either is totally () what it is or is nothing at all (B 8.11; cf. B
8.3233). But I think the paradigm of light can account for this difference
also. Light propagates in a straight line, and for a line being straight or
not is surely a yes/no question, whereas a curved line may be so in
infinitely many ways. So we may surmise that in ordinary mortals the
component of Light in their bodily mixture is constantly bent or reflected
135

136

As Mourelatos 1970, 176 n. 31, remarks, this was correctly seen by von Fritz 1945,
239: even the of the mortals cannot fail to be linked up inextricably
with the ... . But it wanders and errs in splitting the one up into many contrasting qualities, finding one here and the other there.
Therefore it is not quite exact to ascribe to Parmenides a strict identification of the
epistemic subject and object (Crystal 2002, 207), for which there are no separate
thinking subjects (Sedley 1999, 125): as Sedley himself admits, this would render
mysterious the possibility of human error. Of course it is true that for Parmenides
all thinking is what-is thinking itself (Sedley, ibid.), but there are differences of
degree, according to the mixture: this at least is patent from Theophrastus report
and from B16 (which neither Sedley nor Crystal take into account).

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in infinitely many ways by opaque matter, in which Night prevails,


whereas in true knowledge Light reaches its object directly, in a straight
line, without meeting any obstacles (this would be true indeed already for
the physical mechanism of ordinary vision, which seems to have been the
model on which Parmenides constructed his notion of intellectual knowledge).
This may seem rather speculative; but I think it fits perfectly well with
all we know about Parmenides scientific theories. Parmenides seems to
have discovered that the moon receives her light from the sun;137 so we
may assume that light must have been for him something more than a
vague poetical metaphor of knowledge or enlightenment: in order to
establish the simple fact of the solar origin of moonlight, he must have
had some insight into the physical and geometrical properties of light and
its reflection, even if on a level so elementary for us moderns that we
hardly appreciate the intellectual effort that such a discovery must have
required at an archaic stage of scientific reasoning. Now we know for certain that Parmenides, in the second part of his poem, explained all physical processes, and in particular mental and cognitive processes, in terms of
the mixture of Light and Night; so it would be quite natural to suppose
that the same thought pattern that underlies his astronomical discovery
may have played some role in his theory of cognition as well, i.e., that the
opposition of absolute knowledge of truth vs. relative knowledge of mortals might have been accounted for, in physical terms, by the distinction
of light propagating directly in a straight line vs. light reflected, in infinitely varying ways, by nightly matter. I would not venture the hypothesis
that this relation was explicit in the poem; but its mere possibility suffices
to show that Parmenides physiological theory of varying degrees of cognition is not inconsistent with his notion of an absolute knowledge of truth.

Conclusion
We have seen in the last section how Parmenides physiological theory of
cognition in general, as tentatively reconstructed here, could have accounted even for his own knowledge of truth about what-is. The main
obstacle to this line of reconstruction, I think, is that it runs counter to a
137

B 1415; cf. Plut. de Fac 16.6, 929a (B 15), and Aetius 2.26.2 (A 42 = Dox 357); for
recent discussion on this point, see Whrle 1995 and Graham 2006, 179182; for an
overall review of Parmenidean cosmology, Bredlow 2010b. The possible influence of
this discovery on other aspects of Parmenides thought has hardly been taken into
consideration, except by Popper 1998, essays 36, whose interpretations seem to me,
on the whole, rather difficult to accept; but the question would surely deserve further
exploration.

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long-standing tradition of interpretation: a tradition which has understood


Parmenides fundamental opposition of Truth and Opinion in terms of (A)
a dualism of ontological domains (the intelligible vs. the sensible world,
in a broadly Platonic sense), or at least (B) a dualism of cognitive faculties
(reason vs. the senses). Evidently, (A) implies or supposes (B), but not
inversely. Ancient interpreters in the Platonic tradition, from Plutarch to
Simplicius, attributed to Parmenides both (A) and (B); others, like Sextus
Empiricus, accepted at least (B). Most modern scholars have been rather
skeptical about (A), but some version or other of (B) seems still to be lingering on in the minds of many modern interpreters of Parmenides.
But, as I have tried to show (in section 2, at the end), this dualism of
faculties cannot be found in the crucial passage of the poem where it has
been believed to be stated (B 7.36): after all, the basic dichotomy for
Parmenides is not between reason and the senses, but between logical
argument and established belief (the opinions of mortals). Moreover,
both Aristotle and Theophrastus explicitly and, as I hope to have shown
(sections 23), consistently denied for Parmenides both (A) and (B); and,
as it seems, they were right, at least as to the essential point: Parmenides
indeed took perception and understanding to be the same thing, insofar
as he explained all cognitive functions (thought, sensation, memory, etc.)
as manifestations of one and the same physical phenomenon, the mixture
of the elements Light and Night. This is at least what Theophrastus says,
and his testimony is quite credible if we take it literally enough: what
Theophrastus attributes to Parmenides is not a theory of sense-perception,
but a general theory of cognition (), although the short passage he
quotes literally (B 16) refers only to (i.e., the higher mental functions of reasoning, memory, imagination, etc.); for the rest of it we have
to rely on Theophrastus paraphrase. I have tried to show (section 3) that
this theory can be indeed quite coherently reconstructed on the lines of
Theophrastus report, which, if attentively read, not only turns out to not
conflict with the textual evidence of Parmenides verses, but can even give
us a clue for a better understanding of the literal fragment B 16 itself.
Nonetheless, the tentative reconstruction I propose cannot excuse
Theophrastus from some minor misunderstanding concerning the exact
sense of (or whatever might have been its equivalent in the
text of the poem); but at any rate, it burdens Theophrastus and Aristotle with a far lower degree of misunderstanding than any other interpretation I have met with so far.

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