Chapter 1

Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides Icon

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Cephalus, Adeimantus, Glaucon, Antiphon, Pythodorus, Socrates, Zeno, Parmenides, Aristoteles.

Cephalus rehearses a dialogue which is supposed to have been narrated in his presence by Antiphon, the half-brother of Adeimantus and Glaucon, to certain Clazomenians.

We had come from our home at Clazomenae to Athens, and met Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Agora.

Adeimantus Welcome, Cephalus. is there anything which we can do for you in Athens?
Cephalus Can you tell me the name of your half brother, which I have forgotten. He was a child when I last came from Clazomenae. His father’s name was Pyrilampes, right?
Adeimantus Yes. The name of our brother is Antiphon
Cephalus Some philosopher countrymen of mine have heard that Antiphon was intimate with a certain Pythodorus, a friend of Zeno. Antiphon remembers a conversation between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides many years ago which Pythodorus often recited it to him.
Adeimantus When he was a youth, he carefully studied the piece. Like his grandfather, Antiphon is devoted to horses. But, if that is what you want, let’s look for him. He dwells at Melita, which is quite near.

We saw Antiphon and asked him to repeat the dialogue. At first he was not very willing, and complained of the trouble, but at length he consented.


He told us that Pythodorus described Parmenides and Zeno when they came to Athens at the great Panathenaea.

Parmenides was then about 65 years old, very white with age, but well favoured.

Zeno was nearly 40 years of age, tall and fair. In his youth, he was reported to have been beloved by Parmenides. He said that they lived with Pythodorus in the Ceramicus, outside the wall.

Socrates, then was a very young man. He came to see them, and many others with him. They wanted to hear the writings of Zeno, which had been brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of their visit.

These Zeno himself read to them in the absence of Parmenides. He had very nearly finished when Pythodorus entered with Parmenides and Aristoteles.


What do you mean, Zeno?

Do you maintain that if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and that this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like?

And if the unlike cannot be like, or the like unlike, then according to you, being could not be many; for this would involve an impossibility.

In all that you say have you any other purpose except to disprove the being of the many? and is not each division of your treatise intended to furnish a separate proof of this, there being in all as many proofs of the not-being of the many as you have composed arguments?

Zeno No, you have correctly understood my general purpose.

I see, Parmenides, that Zeno would like to be not only one with you in friendship but your second self in his writings too;

he puts what you say in another way, and would fain make believe that he is telling us something which is new.

For you, in your poems, say The All is one, and of this you adduce excellent proofs. He on the other hand says There is no many; and on behalf of this he offers overwhelming evidence.

You affirm unity, he denies plurality.

And so you deceive the world into believing that you are saying different things when really you are saying much the same. This is a strain of art beyond the reach of most of us.


Yes, Socrates, said Zeno.

You are as keen as a Spartan hound in pursuing the track. But you do not fully apprehend the true motive of the composition, which is not really such an artificial work as you imagine.

For what you speak of was an accident; there was no pretence of a great purpose; nor any serious intention of deceiving the world.

The truth is, that these writings of mine were meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides against those who make fun of him and seek to show the many ridiculous and contradictory results which they suppose to follow from the affirmation of the one.

My answer is addressed to the partisans of the many, whose attack I return with interest by retorting upon them that their hypothesis of the being of many, if carried out, appears to be still more ridiculous than the hypothesis of the being of one. Zeal for my master led me to write the book in the days of my youth, but some one stole the copy; and therefore I had no choice whether it should be published or not; the motive, however, of writing, was not the ambition of an elder man, but the pugnacity of a young one. This you do not seem to see, Socrates; though in other respects, as I was saying, your notion is a very just one.


I understand.

But tell me, Zeno, do you not further think that there is an idea of likeness in itself, and another idea of unlikeness, which is the opposite of likeness, and that in these two, you and I and all other things to which we apply the term many, participate—things which participate in likeness become in that degree and manner like; and so far as they participate in unlikeness become in that degree unlike, or both like and unlike in the degree in which they participate in both?

And may not all things partake of both opposites, and be both like and unlike, by reason of this participation?—Where is the wonder?

Now if a person could prove the absolute like to become unlike, or the absolute unlike to become like, that, in my opinion, would indeed be a wonder; but there is nothing extraordinary, Zeno, in showing that the things which only partake of likeness and unlikeness experience both.

Nor, again, if a person were to show that all is one by partaking of one, and at the same time many by partaking of many, would that be very astonishing. But if he were to show me that the absolute one was many, or the absolute many one, I should be truly amazed. And so of all the rest= I should be surprised to hear that the natures or ideas themselves had these opposite qualities; but not if a person wanted to prove of me that I was many and also one. When he wanted to show that I was many he would say that I have a right and a left side, and a front and a back, and an upper and a lower half, for I cannot deny that I partake of multitude; when, on the other hand, he wants to prove that I am one, he will say, that we who are here assembled are seven, and that I am one and partake of the one. In both instances he proves his case. So again, if a person shows that such things as wood, stones, and the like, being many are also one, we admit that he shows the coexistence of the one and many, but he does not show that the many are one or the one many; he is uttering not a paradox but a truism. If however, as I just now suggested, some one were to abstract simple notions of like, unlike, one, many, rest, motion, and similar ideas, and then to show that these admit of admixture and separation in themselves, I should be very much astonished. This part of the argument appears to be treated by you, Zeno, in a very spirited manner; but, as I was saying, I should be far more amazed if any one found in the ideas themselves which are apprehended by reason, the same puzzle and entanglement which you have shown to exist in visible objects.

While Socrates was speaking, Pythodorus thought that Parmenides and Zeno were not pleased at the successive steps of the argument. ; but still they gave the closest attention, and often looked at one another, and smiled as if in admiration of him. When he had finished, Parmenides expressed their feelings in the following words:—


Socrates, I admire the bent of your mind towards philosophy. Was this your own distinction between ideas in themselves and the things which partake of them?

Do you think that there is an idea of likeness apart from the likeness which we possess, and of the one and many, and of the other things which Zeno mentioned?

Socrates I think that there are such ideas, said Socrates.
Parmenides You would also make absolute ideas of the just and the beautiful and the good, and of all that class. And would you make an idea of man apart from us and from all other human creatures, or of fire and water?
Socrates I am often undecided as to whether I should include them or not.
Parmenides And would you feel equally undecided, Socrates, about things of which the mention may provoke a smile?—I mean such things as hair, mud, dirt, or anything else which is vile and paltry; would you suppose that each of these has an idea distinct from the actual objects with which we come into contact, or not?
Socrates Certainly not. Visible things like these are such as they appear to us, and I am afraid that there would be an absurdity in assuming any idea of them, although I sometimes get disturbed, and begin to think that there is nothing without an idea; but then again, when I have taken up this position, I run away, because I am afraid that I may fall into a bottomless pit of nonsense, and perish; and so I return to the ideas of which I was just now speaking, and occupy myself with them.

Yes, Socrates. That is because you are still young.

The time will come when philosophy will have a firmer grasp of you, and then you will not despise even the meanest things. At your age, you are too much disposed to regard the opinions of men.

You mean that there are certain ideas which are commmon to all ideas, and from which they derive their names. For example, similars become similar because they have similarity. Great things become great, because they have greatness. Just and beautiful things become just and beautiful, because they have justice and beauty.

If follows that each individual has either of the whole of the idea or else of a part of the idea. There cannot be any other mode of participation.

To you, the whole idea is one, and yet, being one, is in each one of the many.

But this cannot be, because one and the same thing will exist as a whole at the same time in many separate individuals, and will therefore be in a state of separation from itself.

Socrates No, the idea may be like the day which is one and the same in many places at once, and yet continuous with itself. In this way, each idea may be one and the same in all at the same time.

I like your way of making one in many places at once. It means if I were to spread out a sail and cover a number of men, there would be one whole including many.

The whole sail includes a part of each man only, and different parts different men.

Then, Socrates, the ideas themselves will be divisible. Things which participate in them will have a part of them only and not the whole idea existing in each of them.

Then it means that the one idea is really divisible and yet remains one?

Socrates Certainly not

Suppose that you divide absolute greatness, and that of the many great things, each one is great in virtue of a portion of greatness less than absolute greatness. But this is not conceivable.

Each equal thing, if possessing some small portion of equality less than absolute equality, cannot be equal to some other thing by virtue of that portion only.

So how will all things have ideas, if they are unable to have in them either as parts or wholes?

You see a number of great objects, and when you look at them there seems to you to be one and the same idea (or nature) in them all; hence you conceive of greatness as one.

And if you go on and allow your mind to embrace in one view the idea of greatness and of great things which are not the idea, and to compare them, will not another greatness arise, which will appear to be the source of all these

Then another idea of greatness now comes into view over and above absolute greatness, and the individuals which partake of it; and then another, over and above all these, by virtue of which they will all be great, and so each idea instead of being one will be infinitely multiplied.

Socrates But the ideas are thoughts only. They have no proper existence except in our minds. In that case, each idea may still be one, and not experience this infinite multiplication.

Thoughts must always have an idea.

That idea must be of a single something. That something is attached by the thought to all, being a single form or nature.

If everything else participates in the ideas, then everything is either made up of thoughts, and that all things think; or that they are a thought that has no thought.

Socrates The ideas are patterns fixed in nature. Other things are like them, and resemblances of them. The participation of other things in the ideas is really assimilation to them.

But if the thought is like the idea then the idea also be like the thought in so far as the thought resembles the idea. That which is like, cannot be conceived of as other than the like of like.

And when two things are alike, they must partake of the same idea.

And will that of which the two partake, and which makes them alike, be the idea itself.

Then the idea cannot be like the thought, or the thought like the idea; for if they are alike, some further idea of likeness will always be coming to light, and if that be like anything else, another.

New ideas will be always arising, if the idea resembles that which partakes of it.

The theory, then, that other things participate in the ideas by resemblance, has to be given up, and some other mode of participation devised.

Thus, it is very difficult to affirm ideas to be absolute.

The greatest difficulty is:—If an opponent argues that these ideas must remain unknown, no one can prove to him that he is wrong, unless he who denies their existence be a man of great ability and knowledge, and is willing to follow a long and laborious demonstration.

He will remain unconvinced, and still insist that they cannot be known.

You, or any one who maintains the existence of absolute essences, will admit that they cannot exist in us.

Socrates Correct, for then they would be no longer absolute.

Therefore, when ideas are what they are in relation to one another, their essence is determined by a relation among themselves. It has nothing to do with the resemblances, or whatever they are called from our viewpoint or sphere.

The things which are within our sphere and have the same names with them, are likewise only relative to one another, and not to the ideas which have the same names with them, but belong to themselves and not to them.

A master has a slave. There is nothing absolute in the relation between them, which is simply a relation of one man to another.

But there is also an idea of mastership in the abstract, which is relative to the idea of slavery in the abstract.

These natures have nothing to do with us, nor we with them; they are concerned with themselves only, and we with ourselves.


Absolute knowledge answers to absolute truth.

Each kind of absolute knowledge will answer to each kind of absolute being.

But the knowledge which we have, will answer to the truth which we have. Each kind of knowledge which we have, will be a knowledge of each kind of being which we have.

But the ideas themselves, as you admit, we have not, and cannot have.

And the absolute natures or kinds are known severally by the absolute idea of knowledge.

And we have not got the idea of knowledge.

Then none of the ideas are known to us, because we have no share in absolute knowledge.

Then the nature of the beautiful in itself, and of the good in itself, and all other ideas which we suppose to exist absolutely, are unknown to us.

A stranger consequence is= Is absolute knowledge a far more exact knowledge than our knowledge; and the same of beauty and of the rest?

Socrates Yes.

If there was participation in absolute knowledge, no one is more likely than God to have this most exact knowledge.

But then, will God, having absolute knowledge, have a knowledge of human things?

We said that the ideas are not valid in relation to human things; nor human things in relation to them. The relations of either are limited to their respective spheres.

If God has this perfect authority and perfect knowledge, then his authority cannot rule us, nor his knowledge know us, or any human thing. This is the same as our authority not extending to the gods, nor our knowledge know anything which is divine.

Thus, they being gods are not our masters, neither do they know the things of men.

Parmenides Yet, surely to deprive God of knowledge is monstrous.


No comments yet. Post a comment in the form at the bottom.

Latest Articles

The Age of the Universe
The Age of the Universe
Material Superphysics
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
Alternative to General Relativity
Alternative to General Relativity
Material Superphysics
How to Fix Russia and Ukraine
How to Fix Russia and Ukraine

Latest Simplifications

Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
The Analects by Confucius
The Analects by Confucius
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad

All Superphysics principles in our books

The Simplified Series

Developing a new science and the systems that use that science isn't easy. Please help Superphysics develop its theories and systems faster by donating via GCash