Workshop in Ancient Philosophy (Thursday - Week 1, TT21)

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy

In this paper, I propose a novel reading of the sphere analogy in Parmenides’ poem (B8.42-9) in terms of what I call a ‘centred view’. In a nutshell, the centred view is a view from which change, movement, time, and difference are unintelligible, which serves to illustrate (by analogy) the key ontological features of being, established elsewhere in the Alētheia. These are being’s unchangingness and immobility, its timelessness, and its lack of distinctions.

Firstly, I briefly go over external evidence in Greek thought attesting to the usual geometrical practice of construing circles and spheres in terms of their radius and especially their centre. 

I then examine Mourelatos’ reading of the sphere analogy, arguing that its sole focus on a ball’s outer shape overlooks the importance which the centre plays in the analogy.

Having provided further reasons to favour the sphere’s centre as the focal point of the analogy, I expand on the philosophical significance of the centred view. In order to do so, I revisit two of the main views which scholars have taken on Parmenides’ claim that being is one – namely, (1) numerical monism and (2) predicational monism – and argue that, in either case, the centred view is a more compelling reading than the external view.

I then more speculatively argue that Parmenides may have been committed to (3) both predicational monism and numerical monism. On this view, the sphere analogy becomes all the more suggestive. Provided one is at the centre of the sphere, not only is it in a sense impossible to conceive of anything beyond the one sphere, but it is also impossible to say what the sphere is different from, or what it ‘is not’.

There is a complication, however. For even the centred view ultimately presupposes the existence of two things: the viewer and the thing viewed. This might seem to be a problem, particularly for the numerical monist reading. However, I will suggest that this feature of the analogy reflects a difficulty which any numerical monist interpretation of Parmenides more generally faces: that is, his arguments’ reliance on the existence of an individual thinker (the existence of which is ruled out by numerical monism). Whether or not Parmenides saw the problem is open to debate, but the fact that he resorted to an analogy – which is by definition a mere approximation – raises the interesting possibility that he was aware of the self-refuting character of his attempt to describe being (as a numerically one entity) elsewhere in the poem.

The Seminar will take place via Microsoft Teams. By clicking this link you will be redirected to a page in which you will be prompted to sign in with your Oxford SSO.

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Luca Castagnoli