Mark Vernon: The puzzle of Parmenides


Mark Vernon on the controversy about the roots of ancient philosphy:

(Parmenides’ writing is thought to represent the earliest evidence of the development of classical greek philosophy.)

“Parmenides was an Iatromantis, a healer-prophet, who practiced the art of incubation, that is physical and mental stillness in order to be initiated into the undivided stillness of all reality. His poem, that is taken by Osborne and most others to be the first systematic proof of Western culture, is actually what it says it is: an oracular account of a journey to the underworld where Persephone, its queen, revealed the path of being to him.

So Parmenides has been brutally distorted. Logic, for him, was not merely an intellectual exercise; it is that realisation which is so powerful it shocks you out of the world of normal appearance to reality as it is. As to reason, well Parmenides didn’t really have the concept at all: logoi for him meant words. So when he is said to have written ‘Judge by reason’, as if theory were superior to science, he didn’t at all: rather the phrase should mean ‘Accept my words’ – that is the goddesses’ path.

Who is right? Kingsley thinks the stakes could hardly be higher. According to him, the West, after Plato and Aristotle, took a mightly wrong turn, reinterpreting and in some cases rewriting the words of Parmenides to avoid the shattering implications of his teaching. They did the same to Socrates for that matter, who also practiced stillness, was also thought to mediate between human beings and the gods, and developed the elenchus not to test opinions as if that were an end in itself, but in order to disorientate interlocutors, lead them to ‘pathlessness’ – a better translation of aporia – that they too might be break through into ‘all there is’. It’s all there in the so-called mysteries of the Symposium, and the speech of Alcidiades (so Plato cannot have been all bad).”

Why post this in Easter Week? Because it seems to me that anyone who tries to explain the mechanism of resurrection (via logic and/or the human experience of reality) is unavoidably going to miss the meaning. Bishop Kirk Smith, in his Easter Sermon at the Cathedral, pointed out that when we try to define the details of the Resurrection, we are necessarily going to fail. What really should happen rather is that we are defined by the Resurrection…

Being still and opening ourselves to God and the unique revelation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth sounds very similar to what Kingsley claims Parmenides was arguing for.

Read the rest here: The puzzle of Parmenides – – Philosophy and Life Blog – incorporating the philosophy of friendship blog

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Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...