Some PreSocratic Philosophers

Sandra LaFave

Pre-Socratic metaphysics tries to give an account of being and time.

  • What does it mean to be?
  • What is the effect of time on being?
  • Do being and time cancel each other out?
  • Are there multiple beings or only one Being?


Parmenides (c. 515-450 BC)

There is only Being.

If something is, it can't not be. For example, if you ARE a human, you can't not be a human (no problem there). Furthermore (more weird), if you ARE a freshman, you can't not be a freshman. You can't BECOME anything else, e.g., a sophomore. Becoming implies change through time, but for Parmenides, being trumps time, since you can't not be what you already are.

Thus, time and change are illusions; Being cancels out time.

Furthermore, there is only one Being: if anything is something, it is everything.

(Everything is something and not anything else. Not anything else, including not not anything else, i.e., the same as everything else. Whatever you are, you are everything.)

Thus there are no individual beings; there is only Being.


Heraclitus (c. 540-480 BC)

There is only Change.

If anything is in time, it is not. For example, in Heraclitus' famous phrase, you can't step in the same river twice, since the river is always changing. The water you stepped in here at 2:00 is different from the water you stepped inhere at 1:59. So as long as things change, their being is never fixed. Nothing IS anything, because by the time you say what it is, it's turned into something else. Time cancels out Being.

But everything is in time. So since everything is in time, nothing is.

There isn't even "snapshot" being, since time is infinitely divisible. There are only infinitesmals (infinitely many beings).


Pythogoras (c. 570-495 BC)

Everything is numbers.

Real knowledge is unchanging. Since everything in the world of the senses is always changing, the sensory world provides no knowledge.

However, the universe embodies regularities that can be quantified (described by math).

If you knew all the laws of nature and had all the mathematical tools describing those laws, you could know everything there is to know, without using the senses at all.




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