JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

3. The Eleatics.

1. The Eleatics resembled the Pythagoreans in this, that they applied themselves to investigating the being, or essence of things rather than their origin. They differed from the Pythagoreans in abandoning mathematical formulae, and conducting their speculations on lines more strictly metaphysical. They made no attempt to explain the being of things by speculations on their origin, they left the beginning of things completely out of sight, and by this method arrived at a theory of inert abstract Monism. The Ionians had fixed their thought exclusively upon the origin of things, and this exclusiveness had led them to denying, unchanging being; the Eleatics, on the other hand, gave such prominence to the enduring, unchanging being of things, that a beginning of things came to appear to them impossible, a view which they distinctly asserted, at least as a speculative truth.

2. To understand aright the Monism of the Eleatics, we must, however, remark that the representatives of that philosophy, while asserting as a speculative principle the oneness of all things, added to this a physical theory which was at variance with the metaphysical principle, and which explained the origin of things from a certain primary matter. While the metaphysical speculation of the Eleatics denied a beginning of things their physical theories re-asserted it and sought to explain it. This inconsistency the Eleatics endeavoured to justify by maintaining that physical science is concerned only with the world of appearances, that its task is to explain things as they appear, and so far as they appear in the world of phenomena. Pure speculation, on the other hand, is concerned with real being which lies behind these appearances; it takes no heed of mere phenomena, and may thus deny a beginning of things, since this belongs to the world of appearances, not to the sphere of real being. It is not necessary to point out that the inconsistency cannot be got rid of in this way.

3. The leading representatives of Eleatie Monism are Xenophanes, who formed the doctrines of the school into a theological system; Parmenides, by whom they are expounded in metaphysical form as a theory of being; Zeno, whose exposition is chiefly dialectic -- a defence of the teaching of the school against the vulgar belief in the plurality of things, and in their origin and dissolution; and Melissus, who in his teaching approached again to the views of the early Philosophers of Nature.

Xenophanes of Colophon.

§ 18.

1. Xenophanes was born at Colophon in Asia Minor about B.C. 569. As a wandering rhapsodist he visited many of the Hellenic cities, but finally settled at Elea in Lower Italy, where he founded the Eleatic School. Fragments of his poetical compositions have come down to us, but hardly anything of his philosophical writings has been preserved. What remains of his works has been collected and edited by Fulleborn (Fragmente aus den Gedichten des Xenophanes, und Parmenides, in den Beiträgen zur Gesch. der Phil., Stücke 6 and 7, Jena, 1795), by Karsten (Philosophorum Graceorum Veterum operum reliquiae, vol. I, 1. Xenophanis Colophonii Carminum reliquim, Amsterd. 1835), and by Mullach (Arist. de Melisso, Xenoph. et Gorgia disputationes cum Eleaticorum philos. fragmentis, Berol. 1845.) The principal philosophical didactic poem of Xenophanes bears the title peri phuseôs.

2. Starting with the principle that "nothing comes from nothing," Xenophanes arrives at the conclusion that things cannot begin to be, for if we suppose a thing to come into existence we must suppose it to come either from nothing or from something else. It cannot come from nothing; ex nihilo nihil; it must therefore come from something else. But if it comes from something else there is no need why it should begin to be since it already existed. An origin of things is therefore unnecessary and inadmissible. It is wholly unthinkable. There is Being, but no Becoming.

3. The plurality of things depends upon a beginning of things. If there is no beginning there are no different things which begin to be. It follows, since existences do not begin, that no plurality of things exists. As there is a Being of things, but no origin of things, so there is but one Being of things, not a multiplicity. Hence the dictum of Xenophanes "All is One, One is All." This universal One is in itself undivided and indivisible, eternal and unchangeable, like to itself throughout, as a globe.

4. This One Being Xenophanes describes as rational, and names God. God is the One Only Being, existing tranquilly in himself, always like himself, excluding all new existence, multiplicity and change, perfect in himself; he is hearing, sight, thought, all eye, all ear, all intellect. On the strength of this theory Xenophanes assails Polytheism, as well as the anthropomophic and anthropopathic conceptions of the deity adopted by Homer and Hesiod, and maintains the doctrine of one all-ruling God.

5. In the science of Physics, Xenophanes advocates empirical knowledge, which, however, he holds to be merely opinion, and to be unworthy of entire confidence. He believes Water and Earth to be the primary elements from which corporeal things have been evolved by a purely natural process. The principal of life in living things is a breath of ethereal fire. The Earth extends downwards and the Air upwards without limit. The stars are fiery clouds. The sea at one time covered what is at present the dry land. This is proved by the petrified remains of marine animals found on high mountains. We must, therefore, admit alternating conditions of mixture and separation between Earth and Water.

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