In Patricia Curd's Pre-Socratic Reader, in the chapter on Parmenides, we have the following fragment from the Commentary on Aristotle's Physics by Simplicius:


It is right both to say and to think that is what-is: for it can be,

but nothing is not: these things I bid you ponder

For I [lacunae: back/begin for] you from this first route of enquiry

And then from that, on which mortals, knowing nothing,

Wander, two-headed: for helplessness in their

breasts steer their wandering mind. They are borne along

deaf and blind alike, dazed, hordes without judgement

for whom to be and not to be are thought to be the same

and not to be the same, and the path of all is backward-turning

Thus, (going from line 2, and using the word void for nothing); for Parmenides

void is not

And thus (in the monist interpretation) there is no causality and no change, but more precisely we might say that causality is not and that change is not.

After all, this coffee cup before me is, but neither is it experiencing change. So it has no change. But this is different from a non-existent coffee cup which by its very sense cannot experience change. So one might say change is not (by analogy to the expression of Parmenides); and again by analogy, that causality is not.

But he also argued that Being itself has no causality and no change.

Now, Hegel argued that Being and non-Being are equivalent, in a sense.

Now, if causality and change are not essences, we might venture that they are in a sense, essential properties.

We might venture also, if all essential properties are in common, then by analogy (if not by predicate) that they are the same; but not in the sense of identical.

Does this follow a standard interpretation of the opening of Hegel's Science of Logic where he states that:

Pure Being and Pure Nothing are therefore the same.

  • Could you please give a reference concerning "void is not". Which fragment, which verse? Thank you. – Jo Wehler Jul 12 '15 at 13:30
  • @jo wehler: I've edited the question to include references. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 13 '15 at 23:25

You raise three questions:

  1. What does Parmenides mean when stating to say and to think that is what-is: for it can be, but nothing is not (legein te noein t'eon emmenai: esti gar einai, maeden d'ouk estin, Fragment 6, verse 1f)?
  2. What does Hegel mean when stating Pure Being and Pure Nothing are therefore the same (Das reine Sein und das reine Nichts ist also dasselbe, Wissenschaft der Logik, Bd. 5, Seite 83)?
  3. How do both statements relate?

Parmenides is considered one of the most dark philosophers of the Pre-Socratics, while Hegel is considered one of the most dark German philosophers. Having said this I can only make a guess concerning the answers:

ad 1. Fr. 6 does not support replacing "Nothing" by "Void". The result would be "There is no vacuum". But the context shows that the vacuum is not the topic of Parmenides. Also Fr. 6 does not talk about causal effects of existing things.

Instead, Parmenides is reasoning either in the domain which today is named ontology or in the domain which is named logic. A much discussed interpretation of Fr. 6 and similar passages reads: Parmenides states as his basic alternative the tertium non datur: Either it is or it is not. If this statement is not taken in an ontological sense, but as a logical claim, then it expands to "Either a property holds or the property does not hold, there is no third possibility." This interpretation has been promoted by Ernst Heitsch, see his edition "Parmenides, München 1974 (in German)".

Plato lived more than 2 generations after Parmenides. The Platonic dialogue "Sophistes" contains a discussion of Parmenides' basic alternative (Soph. 241d ff). Plato sets out to show that in a certain sense - contrary to Parmenides - also non-existent things exist and existing things do not exist.

ad 2. Hegel explains that both being and nothing are indeterminable. He concludes that both are identical because they share that same negative property.

I consider his reasoning exceedingly problematic. E.g., first he nominalizes an affirmative verb and the negation itself. Secondly, he compares both with respect to a property they do not have. And thirdly he concludes, that both are identical therefore.

ad 3. I'm not able to compare two statements which both are unclear.

  • Just to be clear I wasn't attempting to say that Parmenides was theorising about the vacuum - in the way we think about in physical theory; which is what is left when we remove all matter; I was using 'void' to translate the Parmenidian 'nothing'; since for me it has connotations of 'lack' that nothing doesn't; do you know which Greek word is referred to by 'nothing' in the fragment? Thxs. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 16 '15 at 8:48
  • The Greek word translated as "nothing" is "maeden". It is composed from the negation "maede = not even" and the number "hen = one". The Greek word for "void" in a cosmological context would be "chaos". – Jo Wehler Jul 16 '15 at 9:38
  • 'Not even' sounds almost Pythagorean in their distinction between even and odd; I read somewhere, which might not be reliable, that the Parmenidian nothing/void also means 'not one'; is this cosmological 'chaos' the one referred to in Hesiod? – Mozibur Ullah Jul 17 '15 at 10:42
  • Yes, "chaos" is the same term as used by Hesiod for the primordial void. No, the term "even" is not meant in the sense of number theory but in the combination "nothing = not even one thing". – Jo Wehler Jul 17 '15 at 11:04

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