This is Fragment 16 of Parmenides's poem in full:

In fact as each man governs a mixture of organs subject to errors,
so a mind governs men; in fact the same
thinking thing in men, both in all and in each,
is the structural substance of the organs, whose main part is the thought.


2 Answers 2


Here is a less crude translation of this fragment, commonly referred to as B16:

"As each man has a union of the much wandering limbs of the body,
so is mind present to men.
For it is the same thing which the constitution of the limbs (mind) thinks,
both in each and every man.

The translation is quoted from Parmenides' Way of Truth and B16 by Hershbell, who references and critically discusses various interpretations of the fragment. They are controversial, even to the point that there is no agreement whether it belongs to the Way of Truth, where Parmenides describes his views on what is, or to the Way of Opinion, where he describes what he considers common beliefs. The traditional interpretation, which goes back to Aristotle's Metaphysics and Theophrastes's De Sensibus, is that the fragment identifies thinking and perceiving:

"Having initially placed Parmenides with those thinkers who believe that sense perception involves the principle of likeness, Theophrastus proceeds in sections 3-4 to comment specifically on Parmenides' views and quotes B16. Although it is not explicitly acknowledged to be part of the Way of Opinion, Theophrastus' commentary, which describes the dependence of the understanding on "hot" and "cold" strongly suggests that the fragment came from the second part of the poem. For "hot" and "cold" seem to be nothing but peripatetic interpretations of light and night that figure so predominantly in the Way of Opinion... So in De Sensibus Theophrastes asserts that thinking and perceiving were considered identical by Parmenides."

Another interpretation in the spirit of Opinion is that Parmenides describes a common Greek belief (shared later by Aristotle) that soul permeates the entirety of the body, but the mind is its seat, and thinking is its main function. However, Hershbell describes many problems with the peripathetic reading of the fragment, however. These include his insertion of "hot" and "cold", and Theophrastus' own hesitation concerning its placement in the poem. Hershbell's interpretation is to place the fragment into the Way of Truth, and link it to the Parmenides's central axiom that the being is one and the same for all, only the being can be thought, and the non-being can not be. There is no dualism of mind and body in Parmenides, or variation across men, both mind and body exist or not, think or not, both think the same thing, the same in all men, the Being:

"B16, then seems to affirm that each man has a coordinated body which is formed or "mixed" of much wandering limbs. And just as every man has a unified body, so mind is present to men... It would seem that lines 3-4 further explain the relationship between mind and body suggested in 1-2: the krasis of the body which is similar in all men is dependent on the presence of mind. Mind is phusis meleon precisely in the sense that it enables the limbs to work together so that there can be a living, functioning body at all. And this mind which controls the body also thinks the "same thing" in all men...

What is the "same thing" which the constitution or mind of all men thinks? The obvious answer is that which is or Being. All men, no matter how conceptually confused, think Being: ''for you cannot recognize that which is not (that is impossible) nor could you express it," B2, 78. Likewise, the path of nonexistence is "unthinkable and unnamable, for it is not a genuine way," B8, 1718. This is the Parmenidean axiom, and any attempt to interpret B16 must consider this axiom.

Being is not the antithesis of Becoming, but of non-Being. The human body either exists or it does not exist, and for Parmenides there are no degrees of reality. Accordingly, body exists as much as mind. It either exists or it doesn't exist. Why cannot this mind, despite its bodily associations, think that which is? Parmenides' mind could and did even though it required divine aid.

In its entirety, B16 affirms a connection between mind and body, and a close relationship between mind and Being... Moreover, if it is read without peripatetic presuppositions as to what is or is not implied in it, there are no convincing reasons for considering B16 part of a doctrine of sense perception or theory of knowledge. It simply follows from the initial axioms of Parmenides' goddess, and affirms her conviction that non-Being cannot be thought or expressed. All men, even those who try to follow the backward turning path of Being and non-Being, think the same thing, viz., that which is."

  • Parmenides "spirit of opinion", is inherently contradictory in nature as it by fault of the one and is inherent in the one, thus represents a variation of one through many which is reflected in Platonic thought. Plato is an extension of Parmenides school through Socrates. The "degrees of reality" must effectively be the reasonings of men as "opinion" where opinion is a variation of the one through through many thoughts with thought forming all. "all is mind" is presented in Platonic and Pyrhonist Buddhist literature, with both observing the problem of language that relates to the poem above
    – Eodnhoj7
    Sep 1, 2019 at 16:03
  • editing the comment to fit your answer...really?
    – Eodnhoj7
    Sep 1, 2019 at 23:08

-The question cannot be answered correctly with providing an interpretation that effectively is always an extension of the one. Thus each interpretation is a variation of the one.

-You will have to meditate and figure it out for yourself. However a few clues can be observed. No academic source can accurately clear this statement.

-You will not observe an accurate interpretation as Plato himself claims that Philosophy cannot be limited to written language without doing harm (c).

I bring these three points up because one must look at it through the premise of Parmenides himself and Plato, considering he was heavily inspired by Parmenides,at minimum, through Socrates.

If you look at the reasoning of Parmenides it is fundamentally circular:

Mind --> ((((Man --> Organs) --> Man) --> Mind) --> Organs) --> Mind)

Which represents each proposition as a fractal of the 1 mind, but the one mind itself existing through the many degrees. Each relation, as circular, observes the mind as circular and self reflective. It is circular reasoning within circular reasoning, a fallacy by any modern standard.

However This correlates with Platonic forms precisely because it is the underlying form of the argument. Forms as variations of the one can be seen in Platos premises as Plato was inspired by Parmenides (D). Thus understanding Platos premise may help in understand Parmenides statement.

This reflects further with the universal "form" of circularity in reasoning observed by agrippa the pyrhonists trillema (f).

Agrippa was a pyrhonist, with the pyrhonist dogma claiming all is fundamentally image (g). This philosophy was thought to be inspired by interactions with buddhism during Alexander the Greats exploits (g).

The circle was a symbol for enlightenment or nirvana in some sects of buddhism, specifically "zen". It is called the "enso"(h)

The enso was a result of a practice in calligraphy meant to occur naturally when the mind was set "free". This is interesting because it reflects an inherent intuitive base for the forms which Plato also argues for, agrippas trillema, and the inherent "circle within circle" way parmenides presented the poem.

Thus a link between pyrhonist "image", platonic form, and buddhism can be implied where the perfection of the circle can be used as a symbol for the "one" of parmenides.

This is implied however.

The circle can be observed as the most perfect of forms, thus why parmenides poem "may" follow such a framework. This perfection is describe in Platos seventh letter (c) as well as his theory of forms (d).

However if looking at the circularity of the way the poem is written: the statement is absurd, precisely because of the damage words do in philosophy as stated in the beginning (as Plato point out).

The statement is meant to be absurd precisely because each word is a variation of the one and can be connected in any way. Of using parmenides stance. We can see this if strictly taking parmenides basic assumption of all is 1. The pythagoreans viewed one as both odd and even, thus not really describable (e).

However considering the above implications presented, the reason I say it is "meant" to be absurd is that it takes on a form of reasoning similar to a zen koan.(i)

Zen koans where meant to break false reasoning, cause the student to think, and to observe the failing of words to describe reality...much like Platos statement about writing and the trillema of agrippa observe.

This may sound like a play on words, but it is inherent within his philosophy. (A) Thus the question can be answered a variety of ways without contradiction, however this leads to obscurity when taken out of context as each interpretation is a point of view that is self reflectory as an extension of the one which exists through itself alone (k)

The truth is that noone really know what parmenides meant without making an assumption. Plato and many other philosophers are just as confused as you/we are. (B)

Reality, much like the platonic forms, begging portion of agrippas trillema and zen literature...must be assumed as is...thus the poem is strictly an assumption that reflects what the observer sees from there angle of awareness.

This answer is food for thought more than anything.

(A) Encylopedia Britannica.Com, Parmenides

(B) Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy, Parmenides, 3rd paragraph.

(C) Seventh Letter, Wiki, "Long Digression on Forms" 341b-345c

(D) theory of forms, wiki

(E) Manly P Hall, "Secret Teachings of All Ages" Section on Pytjagoras and Numbers, sacred texts archive

(f) agrippas trillema wiki

(g) pyhronism, wiki

(H) enso, wiki

(I) zen koan, wiki

(K) the book of 24 philosophers, google

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