Alexander Mourelatos’s book The Route of Parmenides does not require any special introduction since it has become a classic in Parmenides studies. Now, thanks to “Parmenides Publishing”, we have both a new reprint of this remarkable book and an opportunity to look at it from new angles.
The Route, being already part of philosophical history, has a history of its own. This explains its structure with a new preface and afterword written for this edition and its overall composition. The book has three parts with nine chapters, four appendixes and detailed explanatory notes. The first part is a new edition of The Route originally published in 1970. As Mourelatos explains, “the revisions … are modest: mostly corrections of misprints; altering or adjusting some misleading formulations; editing some egregiously dated phrases;… and the like” (p. xi).
The Route starts with a detailed and informative table of contents which allows easy navigation around the book. In the preface entitled Returning to Elea: Preface and Afterword to the Revised and Expanded Edition of “The Route of Parmenides” Mourelatos recounts the history of his studying the Parmenidean poem and writing The Route, starting with a critical discussion of the main ideas of his dissertation on Parmenides written in 1963. Then he recounts the problems raised in The Route and the initial feedback just after its publication (1963-1968). He also considers transformation of some of his points of view expressed in the 1970s. Finally, Mourelatos discusses the prospects of the conception stated in The Routes of 2008. It is a very intimate section of the book in which we get to know Mourelatos as a scholar and a person.
As we can see from the preface (and, to some extent, from the dedication of the book to Wilfrid Sellars, the first supervisor of Mourelatos), the combination of a strict analytical approach with classics methodology isn’t accidental in Mourelatos’s work. He was able not only to successfully integrate the methodology of classics studies and analytic philosophy which might seem incommensurable but also pass on this new approach to his followers.
The genre of review doesn’t allow mentioning all aspects and relations between the terms, concepts, and their meaning which follow from the analysis of the Greek text of the poem. Each reader has to do this work and estimate the importance of Mourelatos’s contribution to this field on their own. We are able to offer only brief remarks and a general conclusion on the content of the book.
Parmenides wrote not a philosophical treatise but a poem in hexameters. And it is evident to Mourelatos that before analyzing Parmenides as a philosopher we must put him in the contextual background of classical texts of Homer, Hesiod etc. This could give us “a key toward understanding the syntax and semantics,… the precise sense of his metaphors and images, and the wider context of his mythical allusions” (p. 1). This is the point of the first chapter “Epic Form” in which Mourelatos analyzes composition, vocabulary, and epic phraseology and points out some exact parallels with Homer ( Iliad, Odyssey and Homeric Hymns) and a number of other parallels similar to Homeric formulae. Mourelatos also points out a number of epic motifs in the poem and focuses on the The-Journey motif present both in Odyssey and in Parmenides. Parmenides’s hexameter is specifically analyzed in Appendix I.
In the second chapter “Cognitive Quest and the Route” special attention is given to fragments B2.3 and B2.5. Mourelatos thinks that, since 1960s, the interpreters of the poem have come to a consensus about this fragment on three points: 1)
Mourelatos formulates his objection analyzing different meanings of the verb
Next, Mourelatos considers the notions
Finally, the last argument for the rejection of the existential force of the verb “is” is the translation of ”
In the third chapter “The Vagueness of What-Is-Not” Mourelatos shows why “the rejection of the negative route is not a rejection of negative predication in general” (p. 75) and “it is rather a rejection of negative attributes in answer to speculative, cosmological questions” (Ibid.). Mourelatos considers “what-is-not” from the position of literary analysis (p. 75-78), logical analysis (p. 78-80) and shows that entities which can be invoked in answers to the speculative question about reality cannot be opposites because if one of them counts as
In Chapter 4 “Signposts” Mourelatos examines B8. His purpose is to show that all signs of “what-is” were included in the proof of the positive route of “Truth” and they were “programmatic announcement” and proofs for each sign. If the motion along the true route is possible only due to special marks — signposts or milestones in some sense, so what are these marks? Parmenides used in B8 two types of arguments: the indirect proof (which is the same as the reduction to absurdity) and the diagnosis of infinite regress. The first proof is “Ungenerable” (p. 96-111). The proof has three stages and seven hypotheses (p. 99). Exploring the structure of first stage, Mourelatos reconstructs and presents a detailed scheme of the whole proof. The important point which he substantiates is: “there are a number of uses of “is” which are correctly understood as tenseless”, i.e. truth contained in such is -assertions is necessary like in the assertion “seven is a prime number” (p. 103-104). If we add “was and will be” to these assertions they will become meaningless. “The domain of tenseless propositions is the domain of necessary truths, and so it includes definitions, classificatory truths, and logical entailments” (p. 104). If
In the fifth chapter “The Bounds of Reality” Mourelatos continues examining the arguments, notably the third proof “Immobile”. First of all, he pays attention to the analysis of the verb
In the sixth chapter “Persuasion and Fidelity” Mourelatos analyzes “the family of
In the seventh chapter “Mind’s Commitment to Reality” Mourelatos analyzes the most difficult fragment of Parmenides — B8.34. In the beginning of the chapter he discusses the function of
The next question of this chapter was a question of reading
The next chapter “Doxa as Acceptance” is devoted to examining the meaning of
In the next chapter “Deceptive Words” Mourelatos analyzes “amphilogy” or “equivocation”, “ambiguity” — those words used by mortals. He emphasizes that the goddess, characterizing doxa, used the same deceptive words as the mortals but put some irony into them (p. 228). The analysis of 8.53 shows that the irony was put by Parmenides into the grammatical stricture of statement. There is ambiguity in B8.60, too.
There are many illustrative tables in this chapter. First, is the extensive table “Verbal and Conceptual Contrasts between “Doxa” and “Truth”” (pp. 232-234). The phrases and words of doxa are compared to denials in truth (p. 232). Mourelatos presents the seventeen paired ideas in opposition (p. 234). Another table is “Ambiguity in the Attributes of the Contraries” (pp. 242-243) which provides analysis of the notions Light and Night with their positive and negative associations. The third table “One-Many Contrariety of the Attributes of Lights and Night” (p. 245) presents the multiple meanings of those attributes. The last table is “Similarities-with-a-Difference between “Doxa” and “Truth”” (pp. 248-249). All the passages in the left doxa column show verbal resemblance with passages from the right truth column (p. 248). And, finally, the conclusion that the poem style and the speculative use of ambiguity, paradoxes and irony reminds us of the dialogic practice of Socrates or early aporetic dialogues of Plato (p. 263) looks quite convincing.
There are four appendixes at the end of the first part. Some of them I’ve already mentioned. Appendix II seems to be very interesting because here Mourelatos examines “logically possible constructions of a bare (subjectless and predicateless)
The second part is entitled Three Supplemental Essays. This part continues and concludes the position stated in The Route. The first essay “Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the Naïve Metaphysics of Things” goes on to discuss the question about the opposites raised in Chapter Nine of The Route. Mourelatos introduces the concept Naïve Metaphysics of Things (NMT) and defines NMT as “metaphysics of opposed and cognate characters-powers, in three postulates or requirements: (a) thinghood; (b) equality of status and independence; (c) recognition of affinities and polarities” (p. 303). The author concludes that Heraclitus and Parmenides would have had distinct reactions to NMT, but they would have unmistakably recognized the NMT language-game as “paradigm of the world view of “mortals”” (p. 306).
Mourelatos discusses some texts of Hesiod and Anaximander in which the world’s view as NMT is reflected to the best advantage, although Anaximander’s text was a philosophical text. These texts are clearly contrasted with the doctrines of Heraclitus and Parmenides, but these philosophers were also in contrast to each other. Heraclitus was an anti-realist, and Parmenides was an extreme realist. “Doxa” is a perfect model of NMT” (p. 324). After Mourelatos’s arguments it is impossible to speak about Doxa without its connection with Truth, so we shouldn’t understand the negative route as mere rejection of one of the opposites. The negative route is “totally uninformative”. Mourelatos argues that from this point of view the Heraclitean logos became a very important notion and is connected to the doctrines of these two philosophers. The world, according to this conception, is not to be understood as world of things, a mixture, or thinghood, but “the world we reach through language”, “a conceptual or logos -textured world… articulated in logical space” (p. 328).
The next essay “Determinancy and Indeterminancy, Being and Non-Being in the Fragments of Parmenides” continues the theme of Chapter Two and Appendix II discussing the copulative, existential or veridical sense esti in B2. Mourelatos considered that “Parmenides’ subjectless esti in B2 is best understood as (syntactically) a bare copula, with both its subject and its predicate complement deliberately suppressed” (p. 334). He analyzes arguments justifying this construction and discusses the meaning of negative predication in Parmenides. Next, he examines a variety of
In the third essay of this part “Some Alternatives in Interpreting Parmenides” Mourelatos formulates four brief theses which, in the 1960s and 1970s, formed a consensus in interpreting Parmenides in English language scholarship. He defines the content of these theses as “Standard Interpretation” (SI) and points out that the prototype of SI was Owen’s famous article “Eleatic Question” (1960). According to Mourelatos, SI has some advantages but a weak methodology. He formulates five theses pointing out these weak positions of SI (pp. 354-355). Then Mourelatos discusses his interpretation and those points in which it differs from SI, and very briefly repeats the basic statements of The Route.
The third part includes the previously unpublished essay of Gregory Vlastos “”Names” of Being in Parmenides”. In this essay, G. Vlastos discussed B8.38-41, notably variants of reading
The book ends with detailed Indexes including references to Parmenides’s fragments, other ancient texts, Greek words previously discussed, and names.
This paperback edition is attractive-looking, is of excellent printing quality and has a nice design. I found only one misprint on p. 208.
The book is of importance for all interested in Presocratic philosophy, not only Parmenides and Heraclitus, their doctrines and notions but also for later ancient philosophy and classics as well. It can also be used by students as a great didactic manual for early Greek philosophy. The book contains a great amount of Greek etymology, accurate, original and well-founded translations, and some discussion of secondary literature. All this remains topical now in spite of almost forty years since the first edition. For those familiar with the first edition this one is also of an exceptional interest because, in addition to the main text, the reader gets extended commentary in the preface and the last two parts of book, and has an opportunity to trace both the transformations of the main theses of the book and their prospects.