Néstor-Luis Cordero, editor.
Parmenides, Venerable and Awesome: Proceedings of the International Symposium
Las Vegas: Parmenides Press, 2012.
Pp. 434. Paper, $65.00.
This title collects all of the papers given at the first-ever international symposium devoted to the thought of Parmenides, held in Buenos Aires in 2007. It is also the first dedicated English-language anthology on Parmenides, representing a welcome addition to the available literature on Presocratic philosophy.
Not a mere collation of conference proceedings, this anthology is notable by virtue of its list of contributors: all of those invited to contribute papers have published at least one book on Parmenides. Therefore, this volume provides many snapshots of the current state of research on the early Greek philosopher. Several of the most prominent active scholars of Presocratic philosophy have contributed chapters, including Patricia Curd, Alexander Mourelatos, Arnold Hermann, and the volume’s editor. Scholars working outside of Anglo–American circles are also well represented, making up nearly half of the authors and ostensibly indicating that significant and influential research on Presocratic philosophy is happening in French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese scholarship. In fact, due to the method for choosing the invited authors, some key Anglo–American scholars of early Greek thought one would otherwise expect to see (Charles Kahn, Anthony Long, and David Gallop) are not included here.
One of the chief merits of this collection is its very strong emphasis on seminal issues of interpretation related to Parmenides’s poem. Throughout the volume, readers will find a significant engagement with Parmenides proper. Absent for the most part are studies geared toward the historical legacy of Parmenides, or Parmenides’s influence on later philosophers, or readings that use Parmenides as a launch pad for larger programs. This is not to say that the authors of the present anthology are not mindful of wider issues of interpretation. Several of the contributed chapters take up topics of equal philosophical and historical importance, such as the connection of Parmenides and Plato (Arnold Hermann, “Parricide or Heir? Plato’s Uncertain Relationship to Parmenides”), and Parmenides’a contributions to early Greek science (Giovanni Casertano, “Parmenides, Scholar of Nature”; and Néstor- Luis Cordero, “Parmenidean Physics Is Not Part of What Parmenides Calls doxa”). Some contributions likewise read Parmenides through the lenses of other figures in the history of philosophy. For instance, the chapter by Alexander Mourelatos (“Parmenides, Early Greek Astronomy, and Modern Scientific Realism”) incorporates categories from Kant and Wilfrid Sellars for the purpose of interpreting Parmenides’s scientific views. An essay by Panagiotis Thanassas (“Parmenidean Dualisms”) considers the modern Cartesian legacy in order to distinguish the senses in which Parmenides’s philosophy functions as a dualism or monism. Scott Austin’s contribution (“Essence and Existence in Parmenides”) employs the historically important dialectic of essence and existence as a foil for understanding Parmenides’s view of being. The potentially broad scope of these chapters is checked by the contributors’ fine sense of working in service to the delicate task of interpreting Parmenides and remaining faithful to his outlook.
On the whole, the essays in this volume focus on the most central philosophical topics of Parmenides’s extant writings: Parmenides’s understanding of being, his argumentative style, the distinction of truth versus seeming, and how to interpret Parmenides’s role in the genesis of Greek metaphysics. Careful attention is paid throughout to philological concerns inherent in piecing together the often obscure and sometimes impenetrable vocabulary of the Eleatic thinker. Despite this, one prominent dimension of Parmenides’s work not treated at length in this anthology is his poetics; scholars who pick up this volume looking for expert accounts of his metaphors or literary style will leave empty-handed. But this issue is not so much of a drawback in view of the deep philosophical engagement the essays provide.
This volume will have a limited audience. The dust jacket description indicates that the work is “intended for scholars and non-specialists alike.” But in truth this book is not written at the introductory or non-specialist level, and it will at most be useful for professional scholars of Greek philosophy and some very advanced doctoral students. This limitation is not one of the accessibility of the contributions so much as it is a reflection of the high degree of academic sophistication required for study of Presocratic philosophy. Any text that aims to make strides in terms of knowledge and understanding of a Presocratic philosopher will inevitably suppose of the reader a deep familiarity with the subject; otherwise, the account risks verging on the general and mundane. And with a figure as dense and inaccessible as Parmenides, this is even more the case. This anthology will not popularize Parmenides by any means, but will instead offer some fresh perspectives and insights to complement the currently available literature.
Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 51, no. 3