The Heythrop Journal
Reviewed by Robin Waterfield
Click here for review on wiley.com
Parmenides, Venerable and Awesome (Plato, Theaetetus 183e).
Edited by Néstor-Luis Cordero . Pp. xvi, 414, Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2011, $65.00. - Waterfield - 2013 - The Heythrop Journal - Wiley Online Library
As the editor notes in his introduction, Parmenides studies are thriving at the moment. There is always a trickle, but there has not been such a flood since the 1960s, perhaps. The present meaty volume contains 24 new essays, mostly on the Presocratic, by an array of international scholars. The book is largely the fruit of a multilingual 2007 conference in Buenos Aires, but all the essays are presented here in English. In a collection of this kind, there is generally a certain unevenness of quality. This collection is no exception. There are some standout papers (for my money, those by Austin, Bollack, Cordero, Curd, Mourelatos, and Thanassas), but some of the others are rather poor or inconsequential. Several do not even look like academic papers, in that they lack apparatus such as footnotes and bibliography.
There are too many essays to summarize in a short review. I will isolate some themes that recur throughout the volume.
The most noticeable topic, because it is either the focus or an incidental concern of several papers, is the old chestnut of the relation between the two parts of Parmenides' poem, ‘Truth’ and ‘Seeming’. Bollack and Dueso find orthodox ways of trying to reconcile the two parts, Bollack by arguing that the same sense of ‘being’ is employed, Dueso by reading Parmenides primarily as a logician, and only secondarily as an ontologist, and finding the same rigorous logical method in both parts of the poem. Cordero and Pulpito, however, apparently independently, see the poem as falling into three parts, not two; for Cordero, the ‘Seeming’ section could not have included a cosmology, because such a cosmology would automatically be untrue or unreliable. Mourelatos, on the other hand, argues that there is room in the ‘Seeming’ section even for scientific opinions. Meanwhile, Curd reinterprets B16 as part of ‘Seeming’ and distinguishes mortal thinking (as passive sense perception) from true Parmenidean thinking.
The chief revolution that has taken place in Parmenides studies in the last couple of decades involves the reinterpretation of Parmenidean monism. While many scholars still see Parmenides arguing for strict monism, such that there is in reality only one thing, others, following the lead of Patricia Curd, read him as a serial monist, such that all the furniture of the world consists of discrete unities. This issue is so critical that it is surprising to see how little attention is paid to it in this volume. Perhaps it is an issue that exercises the American-British analytic tradition rather than the continental style of philosophy which forms the background of most of the contributors to this volume. Only Thanassas seems to find room for Curdian monism, while others, such as Austin and Robbiano, simply assume traditional monism.
In B4, B5, B6, B8.34–35, and B16, Parmenides gives us some puzzling reflections on thought, perception, and their relation to being. Three papers – those by Santos, Curd, and Díaz – attempt to cast light on the puzzles. The first two tackle the fragments on their own terms, while Díaz focuses on Aristotle's criticism of Parmenides' views on sense perception in Metaphysics 4.5. As with any Presocratic, much of his work comes to us via Aristotle or the Aristotelian tradition. Casertano argues that in order to understand Parmenides at all we must reject the distortions of Aristotle; Spangenberg reflects on Aristotle's criticism of Parmenides in Physics 1.2–3.
Two papers take Plato's remarks about Parmenides in Sophist as their starting point. Hermann argues that Plato's criticisms of Parmenides miss the mark; Livov explores the meaning of Plato's image of Parmenides as his ‘father’. Two papers, those by Cerri and Mourelatos, try to make sense of Parmenides' astronomical views. Though this is not the primary focus of their papers, both Austin and Mourelatos see Parmenides as a forerunner in certain respects of some modern philosophers.
So much for discernible themes. The remaining papers treat disparate topics: the impossibility of translating Parmenides (Cassin); the Pythagoreans as the likely targets of his criticism (Frère); his epic language (Santoro). The final eight papers of the volume were not part of the original conference, and so treat various topics in ancient philosophy. Those that focus on Parmenides have already been mentioned; otherwise: on Gorgias' Helen (Bieda); Plato's Politicus as a response to the Parmenideanism of Republic (Livov); on the Ladder of Love in Plato's Symposium (Ludueña); the influence of Eleaticism on the Megarian school (Mársico); on negation and not-being in Sophist (Mié); an analysis of Cordero's 2004 book on Parmenides (Soares).
The book concludes with an Index Locorum and an adequate index. There is no synoptic bibliography. The book is well produced, free of misprints, with a good font size and spacing throughout, and generous use of subheadings. This is a very specialist tome, suitable for individuals or libraries with specific interests in Presocratic philosophy.