ARISTOTLE AND PARMENIDES ON CHANGE
Looking at the arguments for change derived by Parmenides and Aristotle there are many differences, yet there are also some similarities. While Aristotle may disagree with much of Parmenides argument, he does agree with some of the strongest premises in the argument. In this paper I will present Aristotle’s rebuttal of Parmenides denial of change, as well as play the “devil’s advocate” for each of them in defending their views.
At the beginning of Parmenides argument for change he asserts that not being is nothingness. Aristotle is in disagreement with this premise, because he believes that being has many meanings, and is not only existential. “Having reached this result, they make things worse by going on to say that there is no plurality, but only being itself” (Aristotle Physics 191a) However, soon in the argument Parmenides holds that nothingness does not exist, or that not-being (nothingness) is not. Aristotle agrees with this premise and it receives further support from the law of identity and the law of non-contradiction. Parmenides third premise suggests that if one can think, one can think only what is (being). This premise is partly true for Aristotle, as he feels it is necessary but not sufficient. Aristotle feels Parmenides needs to add a substrate, which would provide a composite for accidental change. The substrate would persist throughout the change. For example, if a dog grew three inches the physical size of the dog has changed, yet the substrate (dog) has remained the same.
Parmenides goes on to say that one cannot think what is not (not-being, or nothingness). For Aristotle this premise holds true, but was created too vaguely. He would like to see Parmenides explain more fully his notion of change taking place between opposites. For example, if “x” had an opposite it would be not “x”. I think Parmenides would not feel the need to defend himself since the premise seems clear enough to him. Parmenides might think that Aristotle’s desire for a more fully developed premise is a matter of subjective opinion. In Parmenides next premise he asserts that if there were change it would take place between opposites. Aristotle is again in partial agreement with this premise, yet again would like to see Parmenides add the substrate.
Parmenides will go on to say that if being had an opposite it would be not-being (or nothingness). By reading this sentence alone it might seem to make sense due the law of excluded middle. However, Aristotle points out that since he refuted Parmenides claim that not being is nothingness, it is not logical to accept this premise. Next, Parmenides claims that if something came into being, it should do so from not being (nothingness). Aristotle is again in partial agreement, yet he again brings up the need for a substrate in this premise. Parmenides also holds that if something went out of being, it should be into not being (nothingness). Aristotle disproves this claim again due to one of the early premises he disproved. (Not being is nothingness.)
Parmenides will now argue that nothingness does not exist. This is a major point of agreement for Aristotle. This premise is built on support from a previous premise, which Aristotle also agreed with. (Nothingness does not exist.) Parmenides also argues that nothing comes into being from nothingness, or disappears (goes out of being) into nothingness. Aristotle also agrees with this premise based on the same logic used by Parmenides. (Law of sufficient reason.) In Parmenides final premise he notes that if there were change, it would be a case of something coming into being from nothingness or going out of being into nothingness. While Aristotle agrees that nothing goes in or out of nothingness “It seems impossible that something should come to be in this way from what is not.” (Aristotle Physics 191b), he does not agree that this is a prereqresite for change. He refutes this premise partially due to his refutations of two previous premises regarding change between opposites, and something going out of being into not being.
That said, it is important to note that the two philosophers did share in two major ideas. They both would concur that nothingness does not exist. Similarly, they both hold that nothing can go into nothingness, or come out of nothingness. “For something comes to be from the privation, which in itself is not and which does not belong to the thing *when it has come to be*. But this causes surprise, and it seems impossible that something should come to be in this way from what is not.” (Aristotle Physics 191b)
When Aristotle undertook to explain how it is that things change, a fact seemingly apparent to most persons, he had first to confront the apparently ironclad logic of Parmenides. Bound by this logic, Parmenides had been forced to the position that there is in reality no change at all. All change is mere appearance; reality is one, and this One, which only is, is unchanging. He was forced to this position because, as he understood the terms of the problem, change is logically not possible. Parmenides had argued that there are only two alternatives for anything, being and non-being. No new being can come from non-being since "nothing comes from nothing." Nor can new being come from being since what has being, already is and does not begin to be: "being cannot come from being since it is already."
Aristotle points out (In his Physics) that Parmenides and his disciples did not understand grammar correctly. It is true you can say that "to be" and "to be one" are the same thing. But a thing can be one, and still have many things "attributed" to it. For example, one man may be educated, tall, bald, and rich, all at the same time. He still remains "one" man. Aristotle may have gone into questions of grammar and definition a little more than was necessary. He evidently believes the point he makes is one which was not well understood by philosophers prior to him. He seems eager to refute Parmenides in order to put his own arguments in a favorable light. Aristotle's interpretation of Parmenides is somewhat biased and perhaps too simple. Parmenides deserves more praise for his argument than Aristotle awards him.
Aristotle's physics book 1-8 and Parmenides fragments. This paper was used in Colorado. Do not plagiarize!!
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