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And we are glad to be told that Parmenides was ‘aged but well-favoured,’ and that Zeno was ‘very good-looking’; also that Parmenides affected to decline the great argument, on which, as Zeno knew from experience, he was not unwilling to enter.
The character of Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato, who had once been inclined to philosophy, but has now shown the hereditary disposition for horses, is very naturally described.
To the latter part of the dialogue we may certainly apply the words in which he himself describes the earlier philosophers in the Sophist (243 A): ‘They went on their way rather regardless of whether we understood them or not.’ The Parmenides in point of style is one of the best of the Platonic writings; the first portion of the dialogue is in no way defective in ease and grace and dramatic interest; nor in the second part, where there was no room for such qualities, is there any want of clearness or precision.
The latter half is an exquisite mosaic, of which the small pieces are with the utmost fineness and regularity adapted to one another.
How can he have placed himself so completely without them?
How can he have ever persisted in them after seeing the fatal objections which might be urged against them?
To suppose that Plato would first go out of his way to make Parmenides attack the Platonic Ideas, and then proceed to a similar but more fatal assault on his own doctrine of Being, appears to be the height of absurdity.
Many persons will be surprised to find Plato criticizing the very conceptions which have been supposed in after ages to be peculiarly characteristic of him.
How then, without a word of explanation, could Plato assign to them the refutation of their own tenets?
The conclusion at which we must arrive is that the Parmenides is not a refutation of the Eleatic philosophy.
Volume 4 (with 5 dialogues) of a 5 volume edition of Plato by the great English Victorian Greek scholar, Benjamin Jowett. The online version preserves the marginal comments of the printed edition and has links to all the notes and comments provided by Jowett. This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc.
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