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Introduction to Philosophical Terminology

Ontology is a branch of philosophy that studies and answers questions regarding existence, reality, being and becoming. Ontology differs from metaphysics which is the study of the nature of reality and the way that reality is. Ontology reveals what is real and unreal but metaphysics assumes a certain level of existence.While both branches deal with existence of entities, ontology seeks to unfold what entities exist and metaphysics seeks to explain what those entities are. Often ontology is seen as a sub-branch of metaphysics and ontological conclusions are also metaphysical conclusions.

Furthermore, ontological approaches can be of three kinds: Monist, Dualist and Pluralist. Monism is a metaphysical and theological view that all is one. There are no fundamental divisions and everything around us is one united substance. It is contrasted with Dualism, which upholds the idea that ultimately there are two kinds of substance, and from Pluralism, which holds that ultimately there are multiple kinds of substance. In this article, the focus shall specifically be on monism and dualism to uncover the true nature of Parmenides’s philosophy.

Another philosophical branch that shall be dealt with in this article is that of Cosmology. Cosmology is the study of the universe through theories and observations. It seeks to understand its beginning, evolution, structure and so on. It deals with the physical conditions in context with human existence.

Parmenides is seen as the apostle of monism and is famous for his strict views on reality being one united substance and change being impossible. He views sense perception as deceptive and values reason over the same. Concepts of future and past are inadmissible as what is, is and can never come into being or never not be. In light of such stringent views of the monistic nature of reality, one is bound to question why Parmenides would accept the duality in Cosmology.

This article focuses on the ontological and cosmological views of the philosopher Parmenides and seeks to draw some consistency in the two approaches. Starting with his ontological stance, moving to his cosmological stance and then to his views on Non-Being, the article highlights certain inconsistencies in his consideration as a strict monist. The focus and aim is to inquire into these inconsistencies and try to justify or validate them.

Ontological Monism as presented by Parmenides

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Parmenides, the founder of ontology, is considered as a strict monist due to his firm belief that reality is and must be a unity in the strictest sense. He denies the existence of change, plurality and movement of any sort. He argues that once something is said to be (something is), one cannot say that it was or it will be. He rejects the origin or dissolution of any form, in time, and also rejects the scope of any alterations or motion whatsoever. He further goes on to argue that the world of our ‘ordinary experiences’, i.e. the world as we perceive it, is non-existent and our senses are deceptive. .

He insists on the point that whatever is, is, and cannot ever not be. This in turn makes him highly critical of the commonsensical understanding of humans who rely on their senses in believing that all things are created/ generated and also undergo various types of changes. Parmenides directs us to prefer reason over sensory evidence and thus proposes that reality must also be judged by reason instead of trusting our senses.

According to the reason-driven approach of Parmenides, he lays down certain attributes that “whatever is” must possess. “Whatever is” must be imperishable, un-generated, indivisible, continuous, motionless and unchanging. In light of this, he views the past and future as meaningless. He explains that all that can be talked or thought about exists and that motion and change are inadmissible and impossible conceptions.

Reality as seen by Parmenides is entirely different from the world in which we suppose ourselves to be living in. He describes the sense-based understanding of the world to be nothing but a “deceitful show”.

When one thinks, they think of ‘something’; when they use a name, it must be the name of ‘something’. Thus, both language and thought require items outside itself. Since one can think or speak of an object at one time and another, whatever can be thought of or talked about must exist at all times. As a result, change is impossible because change occurs when things are coming into being or are ceasing to be, which cannot be the case.

According to him, empty space = nothing = non being

But non-being, according to him, cannot exist.

Therefore “empty space” cannot exist. And thus movement which requires empty space is also not possible. Something cannot come from nothing and therefore ‘coming to be’ is impossible which makes birth impossible. Similarly, we cannot ‘go to’ nothing therefore death is also impossible.

Parmenides’ views on Cosmology

There are two unique and slightly contradictory views that Parmenides offers about the cosmos and cosmology. One where he rejects its existence all together and another where he acknowledges the duality of light and night in cosmology.

The first view where he rejects the existence of cosmology. He describes it as “the beliefs of mortals”, that fails to have any genuine conviction. He also goes on to highlight how humans have deviated from the truth and have ended up picking out two forms, light and night, that serve as the basis for an account of the cosmos. While Parmenides fails to extend his strict monism to his approach towards cosmology, he does uphold a dualistic cosmological approach which continues to stay in sync with his ontological monism.