CFP – Parmenides and the Sophists – Online workshop (deadline 1st July)

“Parmenides and the Sophists Online Workshop”   3rd-4th November

Confirmed Speakers

Rachel Barney (University of Toronto)

Daniel W. Graham (Brigham Young University)

Stephen A. Makin (University of Sheffield)

Kathryn Morgan (UCLA)

Parmenides represents a significant rupture in the development of early Greek thought. Where the Milesians, particularly Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, enquired into the γένεσις and φθορά/ὄλεθρος (the emerging and perishing) of τὰ ἐόντα (what-is), Parmenides brought τὸ ἐόν (Being) into the region of the ἕν (One); συνεχές (cohering), ἀγένητον (without emerging), and ἀνώλεθρον (without perishing). Charles Kahn (1969: 702) once asked, “what problems did Parmenides inherit from his predecessors to which his own doctrine of “Being” might be a response?” We might ask, though, to what extent was Parmenides responding not to the established problems of his predecessors but to the emerging problem of his successors, the Sophists?

In Parmenides’ poem, the goddess Ἀληθεία initially alludes to two ways of inquiry (ὁδοὶ διζήσιος). On the First Way, the διζήσιος concerns ὅπως ἔστιν, the “how it is” of “what-is” (Being – ἐόντα) (DK 28 B2 1-2). The Second Way, the goddess warns, that which could not possibly be, ὡς χρεών ἐστι μὴ εἶναι – non-Being, is impassable to humans. The goddess then reveals to Parmenides the perils of a Third Way, the way of δόξα. The way of δόξα is the way that unknowledgeable humans (εἰδότες οὐδέν) generally proceed, which they forge for themselves (πλάττοναι), their heads at once here and at once there (δίκρανοι) (DK 28 B6 4-6). Humans do not lack νόος, the capacity to apprehend, but along this Third Way a waylessness (ἀμηχανίη) sets in that disorientates their alignment (ἰθύνειν) and, led by an ignorance of the way, produces errancy.

The problem of δόξα did not materialise with the emergence of the Sophists in the fifth century. In the early sixth century, Thales warned of the insecurity of δόξα as a mode of knowing: οὔ τι τὰ πολλὰ ἔπη φρονίμην ἀπεφήνατο δόξαν (Many opinions do not produce wisdom) (D.L 1.1.35). Through Xenophanes the distinction between and problematisation of knowing and seeming was made explicit (DK 21 B34), but it was Parmenides who laid the groundwork for both the Sophistic priority of δόξα over ἀληθεία (truth) and Plato’s eventual confrontation with δόξα in the fourth century that would be so decisive for the development of Western thought.

In many ways, the fifth century can be characterised in terms of the growing priority of δόξα over ἀληθεία in Greek thought that endures until Plato. The early Sophists, most notably Protagoras and Gorgias, made tremendous strides in redirecting philosophical reflection away from considerations of the world toward interpretations of the πράξις of human affairs. Possibilities of moral and political knowledge, truth and falsity, justice and injustice, and rhetoric became explicit themes of investigation according to how things seem (δόκει) to the observer. Plato’s confrontation with the Sophists aimed at the re-priority of ἀληθεία over δόξα by a) reconfiguring Sophistic διαλέγεσθαι as a methodological dialectic that is a working out of the Ideas and their connection, and consequently b) elevating the ἀγαθόν (good) beyond being (ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας) as the highest Idea. Through Plato and later Aristotle, the groundwork for Western philosophy as metaphysics was accomplished. This workshop aims at re-posing the question of the relation of Parmenides and the Sophists in terms of the nature of the relationship itself and in the context of Plato’s eventual confrontation with both in his determination and establishment of metaphysical thought.

Scholars of all disciplines and at any stage in their academic career are invited to submit abstracts for papers that address the fundamental theme of the workshop. Some possible topics include, but are by no means limited to:

·       To what extent was Parmenides engaging with a proto-sophistic conceptualisation of δόξα as a mode of knowing?

·       Were the early Sophists, particularly Protagoras and Gorgias, directly challenging Parmenides’ notion of Being? Why?

·       Do the Sophists misinterpret Parmenides?

·       What role did Zeno and Melissus play in the transmission of Parmenidean “monism” into Sophistic interpretations?

·       How do Anaxagoras and Empedocles, who themselves emerged from out of the shadow of Parmenides, influence the development of Sophistic thought?

·       What is the connection between the development of Sophistic techniques of dialectic or eristics and the Sophists’ confrontations with Parmenides?

·       How does Plato’s proposal of the idea of the Good go together with the task of reconfiguring dialectics? To what extent is there won a new way of posing the question of Being?

The workshop will take place entirely on Zoom. Abstracts of 350-500 words for papers lasting no more than 30 minutes should be sent to aaron.turner@rhul.ac.uk by Friday July 1st. Notifications will be sent out by mid-July.


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