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Eleatic School

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the designation given to an early and brilliant sect of Greek philosophers. The name was bestowed in consequence of the residence or birth of the chiefs of the school at Elea or Velia, a town on the western coast of Italy, founded in 544 by the Phocaeans, who abandoned their Ionian home rather than submit to the arms of Cyrus. The general characteristic of this type of speculation is the maintenance of a broad and irreconcilable distinction between the apparent and the intellectual universe between transitory phenomena and eternal truth. It is thus contrasted with the earlier Ionic School, which assumed material principles as the origin of the world, and with the Pythagorean School, which assigned a mathematical basis for the creation. But it exhibited several points of contact with these more ancient doctrines, and hence both Empedocles and Democritus are sometimes enumerated among the Eleatics. In its wider acceptation, the Eleatic philosophy includes the pantheistic idealism of Xenophanes and Parmenides, and the skeptical materialism of Leucippus and Epicurus, embracing both extremes of metaphysical thought. It may thus be distributed into two main divisions:

I. The Eleatic School proper, which asserted a divine unity to be the origin and essence of all things, regarded multiplicity as only the manifestation of the incessant activity of this divine unity, considered all change as merely phenomenal, and all temporal facts as only the transitory and deceitful shows of things, believing that the only true existence was the one indiscrete divine Essence, which underlay, determined, animated, and enclosed the whole sensible and intelligible order of the universe. II. The Atomistic or Epicurean School, which confined attention to the earthly and material side of the problem, not denying the immaterial and spiritual, but renouncing it as unattainable. Its position may be appreciated by comparing it with the modern schemes of Moleschott, Herbert Spencer, and Comte. It took note only of the temporal and perishable side of the universe, and established a foundation for its reasonings by supposing the eternity and indestructibility of the elementary constituents of matter.

Esse immortali primordia corpore debent,

Dissolvi quo quae que supremo tempore possint,

Materies ut suppeditet rebus reparandeis.

Thus the two branches of the school, or the two schools, starting from the same point, but pursuing divergent courses, arrived at exactly opposite conclusions. The Eleatics disregarded the sensible, the Epicureans the divine element; the former contemplated the imperishable, the latter the perishable aspects of the universe. But neither denied what they renounced. In the present article, the Eleatic School proper will alone be considered; for a notice of the other branch, reference is made to the title EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHY (See EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHY) .

History of the Eleatic Philosophy. The shadowy and impalpable character of the Eleatic doctrine renders it peculiarly difficult of determination, because it admits of many modifications, and of a great variety of expositions and limitations. Another difficulty arises from the fact that the sources of our knowledge are confined to a few metrical fragments of Xenophanes and Parmenides, to the statements of their adversaries, Plato and Aristotle, to Diogenes Laertius, who is by no means a reliable witness, and to a few other relics of antiquity. There is, consequently, more uncertainty in regard to the tenets of this school, and to the interpretation given to them by their advocates, than in regard to any other of the Greek sects except the Pythagorean. After all the diligence of Fulleborn, Brandis, Karsten, Cousin, and other inquirers, there is much doubt whether we are ascribing to the Eleatic leaders positions which they deliberately held, or are imposing our own conjectural interpretations upon their doctrines. The general complexion of the school is, however, readily recognized.

The Eleatic School is rather united by a common principle than by agreement in the application of the principle (v. Aristotle, Metaphysica, 1:5). Each distinguished philosopher of the sect creates his own scheme, and differs in procedure and in doctrine from the rest: hence it is impracticable to give any general exposition which will be true for its whole development, and it therefore becomes necessary to consider the peculiar modifications which it assumed in the hands of its successive teachers. The principal expounders of the Eleatic philosophy were Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, and Melipus: the first of these was its founder. The period during which they flourished may be considered to extend over the century preceding the Peloponnesian War. But the chronological data are confused and uncertain.

Xenophanes. Xenophanes of Colophon, in Asia Minor, an exile from his native land, migrated to Sicily, and may have resided in Elea, whose foundation he celebrated in verse. The dates are uncertain; but Cousin, in an elaborate essay, fixes his birth in the 40th Olympiad (B.C. 620-616), and he lived nearly a century. His philosophy was presented in a metrical form in his poem On Nature, of which fragments remain, though they are too broken and obscure to give any clear revelation of his tenets. His leading doctrines, as far as they can now be ascertained, appear to have constituted an indistinct, confused, and undeveloped idealism, remarkable at the period of their introduction, but requiring expansion and rectification before they could be arranged in any harmonious system. They are rather germs of thought than precise principles. They needed the acute logical intellect of Parmenides to give them consistency, as the Socratic speculations received definite form from Plato. Parmenides probably deviated as far from the simple, reveries of Xenophanes as Plato did from the practical maxims of Socrates. Xenophanes apparently adopted from Pythagoras, either directly or indirectly, the conviction that there must be an ultimate term of being, which was not the sensible universe, but the divine intelligence. But Pythagoras distinguished between God and nature; while Xenophanes, by exaggerating, confused this distinction, and resolved everything into a single divine essence. He denied all beginning, and therefore denied that anything could become what it had not always been. The doctrine ex nihilo nihil fit had with him a broader and deeper significance than it received from Epicurus, and his Roman expositor, Lucretius. If nothing commences and nothing becomes, then all things are eternal, and all things are one. The unity of the God-head is thus asserted against polytheism; the individuality of the Deity against the dualism of conflicting forces. This antagonism to the current creed and prevalent speculations is developed in his attacks on Homer, Hesiod, and the whole Hellenic mythology, and by his earnest repudiation of all anthropomorphism. The substantial reality of the sensible world is necessarily rejected: God and the universe are identified, and a close approximation is made to Spinozism, though not without essential differences. The only reality is the divine intelligence, σύμπαντά to εϊ v ναι νοῦν καὶ φρόνησιν (Diogenes Laert. 9, 19).

Everything cognizable by the human senses represents merely the accidents and shows of things. The sensible world is in an unceasing flux, but the divine essence is unchanging, unchangeable, unmoving, incapable of being moved, impassive, eternal, infinite, though possessing spherical dimensions, uncompounded, one (αἴδιον - ἄπειρον - πᾶν - × ν - ž ν - μέτριον - ἀκίνητον - ἀνώδυνον - ἀνάλγητον - ἄνοσον - οὔτεἑτεροιούμενον εἴδει, οὔτε μιγνύμενον ἄλλῳ , Aristot. De Xenoph. 1: "unum esse omnia, neque id esse mutabile, et id esse Deum, neque natum umquam, et sempiternum, conglobata figura," Cicero, Acad. Pr. 2, 37.). All change is but apparent the restless play of colors on the surface of the immutable Existence the incessant agitation of the waves on the bosom of the boundless and unalterable deep. There is no denial of the actuality of sensible facts and changes; there is a denial of their reality; they are shadows of the eternal, the mists and vapors that disguise and conceal the infinite One.

Unquestionably there are contradictions involved in this scheme, but the acceptance of antinomies is one of the most striking characteristics of the doctrines of Xenophanes. Naturally and necessarily he is brought to declare all things incomprehensible. Certain knowledge is thus impossible; all truth evaporates into opinion; skepticism is introduced the skepticism which disregards the sensible as a delusion the skepticism which excludes the eternal and the divine as unintelligible, or the skepticism which regards truth as unattainable. Thus the fundamental positions of the Eleatics prognosticate the age of the Sophists, and the; theories of the Epicureans the Pyrrhonists and the Neo-Platonists.

It is not easy to discover the exact mode in which Xenophanes interpreted the order of the sensible creation. The remarkable feature in his cosmogony is that he anticipated geology, and made it the basis of some of his deductions. He thus contributed to science the commencements of that marvelous investigation, as Pythagoras contributed the theory of the geometrical harmonies of the universe, and divined the Copernican system. It may appear a remarkable incongruity that, after identifying God and the universe, and asserting the infinity, immutability, and eternity of the divine existence, Xenophanes and Parmenides should both have held the periodicity of the destruction of the world the former by water, the latter by fire. This conclusion may have been suggested to the earlier philosopher by the fossil remains which he recognised as aqueous deposits; but it also results from the dogma that all things are in a perpetual flux except the one eternal existence. The phenomena change recurrently, the One remains unchanged.

The Eleatic philosophy, in its first enunciation, was a crude idealism, extravagant in expression, if moderate in design. It was an anxious attempt to unite the operation of the omnipotence, omnipresence, and unity of the divine Intelligence with the recognition of his continual support and government of the creation. It was a protest alike against the vain abstractions, the materialistic tendencies, and the polytheistic creed of the Hellenic world; but in the endeavor to avoid popular and philosophical errors, it fell into the opposite extreme, and became in tendency, though not in purpose, distinctly pantheistic. It is impossible to explain the connection between the Creator and the creation the distinction and the union of the intelligible and the sensible universe. To these heights the mind of man cannot soar. There is a truth of things sensible and a truth of things spiritual. Neither can be safely disregarded or misapprehended. The world of matter, with all its changes the world of mind, with all its intuitions and reasonings, are as essentially real as the divine Being on whom they depend. But what the degree and mode of the dependence when the dependence is interrupted and the laws imposed upon creation come into action what is the hidden spring of natural forces, who shall define? If Xenophanes ran into errors as hazardous as those which he resisted, he is entitled to indulgent censure when it is considered that he was the first, or among the first, to introduce into Greek speculation worthy, if inadequate, conceptions of the grandeur, and glory, and ineffable sovereignty of the divine Intelligence.

Parmenides. The most illustrious name produced by the Eleatic School is that of Parmenides, the disciple, probably, of the founder of the sect. He was, by all accounts, a native of Elea (about 536 B.C.), and may have furnished, by his birthplace, the chief cause for the designation habitually bestowed upon this type of philosophy. He is frequently represented as the founder of dialectics, though this distinction is given by Aristotle to his pupil Zeno. He is, however, entitled to the credit of having given a more logical development to the views of his supposed teacher. So far as any authoritative exposition of his doctrines is concerned, we are in nearly as unfortunate a position as in the case of his predecessor. Insufficient fragments of his philosophical poem are preserved, but the rest of our knowledge must be obtained from the polemics of his adversaries, and from the statements of late compilers. He is commended by Aristotle for his perspicacity, and certainly gave greater coherence to the system espoused by him. In doing so he may have improved its form at the expense of its elevation. The divinity of the universal Existence disappears; for his point of departure is not the all-embracing Intelligence, but the abstract conception of being. In the main he agrees with Xenophanes, though he presents his tenets in a different order and connection. He states precisely the antagonism between the judgments of the senses and the conclusions of the reason, but he leaves it undeveloped. This has been regarded as his most important addition to the Eleatic metaphysics, though the principle is latent and presupposed in the whole speculations of the earlier philosopher. The fundamental position of his scheme is the contradiction of entity and nonentity. What is cannot be non-existent; what is non-existent is not. But everything that is, exists. Hence the universality and unity of existence must be admitted; and as nothing can spring from nothing, or proceed from non-existence to existence, all existence is eternal and unchangeable. There is nothing but being; therefore there is aplenum without any vacuum, and all being is thought. Being is limited, but limited only by itself, and embodied in a perfect sphere. It is independent of time, space, and motion, all of which are denied to have any absolute existence. It is a state of everlasting repose. All changes and motions are apparent only; they are mere semblances. On this system being is indestructible-a dogma which has returned upon us unexpectedly in the philosophy of Herbert Spencer, and those with whom he coincides. There is no loss or cessation of existence, only variation of species, or change of apparent condition. Everything is determined by an indwelling necessity a law which is involved in the existence by which it is revealed.

There is a singular accordance in the procedure of Parmenides and that of Des Cartes. The highest speculations of man roll, like the world on which he dwells, in one self-repeating orbit around the center of attraction, deviating by slight deflections from the precisely-described track, but never departing so far as to destroy the uniformity of the course. Contrasted but connected schemes of thought succeed each other in each revolution like the seasons, and all "lead up the golden year." In the physical application of his principles Parmenides recurred, like Xenophanes, to the procedure of the Ionic and Pythagorean schools, admitting antagonistic elements and forces, whose collisions and conjunctions produced the phenomena of the universe.

In all these speculations, one main cause of bewilderment and exaggeration is the oscitancy and impalpability of abstract terms. We are at the mercy of the abracadabra with which the enchantments are attempted. The perplexity and hallucination resulting from loose and elastic phrases was of course most perilous and least suspected before logical science arose, and before metaphysicians distinguished between rigorous thought and current expression.

Such defects exposed the doctrines of Parmenides to the attacks of acute contemporaries, and led to the recognition of the necessity of precision in statement, and to the consequent examination of the strict import of terms and of the Validity of arguments. Hence they furnished to his disciple the occasion of inaugurating logic.

Zeno. The relation of Zeno to Parmenides is the most certain fact connected with the filiation of the Eleatic School. He was pupil, friend, companion, and apologist. He was the only prominent member of the sect who was unquestionably a native of Elea. He defended and explained the dogmas of his preceptor; but the mode of his exposition led to notable changes in the career of philosophy, and prepared the way for the Socratic irony, the Platonic dialectics, the Organon of Aristotle, and other developments scarcely less important. He became the inventor of regular dialectic procedure but his claims in this respect are limited by the remarkable declaration of the Stagyrite in regard to his own labors, that his predecessors had only furnished examples of the forms of reasoning, while he had created the art (Sophist. Elench. sub fin,).

Increase of logical precision may give greater consistency and intelligibility to a philosophical system, but it renders its errors and dangers more prominent. This was the case with Zeno's presentation of the views of Parmenides. In urging the unreliability of the senses, and of inferences from observation, he arrayed experience against reason, and denied the validity of the former. He acknowledged, at the same time, the impossibility of recognizing in things sensible the unity which was alone real existence, and thus invited skepticism and provoked the age of the Sophists. Melissus. There is no reason for believing that Melissus of Samos was directly or consciously connected with the Eleatic family, but he is habitually included in their number in consequence of substantial identity of doctrine. He confined his attention almost exclusively to the negative aspects of the system, endeavoring to demonstrate the unreality of the phenomenal world, and the inconsistency of ascribing time, motion, change, divisibility or limitation to the solitary Existence. In representing being as infinite, he recoiled from the position of Parmenides and Zeno, and in some degree also from Xenophanes. He differed from them also in asserting that we can have no knowledge of the gods; and, according to Aristotle, inclined to materialism in his conception of the universal One. The Eleatic idealism was thus verging towards the form of doctrine propounded by Epicurus. It had completed its course, and had swung round nearly to the opposite extreme from the point where it started.

Whatever extravagances may be justly charged upon this celebrated school, its services to speculation and to the cause of truth should be neither denied nor underrated. It was surely a splendid and meritorious office, in the dawn of systematic philosophy, to awaken the minds of men to the recognition of the vain and evanescent character of all temporal things; to protest against the delusions of Polytheism; to direct attention to a supreme and omnipresent Intelligence, perfect in all attributes; to unveil the everlasting truth which was latent, but active, beneath all material and transitory forms; and to bring the reason of man into direct communion with the sovereign Power of the universe, in which he and all things else "lived, and moved, and had their being." In discharging this high function, the Eleatics promoted physical speculation, laid the foundations of logic, and perhaps of rhetoric, and introduced the argumentative dialogue which was employed with such consummate genius by Plato.

There is a most profound significance in the observation made by Aristotle in regard to Parmenides, that, "looking up to the whole heavens, he declared the one only Being to be God." This seems to have been the distinctive purport of the Eleatic School, though it was soon obscured, and ultimately discarded; but it propagated itself by a secret growth, and allied itself with other forms of speculation.

Literature. Plato, Sophista, Parmsenides; Aristotle, De Xenophane, Zenone et Gorgia; Metaphysica, lib. 1, cap. 5; Diogenes Laertius; Bayle, Dict. Hist. et Crit. s.v. Xenophane; Roschmann, Diss. Hist. Philosoph. de Xenophane (Altona, 1729); Fulleborn, Liber de Xenophane, Zenone, Gorgia, Aristoteli vulgo tributus, partim illustratus commentario (Hal. 1789); Fragments of Xenophanes and Parmenides (Zullichau, 1795); Van der Kemp, Parmenides (Edmee, 1781); Gundling, Observations on the Philosophy of Parmenides; Brandis, Comm. Eleaticarum pars i (Altona, 1813); V. Cousin, Nouveaux Essais Philosophiques (Paris, 1828); Rosenberg, De Eleaticae philos. primordiis (Berl. 1829); Karsten, Philosophorum Graec. veterum Reliquiae (Bruxelles, 1830); Mullach, Aristotelis de Melisso lib. Disputationes (Berol. 1846); Lewes, Hist. of Philosophy (Lond. 1867, 1:67 sq.); Ueberweg, Gesch. d. Philosophie, 1:47; and the various historians of Greek philosophy. (G.F.H.)

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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Eleatic School'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/eleatic-school.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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