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Lecture 8 (23rd September 1948)

I have contended that the arguments put forward by Parmenides even if they are not all effective, nevertheless are quite sufficient to dispose of the doctrine of forms and, in general, to dispose of dualism and this would be to set up the alternatives of a complete empiricism - a doctrine of the sensible as the only reality or as we may call it, a complete idealism denying the sensible altogether. It is nothing againt this presentation that it leads us in the empirical direction since as we have seen it is still only in empirical terms that we could understand what Parmenides says not merely in opposition to Pythagoreanism but in support of his own position which means that the only anti-empirical alternative very soon breaks down and we are driven back on the empirical.

The longer and the main position of the Parmenides does show the breakdown of Eleaticism - the impossibility of stating it consistently - the position being stated with an extraordinary elaboration which might lead us to think that Plato when he wrote the dialogue wasn't very sure of his own position, but which still shows that Eleaticism fails on the same sort of grounds as those on which it had destroyed Socraticism (Pythagoreanism) - the position being capable of fairly simple statement. We may take it that Plato was concerned at this period with questions of method and that he had not arrived at a very satisfactory position. That is, he is not satisfied with the sort of position that he attributes to Socrates in the Phaedo, yet hasn't got a clear alternative procedure or hasn't realised the implications of his alternative procedure especially its empiricist implications. First of all just as in the Phaedo we have the talk about the consequences of a hypothesis without its being realised that these are not consequences of the hypothesis alone but follow from the hypotheses together with other propositions which are assumed to be matters of positive information.

And when we take consequences in this way it has to be noted that we may take as the consequences of a hypothesis what are not its consequences at all because the other proposition which we were certain was true is actually not true. This is specially important in regard to Falsification of a hypothesis because when we say


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the hypothesis AaB has been falsified because along with the true proposition XaA implies the false conclusion XaB we are taking as matters of definite knowledge XaA and XoB (? AoB) which prove the hypothesis false. But if one of our premises itself were false then AoB is not proved. That is, AaB is not destroyed or falsified. The point that Parmenides specially insists on is that of seeing not merely what follows from a hypothesis but what follows from denying it (what is true if the hypothesis is false). Now here again the case of falsification would be the most important but of course the falsification of the contradictory of the hypothesis is actually the proof of that hypothesis which then properly speaking is not a hypothesis but a conclusion - is no longer being tested by its consequences but is being by premises independently known. Hence in effect when Parmenides says we should consider the consequences both of a proposition's being true and its being false he is saying that we should both test a proposition of which we are doubtful by its consequences and try to prove it from propositions of which we are not doubtful. Suppose again our hypothesis is false then we are staring from the hyposthesis AoB and along with the true premise AaY drawing the conclusion YoB so if we get a falsification here (i.e., YaB) which gives us two data AaY and YaB ? AaB is proved and this is the hypothesis we started from so that we need no longer treat it as a hypothesis. It is misleading then to talk about the method of testing both a proposition and its contradictory - what we should speak about are two distinct questions, Testing and Proving.

Turning very briefly to the hypotheses which are professedly shown to have contradicted [?] any conclusions we find them in their positive form “if it is true” and “if one is” and whatever may be meant by that distinction the vital point is that in Eleaticism we have the same sort of an initial contradiction as was seen to lead to an infinite regress in Pythagoreanism - namely that the Eleatic one must be and can't be distinguished from its own being - that Parmenides wants to say that this entity is and yet also wants to say this entity is the very same thing as being in which case it would be meaningless to say “it is”. That sort of contradiction runs right through the pre-Socratics, all of whom want to identify being material or being of a certain substance or, as we may put it, want to take being as a term not as the copula. This implies an initial contradiction which leads to further contradictions when we try to work with it logically - to treat it as if it were a definite or specific thing. In falsifying the conditions of discourse they are led into contradictions by the fact that they can't help using this discourse.

Cf. Naturalistic fallacy - same thing both identified and distinguished.

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