The Difference between Truth and Opinion: Parmenides’ Views

Parmenides was one of the most challenging thinkers in the history of Greek philosophy. His most impressive work On Nature, a metaphysical poem, has undoubtedly earned him an unrivaled spot among some of the greatest Greek philosophers of all time. He was said to have founded the Eleatic school of thought, an institution that was popular for its monistic views on philosophy. Often regarded as a pre-Socrates philosopher, Parmenides had a considerable influence over great philosophers like Plato who spoke about him with so much veneration. Although Parmenides was a highly criticized philosopher no thanks to his work which were difficult to understand, his views on truth and opinion are thought-provoking, valueless and unequaled by non-other. To this end, the purpose of this article is to unravel some of the striking differences between Parmenides views on truth and opinion.

Who Was Parmenides?

Parmenides, the son of Pyres Ouliadês, was born in Elea, an ancient Greek colony in the southern part of Italy. Although there are no much records about his family, history reveals that he was born into a wealthy and illustrious family. Similarly, there are no accurate records regarding the official date of his birth. As such, there are conflicting accounts regarding his actual date of birth. However, several pointers suggest that Parmenides was born around 540 BC and 510 BC. Reports indicate that Parmenides studied under the tutelage of Xenophanes of Colophon. This could be true giving that the thoughts of Xenophanes greatly influenced his philosophy. Also, other contradictory reports by Diogenes Laërtius indicates that Parmenides was also mentored by the great scholar Ameinias, son of Diochaites, the Pythagorean. Parmenides was known as a dedicated student loyal and diligent to the teachings of his masters.

In addition, he was reputed to have established the Elea school with Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos as his first students. As a renowned philosopher, Parmenides was credited to have written the laws of the city. Besides some of the above details, most of the accounts of his life remain vague. His book On Nature remains his most celebrated literature until his death. Parmenides was reported to have died between 440 B.C or 450 B.C.

Parmenides Views on Truth and Opinion

As an intelligent and skilled philosopher, Parmenides held certain very critical views as regards truth and opinion. Consequently, he discusses these two critical views in his most famous book On Nature, a poem written around 475 B.C. In this book, Parmenides dedicated two sections to extensively discuss the concept of truth and opinion as a means of inquiry. These two sections are The way of truth and The way of Opinion. To adequately understand what he meant by these two concepts, we would examine them separately.

Parmenides Views about Truth

Parmenides views as regard truth were sponsored by his encounter with an unnamed goddess. This encounter spurred him to write the book On Nature. In this book, Parmenides dedicates a section to what he calls The Way of Truth. Contents in the way of truth entirely contradict contents regarding The Way of Opinion. According to the scholar, The Way to Truth talks about that which is real while the way of opinion discusses that which is only imaginative and illusionary. In the section that deals with The Way to Truth, the scholar argues that there are two ways to an inquiry:

  • One which he refers to as; that its
  • The other he calls; that it is not.

However, Parmenides argues against the latter since he believes that there is nothing that cannot be. This is evident in his quote:

For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are.

According to Parmenides, The Way of Truth dwells on the efficacy of reality. In the way of truth, Parmenides attempts to distinguish between reality and illusion. To him, a real being poses the characteristic of timelessness, permanence, immovability, immutability and imperishability. One of the high points of arguments credited to Parmenides as regarding the concept of truth is that he believes truth cannot be arrived at through sensory perception only through pure reasoning. Furthermore, Parmenides stated that existence is eternal as such nothing comes from nothing. Notwithstanding his views on truth have been greatly criticized by several scholars who feel his description of truth is ambiguous, based on its complex metaphysical explanation.

Parmenides Views on Opinion

The second section of his book On Nature talks about The Way of Opinion which the scholar is particularly opposed to as a basis for existence or determining reality. Parmenides see opinions as popular beliefs or mere illusions by the majority. He argues that people who believe in opinion are naive because they accept the testimony of their sense rather than the voice of reason. Simply put, people who opt for opinion over reason agree wrongly that being is as it appears to be. While Parmenides seem to be opposed to the concept of opinion, he did not disagree with the concept altogether. He advocates that people should know the phenomenal world; what he calls the world of sensible appearance.

Differences between Truth and Opinion According to Parmenides

The bulk of the idea in his book On Nature dwells on two very crucial concepts. Truth on one hand and opinion on the other. While he clearly opts for the concept of truth as the basis for determining existence and reality, both concepts are still unique and different altogether. According to the scholar, truth talks about that which is real and cannot be changed while opinions are based on illusions and imagination that are inferior to the concept of truth.  While he further argues that truth can only be arrived at through reasoning, he concludes that opinions are results of sensory perception and not pure or genuine reason which is superior.

Conclusion

Parmenides is undoubtedly the most famous Greek philosopher of the pre-Socrates era. His work and unrivaled wisdom have endeared him to the heart of scholars like Plato and Zeno, his most brilliant student. Although his work On Nature seems to have generated many controversies, he remains an influential thinker worthy of accolades.

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