Zeno of Elea

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The hypothesis of the many, if examined sufficiently in detail, leads to even more ridiculous results than the hypothesis of the One.

Zeno of Elea (pronounced /ˈziːnoʊ əv ˈɛliə/, Greek: Ζήνων ὁ Ἐλεάτης) (ca. 490 BC? – ca. 430 BC?) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of southern Italy and a member of the monistic Eleatic school founded by Parmenides. Aristotle declared him the inventor of the dialectic, which involves a dialogue between two or more people who may hold differing views, yet wish to pursue truth by seeking agreement with one another; in contrast to debate, in which two or more people hold differing views and wish to persuade an audience or prove one another wrong. He is most famous for his paradoxes, which Bertrand Russell described as "immeasurably subtle and profound."

Sometimes confused with Zeno of Citium

Quotes[edit]

The truth is, that these writings of mine were meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides against those who make fun of him and seek to show the many ridiculous and contradictory results which they suppose to follow from the affirmation of the one.
  • The truth is, that these writings of mine were meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides against those who make fun of him and seek to show the many ridiculous and contradictory results which they suppose to follow from the affirmation of the one. My answer is addressed to the partisans of the many, whose attack I return with interest by retorting upon them that their hypothesis of the being of many, if carried out, appears to be still more ridiculous than the hypothesis of the being of one. Zeal for my master led me to write the book in the days of my youth, but some one stole the copy; and therefore I had no choice whether it should be published or not; the motive, however, of writing, was not the ambition of an elder man, but the pugnacity of a young one.
    • As quoted in Parmenides by Plato, a portrayal of a discussion which begins between Socrates and Zeno, and then primarily Parmenides; as translated by Benjamin Jowett - Parmenides (1871) Full text online
    • My writing is an answer to the partisans of the many and it returns their attack with interest, with a view to showing that the hypothesis of the many, if examined sufficiently in detail, leads to even more ridiculous results than the hypothesis of the One.
      • As translated in A History of Philosophy, Vol. I : Greece and Rome (1953) by Frederick Charles Copleston

Quotes about Zeno[edit]

Zeno's paradoxes have had a lasting impact through the attempts, from Aristotle down to the present day, to respond to the problems they raise. ~ John Palmer
  • It is said that he attempted to deliver his country from the tyranny of Nearchus. His plot was discovered, and he was exposed to (he most excruciating torments to reveal the names of his accomplices; but this be bore with unparalleled fortitude, and, not to be at last conquered by tortures, he cut off his tongue with his teeth, and spit it into the face of the tyrant. Some say that he was pounded alive in a mortar, and that in the midst of his torments he called to Nearchus, as if to reveal something of importance; the tyrant approached him, and Zeno, as if willing to whisper to him, caught his ear with his teeth, and bit it off.
    • John Lemprière, in Bibliotheca Classica : or, A Dictionary of all the Principal Names and Terms (1797). Plutarch gives the tyrant's name as Demylus, and accounts of similar behavior exist for other ancient philosophers and martyrs.
  • All skepticism is a kind of idealism. Hence when the skeptic Zeno pursued the study of skepticism by endeavoring existentially to keep himself unaffected by whatever happened, so that when once he had gone out of his way to avoid a mad dog, he shamefacedly admitted that even a skeptical philosopher is also sometimes a man, I find nothing ridiculous in this. There is no contradiction, and the comical always lies in a contradiction. On the other hand, when one thinks of all the miserable idealistic lecture-witticisms, the jesting and coquetry in connection with playing the idealist while in the professorial chair, so that the lecturer is not really an idealist, but only plays the fashionable game of being an idealist; when one remembers the lecture-phrase about doubting everything, while occupying the lecture platform, aye, then it is impossible not to write a satire merely by recounting the facts. Through an existential attempt to be an idealist, one would learn in the course of half a year something very different from this game of hide-and-seek on the lecture platform. There is no special difficulty connected with being an idealist in the imagination; but to exist as an idealist is an extremely strenuous task, because existence itself constitutes a hindrance and an objection. To express existentially what one has understood about oneself, and in this manner to understand oneself, is in no way comical. But to understand everything except one’s own self is very comical.
    • Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments 1846 p. 315-316 translated by David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie 1941 Fifth Printing Princeton University Press
  • Zeno of Elea, 5th c. B.C. thinker, is known exclusively for propounding a number of ingenious paradoxes. The most famous of these purport to show that motion is impossible by bringing to light apparent or latent contradictions in ordinary assumptions regarding its occurrence. Zeno also argued against the commonsense assumption that there are many things by showing in various ways how it, too, leads to contradiction. We may never know just what led Zeno to develop his famous paradoxes. While it is typically said that he aimed to defend the paradoxical monism of his Eleatic mentor, Parmenides, the Platonic evidence on which this view has resided ultimately fails to support it. Since Zeno's arguments in fact tend to problematize the application of quantitative conceptions to physical bodies and to spatial expanses as ordinarily conceived, the paradoxes may have originated in reflection upon Pythagorean efforts to apply mathematical notions to the natural world. Zeno's paradoxes have had a lasting impact through the attempts, from Aristotle down to the present day, to respond to the problems they raise.
  • In this capricious world nothing is more capricious than posthumous fame. One of the most notable victims of posterity's lack of judgement is the Eleatic Zeno. Having invented four arguments all immeasurably subtle and profound, the grossness of subsequent philosophers pronounced him to be a mere ingenious juggler, and his arguments to be one and all sophisms. After two thousand years of continual refutation, these sophisms were reinstated, and made the foundation of a mathematical renaissance, by a German professor, who probably never dreamed of any connexion between himself and Zeno. Weierstrass, by strictly banishing all infinitesimals, has at last shown that we live in an unchanging world, and that the arrow at every moment of its flight is truly at rest.
  • Zeno, the disciple of Parmenides, having attempted to kill the tyrant Demylus, and failing in his design, maintained the doctrine of Parmenides, like pure and fine gold tried in the fire, that there is nothing which a magnanimous man ought to dread but dishonor, and that there are none but children and women, or effeminate and women-hearted men, who fear pain. For, having with his own teeth bitten off his tongue, he spit it in the tyrant's face.
    • Plutarch, in "Against Colotes the Epicurean" in Morals
  • If I accede to Parmenides there is nothing left but the One; if I accede to Zeno, not even the One is left.
    • Seneca the Younger, as quoted in "Zeno", in The Presocratics (1966) edited by Philip Wheelwright, p. 106

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