“Οὐκ ἔστιν” (141e8): The Performative Contradiction of the First Hypothesis

In Luc Brisson, Macé Arnaud & Olivier Renaut (eds.), Plato’s Parmenides: Selected Papers from the Twelfth Symposium Platonicum. Baden-Baden: Academia Verlag. pp. 347-354 (2022)
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Abstract

At the end of the first hypothesis, Parmenides gets Aristotle to agree that being [οὐσίας] must be in time; that is, that being must partake in at least one of the temporal modes: either to have been in the past, to be in the present, or it will be in the future (140e-142a). If this is true, then “the one does not partake in being” (141e7-8), meaning temporal being—to which Aristotle agrees, saying “Apparently not” (141e9). Parmenides then gets Aristotle to agree that “Therefore, ‘the one’ in no way is” (141e9-10). This, however, contradicts the very first premise that begins Parmenides’ entire gymnastic exercise, “if one is” (137c4). The problem with the previous conclusion—that to be is to be in time—is that in professing his assent to it, Aristotle, in fact, gainsays it. He performatively contradicts the very thing he wants to assert. Aristotle answers Parmenides question, “Therefore could something partake of being in any way other than in one of those ways?” (141e7-8) with a two-word answer in Greek: “οὐκ ἔστιν [It’s not possible].” We can, therefore, ask of the very claim Aristotle is making—that it is impossible for something to be and not be in time—when in time does it hold true? At what time is it “not possible [οὐκ ἔστιν]” for something to not partake of temporal being? Is it not possible only in the present moment, in the past, or in the future? If Aristotle’s assertion is to have any force it must hold always. It has the same tenselessness as mathematical propositions, like ‘1+1=2.’ Forms, like mathematical entities, must necessarily have atemporal existence. Accordingly, in atemporally maintaining that anything that is must be in time, Aristotle undermines his own assertion. He performatively contradicts the very thing that he wants to affirm.

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Mateo Duque
State University of New York at Binghamton

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