The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers

By Werner Jaeger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
PARMIENIDES' MYSTERY OF BEING

XENOPHANES' criticism of the popular religion and the revival of theogonic speculation have shown us how profoundly the broad religious currents of the sixth century were influenced by the Ionian philosophy of nature. With Parmenides of Elea we now return to philosophy in a stricter sense. Hitherto all philosophical thinking had been of the physical type, taking as its point of departure the problem of the permanent ground of coming-to-be and passing-away, the originative source ἀρχή. But in Parmenides' theory of the Existent (ὄν) we find a new and original point of departure. Karl Reinhardt, whose book on Parmenides has the great merit of making us understand him anew, has, in his final pages, dealt briefly with the problem of the relation between philosophical reasoning and religious feeling in Parmenides' thought. He calls him 'a thinker who knows no other desire than knowledge, feels no other manacle than logic, and is left indifferent by God and by feeling'.1 The creator of the metaphysic of Being, which subsequently becomes in Plato and Aristotle an 'instrument for satisfying the longing for immortality and the presence of the Divine in man',2 would, if Reinhardt's characterization is correct, fall completely outside the range of the perspective from which we are here examining the Greek thinkers. His philosophy would frankly become a kind of symbol for that basic human impulse of pure intellectualism which, 'free from any religious or moral scruple . . . follows the path marked out for it, in a spirit of the most ruthless analysis'. Reinhardt finds this spirit present not only in Parmenides but also in Anaxagoras, Empedocles, and Democritus, while he feels that in Pythagoras and Heraclitus the pursuit of scientific knowledge has become strangely pervaded with an interpretation of the world basically mystical and religious.

Certainly we are following one of the less admirable fashions of our period when we permit our interest in the history of religion to lead us to find in religion the single root of every form that the human spirit assumes, including even the deep- lying desire for knowledge, towards which, according to Aris

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