Parmenides of Elea, active in the earlier part of the 5th c. BCE,authored a difficult metaphysical poem that has earned him areputation as early Greek philosophy’s most profound and challengingthinker. His philosophical stance has typically been understood as atonce extremely paradoxical and yet crucial for the broader developmentof Greek natural philosophy and metaphysics. He has been seen as ametaphysical monist (of one stripe or another) who so challenged thenaïve cosmological theories of his predecessors that his majorsuccessors among the Presocratics were all driven to develop moresophisticated physical theories in response to his arguments. Thedifficulties involved in the interpretation of his poem have resultedin disagreement about many fundamental questions concerning hisphilosophical views, such as: whether he actually was a monist and, ifso, what kind of monist he was; whether his system reflects a criticalattitude toward earlier thinkers such as the Milesians, Pythagoreans,and Heraclitus, or whether he was motivated simply by more strictlylogical concerns, such as the paradox of negative existentials thatBertrand Russell detected at the heart of his thought; whether heconsidered the world of our everyday awareness, with its vastpopulation of entities changing and affecting one another in allmanner of ways, to be simply an illusion, and thus whether the lengthycosmological portion of his poem represented a genuine attempt tounderstand this world at all. This entry aims to provide an overviewof Parmenides’ work and of some of the major interpretive approachesadvanced over the past few decades. It concludes by suggesting thatunderstanding his thought and his place in the development of earlyGreek philosophy requires taking due account of the fundamental modaldistinctions that he was the first to articulate and explore with anyprecision.


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