Melissus of Samos

Last updated
Melissus of Samos
Melissus Nuremberg Chronicle.jpg
An illustration of Melissus of Samos from the Nuremberg Chronicle
Born
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Eleatic school
Main interests
Metaphysics
Notable ideas
'What is' is both One and Infinite [1]
Nothing comes from nothing [2]

Melissus of Samos ( /məˈlɪsəs/ ; Greek : Μέλισσος ὁ Σάμιος; fl. 5th century BC) was the third [3] and last member of the ancient school of Eleatic philosophy, whose other members included Zeno and Parmenides. Little is known about his life, except that he was the commander of the Samian fleet in the Samian War. Melissus’ contribution to philosophy was a treatise of systematic arguments supporting Eleatic philosophy. Like Parmenides, he argued that reality is ungenerated, indestructible, indivisible, changeless, and motionless. In addition, he sought to show that reality is wholly unlimited, and infinitely extended in all directions; and since existence is unlimited, it must also be one.

Contents

Life

Samos in the southern Aegean Pythagorion.jpg
Samos in the southern Aegean

Not much information remains regarding the life of Melissus. He may have been born around 500 BC; [4] the date of his death is unknown. The little which is known about him is mostly gleaned from a small passage in Plutarch’s Life of Pericles. [5] He was the commander of the Samian fleet in the Samian War, and defeated Pericles and the Athenian fleet in 440 BC. Plutarch claims that Aristotle says that Melissus had also defeated Pericles in an earlier battle. [6] In his Life of Themistocles , [7] Plutarch denies Stesimbrotus’ claim that Melissus was held in high regard by Themistocles, claiming that he is confusing Themistocles and Pericles. Melissus was reputed to have been the pupil of Parmenides, [8] and the teacher of Leucippus, [9] though one must regard such claims with a fair amount of skepticism.

On Nature

Much of what remains of Melissus’ philosophical treatise, On Nature, has been preserved by Simplicius in his commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics and On the Heavens , and several summaries of his philosophy have come down to us. [10] Most of the remaining fragments can be found in Diels–Kranz. [11] Unlike Parmenides, Melissus wrote his treatise in prose, not poetry, consequently making it easier to follow than that of his teacher. Like Parmenides, he claims that Being is one, ungenerated, indestructible, indivisible, changeless, motionless and the same. Melissus’ philosophy differs from that of Parmenides in two respects: (1) Parmenides claims that Being is limited, while Melissus claims that it is wholly unlimited; and (2) for Parmenides, Being existed in a timeless Present, while for Melissus Being is eternal. [12] McKirahan claims that Parmenides argues for Being as spatially limited, but this is a contentious point. [13]

Philosophy

Eternal

Melissus argues that since The One [14] neither came to be nor is subject to destruction, it is therefore eternal. While fragment 1 is merely a summary of Parmenides’ arguments against coming to be and perishing (8.5-21), fragment 2 provides Melissus’ argument. Melissus’ argument is twofold, addressing the temporal aspect of The One somewhat as a timeline: granting the reality of the present moment, he argues that The One has existed eternally into the past and will exist eternally into the future.

His argument is as follows:

  1. Whatever comes to be must have a beginning.
  2. According to fragment 1, The One did not come to be.
  3. Therefore, The One does not have a beginning.
  4. Therefore, The One is eternal (has always existed in the past).

in addition:

  1. Whatever has a beginning must also end.
  2. According to fragment 1, The One did not have a beginning.
  3. Therefore, The One will not end.
  4. Therefore, The One is eternal (will always exist in the future).

He restates his argument for The One as eternal in fragments 6 and 9.1.

It is in this respect that Melissus differs from Parmenides, although some [15] argue that the difference is not as important as it might seem. Parmenides’ view is that there is only one moment (the eternal present), while Melissus argues for an infinite number of moments. The existence of a changeless, motionless, eternal present is an arguable position (after all, change and motion depend on time); however, the existence of a changeless, motionless, infinite succession of moments is a much more difficult position to defend (after all, if there is no other change, there is still temporal change, the change from one moment to the next).

There are several problems with Melissus’ reasoning. His second argument is based on a dubious premise (i.e., that whatever comes to be must also end at some point). Furthermore, both arguments, which can be reduced to “If A, then B; but not-A, therefore not-B”, are logically flawed.

Unlimited

Melissus contends that The One is unlimited. Fragments 7 and 8 apparently indicate that Melissus is speaking in terms of spatial infinity, although regarding fragment 3, which first argues this point, Simplicius explicitly denies this: “But by ‘magnitude’ he does not mean what is extended in space.” [16] Simplicius undoubtedly had more of Melissus’ treatise at his disposal, as well as other commentaries and notes which have not survived to the present day.

In any case, Melissus’ argument for this claim is unclear, and it is possible that it has not been preserved for us. Alternatively, he may intend for this argument to follow from the arguments of fragments 1 and 2, either directly or indirectly. In the former case, unless the argument is based on a now lost theory on the relationship between time and space, it is, as McKirahan says, “grossly fallacious”. [17] In the latter case, granting the “beginning” and “end” of fragment 2 spatial as well as temporal qualities leaves Melissus open to the charge of equivocation. [17]

In fragment 6 Melissus connects an eternal existence and the quality of being unlimited. Melissus may have argued for this quality due to certain issues arising in Parmenides’ thesis (8.42-9). The argument is as follows:

  1. Whatever has a beginning and end is neither eternal nor unlimited.
  2. Being has no beginning or end.
  3. Therefore, it is eternal and unlimited.

This argument, as fragment 3, is logically flawed, being basically: “If not-A, then not-B”.

One

Melissus’ argument for the oneness of what-is, given mainly in fragments 7 and 8, is undoubtedly his best. His argument is clearer and more concise than the one provided by Parmenides. Melissus argues that, because what-is is unlimited, it must also be one, because if it were more than one it would have limits (namely, the boundaries between what-is and the other existing objects). His argument is founded on the premises that what-is is both spatially and temporally unlimited and is as follows:

  1. What-is is temporally unlimited.
  2. Therefore, nothing else temporally unlimited could exist at the same time.
  3. What-is is spatially unlimited.
  4. Therefore, nothing else spatially unlimited could exist at a different time.
  5. Therefore, what-is is one.

The same

In On Melissus, Xenophanes and Gorgias , [18] Pseudo-Aristotle states that Melissus made a claim that The One is qualitatively the same. The validity of the argument depends on the nature of unity intended by Melissus. It is possible for one, single thing to have different parts: a human has a head, a body, two arms and two legs, but it is still one human. In most respects, Melissus is following in Parmenides’ footsteps, and so it is likely that Melissus is arguing for the same type of unity as Parmenides, namely, that The One is completely unified, with no parts to subdivide it. His argument is as follows:

  1. If what-is has qualitative differences, it is plural.
  2. What-is is one.
  3. What-is is whole in and of itself. [19]
  4. Therefore, what-is has no qualitative differences (i.e., is the same).

This is not provided in the second-hand report by Pseudo-Aristotle; however, the quality of wholeness is a major claim in Parmenides’ thesis, and it is likely that Melissus either made the argument for this point in a fragment that has not come down to us or expected it to be understood or inferred from his other arguments.

Changeless

Melissus argues that The One cannot undergo any change. He specifically states that The One cannot be rearranged, become greater or smaller, or undergo any kind of distress, but we may safely expand his argument to include all kinds of change. If The One underwent any kind of change whatsoever, it would become different and thus would no longer be unified or whole. [20] His argument is as follows:

  1. Whatever undergoes change is altered.
  2. Whatever is altered is not unified or whole.
  3. The One is unified and whole.
  4. Therefore, The One does not undergo any type of change.

Motionless

In fragment 9.7-10 Melissus makes the argument for motionless with the qualities of full and empty. He states that The One is full, because if it were empty it would be nothing, and what is nothing doesn’t exist. He then states that because The One is full, it can’t move. The argument is as follows:

  1. To be empty is to be nothing.
  2. What is nothing does not exist.
  3. The One exists.
  4. Therefore, The One is not empty.
  5. What is not empty must be full.
  6. Therefore, The One is full.

and further:

  1. Whatever has motion is not full.
  2. Whatever is full (i.e., has no empty spaces) must be motionless.
  3. The One is full.
  4. Therefore, The One is motionless.

Incorporeal

In fragment 5, Melissus makes the remarkable claim that The One is incorporeal. Just as his insistence that The One is unlimited, this claim may also be his attempt to address a potential problem inherent in Parmenides’ philosophy (8.42-9). His argument is as follows:

  1. The One is whole in and of itself.
  2. Therefore, The One has no parts.
  3. Therefore, The One has no thickness.
  4. Therefore, The One does not have a body.

This argument, on the surface, does not coincide with Melissus’ claim that The One is extended and full. After all, why can something that is extended not have any parts, and how can something that is full have no thickness? McKirahan offers an interesting interpretation for what Melissus may have been arguing. [21] A body not only has extension, but also limits, and something infinitely large, such as The One, is unlimited; an object, then, with no limits, is not a body. Furthermore, thickness is simply the measure of the distance between a body’s limits. Since The One is unlimited, it cannot have thickness.

Influence and reactions

While not as influential as his fellow Eleatics, Melissus' treatise did have an important impact on philosophy. Whether or not Leucippus was his student, it is clear that his treatise was as influential on atomism as were those of the other Eleatics. [22] Furthermore, because of its clear and concise nature, Melissus' version of Eleatic philosophy was the chief source for its presentation in the works of Plato and Aristotle. [23]

Aristotle never hesitated to insult Melissus, whom he viewed as quite inferior to his predecessors, stating that his work was "a bit crude" [24] and that he made "invalid arguments starting from false assumptions". [25] Aristocles, as well, had little admiration for Melissus, calling several of his arguments "absurd". [26]

Melissus has fared somewhat better in the eyes of modern philosophers. He was an inventive philosopher and had the good quality of offering clear and direct arguments. Although he follows Parmenides in his general views and the framework of Eleaticism, he made original contributions and innovations to the substance of Eleatic philosophy. [27]

See also

Notes

  1. DK 30 B 7: "So then it is eternal and infinite and one and all alike."
  2. DK B 1: "οὐδαμὰ ἂν γένοιτο οὐδὲν ἐκ μηδενός (...in no wise could anything have arisen out of nothing)".
  3. Whether or not Xenophanes should be included in the list of Eleatic philosophers is debatable.
  4. M. Schofield approximates his birth as ca. 500 BC, given his military history and associates. Kirk, Raven and Schofield, (2004), p. 391.
  5. Plutarch, Life of Pericles, 26.
  6. Kirk, Raven and Schofield, (2004), state that this claim was in Aristotle’s lost work entitled Constitution of the Samians.
  7. Plutarch, Life of Themistocles, 2.
  8. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, 9.24; Aetius 1.3.14
  9. Tzetzes, Chiliades, 2.980.
  10. Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, 103.13-104.20; Pseudo-Aristotle, On Melissus, Xenophanes and Gorgias , Ch. 1-2; Philoponus, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, 50.30-52.11.
  11. DK 30B1-10 (John Philoponus is not in DK
  12. McKirahan, p. 296.
  13. Drozdek, A., Eleatic Being: Finite or Infinite?, Hermes, 129. Bd., H. 3 (2001), (p. 306) "for Parmenides Being is finite because it is held in limits (DK28B8.26,31,42) and is compared to a sphere (DK28B8.42-43)." (p. 307) "Parmenides refers to the [limited] metaphorically, not literally. Being is ... not surrounded by a spatio-temporal boundary, ... [Being] surpasses the boundaries of time and space"
  14. Melissus’ own choice of appellation; see fragments 9 and 10.
  15. Such as McKirahan, p. 297.
  16. Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, 109.31-2.
  17. 1 2 McKirahan, p. 297.
  18. Pseudo-Aristotle, On Melissus, Xenophanes and Gorgias, 974a12-4.
  19. Note that the additional premise that The One is whole in and of itself has been added to the argument. McKirahan, p. 299.
  20. McKirahan, p. 299.
  21. McKirahan, p. 301.
  22. For example, see Melissus’ fragment 9.7 for the first written concept of the void, which is a fundamental part of atomist philosophy, as well as fragment 10.4-6
  23. Kirk, Raven and Schofield, (2004), p. 401.
  24. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 986b25-7.
  25. Aristotle, Physics, 185a9-12.
  26. DK192A14.
  27. McKirahan, p. 295.

Bibliography

Primary

Secondary

Related Research Articles

Anaximander pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Anaximander, was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in Miletus, a city of Ionia. He belonged to the Milesian school and learned the teachings of his master Thales. He succeeded Thales and became the second master of that school where he counted Anaximenes and, arguably, Pythagoras amongst his pupils.

Anaxagoras ancient Greek philosopher

Anaxagoras was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae at a time when Asia Minor was under the control of the Persian Empire, Anaxagoras came to Athens. According to Diogenes Laërtius and Plutarch, in later life he was charged with impiety and went into exile in Lampsacus; the charges may have been political, owing to his association with Pericles, if they were not fabricated by later ancient biographers.

Empedocles ancient Greek philosopher

Empedocles was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a citizen of Akragas, a Greek city in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for originating the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements. He also proposed forces he called Love and Strife which would mix and separate the elements, respectively. These physical speculations were part of a history of the universe which also dealt with the origin and development of life.

Heraclitus Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Ionian Greek philosopher, and a native of the city of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey and then part of the Persian Empire.

Leucippus Ancient Greek scholar

Leucippus is reported in some ancient sources to have been a philosopher who was the earliest Greek to develop the theory of atomism—the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms. Leucippus often appears as the master to his pupil Democritus, a philosopher also touted as the originator of the atomic theory.

Parmenides Ancient Greek philosopher

Parmenides of Elea was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia. Parmenides has been considered the founder of metaphysics or ontology and has influenced the whole history of Western philosophy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, which also included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Zeno's paradoxes of motion were to defend Parmenides' view.

Pre-Socratic philosophy philosophers active before and during the time of Socrates

Pre-Socratic philosophy is ancient Greek philosophy before Socrates and schools contemporary to Socrates that were not influenced by him. In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi. Their inquiries spanned the workings of the natural world as well as human society, ethics, and religion, seeking explanations based on natural principles rather than the actions of supernatural gods. They introduced to the West the notion of the world as a kosmos, an ordered arrangement that could be understood via rational inquiry. Significant figures include: the Milesians, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Zeno of Elea, and Democritus, among others.

Zeno's paradoxes are a set of philosophical problems generally thought to have been devised by Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea to support Parmenides' doctrine that contrary to the evidence of one's senses, the belief in plurality and change is mistaken, and in particular that motion is nothing but an illusion. It is usually assumed, based on Plato's Parmenides (128a–d), that Zeno took on the project of creating these paradoxes because other philosophers had created paradoxes against Parmenides' view. Thus Plato has Zeno say the purpose of the paradoxes "is to show that their hypothesis that existences are many, if properly followed up, leads to still more absurd results than the hypothesis that they are one." Plato has Socrates claim that Zeno and Parmenides were essentially arguing exactly the same point.

Zeno of Elea Ancient Greek philosopher best known for his paradoxes

Zeno of Elea was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of Magna Graecia and a member of the Eleatic School founded by Parmenides. Aristotle called him the inventor of the dialectic. He is best known for his paradoxes, which Bertrand Russell has described as "immeasurably subtle and profound".

Ancient Greek philosophy Philosophical origins and foundation of western civilization

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.

Xenophanes Presocratic philosopher

Xenophanes of Colophon was a Greek philosopher, theologian, poet, and social and religious critic. Xenophanes lived a life of travel, having left Ionia at the age of 25 and continuing to travel throughout the Greek world for another 67 years. Some scholars say he lived in exile in Sicily. Knowledge of his views comes from fragments of his poetry, surviving as quotations by later Greek writers. To judge from these, his elegiac and iambic poetry criticized and satirized a wide range of ideas, including Homer and Hesiod, the belief in the pantheon of anthropomorphic gods and the Greeks' veneration of athleticism. He is the earliest Greek poet who claims explicitly to be writing for future generations, creating "fame that will reach all of Greece, and never die while the Greek kind of songs survives."

Impermanence, also known as the philosophical problem of change, is a philosophical concept that is addressed in a variety of religions and philosophies.

Christian August Brandis German historian

Christian August Brandis was a German philologist and historian of philosophy.

The Eleatics were a pre-Socratic school of philosophy founded by Parmenides in the early fifth century BC in the ancient town of Elea. Other members of the school included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Xenophanes is sometimes included in the list, though there is some dispute over this. Elea, whose modern-day appellation is Velia, was a Greek colony located in present-day Campania in southern Italy.

Parmenides is one of the dialogues of Plato. It is widely considered to be one of the more, if not the most, challenging and enigmatic of Plato's dialogues. The Parmenides purports to be an account of a meeting between the two great philosophers of the Eleatic school, Parmenides and Zeno of Elea, and a young Socrates. The occasion of the meeting was the reading by Zeno of his treatise defending Parmenidean monism against those partisans of plurality who asserted that Parmenides' supposition that there is a one gives rise to intolerable absurdities and contradictions.

The unmoved mover or prime mover is a concept advanced by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the unmoved mover moves other things, but is not itself moved by any prior action. In Book 12 of his Metaphysics, Aristotle describes the unmoved mover as being perfectly beautiful, indivisible, and contemplating only the perfect contemplation: self-contemplation. He equates this concept also with the active intellect. This Aristotelian concept had its roots in cosmological speculations of the earliest Greek pre-Socratic philosophers and became highly influential and widely drawn upon in medieval philosophy and theology. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, elaborated on the unmoved mover in the Quinque viae.

The Sophist is a Platonic dialogue from the philosopher's late period, most likely written in 360 BC. Its main theme is to identify what a sophist is and how a sophist differs from a philosopher and statesman. Because each seems distinguished by a particular form of knowledge, the dialogue continues some of the lines of inquiry pursued in the epistemological dialogue, Theaetetus, which is said to have taken place the day before. Because the Sophist treats these matters, it is often taken to shed light on Plato's Theory of Forms and is compared with the Parmenides, which criticized what is often taken to be the theory of forms.

This page is a list of topics in ancient philosophy.

The question of the eternity of the world was a concern for both ancient philosophers and the medieval theologians and philosophers of the 13th century. The question is whether the world has a beginning in time, or whether it has existed from eternity. The problem became a focus of a dispute in the 13th century, when some of the works of Aristotle, who believed in the eternity of the world, were rediscovered in the Latin West. This view conflicted with the view of the Catholic church that the world had a beginning in time. The Aristotelian view was prohibited in the Condemnations of 1210–1277.

Apeiron is a Greek word meaning "(that which is) unlimited," "boundless", "infinite", or "indefinite" from ἀ- a-, "without" and πεῖραρ peirar, "end, limit", "boundary", the Ionic Greek form of πέρας peras, "end, limit, boundary". It is akin to Persian piramon, meaning "boundary, circumference, surrounding".