Today we present the final addition to Heraclitus vs. Parmenides. Previous articles have explored the nature of metaphysics. Both philosophers concluded that the universe could be broken down into one fundamental thing. They presented radically different ideas about what that thing was, however. If you have not already, then read part one and two before continuing.
part one can be found here
part two can be found here
So who is right? Parmenides’ argument that it is impossible for something to go out of existence is basically a rehashing of the scientific law of the conservation of matter and energy. This would also imply that the universe as we know it is set, not capable of change. All events have already been predetermined because change is a logical impossibility.
This is the basis of what is called fatalism . If you combine this thought with the idea that every event is caused by a previous event then you have determinism. The universe, as Parmenides would suggest, is predetermined and there is no chance that it will ever change. The problem most people have with ‘determinism’ is that it is basically at odds with the idea of free will. And so to counter this, Parmenides makes the stunning claim that free will is an illusion. We may think we are making our own choices, but really our thoughts and actions are predetermined. Everything we think or do is caused by the eternal nature of the universe. Our thoughts may seem like our own, yet they are subject to cause and effect just like everything else.
Enter Heraclitus. This philosopher believed quite the opposite, as we know. The universe is consumed by change! All things are flux! “The way up and the way down are one in the same!” If we are to believe Heraclitus then we do, in fact, have free will. And yet the argument for free will is actually harder to make then you might think.
In order for free will to exist, our thoughts and actions must be the result of our will and our will alone. Yet, all things in the universe appear to be subject to cause and effect. So why would our thoughts and actions be any different? It would seem that in order to have free will, we would be defying the laws of reality, which is all events are caused by previous events. And if we are capable of defying the laws of reality, then that would suggest that we are god-like.
The theory that we are miraculously not subject to cause and effect is often referred to the “little god theory”. We create our own universe and the unchanging reality that was described by Parmenides has no sway over us.
So is everything constantly changing or is the universe predetermined, incapable of change? Are we the masters of our own life, using free will to defy the logic of cause and effect? Or are we all integral parts of a future that has already been written?
You are asking yourself these questions now… and as one more example; did you ask those questions to yourself of your own volition, your own free will? Or were those questions a direct result of reading this article? Did you choose to consider these thoughts? Or was it a result of forces beyond your control?
These are the questions that have plagued mankind. However, as is the case with most philosophy, we will probably never know the answer definitively. What we must always remember is that often times finding answers is not what is important. It is the questions themselves which are important. Philosophy is an action. We philosophize not always to find truth conclusively, but simply for the sake of it, for the sake of the questions. As Socrates would say, wisdom is not knowing everything. Wisdom is accepting that we know nothing.