Friday, June 20, 2008

Parmenides' Fallacy: Reply

Philip C. Bobbitt
(Image from UT Austin)

Regular readers -- or anybody who has read at least yesterday's blog entry -- will recall that I posed a question about Professor Philip Bobbitt's reference to Parmenides' Fallacy, which "compares present states of affairs not with each other . . . but with the past" (Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, pp. 208). Here's a little reminder:
My sole reason for today's blog entry is to pose a simple question:
Who first identified this fallacy as "Parmenides' Fallacy" or as the "Parmenidean Fallacy"?
I've looked around a bit on the internet but haven't found a source identifying the origin of either "Parmenides' Fallacy" or "Parmenidean Fallacy."
I didn't receive many response. If I recall (counting on my fingers . . .), there were . . . uh, one of them. An old Ozark friend, Jeanie Oliver, suggested:
why don't you email him and ask him (Phillip Bobbitt)
Since Jeanie didn't end that sentence with a question mark, I took it as an imperative and did as she had suggested, writing to Philip Bobbitt and posing my query directly to him:
Dear Professor Bobbitt,

I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a simple query concerning the fallacy that you describe in your recent book, Terror and Consent:
"Who first identified this fallacy as 'Parmenides' Fallacy' or as the 'Parmenidean Fallacy'?"
I blogged this query but have received no answer . . . aside from a suggestion that I email you:
"Parmenides' Fallacy: Query"
This isn't a very important query, so ignore it if you have no time or interest.

At any rate, I'm learning a great deal from your book.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
To my surprise, I received within an hour a reply from Professor Bobbitt answering my query as to who first identified this error in thinking as the fallacy of Parmenides:
Actually, I did. See page 10, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002) and see "Today's War is Against Tomorrow's Iraq", New York Times, March 10, 2003, at A19.

It was perhaps unfair to use 'Parmenides' to name this Fallacy -- after all he isn't guilty of it, but I thought the name was sufficiently allusive to be helpful.

Thank you for asking. I hope you are enjoying the book and will let me know what you think of it.


Philip Bobbitt
That's a useful piece of information, to know that Professor Bobbitt coined the expression "Parmenides' Fallacy." To be frank, I had begun to suspect as much, for all of the online references -- of which there were not very many -- were extraordinarily recent.

Actually, I even found a reference to the "Parmenidean Fallacy" that differs from Professor Bobbitt's coinage and might signify a distinct unit of value having no clear exchange rate with Professor Bobbit's coin (but rather than try to fix an exchange rate, I'll leave that decision up to the marketplace of other people's better ideas):
Thomas Aquinas delivers a proof for the existence of God in which he first shows that there is something that necessarily exists, and then goes on to show that among the things that necessarily exist there must be something that derives its own necessity, and this "all men speak of as God." The main objection to Aquinas’ argument is that it contains a Parmenidean fallacy of substantial change. To counter this objection, we must salvage Aquinas' conclusion by reconciling parts of his argument with a natural philosophy of qualitative change. (David Siegel, "Aquinas' Argument for Necessary Existence," January 24, 2007)
This passage comes from David Siegel, an obviously bright young man studying computer science and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. By "Parmenidean fallacy," Siegel seems to mean a fallacy that Parmenides himself identified, for Siegel nods to "Parmenides' legacy by denying substantial change," which in the context appears to mean that Parmenides considered an appeal to "substantial change" (i.e., change in substance) to be a fallacy of thought.


Well, I've learned two things since yesterday, and these two bright spots of light are now circling each other like binary stars in the darkness of my ignorance, so I'll leave them to their brilliant dance of mutual attraction and go about my night, perceptively more enlightened.

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At 8:41 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

I actually was tired and just left off the question mark. I would never deliver a command to one such as you, oh esteemed teacher.
I am reminded of a time when a group of my students was doing a project concerning Faubus called "A Legacy in Black and White". They wanted to add something that would get the notice of the regional judges in the Arkansas History Day contest in Jonesboro. They played around with different ideas and I said that sometimes the simplest thing to do is call someone and ask your question. They called him at his home and he invited the whole group to his home for a personal interview about his time in office. They went, recorded it on video, and is still one of the great moments of my teaching career watching them ask him about the Little Rock Central issue.
Well, a bit of a long-winded explanation for my attitude of just ask the source.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Do you mean that Faubus himself invited your students to his home?


Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:00 PM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Yes, and he answered, what I considered, some pretty tough questions from them. They had to do all of it as I could not help them do more than find supplies for the presentation, per the rules of the contest.

At 4:39 AM, Blogger Jay Kactuz said...

Mr Hodges....
I was looking for Asma bint Marwan and came across your site. Good stuff, here. I need to pay more attention to Asia. It kind of gets lost in the turmoil that is the Middle East (and Europe not to mention the US). Also my daughter moved from Switzerland to NYC and now to Singapore.

Anyway, history and literature are wonderful. Good luck!

John aka kactuz

At 5:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, did your students win the contest?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, John aka kactuz. I try to ask a lot of questions on this blog, and that seems to carry it along day by day.

Sometimes, questions lead into disagreements, but I try not to sound disagreeable. I'm glad that you liked what you read.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:10 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Wow. That's great. Hey there's an interesting interview with Bobbitt up now at NRO TV. He's talking about how we have to change our ideas about terrorism and the aims of war. The link is here if anyone is interested:

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Sorry apparently that last comment cut off the URL. Here's a tiny url of the same link:

At 4:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Adam, thanks for the link. Looks as though I'd need some special software to watch the interviews . . . but I wonder if I could locate 'watchable' copies on You Tube...

Jeffery Hodges

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