Help! What Does This Mean?

This is Aristotle. I’ve been puzzling over the last clause for about a week now. I can’t figure it out. I suspect it’s not particularly difficult, but I’m a little baffled.

Although these opinions [those of Parmenides] appear to follow logically in a dialectical discussion, yet to believe them seems next door to madness when one considers the facts. For indeed no lunatic seems to be so far out of his senses as to suppose that fire and ice are "one": it is only between what is right and what seems right from habit that some people are mad enough to see no difference.

Is he just flagging up that he doesn’t think much of a naive empiricism? But if so, how does that relate to the fire and ice bit?

Any ideas or advice gratefully and humbly accepted!

  1. Thanks James. I’m not working my way through Russell’s History, so much as studying the Ancient Greeks. This particular passage gets quoted quite a lot.

    Your explanation makes sense.

    I was reading “right” as referring to truth claims, which introduces an ambiguity, since it could be he’s arguing something to the effect that: “Not even a lunatic would think fire and ice the same thing; therefore, there must be more to this than meets the eye” (which would then give a different sense to the last clause – since he might be saying, actually, where people do go wrong is in assuming that there is no difference between what is right and what seems to be right – so fire and ice could the same thing, after all).

    But if “right” has the sense you’re giving it, then the ambiguity pretty much goes away.


  2. Thanks again. Interesting.

    The whole translating thing makes all this stuff very difficult to be sure about.

    But I think it’s clear that your explanation is at the very least in the right ball park, whereas my idea… not so much! 🙂

    Did you just Google “On Generation and Corruption” to find that?

  3. It might have to do with sophisms. For Aristotle, sophisms are refutations (so syllogisms constructed on the other party’s premises) that seem to follow from the other party’s premises but are not, or that follow from the premises but are not refutations.

    So, “appear to follow logically in a dialectical discussion”, they are in fact sophistical. The “ice” and “fire” as one might be a variant of the sophism that “Socrates is seated and walking” (see De sophistichis elenchis, the third sophism in dictione – which we would today call the fallacy of division). The “mad enough” people are the ones that don’t see through the practices of the sophists, the sophisms, hence the reference to Parmenides – which after Plato was increasingly associated with the sophists.

    Aside from this, I have no idea what’s the point of the paragraph. Plus, out of context, one can extract any couple of sentences out of maybe any Greek texts and start wondering what they “mean”. They don’t mean much if you debate them as they stand.

  4. If there’s anybody still reading this, I’m stuck on something else, and could use some help.

    Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus has this section:

    Those things which without ceasing I have declared to you, those do, and exercise yourself in those, holding them to be the elements of right life. First believe that God is a living being immortal and happy, according to the notion of a god indicated by the common sense of humankind; and so of him anything that is at agrees not with about him whatever may uphold both his happyness and his immortality. For truly there are gods, and knowledge of them is evident; but they are not such as the multitude believe, seeing that people do not steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them.

    I cannot for the life of me parse this sub-clause:

    and so of him anything that is at agrees not with about him whatever may uphold both his happyness and his immortality.

    It’s entirely possible my brain malfunctioning here, so any advice or ideas greatly appreciated.

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