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Zeno of Elea[citation needed]
Born ca. 490 BCE
Died ca. 430 BCE
Era Pre-Socratic philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Eleatic school
Main interests Metaphysics, Ontology
Notable ideas Zeno's paradoxes

Zeno of Elea (pronounced /ˈziːnoʊ əv ˈɛliə/, Greek: Ζήνων ὁ Ἐλεάτης) (ca. 490 BC? – ca. 430 BC?) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of southern Italy and a member of the Eleatic School founded by Parmenides. Aristotle called him the inventor of the dialectic.[1] He is best known for his paradoxes, which Bertrand Russell has described as "immeasurably subtle and profound".[2]



Little is known for certain about Zeno's life. Although written nearly a century after Zeno's death, the primary source of biographical information about Zeno is the dialogue of Plato called the Parmenides.[3] In the dialogue, Plato describes a visit to Athens by Zeno and Parmenides, at a time when Parmenides is "about 65," Zeno is "nearly 40" (Parmenides 127b) and Socrates is "a very young man" (Parmenides 127c). Assuming an age for Socrates of around 20, and taking the date of Socrates' birth as 470 BC, gives an approximate date of birth for Zeno of 490 BC.

Plato says that Zeno was "tall and fair to look upon" and was "in the days of his youth … reported to have been beloved by Parmenides" (Parmenides 127b).

Other perhaps less reliable details of Zeno's life are given by Diogenes Laërtius in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,[4] where it is reported that he was the son of Teleutagoras, but the adopted son of Parmenides, was "skilled to argue both sides of any question, the universal critic," and that he was arrested and perhaps killed at the hands of a tyrant of Elea.

According to Plutarch, Zeno attempted to kill the tyrant Demylus, and failing to do so, "with his own teeth bit off his tongue, he spit it in the tyrant’s face."[5]


Although many ancient writers refer to the writings of Zeno, none of his writings survive intact.

Plato says that Zeno's writings were "brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of" the visit of Zeno and Parmenides (Parmenides 127c). Plato also has Zeno say that this work, "meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides" (Parmenides 128c), was written in Zeno's youth, stolen, and published without his consent (Parmenides 128e). Plato has Socrates paraphrase the "first thesis of the first argument" of Zeno's work as follows: "if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like" (Parmenides 127d,e).

According to Proclus in his Commentary on Plato's Parmenides, Zeno produced "not less than forty arguments revealing contradictions" (p. 29), but only nine are now known.

Zeno's arguments are perhaps the first examples of a method of proof called reductio ad absurdum, literally meaning to reduce to the absurd. Parmenides is said[citation needed] to be the first individual to implement this style of argument. This form of argument soon became known as the epicheirema. In Book VII of his Topica, Aristotle says that an epicheirema is a dialectical syllogism. It is a connected piece of reasoning which an opponent has put forward as true. The disputant sets out to break down the dialectical syllogism. This destructive method of argument was maintained by him to such a degree that Seneca the Younger commented a few centuries later, If I accede to Parmenides there is nothing left but the One; if I accede to Zeno, not even the One is left.[6]

Zeno of Elea shows Youths the Doors to Truth and Falsity (Veritas et Falsitas). Fresco in the Library of El Escorial, Madrid.

Zeno's paradoxes

Zeno's paradoxes have puzzled, challenged, influenced, inspired, infuriated, and amused philosophers, mathematicians, physicists and school children for over two millennia. The most famous are the so-called "arguments against motion" described by Aristotle in his Physics.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Cited in Diogenes Laërtius 8.57 and 9.25.
  2. ^ Russell, p. 347: "In this capricious world nothing is more capricious than posthumous fame. One of the most notable victims of posterity's lack of judgement is the Eleatic Zeno. Having invented four arguments all immeasurably subtle and profound, the grossness of subsequent philosophers pronounced him to be a mere ingenious juggler, and his arguments to be one and all sophisms. After two thousand years of continual refutation, these sophisms were reinstated, and made the foundation of a mathematical renaissance..."
  3. ^ Plato (370 BC). Parmenides, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Internet Classics Archive.
  4. ^ Diogenes Laërtius. The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, literally translated by C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853. Scanned and edited for Peithô's Web.
  5. ^ Plutarch, Against Colotes
  6. ^ Zeno in The Presocratics, Philip Wheelwright ed., The Odyssey Press, 1966, Pages 106-107.
  7. ^ Aristotle (350 BCE). Physics, translated by R.P. Hardie and R.K. Gaye. Internet Classics Archive.


  • Plato; Fowler, Harold North (1925) [1914]. Plato in twelve volumes. 8, The Statesman.(Philebus).(Ion). Loeb Classical Library. trans. W. R. M. Lamb. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U.P. ISBN 9780434991648. OCLC 222336129. 
  • Proclus; Morrow, Glenn R.; Dillon, John M. (1992) [1987]. Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691020891. OCLC 27251522. 
  • Russell, Bertrand (1996) [1903]. The Principles of Mathematics. New York, NY: Norton. ISBN 9780393314045. OCLC 247299160. 

Further reading

External links


Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Greek philosopher, born at Elea, about 490 B.C. At his birthplace Xenophanes and Parmenides had established the metaphysical school of philosophy known as the Eleatic School. The chief doctrine of the school was the oneness and immutability of reality and the distrust of sense-knowledge which appears to testify to the existence of multiplicity and change. Zeno's contribution to the literature of the school consisted of a treatise, now lost, in which, according to Plato, he argued indirectly against the reality of motion and the existence of the manifold. There were, it seems, several discourses, in each of which he made a supposition, or hypothesis, and then proceeded to show the absurd consequences that would follow. This is now known as the method of indirect proof, or reductio ad absurdum, and it appears to have been used first by Zeno. Aristotle in his "Physics" has preserved the arguments by which Zeno tried to prove that motion is only apparent, or that real motion is an absurdity. The arguments are fallacious, because as Aristotle has no difficulty in showing, they are founded on on false notions of motion and space. They are, however, specious, and might well have puzzled an opponent in those days, before logic had been developed into a science. They earned for Zeno the title of "the first dialectician," and, because they seemed to be an unanswerable challenge to those who relied on the verdict of the senses, they helped to prepare the way for the skepticism of the Sophists. Besides, the method of indirect proof opened up for the sophist new possibilities in the way of contentious argument, and was very soon developed into a means of confuting an opponent. It is, consequently, the forerunner of the Eristic method, or the method of strife.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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Zeno of Elea

Zeno of Elea was a Greek philosopher. He was born about 490 BC and died about 430 BC. His year of birth and death are not known at this time.


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