Zeno of Elea Analysis


Zeno of Elea (ZEE-noh of EE-lee-uh) was a follower and defender of the “one and indivisible” philosophy of Parmenides, which directly opposed the atomists’ idea of “being” composed of smaller and smaller parts. Zeno’s book (now lost) used what has come to be called the reductio ad absurdum method of argument. Zeno began his defense by representing the atomists’ idea as an extreme of multiplicity that led to contradictory conclusions and created a paradox that he believed proved the invalidity of “being” as multiple and many. His argument, however, was so confusing that it would take other philosophers in the Eleatic school to counter the atomist theory in the last half of the fifth century b.c.e.


Aristotle credited Zeno with the creation of the dialectic method of philosophical discussion, which Socrates used widely and which Aristotle disliked. Zeno and the Eleatic school’s support for the “one and indivisible” theory never regained popularity after the end of the fifth century b.c.e. He is most famous for his “paradoxes,” which are often studied out of their original context by philosophers, folklorists, historians, and mathematicians.

Additional Reading

Aristotle. The Physics. Translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Contains an analysis of Zeno’s arguments. Important because Zeno’s extant texts are so fragmentary. Introduction and notes by David Bostock. Includes bibliographical references.

Boardman, John, Jasper Griffin, and Oswyn Murray, eds. The Oxford History of the Classical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. Martin West’s article on “Early Greek Philosophy” is useful in placing Zeno in his historical and cultural context.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962. Copleston provides an instructive introduction in a brief chapter on Zeno and his famous paradoxes about time and motion.

Curd, Patricia, ed. A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia. Translations by Richard D. McKirahan, Jr. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1996. Contains important texts and commentary that are important for understanding Zeno.

Faris, J. A. The Paradoxes of Zeno. Brookfield, Vt.: Avebury, 1996. A helpful study of the main logical paradoxes advanced by Zeno.

Grünbaum, Adolf. Modern Science and Zeno’s Paradoxes. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1967. Grünbaum brings the resources of contemporary mathematics and physics to bear on paradoxes having to do with motion and time.


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