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The World of Parmenides: Essays on the Presocratic Enlightenment [Anglais] [Relié]

Karl Popper , Jørgen Mejer , Arne Petersen

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This unique collection of essays, published together for the first time, not only elucidates the complexity of ancient Greek thought, but also reveals Karl Popper's engagement with Presocratic philosophy and the enlightenment he experienced in his reading of Parmenides. As Karl Popper himself states himself in his introduction, he was inspired to write about Presocratic philosophy for two reasons - firstly to illustrate the thesis that all history is the history of problem situations and secondly, to show the greatness of the early Greek philosophers, who gave Europe its philosophy, its science and its humanism.

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'Back to Methuselah' was a progressive programme, compared with 'Back to Thales' or 'Back to Anaximander': what Shaw offered us was an improved expectation of life - something that was in the air, at any rate when he wrote it. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.3 étoiles sur 5  3 commentaires
25 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Presocratics -- the roots of rationality 7 mars 2002
Par Autonomeus - Publié sur
Popper's philosophical view is captured in his summary of Aristotle. Popper credits Aristotle with the invention of logic, and for being a great biologist and scholar. But, "Aristotle was the first dogmatist..." "...[W]ith Aristotle's theory, that science is...certain knowledge, it may be said that the great enterprise of Greek critical rationalism came to an end." (5) And so Popper lovingly examines the great Pre-Socratic philosophers, Xenophanes, Heraclitus and Parmenides, as exemplars of critical rationalism, and makes them relevant to the 21st century.

"Beyond the Search for Invariants" is the centerpiece of this book, an absolutely brilliant 65-page essay tracing the influence of Parmenides on modern science. You may have heard the quote from Alfred North Whitehead -- "The medieval world was an age of faith based on reason, while the modern world is an age of reason based on faith." (Science and the Modern World, 1925) Popper makes a convincing case that the metaphysical assumption underpinning modern science is much older than Christianity. Heraclitus said "you can never step in the same river twice." His was a metaphysics of constant flux.

Parmenides, on the other hand, logically deduced that the world is a motionless block! A motionless block universe. It sounds absurd, but what Popper shows is that this metaphysical assumption has influenced great minds ever since, giving rise to the view that the universe is closed, and entirely deterministic. Only recently, with Darwin and Einstein, has Laplacean determinism given way to an open, indeterministic universe. Popper summarizes the essay like this in his 1993 preface -- "It tries to show that Heraclitus (everything changes) and Parmenides (nothing changes) have been reconciled and combined in modern science, which looks for Parmenidean invariance within Heraclitean flux." (viii)

You might conclude that Popper is harshly judging Parmenides. On the contrary, he praises him as a great rationalist -- he simply disagrees with a powerful idea of Parmenides. There are 9 other essays here, and they are not all equally compelling, but the best are among the best of anything I've read in the philosophy of science!
5 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Popper preincarnated 24 mars 2008
Par Viktor Blasjo - Publié sur
Popper's love of the presocratics stems from his hatred of hubristic epistemology, especially as regards science, which he traces back to Aristotle. "... all serious thinkers before Aristotle made a sharp distinction between, knowledge, real knowledge, certain truth (... later: episteme), which is divine and only accessible to the gods, and opinion (doxa), which mortals are able to possess, and is interpreted by Xenophanes as guesswork that could be improved." (p. 1). "The decisive break comes with Aristotle. ... He believes he knows: that he himself has episteme, demonstrable scientific knowledge. This is the main reason why I do not like Aristotle: what to Plato is a scientific hypothesis becomes with Aristotle episteme, demonstrable knowledge. And for most epistemologists of the West, it has remained so ever since." (p. 2).

Popper's criticism of such hubristic epistemologies suggests a unity of science and other creative activities. "According to this view, literature and science have a common origin; they both originate in the imaginative explanatory story, the imaginative explanatory myth. What distinguishes them is the predominant part played in science by criticism: by that kind of criticism that is dominated by the regulative idea of truth, by the idea of correspondence to the facts." (p. 106). "It is this critical examination of explanatory stories, or explanatory theories, undertaken in the hope of getting nearer to the truth that I regard as characteristic of what may somewhat loosely be described as rationality." (p. 109). "The critical approach exerts something like an evolutionary selection pressure upon the theories and so encourages their evolution towards greater truthlikeness." (p. 126).

The connection with literature is quite well established. Thales, for example, "was influenced, according to a suggestion of Aristotle's, by ... Homeric tradition: by the Homeric myth of Oceanus" (p. 109), "Paramenides' poem was written in imitation of the style of Homer and Hesiod, to whom his language often alludes" (p. 111), and so on.

Science took off from this basis as follows. One begins by proclaiming explanatory theories, e.g., "we are told that according to Thales water is the origin of all things, and that the Earth floats on water ... like a ship---a theory that appears to have been designed to explain earthquakes, for example." This is followed by criticism, e.g., "as Aristotle says, to propose such a theory 'is to forget that the same question may be raised ... about the Earth itself.'" And the next step is revision: "It seems probable that this is precisely the criticism that was originally raised against Thales' theory by Anaximander ... for we hear that Anaximander taught that 'The Earth is aloft. It is held up by nothing. It continues in its place because of its equal distance from all things.'" Now Popper gets a bit carried away: "This theory of an unsupported and freely suspended Earth ... is breathtaking in its boldness. It is the first step in the direction of Newton's theory; and in my opinion one might say that without Anaximander's bold theory there might never have been the development of scientific thought that lead to Newton, and beyond him. Yet this breathtaking step on the way to modern science was not based upon observation, as so many empiricists have it, but rather upon a critical revision of the mythical poetry of Homer's Iliad and of Hesiod's Theogony" (p. 110).

Popper gets even more carried away in the case of Parmenides, whom Popper thinks made "the most important contribution to theoretical physics ever made" in that "he built the first deductive system describing the universe, whose refutation led to the foundations of physics" (p. 126). Popper's support for these claims is extremely thin, and is scarcely grounded in the original texts.

The "first deductive system" alluded to here is really just one single deductive argument proving that movement is impossible. "The proof was (more or less simplified): (1) Only being is (only what is, is). (2) The nothing, the non-being, cannot be. (3) The non-being would be the absence of being: it would be the void. (4) There can be no void. (5) The world is full: a block. (6) Movement is impossible." (p. 71).

The "refutation" which "led to the foundations of physics" is the atomists' argument that all is atoms and void. "The atomic theory arose, as almost every empirical theory does, from an empirical refutation of its predecessor. Parmenides had derived an empirically testable conclusion: the conclusion that motion is impossible. Yest this conclusion is clearly refuted by experience; and so the refutation of the conclusion can be used, step by step, to refute part of the original position" (p. 158), as follows. "There is movement. Thus: The world is not full. There is empty space. The nothing, the void, does exist. Thus: The world consists of the existing, the hard and full, and of the void: Of 'atoms and the void'." (p. 103).

These ambitious extrapolations aside, the rise of the critical tradition naturally led to epistemological questions. "Conflicting stories could exist in Egypt without the consciousness of a clash. But among the more critically minded Greek cosmologists, the multiplicity of conflicting and usually dogmatic claims of the different cosmological theorists led to the question: How can we decide between these conflicting stories?" (p. 115).

This time it is Xenophanes who has the honour of posthumously serving as Popper's mouthpiece. "'But as for certain truth, no man has known it, \\ ... \\ And even if by chance he were to utter \\ The final truth, he would not himself know it: \\ For all is but a woven web of guesses.'" (p. 115). "[These verses] quoted from Xenophanes are of great importance ... Personally I regard them very highly, for I see in them a kind of anticipation of my own theory of knowledge, according to which all our scientific theories are myths, of in the words of Xenophanes, 'woven webs of guesses'. I hold that scientific theories remain essentially uncertain or hypothetical, although under the influence of criticism they may in time become more and more truthlike ... But even this view was anticipated by Xenophanes, who is remembered for the following verses: 'The gods did not reveal, from the beginning \\ All things to us; but in the course of time, \\ Through seeking we may learn, and know things better.'" (p. 116).
6 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 All knowledge is conjectural 26 juillet 2005
Par Luc REYNAERT - Publié sur
Popper was obsessed by Greek philosophy, and more particularly by Parmenides and Xenophanes. He saw in them (not quite) the first critical rationalists by analyzing a few written sentences. His statements are very bold long-shots, indeed. He learned ancient Greek because he felt that classical scholars gave bad translations of ancient philosophical texts.

For Parmenides, human opinion of appearances is based on our senses, which are totally misleading. We should 'by reason alone decide on the often-contested argument'.

His world vision was as follows: 'Only what is, is; nothingness cannot exist; the world is full; motion is impossible'.

This totally false vision was criticized by Heraclitus for whom there are no things, only changes, processes.

Another of Popper's favourites was Xenophanes, in which he saw the father of epistemology, because 'for all is but a woven web of guesses.'

More famous is Xenophanes's insight that human ideas of gods are vitiated by anthropomorphism:

The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black ...

horses would draw their gods like horses... and each would then shape bodies of gods in the likeness of its own.

Popper also explains tentatively the importance of geometry for Plato: the discovery of irrational numbers destroyed the Pythagorean arithmetic and Plato sought to replace this arithmetical theory by a geometrical one.

Speaking of modern philosophy, he scorns the use of an ununderstandable and impressive language. 'Most philosophers who made 'ontology' their business got nowhere'.

In his remarks on Maxwell's demon, one should take into account the energy needed for operating the shutter.

The Boltzmann story is better told in 'Unended Quest'.

A basic knowledge of probability theory is needed in order to understand the important issue of 'how induction becomes counter-induction'.

This book contains a lot of repetitions: 3 essays on Parmenides tell the same story and one essay is a very light adaptation of a chapter of 'The Self and its Brain'.

Although some parts of this book are interesting, I recommend it only for Popper fans and also, partly, for Greek scholars.
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