Skip to main content


Being and Not-Being in Greek Philosophy: from Parmenides to Aristotle (CLA3263)

15 credits

What is being and what is not-being? What does it mean for something to be and what does it mean for it not to be? What is the relationship between things that are and things that are not? These and related questions have always fascinated philosophers and continue to attract the attention of contemporary thinkers working in the area of metaphysics.

The ancient Greek contribution to the investigation into being and not-being can hardly be overestimated. From the end of the 6th century to the second half of the 4th century BC Greek philosophers have long discussed the notion of being and not-being and come up with a series of fascinating philosophical theories. Three phases are clearly recognisable: (1) Parmenides’ understanding of being and not-being as two opposed and irreconcilable notions (what is is and what is not is not); (2) Plato’s attempt to show that being and not-being are not exclusive and can be combined; (3) Aristotle’s indifference to the notion of not-being in favour of a richer and wider notion of being.

We will explore the different phases of the Greek reflection on being and not-being in the 6th-4th centuries BC by reading and commenting a wide range of texts from Parmenides, Democritus, Plato and Aristotle.

The module presupposes some basic acquaintance either with ancient philosophy or with philosophy in general.