Gorgias, On Nature



            3.  SEXTUS, AGAINST THE SCHOOLMASTERS VII 65: Gorgias of Leontini

        began  from  the  same  position  as  those  who  have  abolished  the

        criterion, but did not follow the same line of attack as the school of

        Protagoras.  In what is entitled On the NONEXISTENT OR  ON  NATURE  he

        proposes  three  successive headings: first and foremost, that nothing

        exists; second, that even if it exists it is inapprehensible  to  man;

        third,  that  even if it is apprehensible, still it is without a doubt

        incapable of being expressed or explained to the next man.

             (66) Now he concludes in the following way that nothing  exists:

        If <anything> exists, either the existent exists or the nonexistent or

        both  the  existent  exists  and  the  nonexistent.   But,  as he will

        establish, neither does the existent exist nor the nonexistent, as  he

        will  make  clear,  nor the existent and <the> nonexistent, as he will

        also teach.  It is not the case then that anything exists.  (67)  More

        specifically,  the  nonexistent does not exist; for if the nonexistent

        exists, it will both exist and not exist at the same time, for insofar

        as it is understood as nonexistent, it will not exist, but insofar  as

        it  is  nonexistent  it  will,  on  the  other hand, exist.  It would,

        however, be entirely absurd for something to exist  and  at  the  same

        time  not  to exist.  The nonexistent, therefore, does not exist.  And

        to state another argument, if the  nonexistent  exists,  the  existent

        will  not  exist,  for  these  are  opposites  to  each  other, and if

        existence is an attribute of the nonexistent, nonexistence will be  an

        attribute  of  the  existent.   But  it is not, in fact, true that the

        existent does not exist.  <Accordingly>, neither will the  nonexistent

        exist.  (68) Moreover, the existent does not exist either.  For if the

        existent  exists,  it  is  either eternal or generated, or at the same

        time eternal and generated.  But it is neither eternal  nor  generated

        nor both, as we shall show.  The existent therefore  does  not  exist.

        For  if  the  existent  is eternal (one must begin with this point) it

        does not have any beginning.  (69) For everything which  is  generated

        has some beginning, but the eternal, being ungenerated, did not have a

        beginning.   And  not having a beginning it is without limit.  And if

        it is without limit it is nowhere.  For if it is  somewhere,  that  in

        which  it  is, is something other than it, and thus if the existent is

        contained in something it will no longer be without  limit.   For  the

        container  is  greater than the contained, but nothing is greater than

        the unlimited, so that the  unlimited  cannot  exist  anywhere.   (70)

        Moreover,  it  is not contained in itself.  For in that case container

        and contained will be the same,  and  the  existent  will  become  two

        things, place and body (place is the container, body  the  contained).

        But  this  is  absurd.   Accordingly,  existence  is  not contained in

        itself.  So that if the existent is eternal it is unlimited, and if it

        is  unlimited  it  is nowhere, and if it is nowhere it does not exist.

        Accordingly, if the existent is eternal, it is not existent at all.

        (71) Moreover, neither can the existent be generated.  For if  it  has

        come  into  being,  it  has  come  either  from  the  existent  or the

        nonexistent.  But it has not come from the existent.   For  if  it  is

        existent,  it  has  not  come to be, but already exists.  Nor from the

        nonexistent.  For the nonexistent cannot  generate  anything,  because

        what  is  generative  of  something  of  necessity ought to partake of

        positive existence.  It  is  not  true  either,  therefore,  that  the

        existent  is generated.  (72) In the same way it is not jointly at the

        same time eternal and generated.  For  these  qualities  are  mutually

        exclusive  of  each  other,  and if the existent is eternal it has not

        been  generated,  and  if  it  has  been  generated it is not eternal.

        Accordingly, if the existent is neither eternal nor generated nor both

        at once, the existent should not  exist.   (73)  And  to  use  another

        argument,  if  it exists, it is either one or many.  But it is neither

        one nor many, as will be set forth.  Therefore, the existent does  not

        exist.   For  if  it  is  one,  it  is an existent or a continuum or a

        magnitude or a body.  But whatever of these it  is,  it  is  not  one,

        since  whatever  has  extent  will be divided, and what is a continuum

        will be cut.  And similarly, what is conceived as a magnitude will not

        be  indivisible.   And  if  it  is  by  chance  a  body  it  will   be

        three-dimensional, for it will have length,  and  breadth  and  depth.

        But it is absurd to say that the existent is  none  of  these  things.

        Therefore,  the  existent  is  not  one.   (74) And moreover it is not

        many.  For if it is not one, it is not many either, since the many  is

        a  composite  of separate entities and thus, when the possibility that

        it is one was refuted, the possibility that it is many was refuted  as

        well.   Now it is clear from this that neither does the existent exist

        nor does the nonexistent exist.  (75) It is easy to conclude that both

        the existent and the nonexistent do not  exist  either.   For  if  the

        nonexistent  exists  and  the existent exists, the nonexistent will be

        the same thing as the existent as far as existence is concerned.   And

        for  this  reason  neither  of them exists.  For it is agreed that the

        nonexistent does not exist, and the existent has been shown to be  the

        same  as  the  nonexistent and it accordingly will not exist.  (76) Of

        course, if the existent is the same as  the  nonexistent,  it  is  not

        possible for both to exist.  For if both exist, they are not the same,

        and  if  the same, both do not exist.  To which the conclusion follows

        that nothing exists.  For if  neither  the  existent  exists  nor  the

        nonexistent nor both, and if no additional possibility is conceivable,

        nothing exists.

              (77)  Next  it must be shown that even if anything exists, it is

        unknowable and incomprehensible to man.  For, says Gordias, if  things

        considered  in  the  mind  are  not  existent,  the  existent  is  not

        considered.  And that is logical.  For  if  "white"  were  a  possible

        attribute  of  what  is considered, "being considered" would also have

        been a possible attribute of what is white; similarly, if "not  to  be

        existent"  were  a  possible  attribute  of  what is being considered,

        necessarily "not to be considered" will be  a  possible  attribute  of

        what  is  existent.   (78)  As  a  result,  the  statement  "if things

        considered are not existent, the existent is not considered" is  sound

        and  logically  follows.   But things considered (for this must be our

        starting point) are not existent, as we shall show.  The  existent  is

        not  therefore  considered.   And  moreover,  it  is clear that things

        considered are not  existent.   (79)  For  if  things  considered  are

        existent,  all  things  considered  exist,  and in whatever way anyone

        considers them.  Which is absurd.  For if one considers a  man  flying

        or  chariots  racing  in the sea, a man does not straightway fly nor a

        chariot race in the sea.  So that things considered are not  existent.

        (80)  In  addition,  if  things  considered  in the mind are existent,

        nonexistent  things  will  not  be  considered.   For  opposites   are

        attributes  of  opposites,  and  the  nonexistent  is  opposed  to the

        existent.  For  this  reason  it  is  quite  evident  that  if  "being

        considered  in  the  mind" is an attribute of the existent, "not being

        considered in the mind" will be an attribute of the nonexistent.   But

        this  is  absurd.   For Scylla and Chimaera and many other nonexistent

        things are considered in the mind.  Therefore,  the  existent  is  not

        considered  in the mind.  (81) Just as objects of sight are said to be

        visible for the reason that they are seen, and objects of hearing  are

        said  to  be audible for the reason that they are heard, and we do not

        reject visible things on the grounds that  they  are  not  heard,  nor

        dismiss  audible  things  because they are not seen (since each object

        ought to be judged by its own sense, but not  by  another),  so,  too,

        things  considered  in  the mind will exist even if they should not be

        seen by the sight nor heard by the hearing, because they are perceived

        by their own criterion.  (82) If, therefore, someone considered in the

        mind that chariots race in the sea, even if he does not see  them,  he

        should believe that there are chariots racing in the sea.  But this is

        absurd.  Therefore, the existent is not an object of consideration and

        is not apprehended.

              (83) But even if it should be apprehended, it would be incapable

        of  being conveyed to another.  For if existent things are visible and

        audible and generally perceptible, which means that they are  external

        substances, and of these the things which are visible are perceived by

        the   sight,   those   that  are  audible  by  the  hearing,  and  not

        contrariwise,  how  can  these  things  be revealed to another person?

        (84) For that by which we reveal is LOGOS, but LOGOS is not substances

        and existing things.  Therefore we do not reveal  existing  things  to

        our neighbors, but LOGOS, which is something  other  than  substances.

        Thus,  just  as  the visible would not become audible, and vice versa,

        similarly, when external reality is involved, it would not become  our

        LOGOS,  (85)  and  not being LOGOS, it would not have been revealed to

        another.  It is clear, he says that LOGOS arises from external  things

        impinging  upon  us, that is, from perceptible things.  From encounter

        with a flavor, LOGOS is expressed by us about that quality,  and  from

        encounter  with  a  color, an expression of color.  But if this is the

        case, LOGOS is not evocative of the external, but the external becomes

        the revealer of LOGOS. (86) And surely it is not possible to say  that

        LOGOS  has  substance  in  the way visible and audible things have, so

        that  substantial  and  existent  things  can  be  revealed  from  its

        substance  and  existence.  For, he says, even if LOGOS has substance,

        still it differs from all the other substances, and visible bodies are

        to the greatest degree different  from  words.   What  is  visible  is

        comprehended  by  one  organ,  LOGOS  by  another.   LOGOS  does  not,

        therefore, manifest the multiplicity of substances, just  as  they  do

        not manifest the nature of each other.

              (87) Such being, in Gorgias' view, the problems, insofar as they

        are  valid,  the  criterion  is  destroyed.   For  there  would  be no

        criterion if nature neither exists nor can be understood not  conveyed

        to  another.  Similar summary in [Aristotle] MELISSUS, XENOPHANES, AND

        GORGIAS 5, 6, 979a11-980b21.  Aristotle himself wrote a  monograph  IN

        REPLY TO THE OPINIONS OF GORGIAS.  See Diogenes Laertius V 25.


        From: THE OLDER SOPHISTS, ed. by Rosamund Kent Sprague

              (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina

               Press, 1972) pp.42-46.