The Philosopher of Paradoxes


“The goal of life is living in agreement with Nature.” 


Zeno of Elea is renowned for his paradoxes. Indeed, they continue to challenge, confound, inspire and amuse even until this day. We can thank Plato for what little we know of Zeno’s life.  Plato wrote in his Parmenides dialogue of a meeting in Athens between Parmenides, Zeno and a young Socrates.  I can only imagine the intellectual energy generated by their conversation.

Zeno defended Parmenides’ views against the followers of Pythagoras by introducing a series of paradoxes to argue that change and plurality (a belief in the existence of many things rather than only one) are illusory. It seems that there may have been up to 40 paradoxes; unfortunately, only two have survived over the centuries.

The paradox that I recall suggests that Achilles of The Iliad fame, at his best speed, could never catch a tortoise that had been given a head start.   Suppose you want to walk to the other side of a room, the end point. Before you reach the end point, you must first reach the halfway point, but before that, you must reach the halfway point of that, and the halfway point of that, and so on.  If space consists of an infinite series of points, to complete the walk across the room, you must pass every one of those points.  Bottom line – you can never move through all of those infinite points within a finite timeline.  A tortoise, with the benefit of a head start, will outperform even the great Achilles.

“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”