At our Spring 2021 GRI conference, Greg Malloy presented an argument he has developed to show that neither matter nor the soul have existed without beginning. This is because they are changing, and whatever is changing cannot be eternal. Below is a dialogue he wrote to help explain his argument.
Good morning to you Socrates.
Ah, Zeno. Thank you, but this greeting assumes you have an understanding of what it is means to be ‘good’. Let us begin by …
I’m not having this argument again Socrates …
Very well. Morning to you. For I wish that I could say that it is good, but I fear you have just come from the market after hearing the atomists again.
Much of what they have to say makes sense to me Socrates.
That may very well be true, Zeno, but would you agree that the apparent plausibility of a view and the truthfulness of it are not always the same?
I would Socrates, as you have demonstrated to me in the past. If only you had been there this morning, I would have benefitted from your interaction with the atomists.
You do not need me to guide you, Zeno, as their views are so clearly false, that anyone could demonstrate their absurdity by simple questions.
Please show me Socrates.
Very well, but this really must be the last time, Zeno. I won’t be around forever, and you should start seeing these things for yourself. To be clear, they say that matter has always existed- is this right?
Correct Socrates. I heard them clearly say it today.
Right. And am I correct that they say that it changes as well.
By its nature, Socrates. All the time. They would not deny this.
So it has always existed and has been constantly changing?
That is the view, Socrates.
How many changes would they say have taken place then, Zeno?
I’m not sure I understand Socrates.
It’s quite a simple question, Zeno. How many changes would they say have taken place?
I don’t think there is a particular number, Socrates, the changes have always been happening.
So, there have been an endless number of changes then Zeno?
I suppose that is right Socrates.
Would it be right to describe this as an infinite number of changes?
Yes, Socrates. Thank you. That is the term. A number without end.
Just so I am clear, Zeno, there is no end to an infinite series of things?
That is right, Socrates.
How long then would it take to reach the end of this infinite series?
I don’t understand, Socrates.
How long would it take to reach the end of this infinite series? If feel the question is quite clear.
The question is clear, but the idea is the problem, Socrates. As you have recently said, there is no end.
Ah, Zeno, so can we say with certainty that we cannot come to every state of an infinite series?
Clearly, Socrates. As I thought we had already established.
Very good, Zeno. Now, how many of the previous states would the atomists say we have been in?
Again, I’m not sure I understand Socrates.
They say there have been previous states prior to our current one, correct?
Of course, Socrates.
Well, how many of the previous states do they say we have been in prior to our current one?
I suppose all of them Socrates.
Well, I don’t recall them specifically saying that Socrates.
Ah, then why did you say all of them?
I’m not sure Socrates.
Quite alright, Zeno. We often affirm things without being quite sure of why. Let me help you. In any series, which comes first, the previous or the present?
Is this just your opinion?
No, Socrates. That is what the terms mean.
Quite right, Zeno. So then, do just some of the previous come first, or all of them?
Can we say, then, that any current state assumes that all the previous states must be reached first?
That would seem to be required Socrates.
Then you have done it Zeno.
Done what Socrates?
Shown the atomist view to be impossible, of course!
How Socrates, I still don’t see it.
We agreed that any current state assumes that all previous states must be reached first, correct?
And we agreed that you can never reach all states of an infinite series, correct?
Of course, Socrates.
Then there is it Zeno. Since the atomists believe that there have been an infinite amount of previous states, they say that the very thing we must do is the thing that cannot be done. We must come to all previous states, but we cannot come to all of the previous states.
I believe I understand Socrates. But what do the atomists say to this?
You tell me Zeno. Tomorrow, after you have brought this argument to them.