Melissus on pain




Heyman, Ivan Walter

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In the fragments of Melissus we find the earliest metaphysical treatment of pain in the Western philosophical tradition. Famous for his one-entity ontology, Melissus argues that “what is” does not suffer pain or grief (B7.4–6). The scholarly literature on this passage has focused on two questions:

(1) What is the argumentative structure of the passage? (2) Who, if anyone, might Melissus be responding to?

I will focus on question (1). First, I will provide an account of the argumentative strategy of the passage by viewing it in the wider context of B7 as a whole. I will then note how this strategy, as well as certain features of Melissus’ diction, suggest an initial account of the structure of the passage, according to which it contains three independent arguments. This structure will be confirmed as we delve into the details of the arguments themselves. One of these arguments will prove the most difficult to interpret, and I will suggest two plausible interpretations of this argument, as well as two possible roles for the puzzling claim in 7.4 which invokes the notion of an “equal power” (isēn dunamin). Finally, we will see that one of the two readings of this claim has the accidental virtue of suggesting a response to question (2) above.




LCSH Subject Headings