|Born||c. 570 BC|
|Died||c. 478 BC (aged c. 92)|
|Religious polytheistic views as human projections|
The cosmic principles of water and earth
The true belief and knowledge distinction
Xenophanes of Colophon (//; Ancient Greek: Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος [ksenopʰánɛːs ho kolopʰɔ̌ːnios]; c. 570 – c. 478 BC) was a Greek philosopher, theologian, poet, and critic of religious polytheism. Xenophanes is seen as one of the most important Pre-Socratic philosophers. Eusebius quoting Aristocles of Messene says that Xenophanes was the founder of a line of philosophy that culminated in Pyrrhonism. This line begins with Xenophanes and goes through Parmenides, Melissus of Samos, Zeno of Elea, Leucippus, Democritus, Protagoras, Nessos of Chios, Metrodorus of Chios, Diogenes of Smyrna, Anaxarchus, and finally Pyrrho. It had also been common since antiquity to see Xenophanes as the teacher of Zeno of Elea, the colleague of Parmenides, and generally associated with the Eleatic school, but common opinion today is likewise that this is false.
Xenophanes was born in the city of Colophon in Ionia. He lived a life of travel after fleeing Ionia at the age of 25 when the Persians took over. He continued to travel throughout the Greek world for another 67 years and ultimately ended up in the Greek colonies of what is now Italy and Sicily. Some scholars say he lived in exile in Sicily. Knowledge of his views comes from fragments of his poetry, surviving as quotations by later Greek writers. To judge from these, his elegiac and iambic poetry criticized and satirized a wide range of ideas, including Homer and Hesiod, the belief in the pantheon of anthropomorphic gods and the Greeks' veneration of athleticism. He is the earliest Greek poet who claims explicitly to be writing for future generations, creating "fame that will reach all of Greece, and never die while the Greek kind of songs survives."
Xenophanes was a native of Colophon, a city in Ionia (now western Turkey). Some say he was the son of Orthomenes, others the son of Dexius. He is said to have flourished during the 60th Olympiad (540–537 BC). His surviving work refers to Thales, Epimenides, and Pythagoras, and he himself is mentioned in the writings of Heraclitus and Epicharmus. In a fragment of his elegies, he describes the Median invasion as an event that took place in his time, possibly referring to the expedition of Harpagus against the Greek cities in Ionia (546/5 BC). He left his native land as a fugitive or exile and went to the Ionian colonies in Sicily, Zancle and Catana. He probably lived for some time in Elea (founded by the Phocaeans in the 61st Olympiad 536–533 BC), since he wrote about the foundation of that colony.
In his ninety-second year he was still, we have seen, leading a wandering life, which is hardly consistent with the statement that he settled at Elea and founded a school there, especially if we are to think of him as spending his last days at Hieron's court. It is very remarkable that no ancient writer expressly says he ever was at Elea, and all the evidence we have seems inconsistent with his having settled there at all.
According to biographer Diogenes Laërtius, Xenophanes wrote in hexameters and also composed elegies and iambics against Homer and Hesiod. Laertius also mentions two historical poems concerning the founding of Colophon and Elea, but of these, only the titles have been preserved. There is no good authority that says that Xenophanes wrote a philosophical poem. The Neoplatonist philosopher Simplicius writes that he had never met with the verses about the earth stretching infinitely downwards (fr. 28), even though he had access to many philosophical works. Several of the philosophical fragments are derived from commentators on Homer. It is thus likely that the philosophical remarks of Xenophanes were expressed incidentally in his satires. The satires are called Silloi by late writers, and this name may go back to Xenophanes himself, but it may originate in the fact that the Pyrrhonist philosopher Timon of Phlius, the "sillographer" (3rd century BC), put much of his own satire upon other philosophers into the mouth of Xenophanes, one of the few philosophers Timon praises in his work.
Recent research has revealed the originality of his philosophical quests which were underestimated in previous years. Of particular importance, Xenophanes casts doubt on Greek myths which portray the gods as petty and immoral and cites the fact that human beings create gods in their own image in an attempt to reform Greek religion.
Xenophanes denied that a criterion of truth exists. He is credited with being one of the first philosophers to distinguish between true belief and knowledge, which he further developed into the prospect that you can know something but not really know it. Due to the lack of whole works by Xenophanes, his views are difficult to interpret, so that the implication of knowing being something deeper ("a clearer truth") may have special implications, or it may mean that you cannot know something just by looking at it. It is known that the most and widest variety of evidence was considered by Xenophanes to be the surest way to prove a theory.
His epistemology, which is still influential today, held that there actually exists a truth of reality, but that humans as mortals are unable to know it. Hence his views are considered a precursor to Pyrrhonism and subsequent Western philosophical skepticism. He summed up his view in these quotes:
The gods have not, of course, revealed all things to mortals from the beginning; but rather, seeking in the course of time, they discover what is better.
Yet, with respect to the gods and what I declare about all things, no man has seen what is clear nor ever will any man know it. Nay, for e’en should he chance to affirm what is really existent, he himself knoweth it not; for all is swayed by opining.
Karl Popper read Xenophanes as saying that it is possible to act only on the basis of working hypotheses—we may act as if we knew the truth, as long as we know that this is extremely unlikely. Xenophanes' views then might serve as a basis of critical rationalism.
Xenophanes concluded from his examination of fossils that water once must have covered all of the Earth's surface. This use of evidence was an important step in advancing from simply stating an idea to backing it up by evidence and observation.
There is one fragment dealing with the management of a feast, another which denounces the exaggerated importance attached to athletic victories, and several which deny the humanized gods of Homer. Arguments such as these made Xenophanes infamous for his attacks on "conventional military and athletic virtues of the time" and well known to side with the intellectual instead.
Xenophanes' surviving writings display a skepticism that became more commonly expressed during the fourth century BC. He satirized traditional religious views of his time as human projections. He aimed his critique at the polytheistic religious views of earlier Greek poets and of his own contemporaries: "Homer and Hesiod," one fragment states, "have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception." Xenophanes is quoted in Clement of Alexandria, arguing against the conception of gods as fundamentally anthropomorphic:
But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.
Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed [σιμούς] and black
Thracians that they are pale and red-haired.
Other passages quoted by Clement of Alexandria that argue against the traditional Greek conception of gods include:
Regarding Xenophanes' theology five key concepts about God can be formed. God is: beyond human morality, does not resemble human form, cannot die or be born (God is divine thus eternal), no divine hierarchy exists, and God does not intervene in human affairs. While Xenophanes is rejecting Homeric theology, he is not questioning the presence of a divine entity, rather his philosophy is a critique on Ancient Greek writers and their conception of divinity.
Xenophanes espoused a belief that "God is one, supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or in mind." He maintained there was one greatest God. God is one eternal being, spherical in form, comprehending all things within himself, is the absolute mind and thought, therefore is intelligent, and moves all things, but bears no resemblance to human nature either in body or mind.
God moves all things, but he is thought to be immobile, characterized by oneness (B23) and unicity, eternity (B26) and a spiritual nature which is bodiless and isn't anthropomorfic (B14, B15, B16). He has a free will and is the Highest Good, he embodies the beauty of the moral perfection and of the absence of sin. The Orphism religion and the Pythagorean philosophy introduced into the Greek spirituality the notions of guilt and pureness, causing a dichotomyic belief between the divine soul and the mortal body. This doctrine is in contrast with the traditional religions as espoused by Homer and Hesiod. The thought of Xenophanes was summarized as monolotraous and pantheistic by the ancient doxographies of Aristotle, Cicero, Diogenes Laertius, Sextus Empiricus, and Plutarch. More particularly, the Methaphysics of Aristotle referred that for him "the All is God" (Metaph. 986b=A19). Differently from the human creatures, God has the power to give "immediate execution" (in Greek: to phren) and make effective his cognitive faculty (in Greek: nous).
Xenophanes is considered by some to be a precursor to Parmenides and Spinoza. Because of his development of the concept of a "one god greatest among gods and men" that is abstract, universal, unchanging, immobile and always present, Xenophanes is often seen as one of the first monotheists, in the Western philosophy of religion, although the quotation that seems to point to Xenophanes' monotheism also refers to multiple "gods" who the supreme God is greater than. Physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein specifically identified Xenophanes as one of the earliest pandeists.
Xenophanes wrote about two extremes predominating the world: wet and dry or water (ὕδωρ) and earth (γῆ). These two extreme states would alternate between one another, and with the alternation human life would become extinct, then regenerate (or vice versa depending on the dominant form). The idea of alternating states and human life perishing and coming back suggests he believed in the principle of causation, another distinguishing step that Xenophanes takes away from Ancient philosophical traditions to ones based more on scientific observation. The argument can be considered a rebuke to Anaximenes' air theory. A detailed account of the wet and dry form theory is found in Hippolytus' Refutation of All Heresies.
He also holds that there is an infinite number of worlds, not overlapping in time.
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