How to use Xenophanes in a sentence
Its foundation is often attributed to Xenophanes of Colophon, but, although there is much in his speculations which formed part of the later Eleatic doctrine, it is probably more correct to regard Parmenides as the founder of the school.
Xenophanes in the middle of the 6th century had made the first great attack on the crude mythology of early Greece, including in his onslaught the whole anthropomorphic system enshrined in the poems of Homer and Hesiod.
See further the articles on Xenophanes; Parmenides; Zeno (of Elea); Melissus, with the works there quoted; also the histories of philosophy by Zeller, Gomperz, Windelband, &c.
Whether Xenophanes was a monotheist, whose assertion of the unity of God suggested to Parmenides the doctrine of the unity of Being, or a pantheist, whose assertion of the unity of God was also a declaration of the unity of Being, so that he anticipated Parmenides - in other words, whether Xenophanes's teaching was purely theological or had also a philosophical significance - is a question about which authorities have differed and will probably continue to differ.
The silence of the extant fragments, which have not one word about the unity of Being, favours the one view; the voice of antiquity, which proclaims Xenophanes the founder of Eleaticism, has been thought to favour the other.Advertisement
Aristotle, in a passage already cited, Metaphysics, A5, speaks of Xenophanes as the first of the Eleatic unitarians, adding that his monotheism was reached through the contemplation of the oupavos.
Theophrastus (in Simplicius's Ad Physica, 5) sums up Xenophanes's teaching in the propositions, "The All is One and the One is God."
The demonstrations of the unity and the attributes of God, with which the treatise De Melisso, Xenophane et Gorgia (now no longer ascribed to Aristotle or Theophrastus) accredits Xenophanes, are plainly framed on the model of Eleatic proofs of the unity and the attributes of the Ent, and must therefore be set aside.
Xenophanes was, then, a pantheist.
The Platonic testimony, if it proved anything, would prove too much, namely, that the doctrine of the unity of Being originated, not with Xenophanes, but before him; and, in fact, the passage from the Sophist no more proves that Plato attributed to Xenophanes the philosophy of Parmenides than Theaetetus, 160 D, proves that Plato attributed to Homer the philosophy of Heraclitus.Advertisement
Thirdly, when Xenophanes himself says that theories about gods and about things are not knowledge, that his own utterances are not verities but verisimilitudes, and that, so far from learning things by revelation, man must laboriously seek a better opinion, he plainly renounces the "disinterested pursuit of truth."
In the judgment of the present writer, Xenophanes was neither a philosopher nor a sceptic. He was not a philosopher, for he despaired of knowledge.
Apart from the old controversy about Xenophanes's relations to philosophy, doubts have recently arisen about his theological position.
Whilst it can hardly be allowed that Xenophanes, so far from denying, actually affirms a plurality of gods, it must be conceded to Freudenthal that Xenophanes's polemic was directed against the anthropomorphic tendencies and the mythological details of the contemporary polytheism rather than against the polytheistic principle, and that, apart from the treatise De Melisso Xenophane et Gorgia, now generally discredited, there is no direct evidence to prove him a consistent monotheist.
Like Socrates, he was not a philosopher, and did not pretend to be one; but, as the reasoned scepticism of Socrates cleared the way for the philosophy of Plato, so did Xenophanes's "abnormis sapientia" for the philosophy of Parmenides.Advertisement
Most famous in connexion with this kind of poetry are Xenophanes and Parmenides, the Eleatics and Empedocles of Agrigentum.
With them came philosophical poems, such as those of Xenophanes and Empedocles; the epical history of Herodotus; the dramatic philosophy of Plato.
Unlike the Hindu, Xenophanes inclined to pantheism as a protest against the anthropomorphic polytheism of the time, which seemed to him improperly to exalt one of the many modes of finite existence into the place of the Infinite.
Thus Xenophanes for the first time postulates a supreme God whose 2 Strictly, pantheism is to identify the universe with God, while the term "pancosmism" (rap, Kovµos, the universe) has frequently been used for the identification of God with the universe.
This attitude towards existence, expressing itself in different phraseology, has been prominent to a greater or less degree since Xenophanes and Heraclitus.Advertisement
Now as to this there is quite a remarkable unanimity in the testimony of the ancients, and the evidence is of the strongest kind, ascending to Herodotus, and, according to the account of Diogenes Laertius, even to Xenophanes, who was an Ionian, and not much later than Thales.
The earliest mention of the name of Homer is found in a fragment of the philosopher Xenophanes (of the 6th century B.e., or possibly earlier), who complains of the false notions implanted through the teaching of Homer.
To Xenophanes, the founder of Eleaticism - whom he must have known, even if he was never in any strict sense of the word his disciple - Parmenides was, perhaps, more deeply indebted, as the theological speculations of that thinker unquestionably suggested to him the theory of Being and Not-Being, of the One and the Many, by which he sought to reconcile Ionian " monism," or rather " henism," with Italiote dualism.
Thus, whereas the Ionians, confounding the unity and the plurality of the universe, had neglected plurality, and the Pythagoreans, contenting themselves with the reduction of the variety of nature to a duality or a series of dualities, had neglected unity, Parmenides, taking a hint from Xenophanes, made the antagonistic doctrines supply one another's deficiencies; for, as Xenophanes in his theological system had recognized at once the unity of God and the plurality of things, so Parmenides in his system of nature recognized at once the rational unity of the Ent and the phenomenal plurality of the Nonent.
First, whereas it has been assumed above that Xenophanes was theologian rather than philosopher, whence it would seem to follow that the philosophical doctrine of unity originated, not with him, but with Parmenides, Zeller, supposing Xenophanes to have taught, not merely the unity of God, but also the unity of Being, assigns to Parmenides no more than an exacter conception of the doctrine of the unity of Being, the justification of that doctrine, and the denial of the plurality and the mutability of things.Advertisement
Thus, in the 6th century before Christ, Xenophanes of Colophon severely blamed the poets for their unbecoming legends, and boldly called certain myths " the fables of men of old."
The reaction against anthropomorphism begins in Greek philosophy with the satirical spirit of Xenophanes (540 B.C.), who puts the case as broadly as any.
Thus, whereas in his writings, so far as they are known to us, Xenophanes appears as a theologian protesting against an anthropomorphic polytheism, the ancients seem to have regarded him as a philosopher asserting the unity of Being.
Again, Aristotle's description of Xenophanes as the first of the Eleatic unitarians does not necessarily imply that the unity asserted by Xenophanes was the unity asserted by Parmenides; the phrase, "contemplating the firmament, he declared that the One is God," leaves it doubtful whether Aristotle attributed to Xenophanes any philosophical theory whatever; and the epithet a ypoLKOTEpos discourages the belief that Aristotle regarded Xenophanes as the author of a new and important departure.
The wisdom of Xenophanes, like the wisdom of the Hebrew Preacher, showed itself, not in a theory of the universe, but in a sorrowful recognition of the nothingness of things and the futility of endeavour.
In Greece the idea of a fundamental unity behind the plurality of phenomena was present, though vaguely, in the minds of the early physicists (see Ionian School), but the first thinker who focussed the problem clearly was Xenophanes.
The passage shows, not merely that Homer was well known at Colophon in the time of Xenophanes, but also that the great advance in moral and religious ideas which forced Plato to banish Homer from his republic had made itself felt in the days of the early Ionic philosophers.