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(Archived discussion from Wikipedia:WikiProject Philosophy)


  • Peer review Xenophanes.
    • I spent some time copyediting and NPOVing this article, but it still seems a bit "rah rah" to me. For example, it claims that Xenophanes influenced the work of Karl Popper, and that he anticipated the discovery that water originally covered the earth's surface. Unfortunately, I don't know much about the Presocratics, so if someone could peer review this I'd appreciate it. Adam Conover 01:39, Apr 12, 2004 (UTC)
    • Volunteers:
    • I'm not sure what "rah rah" exactly means, but as for Xenophanes' influence on Popper, see e.g. the latter's famous Lucas Prize acceptance speech, K.R. Popper (1982), "Duldsamkeit und intellektuelle Verantwortlichkeit", in: Toleranz. Zur Verleihung des Dr.-Leopold-Lucas-Preises, D. Stuhlmacher and L. Abramovski (eds.), Tübingen: Attempto, 173-185. That water once covered the earth Xenophanes deducts from finding fossils of sea creatures on mountains; this is Diels-Kranz fr. A 33 (or Kirk-Raven 184), Hippol. Ref. I 14, a very well-known reference indeed. Clossius 07:59, 12 Apr 2004 (UTC)
    • Thanks, Clossius. Your references have convinced me. (By "rah-rah", I meant that it seemed like at least one author of the article really, really liked Xenophanes, to the point where the article was approaching advocacy rather than information. I wanted to make sure that the ideas attributed to him didn't just come from hero-worship.) Thanks for your help. Adam Conover 08:13, Apr 12, 2004 (UTC)
    • This might have easily been me, as I really like X :-) (although, e.g., not so much as the author of the Popper entry, which is peer reviewed, likes Popper...). It's still important, I think, to point at changes of the perception of different philosophers, because especially in this area, you so easily get outdated lore (Xenophanes as an Eleatic, e.g.) if you look at older encyclopedias. Incidentally, I'm planning to expand the X. article, especially as regards philosophy of religion, but this is a tricky task and will take time. Clossius 12:10, 12 Apr 2004 (UTC)
    • Thanks Clossius, that clears everything up. I'm closing this task, and moving this discussion to Talk:Xenophanes. Thanks again! Adam Conover 19:30, Apr 12, 2004 (UTC)

Bookish Superiority[edit]

In the Editions section, it is stated that the book by Diels, Kranz is superior to the book by Kirk, Raven. I have seen this same comment in other Pre-Socratic articles. It is most probably a correct evaluation. However, isn't it a personal opinion? In addition, it is frustrating because the book by Diels, Kranz is generally unavailable and has not been translated into English.Lestrade 15:24, 1 January 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

Well, just because an edition is hard to find (I wonder where; is there really any College library that doesn't have a DK edn.?), one shouldn't hush up that it is the betrer one, no? :-) Of course, "superior" is POVish, yet it is clearly the case on a scholarly level. And by serious reasons, such as that Kirk & Raven have a lens: They are interested in one aspect of the Presocratics, and that is their contribution to the philosophy of science. Thus, their edn. leaves out key fragments - and certainly testimonia. In the end, Kirk & Raven is a student edition, as it was meant (DK was meant that way also, incidentally, but it wound up to be the standard scholarly edn.) Clossius 07:23, 18 February 2006 (UTC)

Xenophanes and Monotheism[edit]

(moved here from User talk:Clossius)

I wonder if there is some way to qualify the attribution of monotheism to Xenophanes, beyond "often seen as". I'm not a Hellenist, so I hope you'll bear with me, but my sketchy survey suggests that it's not an uncontroversial claim. And, at least for a civilian like me, an assertion hard to reconcile with the language of "gods" plural, and X's emphasis on the mischaracterization of the gods, rather than their un-reality. What do you think? Quihana 19:00, 14 February 2006 (UTC)

Well, I would say that
  • very few scholars dispute the claim that Xenophanes was a monotheist - it would be very difficult, too, seeing that key thoughts of his revolve about one God
  • some do, of course, but that's to be expected on any scholarly subect (I actually only know of one serious essay that makes the claim that he wasn't a monotheist, and that one has not been followed up in the scholarly discourse at all but was mostly dismissed as conspiracy-theoretical)
  • the reception of X. as the (not even "a") first monotheist is not really disputed by anyone
This is why I think that you can't call this claim "controversial", other than that about any assertion is. For scholarly background of the debate, I'd like to refer to the respective essays by Otto Kaiser and by Drechsler and Kattel in the biblio., though they are in German.
Contents-wise, of course there are some fragments by Xenophanes on "Gods", but the point is that there are some on God. On the one fragment you mention, please note that this is indeed about the images of the Gods (and the construction of Gods by humans, in which he is not the first, but pretty early and very important); it does not imply that they exist at all. I actually find this rather consistent with the monotheism view.
In short, for a short entry, almost a stub, that leaves so many important things out, I think to say that he was one of the first monotheists is modest and appropriate enough. Any reference to this being doubted is, in my opinion, misleading, because as far as I can see, nobody really does that. But if I should be wrong and there is indeed an at least noticable corpus of literature that says he wasn't, then of course that should be put in here. Clossius 19:23, 14 February 2006 (UTC)
I should think that given the very limited information we have from and about X. that it would be very difficult to make that kind of claim with certainty. Aristotle seems to have not found anything like a comprehensive theology or metaphysics in the presumably more complete material available at the time of his writing. X.'s thoughts clearly are revolving around something quite different from the standard cosmology, but it seems not at all certain that whatever "it" was was monotheism per se. By the by, when you name him as the undisputed first monotheist, I'm guessing you mean the first with a lasting legacy in western culture -- otherwise I think the award would go to Akhnaten (14th C.)
I defer to your knowledge of the scholarly literature, but the secondary material that I've (admittedly very quickly) surveyed is not nearly so uniform. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, linked to by the Wikipedia page, is one instance of a more skeptical reading.
If we have fragments which refer to "gods" and some that refer to "god" -- is there in fact more than one that uses that word in the singular? -- it does not necessarily follow that the singular trumps the plural. I note that not every use of the plural is in the context of deriding others' foolish notions. And isn't X. skeptical that any certain knowledge of the gods is available to humans at all? (I'm following Fränkel's analysis of Fragment 34 on that one.)
If no one doubts the ascription, I have to say I find that confusing. Again, I'm not a Hellenist, but reading through the tiny bits that we have from X., and the few references by his near contemporaries, seems to leave more room for speculation than solid ground for assertion. I can understand naming him as a precursor to monotheistic thought, but anything more than that does seem like an overly broad and reductionist claim. If an intimate scholarly knowledge is generally compelling of the conclusion that X. was claiming "no gods but God", well, I guess the Deity must really be in the details.
After writing the above I hunted up a copy of Lesher's translation and commentary, as it was referenced on the Wikipedia page as the best english edition. His discussion of Fragment 23 begins: "The ideal commentary on fragment 23 would do three things: establish whether Xenophanes here espoused monotheism...[I'm eliding the second and third points, not at issue here]. But since the centuries have seen a plethora of stoutly argued and generally incompatible answers on each of these points, the ideal commentary may be out of reach." He goes on to rehearse the arguments on both sides and comes down himself against a conclusion of monotheism. But regardless of Lesher's conclusion it seems clear that there is, and has been, controversy on this issue.
Have I marshalled enough here to soften your stance at all?
Yes you have - not in contents, but to the extent that the Wikipedia should indeed reflect the discourse as it presents itself to the informed outsider of a given field. I doesn't help much to say things here about the level of Lesher's critical annotations (rather than edition), or about that of the Stanford entry on Xenophanes, which is not really up to scratch as regards the state of the art of research. But you are probably right that over the years (indeed millennia), there has been more dispute on the matter than it has appeared in what I have said, and that may indeed reflect my own view of the matter.
A few factual points: As I'm sure you know, Aristotle is not a good witness for Xenophanes - "his" testimona are mostly apocryphal, he himself did have a faultly base of literature; and one may also argue that he understood him out of context. We do have several fragments referring to One God, and these are clearly, I think, the more important ones; factually, I think that when X. talks about Gods in another than a conventional sense (i.e., images that mortals make etc.), what is meant are local Gods and the like, which remain "in place", but not the One Creator and - literally - Mover and Shaker. Of course the singular does trump the plural, because that is the "innovation", if you will; the new and interesting thought. You are to a good extent right concerning the scepticism, but X. is the first to say that that shouldn't prevent you from having opinions - opinions that actually matter. (This is what Popper, for all that's worth, mainly got out of X - and incidentally, it is totally in opposite of the philosophy on which the Wikipedia is based. :-))
As regards the fragments, I simply don't share your view, but I guess that's a matter of judgment (and probably of philosophical background); for me they are quite sufficient and clear. Once again, I would like to draw your attention to Kaiser (for a theological discussion) and Drechsler & Kattel (for a philosophical one), as these essays integrate both Anglo-American and German (plus some other, such as French) scholarship on the subject, which to me seems crucial on this topic and which usually isn't done.
So, in sum, I think that a stubby article that doesn't highlight X's monotheism (and not precursordom), yet that focuses on the criticism, doesn't really give appropriate information on the subject matter. On the other hand, the discussion here has gotten to a point where the level of scholarship needed by far exceeds what is possible on Wikipedia. And indeed, you have demonstrated that there are some serious people who actually dispute the Monotheism claim. So, from my side, you can indeed add a comment to that extend to the entry, and I certainly won't revert or correct it.
Clossius 07:42, 18 February 2006 (UTC)
I thank you. I've made an addition that I hope is judicious -- see if you think it needs tweaking.
Quihana 19:17, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
Difficult to say, especially because I don't think new fragments would add anything. But as I said... Clossius 20:08, 19 February 2006 (UTC)

Writing for future generations[edit]

I put in a reference to my own book here. If someone wants to replace it with a more suitable one I shan't mind a bit! Andrew Dalby 16:00, 9 July 2006 (UTC)

I think this is really great, and we really need more scholars to take the guts and do this if this ever should become a valuable encyclopedia! Many thanks! Clossius 17:49, 9 July 2006 (UTC)

he made a break but not completely[edit]

Xenophanes is created as one of the philosophers who completely de-anthropomorphsize the gods. In reality however, instead of projecting many different human qualities onto may gods, he simply projected a more specific person onto a god. Xenopahenes simply projects a philosopher onto a god. Xenophanes' god is mentally based, just, and omnipotent. Xenophanes is getting closer, but has not completely de-anthropomorphsized god (assuming this is even possible). He has made a break from Hesiod's mythology but he is still projecting human qualites onto god(s).

Closer? Closer to what? Your personal image of God? Anyway, this is all as OR as it can be. Clossius 09:02, 16 September 2006 (UTC)
Xenophanes is the philosopher who wrote: "There is one god. He is the greatest among gods and men. But he is not, in any way, like mortals in body or in mind." He is different from the concept of the Hebrew God, the Saracen Allah, the Indian Brahma, and the Pharmigian Arnz. Although he resides on a cloud, and is reported to wear a long, grey beard, he has few other humanoid characteristics, and comes closer to being an abstract, de-anthropomorphized (without an "s") mental conception or figment. "He remains at all times in one place. He doesn't move, even an inch. For him to change position at different times is simply not proper." As a result, he, himself, cannot get closer to anything. Xenophanes deity is almost purely a mere empty thought in Xenophanes's mind.Lestrade 12:10, 16 September 2006 (UTC)Lestrade
This is right as an answer to the first comment, but the last sentence is surely wrong. (There are some nice theological essays on X. in the references, precisely on that topic.) If transcendence and emptiness were the same, one could argue that, but they aren't and thus one can't. Clossius 13:18, 16 September 2006 (UTC)

Isn't there a crater on the moon called Xenophanes?[edit]

At about 57.3 N and 82.0 W (Lunar co-ordinates) there is a crater on the moon called Xenophanes. Shouldn't we put a disambiguation notice at the top of this page? -- 14:07, 7 October 2006 (UTC)

Xenophane and Xenophon[edit]

Perhaps the heading should include a disambiguation to differentiate between Xenophane and Xenophon, which seems very much alike

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