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What Was Xenophanes's Philosophical View of God?

 Xenophanes Greek philosopher ( 570-475) BCE

Xenophanes, a 6th Century BC Greek philosopher, was known for his critiques of polytheism and Homeric poetry. His views on the idea of God are some of the most influential ancient philosophies still discussed today. In this article, we will explore Xenophanes' thought-provoking ideas about the notion of God and how it stands up to modern debate.

Xenophanes philosophical and Who is Xenophanes

Who is Xenophanes  

Xenophanes of colophon was an Ionian by birth, but lived most of his life in southern Italy. According to scholar Xenophanes was born 570-475 BCE. Xenophanes wrote philosophy in the poetic style.  Xenophanes of colophon believed that all things to be made out of earth and water. Xenophanes was the first philosopher to try to discredit the gods and Xenophanes’ most famous critique of (Greek) mythology. There was another philosopher, of less importance, namely Xenophanes. His date is uncertain, and is mainly determined by the fact that he alludes to Pythagoras and Heraclitus alludes to him. 

What was Xenophanes philosophy 

Xenophanes’s bold and unique views on God played a huge role in the evolution of philosophical thought. His ideas were later revived by Plato, who used Xenophanes’ concepts to define his own doctrine of the one true God – “the being we call the cause of all, is altogether different from anything we can conceive.” Later, Aristotle drew upon Xenophanes’ logic as he explored his own theories of naturalism in which he argued that the gods were merely abstract conceptions made manifest by humans. As such, the philosophical view of God put forth by Xenophanes continues to inform our thinking today.

What did Xenophanes criticize?

Xenophanes criticized homer and hesiod for depicting the gods as animals . Gods in Greek mythology were like humans. They exhibited immorality in acts such as stealing, deception, and adultery. These gods were distinguished from humans only for their immortality. Xenophanes criticized that these misconducts were blameworthy even among humans and should not be ascribable to the divine.

What Was Xenophanes's Philosophical View of God?

Xenophanes on gods. As regards the gods he was a very emphatic free thinker. Xenophanes of colophon said that the gods have not revealed all things.

According to Xenophanes, there is only one God, and this God is eternal and immutable. He believed that this divine being was eternal, could not be seen by humans, and had no physical form. Xenophanes argued that because of the divine characteristics of his concept of God, it suggested a level of paradoxical tension between it's eternity on the one hand and limited nature on the other. He further argued that because of this divine attributes, this supreme being should be worshipped through contemplation rather than through sacrificial offerings or superstitious rituals.

Xenophanes suggested a philosophical argument for the existence of a god, which focused on a greater power than those of ‘earthly’ gods. He argued that there had to be one force that governed nature, and it was the duty of humans to seek out this being, rather than worshiping physical deities. Ultimately, Xenophanes desired that humans use reason and understanding to comprehend God’s existence, thus allowing them to properly honor Its magnitude.

Xenophanes is remembered for his rational approach to addressing questions of God. He believed that a considerate examination of the material universe – as guided by common sense, intelligence and careful observation – could lead to a logical understanding of God’s existence. To sum it up, Xenophanes proposed that grappling with the philosophical implications of the physical world was an essential step in constructing a rational argument for God’s true nature and existence.

Why did Xenophanes laugh ?

 "Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealing and adulteries and deceiving of one another. Mortals deem that gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form . yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds. The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair." 

He believed in one God, unlike men in form and thought, who "without toil swayeth all things by the force of his mind." Xenophanes made fun of the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration: "Once, they say, he ( Pythagoras) was passing by when a dog was being ill-treated. 'Stop,' he said, 'don't hit it! It is the soul of a friend! I knew it when I heard its voice.'" He believed it impossible to ascertain the truth in matters of theology. "The certain truth there is no man who knows, nor ever shall be, about the gods and all the things whereof I speak. Yea, even if a man should chance to say something utterly right, still he himself knows it not there is nowhere anything but guessing." 

He was critical also of the Greeks’ obsession with athletics and athletes, and the expenditure of public money on both, saying, ‘Far better is our art [i.e. poetry] than the strength of men and horses! These are but thoughtless judgments, nor is it fitting to set strength before goodly art.’ He points out that even if there arises a boxer mightier, a runner swifter, a wrestler more skilful, than others, ‘the city would be none the better governed for that. It is little joy to a city if a man conquer at the Games; that does not fill its store-houses.’

Xenophanes theory of evolution

In line with his attitude to enquiry he took a keen interest in the natural world, noting the presence of fossils of fish and seaweed on mountain tops, and speculating about meteorological phenomena and the extent of the world in both breadth and depth. Regarding this latter, Xenophanes beliefs that the earth extended indefinitely downwards, and that therefore the sun could not circle beneath it at night. Instead there is a new sun every day, gathered together out of ‘many small fires’.

In the passages where he addresses topics central to the thought of his Ionian predecessors he shows that he knew their ideas well, and had been influenced by them. ‘All things come from the earth, and all things end in earth 

 All things are earth and water that come into being and grow.’ He seems to have thought that the earth is being progressively dissolved into the sea: ‘All human beings are destroyed when the earth has been carried down into the sea and turned to mud. This change takes place for all the worlds.’

Xenophanes contribution in philosophy

That last sentence has caused a debate among scholars. It suggests, under the influence of Anaximander, that there is a plurality of worlds; but elsewhere in the commentaries on Xenophanes, and in Aristotle’s remarks about him, he appears to have held that ‘the World is One,’ a doctrine which, as we shall see, was held by Parmenides, who was influenced by Xenophanes even if he was not actually taught by him. But the unclarities and apparent inconsistencies in Xenophanes’ views are not all to be blamed on him.

Whatever Xenophanes actually meant, there are suggestive hints in these views that relate him to Parmenides. Aristotle says in the Metaphysics that Xenophanes was the first to argue that reality is ‘One’, and Plato called Xenophanes ‘the first of the Eleatics’, these being the philosophers of Parmenides’ school who subscribed to the doctrine that reality is a single unchanging eternal thing. Aristotle went further to suggest that Xenophanes thought that the world and god are the same thing; in one fragment indeed he says that the world and god are ‘equal every way’.

Xenophanes , the ''Feuerbach of ancient Greece'' was also considered the founder of philosophical skepticism. he said There is a big difference between opinion and knowledge.

Xenophanes has his place in the succession of rationalists who were opposed to the mystical tendencies of Pythagoras and others, but as an independent thinker he is not in the first rank.


A History of Western Philosophy Book by Bertrand Russell
Graham, D. W. (ed.), The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010
Barnes, J., The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd edn, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982
Hussey, E., The Presocratics, London: Duckworth, 1995 Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers,
2nd edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984 Osborne, C., Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004


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