A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine

By Karsten Friis Johansen | Go to book overview

5

THE ELEATICS

XENOPHANES

Like Pythagoras, his contemporary, Xenophanes (c.570-475 BC) is a connective link between the eastern and western parts of the Greek world. He left his home town of Colophon in Ionia in Asia Minor and settled in Southern Italy where he spent his long life as a poet and rhapsode. His poems-not all of which are philosophical-leave the impression of a straightforward, civilized gentleman, aware of his own worth, a person who thought about life in his own way. As a theologian and epistemologist his achievement is significant, because he asked questions about what had until then been left unformulated.

The thinking of the Milesians contained an indirect distancing from traditional religious views. The Pythagoreans gave shape to a religion of their own. Xenophanes was a philosopher of religion and thereby explicitly chose sides in the conflict between that which had been transmitted and the new; subsequently Heraclitus incorporated a critical philosophy of religion in his doctrine of Logos. It is not unusual to regard Xenophanes as the Feuerbach of Antiquity, as one who considered current religious conceptions as human projections. Yet he is no atheist, but he is indignant on behalf of the godhead: Homer and Hesiod permit the gods to steal and commit adultery and fraud (Xenophanes DK B 11); black people imagine that the gods are flat-nosed and black; the Thracians imagine they are blond or redheads. Indeed, if animals could draw, horses would depict hippic and cows bovine divinities.

Such an attack on anthropomorphic representations of deities voices a theory about the relativity of religious conceptions. Still, the divine cannot be relative. It must be absolute, and Xenophanes tries to describe the absolute. 'There is one God, the greatest amongst gods and men, although in no way resembling mortals in either body or thought' (23), he declares-and like later Greek philosophers, he apparently sees no 'theological' problem in speaking about gods, provided only that they are not mistaken for the one god. The one god is wholly vision, wholly thought, wholly hearing, and he remains without motion in the same place, because it is not fitting that He wander hither and thither; effortlessly He governs everything by his thought (24-6).

Ever since Aristotle-who did not have a high opinion of Xenophanes-it has

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A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Presocratic Philosophy 9
  • 1 - Myth, Poetry and Philosophy 11
  • 2 - Ionian Natural Philosophy 20
  • 3 - Heraclitus 29
  • 4 - The Pythagoreans 36
  • 5 - The Eleatics 45
  • 6 - Post-Parmenidean Natural Philosophy 59
  • 7 - Medical Science 79
  • Part II - The Great Century of Athens 83
  • 8 - Pericles' Athens 85
  • 9 - Tragedy and View of History 88
  • 10 - The Sophists 99
  • 11 - Socrates 118
  • Part III - Plato 137
  • 12 - Life, Works and Position 139
  • 13 - What is Virtue? Can Virtue Be Taught? 160
  • 14 - Idea and Man 173
  • 15 - The Good Constitution of State and Man 198
  • 16 - The Late Dialogues: Knowledge and Being 213
  • 17 - The Late Dialogues: Nature, Man and Society 236
  • 18 - Plato and the Early Academy 254
  • Part IV - Aristotle 267
  • 19 - Life, Works and Position 269
  • 20 - Logic and Theory of Science 293
  • 21 - Natural Philosophy and Psychology 316
  • 22 - Metaphysics and Theology 343
  • 23 - Ethics and Politics 366
  • 24 - Rhetoric and Poetics 392
  • 25 - The Early Peripatetics 400
  • Part V - Hellenistic Philosophy 405
  • 26 - Science and Philosophy 407
  • 27 - Epicurus 423
  • 28 - Early Stoicism 442
  • 29 - Scepticism 471
  • 30 - Greece and Rome 484
  • Part VI - Late Antiquity 499
  • 31 - Imperial Rome 501
  • 32 - Plotinus 532
  • 33 - Late Neoplatonism 556
  • 34 - Early Christian Thought 569
  • 35 - Augustine 588
  • Abbreviations General 625
  • Bibliography 639
  • Index 663
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