Xenophanes (Xenophanes)’s Understanding of KnowledgeJune 28, 2021
One of the most important contributions of Xenophanes (570-478 BC) to the history of philosophy is his views on the criterion, source and value of human knowledge. According to him, the source and limit of human knowledge are his experiences.
In this respect, the knowledge that man has or can have is narrower, relative and limited compared to the knowledge of God, who knows and can know everything. Although man’s knowledge is limited and relative, according to Xenophanes, God is all-knowing and all-seeing. In this respect, his knowledge is not narrow, non-relative and unlimited according to human knowledge. Although the knowledge that man has is narrower and more limited than the knowledge that God has, the most distinctive feature of this knowledge, which seems to be a deficiency at first glance, is that it is based on experience, although it will always be limited, that it does not remain at the same level all the time. it is relative to the increase in knowledge and experience, although it increases and is open to development. Another feature of this type of knowledge, that is, knowledge based on experience, which is within the narrow interests of people on the one hand, and is open to development on the other, is that it will never be able to give the level of certainty that God has. In this respect, the information that people can obtain is information that cannot be proven to be correct (truth) no matter how hard people try.
By putting the information types in order, first a rough introduction and then a detailed explanation should be made while talking about each information type one by one. In addition to the full and complete knowledge of God, with this knowledge that people have gained through experience by making a certain effort, another type of knowledge that people are associated with, according to Xenophanes, is about the titans and giants of the past, which are made up of myths and rumors and are worthless to him. information consisting of fabrications; “… there is no point in talking about the battles of Titans or giants in fairy tales, the fabrications of our ancestors, or the violence of civil war; always respecting the gods, that is good.” (Xenophanes, Fr. 21B1.20-25). Moreover, what Homer and Hesiod tell about the gods are considered even more worthless than such myths; “Homer and Hesiod ascribed everything shameful and imperfect to the gods: theft, adultery, and mutual deception.” (Xenophanes, Fr. 21B11).
Xenophanes states that the information that people can obtain is limited, regardless of their field, in such matters that people cannot have certain knowledge as follows: “The one who sees the definitive truth has not been able to see it, nor will it be directly. Gods who know by recognition, and all the things I have said” (Xenophanes, Fr. 21B34). In addition to this strict limitation of Xenophanes’ knowledge, it can be said that he had the idea of objective truth. The idea of objective truth does not change from person to person. Xenophanes, on the one hand: “He who saw the absolute truth did not, nor will he directly. Gods who know by recognition and all the things I say”, while talking about the existence of this objective truth, on the other hand, he said, “What is the secret and the secret thing, if he succeeds and says it. He himself still does not know it, it is only conjecture. He states that this information cannot be accessed by saying that he has everything.
In the ancient Greek world, to know means to see (eide). This then becomes an idea. The basis of knowledge in the ancient Greek world is sight.
This statement of Xenophanes seems quite clear at the beginning and carries thoughts about the possibility of obtaining knowledge about truths, which we will see a clear example in Parmenides later on. As we understand from Parmenides’ poem, the Goddess offers Parmenides ready-made information on two subjects. These are the knowledge of the unchanging truths behind the deception of the world of appearances and the knowledge of astronomy or the things that happen in the world, namely the world of appearances, so that they do not fall behind other people. However, Xenophanes states that people cannot obtain any information from gods or goddesses about the world of appearances or what is going on behind the visible world, because the gods have never given such information to people. Also noteworthy is Cicero’s quote on this subject: “Among those who accepted the existence of God – when speaking of the ancients, it was only Xenophanes of Colophon who rejected the prophecy completely…” (Cicero: 1964, 227-229). In this regard, the fragment of Heraclitus (22B26) and the explanation-interpretation given for this fragment seem worth mentioning in line with this understanding. In this explanation-interpretation about the fragment, it is stated that according to Heraclitus, the truth cannot be obtained through dreams (Çakmak, 2005: 81).
The passage we have given above regarding the fact that people cannot have knowledge of the truth, on the one hand, states that the gods do not teach the truth to people, contrary to the thoughts put forward by Parmenides, on the other hand, there are two prerequisites of knowing for humans.