Mortal and Divine in Xenophanes' Epistemology

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In the first instance, this paper offers a new interpretation of the logic of Xenophanes B18.1. Contrary to the two ways in which previous commentators have construed this line, Xenophanes neither categorically rejects the notion of divine disclosure nor acquiesces in traditional understandings of it. Rather, Xenophanes rejects traditional conceptions of divine disclosure as theologically faulty and supplants them with his own, alternative notion of disclosure. Having argued that Xenophanes developed a conception of divine disclosure, I advance further suggestions concerning its function and characteristics. I follow and develop Lesher’s (1983) argument that Xenophanes arrives at his understanding of the limitations of human knowledge by rejecting traditional divinatory assumptions. But Lesher, I suggest, tells only half the story. On Xenophanes’ conception of disclosure, the divine purposively facilitates mortal belief-formation and mortal inquiry. That is, Xenophanes’ own understanding of disclosure underlies his positive views regarding what does lie within the scope of mortal epistemology. More speculatively, I develop two alternative interpretations of the precise notion of purposiveness which underlies Xenophanean disclosure. Most probably, Xenophanes reconceptualises the notion of divine disclosure radically as the view that the divine purposively facilitates all mortal experience and belief-formation as part of its intelligent direction of the cosmos and its inhabitants. Another, somewhat less likely possibility is that Xenophanes maintains less idiosyncratically that the divine guides particular mortals in particular circumstances. Finally, I ask how the proposed interpretation of Xenophanes’ epistemology may lend nuance to our understanding of the complexity of his critical engagement with the traditional mantic model of divine disclosure.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherKing's College London
Number of pages35
ISBN (Print)N/A
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Xenophanes B18, epistemology, divine disclosure, divination, philosophy and religion


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