(Greek philosopher, c.570- c.475 B.C.)

    Human beings must search for truth by themselves,

    even if certain and clear truth is not available.

             Xenophanes attacks traditional religious thought. He rejects the claims of religious seers - such as Pythagoras - who mislead people with their special insights obtained from divine revelation. It is better to search and examine for oneself rather than waiting for the gods to tell us anything. The gods are not beings who send signs for human beings to interpret by divination. The rainbow is not a messenger of the gods. The gods do not communicate with human beings that way. People are wiser in finding out by themselves the true nature of the rainbow.

            Xenophanes urges humans to think and search for the truth. But he warns against extravagant claims to knowledge on the basis of that search. It is not given to any one to see and be able to know the clear and certain truth about many things. It is legitimate to voice one's opinion but this does not mean that opinions reflect the truth. Mortals cannot know for certain, there is a veil before their eyes and that will always be so. Human beings are thrown into the world almost as blind. All they know is that they may or may not be right in what they say or do. Human wisdom knows its limits. It acknowledges that truth is probably not a part of the human world.

            However Xenophanes should not be taken for a sceptic. He only claims that certain and clear truth requires a breadth of evidence and justification that is simply not available to mortals. He suggests that only what is directly experienced can be known. Larger questions about the gods and the universe lie beyond the limits of certain knowledge. Parmenides will challenge Xenophanes' epistemological views for he wants to show how truth can indeed be attained.

    * See Lesher, J.H. Xenophanes of Colophon, Presocratics, Vol.IV, Toronto University press, 1992


    Jean Mercier