07 September 2005

Does Xenophanes Attack 'Anthropomorphism'?

It's one of the few things having to do with Will Durant that I actually like. Google 'define: anthropomorphism', and one finds, at willdurant.com, "the interpretation of God in the likeness of man", which is very nice.

That seems to me exactly the sense that is meant when commentators say, as they do, that one of Xenophanes' great contributions was his critique of 'anthropomorphism.' To wit, McKirahan:

Like the Milesians, Xenophanes does not question the presence of the divine in the universe, only the way it was conceived. His attacks imply that god is not immaterial or responsible for evil, is not anthropomorphic, is eternal, self-sufficient, independent and master of everything, and unmoving (62).

In keeping with the Milesian conception of the divine, god is demythologized and impersonal, but not isolated from the universe, of which he is fully aware (though not through human sense organs) and over which he exercises control ('shakes all things'), though not by physical might, but effortlessly and through his thought, without having to move from place to place.
It's clear that McKirahan takes Xenophanes to be criticizing anthropomorphism in the Will Durant sense, because he says that Xenophanes' God is impersonal. (Yet then in a footnote McKirahan must explain why he nonetheless refers to Xenophanes' God as 'he': "In describing god, Xenophanes uses masculine forms of adjectives." --Well, yes, but not only that: it's hard also to see how an impersonal being "sees, hears, and thinks" (DK 21B24).)

And yet there is a narrower sense as well of 'anthropomorphism' as applied to God, namely: 'taking God to have a human shape or appearance', that is, a human or human-like body.

So, my question: Is Xenophanes' criticism directed at anthropomorphism in the broad or narrow sense? I think: in the narrow sense. Xenophanes wishes to deny that God has a body, yet he does not wish to deny that human thought and reasonability give a clue as to what God is like.

Admittedly, DK 21B23 (KRS 170) might seem to count against this:
One god, greatest among gods and men, in no way similar to mortals either in body or in thought.

ei}=j qeo/j, e)/n te qeoi=si kai\ a)nqrw/poisi me/gistoj,
ou)/ti de/maj qnhtoi=sin o(moi/oj ou)de\ no/hma.

I'll say something about that tomorrow.