Leopoldo Iribarren

Inventing a new learned practice: anchoring philosophy

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Inventing a new learned practice: anchoring philosophy

Greek philosophy as a new learned practice originated in the 7th and 6th cent. BCE with the so-called Presocratics. Intellectuals like Anaximander and Anaximenes started writing in prose on issues of cosmology. They did not reflect on the novelty of their practice or its epistemological foundations, although there was a certain awareness of rupture with what went before. One generation later, Xenophanes fills this gap by thematizing the ways in which human beings acquire knowledge. Knowledge is historically situated, always provisional, always leaving room for improvement, but most importantly: it is a human achievement, based on effort: Xenophanes rejects the model of divine inspiration.

Inventing a new learned practice: anchoring philosophy

An awareness of rupture may in itself constitute an a negativo ‘anchoring practice’ in that what is new is defined as diverging from what is older. Xenophanes, however, goes further than this. It is true that he rejects explicitly the forms of divinely inspired and revealed knowledge as represented by the Theogony, a work by the Greek epic poet Hesiod. Scholars have acknowledged this connection between the ‘poet’ and the ‘philosopher’, while also recognizing thematic continuities. What has not been studied yet, however, is Xenophanes’ far more positive reception of that other work by Hesiod, the Works and Days. Xenophanes’ epistemology, especially the acquisition of knowledge as a human learned practice based on human effort is brought under the sign of ‘good strife’ (Eris), the positive driving force of human civilization consisting of the desirable competitiveness between professionals sharing the same discipline. In that sense, Xenophanes anchors the new intellectual practice of ‘philosophy’ in Hesiod. The self-fashioning of the philosopher is based in the poetic tradition.

Starting from this premise, we will investigate more widely the ways in which Xenophanes anchors the new intellectual practices of the presocratics in epic (didactic) poetry. Elements that will be involved include vocabulary and the use of meter (Xenophanes write poetry) and its effects on the perception of genre. The case study of Xenophanes is a first step towards investigating more in general how the Presocratics anchor their new activities in mythological, epic and didactic poetry. Investigating their framing practices and use of metaphor will be crucial there. Ultimately, this will make us rethink the relationship between ‘mythos’ and ‘logos’, and the culture myth of the rationalization movement in archaic Greece.