Is God in the Clouds?: A Note on Xenophanes

Philosophical Inquiry, Forthcoming

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 16/103

13 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2016

See all articles by Michael Sevel

Michael Sevel

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: December 6, 2016


A discussion of the cloud-astrophysical theory of the Presocratic philosopher Xenophanes of Colophon. I argue that the theory, systematically articulated for the first time by A.P.D. Mourelatos in a series of essays over the last decade, suggests how clusters of Xenophanes’s surviving texts, which have up to now been given isolated scholarly treatments, may be understood as forming a more comprehensive theory of how divine agency is manifested in observable events of the natural world. The cloud-astrophysical theory claims that all meteorological change and heavenly objects (the sun, moon, stars, comets, shooting stars, rainbows, St. Elmo’s fire, etc.) are caused and constituted by the fiery compression and inflammation of water vapor, the underlying mechanism of which is a kind of movement or agitation of cloudlets. From this theory, I argue that Xenophanes further conjectured that the kind of agitation he famously attributed to god (who “completely without toil, shakes all things with the thought of his mind”) either is identical to or supervenes on the agitation of the cloud-astrophysics, thus radically revising the account of divine agency in traditional Greek religion.

Keywords: Greek Philosophy, Presocratics, Astrophysics, Natural Philosophy, Metaphysics, Ancient Philosophy, History of Science, Philosophy of Science, Ancient Greek Religion, God

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Sevel, Michael, Is God in the Clouds?: A Note on Xenophanes (December 6, 2016). Philosophical Inquiry, Forthcoming, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 16/103, Available at SSRN:

Michael Sevel (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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