from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Xenocrates of Chalcedon ( Greek Ξενοκράτης Xenokrátēs ; * 396 or 395 BC; † 314 or 313 BC in Athens ) was a Greek philosopher of antiquity. As a pupil of Plato he belonged to the Platonic Academy . In 339/338 he took over the management of this philosophy school, which he then held for a quarter of a century. As the head of the school for many years and the author of numerous writings, he had a lasting influence on the development of Platonism . His efforts were aimed at the interpretation and systematization of the Platonic doctrine, whereby in the details he deviated considerably from Plato's position.


Xenocrates came from Chalcedon , but lived in Athens at a young age. There he joined Plato as a student, entered into a close relationship with him and accompanied him on a trip to Syracuse . After Plato's death (348/347 BC) he left his school, the academy, and went, like Aristotle, to Assos , where he stayed for a few years as a guest of the local ruler Hermeias of Atarneus and probably gave philosophical lessons . At the request of Speusippus , who after Plato's death had taken over the management of the academy as head of the school ( Scholarch ), he returned to Athens, as Speusippos wanted him as his successor.

After the death of Speusippus there was a vote in battle for the leadership of the academy in 339 or 338; Xenocrates ran against Herakleides Ponticus and Menedemus of Pyrrha and narrowly won, whereupon the defeated candidates left the academy. This choice was also a style and directional decision: Herakleides was known to be a lover of pomps, Xenocrates was valued for his level-headedness and modesty, and his industry was admired. Xenocrates, who valued Pythagoras and adopted Pythagorean ideas, represented Pythagorean vegetarianism , which Herakleides emphatically opposed. The decision in favor of Xenocrates also meant that the academy turned away from the style of its enjoyable predecessor.

Xenocrates headed the academy, in which he also lived, until his death and left it only once a year for the festival of Dionysus , when the new tragedies were performed. His students were Polemon , who succeeded him as Scholarch, and Krantor .

Xenocrates maintained relationships with well-known personalities at the Macedonian court and dedicated a pamphlet to Alexander the Great, "On Kingship". His relationship to the Macedonian Empire was more distant than that of the Macedonian friendly Speusippos; he advocated the greatest possible autonomy for Athens. After the death of Alexander the Great and the defeat of Athens in the Lamian War , he took part in the Athenian embassy in 322, which was sent to the victorious Macedonian governor Antipater to negotiate the most favorable terms of surrender for Athens. Xenocrates received this commission, although he was not a citizen of Athens, but only Metoke . It can be seen from this that he was held in high regard by the Athenians and that they had hopes for his art of reasoning. As a representative of the Athenian interests he was unsuccessful. His self-confident demeanor displeased Antipater, who took his undiplomatic demeanor ungraciously. After his return he refused to be accepted into the Athenian citizenship, since he disapproved of the now existing political conditions (loss of autonomy, submission of Athens to Macedonian rule).

Xenocrates was perceived as dignified but also cumbersome; Plato's advice "Xenocrates, sacrifice to the Charites " was known, a call for a less dark and repellent appearance.


The history of philosophy Diogenes Laertios comes down with a list of 76 work titles, some of which, however, may refer to the same work. In any case, it can be seen from the list that Xenocrates dealt with the entire range of subject areas that were studied at the Academy (apart from music): logic, epistemology , physics and cosmology , theory of the soul, metaphysics , ethics and character studies, politics ( Constitutional theory), mathematics, linguistics, philosophy of science, astronomy, demon theory. Nothing of it has survived (even Cicero no longer had access), but many sources pass on his views.

The writings included extensive works on the method of conducting a conversation and the technique of reasoning ( dialectics ): "Investigation of the conversation" (14 books), "Claims" (about dialectical problems, 20 books) and "Solutions" (resolving dialectical aporias , 12 Books). The works “About Thinking” (10 books) and “ Dihairesen ” (“Classifications”, 8 books on definition) also belonged to the area of ​​dialectics (in the sense of thinking technique, logic ). A work “About Wisdom” in 6 books probably dealt primarily with the ontology of Xenocrates. His presentation of linguistics (philosophical language analysis ) comprised 31 books. He dealt with scientific questions in the treatise "About Nature" in 6 books, in which he presented his cosmology and physics and also discussed questions of the theory of the soul, and in a presentation of astronomy also consisting of 6 books. The two books "About the Gods" were dedicated to theology and the doctrine of demons. Research into individual questions of ethics took up a large part of Xenocrates' works.


The fundamental division of philosophy into logic , physics ( natural philosophy ) and ethics goes back to Xenocrates . He seems to have emerged in particular as a didactic and systematist. He saw it as his task to systematically organize the teaching of Plato, which he had never coherently set down in writing. In doing so, he was able to rely on his memory of Plato's oral remarks. It was only with this development in teaching that Platonism was founded as a philosophical system. But this meant a departure from Plato's deep, principled skepticism towards such fixation and systematics.

Ontology, cosmology and theory of the soul

According to the report of a contemporary, the Peripatetic Theophrastus , Xenocrates was the only one of the philosophers of the time to completely systematically present the ontological structure of beings by continuously describing the downward movement from the principles ( archaí ) to the sensually perceptible. In doing so he carried out the derivation of all stages of being from their ontological origins and the thorough structuring of the cosmos. In this way he fulfilled Theophrast's demand for a comprehensive, seamless ontology. In doing so, Xenocrates reduced the elements of a level of being to analogous quantities of the preceding ones; he wanted to show the levels of being seamlessly merging into one another. He ascribed numerical character to the ideas of the Platonic doctrine of ideas . Only for the natural things which he held to be eternal did he accept ideas assigned to them in the realm of ideas; He excluded ideas from artificially created objects. He gave the species ( eídos ) ontological priority over the genus ( génos ), just as he otherwise opted for the priority of the parts over the whole; accordingly, the dog species should be thought of before the animal species. In doing so, he deviated from Plato's concept, which in the genre structure always gave priority to the higher, more general and more comprehensive than the lower, more specific. This step has been described in research as a kind of " Copernican revolution " in Platonism.

In cosmology, Xenocrates, like Speusippus and most of the ancient Platonists, held the view that the world that can be perceived by the senses is eternal. He argued that the creation account in Plato's dialogue Timaeus was not meant in the literal sense of creation at a specific point in time. Rather, Plato's mode of expression - he calls the world "has become" - should be understood metaphorically. Only for a didactic reason, for the sake of clarity, did Plato choose formulations that give the impression of creation as a process in time.

In the theory of the soul, Xenocrates was of the opinion that the irrational part of the soul survived the death of the body, but was not immortal, but dissolved later.


At the top of the hierarchy of gods, Xenocrates placed the Monas (absolute unity) as the first god; he regarded it as a male principle in the position of father and king, whom he also called Zeus , equated with the Nous and located in the sphere of the fixed stars. As the second god he called the dyas (duality); for him she was the feminine principle and the world soul , which was responsible for the space enclosed by the fixed star sphere.

mathematics and physics

In mathematics and physics, Xenocrates taught that there are minima (indivisible minimal sizes) as elementary building blocks of complex structures in both geometric figures and physical objects. Lines, surfaces and bodies are not divisible at will, but only until you get to the smallest units that make them up. A starting point of the train of thought that led to this result was the consideration that a line cannot consist of all points, since even an arbitrarily large number of points cannot produce linearity (Platonic idea of the line). Rather, the principle of the line itself must be linear and not traceable back to something different like points. Therefore a line is not composed of dimensionless points, but of minimal, extended and indivisible line elements, and an area of ​​minimal surface elements. Similarly, Xenocrates assumed in physics that space and matter are quantized. Probably he assumed so for the time. Aristotle polemicized against this doctrine of discontinuity.

Iconography and reception

A certainly authentic portrait of Xenocrates is not known. Receive only one Herme who may represent him.

In the 2nd / 3rd In the 19th century, the Peripatetic Alexander von Aphrodisias tried to refute Xenocrates' assertion that "the species is before the genus and is naturally in front of it".

Even in late antiquity , Xenocrates was regarded as the model of a dignified philosopher, as can be seen from a remark in a letter from Synesius of Cyrene .

In the past, modern research was dominated by the idea that Xenocrates was a loyal student of Plato and the unoriginal guardian of his legacy. In the more recent research literature, his particular closeness to Plato is not denied, but it is also pointed out that in his endeavor to systematize Platonic teaching, he developed a metaphysics with independent features.

On July 26, 2000 the asteroid (14526) Xenocrates was named after the philosopher.


  • Margherita Isnardi Parente (ed.): Senocrate - Ermodoro: Frammenti . Bibliopolis, Naples 1982, ISBN 88-7088-052-4 (critical edition with Italian translation and commentary)
  • Margherita Isnardi Parente, Tiziano Dorandi (eds.): Senocrate e Ermodoro: Testimonianze e frammenti. Edizioni della Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa 2012, ISBN 978-88-7642-208-9 (uncritical edition with Italian translation and commentary)


Web links


  1. Diogenes Laertios 4.6.
  2. Strabon , Geographika 13,1,57; Hans Krämer: Xenocrates . In: Outline of the History of Philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Volume 3, 2nd edition, Basel 2004, pp. 32–55, here: 33.
  3. Diogenes Laertios 4.3.
  4. On the sources see Konrad Gaiser (Ed.): Philodems Academica , Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1988, p. 193, 465–469; see. Philip Merlan : Kleine philosophische Schriften , Hildesheim 1976, pp. 144–152 and David Whitehead: Xenocrates the Metic . In: Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 124, 1981, pp. 223–244, here: 232–234.
  5. On the Pythagorean elements in Xenocrates' philosophy see John Dillon: The Heirs of Plato , Oxford 2003, pp. 94f., 101, 149f., 153f.
  6. ^ David Whitehead: Xenocrates the Metic . In: Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 124, 1981, pp. 223–244, here: 233. Margherita Isnardi Parente: Senocrate successore di Speusippo . In: Rivista di storia della filosofia 59, 2004, pp. 379–387 emphasizes the contrast between Speusippus and Xenocrates and does not believe that Speusippus let Xenocrates come to Athens as his desired successor.
  7. Plutarch , De exilio 10 (603B-C); see. Diogenes Laertios 4.6.
  8. See on this John Dillon: The Heirs of Plato , Oxford 2003, pp. 91–94; Kai Trampedach : Plato, the academy and contemporary politics , Stuttgart 1994, pp. 141–143; David Whitehead: Xenocrates the Metic . In: Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 124, 1981, pp. 223–244, here: 238–241.
  9. ^ John Dillon: The Heirs of Plato , Oxford 2003, pp. 92f.
  10. Diogenes Laertios 4.6.
  11. Diogenes Laertios 4.11-14.
  12. Detlef Thiel: The Philosophy of Xenokrates in the Context of the Old Academy , Munich 2006, pp. 246–250, 261.
  13. Detlef Thiel: The Philosophy of Xenokrates in the Context of the Old Academy , Munich 2006, p. 259f.
  14. Detlef Thiel: The Philosophy of Xenokrates in the Context of the Old Academy , Munich 2006, p. 355f. However, a different opinion is John Dillon: The Heirs of Plato , Oxford 2003, pp. 118-120.
  15. Detlef Thiel: The Philosophy of Xenokrates in the Context of the Old Academy , Munich 2006, p. 370f .; Hans Joachim Krämer: Platonism and Hellenistic Philosophy , Berlin 1971, p. 343f.
  16. Matthias Baltes : The world emergence of the Platonic Timaeus according to the ancient interpreters , Part 1, Leiden 1976, pp. 18-22; Heinrich Dörrie , Matthias Baltes: Platonism in antiquity , Vol. 5, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1998, pp. 122f., 426-428.
  17. ^ Hermann S. Schibli: Xenocrates' Daemons and the Irrational Soul . In: Classical Quarterly 43, 1993, pp. 143-167.
  18. See also Matthias Baltes: Zur Theologie des Xenokrates . In: Matthias Baltes: Dianoemata. Small writings on Plato and Platonism , Stuttgart 1999, pp. 191–206. John Dillon, however, disagrees: The Heirs of Plato , Oxford 2003, pp. 102-107.
  19. Hans Joachim Krämer: Platonism and Hellenistic Philosophy , Berlin 1971, pp. 304f., 309–315, 333–362; John Dillon: The Heirs of Plato , Oxford 2003, pp. 111-118.
  20. ^ Karl Schefold : The portraits of ancient poets, speakers and thinkers , Basel 1997, p. 166f. (Fig. 77); see. Gisela MA Richter : The Portraits of the Greeks , Vol. 2, London 1965, pp. 178f.
  21. See also Hans Krämer: Xenokrates . In: Outline of the History of Philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Volume 3, 2nd edition, Basel 2004, pp. 32–55, here: 32; John Dillon: The Heirs of Plato , Oxford 2003, pp. 115-117.
  22. Synesios of Cyrene, Letter 154: 39–42.
  23. Detlef Thiel: Xenocrates - Tradition or Innovation? In: Archive for the History of Philosophy 89, 2007, pp. 307–338. Cf. Margherita Isnardi Parente: Senocrate in Sesto Empirico . In: Rivista di storia della filosofia 63, 2008, pp. 477-483.
  24. Minor Planet Circ. 41034