Whatever may be said of the inferiority of the ancients to the moderns in natural and mechanical science, which no one is disposed to question, or even in the realm of literature, which can be questioned, there was one department which they carried to absolute perfection, and to which we have added nothing of consequence. In the realm of art they were our equals, and probably our superiors; in philosophy they carried logical deductions to their utmost limit. They created the science. They advanced, from a few crude speculations on material phenomena, to an analysis of all the powers of the mind, and finally to the establishment of ethical principles which even Christianity did not overturn. The progress of the science, from Thales to Plato, is the most stupendous triumph of the human understanding. The reason of man soared to the loftiest flights that it has ever attained. It cast its searching eye into the most abstruse inquiries which ever tasked the famous intellects of the world. It exhausted all the subjects which dialectical subtlety ever raised. It originated and it carried out the boldest speculations respecting the nature of the soul and its future existence. It established most important psychological truths. It created a method for the solution of the most abstruse questions. It went on, from point to point, until all the faculties of the mind were severely analyzed, and all its operations were subjected to a rigid method. The Romans never added a single principle to the philosophy which the Greeks elaborated; the ingenious scholastics of the Middle Ages merely reproduced their ideas; and even the profound and patient Germans have gone round in the same circles that Plato and Aristotle marked out more than two thousand years ago. It was Greek philosophy in which noble Roman youth were educated, and hence, as it was expounded by a Cicero, a Marcus Aurelius, and an Epictetus, it was as much the inheritance of the Romans as it was of the Greeks themselves, after their political liberties were swept away, and the Grecian cities formed a part of the Roman empire. The Romans learned, or might have learned, what the Greeks created and taught, and philosophy became, as well as art, identified with the civilization which extended from the Rhine and the Po to the Nile and the Tigris. Grecian philosophy was one of the distinctive features of ancient civilization long after the Greeks had ceased to speculate on the laws of mind, or the nature of the soul, or the existence of God, or future rewards and punishments. Although it was purely Grecian in its origin and development, it cannot be left out of the survey of the triumphs of the human mind when the Romans were masters of the world, and monopolized the fruits of all the arts and sciences. It became one of the grand ornaments of the Roman schools, one of the priceless possessions of the Roman conquerors. The Romans did not originate medicine, but Galen was one of its greatest lights; they did not invent the hexameter verse, but Virgil sung to its measure; they did not create Ionic capitals, but their cities were ornamented with marble temples on the same principles as those which called out the admiration of Pericles. So, if they did not originate philosophy, and generally had but little taste for it, still its truths were systematized and explained by Cicero, and formed no small accession to the treasures with which cultivated intellects sought everywhere to be enriched. It formed an essential part of the intellectual wealth of the civilized world, when civilization could not prevent the world from falling into decay and ruin. And as it was the noblest triumph which the human mind, under pagan influences, ever achieved, so it was followed by the most degrading imbecility into which man, in civilized countries, was ever allowed to fall. Philosophy, like art, like literature, like science, arose, shined, grew dim, and passed away, and left the world in night. Why was so bright a glory followed by so dismal a shame? What a comment is this on the greatness and littleness of man!
[Sidenote: Commencement of Grecian speculations.]
The development of Greek philosophy is doubtless one commence-of the most interesting and instructive subjects Grecian in the whole history of mind. In all probability it originated with the Ionian Sophoi, though many suppose it was derived from the East. It is questionable whether the oriental nations had any philosophy distinct from religion. The Germans are fond of tracing resemblances in the early speculations of the Greeks to the systems which prevailed in Asia from a very remote antiquity. Gladish sees in the Pythagorean system an adoption of Chinese doctrines; in the Heraclitic system, the influence of Persia; in the Empedoclean, Egyptian speculations; and in the Anaxagorean, the Jewish creeds. [Footnote: Lewes, Biog. Hist. of Philos., Introd.] But the Orientals had theogonies, not philosophies. The Indian speculations aim to an exposition of ancient revelation. They profess to liberate the soul from the evils of mortal life--to arrive at eternal beatitudes. But the state of perfectibility could only be reached by religious ceremonial observances and devout contemplation. The Indian systems do not disdain logical discussions, or a search after the principles of which the universe is composed; and hence we find great refinements in sophistry, and a wonderful subtlety of logical discussion; but these are directed to unattainable ends,--to the connection of good with evil, and the union of the supreme with nature. Nothing came out of these speculations but an occasional elevation of mind among the learned, and a profound conviction of the misery of man and the obstacles to his perfection. [Footnote: See Archer Butler's fine lecture on the Indian Philosophies.] The Greeks, starting from physical phenomena, went on in successive series of inquiries, until they elevated themselves above matter, above experience, even to the loftiest abstractions, and until they classified the laws of thought. It is curious how speculation led to demonstration, and how inquiries into the world of matter prepared the way for the solution of intellectual phenomena. Philosophy kept pace with geometry, and those who observed nature also gloried in abstruse calculations. Philosophy and mathematics seem to have been allied with the worship of art among the same men, and it is difficult to say which more distinguished them, aesthetic culture or power of abstruse reasoning.
[Sidenote: Water the vital principle of Nature.]
We do not read of any remarkable philosophical inquirer until Thales arose, the first of the Ionian school. He was born at Miletus, a Greek colony in Asia Minor, about the year B.C. 636, when Ancus Martius was king of Rome, and Josiah reigned at Jerusalem. He has left no writings behind him, but he was numbered as one of the seven wise men of Greece. He was numbered with the wise men on account of his political sagacity and wisdom in public affairs. [Footnote: Miller, Hist, of Grec. Lit., ch.
"And he, 't is said, did first compute the stars Which beam in Charles' wain, and guide the bark Of the Phoenician sailor o'er the sea."
He was the first who attempted a logical solution of material phenomena, without resorting to mythical representations. Thales felt that there was a grand question to be answered relative to the beginning of things. "Philosophy," it has been well said, "may be a history of errors, but not of follies" It was not a folly, in a rude age, to speculate on the first or fundamental principle of things. He looked around him upon Nature, upon the sea and earth and sky, and concluded that water or moisture was the vital principle. He felt it in the air, he saw it in the clouds above, and in the ground beneath his feet. He saw that plants were sustained by rain and by the dew, that neither animal nor man could live without water, and that to fishes it was the native element. What more important or vital than water? It was the prima materia, the [Greek: archae], the beginning of all things--the origin of the world. [Footnote: Aristotle, Metaph., 1. c. 3; Diog. Laertius, Thales.] I do not here speak of his astronomical and geometrical labors--as the first to have divided the year into three hundred and sixty-five days. He is celebrated also for practical wisdom. "Know thyself," is one of his remarkable sayings. But the foundation principle of his philosophy was that water is the first cause of all things--the explanation, of the origin of the universe. How so crude a speculation could have been maintained by so wise a man it is difficult to conjecture. It is not, however, the reason which he assigns for the beginning of things which is noteworthy, so much as the fact that his mind was directed to the solution of questions pertaining to the origin of the universe. It was these questions which marked the Ionian philosophers. It was these which showed the inquiring nature of their minds. What is the great first cause of all things? Thales saw it in one of the four elements of nature, as the ancients divided them. And it is the earliest recorded theory among the Greeks of the origin of the world. It is an induction from the phenomena of animated nature--the nutrition and production of a seed. [Footnote: Bitter, b. iii. c. 3; Lewes, ch. 1.] He regarded the entire world in the light of a living being gradually maturing and forming itself from an imperfect seed state, which was of a moist nature. This moisture endues the universe with vitality. The world, he thought, was full of gods, but they had their origin in water. He had no conception of God as Intelligence, or as a creative power. He had a great and inquiring mind, but he was a pagan, with no knowledge of a spiritual and controlling and personal deity.
[Sidenote: Anaximenes. Air the animus mundi.]
Anaximenes, his disciple, pursued his inquiries, and adopted his method. He also was born in Miletus, but at what time is unknown, probably B.C. 529. Like Thales, he held to the eternity of matter. Like him, he disbelieved in the existence of any thing immaterial, for even a human soul is formed out of matter. He, too, speculated on the origin of the universe, but thought that air, not water, was the primal cause. [Footnote: Cicero, De Nat. D., i. 10.] This seemed to be universal. We breathe it; all things are sustained by it. It is Life-- that is pregnant with vital energy, and capable of infinite transmutations. All things are produced by it; all is again resolved into it; it supports all things; it surrounds the world; it has infinitude; it has eternal motion. Thus did this philosopher reason, comparing the world with our own living existence,--which he took to be air,--an imperishable principle of life. He thus advanced a step on Thales, since he regarded the world not after the analogy of an imperfect seed-state, but that of the highest condition of life,--the human soul. [Footnote: Ritter, b. iii. c. 3.] And he attempted to refer to one general law all the transformations of the first simple substance into its successive states, for the cause of change is the eternal motion of the air.
[Sidenote: Diogenes. Air and soul identical.]
Diogenes of Apollonia, in Crete, one of his disciples, born B.C. 460, also believed that air was the principle of the universe, but he imputed to it an intellectual energy, yet without recognizing any distinction between mind and matter. [Footnote: Diog. Laert., ii. 3; Bayle, Dict. Hist. et Crit.] He made air and the soul identical. "For," says he, "man and all other animals breathe and live by means of the air, and therein consists their soul." [Footnote: Ritter, b. iii. c. 3.] And as it is the primary being from which all is derived, it is necessarily an eternal and imperishable body; but, as soul, it is also endued with consciousness. Diogenes thus refers the origin of the world to an intelligent being--to a soul which knows and vivifies. Anaximenes regarded air as having Life. Diogenes saw in it also Intelligence. Thus philosophy advanced step by step, though still groping in the dark; for the origin of all things, according to Diogenes, must exist in Intelligence.
[Sidenote: Heraclitus--Fire the principle of life.]
Heraclitus of Ephesus, classed by Ritter among the Ionian philosophers, was born B.C. 503. Like others of his school, he sought a physical ground for all phenomena. The elemental principle he regarded as fire, since all things are convertible into it. In one of its modifications, this fire, or fluid, self-kindled, permeating every thing as the soul or principle of life, is endowed with intelligence and powers of ceaseless activity. "If Anaximenes discovered that he had within him a power and principle which ruled over all the acts and functions of his bodily frame, Heraclitus found that there was life within him which he could not call his own, and yet it was, in the very highest sense, himself, so that without it he would have been a poor, helpless, isolated creature; a universal life which connected him with his fellow-men,--with the absolute source and original fountain of life." [Footnote: Maurice, Moral and Metaph. Phil.] "He proclaimed the absolute vitality of nature, the endless change of matter, the mutability and perishability of all individual things in contrast with the eternal Being--the supreme harmony which rules over all." [Footnote: Lewes, Biog. Hist. of Phil.] To trace the divine energy of life in all things was the general problem of his philosophy, and this spirit was akin to the pantheism of the East. But he was one of the greatest speculative intellects that preceded Plato, and of all the physical theorists arrived nearest to spiritual truth. He taught the germs of what was afterwards more completely developed. "From his theory of perpetual fluxion Plato derived the necessity of seeking a stable basis for the universal system in his world of ideas." [Footnote: Archer Butler, series i. lect. v.; Hegel, Gesch. D. Phil., i. p. 334.]
Anaxagoras, the most famous of the Ionian philosophers, was born B.C. 500, and belonged to a rich and noble family. Regarding philosophy as the noblest pursuit of earth, he abandoned his inheritance for the study of nature. He went to Athens in the most brilliant period of her history, and had Pericles, Euripides, and Socrates for pupils. He taught that the great moving force of nature was intellect [Greek: nous]. Intelligence was the cause of the world and of order, and mind was the principle of motion; yet this intelligence was not a moral intelligence, but simply the primum mobile--the all-knowing motive force by which the order of nature is effected. He thus laid the foundation of a new system which, under the Attic philosophers, sought to explain nature, not by regarding matter in its different forms, as the cause of all things, but rather mind, thought, intelligence, which both knows and acts--a grand conception unrivaled in ancient speculation. This explanation of material phenomena by intellectual causes was his peculiar merit, and places him in a very high rank among the thinkers of the world. Moreover, he recognized the reason as the only faculty by which we become cognizant of truth, the senses being too weak to discover the real component particles of things. Like all the great inquirers, he was impressed with the limited degree of positive knowledge, compared with what there is to be learned. "Nothing," says he, "can be known; nothing is certain; sense is limited, intellect is weak, life is short" [Footnote: Cicero, Qu. Ac., i. 12.]--the complaint, not of a skeptic, but of a man overwhelmed with the sense of his incapacity to solve the problems which arose before his active mind. [Footnote: Lucret., lib. i. 834-875.] Anaxagoras thought that this spirit [Greek: Nous] gave to all those material atoms, which, in the beginning of the world, lay in disorder, the impulse by which they took the forms of individual things, and that this impulse was given in a circular direction. Hence that the sun, moon, and stars, and even the air, are constantly moving in a circle. [Footnote: Muller, Hist. Lit. of Greece, chap. xvii.]
[Sidenote: Anaximander thought that the Infinite is the origin of things.]
In the mean time another sect of philosophers arose, who like the Ionians, sought to explain nature, but by a different method. Anaximander, born B.C. 610, was one of the original mathematicians of Greece, yet, like Pythagoras and Thales, speculated on the beginning of things. His principle was that the Infinite is the origin of all things. He used the word [Greek: archae] to denote the material out of which all things were formed, as the everlasting and divine. [Footnote: Arist., Phy., iii. 4.] The idea of elevating an abstraction into a great first cause is certainly puerile, nor is it easy to understand his meaning, other than that the abstract has a higher significance than the concrete. The speculations of Thales tended toward discovering the material constitution of the universe, upon an induction from observed facts, and thus made water to be the origin of all things. Anaximander, accustomed to view things in the abstract, could not accept so concrete a thing as water; his speculations tended toward mathematics, to the science of pure deduction. The primary being is a unity, one in all, comprising within itself the multiplicity of elements from which all mundane things are composed. It is only in infinity that the perpetual changes of things can take place. [Footnote: Diog. Laert., i. 119; Cicero, Tus. Qu., i. 16; Tennemann, p. 1, ch. i. Sec. 86.] This original but obscure thinker prepared the way for Pythagoras.
[Sidenote: Pythagoras--Number the essence of things.]
[Sidenote: Order and harmony in nature.]
This philosopher and mathematician, born about the year B.C. 570, is one of the great names of antiquity; but his life is shrouded in dim magnificence. The old historians paint him as "clothed in robes of white, his head covered with gold, his aspect grave and majestic, wrapt in the contemplation of the mysteries of existence, listening to the music of Homer and Hesiod, or to the harmony of the spheres." [Footnote: Lewes, Biog. Hist. Phil.] To him is ascribed the use of the word philosopher rather than sophos, a lover of wisdom, not wise man. He taught his doctrines to a select few, the members of which society lived in common, and venerated him as an oracle. His great doctrine is, that number is the essence of things, by which is understood the form and not the matter of the sensible. The elements of numbers are the odd and even, the former being regarded as limited, the latter unlimited. Diogenes Laertius thus sums up his doctrines, which were that "the monad is--the beginning of every thing. From the monad proceeds an indefinite duad. From the monad and the duad proceed numbers, and from numbers signs, and from these lines, of which plain figures consist. And from plain figures are derived solid bodies, and from these sensible bodies, of which there are four elements, fire, water, earth, and air. The world results from a combination of these elements." [Footnote: Diog. Laert., Lives of Phil.] All this is unintelligible or indefinite. We cannot comprehend how the number theory will account for the production of corporeal magnitude any easier than we can identify monads with mathematical points. But underlying this mysticism is the thought that there prevails in the phenomena of nature a rational order, harmony, and conformity to law, and that these laws can be represented by numbers. Number or harmony is the principle of the universe, and order holds together the world. Like Anaximander, he passes from the region of physics to metaphysics, and thus opens a new world of speculation. His method was purely deductive, and his science mathematical. "The Infinite of Anaximander became the One of Pythagoras." Assuming that number is the essence of the world, he deduced that the world is regulated by numerical proportions, in other words, by a system of laws, and these laws, regular and harmonious in their operation, may have suggested to the great mind of Pythagoras, so religious and lofty, the necessity for an intelligent creator of the universe. It was in moral truth that he delighted as well as metaphysical, and his life and the lives of his disciples were disciplined to a severe virtue, as if he recognized in numbers or order the necessity of a conformity to all law, and saw in obedience to it both harmony and beauty. But we have no direct and positive evidence of the kind or amount of knowledge which this great intellect acquired. All that can be affirmed is, that he was a man of extensive attainments; that he was a great mathematician, that he was very religious, that he devoted himself to doing good, that he placed happiness in the virtues of the soul or the perfect science of numbers, and made a likeness to the Deity the object of all endeavors. He believed that the soul was incorporeal, [Footnote: Ritter, b. iv. chap
The Ionic philosophers, and the Pythagoreans, sought to find the nature or first principle of all things in the elements, or in numbers. But the Eleatics went beyond the realm of physics to pure metaphysical inquiries. This is the second stage in the history of philosophy--an idealistic pantheism, which disregarded the sensible and maintained that the source of all truth is independent of sense.
[Sidenote: Xenophanes.--God the first great cause.]
The founder of this school was Xenophanes, born in Colophon, an Ionian city of Asia Minor, from which, being expelled, he wandered over Sicily as a rhapsodist or minstrel, reciting his elegiac poetry on the loftiest truths; and at last came to Elea, about the year 536, where he settled. The great subject of his inquiries was God himself--the first great cause--the supreme intelligence of the universe. "From the principle ex nihilo nihil fit, he concluded that nothing could pass from non-existence to existence. All things that exist are eternal and immutable. God, as the most perfect essence, is eternally One, unalterable, neither finite nor infinite, neither movable nor immovable, and not to be represented under any human semblance." [Footnote: Tennemann, Hist. of Phil., p. 1, Section 98.] What a great stride was this! Whence did he derive his opinions? He starts with the proposition that God is an all-powerful being, and denies all beginning of being, and hence infers that God must be from eternity. From this truth he advances to deny all multiplicity. A plurality of gods is impossible. With these sublime views--the unity and eternity and omnipotence of God--he boldly attacked the popular errors of his day. He denounced the transference to the deity of the human form; he inveighed against Homer and Hesiod; he ridiculed the doctrine of migration of souls. Thus he sings,--
"Such things of the gods are related by Homer and Hesiod, As would be shame and abiding disgrace to mankind,-- Promises broken, and thefts, and the one deceiving the other."
[Footnote: See Ritter, on Xenophanes. See note 20, in Archer Butler, series i. lect vi.]
And, again, respecting anthropomorphic representations of the Deity,--
"But men foolishly think that gods are born like as men are, And have, too, a dress like their own, and their voice and their figure But there's but one God alone, the greatest of gods and of mortals, Neither in body, to mankind resembling, neither in ideas."
God seen in all the manifestations of nature.
[Sidenote: God seen in all manifestations of nature.]
[Sidenote: He sought to create a knowledge of God.]
Such were his sublime meditations. He believed in the One, which is God; but this all-pervading, unmoved, undivided being was not a personal God, nor a moral governor, but the deity pervading all space. He could not separate God from the world, nor could he admit the existence of world which is not God. He was a monotheist, but his monotheism was pantheism. He saw God in all the manifestations of nature. This did not satisfy him, nor resolve his doubts, and he therefore confessed that reason could not compass the exalted aims of philosophy. But there was no cynicism in his doubt. It was the soul- sickening consciousness that Reason was incapable of solving the mighty questions that he burned to know. There was no way to arrive at the truth, "for," as he said, "error is spread over all things." It was not disdain of knowledge, it was the combat of contradictory opinions that oppressed him. He could not solve the questions pertaining to God. What uninstructed reason can? "Canst thou by searching find out God, canst thou know the Almighty unto perfection." What was impossible to Job, was not possible to him. But he had attained a recognition of the unity and perfections of God, and this conviction he would spread abroad, and tear down the superstitions which hid the face of truth. I have great admiration of this philosopher, so sad, so earnest, so enthusiastic, wandering from city to city, indifferent to money, comfort, friends, fame, that he might kindle the knowledge of God. This was a lofty aim indeed for philosophy in that age. It was a higher mission than that of Homer, [Footnote: Lewes has some shallow remarks on this point, although spirited and readable. Ritter is more earnest.] great as his was, but not so successful.
Parmenides of Elea, born about the year B.C. 536, followed out the system of Xenophanes, the central idea of which was the existence of God. With him the central idea was the notion of being. Being is uncreated and unchangeable; the fullness of all being is thought; the All is thought and intelligence. He maintained the uncertainty of knowledge; but meant the knowledge derived through the senses. He did not deny the certainty of reason. He was the first who drew a distinction between knowledge obtained by the senses, and that obtained through the reason; and thus he anticipated the doctrine of innate ideas. From the uncertainty of knowledge derived through the senses, he deduced the twofold system of true and apparent knowledge. [Footnote: Prof. Brandis's article in Smith's Dictionary.]
[Sidenote: Zeno introduces a new method.]
Zeno of Elea, the friend and pupil of Parmenides, born B.C. 500, brought nothing new to the system, but invented Dialectics, that logic which afterwards became so powerful in the hands of Plato and Aristotle, and so generally admired among the schoolmen. It seeks to establish truth by refuting error by the reductio ad absurdum. While Parmenides sought to establish the doctrine of the One, Zeno proved the non-existence of the Many. He denied that appearances were real existences, but did not deny existences. It was the mission of Zeno to establish the doctrines of his master. But, in order to convince his listeners, he was obliged to use a new method of argument. So he carried on his argumentation by question and answer, and was, therefore, the first who used dialogue as a medium of philosophical communication. [Footnote: Cousin, Nouveaux Fragments Philosophiques.]
[Sidenote: Empedocles.--Love the moving cause of all things.]
Empedocles, born B.C. 444, like others of the Eleatics, complained of the imperfection of the senses, and looked for truth only in reason. He regarded truth as a perfect unity, ruled by love,--the only true force, the one moving cause of all things,--the first creative power by whom the world was formed. Thus "God is love," a sublime doctrine which philosophy revealed to the Greeks.
[Sidenote: The loftiness of the Eleatic philosophers.]
Thus did the Eleatic philosophers speculate almost contemporaneously with the Ionians, on the beginning of things and the origin of knowledge, taking different grounds, and attempting to correct the representations of sense by the notions of reason. But both schools, although they did not establish many truths, raised an inquisitive spirit and awakened freedom of thought and inquiry. They raised up workmen for more enlightened times, even as scholastic inquirers in the Middle Ages prepared the way for the revival of philosophy on sounder principles. They were all men of remarkable elevation of character as well as genius. They hated superstitions and attacked the Anthropomorphism of their day. They handled gods and goddesses with allegorizing boldness, and hence were often persecuted by the people. They did not establish moral truths by scientific processes, but they set examples of lofty disdain of wealth and factitious advantages, and devoted themselves with holy enthusiasm to the solution of the great questions which pertain to God and nature. Thales won the respect of his countrymen by devotion to studies. Pythagoras spent twenty-two years in Egypt to learn its science. Xenophanes wandered over Sicily as a rhapsodist of truth. Parmenides, born to wealth and splendor, forsook the feverish pursuit of sensual enjoyments to contemplate "the quiet and still air of delightful studies." Zeno declined all worldly honors to diffuse the doctrines of his master. Heraclitus refused the chief magistracy of Ephesus that he might have leisure to explore the depths of his own nature. Anaxagoras allowed his patrimony to run to waste in order to solve problems. "To philosophy," said he, "I owe my worldly ruin and my soul's prosperity." They were, without exception, the greatest and best men of their times. They laid the foundation of the beautiful temple which was constructed after they were dead, in which both physics and psychology reached the dignity of science. [Footnote: Archer Butler in his lecture on the Eleatic school follows closely, and expounds clearly, the views of Ritter.]
Nevertheless, these great men, lofty as were their inquiries, and blameless their lives, had not established any system, nor any theories which were incontrovertible. They had simply speculated, and the world ridiculed their speculations. They were one-sided; and, when pushed out to their extreme logical sequence, were antagonistic to each other, which had a tendency to produce doubt and skepticism. Men denied the existence of the gods, and the grounds of certainty fell away from the human mind.
[Sidenote: Circumstances which favoured the Sophists.]
[Sidenote: Character of the Sophists.]
This spirit of skepticism was favored by the tide of worldliness and prosperity which followed the Persian War. Athens became a great centre of art, of taste, of elegance, and of wealth. Politics absorbed the minds of the people. Glory and splendor were followed by corruption of morals and the pursuit of material pleasures. Philosophy went out of fashion, since it brought no outward and tangible good. More scientific studies were pursued--those which could be applied to purposes of utility and material gains; even, as in our day, geology, chemistry, mechanics, engineering, having reference to the practical wants of men, command talent, and lead to certain reward. In Athens, rhetoric, mathematics, and natural history supplanted rhapsodies and speculations on God and Providence. Renown and wealth could only be secured by readiness and felicity of speech, and that was most valued which brought immediate reward, like eloquence. Men began to practice eloquence as an art, and to employ it in furthering their interests. They made special pleadings, since it was their object to gain their point, at any expense of law and justice. Hence they taught that nothing was immutably right, but only so by convention. They undermined all confidence in truth and religion by teaching its uncertainty. They denied to men even the capability of arriving at truth. They practically affirmed the cold and cynical doctrine that there is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink. Qui bono, the cry of the Epicureans, of the latter Romans, and of most men in a period of great outward prosperity, was the popular inquiry,--who shall show us any good?--how can we become rich, strong, honorable?--this was the spirit of that class of public teachers who arose in Athens when art and eloquence and wealth and splendor were at their height in the fifth century before Christ, and when the elegant Pericles was the leader of fashion and of political power.
[Sidenote: Power and popularity of the Sophists.]
[Sidenote: Influence of the Sophists.]
These men were the Sophists--rhetorical men who taught the children of the rich; worldly men who sought honor and power; frivolous men, trifling with philosophical ideas; skeptical men, denying all certainty to truths; men who, as teachers, added nothing to the realm of science, but who yet established certain dialectical rules useful to later philosophers. They were a wealthy, powerful, honored class, not much esteemed by men of thought, but sought out as very successful teachers of rhetoric. They were full of logical tricks, and contrived to throw ridicule upon profound inquiries. They taught also mathematics, astronomy, philology, and natural history with success. They were polished men of society, not profound nor religious, but very brilliant as talkers, and very ready in wit and sophistry. And some of them were men of great learning and talent, like Democritus, Leucippus, and Gorgias. They were not pretenders and quacks; they were skeptics who denied subjective truths, and labored for outward advantage. They were men of general information, skilled in subtleties, of powerful social and political connections, and were generally selected as ambassadors on difficult missions. They taught the art of disputation, and sought systematic methods of proof. They thus prepared the way for a more perfect philosophy than that taught by the Ionians, the Pythagoreans, or the Elentae, since they showed the vagueness of their inquiries, conjectural rather than scientific. They had no doctrines in common. They were the barristers of their age, paid to make the "worse appear the better reason," yet not teachers of immorality any more than the lawyers of our day,--men of talents, the intellectual leaders of society. If they did not advance positive truths, they were useful in the method they created. They taught the art of disputation. They doubtless quibbled when they had a bad cause to present. They brought out the truth more forcibly when they defended a good cause. They had no hostility to truth; they only doubted whether it could be reached in the realm of psychological inquiries, and sought to apply it to their own purposes, or rather to distort it in order to gain a case. They are not a class of men whom I admire, as I do the old sages they ridiculed, but they were not without their use in the development of philosophy. [Footnote: Grote has a fine chapter on the Sophists (part ii. ch. 67).] The Sophists also rendered a service to literature by giving definiteness to language, and creating style in prose writing. Protagoras investigated the principles of accurate composition; Prodicus busied himself with inquiries into the significance of words; Gorgias proposed a captivating style. He gave symmetry to the structure of sentences.
[Sidenote: The method of Socrates.]
[Sidenote: Ethical inquiries of Socrates.]
The ridicule and skepticism of the Sophists brought out the great powers of Socrates, to whom philosophy is probably more indebted than to any man who ever lived, not so much for a perfect system, but for the impulse he gave to philosophical inquiries, and his successful exposure of error. He inaugurated a new era. Born in Athens in the year 470 B.C., the son of a poor sculptor, he devoted his life to the search for truth, for its own sake, and sought to base it on immutable foundations. He was the mortal enemy of the Sophists, whom he encountered, as Pascal did the Jesuits, with wit, irony, puzzling questions, and remorseless logic. Like the earlier philosophers, he disdained wealth, ease, and comfort, but with greater devotion than they, since he lived in a more corrupt age, when poverty was a disgrace and misfortune a crime, when success was the standard of merit, and every man was supposed to be the arbiter of his own fortune, ignoring that Providence who so often refuses the race to the swift and the battle to the strong. He was what in our time would be called eccentric. He walked barefooted, meanly clad, and withal not over cleanly, seeking public places, disputing with every body willing to talk with him, making every body ridiculous, especially if one assumed airs of wisdom or knowledge,--an exasperating opponent, since he wove a web around a man from which he could not be extricated, and then exposed him to ridicule, in the wittiest city of the world. He attacked every body, and yet was generally respected, since it was errors and not the person, opinions rather than vices; and this he did with bewitching eloquence and irresistible fascination; so that, though he was poor and barefooted, a Silenus in appearance, with thick lips, upturned nose, projecting eyes, unwieldy belly, he was sought by Alcibiades and admired by Aspasia. Even Xantippe, a beautiful young woman, very much younger than he, a woman fond of the comforts and pleasures of life, was willing to be his wife, even if she did afterwards torment him, when the res angusta domi disenchanted her from the music of his voice and the divinity of his nature. "I have heard Pericles," said the most dissipated and voluptuous man in Athens, "and other excellent orators, but was not moved by them; while this Marsyas--this Satyr--so affects me that the life I lead is hardly worth living, and I stop my ears, as from the Syrens, and flee as fast as possible, that I may not sit down and grow old in listening to his talk." He learned his philosophy from no one, and struck out an entirely new path. He declared his own ignorance, and sought to convince other people of theirs. He did not seek to reveal truth so much as to expose error. And yet it was his object to attain correct ideas as to moral obligations. He was the first who recognized natural right, and held that virtue and vice are inseparably united. He proclaimed the sovereignty of virtue, and the immutability of justice. He sought to delineate and enforce the practical duties of life. His great object was the elucidation of morals, and he was the first to teach ethics systematically, and from the immutable principles of moral obligation. Moral certitude was the lofty platform from which he surveyed the world, and upon which, as a rock, he rested in the storms of life. Thus he was a reformer and a moralist. It was his ethical doctrines which were most antagonistic to the age, and the least appreciated. He was a profoundly religious man, recognized Providence, and believed in the immortality of the soul. From the abyss of doubt, which succeeded the speculations of the first philosophers, he would plant grounds of certitude--a ladder on which he would mount to the sublime regions of absolute truth. He did not presume to inquire into the Divine essence, yet he believed that the gods were omniscient and omnipresent, that they ruled by the law of goodness, and that, in spite of their multiplicity, there was unity--a supreme intelligence that governed the world. Hence he was hated by the Sophists, who denied the certainty of arriving at the knowledge of God. From the comparative worthlessness of the body he deduced the immortality of the soul. With him, the end of life was reason and intelligence. He proved the existence of God by the order and harmony of nature, which belief was certain. He endeavored to connect the moral with the religious consciousness, and then he proclaimed his convictions for the practical welfare of society. In this light Socrates stands out the grandest personage of pagan antiquity,--as a moralist, as a teacher of ethics, as a man who recognized the Divine.
[Sidenote: The mission of Socrates.]
[Sidenote: The great aim of the Socratic method.]
So far as he was concerned in the development of Grecian philosophy proper, he was probably inferior to some of his disciples. Yet he gave a turning-point to a new period, when he awakened the idea of knowledge, and was the founder of the theory of scientific knowledge, since he separated the legitimate bounds of inquiry, and was thus the precursor of Bacon and Pascal. He did not attempt to make physics explain metaphysics, nor metaphysics the phenomena of the natural world. And he only reasoned from what was assumed to be true and invariable. He was a great pioneer of philosophy, since he resorted to inductive methods of proof, and gave general definiteness to ideas. [Footnote: Arist., Metaph., xiii. 4.] He gave a new method, and used great precision of language. Although he employed induction, it was his aim to withdraw the mind from the contemplation of nature, and to fix it on its own phenomena,--to look inward rather than outward, as carried out so admirably by Plato. The previous philosophers had given their attention to external nature; he gave up speculations about material phenomena, and directed his inquiries solely to the nature of knowledge. And, as he considered knowledge to be identical with virtue, he speculated on ethical questions mainly, and the method which he taught was that by which alone man could become better and wiser. To know one's self, in other words, "that the proper study of mankind is man," he was the first to proclaim. He did not disdain the subjects which chiefly interested the Sophists,--astronomy, rhetoric, physics; but he discussed moral questions, such as, what is piety? what is the just and the unjust? what is temperance? what is courage? what is the character fit for a citizen?--and such like ethical points. And he discussed them in a peculiar manner, in a method peculiarly his own. "Professing ignorance, he put perhaps this question--What is law? It was familiar and was answered off-hand. Socrates, having got the answer, then put fresh questions applicable to specific cases, to which the respondent was compelled to give an answer inconsistent with the first, thus showing that the definition was too narrow or too wide, or defective in some essential condition. [Footnote: Grote, part ii. ch. 68.] The respondent then amended his answer; but this was a prelude to other questions, which could only be answered in ways inconsistent with the amendment; and the respondent, after many attempts to disentangle himself, was obliged to plead guilty to his inconsistencies, with an admission that he could make no satisfactory answer to the original inquiry which had at first appeared so easy." Thus, by this system of cross-examination, he showed the intimate connection between the dialectic method, and the logical distribution of particulars into species and genera. The discussion first turns upon the meaning of some generic term; the queries bring the answers into collision with various particulars which it ought not to comprehend, or which it ought to comprehend, but does not. He broke up the one into many by his analytical string of questions, which was a novel mode of argument. This was the method which he invented, and by which he separated real knowledge from the conceit of knowledge, and led to precision in the use of definitions. It was thus that he exposed the false, without aiming even to teach the true; for he generally professed ignorance, and put himself in the attitude of a learner, while he made by his cross- examinations the man from whom he apparently sought knowledge to be as ignorant as himself, or, still worse, absolutely ridiculous. Thus he pulled away all the foundations on which a false science had been erected, and indicated the way by which alone the true could be established. Here he was not unlike Bacon, who pointed out the way that science could be advanced, without founding any school or advocating any system; but he was unlike Bacon in the object of his inquiries. Bacon was disgusted with ineffective logical speculations, and Socrates with ineffective physical researches. [Footnote: Archer Butler,
Socrates cannot be said to have founded a school, like Xenophanes. He did not bequeath a system of doctrines; he rather attempted to awaken inquiry, for which his method was admirably adapted. He had his admirers, who followed in the path which he suggested. Among these were Aristippus, Antisthenes, Euclid of Megara, Phaedo of Elis, and Plato, all of whom were disciples of Socrates, and founders of schools. Some only partially adopted his method, and all differed from each other. Nor can it be said that all of them advanced science. Aristippus, the founder of the Cyreniac School, was a sort of Epicurean, teaching that pleasure was the end of life. Antisthenes, the founder of the Cynics, was both virtuous and arrogant, placing the supreme good in virtue, but despising speculative science, and maintaining that no man can refute the opinions of another. He made it a virtue to be ragged, hungry, and cold, like the ancient monks; an austere, stern, bitter, reproachful man, who affected to despise all pleasures, like his own disciple Diogenes, who lived in a tub, and carried on a war between the mind and body--brutal, scornful, proud. To men who maintained that science was impossible, philosophy is not much indebted, although they were disciples of Socrates. Euclid merely gave a new edition of the Eleatic doctrines, and Phaedo speculated on the oneness of the good.
[Sidenote: His education and travels.]
[Sidenote: He adopts the Socratic method.]
It was not till Plato arose that a more complete system of philosophy was founded. He was born of noble Athenian parents B.C. 429, the year that Pericles died, and the second year of the Peloponnesian War, and the most active period of Grecian thought. He had a severe education, studying poetry, music, rhetoric, and blending these with philosophy. He was only twenty when he found out Socrates, with whom he remained ten years, and from whom he was separated only by death. He then went on his travels, visiting every thing worth seeing in his day, especially in Egypt. When he returned, he commenced to teach the doctrines of his master, which he did, like him, gratuitously, in a garden near Athens, planted with lofty plane-trees, and adorned with temples and statues. This was called the Academy, and gave a name to his system of philosophy. And it is this only with which we have to do. It is not the calm, serious, meditative, isolated man that I would present, but his contribution to the developments of philosophy on the principles of his master. And surely no man ever made a richer contribution. He may not have had the originality or breadth of Socrates, but he was more profound. He was preeminently a great thinker--a great logician--skilled in dialectics, and his "Dialogues" are such exercises of dialectical method that the ancients were divided whether he was a skeptic or a dogmatist. He adopted the Socratic method, and enlarged it. "Socrates relied on inductive reasoning, and on definitions, as the two principles of investigation. Definitions form the basis of all philosophy. To know a thing, you must know what it is not. Plato added a more efficient process of analysis and synthesis, of generalization and classification." [Footnote: Lewes, Biog. Hist. of Philos.] "Analysis," continues the same author, "as insisted on by Plato, is the decomposition of the whole into its separate parts--is seeing the one in many. Definitions were to Plato, what general or abstract ideas were to later metaphysicians. The individual thing was transitory; the abstract idea was eternal. Only concerning the latter could philosophy occupy itself. Socrates, insisting on proper definitions, had no conception of the classification of those definitions which must constitute philosophy. Plato, by the introduction of this process, shifted philosophy from the ground of inquiries into man and society, which exclusively occupied Socrates, to that of dialectics." Plato was also distinguished for skill in composition. Dionysius of Halicarnassus classes him with Herodotus and Demosthenes in the perfection of his style, which is characterized by great harmony and rhythm, as well as the variety of elegant figures. [Footnote: See Donaldson's quotations, Hist. Lit. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 257.]
[Sidenote: His doctrines.]
[Sidenote: The end of science is the contemplation of truth.]
Plato made philosophy to consist in the discussion of general terms, or abstract ideas. General terms were synonymous with real existences, and these were the only objects of philosophy. These were called Ideas; and ideas are the basis of his system, or rather the subject matter of dialectics. He was a Realist, that is, he maintained that every general term, or abstract idea, has a real and independent existence. Here he probably was indebted to Pythagoras, for Plato was a master of the whole realm of philosophical speculation; but his conception of ideas is a great advance on the conception of numbers. He was taught by Socrates that beyond this world of sense, there was the world of eternal truth, and that there were certain principles concerning which there could be no dispute. The soul apprehends the idea of goodness, greatness, etc. It is in the celestial world that we are to find the realm of ideas. Now God is the supreme idea. To know God should be the great aim of life. We know him by the desire which like feels for like. The divinity within feels for the divinity revealed in beauty, or any other abstract idea. The longing of the soul for beauty is Love. Love then is the bond which unites the human to the divine. Beauty is not revealed by harmonious outlines which appeal to the senses, but is Truth. It is divinity. Beauty, truth, love, these are God, the supreme desire of the soul to comprehend, and by the contemplation of which the mortal soul sustains itself, and by perpetual meditation becomes participant in immortality. The communion with God presupposes immortality. The search for the knowledge of God is the great end of life. Wisdom is the consecration of the soul to the search; and this is effected by dialectics, for only out of dialectics can correct knowledge come. But man, immersed in the flux of sensualities, can never fully attain this high excellence--the knowledge of God, the object of all rational inquiry. Hence the imperfection of all human knowledge. The supreme good is attainable; it is not attained. God is the immutable good, and justice the rule of the universe. "The vital principle of his philosophy is to show that true science is the knowledge of the good; is the eternal contemplation or truth, or ideas; and though man may not be able to apprehend it in its unity, because he is subject to the restraints of the body, he is, nevertheless, permitted to recognize it, imperfectly, by calling to mind the eternal measure of existence, by which he is in his origin connected." [Footnote: Ritter, Hist, of Phil., b. viii. p. 2, chap. i.] He was unable to find a transition from his world of ideas to that of sense, and his philosophy, vague and mystical, though severely logical, diverts the mind from the investigations of actual life--from that which is the object of experience.
[Sidenote: The object of Plato's inquiries.]
The writings of Plato have come down to us complete, and have been admired by all ages for their philosophical acuteness, as well as beauty of language. He was not the first to use the form of dialogue, but he handled it with greater mastery than any one who preceded him, or has come after him, and all with a view to bring his hearers to a consciousness of knowledge or ignorance. He regarded wisdom as the attribute of the godhead; that philosophy is the necessity of the intellectual man, and the greatest good to which he can attain. This wisdom presupposes, however, a communion with the divine. He regarded the soul as immortal and indestructible. He maintained that neither happiness nor virtue can consist in the attempt to satisfy our unbridled desires; that virtue is purely a matter of intelligence; that passions disturb the moral economy.
[Sidenote: God the immutable good.]
"When we review the doctrines of Plato, it is impossible to deny," says Hitter, "that they are pervaded with a grand view of life and the universe. This is the noble thought which inspired him to say, that God is the constant and immutable good; the world is good in a state of becoming, and the human soul that in and through which the good in the world is to be consummated. In his sublimer conception, he shows himself the worthy disciple of Socrates. His merit lies chiefly in having advanced certain distinct and precise rules for the Socratic method, and in insisting, with a perfect consciousness of its importance, upon the law of science, that to be able to descend from the higher to the lower ideas by a principle of the reason, and reciprocally from the multiplicity of the lower to the higher, is indispensable to the perfect possession of any knowledge. He thus imparted to this method a more liberal character. While he adopted many of the opinions of his predecessors, and gave due consideration to the results of the earlier philosophy, he did not allow himself to be disturbed by the mass of conflicting theories, but breathed into them the life-giving breath of unity. He may have erred in his attempts to determine the nature of good; still he pointed out to all who aspire to a knowledge of the divine nature, an excellent road by which they may arrive at it."
Plato is very much admired by the Germans, who look upon him as the incarnation of dialectical power; but it were to be hoped that, some day, these great metaphysicians may make a clearer exposition of his doctrines, and of his services to philosophy, than they have as yet done. To me, Ritter, Brandis, and all the great authorities, are obscure. But that Plato was one of the greatest lights of the ancient world, there can be no reasonable doubt. Nor is it probable that, as a dialectician, he has ever been surpassed; while his purity of life, and his lofty inquiries, and his belief in God and immortality, make him, in an ethical point of view, the most worthy of the disciples of Socrates. He was to the Greeks what Kant was to the Germans, and these two great thinkers resemble each other in the structure of their minds and their relations to society.
The ablest part of the lectures of Archer Butler of Dublin, is devoted to the Platonic philosophy. It is a criticism and an eulogium. No modern writer has written more enthusiastically of what he considers the crowning excellence of the Greek philosophy. The dialectics of Plato, his ideal theory, his physics, his psychology, and his ethics, are most ably discussed, and in the spirit of a loving and eloquent disciple. He represents the philosophy which he so much admires as a contemplation of, and the tendency to, the absolute and eternal good. The good is enthroned by Plato in majesty supreme at the summit of the whole universe, and the sensible world is regarded as a development of supreme perfection in an inferior and transitory form. Nor are ideas abstractions, as some suppose, but archetypal conceptions of the divine mind itself--the eternal laws and reasons of things. The sensible world is regarded as an imperfect image of ideal perfection, yet the uncertainty of physical researches is candidly admitted. The discovery of theological and moral truth, is the great object even of the "_Timoeus_." Hence the physics of Plato have a theological character--are mathematical rather than experimental. The psychology represents the body as the prison of the soul, somewhat after the spirit of oriental theogonists, and the aim of virtue is to preserve the distinctness of both, and realize liberty in bonds. The doctrine of preexistence is maintained, as well as a future state. In the ethics, the perfection of the human soul--the perfection which it may attain--is distinctly unfolded, and also the unity of the great ideas of the beautiful, just, and good. The "_Phoedo_" enforces the supremacy of wisdom, and the "_Philebus_" the "_summum bonum_." Love is the aspiration after a communion with perfection. The chief excellence of the philosophy which Plato taught, consists in the immutable basis assigned to the principles of moral truth; the defects are a want of distinct apprehension of the claims of divine justice in consequence of human sin, and an indirect discouragement of active virtue.
The great disciple of Plato was Aristotle, and he carried on the philosophical movement which Socrates had started to the highest limit that it ever reached in the ancient world. He was born at Stagira B.C. 384, of wealthy parents, and early evinced an insatiable thirst for knowledge. When Plato returned from Sicily he joined his disciples, and was his pupil for seventeen years, at Athens. On the death of Plato, he went on his travels, and became the tutor of Alexander the Great, and B.C. 335, returned to Athens, after an absence of twelve years, and set up a school, and taught in the Lyceum. He taught while walking up and down the shady walks which surrounded it, from which he obtained the name of Peripatetic, which has clung to his name and philosophy. His school had a great celebrity, and from it proceeded illustrious philosophers, statesmen, historians, and orators. He taught thirteen years, during which he composed most of his greater works. He not only wrote on dialectics and logic, but also on physics in its various departments. His work on "The History of Animals" was deemed so important that his royal pupil presented him with eight hundred talents-- an enormous sum--for the collection of materials. He also wrote on ethics and politics, history and rhetoric; letters, poems, and speeches, three fourths of which are lost. He was one of the most voluminous writers of antiquity, and probably the most learned man whose writings have come down to us. Nor has any one of the ancients exercised upon the thinking of succeeding ages so great an influence. He was an oracle until the revival of learning.
[Sidenote: Genius of Aristotle.]
"Aristotle," says Hegel, "penetrated into the whole mass, and into every department of the universe of things, and subjected to the comprehension its scattered wealth; and the greater number of the philosophical sciences owe to him their separation and commencement." [Footnote: Hagel is said to have comprehended Aristotle better than any modern writer, and the best work on his philosophy is by him.] He is also the father of the history of philosophy, since he gives an historical review of the way in which the subject has been hitherto treated by the earlier philosophers.
"Plato made the external world the region of the incomplete and bad, of the contradictory and the false, and recognized absolute truth only in the eternal immutable ideas. Aristotle laid down the proposition that the idea, which cannot of itself fashion itself into reality, is powerless, and has only a potential existence, and that it becomes a living reality, only by realizing itself in a creative manner by means of its own energy." [Footnote: Adolph Stahr, Oldenburg.]
[Sidenote: Vast attainments of Aristotle.]
But there can be no doubt as to his marvelous power of systematization. Collecting together all the results of ancient speculation, he so elaborated them into a coordinate system, that for two thousand years he reigned supreme in the schools. In a literary point of view, Plato was doubtless his superior, but Plato was a poet making philosophy divine and musical; but Aristotle's investigations spread over a far wider range. He wrote also on politics, natural history, and ethics, in so comprehensive and able manner, as to prove his claim to be one of the greatest intellects of antiquity, the most subtle and the most patient. He differed from Plato chiefly in relation to the doctrine of ideas, without however resolving the difficulty which divided them. As he made matter to be the eternal ground of phenomena, he reduced the notion of it to a precision it never before enjoyed, and established thereby a necessary element in human science. But being bound to matter, he did not soar, as Plato did, into the higher regions of speculation; nor did he entertain as lofty views of God, or of immortality. Neither did he have as high an ideal of human life. His definition of the highest good was a perfect practical activity in a perfect life.
With Aristotle closed the great Socratic movement in the history of speculation. When Socrates appeared there was the general prevalence of skepticism, arising from the unsatisfactory speculations respecting nature. He removed this skepticism by inventing a new method, and by withdrawing the mind from the contemplation of nature, to the study of man himself. He bade men to look inward.
[Sidenote: Ethics the great subject of inquiry with Plato.]
Plato accepted his method, but applied it more universally. Like Socrates, however, ethics were the great subject of his inquiries, to which physics were only subordinate. The problem he sought to solve was the way to live like the gods. He would contemplate truth as the great aim of life.
[Sidenote: Main inquiries of Aristotle had reference to physics and metaphysics.]
With Aristotle, ethics formed only one branch of his attention. His main inquiries were in reference to physics and metaphysics. He thus, by bringing these into the region or inquiry, paved the way for a new epoch of skepticism. [Footnote: Lewes, Ritter, Hegel, Maurice, Diogenes Laertius. See fine article in Encyclopedia Britannica. Schwegler, translated by Seelyn.]
It is impossible, within the proper limits of this chapter, to enter upon an analysis of the philosophy of either the three great lights of the ancient world, or to enumerate and describe their other writings. I merely wish to show what are considered to be the vital principles on which their systems were based, and the general spirit of their speculations. The student must examine these in the elaborate treatises of modern philosophers, and in the original works of Plato and Aristotle.
[Sidenote: Their characteristic inquiries.]
Both Plato and Aristotle taught that reason alone could form science; but Aristotle differed from his master respecting the theory of ideas. He did not deny to ideas a subjective existence, but he did deny that they have an objective existence. And he maintained that the individual things alone existed, and if individuals only exist, they can only be known by sensation. Sensation thus becomes the basis of knowledge. Plato made reason the basis of knowledge, but Aristotle made experience. Plato directed man to the contemplation of ideas; Aristotle, to the observations of Nature. Instead of proceeding synthetically and dialectically like Plato, he pursues an analytic course. His method is hence inductive--the derivation of certain principles from a sum of given facts and phenomena. It would seem that positive science commenced with him, since he maintained that experience furnishes the principles of every science; but, while his conception was just, there was not sufficient experience then accumulated from which to generalize with effect. He did not sufficiently verify his premises. His reasoning was correct upon the data given, as in the famous syllogism, "All black birds are crows; this bird is black; therefore this bird is a crow." The defect of the syllogism is not in the reasoning, but in the truth of the major premise, since all black birds are not crows. It is only a most extensive and exhaustive examination of the accuracy of a proposition which will warrant reasoning upon it. Aristotle reasoned without sufficient examination of the major premise of his syllogisms.
[Sidenote: Logic of Aristotle.]
Aristotle was the father of logic, and Hegel and Kant think there has been no improvement upon it since his day. And this became to him the real organon of science. "He supposed it was not merely the instrument of thought, but the instrument of investigation." Hence it was futile for purposes of discovery, although important to aid the processes of thought. Induction and syllogism are the two great instruments of his logic. The one sets out from particulars already known to arrive at a conclusion; the other sets out from some general principle to arrive at particulars. The latter more particularly characterized his logic, which he presented in sixteen forms, showing great ingenuity, and useful as a dialectical exercise. This syllogistic process of reasoning would be incontrovertible, if the general were better known than the particular. But it is only by induction, which proceeds from the world of experience, that we reach the higher world of cognition. We arrive at no new knowledge by the syllogism, since the major premise is more evident than the conclusion, and anterior to it. Thus he made speculation subordinate to logical distinctions, and his system, when carried out by the schoolmen, led to a spirit of useless quibbling. Instead of interrogating Nature, as Bacon led the way, they interrogated their own minds, and no great discoveries were made. From a want of a proper knowledge of the conditions of scientific inquiry, the method of Aristotle became fruitless. [Footnote: Maurice, Anc. Phil. See Whewell, Hist. Ind. Science.]
Though Aristotle wrote in a methodical manner, yet there is great parsimony of language. There is no fascination in his style. It is without ornament, and very condensed. His merit consisted in great logical precision, and scrupulous exactness in the employment of terms.
[Sidenote: The Skeptics.]
Philosophy, as a great system of dialectics, as an analysis of the power and faculties of the mind, as a method to pursue inquiries, as an intellectual system merely, culminated in Aristotle. He completed the great fabric of which Thales laid the foundation. The subsequent schools of philosophy directed attention to ethical and practical questions, rather than to intellectual phenomena. The skeptics, like Pyrrho, had only negative doctrines, and had a disdain of those inquiries which sought to penetrate the mysteries of existence. They did not believe that absolute truth was attainable by man. And they attacked the prevailing systems with great plausibility. Thus Sextus attacked both induction and definitions. "If we do not know the thing we define," said he, "we do not comprehend it because of the definition, but we impose on it the definition because we know it; and if we are ignorant of the thing we would define, it is impossible to define it." Thus the skeptics pointed out the uncertainty of things and the folly of striving to comprehend them.
The Epicureans despised the investigations of philosophy, since, in their view, they did not contribute to happiness. The subject of their inquiries was happiness, not truth. What will promote this, was the subject of their speculation. Epicurus, born B.C. 342, contended that pleasure was happiness; that pleasure should not be sought for its own sake, but with a view of the happiness of life obtained by it. He taught that it was inseparable from virtue, and that its enjoyments should be limited. He was averse to costly pleasures, and regarded contentedness with a little to be a great good. He placed wealth not in great possessions, but few wants. He sought to widen the domain of pleasure, and narrow that of pain, and regarded a passionless state of life the highest. Nor did he dread death, which was deliverance from misery. Epicurus has been much misunderstood, and his doctrines were subsequently perverted, especially when the arts of life were brought into the service of luxury, and a gross materialism was the great feature of society. Epicurus had much of the practical spirit of a philosopher, although very little of the earnest cravings of a religious man. He himself led a virtuous life, because it was wiser and better to be virtuous, not because it was his duty. His writings were very voluminous, and in his tranquil garden he led a peaceful life of study and enjoyment. His followers, and they were numerous, were led into luxury and effeminacy, as was to be expected from a skeptical and irreligious philosophy, the great principle of which was that whatever is pleasant should be the object of existence. [Footnote: the doctrines of the Epicureans are best set forth in Lucretius.]
The Stoics were a large and celebrated sect of philosophers; but they added nothing to the domain of thought,--they created no system, they invented no new method, they were led into no new psychological inquiries. Their inquiries were chiefly ethical. And if ethics are a part of the great system of Grecian philosophy, they are well worthy of attention. Some of the greatest men of antiquity are numbered among them--like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy they taught was morality, and this was eminently practical and also elevated.
The founder of this sect, Zeno, born rich, but reduced to poverty by misfortune, was a very remarkable man, and a very good one, and profoundly revered by the Athenians, who intrusted him with the keys of their citadel. The date of his birth is unknown, but he lived in a degenerate age, when skepticism and sensuality were eating out the life and vigor of Grecian society, when Greek civilization was rapidly passing away, when ancient creeds had lost their majesty, and general levity and folly overspread the land. Deeply impressed with the prevailing laxity of morals and the absence of religion, he lifted up his voice, more as a reformer than as an inquirer after truth, and taught for more than fifty years in a place called the Porch, which had once been the resort of the poets. He was chiefly absorbed with ethical questions, although he studied profoundly the systems of the old philosophers. He combated Plato's doctrine that virtue consists in contemplation, and of Epicurus, that it consisted in pleasure. Man, in his eyes, was made for active duties. He also sought to oppose skepticism, which was casting the funereal veil of doubt and uncertainty over every thing pertaining to the soul, and God, and the future life. "The skeptics had attacked both perception and reason. They had shown that perception is, after all, based upon appearance, and appearance is not a certainty; and they showed that reason is unable to distinguish between appearance and certainty, since it had nothing but phenomena to build upon, and since there is no criterion to apply to reason itself." Then they proclaimed philosophy a failure, and without foundation. But he, taking a stand on common sense, fought for morality, as did Reid and Beattie, when they combated the skepticism of Hume.
[Sidenote: Doctrines of the Stoics.]
[Sidenote: Influence of the Stoics.]
Philosophy, according to Zeno and other Stoics, was intimately connected with the duties of practical life. The contemplation, recommended by Plato and Aristotle, seemed only a covert recommendation of selfish enjoyment. The wisdom, which it should be the aim of life to attain, is virtue. And virtue is to live harmoniously with nature. To live harmoniously with nature is to exclude all personal ends. Hence pleasure is to be disregarded, and pain is to be despised. And as all moral action must be in harmony with nature, the law of destiny is supreme, and all things move according to immutable fate. With the predominant tendency to the universal which characterized their system, the Stoics taught that the sage ought to regard himself as a citizen of the world rather than of any particular city or state. They made four things to be indispensable to virtue: a knowledge of good and evil, which is the province of the reason; temperance, a knowledge of the due regulation of the sensual passions; fortitude, a conviction that it is good to suffer what is necessary; and justice, or acquaintance with what ought to be to every individual. They made perfection necessary to virtue, and saw nothing virtuous in the mere advance to it. Hence the severity of their system. The perfect sage, according to them, is raised above all influence of external events; he submits to the law of destiny; he is exempt from desire and fear, joy or sorrow; he is not governed even by what he is exposed to necessarily, like sorrow and pain; he is free from the restraints of passion; he is like a god in his mental placidity. Nor must the sage live only for himself, but for others; he is a member of the whole body of mankind; he ought to marry, and to take part in public affairs, but he will never give way to compassion or forgiveness, and is to attack error and vice with uncompromising sternness. But with this ideal, the Stoics were forced to admit that virtue, like true knowledge, although attainable, is beyond the reach of man. They were discontented with themselves, and with all around them, and looked upon all institutions as corrupt. They had a profound contempt of their age, and of human attainments; but it cannot be denied they practiced a lofty and stern virtue, and were the best people in their degenerate times. Their God was made subject to Fate, and he was a material god, synonymous with Nature. Thus their system was pantheistic. But they maintained the dignity of reason, and the ideal in nature, the actualization of which we should strive after, though without the hope of reaching it. "As a reaction against effeminacy, Stoicism may be applauded; as a doctrine, it is one-sided, and ends in apathy and egotism." [Footnote: See Cicero, De Fin. and Tusculan Questions; Diogenes Laertius on Zeno. This historian is quite full on this subject, and seems to furnish the basis for Ritter.]
With the Stoics ended all inquiry among the Greeks of a philosophical nature worthy of especial mention, until philosophy was revived in the Christian schools of Alexandria, where faith was united with reason. The Stoics endeavored to establish the certitude of human knowledge in order that they might establish the truth of moral principles, and the basis of their system was common sense, with which they attacked the godless skepticism of their times, and raised up a barrier, feeble though it was, to prevailing degeneracy. The struggles of so many great thinkers, from Thales to Aristotle, all ended in doubt and in despair. It was discovered that all of them were wrong, but that their error was without a remedy.
[Sidenote: Bright period of Grecian philosophy.]
The bright and glorious period of Grecian philosophy was from Socrates to Aristotle. Philosophical inquiries began about the origin of things, and ended with an elaborate systematization of the forms of thought, which was the most magnificent triumph that the unaided intellect of man ever achieved. Socrates founds a school, but does not elaborate a system. He reveals most precious truths, and stimulates the youth who listen to his instructions by the doctrine that it is the duty of man to pursue a knowledge of himself, which is to be sought in that divine reason which dwells within him and which also rules the world. He confides in science; he loves truth for its own sake; he loves virtue, which consists in the knowledge of the good.
Plato seizes his weapons and is imbued with his spirit. He is full of hope for science and humanity. With soaring boldness he directs his inquiries to futurity, dissatisfied with the present, and cherishing a fond hope of a better existence. He speculates on God and the soul. He is not much interested in physical phenomena. He does not, like Thales, strive to find out the beginning of all things, but the highest good, by which his immortal soul may be refreshed and prepared for the future life he cannot solve, yet in which he believes. The sensible is an impenetrable empire, but ideas are certitudes, and upon these he dwells with rapt and mystical enthusiasm,--a great poetical rhapsodist like Xenophanes, severe dialectician as he is, believing in truth and beauty and goodness.
Then Aristotle, following out the method of his teachers, attempts to exhaust experience, and directs his inquiries into the outward world of sense and observation, but all with the view of discovering from phenomena the unconditional truth, in which he, too, believes. But every thing in this world is fleeting and transitory, and, therefore, it is not easy to arrive at truth. A cold doubt creeps into the experimental mind of Aristotle with all his learning and all his logic.
The Epicureans arise. They place their hopes in sensual enjoyment. They despair of truth. But the world will not be abandoned to despair. The Stoics rebuke the impiety which is blended with sensualism, and place their hopes on virtue. But it is unattainable virtue, while their God is not a moral governor, but subject to necessity.
Thus did those old giants grope about, for they did not know the God who was revealed unto Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Isaiah. They solved nothing, since they did not know, even if they speculated on, the Great First Cause. And yet, with all their errors, they were the greatest benefactors of the ancient world. They gave dignity to intellectual inquiries, while they set, by their lives, examples of a pure morality--not the morality of the gospel, but the severest virtue practiced by the old guides of mankind.
[Sidenote: Philosophy among the Romans.]
The Romans added absolutely nothing to the philosophy of the Greeks. Nor were they much interested in any speculative inquiries. It was only the ethical views of the old sages which had attraction or force to them. They were too material to love pure subjective inquiries. They had conquered the land; they disdained the empire of the air.
[Sidenote: Followers of the Greeks.]
There were, doubtless, students of the Greek philosophy among the Romans, perhaps as early as Cato the Censor. But there were only two persons of note who wrote philosophy, till the time of Cicero, Aurafanius and Rubinus, and these were Epicureans.
Cicero was the first to systematize the philosophy which contributed so greatly to his intellectual culture. But even he added nothing. He was only a commentator and expositor. Nor did he seek to found a system or a school, but merely to influence and instruct men of his own rank. He regarded those subjects, which had the greatest attraction for the Grecian schools, to be beyond the power of human cognition, and, therefore, looked upon the practical as the proper domain of human inquiry. Yet he held logic in great esteem, as furnishing rules for methodical investigation. He adopted the doctrine of Socrates as to the pursuit of moral good. He regarded the duties which grow out of the relations of human society preferable to the obligations of pursuing scientific researches. Although a great admirer of Plato and Aristotle, he regarded patriotic calls of duty as paramount to any study of science or philosophy, which he thought was involved in doubt. He had a great contempt for knowledge which could neither lead to the clear apprehension of certitude, nor to practical applications. He thought it impossible to arrive at a knowledge of God, or the nature of the soul, or the origin of the world. And he thus was led to look upon the sensible and the present as of more importance than inconclusive inductions, or deductions from a truth not satisfactorily established.
[Sidenote: His eclecticism.]
Cicero was an Eclectic, seizing on what was true and clear in the ancient systems, and disregarding what was simply a matter of speculation. This is especially seen in his treatise "De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum," in which the opinions of all the Grecian schools concerning the supreme good are expounded and compared. Nor does he hesitate to declare that happiness consists in the cognition of nature and science, which is the true source of pleasure both to gods and men. Yet these are but hopes, in which it does not become us to indulge. It is the actual, the real, the practical, which preeminently claims attention; in other words, the knowledge which will but furnish man with a guide and rule of life. [Footnote: De Fin., v. 6.] Indeed, the sum of Philosophy, to the mind of Cicero, is that she is an instructress and a comforter. He takes an entirely practical view of the end of philosophy, which is to improve the mind, and make a man contented and happy. For philosophy as a science,--a series of inductions and deductions,--he had profound contempt. He also regards the doctrines of philosophy as involved in doubt, and even in the consideration of moral questions he is pursued by the conflict of opinions, although, in this department, he is most at home. The points he is most anxious to establish are the doctrines of God and the soul. These are most fully treated in his essay, "De Natura Deorum," in which he submits the doctrines of the Epicureans and the Stoics to the objections of the Academy. [Footnote: De Nat. D.,
[Sidenote: His ethics.]
The doctrines of Cicero on ethical subjects, are chiefly drawn from the Stoics and Peripatetics. They are opinions drawn sometimes from one system and sometimes from another. Thus he agrees with the disciples of Aristotle, that health, honors, friends, country, are worthy objects of desire. Then again, he coincides with the Stoics that passions and emotions of the soul are vices. But he recedes from their severe tone, which elevated the sage too high above his fellow-men.
[Sidenote: Character of his philosophical writings.]
Thus there is little of original thought in the moral theories of Cicero, and these are the result of observation rather than of any philosophical principle. We might enumerate his various opinions, and show what an enlightened mind he possessed; but this would not be the development of philosophy. His views, interesting as they are, and generally wise and lofty, yet do not indicate any progress of the science; He merely repeats earlier doctrines. These were not without their utility, since they had great influence on the Latin fathers. They were esteemed for their general enlightenment. He softened down the extreme views of the great thinkers before his day, and clearly unfolded what had become obscured. He is a critic of philosophy; an expositor whom we can scarcely spare.
If any body advanced philosophy among the Romans, it was Epictetus, and he even only in the realm of ethics. Qumtius Sextius, in the time of Augustus, had revived the Pythagorean doctrines. Seneca had recommended the severe morality of the Stoics, but they added nothing that was not previously known. The Romans had no talent for philosophy, although they were acquainted with its various systems. Their greatest light was a Phrygian slave.
[Sidenote: His lofty ethical system.]
Epictetus taught in the time of Domitian, and though he did not leave any written treatises, his doctrines were preserved and handed down by his disciple Arrian, who had for him the reverence that Plato had for Socrates. The loftiness of his recorded views makes us feel that he must have been indebted to Christianity; for no one, before him, has revealed precepts so much in accordance with its spirit. He was a Stoic, but he held in the highest estimation Socrates and Plato. It is not for the solution of metaphysical questions that he was remarkable. He was not a dialectician, but a moralist, and, as such, takes the highest ground of all the old inquirers after truth. With him, philosophy, as it was to Cicero and Seneca, is a wisdom of life. He sets no value on logic, nor much on physics; but he reveals sentiments of great simplicity and grandeur. His great idea is the purification of the soul. He believes in the severest self-denial; he would guard against the syren spells of pleasure; he would make men feel that, in order to be good, they must first feel that they are evil; he condemns suicide, although it had been defended by the Stoics; he would complain of no one, not even of injustice; he would not injure his enemies; he would pardon all offenses; he would feel universal compassion, since men sin from ignorance; he would not easily blame, since we have none to condemn but ourselves; he would not strive after honor or office, since we put ourselves in subjection to that we seek or prize; he would constantly bear in mind that all things are transitory, and that they are not our own; he would bear evils with patience, even as he would practice self- denial of pleasure; he would, in short, be calm, free, keep in subjection his passions, avoid self-indulgence, and practice a broad charity and benevolence. He felt he owed all to God; that all was his gift, and that we should thus live in accordance with his will; that we should be grateful not only for our bodies, but for our souls, and reason, by which we attain to greatness. And if God has given us such a priceless gift, we should be contented, and not even seek to alter our external relations, which are doubtless for the best. We should wish, indeed, for only what God wills and sends, and we should avoid pride and haughtiness, as well as discontent, and seek to fulfill our allotted part. [Footnote: A fine translation of Epictetus has been published by Little and Brown.]
[Sidenote: Marcus Aurelius.]
Such were the moral precepts of Epictetus, in which we see the nearest approach to Christianity that had been made in the ancient world. And these sublime truths had a great influence, especially on the mind of the most lofty and pure of all the Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius, who lived the principles he had learned from a slave, and whose "Maxims" are still held in admiration.
[Sidenote: General observations.]
Thus did the speculations about the beginning of things lead to elaborate systems of thought, and end in practical rules of life, until, in spirit, they had, with Epictetus, harmonized with many of the revealed truths which Christ and his Apostles laid down for the regeneration of the world. Who cannot see in the inquiries of the old philosopher, whether into nature, or the operations of mind, or the existence of God, or the immortality of the soul, or the way to happiness and virtue, a magnificent triumph of human genius, such as has been exhibited in no other department of human science? We regret that our limits preclude a more extended view of the various systems which the old sages propounded--systems full of errors, yet also marked by important truths, but whether false or true, showing a marvelous reach of the human understanding. Modern researches have discarded many opinions which were highly valued in their day, yet philosophy, in its methods of reasoning, is scarcely advanced since the time of Aristotle; while the subjects which agitated the Grecian schools, have been from time to time revived and rediscussed, and are still unsettled. If any science has gone round in perpetual circles, incapable, apparently, of progression or rest, it is that glorious field of inquiry which has tasked more than any other the mightiest intellects of this world, and which, progressive or not, will never be relinquished without the loss of what is most valuable in human culture.
* * * * *
For original authorities in reference to the matter of this chapter, read Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Philosophers; the Writings of Plato and Aristotle; Cicero, De Nat., De Or., De Offic., De Div., De Fin., Tusc. Quaest.; Xenophon, Memorabilia; Boethius, De Idea Hist. Phil.; Lucretius.
The great modern authorities are the Germans, and these are very numerous. Among the most famous writers on the history of philosophy, are Bruckner, Hegel, Brandis, I. G. Buhle, Tennemann, Ritter, Plessing, Schwegler, Hermann, Meiners, Stallbaum, and Speugel. The history of Ritter is well translated, and is always learned and suggestive. Tennemann, translated by Morell, is a good manual, brief, but clear. In connection with the writings of the Germans, the great work of Cousin should be consulted.
The English historians of ancient philosophy are not so numerous as the Germans. The work of Enfield is based on Bruckner, or is rather an abridgment. Archer Butler's Lectures are suggestive and able, but discursive and vague, as is the History of Ancient Philosophy by Maurice. Grote has written learnedly on Socrates and the other great lights. Lewes' Biographical History of Philosophy has the merit of clearness, and is very interesting, but rather superficial. Henry has written a good epitome. See also Stanley's History of Philosophy, and the articles in Smith's Dictionary, on the leading ancient philosophers. Donaldson's continuation of Muller's History of the Lit. of Greece, is learned, and should be consulted with Thompson's Notes on Archer Butler. There are also fine articles in the Encyclopedias Britannica and Metropolitana. Schleirmacher, on Socrates, translated by Bishop Thirlwall.
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