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Nor is it only the personality of Socrates that has been so variously conceived; his philosophy, so far as it can be separated from his life, has equally given occasion to conflicting interpretations, and it has even been denied that he had, properly speaking, any philosophy at all. These divergent presentations of his teaching, if teaching it can be called, begin with the two disciples to whom our knowledge of it is almost entirely due. There is, curiously enough, much the same inner discrepancy between Xenophon’s Memorabilia and those111 Platonic dialogues where Socrates is the principal spokesman, as that which distinguishes the Synoptic from the Johannine Gospels. The one gives us a report certainly authentic, but probably incomplete; the other account is, beyond all doubt, a highly idealised portraiture, but seems to contain some traits directly copied from the original, which may well have escaped a less philosophical observer than Plato. Aristotle also furnishes us with some scanty notices which are of use in deciding between the two rival versions, although we cannot be sure that he had access to any better sources of information than are open to ourselves. By variously combining and reasoning from these data modern critics have produced a third Socrates, who is often little more than the embodiment of their own favourite opinions.In mastering Aristotle’s cosmology, we have gained the key to his entire method of systematisation. Henceforth, the Stagirite has no secrets from us. Where we were formerly content to show that he erred, we can now show why he erred; by generalising his principles of arrangement, we can exhibit them still more clearly in their conflict with modern thought. The method, then, pursued by Aristotle is to divide his subject into two more or less unequal masses, one of which is supposed to be governed by necessary principles, admitting of certain demonstration; while the other is irregular, and can only be studied according to the rules of probable evidence. The parts of the one are homogeneous and concentrically disposed, the movements of each being controlled by that immediately outside and above it. The parts of the other are heterogeneous and distributed among a number of antithetical pairs, between whose members there is, or ought to be, a general equilibrium preserved, the whole system having a common centre which either oscillates from one extreme to another, or holds the balance between them. The second system is enclosed within the first, and is altogether dependent on it for the impulses determining its processes of metamorphosis and equilibration. Where the internal adjustments of a system to itself or of one system to the other are not consciously made, Aristotle calls them Nature. They are always adapted to secure its everlasting continuance either in an individual or a specific form. Actuality belongs more particularly to the first sphere, and possibility to the second, but both are, to a certain extent, represented in each.
However, as we have seen, he is not above turning it against Mill. The drift of his own illustration is not very clear, but we suppose it implies that the matron unconsciously frames the general proposition: My remedy is good for all children suffering from the same disease as Lucy; and with equal unconsciousness reasons down from this to the case of her neighbour’s child. Now, it is quite unjustifiable to call Mill’s analysis superficial because it leaves out of account a hypothesis incompatible with the nominalism which Mill professed. It is still more unjustifiable to quote against it390 the authority of a philosopher who perfectly agreed with those who disbelieve in the possibility of unconscious knowledge,286 and contemptuously rejected Plato’s opinion to the contrary. Nor is this all. The doctrine that reasoning is from particulars to particulars, even when it passes through general propositions, may be rigorously deduced from Aristotle’s own admissions. If nothing exists but particulars, and if knowledge is of what exists, then all knowledge is of particulars. Therefore, if the propositions entering into a chain of reasoning are knowledge, they must deal with particulars exclusively. And, quite apart from the later developments of Aristotle’s philosophy, we have his express assertion, that all generals are derived from particulars, which is absolutely incompatible with the alleged fact, that ‘all knowledge, all thought, rests on universal truths, on general propositions; that all knowledge, whether “deductive” or “inductive,” is arrived at by the aid, the indispensable aid, of general propositions.’ To Aristotle the basis of knowledge was not ‘truths’ of any kind, but concepts; and in the last chapter of the Posterior Analytics he has explained how these concepts are derived from sense-perceptions without the aid of any ‘propositions’ whatever.But even taken in its mildest form, there were difficulties about Greek idealism which still remained unsolved. They may be summed up in one word, the necessity of subordinating all personal and passionate feelings to a higher law, whatever the dictates of that law may be. Of such self-suppression few men were less capable than Cicero. Whether virtue meant the extirpation or merely the moderation of desire and emotion, it was equally impossible to one of whom Macaulay has said, with not more severity than truth, that his whole soul was under the dominion of a girlish vanity and a craven fear.278 Such weak and well-intentioned natures174 almost always take refuge from their sorrows and self-reproaches in religion; and probably the religious sentiment was more highly developed in Cicero than in any other thinker of the age. Here also a parallel with Socrates naturally suggests itself. The relation between the two amounts to more than a mere analogy; for not only was the intellectual condition of old Athens repeating itself in Rome, but the religious opinions of all cultivated Romans who still retained their belief in a providential God, were, to an even greater extent than their ethics, derived through Stoicism from the great founder of rational theology. Cicero, like Socrates, views God under the threefold aspect of a creator, a providence, and an informing spirit:—identical in his nature with the soul of man, and having man for his peculiar care. With regard to the evidence of his existence, the teleological argument derived from the structure of organised beings is common to both; the argument from universal belief, doubtless a powerful motive with Socrates, is more distinctly put forward by Cicero; and while both regard the heavenly luminaries as manifest embodiments of the divine essence, Cicero is led by the traditions of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, to present the regularity of their movements as the most convincing revelation of a superhuman intelligence, and to identify the outermost starry sphere with the highest God of all.279 Intimately associated with this view is his belief in the immortality of the soul, which he supposes will return after death to the eternal and unchangeable sphere whence it originally proceeded.280 But his familiarity with the sceptical arguments of Carneades prevented Cicero from putting forward his theological beliefs with the same confidence as Socrates; while, at the same time, it enabled him to take up a much more decided attitude of hostility towards the popular superstitions from which he was anxious, so far as possible, to purify true175 religion.281 To sum up: Cicero, like Kant, seems to have been chiefly impressed by two phenomena, the starry heavens without and the moral law within; each in its own way giving him the idea of unchanging and everlasting continuance, and both testifying to the existence of a power by which all things are regulated for the best. But the materialism of his age naturally prevented him from regarding the external order as a mere reflex or lower manifestation of the inward law by which all spirits feel themselves to be members of the same intelligible community.
The One cannot, properly speaking, be an object of knowledge, but is apprehended by something higher than knowledge. This is why Plato calls it ineffable and indescribable. What we can describe is the way to the view, not the view itself. The soul which has never been irradiated with the light of that supreme splendour, nor filled with the passionate joy of a lover finding rest in the contemplation of his beloved, cannot be given that experience in words. But the beatific vision is open to all. He from whom it is hidden has only himself to blame. Let him break away from the restraints of sense and place himself under the guidance of philosophy, that philosophy which leads from matter to spirit, from soul to Nous, from Nous to the One.
The substantial forms of Aristotle, combining as they do the notion of a definition with that of a moving cause and a fulfilled purpose, are evidently derived from the Platonic Ideas; a reflection which at once leads us to consider the relation in which he stands to the spiritualism of Plato and to the mathematical idealism of the Neo-Pythagoreans. He agrees with them in thinking that general conceptions are the sole object of knowledge—the sole enduring reality in a world of change. He differs from them in maintaining that such conceptions have no existence apart from the particulars in which they reside. It has been questioned whether Aristotle ever really understood his master’s teaching on the subject. Among recent critics, M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire asserts,336 with considerable vehemence, that he did not. It is certain that in some respects Aristotle is not just to the Platonic theory, that he exaggerates its absurdities, ignores its developments, and occasionally brings charges against it which might be retorted with at least equal effect against his own philosophy. But on the most important point of all, whether Plato did or did not ascribe a separate existence to his Ideas, we could hardly believe a disciple of twenty years’ standing229 to be mistaken, even if the master had not left on record a decisive testimony to the affirmative side in his Parmenides, and one scarcely less decisive in his Timaeus.230 And so far as the controversy reduces itself to this particular issue, Aristotle is entirely right. His most powerful arguments are not, indeed, original, having been anticipated by Plato himself; but as they were left unanswered he had a perfect right to repeat them, and his dialectical skill was great enough to make him independent of their support. The extreme minuteness of his criticism is wearisome to us, who can hardly conceive how another opinion could ever have been held. Yet such was the fascination exercised by Plato’s idealism, that not only was it upheld with considerable acrimony by his immediate followers,231 but under one form or another it has been revived over and over again, in the long period which has elapsed since its first promulgation, and on every one of these occasions the arguments of Aristotle have been raised up again to meet it, each time with triumphant success. Ockham’s razor, Entia non sunt sine necessitate multiplicanda, is borrowed from the Metaphysics; Locke’s principal objection to innate ideas closely resembles the sarcastic observation in337 the last chapter of the Posterior Analytics, that, according to Plato’s theory, we must have some very wonderful knowledge of which we are not conscious.232 And the weapons with which Trendelenburg and others have waged war on Hegel are avowedly drawn from the Aristotelian arsenal.233
328Euripides is not a true thinker, and for that very reason fitly typifies a period when religion had been shaken to its very foundation, but still retained a strong hold on men’s minds, and might at any time reassert its ancient authority with unexpected vigour. We gather, also, from his writings, that ethical sentiment had undergone a parallel transformation. He introduces characters and actions which the elder dramatists would have rejected as unworthy of tragedy, and not only introduces them, but composes elaborate speeches in their defence. Side by side with examples of devoted heroism we find such observations as that everyone loves himself best, and that those are most prosperous who attend most exclusively to their own interests. It so happens that in one instance where Euripides has chosen a subject already handled by Aeschylus, the difference of treatment shows how great a moral revolution had occurred in the interim. The conflict waged between Eteoclês and Polyneicês for their father’s throne is the theme both of the Seven against Thebes and of the Phoenician Women. In both, Polyneicês bases his claim on grounds of right. It had been agreed that he and his brother should alternately hold sway over Thebes. His turn has arrived, and Eteoclês refuses to give way. Polyneicês endeavours to enforce his pretensions by bringing a foreign army against Thebes. Aeschylus makes him appear before the walls with an allegorical figure of Justice on his shield, promising to restore him to his father’s seat. On hearing this, Eteoclês exclaims:—
A splendid tribute has been paid to the fame of Empedocles by Lucretius, the greatest didactic poet of all time, and by a great didactic poet of our own time, Mr. Matthew Arnold. But the still more rapturous panegyric pronounced by the Roman enthusiast on Epicurus makes his testimony a little suspicious, and the lofty chant of our own contemporary must be taken rather as an expression of his own youthful opinions respecting man’s place in Nature, than as a faithful exposition of the Sicilian thinker’s creed. Many another name from the history of philosophy might with better reason have been prefixed to that confession of resigned and scornful scepticism entitled Empedocles on Etna. The real doctrines of an essentially religious teacher would hardly have been so cordially endorsed by Mr. Swinburne. But perhaps no other character could have excited the deep sympathy felt by one poetic genius for another, when with both of them thought is habitually steeped in emotion. Empedocles was the last Greek of any note who threw his philosophy into a metrical form. Neither Xenophanes nor Parmenides had done this with so much success. No less a critic than Aristotle extols the Homeric splendour of his verses, and Lucretius, in this respect an authority, speaks of them as almost divine. But, judging from the fragments still extant, their speculative content exhibits a distinct decline from the height reached by his immediate predecessors. Empedocles betrays a distrust in man’s power of discovering truth, almost, although not quite, unknown to them. Too much certainty would be28 impious. He calls on the ‘much-wooed white-armed virgin muse’ to—Again, the Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics all pass for being absolute rationalists. Yet their common ideal of impassive self-possession, when worked out to its logical consequences, becomes nearly indistinguishable from the self-simplification of Plotinus. All alike exhibit the Greek tendency towards endless abstraction—what we have called the analytical moment of Greek thought, working together with the moments of antithesis and circumscription. The sceptical isolation of man from Nature, the Epicurean isolation of the individual from the community, the Stoic isolation of will from feeling, reached their highest and most abstract expression in the Neo-Platonic isolation of pure self-identity from all other modes of consciousness and existence combined.
CHAPTER II. THE GREEK HUMANISTS: NATURE AND LAW.
Of all existing constitutions that of Sparta approached nearest to the ideal of Plato, or, rather, he regarded it as the least degraded. He liked the conservatism of the Spartans, their rigid discipline, their haughty courage, the participation of their daughters in gymnastic exercises, the austerity of their manners, and their respect for old age; but he found much to censure both in their ancient customs and in the characteristics which the possession of empire had recently developed among them. He speaks with disapproval of their exclusively military organisation, of their contempt for philosophy, and of the open sanction which they gave to practices barely tolerated at Athens. And he also comments on their covetousness, their harshness to inferiors, and their haste to throw off the restraints of the law whenever detection could be evaded.124In the next place, if it is not in the power of others to injure us, we have no right to resent anything that they can do to us. So argues Epictêtus, who began to learn philosophy when still a slave, and was carefully prepared by his instructor, Musonius, to bear without repining whatever outrages his master might choose to inflict on him. Finally, to those who urged that they might justly blame the evil intentions of their assailants, Marcus Aurelius could reply that even this was too presumptuous, that all men did what they thought right, and that the motives of none could be adequately judged except by himself.97 And all the Stoics found a common ground for patience in their optimistic fatalism, in the doctrine that whatever happens is both necessarily determined, and determined by absolute goodness combined with infallible wisdom.98