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IX.Still Plotinus gives no clear answer to the question whence comes this last and lowest Matter. He will not say that it is an emanation from the Soul, nor yet will he say that it is a formless residue of the element out of which she was shaped by a return to the Nous. In truth, he could not make up his mind as to whether the Matter of sensible objects was created at all. He oscillates between unwillingness to admit that absolute evil can come from good, and unwillingness to admit that the two are co-ordinate principles of existence. And, as usual, where ideas fail him, he helps himself out of the difficulty with metaphors. The Soul must advance, and in order to advance she must make a place for herself, and that there may be a place there must be body. Or, again, while remaining fixed in herself, she sends out a great light, and by the light she sees that there is darkness beyond its extreme verge, and moulds its formless substance into shape.489
‘Without Chrysippus I should not have been.’233
If we interpret this doctrine, after the example of some of the ancients, to mean that any wrong-doing would be innocent and good, supposing it escaped detection, we shall probably be misconstruing Epicurus. What he seems to allude to is rather the case of strictly legal enactments, where, previously to law, the action need not have been particularly moral or immoral; where, in fact, the common agreement has established a rule which is not completely in harmony with the ‘justice of nature.’ In short, Epicurus is protesting against the conception of injustice, which makes it consist in disobedience to political and social rules, imposed and enforced by public and authoritative sanctions. He is protesting, in other words, against the claims of the State upon the citizens for their complete obedience;71 against the old ideas of the divine sanctity and majesty of law as law; against theories like that maintained by contemporaries of Socrates, that there could be no such thing as an unjust law.143If the soul served to connect the eternal realities with the fleeting appearances by which they were at once darkened, relieved, and shadowed forth, it was also a bond of union between the speculative and the practical philosophy of Plato; and in discussing his psychology we have already passed from the one to the other. The transition will become still easier if we remember that the question, ‘What is knowledge?’ was, according to our view, originally suggested by a theory reducing ethical science to a hedonistic calculus, and that along with it would arise another question, ‘What is pleasure?’ This latter enquiry, though incidentally touched on elsewhere, is not fully dealt with in any Dialogue except the Philêbus, which we agree with Prof. Jowett in referring to a very late period of Platonic authorship. But the line of argument which it pursues had probably been long familiar to our philosopher. At any rate, the Phaedo, the Republic, and perhaps the Gorgias, assume, as already proved, that pleasure is not the highest good. The question is one on which thinkers are still divided. It seems, indeed, to lie outside the range of reason, and the disputants are accordingly obliged to invoke the authority either of individual consciousness or of common consent on behalf of their respective opinions. We have, however, got so far beyond the ancients that the doctrine of egoistic hedonism has been abandoned by almost everybody. The substitution of another’s pleasure for our own as the object of pursuit was not a conception which presented itself to any Greek moralist,226 although the principle of self-sacrifice was maintained by some of them, and especially by Plato, to its fullest extent. Pleasure-seeking being inseparably associated with selfishness, the latter was best attacked through the former, and if Plato’s logic does not commend itself to our understanding, we must admit that it was employed in defence of a noble cause.
Even as regards physical phenomena, Socrates, so far from professing complete ignorance, held a very positive theory which he was quite ready to share with his friends. He taught what is called the doctrine of final causes; and, so far as our knowledge goes, he was either the first to teach it, or, at any rate, the first to prove the existence of divine agencies by its means. The old poets had occasionally attributed the origin of man and other animals to supernatural intelligence, but, apparently, without being led to their conviction by any evidence of design displayed in the structure of organised creatures. Socrates, on the other hand, went through the various external organs of the human body with great minuteness, and showed, to his own satisfaction, that they evinced the workings of a wise and beneficent Artist. We shall have more to say further on about this whole argument; here we only wish to observe that, intrinsically, it does not differ very much from the speculations which its author derided as the fruit of an impertinent curiosity; and that no one who now employed it would, for a single moment, be called an agnostic or a sceptic.Were the vines ranked and trimmed with pruning-knives,
The modern doctrine of evolution, while relying largely on the fertility of multiplied chances, is not obliged to assume such an enormous number of simultaneous coincidences as Epicurus. The ascription of certain definite attractions and repulsions to the ultimate particles of matter would alone restrict their possible modes of aggregation within comparatively narrow limits. Then, again, the world seems to have been built up by successive stages, at each of which some new force or combination of forces came into play, a firm basis having been already secured for whatever variations they were capable of producing. Thus the solar system is a state of equilibrium resulting from the action of two very simple forces, gravitation and heat. On the surface of the earth, cohesion and chemical affinity have been superadded. When a fresh equilibrium had resulted from their joint energy, the more complex conditions of life found free scope for their exercise. The transformations of living species were similarly effected by variation on variation. And, finally, in one species, the satisfaction of its animal wants set free those more refined impulses by which, after many experiments, civilisation has been built up. Obviously the total sum of adaptations necessary to constitute our actual world will have the probabilities of its occurrence enormously increased if we suppose the more general conditions to be established prior to, and in complete independence of, the less general, instead of limiting ourselves, like the ancient atomists, to one vast simultaneous shuffle of all the material and dynamical elements involved.This reaction had begun to make itself felt long before the birth of a philosophical literature in the Latin language. It may be traced to the time when the lecture-halls at Athens were first visited by Roman students, and Greek professors first received on terms of intimate companionship into the houses of Roman nobles. In each instance, but more especially in the latter, not only would the pupil imbibe new ideas from the master, but the master would suit his teaching to the tastes and capacities of the pupil. The result would be an intellectual condition somewhat resembling that which attended the popularisation of philosophy in Athens during the latter half of the fifth century B.C.; and all the more so as speculation had already spontaneously reverted to the Sophistic standpoint. The parallel will be still more complete if we take the word Sophist in its original and comprehensive sense. We may then say that while Carneades, with his entrancing eloquence and his readiness to argue both sides167 of a question, was the Protagoras of the new movement; Panaetius, the dignified rationalist and honoured friend of Laelius and the younger Scipio, its Prodicus; and Posidonius, the astronomer and encyclopaedic scholar, its Hippias, Phaedrus the Epicurean was its Anaxagoras or Democritus.
Passing from life to mind, we find Empedocles teaching an even more pronounced materialism than Parmenides, inasmuch as it is stated in language of superior precision. Our souls are, according to him, made up of elements like those which constitute the external world, each of these being perceived by a corresponding portion of the same substances within ourselves—fire by fire, water by water, and so on with the rest. It is a mistake to suppose that speculation begins from a subjective standpoint, that men start with a clear consciousness of their own personality, and proceed to construct an objective universe after the same pattern. Doubtless they are too prone to personify the blind forces of Nature, and Empedocles himself has just supplied us with an example of this tendency, but they err still more by reading outward experience into their own souls, by materialising the processes of consciousness, and resolving human personality into a loose confederacy of inorganic units. Even Plato, who did more than anyone else towards distinguishing between mind and body, ended by laying down his psychology on the lines of an astronomical system. Meanwhile, to have separated the perception of an object from the object itself, in ever so slight a degree, was an important gain to thought.33 We must not omit to notice a hypothesis by which Empedocles sought to elucidate the mechanism of sensation, and which was subsequently adopted by the atomic school; indeed, as will presently be shown, we have reason to believe that the whole atomic theory was developed out of it. He held that emanations were being continually thrown off from the surfaces of bodies, and that they penetrated into the organs of sense through fine passages or pores. This may seem a crude guess, but it is at any rate much more scientific than Aristotle’s explanation. According to the latter, possibilities of feeling are converted into actualities by the presence of an object. In other words, we feel when and because we do; a safe assertion, but hardly an addition to our positive knowledge of the subject.Xenophon has recorded another dialogue in which a young man named Euthydêmus, who was also in training for a statesman, and who, as he supposed, had learned a great deal more out of books than Socrates could teach him, is brought to see how little he knows about ethical science. He is asked, Can a man be a good citizen without being just? No, he cannot.—Can Euthydêmus tell what acts are just? Yes, certainly, and also what are unjust.—Under which head does he put such actions as lying, deceiving, harming, enslaving?—Under the head of injustice.—But suppose a hostile people are treated in the various manners specified, is that unjust?—No, but it was understood that only one’s friends were meant.—Well, if a general encourages his own army by false statements, or a father deceives his child into taking medicine, or your friend seems likely to commit suicide, and you purloin a deadly weapon from him, is that unjust?—No, we must add ‘for the purpose of harming’ to our definition. Socrates, however, does not stop here, but goes on cross-examining until the unhappy student is reduced to a state of hopeless bewilderment and shame. He is then brought to perceive the necessity of self-knowledge, which is explained to mean knowledge of one’s own powers. As a further exercise Euthydêmus is put through his facings on the subject of good and evil. Health, wealth, strength, wisdom and beauty are mentioned as unquestionable goods. Socrates shows, in the style long afterwards imitated by Juvenal, that141 they are only means towards an end, and may be productive of harm no less than good.—Happiness at any rate is an unquestionable good.—Yes, unless we make it consist of questionable goods like those just enumerated.91
Raising to all thy works a hymn174An attempt has recently been made by M. Guyau to trace the influence of Epicurus on modern philosophy. We cannot but think the method of this able and lucid writer a thoroughly118 mistaken one. Assuming the recognition of self-interest as the sole or paramount instinct in human nature, to be the essence of what Epicurus taught, M. Guyau, without more ado, sets down every modern thinker who agrees with him on this one point as his disciple, and then adds to the number all who hold that pleasure is the end of action; thus making out a pretty long list of famous names among the more recent continuators of his tradition. A more extended study of ancient philosophy would have shown the French critic that moralists who, in other respects, were most opposed to Epicurus, agreed with him in holding that every man naturally and necessarily makes his own interest the supreme test of right conduct; and that only with the definition of welfare did their divergence begin. On the other hand, the selfish systems of modern times differ entirely from Epicureanism in their conception of happiness. With Hobbes, for instance, whom M. Guyau classes as an Epicurean, the ideal is not painlessness but power; the desires are, according to his view, naturally infinite, and are held in check, not by philosophical precepts but by mutual restraint; while, in deducing the special virtues, his standard is not the good of each individual, but the good of the whole—in other words, he is, to that extent, a Stoic rather than an Epicurean. La Rochefoucauld, who is offered as another example of the same tendency, was not a moralist at all; and as a psychologist he differs essentially from Epicurus in regarding vanity as always and everywhere the great motive to virtue. Had the Athenian sage believed this he would have despaired of making men happy; for disregard of public opinion, within the limits of personal safety, was, with him, one of the first conditions of a tranquil existence. Nor would he have been less averse from the system of Helvétius, another of his supposed disciples. The principal originality of Helvétius was to insist that the passions, instead of being discouraged—as all previous moralists, Epicurus among the number, had advised—should be119 deliberately stimulated by the promise of unlimited indulgence to those who distinguished themselves by important public services. Of Spinoza we need say nothing, for M. Guyau admits that he was quite as much inspired by Stoic as by Epicurean ideas. At the same time, the combination of these two ethical systems would have been much better illustrated by modern English utilitarianism, which M. Guyau regards as a development of Epicureanism alone. The greatest happiness of the greatest number is not an individual or self-interested, but a universal end, having, as Mill has shown, for its ultimate sanction the love of humanity as a whole, which is an essentially Stoic sentiment. It may be added that utilitarianism has no sympathy with the particular theory of pleasure, whether sensual or negative, adopted by Epicurus. In giving a high, or even the highest place to intellectual enjoyments, it agrees with the estimate of Plato and Aristotle, to which he was so steadily opposed. And in duly appreciating the positive side of all enjoyments, it returns to the earlier hedonism from which he stood so far apart.
Of Bacchus they discovered, and the earth,In deed or thought of his, then it might be.