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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

[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

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

[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
i.] and is put into the body by the means of number and harmonical
relation, and thus subject to a divine regulation. Every thing was
regarded by him in a moral light. The order of the universe is only a
harmonical development of the first principle of all things to virtue
and wisdom. [Footnote: Our knowledge of Pythagoras is chiefly derived
from Aristotle. Both Ritter and Brandis have presented his views
elaborately, but with more clearness than was to be expected.] He
attached great value to music, as a subject of precise mathematical
calculation, and an art which has a great effect on the affections.
Hence morals and mathematics were linked together in his mind. As the
heavens were ordered in consonance with number, they must move in
eternal order. "The spheres" revolved in harmonious order around the
great centre of light and heat - the sun - "the throne of the elemental
world." Hence the doctrine of "the music of the spheres." _Pythagoras
ad harmoniam canere mundum existimat_. [Footnote: Cicero, _De Nat.
D_., iii. ii. 27.] The tendency of his speculations, obscure as they
are to us, was to raise the soul to a contemplation of order and beauty
and law, in the material universe, and hence to the contemplation of a
supreme intelligence reigning in justice and truth. Justice and truth
became therefore paramount virtues, to be practiced, to be sought as the
great end of life, allied with the order of the universe, and with
mathematical essences - the attributes of the deity, the sublime unity
which he adored.

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

[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

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 26 of 50)