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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

[Sidenote: Socrates.]

[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,
s. i. 1. vii.] He never suffered a general term to remain undetermined,
but applied it at once to particulars, and by questions the purport of
which was not comprehended. It was not by positive teaching, but by
exciting scientific impulse in the minds of others, or stirring up the
analytical faculties, which constitute his originality. "The Socratic
dialectics, clearing away," says Grote, [Footnote: Grote, part ii. ch.
68; Maurice, _Ancient Philosophy_, p. 119.] "from the mind its mist
of fancied knowledge, and, laying bare the real ignorance, produced an
immediate effect like the touch of the torpedo; the newly created
consciousness of ignorance was humiliating and painful, yet it was
combined with a yearning after truth never before experienced. Such
intellectual quickening, which could never commence until the mind had
been disabused of its original illusion of false knowledge, was
considered by Socrates not merely as the index and precursor, but as the
indisputable condition of future progress." It was the aim of Socrates
to force the seekers after truth into the path of inductive
generalization, whereby alone trustworthy conclusions could be formed.
He thus improved the method of speculative minds, and struck out from
other minds that fire which sets light to original thought and
stimulates analytical inquiry. He was a religious and intellectual
missionary preparing the way for the Platos and Aristotles of the
succeeding age by his severe dialectics. This was his mission, and he
declared it by talking. He did not lecture; he conversed. For more than
thirty years he discoursed on the principles of morality, until he
arrayed against himself enemies who caused him to be put to death, for
his teachings had undermined the popular system which the Sophists
accepted and practiced. He probably might have been acquitted if he had
chosen it, but he did not wish to live after his powers of usefulness
had passed away. He opened to science new matter and a new method, as a
basis for future philosophical systems. He was a "colloquial
dialectician," such as this world has never seen, and may never see
again. He was a skeptic respecting physics, but as far as man and
society are concerned, he thought that every man might and ought to know
what justice, temperance, courage, piety, patriotism, etc., were, and
unless he did know what they were he would not be just, temperate, etc.
He denied that men can know that on which they have bestowed no pains,
or practice what they do not know. "The method of Socrates survives
still in some of the dialogues of Plato, and is a process of eternal
value and universal application. There is no man whose notions have not
been first got together by spontaneous, unartificial associations,
resting upon forgotten particulars, blending together disparities or
inconsistencies, and having in his mind old and familiar phrases and
oracular propositions of which he has never rendered to himself an
account; and there is no man who has not found it a necessary branch of
self-education to break up, analyze, and reconstruct these ancient
mental compounds." [Footnote: Grote has written very ably, and at
unusual length, respecting Socrates and his philosophy. Thirlwall has
also reviewed Hegel and other German authors on Socrates' condemnation.
Ritter has a full chapter of great value. See Donaldson's continuation
of Muller. The original sources of knowledge respecting Socrates are
found chiefly in Plato and Xenophon. Cicero may be consulted in
his _Tusculan Questions_.] The services which he rendered to
philosophy, as enumerated by Tennemann, [Footnote: Tennemann;
Schliermacker, _Essay on the Worth of Socrates as a Philosopher_,
translated by Bishop Thirlwall, and reprinted in Dr. Wigger's _Life of
Socrates_.] "are twofold, - negative and positive: _Negative_,
inasmuch as he avoided all vain discussions; combated mere speculative
reasoning on substantial grounds, and had the wisdom to acknowledge
ignorance when necessary, but without attempting to determine accurately
what is capable, and what is not, of being accurately known.
_Positive_, inasmuch as he examined with great ability the ground
directly submitted to our understanding, and of which man is the

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: Plato.]

[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

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 27 of 50)