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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

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

"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

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

[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.

[Sidenote: Zeno.]

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.

[Sidenote: Summary.]

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

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.

[Sidenote: Cicero.]

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

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 28 of 50)