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it also appears as the necessary preparation for a Remodelling
of all belief ; but the great dogmatic systems still exercised,
such a potent influence on both those thinkers that their pro-
fessed demand for a new method merely leads up to an altered
statement of the old unproved assumptions. 'fp^^

Meanwhile the old principle of universal doubt could no
longei- be maintained in presence of the certainties already
won by modern science. Man, in the time of Newtoil, had,
as Pope tersely puts it, * too much knowledge for the sceptic
side.' The problem was not how to establish the reality,
but how to ascertain the origin and possible extent of that
knowledge. The first to perceive this, the first to evolve
criticism out of scepticism, and therefore the real founder of
modern philosophy, was Locke. Nevertheless, even with him,
the advantage of studying the more recent in close connexion
with the earlier developments of thought does not cease ; it
only enters on a new phase. If he cannot, like his pre-
clecessors, be directly affiliated to one or more of the Greel<?
schools, his position can be illustrated by a parallel derived'
from the history of those schools. What Arcesilaus and?
Carneades had been to Socrates and his successors, that*
Locke was, in a large measure, to Bacon and the Cartesians.^^
He went back to the initial doubt which with them had -been
overborne by the dogmatic reaction, and insisted on making
it a reality. The spirit of the Apologia is absent from Plato's;
later dialogues, only to. reappear with even 'more than its-'
original power in the teaching of the New Academy. And,'
in like manner, Descartes' introspective method, with its
demand for clear ideas, becomes, in the Essay concerning^
Human Understanding, an irresistible solvent for the

'e E 2



420 THE GREEK PHILOSOPHERS.

psychology and physics of its first propounder. The doctrine
of innate ideas, the doctrine that extension is the essence of
matter, the doctrine that thought is the essence of mind, the
more general doctrine, held also by Bacon, that things have
a discoverable essence whence all their properties may be
deduced by a process analogous to mathematical reasoning, —
all collapsed when brought to the test of definite and concrete
experience.

We have here, indeed, something comparable not only to
the scepticism of the New Academy, but also to the Aristo-
telian criticism of Plato's metaphysics ; and, at first sight, it
might seem as if the Peripatetic philosophy was destined once
more to regain the position taken from it by the resuscitation
of its ancient foe. But Locke was not inclined to substitute
one form of scholasticism for another. By applying the
analytical method of Atomism to knowledge itself, he created
a weapon equally fatal to the two competing systems. Under
his dissection, the concrete individual substance of the one
vanished no less completely than the universal ideas of the
other. Nothing remained but a bundle of qualities held to-
gether by a subjective bond.

Similarly, in political science, the analytical method of
assuming civil government to result from a concurrence of
individual wills, which with Hobbes had served only to destroy
ecclesiastical authority, while leaving intact and even strength-
ening the authority of secular rulers, was reinterpreted by
Locke as a negation of all absolutism whatever.

It is interesting to observe how, here also,, the positive
science of the age had a large share in determining its philo-
sophic character. Founded on the discovery of the earth's
true shape, Aristotle's metaphysics had been overthrown by
the discovery of the earth's motion. And now the claims of
Cartesianism to have furnished an exact knowledge of matter
and a definition of it whence all the facts of observation could
be deduced h priori, were summarily refuted by the discovery



GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND MODERN THOUGHT, 421

of universal gravitation. The Cartesians complained that
Newton was bringing back the occult qualities of the School-
men ; but the tendency of bodies to mo^e towards one another
proved as certain as it was inexplicably mysterious. For a
time, the' study of causes was superseded by the study of
laws ; and the new method of physical science moved in per-
fect harmony with the phenomenism of Locke. One most
important consequence of this revolution was to place the new
Critical philosophy on a footing quite different from that
occupied by the ancient sceptics. Both restricted certain
knowledge to our own states of consciousness ; but it now
appeared that this might be done without impeaching the
value of accepted scientific conclusions, which was more than
the Academic philosophy would have admitted. In other
words, granting that we were limited to phenomena, it was
shown that science consisted in ascertaining the relations of
these phenomena to one another, instead of to a problematic
reality lying behind them ; while, that such relations existed
and were, in fact, part of the phenomena themselves, was what
no sceptic could easily deny.

Nevertheless, in each case, subjective idealism had the
effect of concentrating speculation, properly so called, on
ethical and practical interests. Locke struck the keynote of
eighteenth century philosophy when he pronounced morality
to be *■ the proper science and business of mankind in general.' ^
And no sooner had morality come to the front than the
significance of ancient thought again made itself apparent.
Whether through conscious imitation, or because the same
causes brought about the same effects, ethical enquiries moved
along the lines originally laid down in the schools of Athens.
When rules of conduct were not directly referred to a divine
revelation, they were based either on a supposed law of
Nature, or on the necessities of human happiness, or on some
combination of the two. Nothing is more characteristic of

' Essay, Bk, iv., ch, 12.



422 THE GREEK PHILOSOPHERS.

the eighteenth century than its worship of Nature. Even
the theology of the age is deeply coloured by it ; and with
the majority of those who rejected theology it became a new
religion. But this sentiment is demonstrably of Greek origin,
and found its most elaborate, though not its most absolute,
expression in Stoicism. The Stoics had inherited it from
the Cynics, who held the faith in greater purity ; and these,
again, so far as we can judge, from a certain Sophistic school,
some fragments of whose teaching have been preserved by
Xenophoh and Plato ; while the first who gave wide currency
to this famous abstraction was, in all probability, Heracleitus.
To the Stoics, however, is due that intimate association of
naturalism with teleology which meets us again in the phi-
losophy of the last century, and even now wherever the doc-
trine of evolution has not been thoroughly accepted. It was
assumed, in the teeth of all evidence, that Nature bears the
marks of a uniformly beneficent design, that evil is exclusively
of human origin, and that even human nature is essentially
good when unspoiled by artificial restrictions.

Yet if teleology was, in some respect's, a falling-bff from
the rigid mechanicism first taught by the pfe-Socratic schools
and then again by the Cartesian school, in at least one respect
it marked a comparative progress. For the first attempts
made both by ancient and modern philosophy to explain vital
phenomena on purely mechanical principles were altogether
premature ; and the immense extension of biological know-
ledge which took place subsequently to both, could not but
bring about an irresistible movement in the opposite direction.
The first to revive teleology was Leibniz, who furnished a
transition from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century by
his monadology. In this. Atomism is combined with Aristo-
telian ideas, just as it had previously been combined with
Platonic ideas by Descartes. The movement of the atoms is
explained by their aspiration after a more perfect state instead
of by mechanical pressure. But while Leibniz still relies on



GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND MODERN THOUGHT, 423

the ontological argument of Descartes to prove the existence
of God, this was soon abandoned, along with the cosmological
argument, for the argument from desigl, which was also that
used by the Stoics ; while in ethics the fitness of things was
substituted for the more mechanical law of self-preservation,
as the rule of conduct ; and the subjection of all impulse to
reason was replaced by the milder principle of a control exer-
cised by the benevolent over the malevolent instincts. This '
was a very distinct departure from the Stoic method, yet those
who made it were more faithful to' teleology than Stoicism
had been ; for to condemn human feeling altogether was
implicitly to condemn the work of Nature or of God.

The other great ethical method of the eighteenth century,
its hedonism, was closely connected with the sceptical move-,
ment in speculative philosophy, and, like that, received an
entirely new significance by becoming associated with the
idea of law. Those who isolate man from the universe are
necessarily led to seek in his interests as such the sole regu-
lator of his actions, and their sole sanction in the opinion of
his fellows. Protagoras went already so far, notwithstanding
his unwillingness to recognise pleasure as the supreme end ;
and in the system of his true successor, Aristippus, the most
extreme hedonism goes hand in hand with the most extreme
idealism ; while with Epicurus, again, both are tempered by
the influence of naturalism, imposing on him its conceptions
of objective law alike in science and in practice. Still his
system leaned heavily to the side of self-gratification pure
and simple ; and it was reserved for modern thought to
establish a complete equilibrium between the two competing
tendencies of Greek ethics. This has been effected in Utili-
tarianism ; and those critics are entirely mistaken who, like
M. Guyau, regard that system as a mere reproduction of
Epicureanism. It might with full as much reason be called
a modern version of Stoicism. The idea of humanity is
essentially Stoic ; to work for the good of humanity was a



424 THE GREEK PHILOSOPHERS.

Stoic precept; and to sacrifice one's own pleasure for that
higher good is a virtue which would have satisfied the most
rigorous demands of a Cleanthes, an Epict^tus, or an

Aurelius.

Utilitarianism agrees with the ancient hedonism in holding
pleasure to be the sole good and pain the sole evil. Its ad-
herents also, for the most part, admit that the desire of the
one and the dread of the other are the sole motives to
action ; but, while making the end absolutely universal
and impersonal, they make the motive into a momentary
impulse, without any necessary relation to the future
happiness of the agent himself The good man does his
duty because doing it gives him pleasure, or because
the failure to do it would give him pain, at the moment ;
although he knows that a contrary course would save him
from greater pain or win him greater pleasure hereafter. No
accurate thinker would call this acting from a selfish or in-
terested motive ; nor does it agree with the teaching of
Epicurus. Were all sensitive beings to be united in a single
organism, then, on utilitarian principles, self-interest, inter-
preted in the sense of seeking its own preservation and
pleasure, would be the only law that the individualised
aggregate could rationally obey. But the good of each
part would be rigorously subordinated to the good of the
whole ; and utilitarian morality desires that we should act
as if this hypothesis were realised, at least in reference to our
own particular interests. Now, the idea of humanity as
forming such a consolidated whole is not Epicurean. It
belongs to the philosophy which always reprobated pleasure,
precisely because its pursuit is associated with the derelic-
tion of public duty and with bitter rivalry for the possession
of what, by its very nature, exists only in limited quantities,
while the demand for it is unlimited or, at any rate, far
exceeds the supply. According to the Stoics, there was
only one way in which the individual could study his private



GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND MODERN THOUGHT. 425
interest without abandoning his position as a social being,

I

and this was to find it exclusively in the practice of virtue.*
But virtue and public interest remain^ mere forms scantily
supplemented by appeals to the traditional morality, until the
idea of generalised happiness, of pleasure diffused through
the whole community, came to fill them with substance and
life.

It has also to be observed that the idea of utility as a test
of moral goodness is quite distinct from hedonism. Plato
proclaims, in the most unequivocal terms, that actions must
be estimated by their consequences instead of by the feelings
of sympathy or antipathy which they excite; yet no one
could object more strongly to making pleasure the end of
action. Thus, three distinct doctrines seem to converge in
modern English ethics, of which all are traceable to Greek
philosophy, but only one to Epicureanism in particular, and
not ultimately to that but to the older systems whence it
sprang.

And here we unexpectedly find ourselves confronted by
a new relation between ancient and modern thought. Each
acts as a powerful precipitant on the other, dissolving what
might otherwise have passed for inseparable associations, and
combining elements which a less complete experience might
have led us to regard as necessarily incompatible with one
another. The instance just analysed is highly significant \
nor does it stand alone. Modern spiritualists often talk as if
morality was impossible apart from their peculiar metaphysics.
But the Stoics, confessedly the purest moralists of antiquity,
were uncompromising materialists; while the spiritualist
Aristotle taught what is not easily distinguishable from a
very refined sort of egoism. Again, the doctrine of free-will
is now commonly connected with a belief in the separability
of consciousness from matter, and, like that, is declared to be
an indispensable condition of morality. Among the Greeks,

' See the references to Epicletus, supra, p. 21.



426 THB GREEK PHILOSOPHERS,

however, it was held by the materialist Epicufeans more dis-
tinctly than by any other school ; while the Stoics did not
find necessarianism inconsistent with self-sacrificing virtue.
The partial derivation of knowledge from an activity in our
own minds is another supposed concomitant of spiritualism ;
although Aristotle traces every idea to an external source,
while at the same time holding some cognitions to be
necessarily true^a theory repudiated by modern experien-
tialists. To Plato, the spirituality of the soul seemed to
involve its pre-existence no less than its immortality, a con-
sequence not accepted by his modern imitators. Teleology-
is now commonly opposed to pantheism ; the two were closely
combined in Stoicism ; while Aristotle, although he believed
in a personal God, attributed the marks of design in Nature
to purely unconscious agencies.



IX.

The naturalism and utilitarianism of the eighteenth cen-
tury are the last conceptions directly inherited from ancient
philosophy by modern thought. Henceforward, whatever
light the study of the former can throw on the vicissitudes
of the latter is due either to their partial parallelism, or to
an influence becoming every day fainter and more difficult to
trace amid the multitude of factors involved. The progress
of analytical criticism was continually deflected or arrested
by the still powerful resistance of scholasticism, just as the
sceptical tendencies of the New Academy had been before,
though happily with less permanent success ; and as, in
antiquity, this had happened within no less than without the
critical school, so also do we find Locke clinging to the
theology of Descartes ; Berkeley lapsing into Platonism ;
Hume playing fast and loose with his own principles ; and
Kant leaving it doubtful to which side he belongs, so evenly
are the two opposing tendencies balanced in his mind, so



GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND MODERN THOUGHT, 427

dexterously does he adapt the new criticism to the frame-
work of scholastic logic and metaphysics.

Meanwhile the strength of the tnafytical method was
doubled by its extension to the phenomena of growth and
change ; for, as .applied to these, it became the famous
theory of Development or Evolution. No idea belongs so
completely to modern philosophy ; for even the ancient
thinkers who threw their cosmology into a historical fornr
had n^ver attempted to explain the present by the past. If
anything, they explained the past by the present, assuming a
rough analogy to exist between the formation of the universe
as a whole and the genesis of those natural or artificial bodies
which were continually growing or being built up before their
eyes. Their cosmology was, in fact, nothing but the old
mythology stripped of its personal or conscious element ;
and, like it, was a hypothesis unsupported by any external
evidence ; — a criticism not inconsistent with the admission
that to eliminate the supernatural element from speculation
was, even in the absence of any solid addition to human
knowledge, an achievement of inestimable value. The
evolutionary method is also an elimination of the super-
natural, but it is a great deal more. By tracing the history
of compound structures to their first origin, and noting the
successive increments to which their gradual growth is due,
it reveals, as no statical analysis ever could, the actual order
of synthesis, and the meaning of the separate constituents by
whose joint action their movements are determined ; while,
■conversely, their dissolution supplies us with a number of
ready-made experiments in which the influence of each
particular factor in the sum total may be detected by
watching the changes that ensue on its removal. In a word,
the method of evolution is the atomistic method, extended
from matter to motion, and viewed iinder the form of succes-
sion instead of under the form of co-existence.

As a universal philosophy, the theory of Development,



428 THE GREEK PHILOSOPHERS.

like every other modern idea, has only been permitted to
manifest itself in combination with different forms of the old
scholasticism. The whole speculative movement of our century
is made up of such hybrid systems ; and three, in particular,
still divide the suffrages of many thinking men who have not
been able entirely to shake off the influence of reactionary
ideas. These are the systems of Hegel, of Comte, and of
Mr. Herbert Spencer. In each, the logic and metaphysics
inherited from Greek thought are variously compounded
with the new science. And each, for that very reason, serves
to facilitate the transition from one to the other; a part
analogous to that played among the Greeks themselves by
the vast constructions of Plato and Aristotle, or, in an age of
less productivity, by the Stoic and "Alexandrian philosophies.
The influence of Aristotle has, indeed, continued to make
itself felt not only through the teaching of his modern imi-
tators, but more directly as a living tradition in literature, or
through the renewed study of his writings at first hand. Even
in the pure sciences, it survived until a comparatively recent
period, and, so far as the French intellect goes, it is not yet
entirely extinct. From Ab^lard on, Paris was the head-
quarters of that soberer scholasticism which took its cue from
the Peripatetic logic ; and the resulting direction of thought,
deeply impressed as it became on the French character and
the French language, was interrupted rather than permanently
altered by the Cartesian revolution, and, with the fall of Car-
tesianism, gradually recovered its old predominance. The
Aristotelian philosophy is remarkable above all others for
clear definitions, full descriptions, comprehensive classifications,
lucid reasoning, encyclopaedic science, and disinterested love
of knowledge; along with a certain incapacity for ethical
speculation,^ strong conservative leanings, and a general
tendency towards the rigid demarcation rather than the fruit-
ful commingling of ideas. And it will probably be admitted

' What Arislolle has written on the subject is not ethics but natural history.



GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND MODERN THOUGHT. 429

that these are also traits characteristic of French thinking as
opposed to English or German thinking. For instance, widely
different as is the M^canique Celeste ffom the astronomy of
Aristotle's treatise On the Heavens^ both agree in being
attempts to prove the eternal stability of the celestial system.^
The destructive deluges by which Aristotle supposes civilisa-
tion to be periodically interrupted, reappear on a larger scale
in the theory of catastrophes still held by French geologists.
Another Aristotelian dogma, the fixity of organic species,
though vigorously assailed by eminent French naturalists, has,
on the whole, triumphed over the opposite doctrine of trans-
formism in France, and now impedes the acceptance of
Darwin's teaching even in circles where theological preposses-
sions are extinct. The accepted classifications in botany and
zoology are the work of Frenchmen following in the footsteps
of Aristotle, whose genius for methodical arrangement was
signally exemplified in at least one of these departments ; the
division of animals into vertebrate and invertebrate being
originally due to him. Bi chat's distinction between the ani-
mal and the vegetable functions recalls Aristotle's distinction
between the sensitive and nutritive souls ; while his method
of studying the tissues before the organs is prefigured in the
treatise on the Parts of Animals, For a long time, the ruling
of Aristotle's Poetics was undisputed in French criticism ;
and if anything could disentitle Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois
to the proud motto. Pro lent sine matre creatam, it would be its
dose relationship to the Politics of the same universal master.
Finally, if it be granted that the enthusiasm for knowledge,
irrespective of its utilitarian applications, exists to a greater
degree among the educated classes of France than in any
other modern society, we may plausibly attribute this honour-
able characteristic to the fostering influence of one who has

' ' Ne remarque-t-on comment chaque recherche analytique de Laplace a
fait ressortir dans notre globe et dans I'univers des conditions d'ordre et de
duree?' — Arago, (Euvres, III., p. 496.



430 THE GREEK PHILOSOPHERS.

proclaimed more eloquently than any other philosopher that
theoretical activity is the highest good of human life, the ideal
of all Nature, and the sol'e beatitude of God.

It remains to add a few words on the position which
ancient and modern philosophy respectively occupy towards
theology. Here their relation is one of contrast rather than
of resemblance. The Greek thinkers start at an immense
distance from religious belief, and their first allusions to it
are marked by a scornful denial of its validity. Gradually,
with the transition from physical to ethical enquiries, an
approximation between the two is brought about, though not
without occasional returns to their former attitude of hostility.
Finally, in presence of a common danger they become inter-
woven and almost identified with one another ; while the new
religion against which they make common cause, itself pre^
sents the same spectacle of metaphysical and moral ideas
entering into combination with the spontaneous products of
popular mythology. And be it observed that throughout the
whole of this process action and reaction were equal and con-
trary. The decline and corruption of philosophy was the
price paid for the elevation and purification of religion.
While the one was constantly sinking, the other was con-
stantly rising, until they converged on the plane of dogmatic
theology. By the very circumstances of the case, an opposite
course has been imposed on the development of modern-
philosophy. Starting from an intimate union with religion,
it slowly disengages itself from the compromising alliance ;
and, although, here also, the normal course of ideas has been
interrupted by frequent reactions, the general movement of
European thought has been no less decidedly towards a com-
plete emancipation from the popular beliefs than the move-
ment of Greek thought had been towards their conciliation
and support.



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Online LibraryAlfred William BennThe Greek philosophers → online text (page 38 of 39)