Rudolf Eucken.

The problem of human life as viewed by the great thinkers from Plato to the present time online

. (page 1 of 53)
Online LibraryRudolf EuckenThe problem of human life as viewed by the great thinkers from Plato to the present time → online text (page 1 of 53)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook
























Published September, 1909


IT is a genuine pleasure to me to see "The Problem of Human
Life" in an English Version, particularly as the translation has
been prepared with great care by esteemed friends, and is, I
think, entirely successful.

The present book forms the essential complement of all my
other works. It is designed to afford historical confirmation of -
the view that conceptions are determined by life, not life by \
conception s. Under the guidance of this conviction the book
traverses the whole spiritual development of the Western world,
in the hope that the several phases of the development, and,
above all, its great personalities, will be brought nearer to the
personal experience of the reader than is customarily done.
Particularly in an age of predominant specialisation, when the
pursuit of learning too often endangers the completeness of
living, such an endeavour is fully justified.

I hope that the English-speaking public will give the book a
sympathetic reception. With their own thinkers, the problem
of life has always stood in the foreground, and scientific re-
search steadily regarded the whole life of man. Thus my book
presents nothing foreign to the genius of the English-speaking
peoples: may it be felt and welcomed by them as something
kindred to their own aims!






THE following translation of Eucken's " Die Lebensanschau-
ungen der grossen Denker: Eine Entwickelungsgeschichte des
Lebensproblems der Menschheit von Plato bis zur Gegenwart"
is based substantially upon the seventh German edition, Leip-
zig, 1907. But, owing to the rapidity with which the three
last editions have succeeded the fifth, and to unavoidable in-
terruptions of the work of translation, the above statement re-
quires a word of explanation. The translation was begun from
the fifth edition, and had progressed as far as the section on
Origen, when the sixth edition appeared. This edition presented
no changes, other than purely verbal ones, in the portion already
translated, except in the account of Plato, particularly the im-
portant section on the Theory of Ideas. The passages affected
were, of course, revised in accordance with the text of the new
edition. The seventh edition being almost immediately called
for, and Mr. Boyce Gibson having consented to undertake the
translation of Part Third, the relatively extensive alterations
and additions designed for this edition were communicated to
the translators in MS. The new material, however, with but
two or three exceptions, concerned only the portions not yet
translated, and was accordingly readily incorporated into the
text. The translation as it stands, therefore, is in all essential
respects a version of the seventh German edition. 1

But mention should be made of certain omissions from the
text of the original in Parts First and Second. The author gave
his ready assent to the exercise of a minor editorial privilege in
this regard; and, solely with a view to condensation, a few para-

1 The eighth edition, which has appeared since the translation was in
type, contains, as the author has assured the translators, "no material
changes or additions, but only verbal improvements of the German text,
which may be entirely ignored, so far as the translation is concerned."


graphs, and an occasional sentence or even phrase, particularly
in the relatively long accounts of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and
Augustine, and in the section on Origen, have been omitted,
entirely at the discretion of the first-named translator. No at-
tempt has been made to indicate the points at which such omis-
sions occurred ; but their whole number would not aggregate
more than a few pages.

The work of translation has been divided as follows, each
translator being solely responsible for the portion undertaken
by him. Parts First and Second, on Hellenism and on Chris-
tianity respectively, and the Author's Preface to the English
Edition, have been translated by Mr. Hough ; Part Third, on
the Modern World, and the Introduction, have been translated
by Mr. Gibson. It should be said, however, that nearly all of
the first draft of those parts for which Mr. Gibson is responsible
was made by his wife, and that her collaboration upon the whole
work of this portion has been of the first importance. For the
preparation of the Indexes the translators are further indebted
to Mrs. Gibson, and, in part, to Mrs. Hough.

The translators have felt keenly the difficulty of deciding upon
an English title for the work which would be wholly free from
objection. The title finally adopted may at first appear to be a
bold substitution; but familiarity with the work will make it
clear that in reality it sounds the key-note of the book. If it be
objected that the virtual transposition of the principal and the
subordinate title of the original could only result in a change of
emphasis, the reply is that this alternative was chosen as the
least of many evils. It may be added that the author preferred
the title adopted to any of the others proposed.

In preparing the English Version the translators have set
accuracy before all else. They are, however, of opinion that
fidelity is in general not to be secured by literal transcription.
Moreover, since the present work is designed for the larger
public as well as for academic uses, they have endeavoured to
keep the diction as free as possible from technical expressions
and from traces of German idiom. At the same time it should


be said that the style of the original, by virtue indeed of the very
qualities which give it its distinction and individuality, presents
certain difficulties which the translators cannot hope wholly to
have surmounted ; and, particularly in view of the distinguished
recognition which the literary value of the author's work has
recently received, they submit their translation to the public
with no little diffidence.

In conclusion, the translators desire to express their obligations
to Lady Welby, who kindly read Part First in MS., and made
numerous valuable suggestions ; to Professor Arthur C. Mc-
Giffert, who similarly read the MS. of Part Second, and gave it
the benefit of his intimate knowledge of early Christianity ; but
particularly to the author, who not only read the entire transla-
tion in MS., but has throughout assisted the translators with
advice on any points of unusual difficulty.

W. S. H.
W. R. B. G.



Introduction . xvii


A. Thinkers of the Classical Period 3

I. Preliminary Remarks on the Greek Character and on

the Development of Hellenism 3

II. Plato 16

(a) Introductory 16

(6) The Doctrine of Ideas 18

(c) Life's Goods 21

(d) Asceticism and the Transfiguration of the World . 26

(e) The View of Human Life as a Whole .... 31
(/) The Several Departments of Life 35

(a) Religion 35

(0) The State 37

(7) Art 40

(8) Science 41

(g) Retrospect 4 2

III. Aristotle 44

(a) General Characteristics 44

(6) Elements of the Aristotelian View of the World . 46

(c) The Sphere of Human Experience 52

(d) The Several Departments of Life 61

(a) The Forms of Human Association .... 61

(P) Art 67

(7) Science 69

(e) Retrospect 7 1

B. Post-Classical Antiquity 76

I. The Systems of Worldly Wisdom 76

(a) The Intellectual Character of the Hellenistic Period . 76

(ft) The Epicureans 81

(c} The Stoics 86




II. Religious Speculation 95

(a) The Trend Toward Religion 95

(b) Plotinus 102

(a) Introductory 102

(/3) The Basis of the View of the World ... 105

(7) The World and the Life of Man 108

(8) The Stages of Spiritual Creation in

(e) Union with God 115

(f) Retrospect 121

(c) The Greatness and the Limitations of Antiquity . 123


A. The Foundation 131

I. The General Character of Christianity 131

(a) Introductory Considerations 131

(b) The Fundamental Facts 134

(c) The Christian Life 139

(a) Regeneration of the Inner Life 139

(j3) The Closer Union of Mankind 142

(7) The Acquisition of a History 143

(B) The New Attitude Toward Suffering ... 145

(d) The Complications and the True Greatness of

Christianity .147

II. Jesus's View of Life 150

(a) Preliminary Remarks 150

(b) The Elements of Jesus's View of Life .... 153

(c) The Religion and the Ethics of Jesus .... 158

(d) The Collision with the World 165

(e) The Permanent Result 168

B. Early Christianity 172

I. The Pre-Augustinian Period 174

(a) A Sketch of the First Centuries 175

(6) Early Christian Speculation 190

(a) Clement and Origen 190

(/8) The Influence of Neo-Platonism. Gregory of

Nyssa 199

(c) The Formation of an Ecclesiastical Rule of Life . 205



II. Augustine 211

(a) General Characteristics 211

(b) The Soul of Life 215

(r) The Religious Form of the Spiritual World . . 220

(d) The History of the World and Christianity . . . 227

(e) The Church 236

(/) Retrospect 245

III. The Middle Ages 248

(a) The Early Middle Ages 248

(b) The Culmination of the Middle Ages 252

(c) The Later Middle Ages 265

C. Modern Christianity 269

I. The Reformation 269

(a) Luther 273

(b) Zwingli and Calvin 290

II. Christianity and the Last Centuries 295


A. General Characteristics of the Modern World .... 303

B. The Rise of the New World 308

I. The Renaissance 308

(a) The Fundamental Characteristics of the Renais-

sance 308

(b) Cosmic Speculation. Nicholas of Cusa and Gior-

dano Bruno 321

(c) The Art of Human Conduct. Montaigne . . . 331

(d) The New Attitude Toward Nature and the Control

of Nature Through Science. Bacon .... 336

II. The Enlightenment 345

(a) General Characteristics of the Enlightenment . .345

(b) The Leaders of the Enlightenment 351

(a) Descartes 351

(0) Spinoza 362

(aa) Introduction 362

(bb) The World and Man 362

(cc) Man and His Littleness 366



(dd) Man and His Greatness 369

(ee) Appreciation 375

^ (7) Locke

(S) Leibniz

(aa) The Distinctive Character of His Thought . 388

(bb) Cosmology 392

(cc) Reconciliation of Philosophy and Religion. 400

(c). Enlightenment: Period of Decline. Adam Smith . 405

C. The Breaking-up of the Enlightenment and the Search for

New Solutions 419

I. Reactions Against the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth

Century 420

(a) Hume
SJP (b) Rousseau

II. German Idealism 435

(a) Kant 435

(a) General Characteristics 435

(/8) The Critique of Knowledge and the Break-up of

the Old Intellectual Order 436

(7) The Moral World 444

(8) The Sphere of the Beautiful 451

(e) Appreciation and Criticism 452

(b) The German Humanistic Movement and Its Ideal

of Life 457

(a) General Characteristics 457

(/8) Goethe 464

(7) Schiller 474

(B) The Romantic Movement 477

(c) German Speculative Thought in Its Relation to the

Problem of Life 483

(a) Systems of Constructive Thought 484

(aa) Fichte 486

(bb) Schelling 490

(cc) Hegel 494

(/3) Schleiermacher 507

(7) Schopenhauer, and the Reaction Against Ra-
tional Idealism 510


III. The Movement Toward Realism ........

(a) Positivism ..............

(a) French Positivism. Comte .......

(/3) English Positivism. Mill and Spencer . . .

(b) Modern Science and the Theory of Evolution . .

(c) Modern Sociology. Social Democracy and Its View

of Life

IV. The Reaction Against Realism

(a) Idealistic Movements in the Nineteenth Century

(b) Subjectivism. Nietzsche

V. The Present Situation
Index of Names
Index of Subjects


WHAT does our life mean when viewed as a whole? What
are the purposes it seeks to realise? What prospect of happi-
ness does it hold out to us? To ask these questions is to set
ourselves the Problem of Life, nor need we stay to justify our
Bright to ask them. They force themselves on us to-day with
resistless insistence. They are the cry of an age rent in-
wardly asunder, its heart at enmity with the work of its
hands. The labour of the preceding centuries, nay, of the
last few decades, has indeed been immeasurably fruitful. It
has given birth to a new culture and to new views of the uni-
verse. But its triumphal progress has not implied a simul-
taneous advancement of the inward life; its dazzling victories
have not been won for the spirit and substance of man. With
relentless energy it has driven us more and more exclusively
upon the world without us, subduing us to its necessities, press-
ing us more and more closely into the service of our environ-
ment. AmLHie_jELctivities of our ]ife^ ultimately determine our
nature. If our powers are wholly concentrated on outward
things and there is an ever-diminishing interest in the inner
life, the soul inevitably suffers. Inflated with success, we yet
find ourselves empty and poor. We have become the mere
tools and instruments of an impersonal civilisation which first
uses and then forsakes us, the victims of a power as pitiless as
it is inhuman, which rides rough-shod over nations and indi-
viduals alike, ruthless of life or death, knowing neither plan
nor reason, void of all love or care for man.

A movement of this nature, the disintegrating influences of
which affect so closely the feelings and the convictions of the
individual, cannot subsist long without reaction. In matters
such as these, the problem is no sooner felt than the reaction


begins. Men cannot for long deny their spiritual nature and
suppress all concern for its welfare. Their inner life holds its
own against all pressure from without; it persists in relating all
events to itself and summoning them for judgment before its
own tribunal. Even opposition serves but to remind the Sub-
ject of the fundamental and inalienable rights of its own in-
wardness and freedom. So a slumbering giant needs only to
be roused to the consciousness of his power to show himself
superior to all the forces the world can bring against him.
And when simultaneously with these changes an elemental*
passion for individuality of life and inner well-being asserts
itself, when the rationality of existence, the salvation of the
soul, become pressing, torturing problems, of a sudden the
whole aspect of the world is transformed; that which was once
held a sure possession now becomes a matter of painful per-
plexity and an object of weary search.

A regenerative movement of this kind is now in perceptible
progress: and though the Powers of Mechanism still continue
to extend their outward sway, our faith in them is shaken and
the struggle against them has begun. Great movements are
abroad to-day which, despite manifold differences of tendency,
converge to a common issue. The passionate impetus of the
social movement, the evidences of increasing religious earnest-
ness, the ferment of artistic creation, all express one and the
same desire, an ardour of longing for more happiness, for a
fuller development of our human nature, for a new and a loftier
order of life.

And yet, despite its progress, the movement is still in many
respects very incomplete and chaotic. It is not only that cer-
tain of its side-currents variously intersect and frustrate each
other; the main stream itself is a curious blend of higher and
lower, nobility and meanness, youthful freshness and senile
punctiliousness. Instead of seeking to transform his inward
experience into an ordered cosmos and to strengthen freedom
into law, the Subject is apt to measure his progress by the ex-
tent to which he can dispense with all authority, not excluding


that of his own nature. Breaking free from all restraint, he is
borne aloft like some vain empty bubble, the plaything of wind
and weather, and falls an easy prey to every kind of irrationality
and folly. Thus we are conscious primarily of an atmosphere
of ferment, restlessness, passion. We preserve our faith in the
rationality of the movement only by treating it as a mere begin-
ning and trusting that the spiritual necessity at work within it
will in the end prevail over all individual illusions and conceits
and build up the inward life on a systematic and well-ordered
plan. To this end, however, our untiring co-operation is essen-
tial: we must sift and separate, clarify and deepen. Only
through the strain of self-conflict can the Age truly realise
itself, and accomplish its part in the evolution of the world's

Nor can Philosophy stand aloof from the struggle; she also
has her part to play. Is she not pre-eminently fitted to give this
movement a large and generous meaning, to clear it from con-
fusion and direct it toward its ultimate goal? Her first duty
indeed is to the present and to the problems of the day; nor is
she at liberty to take refuge from present issues in a near or a
distant past. Historical considerations are for the philosopher
subsidiary; and yet, if he respects the limitations under which
they can alone be of service to him, they may most effectively
support his own personal conviction. We would then briefly
consider the following view: that it is both possible and useful
to represent to ourselves in a living way the various philosophies
of life as they have taken shape in the minds of the great think-
ers. For with this contention is bound up the whole success or
failure of our present undertaking.

If these philosophies are to be of any help to us, we must
give to the term "philosophy of life" a deeper meaning than it
usually bears. We cannot interpret it as a set of select utter-
ances on the subject of human life and destiny, or as a collec-
tion of occasional reflections and confessions. For such de-
liverances spring frequently from the mere mood of the mo-
ment, and serve to conceal rather than reveal the essential


quality of their author's thought. Moreover, shallow natures
are not infrequently prodigal of confession natures that have
little that is worth confiding while deeper souls are apt to
withdraw their emotion from the public gaze, holding it sacred
to the heart or bodying it forth only in their work.

No; we are not concerned with the reflections of these
thinkers about life, but with life itself as it is fashioned forth in
their world of thought. We ask what light they have thrown
upon human existence, what place and purport they assign to
it, how they combine its active with its passive functions; in
a word, what is the character of human life as they conceive it ?
This question draws together the different threads of their
thought and reveals to us the very depths of their soul. They
become easy of access and of comprehension; they can make
themselves known to us quite simply and speak in plain, straight-
forward fashion to all who will give them a hearing. Surely
this quest offers strong inducement to every receptive mind.
From the abundance of these great personalities must there
not be some overflow of strength, something that will purify,
ennoble, and level up our own endeavour?

Nor need we be troubled with the question whether these
great thinkers supply everything that is essential and valuable
in human achievement. We can at least say that they con-
stitute the soul of it. For true creative work, the upbuilding of
a realm of spiritual meanings and values, is not the product of
mediocrity, but arises rather out of a direct antagonism to all
that is petty and small in human affairs. On the lower level,
spiritual activity is much too closely blent with alien and in-
ferior elements, too solely at the disposal of small-minded aims,
for it to be capable of producing any clearly defined and dis-
tinctive conceptions of life. At all periods, it has been only
the few who have possessed the greatness of mind, the inward
freedom, the constructive power which alone make it possible
to pursue the path of creative activity as an end in itself, to
wrest unity from chaos, to win through the stress and strain
of true creative work that glad and sure self-confidence without


which thought has no stability and work no profit. This, how-
ever, does not mean that the creative genius is independent of
his social and historical environment. Even that which is
greatest has its necessary presuppositions and conditions. The
soil must be ready, the age must contribute the stimulus of its
special problems, enthusiasm must be trained to willing ser-
vice. To this limited extent a genius is but the ripe expression
of his epoch, and the luminous idea only serves to intensify
aspirations already alive in the community. But none the less
does the great man lift the common life to an essentially higher
plane. He does not merely unify existing tendencies, but brings
about an inner transformation: he ennobles the whole message
of the age. For it is he who first clearly distinguishes the
spiritual from the merely human, the eternal from the tem-
poral, who first gives to life an independent worth, a value of
its own, who first attains to the conception of universal and
imperishable truth. In so far as the Eternal can be appre-
hended under time conditions, it is so apprehended by the great
man; it is he who first frees it from its temporal setting to be-
come a possession for all time. If then the creative geniuses
of humanity are the true foci of all spiritual life, if in them its
rays, else scattered, are concentrated to burn thereafter with an
intensified, inextinguishable flame that in turn reillumines the
whole, then surely we may take comfort and rest assured
that in studying the work of such men we are touching the very
pulse of all creative activity.

And the same reason that makes it worth our while to study
them individually renders it equally advisable to consider
carefully the relations of each to his contemporaries and suc-
cessors. In the contemplation of these various types we be-
come more distinctly and vividly aware of the different schemes
of life open to us. The extremes between which we ordinarily
oscillate are here set forth in most palpable form, and help to
explain each other while defining their own positions ever more
clearly. But as the ages pass and one set of conditions is re-
placed by another, there is a tendency for the permanent to


become confused with the transitory. On the one hand, our
multiplicity of systems seems to admit of reduction to a limited
number of simple types, which, like the motifs of a tune, con-
stantly recur through all changes of environment, and yet we
perceive at the same time a steady progress, a constant influx
of what is new. Life and the world open out in ever-broadening
vistas. Problems of increasing difficulty arise; the current flows
swifter and stronger. The whole detailed story would be needed
to show us what this movement has achieved for us. We may
not forestall the conclusion by any hasty generalising. So much,
however, we may say, that if at first the history of philosophy
seem like a battle in which every man's hand is against his
fellow, in which the leaders are so engrossed with the develop-
ment of their own individuality that they repel rather than
attract each other, yet we must not on this account despair of
unity and progress. One doctrine defies another only so long
as the respective systems are regarded in the light of finished
results and the intellect is called upon to be the sole and final
arbiter of every question. Now it is precisely from such in-
adequate conceptions that this study of ours can rescue us.
When we ask how our great thinkers looked at life, we see that
their thought had its source in the depths of the life-process
itself, that its course is determined by certain vital needs,
that it is but the expression of an inward struggle toward

Online LibraryRudolf EuckenThe problem of human life as viewed by the great thinkers from Plato to the present time → online text (page 1 of 53)