Thomas Davidson.

The education of the Greek people and its influence on civilization online

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tically makes astrology an essential part of religion,
and the worship of the " hosts of heaven " f part of
religious ritual. And this ritual, in consequence, be-
came not only extremely detailed and complicated in-

* Oi KO.TO, v6fiov tvres 6tol, Laws, X, 904 A. Cf. Golden Words,
line 1, 0eous, v6p.<p &s StdKcivrai.

f Whence Plato derived his astrological notions I am unable
to say, whether from Pythagoras or directly from the Egyptians,
Babylonians, or Phoenicians ; but it seems to me that the notion
of introducing astrology into religion was in all probability due
to Pythagorean influence.


asmuch as each deity, daemon, and hero had to be wor-
shiped with certain fixed rites, performed at stated
seasons, and with no other but also theurgic and
mantic, as indeed every religion necessarily does that
pays homage to the host of heaven or to nature-powers
of any sort. v

JThis view of the relation of the heavenly powers OF
bodies to the affairs of life introduced a great change
in education. "Whereas in the Republic education hack
7 culminated in dialectics leading to the vision of super-'
i sensual ideas, in the Laws it culminates in the mathe-
^matical sciences arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy
the first two being mainly preparatory to the last.
It need not be said that for Plato astronomy is astrol-
* ogy, whence, in recommending the study of the mathe-
r matical sciences, he does so in the interest of religion,
1 or," more strictly speaking, of superstition. Mathe-
matics are to be studied in order that we may place
ourselves in the proper relation to the stellar intelli-

In the political scheme set forth in the Laws a
place is, of course, found for the family and for pri-
vate property ; but into details like these we can not
enter, our purpose being merely to show how the work
affected the education of the Greek people that is,
what elements it introduced into their thought. And
this may be stated in a few words. Inasmuch as the
scheme propounded in the Laws is little more than a

* " This is what I say is incumbent both upon our citizens
and upon our young men with respect to the gods in the heavens,
that they should learn so much about them all as not to utter
blasphemy about them, but to treat them always reverently, in
sacrifices and pious prayers." Laws, VII, 821 D. E.


compound of the constitutions of Athens and Sparta,
sanctioned by a religion bordering closely upon Sa-
baBanism, it is obvious that it is mainly in this last ele-
ment that the novelty of the Laws consists. Nor is
this a small matter if we consider it in its conse-
^ quences. Let us do so.

The tendency of the teaching of Socrates, as well as
of that of Plato in the Republic, had been to draw men
away from the old nature-divinities of polytheism, and
to direct their attention upon a single principle, as gov-
erning the universe in a word, to turn them to mono-
theism. And, indeed, had the fundamental thought of
Socrates been faithfully carried out to its legitimate
consequences, it is hard to see what other result could
have been reached than a spiritual monotheism, since
that is the necessary presupposition of all "idiopsy-
chological ethics " (to use an excellent expression of
Dr. Martineau's). But, as we have seen, no such good
fortune befell the thought of Socrates. Plato sub-
stituted for it one of his own, which did not, and
could not, lead to a spiritual monotheism, but, at
best, only to a mono-ideism, such as Hegel afterward
reached ; and when he found this inadequate to fur-
nishing a principle for the reorganization of society,
he had no resource but to fall back into material poly-
theism, which he then attempted to raise to the height
of a moral sanction by connecting it with a crude
physical theory and with a worship consisting mainly
of theurgic or magic rites and divination. It was
due mainly to Plato that the Greeks, in their effort
to find a true moral sanction, were left to choose
between a lifeless abstraction called " the Good " and a
crude material polytheism, and that they thus missed


the " living God," whom Socrates, and before him the
prophetic -JSschylue, came so near finding.

We have already seen that the adoption of the
former of these alternatives was the source of that
mysticism which played such a large part in subse-
quent philosophy and religion. We can now see that
the adoption of the latter gave currency and respecta-
bility to the theurgic, magic, and mantic rites which
to this day have maintained themselves in much of
the religion of the civilized world. No doubt these
rites existed in all nature-religions, not excepting that
of Greece ; but they would, in all probability, have disj
appeared soon after the time of Socrates, at least froni
the religion of thinking men, had they not received
prestige and a fresh lease of life from the authority OE
^ Plato. Thus they came to be perpetuated, and thus

(c. it was that the religion of the thoughtful Greeks after

' Plato's time was, to a large extent, a compound of a

lofty mysticism, striving after the beatific vision of a

s bald abstraction, and a crude material superstition,

A^xpressing itself in magic ceremonies. Such was the
result of Plato's attempt to found a social order upon
abstract philosophic principles.




PLATO'S attempt to found a state on the mystic
vision of divine ideas, whatever its inore remote re-
sults, was a failure ; and of this he himself became
ultimately so well aware that he attempted to found
one upon popular superstition. This likewise was
necessarily a failure, so that at the death of Plato the
task which Socrates had undertaken remained unac-
complished, and the principle of social union which
he had discovered undeveloped and unapplied. But
in elaborating his second scheme Plato had made use
of a principle which, had he known how to take full
advantage of it, might have helped him to a better
result the principle that all social reform must come
from a wise direction of the immanent forces by which
society is built up. Jhe full comprehension and ap-
plication of this principle were left for Aristotle.

This philosopher abandoned the position of Plato
without returning to that of Socrates. Without alto-
gether setting aside Platonic ideas, he freed them from
manv of the difficulties that attached to them as con-
ceived by Plato. By treating their separate existence


in a supercelestial world as pure mythology, and plant-
ing them as organizing forces in the material world,
and as concepts in the intellect realized in the divine ;
potential, and realizable in the human he prepared
the way for the conclusion that if divine ideas are ever^(
to be found at all, they must be looked for in nature
and in mind. In nature they are seen on their ex-
ternal side, in the form of becoming; in mind, on
their internal side, in the form of being ; and they are
adequately seen only when the two sides are simul-
taneously presented. These ideas, in so far as they
relate to human practice, appear on their inner side as
ethical ends or motives ; on their outer, as social insti-
tutions, anct these two must be seen in their correla-
tion, if ever a theory of practice is to be reached, and
practice itself place upon a secure footing.

According to Aristotle, all intelligent action is ac-
tion for the sake of an end, which may be defined as
" the Good " (TO ayaOov). The good of man is Happi-
ness (evSaijuovi'a), which consists in the realization of
his highest or distinguishing faculty viz., intellect.
In his Ethics Aristotle seeks to show how the indi-
vidual must discipline himself in order to reach this
end, while in the Politics he undertakes to present
the external, the social, and economic conditions under
which such discipline promises to be most successful. T
Thus for Aristotle, as for Plato, the state is primarily /
a school of virtue, and the supreme virtue consists "in f
the exercise of the intellect.

In both the Ethics and the Politics Aristotle goes
to work inductively. In the former, after defining the
nature of " the Good," he proceeds to classify the vir-
tues and the vices, and to show how each is related to



that Good the former conducing to it, the latter lead-
ing away from it. In the latter he considers the vari-
ous forms of government and their relation to each
other, as well as to the characters, temperaments, and
culture of different peoples.* These do not concern
us at present. We have only to consider what he con-
ceives the function of the state to be in educating men
so that they may reach "the Good." In trying to
define this, he begins with a very sharp and, on the
whole, very just criticism of the socialistic doctrines
propounded in Plato's Republic and Laius. He points
out the fallacy involved in the conception of the state
as the individual writ large, and emphatically denies
the truth of the doctrine that a state is better in pro-
portion as it approximates perfect unity. On the con-
trary, he says, the more completely a thing is a unity,
the less self-sufficient, the less capable of prolonging
its existence it is. If we reflect that the individual is
more of a unity than the family, and the family than
the state, we shall see that unity and self-sufficiency
are in inverse ratio to each other. Moreover, when
the state is regarded as an individual the happiness of
the whole will be aimed at, and not that of the parts
a hand or a foot. But to talk of the happiness of a
state, as something possible apart from the happiness
of the human beings that, compose it, is to talk non-
sense. Happiness is not like evenness in number. A
number may be even though all its components are

* His review of the different forms of government was based
upon a very wide induction. Before undertaking it he wrote
out the " constitutions " of two hundred and fifty (some say two
hundred and fifty-eight) different states. One of these, the
" Constitution of the Athenians," has recently been discovered.


odd (units) ; but a state can not be happy if its mem-
bers are unhappy, as those of the Platonic state are.
Aristotle shows further not only that the Platonic
state could not possibly be realized, but also that if it
were, it would neither obviate the evils nor secure the
blessings which he believes it would. He points out
specially the evils that would arise from community of
w r ives or property, and shows that they would far over-
balance the advantages.

It might seem from this criticism that Aristotle
would be prepared to reverse the Platonic doctrine
that the individual exists for the state, and to say that
the state exists for the individual. But he is both too
much of a Greek and too much of a philosopher to do
this. ' He maintains that man and the state do not
stand to -each other in the relation of end and means,
but are essentially correlates. " Man is ~by nature a/
political animal," and the notion of a man without a
state (aTToXts) is as absurd as that of a state without a
man. He even commits himself to the paradox that
the state is prior to the individual,* by which he means
that it is man's civic nature by which his individual
manhood is 'rendered possible. It is through the state
that man is man. Without the state he would have to
be a beast or a god. In one aspect, therefore, the rela-
tion of the individual to the state is organic, in another
it is federal. It is this combination of the organic and
the federal that constitutes the political. A polity is
more than an organism,! more than an individual how-

* 'H ir6\is Kal 4>i5<r Kal irptrfpov % e/ca<rros, Pol., I, 2, 1253a 25.

f It is curious how long it has taken the world nay, how

long it has taken political thinkers to rise to Aristotle's point



ever large we may write him. I am not aware that
Aristotle has anywhere hazarded the assertion that a
unity is always higher in proportion to the independ-
ence of the elements which it unites, and that the
highest possible unity would be one whose elements
were absolutely independent; but there can be no
doubt that this follows from his teaching, and would
have been cheerfully admitted by him. To convince
ourselves that he held this view with respect to polit-
ical unities we have only to read the second chapter
of the second book of the Politics, where, in dealing
with the question of communism and private property,
he maintains that, while possession ought to be private,
the citizens of a community should be so well educated
as to be ready to use their wealth for the public weal.
" And to see that they have this education is the proper
task of the legislator." * Obviously, therefore, the
business of the state is not to make its citizens de-
pendent parts of a whole, as Plato had held, but_ to
ovelop in them moral wills, and thereby to make
them independent. In a word, Aristotle regards the
f \ state as a moral unity, whose principle is free will, and
> is therefore the determined foe of all state-socialism.
In the ideal state men would be absolutely free.
Of the state-forms capable of realization among men

of view in this matter. We still hear the state spoken of as an
organism, and theories propounded with regard to it as if it
really were so. See, for example, Bluntschli, Theory of the
State, p. 12 sqq. (Eng. trans.). This writer even goes so far as to
maintain that the state is masculine and the Church feminine !
Ibid., p. 22 sq.

* "OJTOJS 5e ylvtavrau, TOIOVTOI, rov vopodeTov TOVT* epyoy f$i6y ferny.
Pol, ii, 5, 12G3a 3D sq.


such as they are, that is the best and highest which
allows the individual the greatest possible amount of

In seeking to discover what form of state best ac-
complishes this, Aristotle classifies and passes in review
all the forms of government with which he is ac-
quainted, or which he conceives possible, and finds
that there are in all six of them three good and three
bad (7rape/c/3tto-ts). The diiference between a good and
a bad government is that, while the former aims at
the good of the whole people, the latter seeks that of a
class. The good governments are (1) Monarchy, in
which one rules ; (2) aristocracy, in which some (the
best) rule ; and (3) constitutional republic (TroXtret
in which all rule. The bad governments correspond-
ing respectively to these are (1) Tyranny, (2) oli-
garchy, (3) democracy. The diiference between the
last two, however, is not so much a matter of number
as of wealth. Oligarchy is government by the rich ;
democracy, by the poor. In arranging these govern-
ments in an order of descending goodness, Aristotle
applies the principle that " the corruption of the best
is the worst." ' The result is : (1) Monarchy, (2) aris-
tocracy, (3) constitutional republic, (4) democracy, (5)
oligarchy, (6) tyranny.

* " Corruptio optimi pessima est" In this generalized form
it became an adage in Scholastic philosophy. Dante (Purg.,
xxx, 118 sqq.)- and Shakespeare (" Lilies that fester smell far
worse than weeds," Son., xciv, 14) both adopt it. In its original
form it was applied to governments " the corruption of the
first and most divine mut be the worst " (cu/ay/o] yap rV ptv TT/S
irpdaTijs Kal 0ejoT<n?5 vapfK^aTtv elvcu x e V^ a " rr 7 | '> Pol., iv, 2, 1289a
39 sqq.).


According to Aristotle, then, monarchy is the best
| form of government for educating men to freedom,
j and tyranny the worst. This conclusion was due not
to any philosophic reasoning from abstract principles,
or to any preconception of human nature, but to ex-
perience, and, perhaps even in a larger degree than was
j justified, to the experience of his own time. The same
social convulsion and confusion that had driven Plato
to turn his back on all actual governments and con-
struct his fantastic and impossible Republic were be-
fore Aristotle, and even in an aggravated form. But
the effect upon him was altogether different from what
it had been upon Plato ; and the reason of this is not
1 far to seek. While Plato, with his poetical tendencies,
f could find no refuge from the actual save in the ab-
stract ideal, Aristotle, with his belief that the ideal
was not abstract at all, looked for help in a larger and
more comprehensive view of the real. And he was
greatly aided in this by the circumstances of his life,
which in this connection deserve careful consider-

Though Aristotle spent a large part of his life
nearly thirty years in all in Athens, and though, as
his works clearly show, he took a deep and sympathetic
interest in its government and people, he never was
never could be, and probably never even wished to be
anything more than a stranger or resident foreigner
(/xeVotKos) there. He was a Macedonian not only by
birth, but, as many circumstances show, also in sym-
pathy. He had seen the best side of the great Mace-
donian monarchs, and in his later life, when he was
writing his Politics, he witnessed not only their easy
/ and complete triumph over the democracies and oli-


garchies of Greece, but also their beneficent influence /
in restoring peace, order, and prosperity to the whole
people. Before his very eyes the monarchy of which
he was a subject proved itself not only stronger, but
more civilizing than any other form of government with
which he was acquainted. Under these circumstances
it would have been strange indeed if, with his deep
respect for experience, he had not assigned to mon-
archy the first place among the forms of government.
At all events there can be no doubt that his experience
of the power and influence of Macedonia had a consid-
erable part in shaping his political theories.

It seems at first sight strange that a man who laid
so much stress on the distinction between Greeks and
barbarians as Aristotle did should have shown so much
respect for the Macedonians, who were generally con-
sidered at least half barbarians ; but it must be borne
in mind that a very large proportion of the subjects of
the Macedonian kings were pure-blooded Greeks, and
Greeks of a very superior type, and that both Philip /
and Alexander had not only received a most careful j
Greek education, but were proud to proclaim them- 1
selves the bearers and champions of Greek culture, a /
claim which the Greeks themselves allowed when they
admitted them to participation in the Olympic games.
Thus the Greece of Aristotle was the Macedonian mon-
archy, of which the Greece of Plato was only a de-
pendent province ; and we can well imagine that the
battle of Chaeronea, which to the latter must have
seemed the greatest of disasters, may have appeared
to Aristotle the dawn of a better order of things. In
his recently discovered Constitution of Athens he
closes the history of that city with the restoration of


the democracy by Thrasybulus in B. c. 403, and does
not even allude to the Macedonian conquest.

Aristotle's experiences with the Macedonian mon-
archy placed him in a difficult position, which is curi-
ously but plainly manifested in his Politics. While
he maintains that monarchy is, absolutely speaking,
the highest form of government, and that aristocracy
comes next to it, he nevertheless admits that, consider-
ing the difficulty of finding a real monarch or an aris-
tocracy whose unselfishness can be depended on, the
best form generally realizable is the constitutional re-
public. We can easily see that in making this admis-
sion he is influenced by the impression which Philip
and Alexander had made upon him. Such men, he
evidently believes, are not found every day, and can
not be made to order. He is probably thinking of
them when he describes the man whom he considers
fit to be a monarch. " If," he says, " there be any one
man, or some small number of men not large enough
to constitute a state, so exceedingly transcendent in
worth that neither the worth nor the political capacity
of all the rest bears any comparison to his or theirs (as
the case may be), such men are no longer to be con-
sidered part of the state ; for it would be an injustice
to place them on an equal footing with those who are
so inferior to them in worth and political capacity.
Nay, such a man must take the place of a god among
men. Thus we see that wherever there is legislation
it presupposes men generically and potentially equal,
whereas the men just referred to are beyond the sphere
of law ; for they are the law ; and certainly it would
be ridiculous for any one to lay down laws for them.
They would probably reply as Antisthenes said the


lions did when the hares and rabbits took to harangu-
ing in favor of equal rights for all." *

We can readily see that in accepting and propound-

/ ing a doctrine like this Aristotle was standing on the

'} boundary line between two epochs and ideals of polit-l

f ical life. On one side of him, stretching away into the

( past, were the little pedagogic republics of Greece, withf

) their narrow interests, regulated lives, and intense,

\ supercilious patriotism ; on the other, looming up in

j> the future, was a great Hellenic monarchy, with broad

| interests, free lives, and an all-inclusive patriotism.

But he saw too clearly the disadvantages, as well as

the advantages, of each to be an enthusiastic partisan

or apostle of either by itself. He evidently saw that

cultured, Hellenic life could not be carried on without

the city-state (?roAis), and he could not help seeing that

such states were entirely unable to maintain themselves,

either against each other or against foreign aggression,

unless they were united and held together by a power

which they themselves could not create, and which

therefore had to come to them from without. Such a

power he looked for in some great hero, like Philip or

Alexander, who, standing among men like a god above

all institutions and laws, should govern them by divine

right. But as the divine man is rare,f and can not be

commanded, ordinary men must be content to make

and obey laws, the best they can evolve or secure.

Accordingly, in attempting to describe the highest

state which he conceives to be realizable without the

aid of the divine man (who is beyond science as beyond

* Pol, iii, 13, 1283a 3 sqq.

f 'Zrtivwv rb 0e?ov &^Spo elycu, Eth. Nic., vii, 1, 1145a 27 SQ.


law), he keeps pretty close to the model of the Greek
city-state, merely suggesting such improvements upon
actual conditions as shall make that institution truly
and consciously a school of virtue.

In examining Aristotle's political scheme, we be-
come aware of two characteristics of the man (1) his
extreme regard for facts and actual conditions, and
(2) his lack of that prophetic vision which, amid the
chaos and confusion of a transition period, can descry

" The Spirit of the years to come
Yearning to mix himself with Life."

The former of these made him not only accept many
current notions and practices which were soon to be
outgrown, but even to champion them as founded in
Nature, and to seek a philosophical explanation of
them. Thus, for example, he became an advocate of
chattel slavery (although, as he himself tells us, there
were already in his time men who held it to be un-
natural*), of abortion, of the murder of feeble or
deformed children, of the treatment of " barbarians "
as generically inferior to Greeks, and fit only to be
their slaves, of the exclusion of the industrial classes,
as incapable of virtue, from all political power, etc.
The second characteristic made him in great measure
blind to those subtle humanitarian forces that were at
work around him, slowly undermining the walls of
Greek exclusiveness, and making straight the paths
for him who was to know neither Greek nor barbarian,
but only man. Hence it was that, though he could
not help seeing that something like the cecumenic
empire of Alexander must be the determining influ-

* To?s 54 (So/ce?) irapa <pvffiv r'b $effv6fiv, PoL, i, 3, 1253b 12.


ence in all future social life,* he could not in the least
forecast the broadening, humanizing influences of such

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Online LibraryThomas DavidsonThe education of the Greek people and its influence on civilization → online text (page 12 of 17)