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The next step was to create a method for determining the particular configuration on which any given property of matter depends. If such a problem could be solved at all, it would be by some new system of practical analysis. Bacon did not see this because he was a Schoolman, emancipated, indeed,377 from ecclesiastical authority, but retaining a blind faith in the power of logic. Aristotle’s Organon had been the great storehouse of aids to verbal disputation; it should now be turned into an instrument for the more successful prosecution of physical researches. What definitions were to the one, that Forms should be to the other; and both were to be determined by much the same process. Now Aristotle himself had emphatically declared that the concepts out of which propositions are constructed were discoverable by induction and by induction alone. With him, induction meant comparing a number of instances, and abstracting the one circumstance, if any, in which they agreed. When the object is to establish a proposition inductively, he has recourse to a method of elimination, and bids us search for instances which, differing in everything else, agree in the association of two particular marks.541 In the Topics he goes still further and supplies us with a variety of tests for ascertaining the relation between a given predicate and a given subject. Among these, Mill’s Methods of Difference, Residues, and Concomitant Variations are very clearly stated.542 But he does not call such modes of reasoning Induction. So far as he has any general name for them at all, it is Dialectic, that is, Syllogism of which the premises are not absolutely certain; and, as a matter of nomenclature, he seems to be right. There is, undoubtedly, a process by which we arrive at general conclusions from the comparison of particular instances; but this process in its purity is nothing more nor less than induction by simple enumeration. All other reasoning requires the aid of universal propositions, and is therefore, to that extent, deductive. The methods of elimination or, as they are now called, of experiment, involve at every step the assumption of378 general principles duly specified in the chapter of Mill’s Logic where they are analysed. And wherever we can rise immediately from, a single instance to a general law, it is because the examination of that single instance has been preceded by a chain of deductive reasoning.
The history of Greek philosophy, whether conceived in this comprehensive sense or as an erudite investigation into matters of detail, is a province which the Germans have made peculiarly their own; and, among German scholars, Dr. Zeller is the one who has treated it with most success. My obligations to his great work are sufficiently shown by the copious references to it which occur throughout the following pages. It is in those instances—and they are, unfortunately, very numerous—where our knowledge of particular philosophers and of their opinions rests on fragmentary or second-hand information, that I have found his assistance most valuable. This has especially been the case with reference to the pre-Socratic schools, the minor successors of Socrates, the earlier Stoics, the Sceptics, and the later Pythagoreans. I must, however, guard against the supposition that my work is, in any respect, a popularisation or abridgment of Zeller’s. To popularise Zeller would, indeed, be an impertinence, for nothing can be more luminous and interesting than his style and general mode of exposition. Nor am I playing the part of a finder to a large telescope; for my point of view by no means coincides with that of the learned German historian. Thus, while my limits have obliged me to be content with a very summary treatment of many topics which he has discussed at length, there are others, and those, in my opinion, not the least important, to which he has given less space than will be found allotted to them here. On several questions, also, I have ventured to controvert his opinions, notably with reference to the Sophists, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plotinus. My general way of looking at the Greeks and their philosophy also differs from his. And the reasons which have led me to follow an independent course in this respect involve considerixations of such interest and importance, that I shall take the liberty of specifying them in some detail.VIII.
Meanwhile a new and powerful agency was about to interpose with decisive effect in the doubtful struggle. This was the study of mathematics. Revived by the Arabians and never wholly neglected during the Middle Ages, it had profited by the general movement of the Renaissance, and was finally applied to the cosmical problem by Galileo. In this connexion, two points of profound philosophical interest must be noted. The first is that, even in its fall, the Aristotelian influence survived, to some extent, both for good and for evil. To Aristotle belongs the merit of having been the first to base astronomy on physics. He maintains the earth’s immobility on experimental no less than on speculative grounds. A stone thrown straight up in the air returns to its starting-point instead of falling to the west of it; and the absence of stellar385 parallax seems to show that there is no change in our position relatively to the heavenly bodies. After satisfying himself, on empirical considerations, that the popular astronomy is true, he proceeds to show that it must be true, by considerations on the nature of matter and motion, which, although mistaken, are conceived in a genuinely scientific spirit. Now Galileo saw that, to establish the Copernican system, he must first grapple with the Peripatetic physics, and replace it by a new dynamical theory. This, which he could hardly have effected by the ordinary mathematical methods, he did by borrowing the analytical method of Atomism and applying it to the measurement of motion. The law of falling bodies was ascertained by resolving their descent into a series of moments, and determining its rate of velocity at successive intervals; and curvilinear motions were similarly resolved into the combination of an impulsive with an accelerating force, a method diametrically opposed to that of Bacon, who would not even accept the rough analysis of the apparent celestial motions proposed by Greek astronomers.‘At his beddes hedIf, in the philosophy of Epictêtus, physics and morality become entirely identified with religion, religion, on the other hand, remains entirely natural and moral. It is an offering245 not of prayer but of praise, a service less of ceremonies and sacrifices than of virtuous deeds, a study of conscience rather than of prophecy, a faith not so much in supernatural portents as in providential law.380 But in arriving at Marcus Aurelius, we have overstepped the line which divides rational religion from superstition. Instances of the good emperor’s astonishing credulity have already been given and need not be repeated. They are enough to show that his lavish expenditure on public worship was dictated by something more than a regard for established customs. We know, indeed, that the hecatombs with which his victories were celebrated gave occasion to profane merriment even in the society of that period. On one occasion, a petition was passed from hand to hand, purporting to be addressed to the emperor by the white oxen, and deprecating his success on the ground that if he won they were lost.381 Yet the same Marcus Aurelius, in speaking of his predecessor Antoninus, expressly specifies piety without superstition as one of the traits in his character which were most deserving of imitation.382 And, undoubtedly, the mental condition of those who were continually in an agony of fear lest they should incur the divine displeasure by some purely arbitrary act or omission, or who supposed that the gods might be bribed into furthering their iniquitous enterprises, was beyond all comparison further removed from true wisdom than the condition of those who believed themselves to be favoured by particular manifestations of the divine beneficence, perhaps as a recompense for their earnest attempts to lead a just and holy life. We may conclude, then, that philosophy, while injuriously affected by the supernaturalist movement, still protected its disciples against the more virulent forms of superstition, and by entering into combination with the popular belief, raised it to a higher level of feeling and of thought. It was not, however, by Stoicism that the final reconciliation of ancient religion with philosophy could be246 accomplished, but by certain older forms of speculation which we now proceed to study.
So far Spinoza, following the example of Stoicism, has only studied the means by which reason conquers passion. He now proceeds to show, in the spirit of Plato or of Platonic Christianity, how immensely superior to the pleasures of sense and opinion are those afforded by true religion—by the love of God and the possession of eternal life. But, here also, as in the Greek system, logic does duty for emotion. The love of God means no more than viewing ourselves as filling a place in the infinite framework of existence, and as determined to be what we are by the totality of forces composing it. And eternal life is merely the adjustment of our thoughts to the logical order by which all modes of existence are deducible from the idea of infinite power.
The noble spirit of Marcus Aurelius was, indeed, proof against such temptations: and he had far more to dread than to hope from the unlightened voice of public opinion; but to him also, ‘standing between two eternities,’ Nature presented herself chiefly under the aspect of an overwhelming and absorbing Power. Pleasure is not so much dangerous as worthless, weak, and evanescent. Selfishness, pride, anger, and discontent will soon be swept into abysmal gulfs of oblivion by the roaring cataract of change. Universal history is one long monotonous procession of phantasms passing over the scene into death and utter night. In one short life we may see all that ever was, or is, or is to be; the same pageant has already been and shall be repeated an infinite number of times. Nothing endures but the process of unending renovation: we must die that the world may be ever young. Death itself only reunites us with the absolute All whence we come, in which we move, and whither we return.103 But the imperial47 sage makes no attempt to explain why we should ever have separated ourselves from it in thought; or why one life should be better worth living than another in the universal vanity of things.
Lucretius has been called Rome’s only great speculative genius. This is, of course, absurd. A talent for lucid ex101position does not constitute speculative genius, especially when it is unaccompanied by any ability to criticise the opinions expounded. The author of the De Rerum Natura probably had a lawyer’s education. He certainly exhibits great forensic skill in speaking from his brief. But Cicero and Seneca showed the same skill on a much more extensive scale; and the former in particular was immensely superior to Lucretius in knowledge and argumentative power. Besides, the poet, who was certainly not disposed to hide his light under a bushel, and who exalts his own artistic excellences in no measured terms, never professes to be anything but a humble interpreter of truths first revealed to his Greek instructor’s vivid intellect. It has, indeed, been claimed for Lucretius that he teaches a higher wisdom than his acknowledged guide.195 This assertion is, however, not borne out by a careful comparison between the two.196 In both there is the same theory of the universe, of man, and of the relations connecting them with one another. The idea of Nature in Lucretius shows no advance over the same idea in Epicurus. To each it expresses, not, as with the Stoics, a unifying power, a design by which all things work together for the best, but simply the conditions of a permanent mechanical aggregation. When Lucretius speaks of foedera Naturai, he means, not what we understand by laws of nature, that is, uniformities of causation underlying all phenomenal differences, to understand which is an exaltation of human dignity through the added power of prevision and control which it bestows, but rather the limiting possibilities of existence, the barriers against which human hopes and aspirations dash themselves in vain—an objective logic which guards us against fallacies instead of enabling us to arrive at positive conclusions. We have here the pervadingly negative character of Epicureanism,102 though probably presented with something of Roman solemnity and sternness. The idea of individuality, with which Lucretius has also been credited, occupies but a small place in his exposition, and seems to have interested him only as a particular aspect of the atomic theory. The ultimate particles of matter must be divided into unlike groups of units, for otherwise we could not explain the unlikenesses exhibited by sensible objects. This is neither the original Greek idea, that every man has his own life to lead, irrespective of public opinion or arbitrary convention; nor is it the modern delight in Nature’s inexhaustible variety as opposed to the poverty of human invention, or to the restrictions of fashionable taste. Nor can we admit that Lucretius developed Epicurean philosophy in the direction of increased attention to the external world. The poet was, no doubt, a consummate observer, and he used his observations with wonderful felicity for the elucidation and enforcement of his philosophical reasoning; but in this respect he has been equalled or surpassed by other poets who either knew nothing of systematic philosophy, or, like Dante, were educated in a system as unlike as possible to that of Epicurus. There is, therefore, every reason for assuming that he saw and described phenomena not by virtue of his scientific training, but by virtue of his artistic endowment. And the same may be said of the other points in which he is credited with improvements on his master’s doctrine. There is, no doubt, a strong consciousness of unity, of individuality, and of law running through his poem. But it is under the form of intuitions or contemplations, not under the form of speculative ideas that they are to be found. And, as will be presently shown, it is not as attributes of Nature but as attributes of life that they present themselves to his imagination.‘When anyone prefers beauty to virtue, what is this but the real and utter dishonour of the soul? For such a preference implies that the body is more honourable than the soul; and this is false, for there is nothing of earthly birth which is more honourable than the heavenly, and he who thinks otherwise of the soul has no idea how greatly he undervalues this wonderful possession.’47The reformed system of education was to be not only moral and religious but also severely scientific. The place given to mathematics as the foundation of a right intellectual training is most remarkable, and shows how truly Plato apprehended the conditions under which knowledge is acquired and enlarged. Here, as in other respects, he is, more even than Aristotle, the precursor of Auguste Comte. He arranges the mathematical sciences, so far as they then existed, in their logical order; and his remarks on the most general ideas suggested by astronomy read like a divination of rational mechanics. That a recommendation of such studies should be put into the mouth of Socrates is a striking incongruity. The older Plato grew the farther he seems to have advanced from the humanist to the naturalistic point of view; and, had he been willing to confess it, Hippias and Prodicus were the teachers with whom he finally found himself most in sympathy.
If, in the philosophy of Epictêtus, physics and morality become entirely identified with religion, religion, on the other hand, remains entirely natural and moral. It is an offering245 not of prayer but of praise, a service less of ceremonies and sacrifices than of virtuous deeds, a study of conscience rather than of prophecy, a faith not so much in supernatural portents as in providential law.380 But in arriving at Marcus Aurelius, we have overstepped the line which divides rational religion from superstition. Instances of the good emperor’s astonishing credulity have already been given and need not be repeated. They are enough to show that his lavish expenditure on public worship was dictated by something more than a regard for established customs. We know, indeed, that the hecatombs with which his victories were celebrated gave occasion to profane merriment even in the society of that period. On one occasion, a petition was passed from hand to hand, purporting to be addressed to the emperor by the white oxen, and deprecating his success on the ground that if he won they were lost.381 Yet the same Marcus Aurelius, in speaking of his predecessor Antoninus, expressly specifies piety without superstition as one of the traits in his character which were most deserving of imitation.382 And, undoubtedly, the mental condition of those who were continually in an agony of fear lest they should incur the divine displeasure by some purely arbitrary act or omission, or who supposed that the gods might be bribed into furthering their iniquitous enterprises, was beyond all comparison further removed from true wisdom than the condition of those who believed themselves to be favoured by particular manifestations of the divine beneficence, perhaps as a recompense for their earnest attempts to lead a just and holy life. We may conclude, then, that philosophy, while injuriously affected by the supernaturalist movement, still protected its disciples against the more virulent forms of superstition, and by entering into combination with the popular belief, raised it to a higher level of feeling and of thought. It was not, however, by Stoicism that the final reconciliation of ancient religion with philosophy could be246 accomplished, but by certain older forms of speculation which we now proceed to study.It is worthy of remark that in the Platonic Er?s we have the germ—or something more than the germ—of Aristotle’s whole metaphysical system.135 According to the usual law of speculative evolution, what was subjective in the one becomes objective in the other. With Plato the passion for knowledge had been merely the guiding principle of a few chosen spirits. With Aristotle it is the living soul of Nature, the secret spring of movement, from the revolution of the outermost starry sphere to the decomposition and recomposition of our mutable terrestrial elements; and from these again through the whole scale of organic life, up to the moral culture of man and the search for an ideally-constituted state. What enables all these myriad movements to continue through eternity, returning ever in an unbroken circle on themselves, is the yearning of unformed matter—that is to say, of unrealised power—towards the absolute unchanging actuality, the self-thinking thought, unmoved, but moving every other form of existence by the desire to participate in its ineffable perfection. Born of the Hellenic enthusiasm for beauty, this wonderful conception subsequently became incorporated with the official teaching of Catholic theology. What had once been a theme219 for ribald merriment or for rhetorical ostentation among the golden youth of Athens, furnished the motive for his most transcendent meditations to the Angel of the Schools; but the fire which lurked under the dusty abstractions of Aquinas needed the touch of a poet and a lover before it could be rekindled into flame. The eyes of Beatrice completed what the dialectic of Plato had begun; and the hundred cantos of her adorer found their fitting close in the love that moves the sun and the other stars.
At the time when Carneades delivered his lectures, the morality of Rome resembled that of Sparta during her great conflict with Athens, as characterised by one of the speakers in the Melian Dialogue. Scrupulously honourable in their dealings with one another, in their dealings with foreign nations her citizens notoriously identified justice with what was agreeable or advantageous to themselves. The arguments of the Academic philosopher must, therefore, have been doubly annoying to the leaders of the State, as a satire on its public policy and as a source of danger to the integrity of its private life. In this respect, old Cato was a type of the whole race. In all transactions with his fellow-citizens, and in every office undertaken on behalf of the community, his honesty was such that it became proverbial. But his absolute disregard of international justice has become equally proverbial through the famous advice, reiterated on every possible occasion, that an unoffending and unwarlike city should be destroyed, lest its existence should at some future time become a source of uneasiness to the mistress of the world. Perhaps it was a secret consciousness of his own inconsistency which prevented him from directly proposing that Carneades should not be allowed to continue his lectures. At any rate, the ex-Censor contented himself with moving that the business on which the Athenian envoys had come should be at once concluded, that they might return to their classes at Athens, leaving the youth of Rome to seek instruction as before from the wise conversation and example of her public men.214 We are not told whether his speech on this occasion wound up with the usual formula, caeterum, Patres Conscripti, sententia mea est Carthaginem esse delendam; but as it is stated that from the year 175 to the end of his life, he never made a motion in the Senate that was not terminated by those words, we are entitled to assume that he did not omit them in the present instance. If so, the effect must have been singularly grotesque; although, perhaps, less so than if attention had been drawn to the customary phrase by its unexpected absence. At any rate, Carneades had an opportunity of carrying back one more illustration of ethical inconsistency wherewith to enliven his lectures on the ‘vanity of dogmatising’ and the absolute equilibrium of contradictory opinions.
214Absolute being is next distinguished from truth, which, we are told, has no objective existence237—a remarkable declaration, which throws much light on other parts of the Aristotelian system, and to which we shall subsequently return.238Plotinus passes by an almost insensible transition from the more elementary and analytical to the more constructive portion of his philosophy. This naturally falls into two great divisions, the one speculative and the other practical. It has to be shown by what necessity and in what order the great cosmic principles are evolved from their supreme source; and it has also to be shown in what way this knowledge is connected with the supreme interests of the human soul. The moral aspect of Neo-Platonism is not at first very clearly distinguished from its metaphysical aspect; and both find their most general solution in the same line of thought that has led us up to a contemplation of the ultimate One. For the successive gradations of our ascent represent, in an inverted order, the steps of creative energy by which all things are evolved from their primal source; while they directly correspond to the process of purification through which every soul must pass in returning from the exile of her separate and material existence to the happiness of identification with God. And here we at once come on the fundamental contradiction of the system. What we were so carefully taught to consider as one and nothing more, must now be conceived as the first cause and the supreme good. Plotinus does, indeed, try to evade the difficulty by saying that his absolute is only318 a cause in relation to other things, that it is not so much good as the giver of good, that it is only one in the sense of not being many.468 But after making these reservations, he continues to use the old terms as confidently as if they stood for the ideas usually associated with them. His fundamental error was to identify three distinct methods of connecting phenomena, in thought, with each other or with ourselves. We may view things in relation to their generating antecedents, in relation to other things with which they are associated by resemblance or juxtaposition, or in relation to the satisfaction of our own wants. These three modes of reference correspond to Aristotle’s efficient, formal, and final causes; but the word causation should be applied only to the first. Whether their unfortunate confusion both by Aristotle and by his successors was in any appreciable degree due to their having been associated by him under a common denomination, may reasonably be doubted. It is rather more probable that the same name was given to these different conceptions in consequence of their having first become partially identified in thought. Social arrangements, which have a great deal to do with primitive speculation, would naturally lead to such an identification. The king or other chief magistrate stands at the head of the social hierarchy and forms the bond of union among its members; he is the source of all authority; and his position, or, failing that, his favour, is regarded as the supreme good. Religion extends the same combination of attributes to her chief God; and philosophy, following on the lines of religion, employs it to unify the methods of science and morality.
The inconsistencies of a great philosophical system are best explained by examining its historical antecedents. We have already attempted to disentangle the roots from which Stoicism was nourished, but one of the most important has not yet been taken into account. This was the still continued influence of Parmenides, derived, if not from his original teaching, then from some one or more of the altered shapes through which it had passed. It has been shown how Zeno used the Heracleitean method to break down all the demarcations laboriously built up by Plato and Aristotle. Spirit was identified with matter; ideas with aerial currents; God with the world; rational with sensible evidence; volition with judgment; and emotion with thought. But the idea of a fundamental antithesis, expelled from every other department of enquiry, took hold with all the more energy on what, to Stoicism, was the most vital of all distinctions—that between right and wrong.57 Once grasp this transformation of a metaphysical into a moral principle, and every paradox of the system will be seen to follow from it with logical necessity. What the supreme Idea had been to Plato and self-thinking thought to Aristotle, that virtue became to the new school, simple, unchangeable, and self-sufficient. It must not only be independent of pleasure and pain, but absolutely 26incommensurable with them; therefore there can be no happiness except what it gives. As an indivisible unity, it must be possessed entirely or not at all; and being eternal, once possessed it can never be lost. Further, since the same action may be either right or wrong, according to the motive of its performance, virtue is nothing external, but a subjective disposition, a state of the will and the affections; or, if these are to be considered as judgments, a state of the reason. Finally, since the universe is organised reason, virtue must be natural, and especially consonant to the nature of man as a rational animal; while, at the same time, its existence in absolute purity being inconsistent with experience, it must remain an unattainable ideal.Among the scientific and literary men who were not pledged to any particular school, we find the elder Pliny rejecting the belief in immortality, not only as irrational but235 as the reverse of consolatory. It robs us, he declares, of Nature’s most especial boon, which is death, and doubles the pangs of dissolution by the prospect of continued existence elsewhere.361 Quintilian leaves the question undecided;362 Tacitus expresses himself doubtfully;363 and Galen, whose great physiological knowledge enabled him to see how fallacious were Plato’s arguments, while his philosophical training equally separated him from the materialists, also refuses to pronounce in favour of either side.364 What Juvenal thought is uncertain; but, from his general tone, we may conjecture that he leant to the negative side.365