dbaidunews · 发布时间: 2020-09-25 19:06:45


This absolute separation of Form and Matter, under their new names of Thought and Extension, once grasped, various principles of Cartesianism will follow from it by logical necessity. First comes the exclusion of final causes from philosophy, or rather from Nature. There was not, as with Epicurus, any anti-theological feeling concerned in their rejection. With Aristotle, against whom Descartes is always protesting, the final cause was not a mark of designing intelligence imposed on Matter from without; it was only a particular aspect of Form, the realisation of what Matter was always striving after by virtue of its inherent potentiality. When Form was conceived only as pure thought, there could be no question of such a process; the most highly organised bodies being only modes of figured extension. The revival of Atomism had, no doubt, a great deal to do with the preference for a mechanical interpretation of life. Aristotle had himself shown with masterly clearness the difference between his view of Nature and that taken by Democritus; thus indicating beforehand the direction in which an alternative to his own teaching might be sought; and Bacon had, in fact, already referred with approval to the example set by Democritus in dealing with teleological enquiries.Timon, a celebrated disciple of Pyrrho, added another and, from the speculative point of view, a much more powerful argument, which, however, may equally have been139 borrowed from the master’s lectures. Readers of the Posterior Analytics will remember how strongly Aristotle dwells on the necessity of starting with first principles which are self-evidently true. The chain of demonstration must have something to hang on, it cannot be carried back ad infinitum. Now, Timon would not admit of such a thing as first principles. Every assumption, he says, must rest on some previous assumption, and as this process cannot be continued for ever, there can be no demonstration at all. This became a very favourite weapon with the later Sceptics, and, still at the suggestion of Aristotle, they added the further ‘trope’ of compelling their adversaries to choose between going back ad infinitum and reasoning in a circle—in other words, proving the premises by means of the conclusion. Modern science would not feel much appalled by the sceptical dilemma. Its actual first principles are only provisionally assumed as ultimate, and it is impossible for us to tell how much farther their analysis may be pursued; while, again, their validity is guaranteed by the circular process of showing that the consequences deduced from them agree with the facts of experience. But as against those modern philosophers who, in adherence to the Aristotelian tradition, still seek to base their systems on first principles independent of any individual experience, the sceptical argument is unanswerable, and has even been strengthened by the progress of knowledge. To this day, thinkers of different schools cannot agree about the foundations of belief, and what to one seems self-evidently true, is to another either conceivably or actually false. To Mr. Herbert Spencer the persistence of force is a necessary truth; to Prof. Stanley Jevons its creation is a perfectly possible contingency; while to others, again, the whole conception of force, as understood by Mr. Spencer, is so absolutely unmeaning that they would decline to entertain any proposition about the invariability of the objective reality which it is supposed to represent. And when the140 à priori dogmatist affects to treat the negations of his opponents as something that they do not think, but only think they think, they may, with perfect fairness, attribute his rejection of their beliefs—as, for example, free-will—to a similar subjective illusion. Moreover, the pure experimentalists can point to a circumstance not foreseen by the ancient sceptics, which is that propositions once generally regarded as incontrovertible by thinking men, are now as generally abandoned by them.


We now understand why Protagoras, in the Platonic dialogue bearing his name, should glance scornfully at the89 method of instruction pursued by Hippias, with his lectures on astronomy, and why he prefers to discuss obscure passages in the poets. The quarrel between a classical and a scientific education was just then beginning, and Protagoras, as a Humanist, sided with the classics. Again, he does not think much of the ‘great and sane and noble race of brutes.’ He would not, like the Cynics, take them as examples of conduct. Man, he says, is naturally worse provided for than any animal; even the divine gift of wisdom would not save him from extinction without the priceless social virtues of justice and reverence, that is, the regard for public opinion which Mr. Darwin, too, has represented as the strongest moralising power in primitive society. And, as the possession of these qualities constituted the fundamental distinction between men and brutes, so also did the advantage of civilisation over barbarism rest on their superior development, a development due to the ethical instruction received by every citizen from his earliest infancy, reinforced through after-life by the sterner correction of legal punishments, and completed by the elimination of all individuals demonstrably unfitted for the social state. Protagoras had no sympathy with those who affect to prefer the simplicity of savages to the fancied corruption of civilisation. Hear how he answers the Rousseaus and Diderots of his time:—

During the month’s respite accidentally allowed him, Socrates had one more opportunity of displaying that stedfast obedience to the law which had been one of his great guiding principles through life. The means of escaping from prison were offered to him, but he refused to avail himself of them, according to Plato, that the implicit contract of loyalty to which his citizenship had bound him might be preserved unbroken. Nor was death unwelcome to him although it is not true that he courted it, any desire to figure as a martyr being quite alien from the noble simplicity of his character. But he had reached an age when the daily growth in wisdom which for him alone made life worth living, seemed likely to be exchanged for a gradual and melancholy decline. That this past progress was a good in itself he never doubted, whether it was to be continued in other worlds, or succeeded by the happiness of an eternal sleep. And we may be sure that he169 would have held his own highest good to be equally desirable for the whole human race, even with the clear prevision that its collective aspirations and efforts cannot be prolonged for ever.

His analysis of individuality was the first step in this direction. We have seen that he treats definition as a process of gradual specification, beginning with the most general notions, and working down by successive differentiations to the most particular. Now, the completed conception is itself the integration of all these differences, the bond of union holding them together. Turning to an antithetical order of ideas, to the material substance of which bodies are composed, and its various transformations, we find him working out the same vein of thought. According to the Aristotelian chemistry, an ultimate indeterminate unknowable something clothes itself with one or other of the opposing attributes, dry and moist, hot and cold; and when two of these are combined, manifests itself to our senses as one of the four elements. The elements combine in a particular manner to form homogeneous animal tissues, and these again are united into heterogeneous organs, which together constitute the living body. Here, then, we have two analogous series of specifications—one conceptual and leading down from the abstract to the concrete, the other physical, and leading up from the vague, the simple, and the homogeneous, to the definite, the complex, and the heterogeneous. Aristotle embraces both processes under a single comprehensive generalisation. He describes each of them as the continuous conversion of a346 possibility into an actuality. For the sake of greater clearness, let us take the liberty of substituting modern scientific terms for his cumbrous and obsolete classifications. We shall then say that the general notion, living thing, contains under it the two less general notions—plant and animal. If we only know of any given object that it has life, there is implied the possibility of its being either the one or the other, but not both together. On determining it to be (say) an animal, we actualise one of the possibilities. But the actualisation is only relative, and immediately becomes the possibility of being either a vertebrate or an invertebrate animal. The actuality vertebrate becomes the possibility of viviparous or oviparous, and so on through successive differentiations until we come (say) to a man. Now let us begin at the material end. Here are a mass of molecules, which, in their actual state are only carbon, nitrogen, and so forth. But they are potential starch, gluten, water, or any other article of food that might be named; for under favourable conditions they will combine to form it. Once actualised as such, they are possible blood-cells; these are possible tissues; these, again, possible organs, and lastly we come to the consensus of vital functions, which is a man. What the raw material is to the finished product, that are the parts to the entire organism, the elements to the compound, the genus to the species, and such in its very widest sense is potency to realisation, δ?ναμι? to ?ντελ?χεια, throughout the universe of growth and decay.246

Plato does, no doubt, make it a charge against the Sophists that their doctrines are not only false and immoral, but that they are put together without any regard for logical coherence. It would seem, however, that this style of attack belongs rather to the later and constructive than to the earlier and receptive period of his intellectual development. The original cause of his antagonism to the professional teachers seems to have been their general pretensions to knowledge, which, from the standpoint of universal scepticism, were, of course, utterly illusive; together with a feeling of aristocratic contempt for a calling in which considerations of187 pecuniary interest were involved, heightened in this instance by a conviction that the buyer received nothing better than a sham article in exchange for his money. Here, again, a parallel suggests itself with the first preaching of the Gospel. The attitude of Christ towards the scribes and Pharisees, as also that of St. Paul towards Simon Magus, will help us to understand how Plato, in another order of spiritual teaching, must have regarded the hypocrisy of wisdom, the intrusion of fraudulent traders into the temple of Delphic inspiration, and the sale of a priceless blessing whose unlimited diffusion should have been its own and only reward.

233That we, by Thee in honour set,

The Epicurean philosophy of external Nature was used as an instrument for destroying the uncomfortable belief in Divine Providence. The Epicurean philosophy of mind was used to destroy the still more uncomfortable belief in man’s immortality. As opinions then stood, the task was a comparatively easy one. In our discussion of Stoicism, we observed that the spiritualism of Plato and Aristotle was far before their age, and was not accepted or even understood by their countrymen for a long time to come. Moreover, Aristotle did not agree with his master in thinking that the personal eternity of the soul followed from its immateriality. The belief of the Stoics in a prolongation of individual existence until the destruction of all created things by fire, was, even in that very limited form, inconsistent with their avowed materialism, and had absolutely no influence on their practical89 convictions. Thus Plato’s arguments were alone worth considering. For Epicurus, the whole question was virtually settled by the principle, which he held in common with the Stoics, that nothing exists but matter, its attributes, and its relations. He accepted, it is true, the duality of soul and body, agreeing, in this respect also, with the Stoics and the earlier physicists; and the familiar antithesis of flesh and spirit is a survival of his favourite phraseology;173 but this very term ‘flesh’ was employed to cover the assumption that the body to which he applied it differed not in substance but in composition from its animating principle. The latter, a rather complex aggregate, consists proximately of four distinct elements, imagined, apparently, for the purpose of explaining its various functions, and, in the last analysis, of very fine and mobile atoms.174 When so much had been granted, it naturally followed that the soul was only held together by the body, and was immediately dissolved on being separated from it—a conclusion still further strengthened by the manifest dependence of psychic on corporeal activities throughout the period of their joint existence. Thus all terrors arising from the apprehension of future torments were summarily dispelled.

Besides the encouragement which it gave to kind offices between friends and neighbours, the Stoic doctrine of humanity and mutual love was honourably exemplified in Seneca’s emphatic condemnation of the gladiatorial games and of the40 horrible abuses connected with domestic slavery in Rome.86 But we miss a clear perception that such abuses are always and everywhere the consequences of slavery; and the outspoken abolitionism of the naturalists alluded to by Aristotle does not seem to have been imitated by their successors in later ages.87 The most one can say is that the fiction of original liberty was imported into Roman jurisprudence through the agency of Stoic lawyers, and helped to familiarise men’s minds with the idea of universal emancipation before political and economical conditions permitted it to be made a reality.

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