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We have already observed that Scepticism among the ancients was often cultivated in connexion with some positive doctrine which it indirectly served to recommend. In the case of its last supporters, this was the study of medicine on an empirical as opposed to a deductive method. The Sceptical contention is that we cannot go beyond appearances; the empirical contention is, that all knowledge comes to us from experience, and that this only shows us how phenomena are related to one another, not how they are related to their underlying causes, whether efficient or final. These allied points of view have been brought into still more intimate association by modern thought, which, as will be shown in the concluding chapter, has sprung from a modified form of the ancient Scepticism, powerfully aided by a simultaneous development of physical science. At the same time, the new school have succeeded in shaking off the narrowness and timidity of their predecessors, who were still so far under the influence of the old dogmatists as to believe that there was an inherent opposition between observation and reasoning in the methods of discovery, between facts and explanations in the truths of science, and between antecedence and causation in the realities of Nature. In this respect, astronomy has done more for the right adjustment of our conceptions than any190 other branch of knowledge; and it is remarkable that Sextus Empiricus, the last eminent representative of ancient Scepticism, and the only one (unless Cicero is to be called a Sceptic) whose writings are still extant, should expressly except astronomy from the destructive criticism to which he subjects the whole range of studies included in what we should call the university curriculum of his time.301 We need not enter into an analysis of the ponderous compilation referred to; for nearly every point of interest which it comprises has already been touched on in the course of our investigation; and Sextus differs only from his predecessors by adding the arguments of the New Academy to those of Protagoras and Pyrrho, thus completing the Sceptical cycle. It will be enough to notice the singular circumstance that so copious and careful an enumeration of the grounds which it was possible to urge against dogmatism鈥攊ncluding, as we have seen, many still employed for the same or other purposes,鈥攕hould have omitted the two most powerful solvents of any. These were left for the exquisite critical acumen of Hume to discover. They relate to the conception of causation, and to the conception of our own personality as an indivisible, continuously existing substance, being attempts to show that both involve assumptions of an illegitimate character. Sextus comes up to the very verge of Hume鈥檚 objection to the former when he observes that causation implies relation, which can only exist in thought;302 but he does not ask how we come to think such a relation, still less does he connect it with the perception of phenomenal antecedence; and his attacks on the various mental faculties assumed by psychologists pass over the fundamental postulate of personal identity, thus leaving Descartes what seemed a safe foundation whereon to rebuild the edifice of metaphysical philosophy.

The systematising power of Aristotle, his faculty for bringing the isolated parts of a surface into co-ordination and continuity, is apparent even in those sciences with whose material truths he was utterly unacquainted. Apart from the falseness of their fundamental assumptions, his scientific treatises are, for their time, masterpieces of method. In this respect they far surpass his moral and metaphysical works, and they are also written in a much more vigorous style, occasionally even rising into eloquence. He evidently moves with much more assurance on the solid ground of external nature than in the cloudland of Platonic dialectics, or among the possibilities of an ideal morality. If, for example, we open his Physics, we shall find such notions as Causation, Infinity, Matter, Space, Time, Motion, and Force, for the first time in history separately discussed, defined, and made the foundation of natural philosophy. The treatise On the Heavens very properly regards the celestial movements as a purely mechanical problem, and strives throughout to bring theory and practice327 into complete agreement. While directly contradicting the truths of modern astronomy, it stands on the same ground with them; and anyone who had mastered it would be far better prepared to receive those truths than if he were only acquainted with such a work as Plato鈥檚 Timaeus. The remaining portions of Aristotle鈥檚 scientific encyclopaedia follow in perfect logical order, and correspond very nearly to Auguste Comte鈥檚 classification, if, indeed, they did not directly or indirectly suggest it. We cannot, however, view the labours of Aristotle with unmixed satisfaction until he comes on to deal with the provinces of natural history, comparative anatomy, and comparative psychology. Here, as we have shown, the subject exactly suited the comprehensive observation and systematising formalism in which he excelled. Here, accordingly, not only the method but the matter of his teaching is good. In theorising about the causes of phenomena he was behind the best science of his age; in dissecting the phenomena themselves he was far before it. Of course very much of what he tells was learned at second-hand, and some of it is not authentic. But to collect such masses of information from the reports of uneducated hunters, fishermen, grooms, shepherds, beemasters, and the like, required an extraordinary power of putting pertinent questions, such as could only be acquired in the school of Socratic dialectic. Nor should we omit to notice the vivid intelligence which enabled even ordinary Greeks to supply him with the facts required for his generalisations. But some of his most important researches must be entirely original. For instance, he must have traced the development of the embryo chicken with his own eyes; and, here, we have it on good authority that his observations are remarkable for their accuracy, in a field where accuracy, according to Caspar Friedrich Wolff, is almost impossible.210While not absolutely condemning suicide, Plotinus restricts the right of leaving this world within much narrower limits than were assigned to it by the Stoics. In violently separating herself from the body, the soul, he tells us, is acting under the influence of some evil passion, and he intimates that the mischievous effects of this passion will prolong themselves into the new life on which she is destined to enter.497 Translated into more abstract language, his meaning probably is that the feelings which ordinarily prompt to suicide, are such as would not exist in a well-regulated mind. It is333 remarkable that Schopenhauer, whose views of life were, on other points, the very reverse of those held by Plotinus, should have used very much the same argument against self-destruction. According to his theory, the will to life, which it should be our principal business to conquer, asserts itself strongly in the wish to escape from suffering, and only delays the final moment of peaceful extinction by rushing from one phase of existence to another. And in order to prove the possibility of such a revival, Schopenhauer was obliged to graft on his philosophy a theory of metempsychosis, which, but for this necessity, would certainly never have found a place in it at all. In this, as in many other instances, an ethical doctrine is apparently deduced from a metaphysical doctrine which has, in reality, been manufactured for its support. All systems do but present under different formulas a common fund of social sentiment. A constantly growing body of public opinion teaches us that we do not belong to ourselves, but to those about us, and that, in ordinary circumstances, it is no less weak and selfish to run away from life than to run away from death.

In order to understand how so vigorous an intellect could go so wildly astray, we must glance at his personal history, and at the manner in which his system seems to have been gradually built up.

A distinct parallelism may be traced in the lines of evolution along which we have accompanied our two opposing schools. While the Academicians were coming over to the Stoic theory of cognition, the Stoics themselves were moving in the same general direction, and seeking for an external reality more in consonance with their notions of certainty than the philosophy of their first teachers could supply. For, as originally constituted, Stoicism included a large element of scepticism, which must often have laid its advocates open to the charge of inconsistency from those who accepted the same principle in a more undiluted form. The Heracleitean flux adopted by Zeno as the physical basis of his system, was164 much better suited to a sceptical than to a dogmatic philosophy, as the use to which it was put by Protagoras and Plato sufficiently proved; and this was probably the reason why Bo锚thus and Panaetius partially discarded it in favour of a more stable cosmology. The dialectical studies of the school also tended to suggest more difficulties than they could remove. The comprehensive systematisation of Chrysippus, like that of Plato and Aristotle, had for its object the illustration of each topic from every point of view, and especially from the negative as well as from the positive side. The consequence was that his indefatigable erudition had collected a great number of logical puzzles which he had either neglected or found himself unable to solve. There would, therefore, be a growing inclination to substitute a literary and rhetorical for a logical training: and as we shall presently see, there was an extraneous influence acting in the same direction. Finally, the rigour of Stoic morality had been strained to such a pitch that its professors were driven to admit the complete ideality of virtue. Their sage had never shown himself on earth, at least within the historical period; and the whole world of human interests being, from the rational point of view, either a delusion or a failure, stood in permanent contradiction to their optimistic theory of Nature. The Sceptics were quite aware of this practical approximation to their own views, and sometimes took advantage of it to turn the tables on their opponents with telling effect. Thus, on the occasion of that philosophical embassy with an account of which the present chapter began, when a noble Roman playfully observed to Carneades, 鈥榊ou must think that I am not a Praetor as I am not a sage, and that Rome is neither a city nor a state,鈥 the great Sceptic replied, turning to his colleague Diogenes, 鈥楾hat is what my Stoic friend here would say.鈥262 And Plutarch, in two sharp attacks on the Stoics, written from the Academic point of view, and probably165 compiled from documents of a much earlier period,263 charges them with outraging common sense by their wholesale practical negations, to at least as great an extent as the Sceptics outraged it by their suspense of judgment. How the ethical system of Stoicism was modified so as to meet these criticisms has been related in a former chapter; and we have just seen how Posidonius, by his partial return to the Platonic psychology, with its division between reason and impulse, contributed to a still further change in the same conciliatory sense.It may safely be assumed that the prejudices once entertained against Epicureanism are now extinct. Whatever may have been the speculative opinions of its founder, he had as good a right to them as the Apostles had to theirs; nor did he stand further aloof from the popular religion of any age than Aristotle, who has generally been in high favour with theologians. His practical teaching was directed towards the constant inculcation of virtue; nor was it belied by the conduct either of himself or of his disciples, even judged by the standard of the schools to which they were most opposed. And some of his physical theories, once rejected as self-evidently absurd, are now proved to be in harmony with the sober conclusions of modern science. At any rate, it is not in this quarter, as our readers will doubtless have already perceived, that the old prejudices, if they still exist, are likely to find an echo. Just now, indeed, the danger is not that Epicurus should be depreciated, but that his merits should obtain far more than their proper meed of recognition. It seems to be forgotten that what was best in his physics he borrowed from others, and that what he added was of less than no value; that he was ignorant or careless of demonstrated truths; that his avowed principles of belief were inconsistent with any truth rising above the level of vulgar apprehension; and finally, that in his system scientific interests were utterly subordinated to practical interests.X.

Before entering on our task of reconstruction, we must turn aside to consider with what success the same enterprise has been attempted by modern German criticism, especially by its chief contemporary representative, the last and most distinguished historian of Greek philosophy. The result at which Zeller, following Schleiermacher, arrives is that the great achievement of Socrates was to put forward an adequate idea of knowledge; in other words, to show what true science ought to be, and what, as yet, it had never been, with the addition of a demand that all action should be based on such a scientific knowledge as its only sure foundation.87 To know a thing was to know its essence, its concept, the assemblage of qualities which together constitute its definition, and make it to be what it is. Former thinkers had also sought for knowledge, but not as knowledge, not with a clear notion of what it was that they really wanted. Socrates, on the other hand, required that men should always be prepared to give a strict account of the end which they had in view, and of the means by which they hoped to gain it. Further, it had been customary to single out for exclusive attention that quality of an object by which the observer happened to be most strongly impressed, passing over all the others; the consequence of which was that the philosophers had taken a one-sided view of facts, with the result of falling into hopeless disagreement among themselves; the Sophists had turned these contradictory points of view against one another, and thus effected their mutual destruction; while the dissolution of objective certainty had led to a corresponding dissolution of moral truth. Socrates accepts the Sophistic scepticism so far as it applies to the existing state of science, but does not push it to the same fatal con118clusion; he grants that current beliefs should be thoroughly sifted and, if necessary, discarded, but only that more solid convictions may be substituted for them. Here a place is found for his method of self-examination, and for the self-conscious ignorance attributed to him by Plato. Comparing his notions on particular subjects with his idea of what knowledge in general ought to be, he finds that they do not satisfy it; he knows that he knows nothing. He then has recourse to other men who declare that they possess the knowledge of which he is in search, but their pretended certainty vanishes under the application of his dialectic test. This is the famous Socratic irony. Finally, he attempts to come at real knowledge, that is to say, the construction of definitions, by employing that inductive method with the invention of which he is credited by Aristotle. This method consists in bringing together a number of simple and familiar examples from common experience, generalising from them, and correcting the generalisations by comparison with negative instances. The reasons that led Socrates to restrict his enquiries to human interests are rather lightly passed over by Zeller; he seems at a loss how to reconcile the alleged reform of scientific method with the complete abandonment of those physical investigations which, we are told, had suffered so severely from being cultivated on a different system.Thus much for the current prejudices which seemed likely to interfere with a favourable consideration of our subject. We have next to study the conditions by which the form of Greek ethical philosophy was originally determined. Foremost among these must be placed the moral conceptions already current long before systematic reflection could begin. What they were may be partly gathered from some wise saws attributed by the Greeks themselves to their Seven Sages, but probably current at a much earlier period. The pith of these maxims, taken collectively, is to recommend the qualities attributed by our own philosophic poet to his perfect woman:鈥

II.Characters, then, are not introduced that they may perform actions; but actions are represented for the sake of the characters who do them, or who suffer by them. It is not so much a ghostly apparition or a murder which interests us as the fact that the ghost appears to Hamlet, and that the murder303 is committed by Macbeth. And the same is true of the Greek drama, though not perhaps to the same extent. We may care for Oedipus chiefly on account of his adventures; but we care far more for what Prometheus or Clytemnestra, Antigone or Ajax, say about themselves than for what they suffer or what they do. Thus, and thus only, are we enabled to understand the tragic element in poetry, the production of pleasure by the spectacle of pain. It is not the satisfaction caused by seeing a skilful imitation of reality, for few have witnessed such awful events in real life as on the stage; nor is it pain, as such, which interests us, for the scenes of torture exhibited in some Spanish and Bolognese paintings do not gratify, they revolt and disgust an educated taste. The true tragic emotion is produced, not by the suffering itself, but by the reaction of the characters against it; for this gives, more than anything else, the idea of a force with which we can synergise, because it is purely mental; or by the helpless submission of the victims whom we wish to assist because they are lovable, and whom we love still more from our inability to assist them, through the transformation of arrested action into feeling, accompanied by the enjoyment proper to tender emotion. Hence the peculiar importance of the female parts in dramatic poetry. Aristotle tells us that it is bad art to represent women as nobler and braver than men, because they are not so in reality.185 Nevertheless, he should have noticed that on the tragic stage of Athens women first competed with men, then equalled, and finally far surpassed them in loftiness of character.186 But with his philosophy he could not see that, if heroines did not exist, it would be necessary to create them. For, if women are conceived as reacting against outward circumstances at all, their very helplessness will lead to the304 storing of a greater mental tension in the shape of excited thought and feeling debarred from any manifestation except in words; and it is exactly with this mental tension that the spectator can most easily synergise. The wrath of Orestes is not interesting, because it is entirely absorbed into the premeditation and execution of his vengeance. The passion of Electra is profoundly interesting, because it has no outlet but impotent denunciations of her oppressors, and abortive schemes for her deliverance from their yoke. Hence, also, Shakspeare produces some of his greatest effects by placing his male characters, to some extent, in the position of women, either through their natural weakness and indecision, as with Hamlet, and Brutus, and Macbeth, or through the paralysis of unproved suspicion, as with Othello; while the greatest of all his heroines, Lady Macbeth, is so because she has the intellect and will to frame resolutions of dauntless ambition, and eloquence to force them on her husband, without either the physical or the moral force to execute them herself. In all these cases it is the arrest of an electric current which produces the most intense heat, or the most brilliant illumination. Again, by their extreme sensitiveness, and by the natural desire felt to help them, women excite more pity, which, as we have said, means more love, than men; and this in the highest degree when their sufferings are undeserved. We see, then, how wide Aristotle went of the mark when he made it a rule that the sufferings of tragic characters should be partly brought on by their own fault, and that, speaking generally, they should not be distinguished for justice or virtue, nor yet for extreme wickedness.187 The 鈥榠mmoderate moderation鈥 of the Stagirite was never more infelicitously exhibited. For, in order to produce truly tragic effects, excess of every kind not only may, but must, be employed. It is by the reaction of heroic fortitude, either against unmerited outrage, or against the whole pressure of social law, that our synergetic interest is wound up305 to the intensest pitch. It is when we see a beautiful soul requited with evil for good that our eyes are filled with the noblest tears. Yet so absolutely perverted have men鈥檚 minds been by the Aristotelian dictum that Gervinus, the great Shakspearian critic, actually tries to prove that Duncan, to some extent, deserved his fate by imprudently trusting himself to the hospitality of Macbeth; that Desdemona was very imprudent in interceding for Cassio; and that it was treasonable for Cordelia to bring a French army into England! The Greek drama might have supplied Aristotle with several decisive contradictions of his canons. He should have seen that the Prometheus, the Antigone, and the Hippolytus are affecting in proportion to the pre-eminent virtue of their protagonists. The further fallacy of excluding very guilty characters is, of course, most decisively refuted by Shakspeare, whose Richard III., whose Iago, and whose Macbeth excite keen interest by their association of extraordinary villainy with extraordinary intellectual gifts.

So far we have followed the evolution of Plato鈥檚 philosophy as it may have been effected under the impulse of purely theoretical motives. We have now to consider what form was imposed on it by the more imperious exigencies of practical experience. Here, again, we find Plato taking up and continuing the work of Socrates, but on a vastly greater scale. There was, indeed, a kind of pre-established harmony between the expression of thought on the one hand and the increasing need for its application to life on the other. For the spread of public corruption had gone on pari passu with the development of philosophy. The teaching of Socrates was addressed to individuals, and dealt chiefly with private morality. On other points he was content to accept the law of the land and the established political constitution as sufficiently safe guides. He was not accustomed to see them defied or perverted into instruments of selfish aggrandisement; nor, apparently, had the possibility of such a contingency occurred to him. Still less did he imagine that all social institutions then existing were radically wrong. Hence the personal virtues held a more important place in his system than the social virtues. His attacks were directed230 against slothfulness and self-indulgence, against the ignorant temerity which hurried some young men into politics before their education was finished, and the timidity or fastidiousness which prevented others from discharging the highest duties of citizenship. Nor, in accepting the popular religion of his time, had he any suspicion that its sanctions might be invoked on behalf of successful violence and fraud. We have already shown how differently Plato felt towards his age, and how much deeper as well as more shameless was the demoralisation with which he set himself to contend. It must also be remembered how judicial proceedings had come to overshadow every other public interest; and how the highest culture of the time had, at least in his eyes, become identified with the systematic perversion of truth and right. These considerations will explain why Greek philosophy, while moving on a higher plane, passed through the same orbit which had been previously described by Greek poetry. Precisely as the lessons of moderation in Homer had been followed by the lessons of justice in Aeschylus, precisely as the religion which was a selfish traffic between gods and men, and had little to tell of a life beyond the grave, was replaced by the nobler faith in a divine guardianship of morality and a retributive judgment after death鈥攕o also did the Socratic ethics and the Socratic theology lead to a system which made justice the essence of morality and religion its everlasting consecration.

Nor was this all. As the world of sense was coming back into favour, the world of reason was falling into disrepute. Just as the old physical philosophy had been decomposed by the Sophisticism of Protagoras and Gorgias, so also the dialectic of Socrates was corrupted into the sophistry of Eubulides and Euthyd锚mus. Plato himself discovered that by reasoning deductively from purely abstract premises, contradictory conclusions could be established with apparently323 equal force. It was difficult to see how a decision could be arrived at except by appealing to the testimony of sense. And a moral reform could hardly be effected except by similarly taking into account the existing beliefs and customs of mankind.

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VII.This reaction had begun to make itself felt long before the birth of a philosophical literature in the Latin language. It may be traced to the time when the lecture-halls at Athens were first visited by Roman students, and Greek professors first received on terms of intimate companionship into the houses of Roman nobles. In each instance, but more especially in the latter, not only would the pupil imbibe new ideas from the master, but the master would suit his teaching to the tastes and capacities of the pupil. The result would be an intellectual condition somewhat resembling that which attended the popularisation of philosophy in Athens during the latter half of the fifth century B.C.; and all the more so as speculation had already spontaneously reverted to the Sophistic standpoint. The parallel will be still more complete if we take the word Sophist in its original and comprehensive sense. We may then say that while Carneades, with his entrancing eloquence and his readiness to argue both sides167 of a question, was the Protagoras of the new movement; Panaetius, the dignified rationalist and honoured friend of Laelius and the younger Scipio, its Prodicus; and Posidonius, the astronomer and encyclopaedic scholar, its Hippias, Phaedrus the Epicurean was its Anaxagoras or Democritus.

237II.Thus, while Spinoza draws to a head all the tendencies inherited from Greek philosophy, borrowing from the early physicists their necessarianism; from the Atomists, their exclusion of final causes, their denial of the supernatural, and their infinite worlds; from the Athenian school, their distinction between mind and body and between reason and sense; from Aristotle, his parallelism between causation and syllogism; from the Epicureans, their vindication of pleasure; and from the Stoics, their identification of belief with action, their conquest of passion and their devotion to humanity;鈥攊t is to the dominant Platonism of the seventeenth century that his system owes its foundation, its development, and its crown; for he begins by realising the abstract conception of being, and infers its absolute infinity from the misleading analogy of space, which is not an abstraction at all; deduces his conclusions according to the geometrical method recommended by Plato; and ends, like Plato, by translating dialectic formulas into the emotional language of religious faith.573

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