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The history of Neo-Platonism, subsequently to the death of Plotinus, decomposes itself into several distinct tendencies, pursuing more or less divergent lines of direction. First of all, it was drawn into the supernaturalist movement against which it had originally been, in part at least, a reaction and a protest. One sees from the life of its founder how far his two favourite disciples, Amelius and Porphyry, were from sharing356 his superiority to the superstitions of the age. Both had been educated under Pythagorean influences, which were fostered rather than repressed by the new philosophy. With Porphyry, theoretical interests are, to a great extent, superseded by practical interests; and, in practice, the religious and ascetic predominates over the purely ethical element. Still, however great may have been his aberrations, they never went beyond the limits of Hellenic tradition. Although of Syrian extraction, his attitude towards Oriental superstition was one of uncompromising hostility; and in writing against Christianity, his criticism of the Old Testament seems to have closely resembled that of modern rationalism. But with Porphyry鈥檚 disciple, Iamblichus, every restraint is thrown aside, the wildest Oriental fancies are accepted as articles of belief, and the most senseless devotional practices are inculcated as means towards the attainment of a truly spiritual life.

The final defeat of polytheism proved, in some respects, an advantage to Neo-Platonism, by compelling it to exchange theological controversy for studies which could be prosecuted, at least for a time, without giving umbrage to the dominant religion. At Alexandria the new spiritualism was associated, on genuinely Platonic principles, with the teaching of geometry by the noble and ill-fated Hypatia. In all the Neo-Platonic schools, whether at Rome, at Alexandria, at Constantinople, or at Athens, the writings of Plato and Aristotle were attentively studied, and made the subject of numerous commentaries, many of which are still extant. This return to the two great masters of idealism was, as we have already said, the most valuable result of the metaphysical revival, and probably contributed more than any other cause to the preservation of their works amidst the general wreck of ancient philosophical literature. Finally, efforts were made to present the doctrine of Plotinus under a more popular or a more scientific form, and to develope it into systematic completeness.

If the earliest of Plato鈥檚 enquiries, while they deal with the same subjects and are conducted on the same method as those cultivated by Socrates, evince a breadth of view surpassing anything recorded of him by Xenophon, they also exhibit traces of an influence disconnected with and inferior in value to his. On more than one occasion121 Plato reasons, or rather quibbles, in a style which he has elsewhere held up to ridicule as characteristic of the Sophists, with such success that the name of sophistry has clung to it ever since.186 Indeed, some of the verbal fallacies employed are so transparent that we can hardly suppose them to be unintentional, and we are forced to conclude that the young despiser of human wisdom was resolved to maintain his thesis with any weapons, good or bad, which came to hand. And it seems much more likely that he learned the eristic art from Protagoras or from his disciples than from Socrates. Plato spent a large part of his life in opposing the Sophists鈥攖hat is to say, the paid professors of wisdom and virtue; but in spite of, or rather perhaps because of, this very opposition, he was profoundly affected by their teaching and example. It is quite conceivable, although we do not find it stated as a fact, that he resorted to them for instruction when a young man, and before coming under the influence of Socrates, an event which did not take place until he was twenty years old; or he may have been directed to them by Socrates himself. With all its originality, his style bears traces of a rhetorical training in the more elaborate passages, and the Sophists were the only teachers of rhetoric then to be found. His habit of clothing philosophical lessons in the form of a myth seems also to have been borrowed from them. It would, therefore, not be surprising that he should cultivate their argumentative legerdemain side by side with the more strict and severe discipline of Socratic dialectics.

Yet, while the Stoics were far from anticipating the methods of modern Utilitarianism, they were, in a certain sense, strict Utilitarians鈥攖hat is to say, they measured the goodness or badness of actions by their consequences; in other words, by39 their bearing on the supposed interest of the individual or of the community. They did not, it is true, identify interest with pleasure or the absence of pain; but although, in our time, Hedonism and Utilitarianism are, for convenience, treated as interchangeable terms, they need not necessarily be so. If any one choose to regard bodily strength, health, wealth, beauty, intellect, knowledge, or even simple existence, as the highest good and the end conduciveness to which determines the morality of actions, he is a Utilitarian; and, even if it could be shown that a maximum of happiness would be ensured by the attainment of his end, he would not on that account become a Hedonist. Now it is certain that the early Stoics, at least, regarded the preservation of the human race as an end which rightfully took precedence of every other consideration; and, like Charles Austin, they sometimes pushed their principles to paradoxical or offensive extremes, apparently for no other purpose than that of affronting the common feelings of mankind,84 without remembering that such feelings were likely to represent embodied experiences of utility. Thus鈥攁part from their communistic theories鈥攖hey were fond of specifying the circumstances in which incest would become legitimate; and they are said not only to have sanctioned cannibalism in cases of extreme necessity, but even to have recommended its introduction as a substitute for burial or cremation; although this, we may hope, was rather a grim illustration of what they meant by moral indifference than a serious practical suggestion.85We have now concluded our survey of the first great mental antithesis, that between reason on the one hand, and sense and opinion on the other. The next antithesis, that between reason and passion, will occupy us a much shorter time. With it we pass from theory to practice, from metaphysics and logic to moral philosophy. But, as we saw in the preceding chapter, Aristotle is not a practical genius; for him the supreme interest of life is still the acquisition of knowledge. Theorising activity corresponds to the celestial world, in which there can be neither opposition nor excess; while passion corresponds to the sublunary sphere, where order is only preserved by the balancing of antithetical forces; and the moderating influence of reason, to the control exercised by the higher over the lower system.

Historians often speak as if philosophy took an entirely fresh start at different epochs of its existence. One such break is variously associated with Descartes, or Bacon, or some one of their Italian predecessors. In like manner, the introduction of Christianity, coupled with the closing of the Athenian schools by Justinian, is considered, as once was the suppression of the West-Roman Caesarate by Odoacer, to mark the beginning of a new r茅gime. But there can be no more a real break in the continuity of intellectual than in the continuity of political history, beyond what sleep or inactivity may simulate in the life of the organic aggregate no less than in the life of the organic individual. In each instance, the thread is taken up where it was dropped. If the rest of the world has been advancing meanwhile, new tendencies will come into play, but only by first attaching themselves to older lines of movement. Sometimes, again, what seems to be a revolution is, in truth, the revival or liberation of an earlier movement, through the decay or destruction of beliefs364 which have hitherto checked its growth. Thus the systems of Plato and Aristotle, after carrying all before them for a brief period, were found unsuitable, from their vast comprehension and high spirituality, to the undeveloped consciousness of their age, and were replaced by popularised versions of the sceptical or naturalistic philosophies which they had endeavoured to suppress. And when these were at length left behind by the forward movement of the human mind, speculative reformers spontaneously reverted to the two great Socratic thinkers for a better solution of the problems in debate. After many abortive efforts, a teacher appeared possessing sufficient genius to fuse their principles into a seemingly coherent and comprehensive whole. By combining the Platonic and Aristotelian spiritualism with a dynamic element borrowed from Stoicism, Plotinus did for an age of intellectual decadence what his models had done in vain for an age of intellectual growth. The relation in which he stood to Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Scepticism, reproduced the relation in which they stood to the various physical and sophistic schools of their time; but the silent experience of six centuries won for him a much more enduring success.Scepticism, as a philosophical principle, is alien from early Greek thought; but it is pervaded by a negative tendency exhibited in four different directions, all converging towards the later attitude of suspensive doubt. There are sharp criticisms on the popular mythology; there are protests against the ascription of reality to sensible appearances; there are contemptuous references on the part of some philosophers to the opinions held by others; and there are occasional lamentations over the difficulty of getting at any truth at all. The importance, however, of these last utterances has been considerably exaggerated both in ancient and modern times. For, in some instances, they are attributable solely to the distrust of sense-perception, and in others they seem to express nothing more than a passing mood against which we must set the dogmatic conclusions elsewhere enunciated with perfect confidence by the same thinkers.219 At the same time, we have to note, as an illustration of the standing connexion between theological belief and that kind of scepticism which is shown by distrust in man鈥檚 power of discovering the truth for himself, that the strongest expressions of such a distrust are to be found in the two most religious of the pre-Socratic thinkers, Xenophanes and Empedocles.

Yet another step remained to take. Punishment must be transferred from a man鈥檚 innocent children to the man himself in a future life. But the Olympian theology was, originally at least, powerless to effect this revolution. Its gods, being personifications of celestial phenomena, had nothing to do with the dark underworld whither men descended after death. There existed, however, side by side with the brilliant religion of courts and camps which Greek poetry has made so familiar to us, another religion more popular with simple country-folk,53 to whom war meant ruin, courts of justice a means invented by kings for exacting bribes, sea-voyages a senseless imprudence, chariot-racing a sinful waste of money, and beautiful women drones in the human hive, demons of extravagance invented by Zeus for the purpose of venting his spite against mankind. What interest could these poor people take in the resplendent guardians of their hereditary oppressors, in H锚r锚 and Ath锚n锚, Apollo and Poseid?n, Artemis and Aphrodit锚? But they had other gods peculiar to themselves, whose worship was wrapped in mystery, partly that its objects need not be lured away by the attraction of richer offerings elsewhere, partly because the activity of these Chthonian deities, as they were called, was naturally associated with darkness and secresy. Presiding over birth and death, over seed-time and harvest and vintage, they personified the frost-bound sleep of vegetation in winter and its return from a dark underworld in spring. Out of their worship grew stories which told how Persephon锚, the fair daughter of D锚m锚t锚r, or Mother Earth, was carried away by Pluto to reign with him over the shades below, but after long searching was restored to her mother for eight months in every year; and how Dionysus, the wine-god, was twice born, first from67 the earth burned up and fainting under the intolerable fire of a summer sky, respectively personified as Semel锚 and her lover Zeus, then from the protecting mist wrapped round him by his divine father, of whom it formed a part. Dionysus, too, was subject to alternations of depression and triumph, from the recital of which Attic drama was developed, and gained a footing in the infernal regions, whither we accompany him in the Frogs of Aristophanes. Another country god was Herm锚s, who seems to have been associated with planting and possession as well as with the demarcation and exchange of property, and who was also a conductor of souls to Hades. Finally, there were the Erinyes, children of night and dwellers in subterranean darkness; they could breed pestilence and discord, but could also avert them; they could blast the produce of the soil or increase its luxuriance and fertility; when blood was spilt on the ground, they made it blossom up again in a harvest of retributive hatred; they pursued the guilty during life, and did not relax their grasp after death; all law, whether physical or moral, was under their protection; the same Erinyes who, in the Odyssey, avenge on Oedipus the suicide of his mother, in the Iliad will not allow the miraculous speaking of a horse to continue; and we have seen in the last chapter how, according to Heracleitus, it is they who also prevent the sun from transgressing his appointed limits.54 D锚m锚t锚r and Persephon锚, too, seem to have been law-giving goddesses, as their great festival, celebrated by women alone, was called the Thesmophoria, while eternal happiness was promised to those who had been initiated into their mysteries at Eleusis; and we also find that moral maxims were graven on the marble busts of Herm锚s placed along every thoroughfare in Athens. We can thus understand why the mutilation of these Hermae caused such68 rage and terror, accompanied, as it was rumoured to be, by a profanation of the Eleusinian mysteries; for any attack on the deities in question would seem to prefigure an attack on the settled order of things, the popular rights which they both symbolised and protected.

We have illustrated the position of Cicero by reference to the master who, more than any other Greek philosopher, seems to have satisfied his ideal of perfect wisdom. We must now observe that nothing is better calculated to show how inadequate was the view once universally taken of Socrates, and still, perhaps, taken by all who are not scholars, than that it should be applicable in so many points to Cicero as well. For, while the influence of the one on human thought was the greatest ever exercised by a single individual, the influence of the other was limited to the acceleration of a movement already in full activity, and moreover tending on the whole in a retrograde direction. The immeasurable superiority of the Athenian lies in his dialectical method. It was not by a mere elimination of differences that he hoped to establish a general agreement, but by reasoning down from admitted principles, which were themselves to be the result of scientific induction brought to bear on a comprehensive and ever-widening area of experience. Hence his scepticism, which was directed against authority, tended as much to stimulate enquiry as that of the Roman declaimer, which was directed against reason, tended to deaden or to depress it. Hence, also, the political philosophy of Socrates was as revolutionary as that of his imitator was conservative. Both were, in a certain sense, aristocrats; but while the aristocracy176 of the elegant rhetorician meant a clique of indolent and incapable nobles, that of the sturdy craftsman meant a band of highly-trained specialists maintained in power by the choice, the confidence, and the willing obedience of an intelligent people. And while the religion of Cicero was a blind reliance on providence supplemented by priestcraft in this world, with the hope, if things came to the worst, of a safe retreat from trouble in the next; the religion of Socrates was an active co-operation with the universal mind, an attempt to make reason and the will of God prevail on earth, with the hope, if there was any future state, of carrying on in it the intellectual warfare which alone had made life worth living here. No less a contrast could be expected between the orator who turned to philosophy only for the occupation of a leisure hour, or for relief from the pangs of disappointed ambition, and the thinker who gave her his whole existence as the elect apostle and martyr of her creed.III.Besides the revival of Platonism, three causes had conspired to overthrow the supremacy of Aristotle. The literary Renaissance with its adoration for beauty of form was alienated by the barbarous dialect of Scholasticism; the mystical theology of Luther saw in it an ally both of ecclesiastical authority and of human reason; and the new spirit of passionate revolt against all tradition attacked the accepted philosophy in common with every other branch of the official university curriculum. Before long, however, a reaction set in. The innovators discredited themselves by an extravagance, an ignorance, a credulity, and an intolerance worse than anything in the teaching which they decried. No sooner was the Reformation organised as a positive doctrine than it fell back for support on the only model of systematic thinking at that time to be found. The Humanists were conciliated by having the original text of Aristotle placed before them; and they readily believed, what was not true, that it contained a wisdom which had eluded mediaeval research. But the great scientific movement of the sixteenth century contributed, more than any other impulse, to bring about an Aristotelian reaction. After winning immortal triumphs in every branch of art and literature, the Italian intellect threw itself with equal vigour into the investigation of physical phenomena. Here Plato could give little help, whereas Aristotle supplied a methodised description of the whole field to be explored, and contributions of extraordinary value towards the under372standing of some, at least, among its infinite details. And we may measure the renewed popularity of his system not only by the fact that Cesalpino, the greatest naturalist of the age, professed himself its adherent, but also by the bitterness of the criticisms directed against it, and the involuntary homage offered by rival systems which were little more than meagre excerpts from the Peripatetic ontology and logic.

The words last quoted, which in a Christian sense are true enough, lead us over to the contrasting view of Aristotle鈥檚 theology, to the false theory of it held by critics like Prof. St. George Mivart. The Stagirite agrees with Catholic theism in accepting a personal God, and he agrees with the First Article of the English Church, though not with the Pentateuch, in saying that God is without parts or passions; but there his agreement ceases. Excluding such a thing as divine interference with nature, his theology of course excludes the possibility of revelation, inspiration, miracles, and grace. Nor is this a mere omission; it is a necessity of the system. If there can353 be no existence without time, no time without motion, no motion without unrealised desire, no desire without an ideal, no ideal but eternally self-thinking thought鈥攖hen it logically follows that God, in the sense of such a thought, must not interest himself in the affairs of men. Again, Aristotelianism equally excludes the arguments by which modern theologians have sought to prove the existence of God. Here also the system is true to its contemporaneous, statical, superficial character. The First Mover is not separated from us by a chain of causes extending through past ages, but by an intervening breadth of space and the wheels within wheels of a cosmic machine. Aristotle had no difficulty in conceiving what some have since declared to be inconceivable, a series of antecedents without any beginning in time; it was rather the beginning of such a series that he could not make intelligible to himself. Nor, as we have seen, did he think that the adaptation in living organisms of each part to every other required an external explanation. Far less did it occur to him that the production of impressions on our senses was due to the agency of a supernatural power. It is absolutely certain that he would have rejected the Cartesian argument, according to which a perfect being must exist if it be only conceivable鈥攅xistence being necessarily involved in the idea of perfection.252 Finally, not recognising such a faculty as conscience, he would not have admitted it to be the voice of God speaking in the soul.Corresponding to the universal space which contains all particular spaces, there was, in the Neo-Platonic system, a universal Thought which contained all particular thoughts,鈥攖he Nous about which we heard so much in studying Plotinus.405 Such a conception is utterly strange to the modern mind, but it was familiar enough to Spinoza; and we can see how it would be suggested by the common forms of reasoning. The tendency of syllogism is either to subsume lower under higher notions until a summum genus is reached, or to resolve all subjects into a single predicate, or to connect all predicates with a single subject. The analogies of space, too, would tell in the same direction, bringing nearer the idea of a vast thought-sea in which all particular thoughts, or what to a Cartesian meant the same thing, all particular minds, were contained. And Neo-Platonism showed how this universal Mind or Thought could, like the space which it so much resembled, be interpreted as the product of a still higher principle. To complete the parallelism, it remained to show that Thought, which before had seemed essentially finite, is, on the contrary, co-infinite with Extension. How this was done will appear a little further on.

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The thorough-going condemnation of passion was explained away to a certain extent by allowing the sage himself to feel a slight touch of the feelings which fail to shake his determination, like a scar remaining after the wound is healed; and by admitting the desirability of sundry emotions, which, though carefully distinguished from the passions, seem to have differed from them in degree rather than in kind.59According to Sir A. Grant, it is by the mystical and poetical side of his nature that Plato differs from Aristotle. The one 鈥榓spired to a truth above the truth of scientific knowledge鈥; the other to 鈥榤ethodised experience and the definite.鈥182 Now, setting aside the question whether there is any truth above the truth of scientific knowledge, we doubt very much whether Plato believed in its existence. He held that the most valuable truth was that which could be imparted to others by a process even more rigorous than mathematical reasoning; and there was no reality, however transcendent, that he did not hope to bring within the grasp of a dialectic without which even the meanest could not be understood. He did, indeed, believe that, so far, the best and wisest of mankind had owed much more to a divinely implanted instinct than to any conscious chain of reflection; but he distinctly293 asserted the inferiority of such guidance to the light of scientific knowledge, if this could be obtained, as he hoped that it could. On the other hand, Aristotle was probably superior to Plato as a poet; and in speaking about the highest realities he uses language which, though less rich and ornate than his master鈥檚, is not inferior to it in force and fervour; while his metaphysical theories contain a large element of what would now be considered mysticism, that is, he often sees evidence of purpose and animation where they do not really exist. His advantage in definiteness is, of course, indisputable, but this was, perhaps, because he came after Plato and profited by his lessons.Out of this eternal unchanging divine substance, which he calls aether, are formed the heavenly bodies and the transparent spheres containing them. But there is something beyond it of an even higher and purer nature. Aristotle proves, with great subtlety, from his fundamental assumptions, that the movement of an extended substance cannot be self-caused. He also proves that motion must be absolutely continuous and without a beginning. We have, therefore, no choice but to accept the existence of an unextended, immaterial, eternal, and infinite Power on which the whole cosmos depends.

This preference of pure abstract speculation to beneficent290 action may be traced to the influence of Aristotle. Some of the most enthusiastic expressions used by Plotinus in speaking of his supreme principle seem to have been suggested by the Metaphysics and the last book of the Nicomachean Ethics. The self-thinking thought of the Stagirite does not, indeed, take the highest rank with him. But it is retained in his system, and is only relegated to a secondary place because, for reasons which we shall explain hereafter, it does not fulfil equally well with Plato鈥檚 Idea of Good, the condition of absolute and indivisible unity, without which a first principle could not be conceived by any Greek philosopher. But this apparent return to the standpoint of the Republic really involves a still wider departure from its animating spirit. In other words, Plotinus differs from Aristotle as Aristotle himself had differed from Plato; he shares the same speculative tendency, and carries it to a greater extreme.




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