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In the last chapter we dealt at length with the theories of art, and especially of tragic poetry, propounded in Aristotle鈥檚 Poetics. For the sake of formal completeness, it may be mentioned here that those theories are adapted to the general scheme of his systematic philosophy. The plot or plan of a work answers to the formal or rational element in Nature, and this is why Aristotle so immensely over-estimates its importance. And, just as in his moral philosophy, the ethical element, represented by character-drawing, is strictly subordinated to it. The centre of equilibrium is, however, not supplied by virtue, but by exact imitation of Nature, so that the characters must not deviate very far from mediocrity in the direction either of heroism or of wickedness.

172Zeno had more delicacy or less fortitude than Hipparchia; and the very meagre intellectual fare provided by Crates must have left his inquisitive mind unsatisfied. Accordingly we find him leaving this rather disappointing substitute for Socrates, to study philosophy under Stilpo the Megarian dialectician and Polemo the head of the Academy;14 while we know that he must have gone back to Heracleitus for the physical basis from which contemporary speculation had by this time cut itself completely free. At length, about the beginning of the third century B.C., Zeno, after having been a learner for twenty years, opened a school on his own account. As if to mark the practical bearing of his doctrine he chose one of the most frequented resorts in the city for its promulgation. There was at Athens a portico called the Poecile Stoa, adorned with frescoes by Polygn?tus, the greatest painter of the Cimonian period. It was among the monuments of that wonderful city, at once what the Loggia dei Lanzi is to Florence, and what Raphael鈥檚 Stanze are to Rome; while, like the Place de la Concorde in Paris, it was darkened by the terrible associations of a revolutionary epoch. A century before Zeno鈥檚 time fourteen hundred Athenian citizens had been slaughtered under its colonnades by order of the Thirty. 鈥業 will purify the Stoa,鈥 said the Cypriote stranger;15 and the feelings still associated with the word Stoicism prove how nobly his promise was fulfilled.

It was with the help of this theory that Epicurus explained and defended the current belief in the existence of gods. The divine inhabitants of the intermundia, or empty spaces separating world from world, are, like all other beings, composed of atoms, and are continually throwing off fine images, some of which make their way unaltered to our earth and reveal themselves to the senses, particularly during sleep, when we are most alive to the subtlest impressions on our perceptive organs. With the usual irrationality of a theologian, Epicurus remained blind to the fact that gods who were constantly throwing off even the very thinnest films could not possibly survive through all eternity. Neither did he explain how images larger than the pupil of the eye could pass through its aperture while preserving their original proportions unaltered.318We are now in a position to understand the full force of Descartes鈥 Cogito ergo sum. It expresses the substantiality of self-conscious Form, the equal claim of thought with extension to be recognised as an element of the universe. This recognition of self-consciousness as the surest reality was, indeed, far from being new. The Greek Sceptics had never gone to the length of doubting their own personal existence. On the contrary, they professed a sort of subjective idealism. Refusing to go beyond their own consciousness, they found in its undisturbed self-possession the only absolute satisfaction that life could afford. But knowledge and reality had become so intimately associated with something independent of mind, and mind itself with a mere reflection of reality, that the denial of an external world393 seemed to the vulgar a denial of existence itself. And although Aristotle had found the highest, if not the sole absolute actuality in self-thinking thought, he projected it to such a distance from human personality that its bearing on the sceptical controversy had passed unperceived. Descartes began his demonstration at the point where all the ancient systems had converged, but failed to discover in what direction the conditions of the problem required that they should be prolonged. No mistake can be greater than to regard him as the precursor of German philosophy. The latter originated quite independently of his teaching, though not perhaps of his example, in the combination of a much profounder scepticism with a much wider knowledge of dogmatic metaphysics. His method is the very reverse of true idealism. The Cogito ergo sum is not a taking up of existence into thought, but rather a conversion of thought into one particular type of existence. Now, as we have seen, all other existence was conceived as extension, and however carefully thought might be distinguished from this as absolutely indivisible, it was speedily reduced to the same general pattern of inclusion, limitation, and expansion. Whereas Kant, Fichte, and Hegel afterwards dwelt on the form of thought, Descartes attended only to its content, or to that in which it was contained. In other words, he began by considering not how he thought but what he thought and whence it came鈥攈is ideas and their supposed derivation from a higher sphere. Take, for example, his two great methods for proving the existence of God. We have in our minds the idea of a perfect being鈥攁t least Descartes professed to have such an idea in his mind,鈥攁nd we, as imperfect beings, could not have originated it for ourselves. It must, therefore, have been placed there by a perfect being acting on us from without. It is here taken for granted that the mechanical equivalence between material effects and their causes must obtain in a world where spatial relations, and therefore measurement, are presumably394 unknown. And, secondly, existence, as a perfection, is involved in the idea of a perfect being; therefore such a being can only be conceived as existing. Here there seems to be a confused notion that because the properties of a geometrical figure can be deduced from its definition, therefore the existence of something more than a simple idea can be deduced from the definition of that idea itself. But besides the mathematical influence, there was evidently a Platonic influence at work; and one is reminded of Plato鈥檚 argument that the soul cannot die because it participates in the idea of life. Such fallacies were impossible so long as Aristotle鈥檚 logic continued to be carefully studied, and they gradually disappeared with its revival. Meanwhile the cat was away, and the mice used their opportunity.

Through long experience, their deliverance brought,鈥

We have seen how Prodicus and Hippias professed to97 teach all science, all literature, and all virtuous accomplishments. We have seen how Protagoras rejected every kind of knowledge unconnected with social culture. We now find Gorgias going a step further. In his later years, at least, he professes to teach nothing but rhetoric or the art of persuasion. We say in his later years, for at one time he seems to have taught ethics and psychology as well.73 But the Gorgias of Plato鈥檚 famous dialogue limits himself to the power of producing persuasion by words on all possible subjects, even those of whose details he is ignorant. Wherever the rhetorician comes into competition with the professional he will beat him on his own ground, and will be preferred to him for every public office. The type is by no means extinct, and flourishes like a green bay-tree among ourselves. Like Pendennis, a writer of this kind will review any book from the height of superior knowledge acquired by two hours鈥 reading in the British Museum; or, if he is adroit enough, will dispense with even that slender amount of preparation. He need not even trouble himself to read the book which he criticises. A superficial acquaintance with magazine articles will qualify him to pass judgment on all life, all religion, and all philosophy. But it is in politics that the finest career lies before him. He rises to power by attacking the measures of real statesmen, and remains there by adopting them. He becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer by gross economical blundering, and Prime Minister by a happy mixture of epigram and adulation.

XI.

331On the other hand, this substitution of the social for the personal integer involves a corresponding change in the398 valuation of individual happiness. What the passions had been to later Greek philosophy, that the individual soul became to Hobbes, something essentially infinite and insatiable, whose desires grow as they are gratified, whose happiness, if such it can be called, is not a condition of stable repose but of perpetual movement and unrest.556 Here, again, the analogy between physics and ethics obtains. In both, there was an original opposition between the idea of a limit and the idea of infinite expansion. Just as, among the earlier Greek thinkers, there was a physical philosophy of the infinite or, as its impugners called it, the indefinite, so also there was, corresponding to it, a philosophy of the infinite or indefinite in ethics, represented, not indeed by professional moralists, but by rhetoricians and men of the world. Their ideal was not the contented man, but the popular orator or the despot who revels in the consciousness of power鈥攖he ability to satisfy his desires, whatever they may be. And the extreme consequence of this principle is drawn by Plato鈥檚 Callicles when he declares that true happiness consists in nursing one鈥檚 desires up to the highest point at which they can be freely indulged; while his ideal of character is the superior individual who sets at naught whatever restraints have been devised by a weak and timid majority to protect themselves against him.

鈥楾he reason firm, the temperate will,

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We are now in a position to understand how far Epicurus was justified in regarding the expectation of immortality as a source of dread rather than of consolation. In this respect also, the survival of the fittest has determined that human92 nature shall not look forward with satisfaction to the termination of its earthly existence. Were any race of men once persuaded that death is the passage to a happier world, it would speedily be replaced by competitors holding a belief better adapted to the conditions of terrestrial duration. Hence, practically speaking, the effect of religious dogmas has been to make death rather more dreaded than it would have been without their aid; and, as already observed, their natural tendency has been powerfully stimulated by the cupidity of their professional expositors. The hope of heaven, to exist at all, must be checked by a considerably stronger apprehension of hell. There is a saying in America that the immortality of the soul is too good to be true. We suspect that the immortality in which most religious Americans still believe hardly deserves such a compliment; but it accurately expresses the incredulity with which a genuine message of salvation would be received by most men; and this explains why Universalism, with the few who have accepted it, is but the transition stage to a total rejection of any life beyond the grave. No doubt, in the first flush of fanaticism, the assurance of an easy admission to paradise may do much to win acceptance for the religion which offers it; but when such a religion ceases to make new conquests, its followers must either modify their convictions, or die out under the competition of others by whom mortal life is not held so cheap.In some respects, Aristotle began not only as a disciple but as a champion of Platonism. On the popular side, that doctrine was distinguished by its essentially religious character, and by its opposition to the rhetorical training then in vogue. Now, Aristotle鈥檚 dialogues, of which only a few fragments have been preserved, contained elegant arguments in favour of a creative First Cause, and of human immortality; although in the writings which embody his maturer views, the first of these theories is considerably modified, and the second is absolutely rejected. Further, we are informed that Aristotle expressed himself in terms of rather violent contempt for Isocrates, the greatest living professor of declamation; and284 opened an opposition school of his own. This step has, curiously enough, been adduced as a further proof of disagreement with Plato, who, it is said, objected to all rhetorical teaching whatever. It seems to us that what he condemned was rather the method and aim of the then fashionable rhetoric; and a considerable portion of his Phaedrus is devoted to proving how much more effectually persuasion might be produced by the combined application of dialectics and psychology to oratory. Now, this is precisely what Aristotle afterwards attempted to work out in the treatise on Rhetoric still preserved among his writings; and we may safely assume that his earlier lectures at Athens were composed on the same principle.Protagoras was born about 480 B.C. He was a fellow-townsman of Democritus, and has been represented, though not on good authority, as a disciple of that illustrious thinker. It was rather by a study of Heracleitus that his87 philosophical opinions, so far as they were borrowed from others, seem to have been most decisively determined. In any case, practice, not theory, was the principal occupation of his life. He gave instruction for payment in the higher branches of a liberal education, and adopted the name of Sophist, which before had simply meant a wise man, as an honourable title for his new calling. Protagoras was a very popular teacher. The news of his arrival in a strange city excited immense enthusiasm, and he was followed from place to place by a band of eager disciples. At Athens he was honoured by the friendship of such men as Pericles and Euripides. It was at the house of the great tragic poet that he read out a work beginning with the ominous declaration, 鈥業 cannot tell whether the gods exist or not; life is too short for such difficult investigations.鈥66 Athenian bigotry took alarm directly. The book containing this frank confession of agnosticism was publicly burned, all purchasers being compelled to give up the copies in their possession. The author himself was either banished or took flight, and perished by shipwreck on the way to Sicily before completing his seventieth year.

CHAPTER VI. CHARACTERISTICS OF ARISTOTLE.The value of experimentation as such had, however, scarcely dawned on Bacon. His famous Prerogative In379stances are, in the main, a guide to simple observation, supplemented rather than replaced by direct interference with the phenomena under examination, comparable to that moderate use of the rack which he would have countenanced in criminal procedure. There was, perhaps, a deeper meaning in Harvey鈥檚 remark that Bacon wrote about Nature like a Lord Chancellor than the great physiologist himself suspected. To Bacon the statesman, science was something to be largely endowed out of the public treasury in the sure hope that it would far more than repay the expenditure incurred, by inventions of priceless advantage to human life. To Bacon the lawyer, Nature was a person in possession of important secrets to be wrested from her by employing every artifice of the spy, the detective, the cross-examiner, and the inquisitorial judge; to Bacon the courtier, she was a sovereign whose policy might be discovered, and, if need be, controlled, by paying judicious attention to her humours and caprices. And, for this very reason, he would feel drawn by a secret affinity to the Aristotelian dialectic, derived as it was through Socrates and Plato from the practice of the Athenian law-courts and the debates of the Athenian assembly. No doubt the Topics was intended primarily for a manual of debate rather than of scientific enquiry; and the English Chancellor showed true philosophic genius in his attempt to utilise it for the latter purpose. Nevertheless the adaptation proved a mistake. It was not without good grounds that the Socratic dialectic had been reserved exclusively by its great founder, and almost exclusively by his successors, for those human interests from the discussion of which it was first derived. And the discoverers, who in Bacon鈥檚 own lifetime were laying the foundations of physical science, employed a method totally different from his, because they started with a totally different conception of the universe. To them it was not a living whole, a Form of Forms, but a sum of forces to be analysed, isolated, and recombined, in fact or in idea, with a sublime disregard380 for the conditions under which they were presented to ordinary experience. That very extension of human power anticipated by Bacon came in a manner of which he had never dreamed. It was gained by studying, not the Forms to which he attached so much importance, but the modes of motion which he had relegated to a subordinate place in his classification of natural causes.543

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