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THE intellectual life of Greece had reached a point towards the close of the fifth century, in which the choice lay before it of either giving up philosophy altogether, or attempting a thorough transformation upon a new basis. The older schools were not indeed wholly extinct; but all dependence in their systems had been shaken, and a general disposition to doubt had set in. From the Sophists men had learnt to call everything in question-to attack or defend with equal readiness every opinion. Belief in the truth of human ideas, or in the validity of moral laws, had been lost. Not only enquiries respecting nature, which had engaged the attention of thinkers for upwards of a century and a half, had become distasteful, but even philosophy itself had given place to a mere superficial facility of thought and expression and the acquisition of attainments useful




Yet this state

need of a new

Problem method, which would avoid the defects and oneproposed to philosophy sidedness of previous systems by a more cautious in the fifth treatment of scientific questions. The way thereto


had not only been indirectly prepared by the clearing away of previous speculation, but the very instrument of research had been sharpened by the quibbles and subtleties of sophistry; ample material, too, for the erection of a new structure lay to hand in the labours of preceding philosophers. Moreover, by the practical turn which the Sophistic enquiries had taken, a new field of research was opened up, the more careful cultivation of which gave promise of a rich harvest for speculative philosophy. Would a creative genius be forthcoming, able to make use of these materials, and to direct thought into a new channel? Before this question Greek philosophy stood at the time when Socrates appeared.

The answer was determined in great part by the course which political circumstances, moral life, and general culture had taken. Between these and philosophy the connection is at all times close; yet lately, in the case of the Sophistic teaching, it had been more than ever apparent. The most sweeping changes had taken place in the fifth century in Greece. Never has a nation had a more rapid or more brilliant career of military glory in union with high culture than had the Greeks. Yet never has that career been sooner over. First came the great deeds of the Persian war, then the rich bloom of art

A. The

problem solved by political events.

(1) Political unsettled


only for the purposes of social life.
of things naturally suggested the

of the age of Pericles; following immediately that internal conflict which wasted the strength and prosperity of the free states of Greece in unhallowed domestic quarrels, which sacrificed anew the independence so hardly won from the foreigner, undermined her freedom, threw her moral notions into confusion, and irretrievably ruined the character of her people. A progress which elsewhere required centuries was in her case compressed within a few generations. When the pulse of national life beats so fast, the general spirit must be exposed to a quick and susceptible change; and when so much that is great happens in so short a time, an abundance of ideas is sure to crop up, awaiting only a regulating hand to range themselves into scientific systems.

Of greatest importance for the future of philosophy was the position won by Athens since the close of the Persian war. In that great conflict the consciousness of a common brotherhood had dawned upon the Hellenes with a force unknown before. All that fancy had painted in the legend of the Trojan war seemed to be realised in actual history: Hellas standing as a united nation opposed to the East. The headship of this many-membered body had fallen in the main to Athens, and herewith that city had become the centre of all intellectual movements, the Prytaneum of the wisdom of Greece.'1 This circumstance had a most beneficial effect on the further development of philosophy. No doubt a

1 So called by Hippias in Plato, Prot. 337, D.



(2) Athens

a centre of union and stability.



tendency may be noticed in the several schools to come forth from their isolation; it may be seen in the natural philosophers of the fifth century that an active interchange of thought was being carried on between the East and the West of Greece; and now that the Sophists had begun to travel from one end to the other of the Hellenic world, to carry to Thessaly the eloquence of Sicily, to Sicily the doctrines of Heraclitus, these various sources of culture could not fail gradually to flow together into one mighty stream. Still it was of great importance that a solid bed should be hollowed out for this stream and its course directed towards a fixed end. This result was brought about by the rise of the Attic philosophy. After that, in Athens, as the common centre of the Grecian world, the various lines of pre-Socratic enquiry had met and crossed, Socrates was able to found a more comprehensive philosophy; and ever afterwards Greek philosophy continued to be so firmly tied to Athens, that down to the time of the New Academy that city was the birthplace of all schools historically important. It was even their last place of refuge before the final extinction of ancient philosophy.

To make clear, by means of the literary remains B. The problem we possess, the change which took place in the Greek solved by literature. mode of thought during the fifth century, and to estimate the worth and extent of the contributions yielded to philosophy by the general culture of the time, the great Athenian tragedians may be first appealed to. For tragedy is better suited than any other kind of poetry to arouse ethical reflection, to

(1) The tragedians.

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