Page images
PDF
EPUB

fined themselves to the same field; Plato, founding his system in conceptions, completing it in morals, forms a marked contrast to the natural philosophers, who went before him. Even in Aristotle who treats of physics in detail and with an evident preference for the subject, they are only a single branch of a system, and in point of value subordinate to metaphysics.

teristic of

Such an increase of territory showed that the whole platform of philosophy had changed. Why else should thought have embraced other and more extended materials, had it not been changed in itself, and therefore no longer contented itself with what had been before? For the same reason the philosophic method was a different one. In previous philosophy thought had dealt directly with its obB. Charac ject, as such. In the Socratic and post-Socratic this period systems it deals in the first place with conceptions is its doc and only with objects indirectly, through the medium trine of of conceptions. The older systems asked, without further ado, what predicates belonged to things; for instance, whether what is real admits of motion or not-how and out of what the world is made. The Socratic philosophy ever asks, in the first place, what things are in themselves according to their conception, thinking not otherwise to obtain information respecting their properties and conditions than by the help of the conception of things thoroughly mastered.1 No conception of a thing can, however,

CHAP.
II.

concep tions.

1 Compare, not to mention other passages, the clear state

ment in the Phædo, 99, D: After having vainly busied himself

concep

be obtained, except by grouping together its various
aspects and qualities, by smoothing down apparent
contradictions, by separating what is lasting from
what is changing, in a word, by that critical method,
which Socrates introduced, and which Plato and Aris-
totle elaborated and developed. Former philosophers tion.
having gone forth from particular prominent features
to arrive at the essence of things, and having failed
because of their one-sidedness; it was now required
that all the properties of an object should be taken
into account and weighed from every side, before a
judgment could be formed thereupon. Thus the
philosophy of conceptions steps into the place of dog-
matism. In this way reflection which by means
of sophistry had destroyed the older philosophy was
taken into the service of the new philosophy; the
various aspects under which things may be regarded,
were brought together and referred to each other; but
not content with the negative conclusion that our
notions cannot be true because they contain opposite
determinations, the new philosophy aimed at uniting
these opposites in one, and showing that true science
is not affected by contradiction, inasmuch as it only
refers to that which unites opposites in itself, and
excludes contradiction. This pursuit of knowledge

with the enquiries of the natural philosophers he declares himself convinced, that he has only got into deeper darkness by directing his enquiries into things in themselves. (τὰ ὄντα βλέπων πρὸς τὰ πράγματα τοῖς ὄμμασι καὶ ἑκάστῃ

σκοπῶν

τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἐπιχειρῶν ἅπτεσθαι
αὐτῶν.) ἔδοξε δή μοι χρῆναι εἰς τοὺς
λόγους καταφυγόντα ἐν ἐκείνοις
σκοπεῖν τῶν ὄντων τὴν ἀλήθειαν
(the true essence of things),
i.e. instead of πράγματα, λόγοι,
instead of ὄντα, ἀλήθεια τῶν
ὄντων.

CHAP.
II.

(1) Definition of a

CHAP.

II.

through conceptions is the common peculiarity of the Socratic, the Platonic, and the Aristotelian philosophy. That the lesser Socratic schools follow the same bent will be seen hereafter.

If only conceptions can give true knowledge, it follows that true being can only belong to that which is known by means of conceptions; that is, to the essence of things, as this presents itself in thought. This essential being cannot, however, be sought for in matter. Anaxagoras had early realised that matter could only become a world by means of spirit; since then the old materialistic physics had been discredited by sophistry; nothing remained but to regard the form and purpose of things, the immaterial part in them as most essential for determining the conceptions, nay, even to assign to it a true reality underlying the appearance. In this way the Socratic philosophy led logically to Idealism.

tions ex

(2) Theory The beginnings of this Idealism are unmistakof concep- able even in Socrates. His indifference to physical panded by enquiries and his preference for ethical ones prove Plato, and conclusively that he attributed to the inner world a Aristotle. much higher value than to the outer world. Resolve his theory of final causes applied to nature into the metaphysical elements out of which it is composed; the conclusion is inevitable that not the material of which a thing is made, but the conception which gives it shape, makes a thing what it is, and that this accordingly represents its true nature. This Idealism is more pronounced in the school of Megara; and in Plato it runs through all parts of his philo

sophy side by side with a current of pre-Socratic doctrines. Even Aristotle is not faithless to this view. Whilst denying the independent existence of the Platonic ideas, he nevertheless asserts that reality consists not in matter but in form, and that the highest reality belongs to spirit free from matter. On this ground he states even in his physics, agreeing herein with his predecessors, that final causes are higher than material causes. Compared therefore with the natural philosophers of the pre-Socratic period, even Aristotle may fairly be called an Idealist.

Starting from a consideration of nature, the preSocratic philosophy made it its chief business to enquire into the essence and causes of external things, for this purpose going back to their material properties. An entirely different character is displayed in the philosophy founded by Socrates. This begins with the study of self rather than the study of nature—with ethics rather than physics. It aims at explaining phenomena, first of all by means of conceptions, and only in the second place naturally. It substitutes an attitude of enquiry for dogmatic state ment, idealism in the place of materialism. Mind is now regarded as the higher element compared with matter. The philosophy of nature has developed into a philosophy of conceptions.

Not that as yet the claim was advanced on behalf of the human mind to be the measure of truth and the end of science. Far from reaching the subjective idealism of Fichte-an idealism in fact only possible in modern times-the philosophy of this

[blocks in formation]

CHAP.
II.

(1) It still believes

the attain ment of knowledge

to be possible.

period is not nearly so subjective as the post-Aristotelian schools. In them the interests of speculation are subordinated to those of morals; knowledge is regarded only as a means to virtue and happiness; whereas the independent value of science is fully admitted by the great philosophers of the present period. To them knowledge is an end in itself; speculation is the highest and noblest thing; action is made to depend upon knowledge, not knowledge to depend upon the aims of active life. Only a few one-sided followers of Socrates, who, however, prove nothing as to the general tendency, are an exception to this rule.

A simple belief in the possibility of knowledge is here displayed which was wanting in the postAristotelian philosophy. The doubts of the Sophists are refuted, but in the mind of the philosopher there is no need of overcoming doubt. The problem proposed is, How can true knowledge be obtained, in what kind of mental representations must it be sought, how must the conception of it be determined? No doubt is felt but that knowledge is really possible. The search for a test-the fundamental question of the later schools-is altogether unknown 2 to the thinkers of this time. Equally unknown to them are the answers to that problem.

Take for instance the Theætetus; the question raised there as to the conception of knowledge (ἐπιστήμη ὅ, τί ποτε TUYάXVEι ov; Theætet. 145, E.) is quite different from the doubt

as to the possibility of knowledge involved in the enquiry for a standard.

2 Compare Zeller, 1. c.; Introduction to Part III. and I. 137.

« PreviousContinue »