Page images
PDF
EPUB

They did not, as did the Epicureans and Stoics, cut short the question by practically begging it. They did not, as did the Sceptics, despair of knowledge. They did not, as did the Neoplatonists, resort to higher revelations. They were content to look to well-regulated thought for the source of truth. Even that branch of science, the independent pursuit of which was much neglected by later thinkersphysics-was studied in this epoch with success. Socrates and the majority of his pupils may have neglected it, but not so Plato; and Aristotle carries it to a point final in the main for nearly two thousand years. If the post-Aristotelian Ethics proved at last faithless to the principles of the old Greek morality, partly under the influence of a world-wide extension, partly owing to their severance from politics, owing to the withdrawal of the moral consciousness from the outer world, owing to a dumb resignation and a sour asceticism; the difference of epochs in this respect is simply seen by recalling the many-sided sympathies of Socrates, with his cheerful enjoyment of life, and his devoted attachment to his country, or the teaching of Plato concerning the state, or that of Aristotle concerning virtue and society, or the relation of the Cyrenaic to the Epicurean doctrine of happiness.'

CHAP.
II.

tinction in Ethics.

Is it true that the philosophy of this second (2) Disperiod attempts in ethics to get beyond the established bounds? It supplements the propriety of custom by a theory of morals and conscious action. It distinguishes 1 Comp. Zeller, 1. c., i. 139.

CHAP.

II.

more definitely than the ordinary view between the outward deed and the intention. It requires a rising above the life of the senses to what is ideal. Light is thrown on the meaning and motives of moral consciousness. A universal philanthropy is taught, which is not lost in local patriotism; and accordingly the state is only regarded as an institution for the attainment of virtue and happiness, and not as the final moral cause. For all that this period is far removed from the apathy of either Stoic or Epicurean, from the imperturbability of the Sceptic, from the asceticism of the Neoplatonist. It seeks not to sever man in his moral activity from nature; with Aristotle it regards virtue as the perfection of a natural gift; with Plato it advances from the love of what is sensibly beautiful, to the love of what is morally beautiful. It requires the philosopher to work for his fellowmen. The world-citizenship of a later time is absent; absent too is its nationality and political life. Even in this respect, it holds the

classic mean between a slavish surrender to the outer world, and a narrow withdrawal therefrom.

Compared with the pre-Socratic era, the age of Socrates is characterised by the diversion of philosophy from external nature to thought or to ideas. Compared with the following age, it is marked by the real character of its thought, that is, by the fact that the thinker is not ultimately thrown back on himself and the certainty of his own knowing, but on attaining to the knowledge of what is in itself real and true. In short its theory of a knowledge of

conceptions determines its character. From this theory may be deduced its breadth of view reaching alike beyond the physical one-sidedness of the preSocratic, and the moral one-sidedness of the postAristotelian schools, its critical method in opposition to the earlier and later dogmatism, and its idealism, transfiguring the whole aspect of the outer world, without, however, entailing any withdrawal therefrom.

The development of this theory was carried D. Development out in a simple and natural order by three philoso- of the phic schools, the founders of which belong to three Socratic philososuccessive generations, and are personally connected phy. as teachers and pupils. First comes Socrates asserting that the standard of human thought and action lies in a knowledge of conceptions, and teaching his followers to acquire this knowledge by dealing with notions critically. Hence Plato concluded that objective conceptions are in the true sense the only real things, a derivative reality belonging to all other things, a view which he upheld by a more critical analysis, and developed to a system. Lastly, Aristotle arrived at the conclusion that in a thing the conception itself constitutes its real essence and moving power. By an exhaustive analysis of the scientific method, he showed how conceptions were to be formed and applied to particulars, and by a most comprehensive enquiry into the several parts of the universe, he examined the laws and connection of conceptions, and the thoughts which determine all that really is. Socrates had as yet no system. He (1) So

crates.

Comp. Zeller, 1, 9, 136, 142.

1

[ocr errors]

CHAP.

II.

CHAP.

IL

(2) Plato.

had not even any material groundwork. Convinced that only in acquiring conceptions is true knowledge to be found, that true virtue consists in acting according to conceptions, that even the world has been ordered in accordance with definite conceptions, and therefore shows design, in any given case he tries by a critical testing of prevailing notions to gain a conception of the object with which he has to deal, and to this he devotes all his powers, to the conclusion of every other interest. But he never went beyond this formal treatment. His teaching was confined to general requirements and presumptions. His importance lies not in a new view of things, but in a new conception of knowledge, and in the way he forms this conception, in his view of the problem and method of science, in the strength of his philosophical bent, and in the simplicity of his philosophical life.

The Socratic search for conceptions has grown in Plato to a discovery of them, to a certainty of possessing them, and gazing upon them. With him · objective thoughts or ideas are the only real things. Mere idealess existence or matter as such is simply non-existent; all things else are made up partly of what is and partly of what is not; they therefore are only real in proportion to the part they have in the idea. Granting that this is in advance of the Socratic view, it is no less certain that it follows logically from that view. The Platonic ideas, as Aristotle rightly understood them,' are the general 1 Met. i. 6, 987, b, 1.

totle.

conceptions, which Socrates had arrived at, separated from the world of appearance. They are also the central point of the speculations of Aristotle. With him the conception or the form constitutes the essence, the reality, and is as it were the soul of things; only form without matter, simple spirit (3) Aristhinking of itself, is absolutely real; only thought is to man the most intense reality, and therefore also the most intense pleasure in life. Yet there is this difference between Aristotle and Plato, that whereas Plato separates the conception from the appearance, regarding it as independent-as an idea, Aristotle, places it in things themselves, without, however, implying that form stands in need of matter to become actual, since it is in itself actual. Moreover, Aristotle will not remove the idea out of the world of appearances, because it cannot in a state of separation serve as a connecting link between individual things, nor can it be the cause and substance of things. Thus the theory is seen to be one and the same which Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle represent at different stages of growth. In Socrates it is undeveloped, but full of vitality, pushing itself forward through the husk of earlier philosophy; in Plato it has grown to a pure and independent existence; and in Aristotle it has overspread the whole world of being and consciousness, exhausting itself in the effort, and moving towards a perfect transformation in later systems. Socrates, so to speak, is the pregnant germ, Plato the rich bloom, Aristotle the ripe

E

CHAP.

II.

« PreviousContinue »