时间：<2020-07-07 13:40:52 作者：2c休闲吧桌椅IBJ 浏览量：9777
We have seen how the idea of Nature, first evolved by physical philosophy, was taken by some, at least, among the Sophists as a basis for their ethical teaching; then how an interpretation utterly opposed to theirs was put on it by practical men, and how this second interpretation was so generalised by the younger rhetoricians as to involve the denial of all morality whatever. Meanwhile, another equally important conception, destined to come into speedy and prolonged antagonism with the idea of Nature, and like it to exercise a powerful influence on ethical reflection, had almost contemporaneously been elaborated out of the materials which earlier speculation supplied. From Parmenides and Heracleitus down, every philosopher who had propounded a theory of the world, had also more or less peremptorily insisted on the fact that his theory differed widely from common belief. Those who held that change is86 impossible, and those who taught that everything is incessantly changing; those who asserted the indestructibility of matter, and those who denied its continuity; those who took away objective reality from every quality except extension and resistance, and those who affirmed that the smallest molecules partook more or less of every attribute that is revealed to sense—all these, however much they might disagree among themselves, agreed in declaring that the received opinions of mankind were an utter delusion. Thus, a sharp distinction came to be drawn between the misleading sense-impressions and the objective reality to which thought alone could penetrate. It was by combining these two elements, sensation and thought, that the idea of mind was originally constituted. And mind when so understood could not well be accounted for by any of the materialistic hypotheses at first proposed. The senses must differ profoundly from that of which they give such an unfaithful report; while reason, which Anaxagoras had so carefully differentiated from every other form of existence, carried back its distinction to the subjective sphere, and became clothed with a new spirituality when reintegrated in the consciousness of man.
Such, as it seems to us, is the proper spirit in which we should approach the great thinker whose works are to occupy us in this and the succeeding chapter. No philosopher has ever offered so extended and vulnerable a front to hostile criticism. None has so habitually provoked reprisals by his own incessant and searching attacks on all existing professions, customs, and beliefs. It might even be maintained that none has used the weapons of controversy with more unscrupulous zeal. And it might be added that he who dwells so much on the importance of consistency has occasionally denounced and ridiculed the very principles which he elsewhere upholds as demonstrated truths. It was an easy matter for others to complete the work of destruction which he had begun. His system seems at first sight to be made up of assertions, one more outrageous than another. The ascription of an objective concrete separate reality to verbal abstractions is assuredly the most astounding paradox ever173 maintained even by a metaphysician. Yet this is the central article of Plato’s creed. That body is essentially different from extension might, one would suppose, have been sufficiently clear to a mathematician who had the advantage of coming after Leucippus and Democritus. Their identity is implicitly affirmed in the Timaeus. That the soul cannot be both created and eternal; that the doctrine of metempsychosis is incompatible with the hereditary transmission of mental qualities; that a future immortality equivalent to, and proved by the same arguments as, our antenatal existence, would be neither a terror to the guilty nor a consolation to the righteous:—are propositions implicitly denied by Plato’s psychology. Passing from theoretical to practical philosophy, it might be observed that respect for human life, respect for individual property, respect for marriage, and respect for truthfulness, are generally numbered among the strongest moral obligations, and those the observance of which most completely distinguishes civilised from savage man; while infanticide, communism, promiscuity, and the occasional employment of deliberate deceit, form part of Plato’s scheme for the redemption of mankind. We need not do more than allude to those Dialogues where the phases and symptoms of unnameable passion are delineated with matchless eloquence, and apparently with at least as much sympathy as censure. Finally, from the standpoint of modern science, it might be urged that Plato used all his powerful influence to throw back physical speculation into the theological stage; that he deliberately discredited the doctrine of mechanical causation which, for us, is the most important achievement of early Greek thought; that he expatiated on the criminal folly of those who held the heavenly bodies to be, what we now know them to be, masses of dead matter with no special divinity about them; and that he proposed to punish this and other heresies with a severity distinguishable from the fitful fanaticism of his native city only by its more disciplined and rigorous application.The mere fact that Aristotle himself had pronounced in favour of the geocentric system did not count for much. The misfortune was that he had constructed an entire physical philosophy in harmony with it; that he had linked this to his metaphysics; and that the sensible experience on whose authority he laid so much stress, seemed to testify in its behalf. The consequence was that those thinkers who, without being professed Aristotelian partisans, still remained profoundly affected by the Peripatetic spirit, could not see their way to accepting a theory with which all the hopes of intellectual progress were bound up. These considerations will enable us to understand the attitude of Bacon towards the new astronomy; while, conversely, his position in this respect will serve to confirm the view of his character set forth in382 the preceding pages. The theory, shared by him with Aristotle, that Nature is throughout composed of Form and Matter reached its climax in the supposition that the great elementary bodies are massed together in a series of concentric spheres disposed according to some principle of graduation, symmetry, or contrast; and this seemed incompatible with any but a geocentric arrangement. It is true that Bacon quarrelled with the particular system maintained by Aristotle, and, under the guidance of Telesio, fell back on a much cruder form of cosmography; but his mind still remained dominated by the fancied necessity of conceiving the universe under the form of a stratified sphere; and those who persist in looking on him as the apostle of experience will be surprised to find that he treated the subject entirely from an à priori point of view. The truth is that Bacon exemplified, in his own intellectual character, every one of the fundamental fallacies which he has so picturesquely described. The unwillingness to analyse sensible appearances into their ideal elements was his Idol of the Tribe; the thirst for material utilities was his Idol of the Den: the uncritical acceptance of Aristotle’s metaphysics, his Idol of the Theatre; and the undefined notions associated with induction, his Idol of the Market.
It has also to be observed that the idea of utility as a test of moral goodness is quite distinct from hedonism. Plato proclaims, in the most unequivocal terms, that actions must be estimated by their consequences instead of by the feelings of sympathy or antipathy which they excite; yet no one could object more strongly to making pleasure the end of action. Thus, three distinct doctrines seem to converge in modern English ethics, of which all are traceable to Greek philosophy, but only one to Epicureanism in particular, and not ultimately to that but to the older systems whence it sprang.
Returning to Epicurus, we have next to consider how he obtained the various motions required to bring his atoms into those infinite combinations of which our world is only the most recent. The conception of matter naturally endowed with capacities for moving in all directions indifferently was unknown to ancient physics, as was also that of mutual attraction and85 repulsion. Democritus supposed that the atoms all gravitated downward through infinite space, but with different velocities, so that the lighter were perpetually overtaken and driven upwards by the heavier, the result of these collisions and pressures being a vortex whence the world as we see it has proceeded.163 While the atomism of Democritus was, as a theory of matter, the greatest contribution ever made to physical science by pure speculation, as a theory of motion it was open to at least three insuperable objections. Passing over the difficulty of a perpetual movement through space in one direction only, there remained the self-contradictory assumption that an infinite number of atoms all moving together in that one direction could find any unoccupied space to fall into.164 Secondly, astronomical discoveries, establishing as they did the sphericity of the earth, had for ever disproved the crude theory that unsupported bodies fall downward in parallel straight lines. Even granting that the astronomers, in the absence of complete empirical verification, could not prove their whole contention, they could at any rate prove enough of it to destroy the notion of parallel descent; for the varying elevation of the pole-star demonstrated the curvature of the earth’s surface so far as it was accessible to observation, thus showing that, within the limits of experience, gravitation acted along convergent lines. Finally, Aristotle had pointed out that the observed differences in the velocity of falling bodies were due to the atmospheric resistance, and that, consequently, they would all move at the same rate in such an absolute vacuum as atomism assumed.165 Of these objections Epicurus ignored the first two, except, apparently, to the extent of refusing to believe in the antipodes. The third he acknowledged, and set himself to evade it by a hypothesis striking at the root of all scientific86 reasoning. The atoms, he tells us, suffer a slight deflection from the line of perpendicular descent, sufficient to bring them into collision with one another; and from this collision proceeds the variety of movement necessary to throw them into all sorts of accidental combinations. Our own free will, says Lucretius, furnishes an example of such a deflection whenever we swerve aside from the direction in which an original impulse is carrying us.166 That the irregularity thus introduced into Nature interfered with the law of universal causation was an additional recommendation of it in the eyes of Epicurus, who, as we have already mentioned, hated the physical necessity of the philosophers even more than he hated the watchful interfering providence of the theologians. But, apparently, neither he nor his disciples saw that in discarding the invariable sequence of phenomena, they annulled, to the same extent, the possibility of human foresight and adaptation of means to ends. There was no reason why the deflection, having once occurred, should not be repeated infinitely often, each time producing effects of incalculable extent. And a further inconsequence of the system is that it afterwards accounts for human choice by a mechanism which has nothing to do with free-will.167It may be said that all this only proves Socrates to have been, in his own estimation, a good and happy, but not necessarily a wise man. With him, however, the last of these conditions was inseparable from the other two. He was prepared to demonstrate, step by step, that his conduct was regulated by fixed and ascertainable principles, and was of the kind best adapted to secure happiness both for himself and for others. That there were deficiencies in his ethical theory may readily be admitted. The idea of universal beneficence seems never to have dawned on his horizon; and chastity was to him what sobriety is to us, mainly a self-regarding virtue. We do not find that he ever recommended conjugal fidelity to husbands; he regarded prostitution very much as it is still, unhappily, regarded by men of the world among ourselves; and in opposing the darker vices of his countrymen, it was the excess rather than the perversion of appetite which he condemned. These, however, are points which do not interfere with our general contention that Socrates adopted the ethical standard of his time, that he adopted it on rational124 grounds, that having adopted he acted up to it, and that in so reasoning and acting he satisfied his own ideal of absolute wisdom.But, if this be so, it follows that Mr. Edwin Wallace’s appeal to Aristotle as an authority worth consulting on our present social difficulties cannot be upheld. Take the question quoted by Mr. Wallace himself: ‘Whether the State is a mere combination for the preservation of goods and property, or a moral organism developing the idea of right?’ Aristotle certainly held very strong opinions in favour of State interference with education and private morality, if that is what the second alternative implies; but does it follow that he would agree with those who advocate a similar supervision at the present day? By no means; because experience has shown that in enormous industrial societies like ours, protection is attended with difficulties and dangers which he could no more foresee than he could foresee the discoveries on which our physical science is based. Or, returning for a moment to ethics, let us take another of Mr. Wallace’s problems: ‘Whether intellectual also involves moral progress?’ What possible light can be thrown on it by Aristotle’s exposure of the powerlessness of right knowledge to make an individual virtuous, when writers like Buckle have transferred the whole question from a particular to a general ground; from the conduct of individuals to the conduct of men acting in large masses, and over vast periods of time? Or, finally, take the question which forms a point of junction between Aristotle’s ethics and his politics: ‘Whether the highest life is a life of thought or a life of action?’ Of what importance is his299 decision to us, who attend far more to the social than to the individual consequences of actions; who have learned to take into account the emotional element of happiness, which Aristotle neglected; who are uninfluenced by his appeal to the blissful theorising of gods in whom we do not believe; for whom, finally, experience has altogether broken down the antithesis between knowledge and practice, by showing that speculative ideas may revolutionise the whole of life? Aristotle is an interesting historical study; but we are as far beyond him in social as in physical science.
So much only is established in the Physics. Further particulars are given in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics. There we learn that, all movement being from possibility to actuality, the source of movement must be a completely realised actuality—pure form without any admixture of matter. But the highest form known to us in the ascending scale of organic life is the human soul, and the highest function of soul is reason. Reason then must be that which moves without being moved itself, drawing all things upwards and onwards by the love which its perfection inspires. The eternal, infinite, absolute actuality existing beyond the outermost starry sphere is God. Aristotle describes God as the thought which thinks itself and finds in the simple act of self-consciousness an everlasting happiness, wonderful if it always equals the best moments of our mortal life, more wonderful still if it surpasses them. There is only one supreme God, for plurality is due to an admixture of matter, and He is pure form. The rule of many is not good, as Homer says. Let there be one Lord.
366It is probable, however, that Aristotle’s partiality was determined more by the systematising and analytical character of his own genius than by the public opinion of his age; or rather, the same tendency was at work in philosophy and in art at the same time, and the theories of the one were unconsciously pre-adapted to the productions of the other. In both there was a decay of penetration and of originality, of life and of inspiration; in both a great development of whatever could be obtained by technical proficiency; in both an extension of surface at the expense of depth, a gain of fluency, and a loss of force. But poetry lost far more than philosophy by the change; and so the works of the one have perished while the works of the other have survived.
On the whole, I am afraid that my acquaintance with the modern literature of the subject will be found rather limited for an undertaking like the present. But I do not think that wider reading in that direction would have much furthered the object I had in view. That object has been to exhibit the principal ideas of Greek philosophy in the closest possible connexion with the characters of their authors, with each other, with their developments in modern speculation, with the parallel tendencies of literature and art, with the history of religion, of physical science, and of civilisation as a whole. To interpret all things by a system of universal references is the method of philosophy; when applied to a series of events this method is the philosophy of history; when the events are ideas, it is the philosophy of philosophy itself.
In 347 Plato died, leaving his nephew Speusippus to succeed him in the headship of the Academy. Aristotle then left Athens, accompanied by another Platonist, Xenocrates, a circumstance tending to prove that his relations with the school continued to be of a cordial character. The two settled in Atarneus, at the invitation of its tyrant Hermeias, an old fellow-student from the Academy. Hermeias was a eunuch who had risen from the position of a slave to that of vizier, and then, after his master’s death, to the possession of supreme power. Three years subsequently a still more abrupt turn of fortune brought his adventurous career to a close. Like Polycrates, he was treacherously seized and crucified by order of the Persian Government. Aristotle, who had married Pythias, his deceased patron’s niece, fled with her to Mitylênê. Always grateful, and singularly enthusiastic in his attachments, he celebrated the memory of Hermeias in a manner which gave great offence to the religious sentiment of Hellas, by dedicating a statue to him at Delphi, and composing an elegy, still extant, in which he compares the eunuch-despot to Heracles, the Dioscuri, Achilles, and Ajax; and promises him immortality from the Muses in honour of Xenian Zeus.
308while in his tragedies we have the realisation of those worlds—the workings of an eternal justice which alone remains faithful to one purpose through the infinite flux of passion and of sense.