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The relation of Spinoza’s Substance to its attributes is ambiguous. It is at once their cause, their totality, and their unity. The highly elastic and indefinite term Power helped these various aspects to play into and replace one another according to the requirements of the system. It is associated with the subjective possibility of multiplying imaginary existences to any amount; with the causal energy in which existence originates; and with the expansiveness characteristic alike of Extension and of Thought. For the two known attributes of the universal substance are not simply related to it as co-predicates of a common subject; they severally express its essential Power, and are, to that extent, identical with one another. But when we ask, How do they express Power? the same ambiguity recurs. Substance is revealed through its attributes, as a cause through its effects; as an aggregate through its constituents; and as an abstract notion through its concrete embodiments. Thus Extension and Thought are identical through their very differences, since these illustrate the versatility of their common source, and at the same time jointly contribute to the realisation of its perfection. But, for all practical purposes, Spinoza deals only with the parallelism and resemblance of the attributes. We have to see how he establishes it, and how far he was helped in so doing by the traditions of Greek philosophy.Again, whatever harmony evolution may introduce into our conceptions, whatever hopes it may encourage with regard to the future of our race, one does not see precisely what sanction it gives to morality at present—that is to say, how it makes self-sacrifice easier than before. Because certain forces have been unconsciously working towards a certain end through ages past, why should I consciously work towards the same end? If the perfection of humanity is predetermined, my conduct cannot prevent its consummation; if it in any way depends on me, the question returns, why should my particular interests be sacrificed to it? The man who does not already love his contemporaries whom he has seen is unlikely to love them the more for the sake of a remote posterity whom he will never see at all. Finally, it must be remembered that evolution is only half the cosmic process; it is partially conditioned at every stage by dissolution, to which in the long run it must entirely give way; and if, as Mr. Spencer observes, evolution is the more interesting of the two,105 this preference is itself due to the lifeward tendency of our thoughts; in other words, to those moral sentiments which it is sought to base on what, abstractedly considered, has all along been a creation of their own.
What! to see thee no more, and to feel thee no more,One day, some few years after the death of Aristotle, a short, lean, swarthy young man, of weak build, with clumsily shaped limbs, and head inclined to one side, was standing in an Athenian bookshop, intently studying a roll of manuscript. His name was Zeno, and he was a native of Citium, a Greek colony in Cyprus, where the Hellenic element had become adulterated with a considerable Phoenician infusion. According to some accounts, Zeno had come to the great centre of intellectual activity to study, according to others for the sale of Tyrian purple. At any rate the volume which he held in his hand decided his vocation. It was the second book of Xenophon’s Memoirs of Socrates. Zeno eagerly asked where such men as he whose sayings stood recorded there were to be found. At that moment the Cynic Crates happened to pass by. ‘There is one of them,’ said the bookseller, ‘follow him.’12
On passing to terrestrial physics, we find that Aristotle is, as usual, the dupe of superficial appearances, against which other thinkers were on their guard. Seeing that fire always moved up, he assumed that it did so by virtue of a natural tendency towards the circumference of the universe, as opposed to earth, which always moved towards the centre. The atomists erroneously held that all matter gravitated downwards through infinite space, but correctly explained the ascent of heated particles by the pressure of surrounding matter, in accordance, most probably, with the analogy of floating bodies.200 Chemistry as a science is, of course, an entirely modern creation, but the first approach to it was made by Democritus, while no ancient philosopher stood farther from its essential principles than Aristotle. He analyses bodies, not into their material elements, but into the sensuous qualities, hot and cold, wet and dry, between which he supposes the underlying substance to be perpetually oscillating; a theory which, if it were true, would make any fixed laws of nature impossible.
The chief theological doctrines held in common by the two schools, were the immortality of the soul and the existence of daemons. These were supposed to form a class of spiritual beings, intermediate between gods and men, and sharing to some extent in the nature of both. According to Plutarch, though very long-lived, they are not immortal; and he quotes the famous story about the death of Pan in proof of his assertion;390 but, in this respect, his opinion is not shared by Maximus Tyrius391, who expressly declares them to be immortal; and, indeed, one hardly sees how the contrary could have been maintained consistently with Platonic principles; for, if the human soul never dies, much less can spirits of a higher rank be doomed to extinction. As a class, the daemons are morally imperfect beings, subject to human passions, and capable of wrong-doing. Like men also, they are divided into good and bad. The former kind perform providential and retributive offices on behalf of the higher252 gods, inspiring oracles, punishing crime, and succouring distress. Those who permit themselves to be influenced by improper motives in the discharge of their appointed functions, are degraded to the condition of human beings. The bad and morose sort are propitiated by a gloomy and self-tormenting worship.392 By means of the imperfect character thus ascribed to the daemons, a way was found for reconciling the purified theology of Platonism with the old Greek religion. To each of the higher deities there is attached, we are told, a daemon who bears his name and is frequently confounded with him. The immoral or unworthy actions narrated of the old gods were, in reality, the work of their inferior namesakes. This theory was adopted by the Fathers of the Church, with the difference, however, that they altogether suppressed the higher class of Platonic powers, and identified the daemons with the fallen angels of their own mythology. This is the reason why a word which was not originally used in a bad sense has come to be synonymous with devil.
One need only compare the catalogue of particular histories subjoined to the Parasceve,538 with a table of Aristotle’s works, to understand how closely Bacon follows in the footsteps of his predecessor. We do, indeed, find sundry subjects enumerated on which the elder student had not touched; but they are only such as would naturally suggest themselves to a man of comprehensive intelligence, coming nearly two thousand years after his original; while they are mostly of no philosophical value whatever. Bacon’s merit was to bring the distinction between the descriptive sciences and the theoretical sciences into clearer consciousness, and to give a view of the former corresponding in completeness to that already obtained of the latter.The distinctive features of Epicureanism have, in truth, never been copied, nor are they ever likely to be copied, by any modern system. It arose, as we have seen, from a combination of circumstances which will hardly be repeated in the future history of thought. As the heat and pressure of molten granite turn sandstone into slate, so also the mighty systems of Plato and Aristotle, coming into contact with the irreligious, sensual, empirical, and sceptical side of Attic thought, forced it to assume that sort of laminated texture which characterises the theoretical philosophy of Epicurus. And, at the very same moment, the disappearance of all patriotism and public spirit from Athenian life allowed the older elements of Athenian character, its amiable egoism, its love of frugal gratifications, its aversion from purely speculative interests, to create a new and looser bond of social union among those who were indifferent to the vulgar objects of ambition, but whom the austerer doctrines of Stoicism had failed to attract.The division of matter into minute and indestructible particles served admirably to account for the gradual formation and disappearance of bodies without necessitating the help of a creator. But the infinities assumed as a condition of atomism were of even greater importance. Where time and space are unlimited, the quantity of matter must be equally unlimited, otherwise, being composed of loose particles, it would long since have been dissipated and lost in the83 surrounding void. Now, given infinite time and space, and infinite atoms capable of combining with one another in various ways, all possible combinations must already have been tried, not once or twice, but infinitely often. Of such combinations, that which best fulfils the conditions of mechanical stability will last the longest, and, without being designed, will present all the characters of design. And this, according to Epicurus, is how the actual frame of things comes to be what it is. Nor was it only the world as a whole that he explained by the theory of a single happy accident occurring after a multitude of fortuitous experiments. The same process repeats itself on a smaller scale in the production of particular compounds. All sorts of living bodies were originally throw up from the earth’s bosom, but many of them instantly perished, not being provided with the means of nutrition, propagation, or self-defence. In like manner we are enabled to recall a particular thought at pleasure, because innumerable images are continually passing through the mind, none of which comes into the foreground of consciousness until attention is fixed on it; though how we come to distinguish it from the rest is not explained. So also, only those societies survived and became civilised where contracts were faithfully observed. All kinds of wild beasts have at different times been employed in war, just as horses and elephants are now, but on trial were found unmanageable and given up.162
Nevertheless, after all has been said, we are conscious of a great change in passing from the Greek moralist to the Roman poet. We seem to be breathing a new atmosphere, to find the old ideas informed with an unwonted life, to feel ourselves in the presence of one who has a power of stamping his convictions on us not ordinarily possessed by the mere imitative disciple. The explanation of this difference, we think, lies in the fact that Lucretius has so manipulated the Epicurean doctrines as to convert them from a system into a picture; and that he has saturated this picture with an emotional tone entirely wanting to the spirit of Epicureanism as it was originally designed. It is with the latter element that we may most conveniently begin.In a former part of this work455 we found reason to believe that Plato’s supreme good is no other than the Idea of Sameness which occurs in the Sophist and in the Timaeus, where it is correlated with the Idea of Difference; and we also concluded that the divine creator of the last-named dialogue is intended to represent it under a more concrete and popular form.456 We may, perhaps, also discover it in the Limit of the Philêbus; and if we are to believe what Aristotle tells us about the later teaching of Plato, it seems to have finally coalesced with the Pythagorean One, which combines with the unlimited Dyad to form first number, and then everything else, just as the Same combines with the Different to form existence in the Timaeus.457On extending our survey still wider, we find that the existence of a thing everywhere depends on its unity.462 All bodies perish by dissolution, and dissolution means the loss of unity. Health, beauty, and virtue are merely so many different kinds of harmony and unison. Shall we then say that soul, as the great unifying power in Nature, is the One of which we are in search? Not so; for preceding investigations have taught us that soul is only an agent for transmitting ideas received from a higher power; and the psychic faculties themselves are held together by a unifying principle for which we have to account. Neither is the whole sum of existence the One, for its very name implies a plurality of parts. And the claims of the Nous to that distinction have been already disproved. In short, nothing that exists can be the One, for, as we have seen, unity is the cause of existence and must therefore precede it.
And the how and the why.That the absolute disjunction of thought from matter involved the impossibility of their interaction, was a consequence not drawn by Descartes himself, but by his immediate followers. Here also, Greek philosophy played its part in hastening the development of modern ideas. The fall of Aristotle had incidentally the effect of reviving not only the systems which preceded, but also those which followed his. Chief among these were Stoicism and Epicureanism. Differing widely in most other respects, they agreed in teaching that body is acted on by body alone. The Cartesians accepted this principle to the fullest extent so far as human perceptions and volitions were concerned; and to a great extent in dealing with the problems of physical science. But instead of arguing from the laws of mechanical causation to the materiality of mind, they argued from its immateriality to the total absence of communication between consciousness and motion. There was, however, one thinker of that age who went all lengths with the later Greek materialists. This was Thomas Hobbes, the founder of modern ethics, the first Englishman to grasp and develope still further Galileo’s method of mathematical deduction and mechanical analysis.In this connexion, some importance must also be attributed to the more indirect influence exercised by children; These did not form a particularly numerous class in the upper ranks of Roman society; but, to judge by what we see in modern France, the fewer there were of them the more attention were they likely to receive; and their interests, which like those of the other defenceless classes had been depressed or neglected under the aristocratic régime, were favoured by the reforming and levelling movement of the empire. One of Juvenal’s most popular satires is entirely devoted to the question of their education; and, in reference to this, the point of view most prominently put forward is the importance of the examples which are offered to them by their parents. Juvenal, himself a free-thinker, is exceedingly anxious that they should not be indoctrinated with superstitious opinions; but we may be sure that a different order of considerations would equally induce others to give their children a careful religious training, and to keep them at a distance from sceptical influences; while the spontaneous tendency of children to believe in the supernatural would render it easier to give them moral instruction under a religious form.
IV.It is well known that Spinoza draws a sharp line of demarcation between the two attributes of Extension and Thought, which, with him, correspond to what are usually called body and mind. Neither attribute can act on the other. Mind receives no impressions from body, nor does body receive any impulses from mind. This proposition follows by rigorous logical necessity from the Platonic principle that mind is independent of body, combined with the Stoic principle that nothing but body can act on body, generalised into the wider principle that interaction implies homogeneity of nature. According to some critics, Spinoza’s teaching on this point constitutes a fatal flaw in his philosophy. How, it is asked, can we know that there is any such thing as body (or extension) if body cannot be perceived,—for perceived it certainly cannot be without acting on our minds? The idea of infinite substance suggests a way out of the408 difficulty. ‘I find in myself,’ Spinoza might say, ‘the idea of extension. In fact, my mind is nothing but the idea of extension, or the idea of that idea, and so on through as many self-reflections as you please. At the same time, mind, or thought, is not itself extended. Descartes and the Platonists before him have proved thus much. Consequently I can conceive extension as existing independently of myself, and, more generally, of all thought. But how can I be sure that it actually does so exist? In this wise. An examination of thought leads me to the notion of something in which it resides—a substance whose attribute it is. But having once conceived such a substance, I cannot limit it to a single attribute, nor to two, nor to any finite number. Limitation implies a boundary, and there can be no boundary assigned to existence, for existence by its very definition includes everything that is. Accordingly, whatever can be conceived, in other words whatever can be thought without involving a contradiction,—an important reservation which I beg you to observe,—must necessarily exist. Now extension involves no contradiction, therefore it exists,—exists, that is to say, as an attribute of the infinite substance. And, by parity of reasoning, there must be an idea of extension; for this also can exist without involving a contradiction, as the simplest introspection suffices to show. You ask me why then I do not believe in gorgons and chimaeras. I answer that since, in point of fact, they do not exist, I presume that their notion involves a contradiction, although my knowledge of natural law is not sufficiently extended to show me where the contradiction lies. But perhaps science will some day be able to point out in every instance of a non-existing thing, where the contradiction lies, no less surely than it can now be pointed out in the case of impossible geometrical figures.’ In short, while other people travel straight from their sensations to an external world, Spinoza travels round to it by the idea of an infinite substance.564250
We find the same theory reproduced and enforced with weighty illustrations by the great historian of that age. It is not known whether Thucydides owed any part of his culture to Protagoras, but the introduction to his history breathes the same spirit as the observations which we have just transcribed. He, too, characterises antiquity as a scene of barbarism, isolation, and lawless violence, particularly remarking that piracy was not then counted a dishonourable profession. He points to the tribes outside Greece, together with the most backward among the Greeks themselves, as representing the low condition from which Athens and her sister states had only emerged within a comparatively recent period. And in the funeral oration which he puts into the mouth of Pericles, the legendary glories of Athens are passed over without the slightest allusion,69 while exclusive prominence is given to her proud position as the intellectual centre of Greece. Evidently a radical change had taken place in men’s conceptions since Herodotus wrote. They were learning to despise the mythical glories of their ancestors, to exalt the present at the expense of the past, to fix their attention exclusively on immediate human interests, and, possibly, to anticipate the coming of a loftier civilisation than had as yet been seen.Meanwhile a new and powerful agency was about to interpose with decisive effect in the doubtful struggle. This was the study of mathematics. Revived by the Arabians and never wholly neglected during the Middle Ages, it had profited by the general movement of the Renaissance, and was finally applied to the cosmical problem by Galileo. In this connexion, two points of profound philosophical interest must be noted. The first is that, even in its fall, the Aristotelian influence survived, to some extent, both for good and for evil. To Aristotle belongs the merit of having been the first to base astronomy on physics. He maintains the earth’s immobility on experimental no less than on speculative grounds. A stone thrown straight up in the air returns to its starting-point instead of falling to the west of it; and the absence of stellar385 parallax seems to show that there is no change in our position relatively to the heavenly bodies. After satisfying himself, on empirical considerations, that the popular astronomy is true, he proceeds to show that it must be true, by considerations on the nature of matter and motion, which, although mistaken, are conceived in a genuinely scientific spirit. Now Galileo saw that, to establish the Copernican system, he must first grapple with the Peripatetic physics, and replace it by a new dynamical theory. This, which he could hardly have effected by the ordinary mathematical methods, he did by borrowing the analytical method of Atomism and applying it to the measurement of motion. The law of falling bodies was ascertained by resolving their descent into a series of moments, and determining its rate of velocity at successive intervals; and curvilinear motions were similarly resolved into the combination of an impulsive with an accelerating force, a method diametrically opposed to that of Bacon, who would not even accept the rough analysis of the apparent celestial motions proposed by Greek astronomers.