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We are still anxious to know whether our perception of a real world comes to us by an exercise of thought, or by a simple impression of sense—whether it is the universal that gives the individual reality, or the individual that shapes itself, by some process not explained, into a universal—whether bodily movements are the causal antecedents of mental functions, or mind rather the reality which gives truth to body—whether the highest life is a life of thought or a life of action—whether intellectual also involves moral progress—whether the state is a mere combination for the preservation of goods and property, or a moral organism developing the idea of right. And about these and such like questions Aristotle has still much to tell us.... His theory of a creative reason, fragmentary as that theory is left, is the answer to all materialistic theories of the universe. To Aristotle, as to a subtle Scottish preacher [Principal Caird] ‘the real pre-supposition of all knowledge, or the thought which is the prius of all things, is not the individual’s consciousness of himself as individual, but a thought or self-consciousness which is beyond all individual selves, which is the unity of all individual selves and their objects, of all thinkers and all objects of all thought.’167
If Plotinus rose above the vulgar superstitions of the West, while, at the same time, using their language for the easier expression of his philosophical ideas, there was one more refined superstition of mixed Greek and Oriental origin which he denounced with the most uncompromising vigour. This was Gnosticism, as taught by Valentinus and his school. Towards the close of our last chapter, we gave some account of the theory in question. It was principally as enemies of the world and maligners of its perfection that the Gnostics made themselves offensive to the founder of Neo-Platonism. To him, the antithesis of good and evil was represented, not by the opposition of spirit and Nature, but by the opposition between his ideal principle through all degrees of its perfection, and unformed Matter. Like Plato, he looked on the348 existing world as a consummate work of art, an embodiment of the archetypal Ideas, a visible presentation of reason. But in the course of his attack on the Gnostics,518 other points of great interest are raised, showing how profoundly his philosophy differed from theirs, how entirely he takes his stand on the fixed principles of Hellenic thought. Thus he particularly reproaches his opponents for their systematic disparagement of Plato, to whom, after all, they owe whatever is true and valuable in their metaphysics.519 He ridicules their belief in demoniacal possession, with its wholly gratuitous and clumsy employment of supernatural agencies to account for what can be sufficiently explained by the operation of natural causes.520 And, more than anything else, he severely censures their detachment of religion from morality. On this last point, some of his remarks are so striking and pertinent that they deserve to be quoted.
Passing from sensation to thought, it is admitted that abstract conceptions are incorporeal: how, then, can they be received and entertained by a corporeal substance? Or what possible connexion can there be between different arrangements of material particles and such notions as temperance and justice? This is already a sufficiently near approach to the language of modern philosophy. In another essay, which according to the original arrangement stands third, and must have been composed immediately after that whence the foregoing arguments are transcribed, there is more than an approach, there is complete coincidence.437 To deduce mind from atoms is, says Plotinus, if we may so speak, still more impossible than to deduce it from the elementary bodies. Granting that the atoms have a natural movement downwards, granting that they suffer a lateral deflection and so impinge on one another, still this could do no more than produce a disturbance in the bodies against which they strike. But to what atomic movement can one attribute psychic energies and affections? What sort of collision in the vertical line of descent, or in the oblique line of deflection, or in any direction you please, will account for the appearance of a particular kind of reasoning or mental impulse or thought, or how can it account for the existence of such processes at all? Here, of course, Plotinus is alluding to the Epicureans; but it is with the Stoic and other schools that he is principally concerned, and we return to his attack on their psychology.
CHAPTER VI. CHARACTERISTICS OF ARISTOTLE.
Logical division is, however, a process not fully represented by any fixed and formal distribution of topics, nor yet is it equivalent to the arrangement of genera and species according to their natural affinities, as in the admirable systems of Jussieu and Cuvier. It is something much more flexible and subtle, a carrying down into the minutest detail, of that psychological law which requires, as a condition of perfect consciousness, that feelings, conceptions, judgments, and, generally speaking, all mental modes should be apprehended together with their contradictory opposites. Heracleitus had a dim perception of this truth when he taught the identity of antithetical couples, and it is more or less vividly illustrated by all Greek classic literature after him; but Socrates seems to have been the first who transformed it from a law of existence into a law of cognition; with him knowledge and ignorance, reason and passion, freedom and slavery, virtue, and vice, right and wrong (πολλ?ν ?νομ?των μορφ? μ?α) were apprehended in inseparable connexion, and were employed for mutual elucidation, not only in broad masses, but also through their last subdivisions, like the delicate adjustments of light and shade on a Venetian canvas. This method of classification by graduated descent and symmetrical contrast, like the whole dialectic system of which it forms a branch, is only suited to the mental phenomena for which it was originally devised; and Hegel committed a fatal error when he applied it to explain the order of external coexistence and succession. We have already touched on the essentially subjective character of the Socratic definition, and148 we shall presently have to make a similar restriction in dealing with Socratic induction. With regard to the question last considered, our limits will not permit us, nor, indeed, does it fall within the scope of our present study, to pursue a vein of reflection which was never fully worked out either by the Athenian philosophers or by their modern successors, at least not in its only legitimate direction.V.
The methodical distinction between the materials for generalisation and generalisation itself, is derived from the metaphysical distinction between Matter and Form in Nature.539 This distinction is the next great feature of Bacon’s philosophy, and it is taken, still more obviously than the first, from Aristotle, the most manifest blots of the original being faithfully reproduced in the copy. The Forms375 of simple substances were, according to the Stagirite, their sensible qualities. The Forms of aggregates were the whole complex of their differential characteristics. And although the formal cause or idea of a thing was carefully discriminated from its efficient and final causes, it was found impossible, in practice, to keep the three from running into one. Again, the distinction between single concepts and the judgments created by putting two concepts together, although clearly conveyed by the logical distinction between terms and propositions, was no sooner perceived than lost sight of, thanks to the unfortunate theory of essential predication. For it was thought that the import of universal propositions consisted either in stating the total concept to which a given mark belonged, or in annexing a new mark to a given concept. Hence, in Aristotle’s system, the study of natural law means nothing but the definition and classification of natural types; and, in harmony with this idea, the whole universe is conceived as an arrangement of concentric spheres, each receiving its impulse from that immediately above it. Precisely the same confusion of Form, Cause, and Law reigns throughout Bacon’s theory of Nature. We do, indeed, find mention made of axiomata or general propositions to a greater extent than in the Organon, but they are never clearly distinguished from Forms, nor Forms from functions.540 And although efficient and material causes are assigned to physics, while formal and final causes are reserved for metaphysics—an apparent recognition of the wide difference between the forces which bring a thing into existence and the actual conditions of its stability,—this arrangement is a departure from the letter rather than from the spirit of Aristotle’s philosophy. For the efficient causes of the De376 Augmentis answer roughly to the various kinds of motion discussed in the Physics and in the treatise On Generation and Corruption; while its Forms are, as we have seen, identified with natural causes or laws in the most general sense.One symptom of this reaction was the fashionable archaism of the Augustan age, the tendency to despise whatever was new in literature, and to exalt whatever was old. It is well known how feelingly Horace complains of a movement which was used to damage his own reputation as a poet;309 but what seems to have escaped observation is, that this protest against the literary archaism of his contemporaries is only one symptom of a much profounder division between his philosophy and theirs. He was just as good a patriot as they were, but his sympathies were with the Hellenising aristocracy to which Lucretius and Cicero had belonged, not with the narrow-minded conservatism of the middle classes and the country people. He was a man of progress and free-thought, who accepted the empire for what it might be worth, a Roman Prosper Merimée or Sainte-Beuve, whose preference of order to anarchy did not involve any respect for superstitious beliefs simply because they were supported by authority. And this healthy common sense is so much a part of his character, that he sometimes gives his mistresses the benefit of it, warning Leuconoe against the Babylonian soothsayers, and telling202 Phidyle that the gods should be approached not only with sacrifices but with clean hands.310 Yet so strong was the spirit of the age, that the sceptical poet occasionally feels himself obliged to second or to applaud the work of restoration undertaken by Augustus, and to augur from it, with more or less sincerity, a reformation in private life.311 And even the frivolous Ovid may be supposed to have had the same object in view when composing his Fasti.
while 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.
The activities of the soul are thought, sensation, reasoning, desire, attention, and so forth: the activities of body are heat, cold, impact, and gravitation; if to these we add the characteristics of mind, the latter will have no special properties by296 which it can be known. And even in body we distinguish between quantity and quality; the former, at most, being corporeal, and the latter not corporeal at all. Here Plotinus just touches the idealistic method of modern spiritualism, but fails to follow it any further. He seems to have adopted Aristotle’s natural realism as a sufficient theory of external perception, and to have remained uninfluenced by Plato’s distrust of sensible appearances.311
It may safely be assumed that the prejudices once entertained against Epicureanism are now extinct. Whatever may have been the speculative opinions of its founder, he had as good a right to them as the Apostles had to theirs; nor did he stand further aloof from the popular religion of any age than Aristotle, who has generally been in high favour with theologians. His practical teaching was directed towards the constant inculcation of virtue; nor was it belied by the conduct either of himself or of his disciples, even judged by the standard of the schools to which they were most opposed. And some of his physical theories, once rejected as self-evidently absurd, are now proved to be in harmony with the sober conclusions of modern science. At any rate, it is not in this quarter, as our readers will doubtless have already perceived, that the old prejudices, if they still exist, are likely to find an echo. Just now, indeed, the danger is not that Epicurus should be depreciated, but that his merits should obtain far more than their proper meed of recognition. It seems to be forgotten that what was best in his physics he borrowed from others, and that what he added was of less than no value; that he was ignorant or careless of demonstrated truths; that his avowed principles of belief were inconsistent with any truth rising above the level of vulgar apprehension; and finally, that in his system scientific interests were utterly subordinated to practical interests.