A Short History of Greek Philosophy
by John Marshall
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The main purpose which I have had in view in writing this book has been to present an account of Greek philosophy which, within strict limits of brevity, shall be at once authentic and interesting—authentic, as being based on the original works themselves, and not on any secondary sources; interesting, as presenting to the ordinary English reader, in language freed as far as possible from technicality and abstruseness, the great thoughts of the greatest men of antiquity on questions of permanent significance and value. There has been no attempt to shirk the really philosophic problems which these men tried in their day to solve; but I have endeavoured to show, by a sympathetic treatment of them, that these problems were no mere wars of words, but that in fact the philosophers of twenty-four centuries ago were dealing with exactly similar difficulties as to the bases of belief and of right action as, under different forms, beset thoughtful men and women to-day.

In the general treatment of the subject, I have followed in the main the order, and drawn chiefly on the selection of passages, in Ritter and Preller's Historia Philosophiae Graecae. It is hoped that in this way the little book may be found useful at the universities, as a running commentary on that excellent work; and the better to aid students in the use of it for that purpose, the corresponding sections in Ritter and Preller are indicated by the figures in the margin.

In the sections on Plato, and occasionally elsewhere, I have drawn to some extent, by the kind permission of the Delegates of the Clarendon Press and his own, on Professor Jowett's great commentary and translation.


Transcriber's notes:

The passage numbers in the Ritter-Preller book mentioned in the second paragraph above are indicated in this book with square brackets, e.g. "[10]". In the original book they were formatted as sidenotes. In this e-book they are embedded in the text approximately where they appear in the original book, unless they are at the start of a paragraph, in which case they appear immediately before that paragraph.

Page numbers are indicated with curly brackets, e.g. "{5}". They are embedded into the text where page breaks occurred in the original book.

In the original book, pages had headings that varied with the material being discussed on that pair of pages. In this e-book, those headings have been collected into an "introductory" paragraph at the beginning of each chapter.

The original book uses several Greek words. These words, the chapters they are used in, and their transliterations are as follows:

Chapter I (pages 3, 4, 12) - "arche" - alpha (with the soft-breathing mark), rho, chi, eta; "phloios" - phi, lambda, omicron, iota, omicron, final sigma.

Chapter III (page 28) - "soma" - sigma, omega, mu, alpha; "sema" - sigma, eta, mu, alpha.

Chapter IV (page 33, 34 - "doxa" - delta, omicron, xi, alpha; "Peri" - PI, epsilon, rho, iota; "Phueos" - PHI, upsilon, sigma, epsilon, omega, final sigma.

Chapter V (page 48) - "logos" - lambda, omicron, gamma, omicron, final sigma; "hule" - upsilon with rough breathing mark, lambda, eta.



I.—THE SCHOOL OF MILETUS— I. Thales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. Anaximander . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

II.—THE SCHOOL OF MILETUS (concluded)— III. Anaximenes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 IV. Heraclitus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15


IV.—THE ELEATICS— I. Xenophanes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 II. Parmenides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

V.—THE ELEATICS (concluded)— III. Zeno . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 IV. Melissus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

VI.—THE ATOMISTS— I. Anaxagoras . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

VII.—THE ATOMISTS (continued)— II. Empedocles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

VIII.—THE ATOMISTS (concluded)— III. Leucippus and Democritus . . . . . . . . . . 74

IX.—THE SOPHISTS— I. Protagoras . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85

X.—THE SOPHISTS (concluded)— II. Gorgias . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92

XI.—SOCRATES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101

XII.—SOCRATES (concluded) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116

XIII.—THE INCOMPLETE SOCRATICS— I. Aristippus and the Cyrenaics . . . . . . . . 124 II. Antisthenes and the Cynics . . . . . . . . . 128 III. Euclides and the Megarics . . . . . . . . . . 132

XIV.—PLATO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134

XV.—PLATO (continued) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146

XVI.—PLATO (continued) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154

XVII.—PLATO (concluded) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162

XVIII.—ARISTOTLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172

XIX.—ARISTOTLE (continued) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187

XX.—ARISTOTLE (concluded) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199

XXI.—THE SCEPTICS AND EPICUREANS . . . . . . . . . . . . 210

XXII.—THE STOICS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 238

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245




The question of Thales—Water the beginning of things—Soul in all things—Mystery in science—Abstraction and reality—Theory of development

I. THALES.—For several centuries prior to the great Persian invasions of Greece, perhaps the very greatest and wealthiest city of the Greek world was Miletus. Situate about the centre of the Ionian coasts of Asia Minor, with four magnificent harbours and a strongly defensible position, it gathered to itself much of the great overland trade, which has flowed for thousands of years eastward and westward between India and the Mediterranean; while by its great fleets it created a new world of its own along the Black Sea coast. Its colonies there were so numerous that Miletus was named 'Mother of Eighty Cities.' From Abydus on the Bosphorus, past Sinope, and so onward to the Crimea and the Don, and thence round to Thrace, a busy community of colonies, mining, manufacturing, ship-building, corn-raising, owned Miletus for their mother-city. Its {2} marts must therefore have been crowded with merchants of every country from India to Spain, from Arabia to Russia; the riches and the wonders of every clime must have become familiar to its inhabitants. And fitly enough, therefore, in this city was born the first notable Greek geographer, the first constructor of a map, the first observer of natural and other curiosities, the first recorder of varieties of custom among various communities, the first speculator on the causes of strange phenomena,—Hecataeus. His work is in great part lost, but we know a good deal about it from the frequent references to him and it in the work of his rival and follower, Herodotus.

The city naturally held a leading place politically as well as commercially. Empire in our sense was alien to the instincts of the Greek race; but Miletus was for centuries recognised as the foremost member of a great commercial and political league, the political character of the league becoming more defined, as first the Lydian and then the Persian monarchy became an aggressive neighbour on its borders.


It was in this active, prosperous, enterprising state, and at the period of its highest activity, that Thales, statesman, practical engineer, mathematician, philosopher, flourished. Without attempting to fix his date too closely, we may take it that he was a leading man in Miletus for the greater part of the {3} first half of the sixth century before Christ. We hear of an eclipse predicted by him, of the course of a river usefully changed, of shrewd and profitable handling of the market, of wise advice in the general councils of the league. He seems to have been at once a student of mathematics and an observer of nature, and withal something having analogy with both, an inquirer or speculator into the origin of things. To us nowadays this suggests a student of geology, or physiography, or some such branch of physical science; to Thales it probably rather suggested a theoretical inquiry into the simplest thinkable aspect of things as existing. "Under what form known to us," he would seem to have asked, "may we assume an identity in all known things, so as best to cover or render explicable the things as we know them?" The 'beginning' of things (for it was thus he described this assumed identity) was not conceived by him as something which was long ages before, and which had ceased to be; rather it meant the reality of things now. Thales then was the putter of a question, which had not been asked expressly before, but which has never ceased to be asked since. He was also the formulator of a new meaning for a word; the word 'beginning' ((Greek) arche) got the meaning of 'underlying reality' and so of 'ending' as well. In short, he so dealt with a word, on the surface of it implying {4} time, as to eliminate the idea of time, and suggest a method of looking at the world, more profound and far-reaching than had been before imagined.[1]

It is interesting to find that the man who was thus the first philosopher, the first observer who took a metaphysical, non-temporal, analytical view of the world, and so became the predecessor of all those votaries of 'other-world' ways of thinking,—whether as academic idealist, or 'budge doctor of the Stoic fur,' or Christian ascetic or what not, whose ways are such a puzzle to the 'hard-headed practical man,'—was himself one of the shrewdest men of his day, so shrewd that by common consent he was placed foremost in antiquity among the Seven Sages, or seven shrewd men, whose practical wisdom became a world's tradition, enshrined in anecdote and crystallised in proverb.


The chief record that we possess of the philosophic teaching of Thales is contained in an interesting notice of earlier philosophies by Aristotle, the main part of which as regards Thales runs as follows:

"The early philosophers as a rule formulated the originative principle ((Greek) arche) of all things under some material expression. By the originative principle or element of things they meant that of which all {5} existing things are composed, that which determines their coming into being, and into which they pass on ceasing to be. Where these philosophers differed from each other was simply in the answer which they gave to the question what was the nature of this principle, the differences of view among them applying both to the number, and to the character, of the supposed element or elements.

"Thales, the pioneer of this philosophy, maintained that Water was the originative principle of all things. It was doubtless in this sense that he said that the earth rested on water. What suggested the conception to him may have been such facts of observation, as that all forms of substance which promote life are moist, that heat itself seems to be conditioned by moisture, that the life-producing seed in all creatures is moist, and so on."

Other characteristics of water, it is elsewhere suggested, may have been in Thales' mind, such as its readiness to take various shapes, its convertibility from water into vapour or ice, its ready mixture with other substances, and so forth. What we have chiefly to note is, that the more unscientific this theory about the universe may strike us as being, the more completely out of accord with facts now familiar to everybody, the more striking is it as marking a new mood of mind, in which unity, though only very partially suggested or discoverable by the senses, is {6} preferred to that infinite and indefinite variety and difference which the senses give us at every moment. There is here the germ of a new aspiration, of a determination not to rest in the merely momentary and different, but at least to try, even against the apparent evidence of the senses, for something more permanently intelligible. As a first suggestion of what this permanent underlying reality may be, Water might very well pass. It is probable that even to Thales himself it was only a symbol, like the figure in a mathematical proposition, representing by the first passable physical phenomenon which came to hand, that ideal reality underlying all change, which is at once the beginning, the middle, and the end of all. That he did not mean Water, in the ordinary prosaic sense, to be identical with this, is suggested by some [10] other sayings of his. "Thales," says Aristotle elsewhere, "thought the whole universe was full of gods." "All things," he is recorded as saying, "have a soul in them, in virtue of which they move other things, and are themselves moved, even as the magnet, by virtue of its life or soul, moves the iron." Without pushing these fragmentary utterances too far, we may well conclude that whether Thales spoke of the soul of the universe and its divine indwelling powers, or gods, or of water as the origin of things, he was only vaguely symbolising in different ways an idea as yet formless and void, like the primeval chaos, but nevertheless, {7} like it, containing within it a promise and a potency of greater life hereafter.

II. ANAXIMANDER.—Our information with respect to thinkers so remote as these men is too scanty and too fragmentary, to enable us to say in what manner or degree they influenced each other. We cannot say for certain that any one of them was pupil or antagonist of another. They appear each of them, one might say for a moment only, from amidst the darkness of antiquity; a few sayings of theirs we catch vaguely across the void, and then they disappear. There is not, consequently, any very distinct progression or continuity observable among them, and so far therefore one has to confess that the title 'School of Miletus' is a misnomer. We have already quoted the words of Aristotle in which he classes the Ionic philosophers together, as all of them giving a material aspect of some kind to the originative principle of the universe (see above, P. 4). But while this is a characteristic observable in some of them, it is not so obviously discoverable in the second of their number, Anaximander.

This philosopher is said to have been younger by [11] one generation than Thales, but to have been intimate with him. He, like Thales, was a native of Miletus, and while we do not hear of him as a person, like Thales, of political eminence and activity, he was certainly the equal, if not the superior, of Thales in {8} mathematical and scientific ability. He is said to have either invented or at least made known to Greece the construction of the sun-dial. He was associated with Hecataeus in the construction of the earliest geographical charts or maps; he devoted himself with some success to the science of astronomy. His familiarity with the abstractions of mathematics perhaps accounts for the more abstract form, in which he expressed his idea of the principle of all things.


To Anaximander this principle was, as he expressed it, the infinite; not water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a different thing from any of them, something hardly namable, out of whose formlessness the heavens and all the worlds in them came to be. And by necessity into that same infinite or indefinite existence, out of which they originally emerged, did every created thing return. Thus, as he poetically expressed it, "Time brought its revenges, and for the wrong-doing of existence all things paid the penalty of death."

The momentary resting-place of Thales on the confines of the familiar world of things, in his formulation of Water as the principle of existence, is thus immediately removed. We get, as it were, to the earliest conception of things as we find it in Genesis; before the heavens were, or earth, or the waters under the earth, or light, or sun, or moon, or grass, or the beast of the field, when the "earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the {9} face of the deep." Only, be it observed, that while in the primitive Biblical idea this formless void precedes in time an ordered universe, in Anaximander's conception this formless infinitude is always here, is in fact the only reality which ever is here, something without beginning or ending, underlying all, enwrapping all, governing all.

To modern criticism this may seem to be little better than verbiage, having, perhaps, some possibilities of poetic treatment, but certainly very unsatisfactory if regarded as science. But to this we have to reply that one is not called upon to regard it as science. Behind science, as much to-day when our knowledge of the details of phenomena is so enormously increased, as in the times when science had hardly begun, there lies a world of mystery which we cannot pierce, and yet which we are compelled to assume. No scientific treatise can begin without assuming Matter and Force as data, and however much we may have learned about the relations of forces and the affinities of things, Matter and Force as such remain very much the same dim infinities, that the originative 'Infinite' was to Anaximander.

It is to be noted, however, that while modern science assumes necessarily two correlative data or originative principles,—Force, namely, as well as Matter,—Anaximander seems to have been content {10} with the formulation of but one; and perhaps it is just here that a kinship still remains between him and Thales and other philosophers of the school. He, no more than they, seems to have definitely raised the question, How are we to account for, or formulate, the principle of difference or change? What is it that causes things to come into being out of, or recalls them back from being into, the infinite void? It is to be confessed, however, that our accounts on this point are somewhat conflicting. One authority actually says that he formulated motion as eternal also. So far as he attempted to grasp the idea of difference in relation to that of unity, he seems to have regarded the principle of change or difference as inhering in [13] the infinite itself. Aristotle in this connection contrasts his doctrine with that of Anaxagoras, who formulated two principles of existence—Matter and Mind (see below, p. 54). Anaximander, he points out, found all he wanted in the one.

As a mathematician Anaximander must have been familiar in various aspects with the functions of the Infinite or Indefinable in the organisation of thought. To the student of Euclid, for example, the impossibility of adequately defining any of the fundamental elements of the science of geometry—the point, the line, the surface—is a familiar fact. In so far as a science of geometry is possible at all, the exactness, which is its essential characteristic, is only {11} attainable by starting from data which are in themselves impossible, as of a point which has no magnitude, of a line which has no breadth, of a surface which has no thickness. So in the science of abstract number the fundamental assumptions, as that 1=1, x=x, etc., are contradicted by every fact of experience, for in the world as we know it, absolute equality is simply impossible to discover; and yet these fundamental conceptions are in their development most powerful instruments for the extension of man's command over his own experiences. Their completeness of abstraction from the accidents of experience, from the differences, qualifications, variations which contribute so largely to the personal interests of life, this it is which makes the abstract sciences demonstrative, exact, and universally applicable. In so far, therefore, as we are permitted to grasp the conception of a perfectly abstract existence prior to, and underlying, and enclosing, all separate existences, so far also do we get to a conception which is demonstrative, exact, and universally applicable throughout the whole world of knowable objects.

Such a conception, however, by its absolute emptiness of content, does not afford any means in itself of progression; somehow and somewhere a principle of movement, of development, of concrete reality, must be found or assumed, to link this ultimate abstraction of existence to the multifarious phenomena {12} of existence as known. And it was, perhaps, because Anaximander failed to work out this aspect of the question, that in the subsequent leaders of the school movement, rather than mere existence, was the principle chiefly insisted upon.

Before passing, however, to these successors of Anaximander, some opinions of his which we have not perhaps the means of satisfactorily correlating with his general conception, but which are not without their individual interest, may here be noted. [14] The word husk or bark ((Greek) phloios) seems to have been a favourite one with him, as implying and depicting a conception of interior and necessary development in things. Thus he seems to have postulated an inherent tendency or law in the infinite, which compelled it to develop contrary characters, as hot and cold, dry and moist. In consequence of this fundamental tendency an envelope of fire, he says, came into being, encircling another envelope of air, which latter in turn enveloped the sphere of earth, each being like the 'husk' of the other, or like the bark which encloses the tree. This concentric system he conceives as having in some way been parted up into various systems, represented by the sun, the moon, the stars, and the earth. The last he figured as hanging in space, and deriving its stability from the inherent and perfect balance or relation of its parts.



Then, again, as to the origin of man, he seems to have in like manner taught a theory of development from lower forms of life. In his view the first living creatures must have come into being in moisture (thus recalling the theory of Thales). As time went on, and these forms of life reached their fuller possibilities, they came to be transferred to the dry land, casting off their old nature like a husk or bark. More particularly he insists that man must have developed out of other and lower forms of life, because of his exceptional need, under present conditions, of care and nursing in his earlier years. Had he come into being at once as a human creature he could never have survived.

The analogies of these theories with modern speculations are obvious and interesting. But without enlarging on these, one has only to say in conclusion that, suggestive and interesting as many of these poor fragments, these disjecti membra poetae, are individually, they leave us more and more impressed with a sense of incompleteness in our knowledge of Anaximander's theory as a whole. It may be that as a consistent and perfected system the theory never was worked out; it may be that it never was properly understood.

[1] By some authorities it is stated that Anaximander, the second philosopher of this school, was the first to use the word arche in the philosophic sense. Whether this be so or not, Thales certainly had the idea.




Air the beginning of things—All things pass—The eternal and the temporary—The weeping philosopher


III. ANAXIMENES.—This philosopher was also a native of Miletus, and is said to have been a hearer or pupil of Anaximander. As we have said, the [19] tendency of the later members of the school was towards emphasising the motive side of the supposed underlying principle of nature, and accordingly Anaximenes chose Air as the element which best [18] represented or symbolised that principle. Its fluidity, readiness of movement, wide extension, and absolute neutrality of character as regards colour, taste, smell, form, etc., were obvious suggestions. The breath also, whose very name to the ancients implied an identity with the life or soul, was nothing but air; and the identification of Air with Life supplied just that principle of productiveness and movement, which was felt [20] to be necessary in the primal element of being. The process of existence, then, he conceived as consisting in a certain concentration of this diffused life-giving element into more or less solidified forms, and the {15} ultimate separation and expansion of these back into the formless air again. The contrary forces previously used by Anaximander—heat and cold, drought and moisture—are with Anaximenes also the agencies which institute these changes.

This is pretty nearly all that we know of Anaximenes. So far as the few known facts reveal him, we can hardly say that except as supplying a step towards the completer development of the motive [22] idea in being, he greatly adds to the chain of progressive thought.

IV. HERACLITUS.—Although not a native of Miletus, but of Ephesus, Heraclitus, both by his nationality as an Ionian and by his position in the development of philosophic conceptions, falls naturally to be classed with the philosophers of Miletus. His period may be given approximately as from about 560 to 500 B.C., though others place him a generation later. Few authentic particulars have been preserved of him. We hear of extensive travels, of his return to his native city only to refuse a share in its activities, of his retirement to a hermit's life. He seems to have formed a contrast to the preceding philosophers in his greater detachment from the ordinary interests of civic existence; and much in his teaching suggests the ascetic if not the misanthrope. He received the nickname of 'The Obscure,' from the studied mystery in which he was supposed to involve his {16} [23] teaching. He wrote not for the vulgar, but for the gifted few. 'Much learning makes not wise' was the motto of his work; the man of gift, of insight, that man is better than ten thousand. He was savage in his criticism of other writers, even the greatest. Homer, he said, and Archilochus too, deserved to be hooted from the platform and thrashed. Even the main purport of his writings was differently interpreted. Some named his work 'The Muses,' as though it were chiefly a poetic vision; others named it 'The sure Steersman to the Goal of Life'; others, more prosaically, 'A Treatise of Nature.'


The fundamental principle or fact of being Heraclitus formulated in the famous dictum, 'All things pass.' In the eternal flux or flow of being consisted its reality; even as in a river the water is ever changing, and the river exists as a river only in virtue of this continual change; or as in a living body, wherein while there is life there is no stability or fixedness; stability and fixedness are the attributes of the unreal image of life, not of life itself. Thus, as will be observed, from the material basis of being as conceived by Thales, with only a very vague conception of the counter-principle of movement, philosophy has wheeled round in Heraclitus to the other extreme; he finds his permanent element in the negation of permanence; being or reality consists in never 'being' but always 'becoming,' not in stability but in change.



This eternal movement he pictures elsewhere as an eternal strife of opposites, whose differences nevertheless consummate themselves in finest harmony. Thus oneness emerges out of multiplicity, multiplicity out of oneness; and the harmony of the universe is of contraries, as of the lyre and the bow. War is the father and king and lord of all things. Neither god nor man presided at the creation of anything that is; that which was, is that which is, and that which ever shall be; even an ever-living Fire, ever kindling and ever being extinguished.


Thus in Fire, as an image or symbol of the underlying reality of existence, Heraclitus advanced to the furthest limit attainable on physical lines, for the expression of its essentially motive character. That this Fire was no more than a symbol, suggested by the special characteristics of fire in nature,—its subtlety, its mobility, its power of penetrating all things and devouring all things, its powers for beneficence in the warmth of living bodies and the life-giving power of the sun,—is seen in the fact that he readily varies his expression for this principle, calling it at times the Thunderbolt, at others the eternal Reason, [29] or Law, or Fate. To his mental view creation was a process eternally in action, the fiery element descending by the law of its being into the cruder [30] forms of water and earth, only to be resolved again by upward process into fire; even as one sees the {18} vapour from the sea ascending and melting into the [32] aether. As a kindred vapour or exhalation he recognised the Soul or Breath for a manifestation of the essential element. It is formless, ever changing with every breath we take, yet it is the constructive and unifying force which keeps the body together, and conditions its life and growth. At this point [33] Heraclitus comes into touch with Anaximenes. In the act of breathing we draw into our own being a portion of the all-pervading vital element of all being; in this universal being we thereby live and move and have our consciousness; the eternal and omnipresent wisdom becomes, through the channels of our senses, and especially through the eyes, in fragments at least our wisdom. In sleep we are not indeed cut off wholly from this wisdom; through our breathing we hold as it were to its root; but of its flower we are then deprived. On awaking again we begin once more to partake according to our full measure of the living thought; even as coals when brought near the fire are themselves made partakers of it, but when taken away again become quenched.


Hence, in so far as man is wise, it is because his spirit is kindled by union with the universal spirit; but there is a baser, or, as Heraclitus termed it, a moister element also in him, which is the element of unreason, as in a drunken man. And thus the trustworthiness or otherwise of the senses, as the {19} channels of communication with the divine, depends on the dryness or moistness,—or, as we should express it, using, after all, only another metaphor,—on the elevation or baseness of the spirit that is within. To those whose souls are base and barbarous, the eternal movement, the living fire, is invisible; and thus what they do see is nothing but death. Immersed in the mere appearances of things and their supposed stability, they, whether sleeping or waking, behold only dead forms; their spirits are dead.


For the guidance of life there is no law but the common sense, which is the union of those fragmentary perceptions of eternal law, which individual men [37] attain, in so far as their spirits are dry and pure. Of absolute knowledge human nature is not capable, but only the Divine. To the Eternal, therefore, alone all things are good and beautiful and just, because to Him alone do things appear in their totality. To the human partial reason some things are unjust and others just. Hence life, by reason of the limitations [38] involved in it, he sometimes spoke of as the death of the soul, and death as the renewal of its life. And so, [39] in the great events of man's life and in the small, as in the mighty circle of the heavens, good and evil, life and death, growth and decay, are but the systole and diastole, the outward and inward pulsation, of an eternal good, an eternal harmony. Day and {20} night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger—each conditions the other, all are part of God. It is sickness that makes health good and sweet, hunger that gives its pleasure to feeding, weariness that makes sleep a good.


This vision of existence in its eternal flux and interchange, seems to have inspired Heraclitus with a contemplative melancholy. In the traditions of later times he was known as the weeping philosopher. Lucian represents him as saying, "To me it is a sorrow that there is nothing fixed or secure, and that all things are thrown confusedly together, so that pleasure and pain, knowledge and ignorance, the great and the small, are the same, ever circling round and passing one into the other in the sport of time." "Time," he says elsewhere, "is like a child that plays with the dice." The highest good, therefore, for mortals is that clarity of perception in respect of oneself and all that is, whereby we shall learn to apprehend somewhat of the eternal unity and harmony, that underlies the good and evil of time, the shock and stress of circumstance and place. The highest virtue for man is a placid and a quiet constancy, whatever the changes and chances of life may bring. It is the pantheistic apathy.

The sadder note of humanity, the note of Euripides and at times of Sophocles, the note of Dante and of the Tempest of Shakespeare, of Shelley and Arnold {21} and Carlyle,—this note we hear thus early and thus clear, in the dim and distant utterances of Heraclitus. The mystery of existence, the unreality of what seems most real, the intangibility and evanescence of all things earthly,—these thoughts obscurely echoing to us across the ages from Heraclitus, have remained, and always will remain, among the deepest and most insistent of the world's thoughts, in its sincerest moments and in its greatest thinkers.




The Pythagorean Brotherhood—Number the master—God the soul of the world—Music and morals


The birthplace of Pythagoras is uncertain. He is generally called the Samian, and we know, at all events, that he lived for some time in that island, during or immediately before the famous tyranny [43] of Polycrates. All manner of legends are told of the travels of Pythagoras to Egypt, Chaldaea, Phoenicia, and even to India. Others tell of a mysterious initiation at the sacred cave of Jupiter in Crete, and of a similar ceremony at the Delphic oracle. What is certain is that at some date towards the end of the sixth century B.C. he removed to Southern Italy, which was then extensively colonised by Greeks, and that there he became a great philosophic teacher, and ultimately even a predominating political influence.


He instituted a school in the strictest sense, with its various grades of learners, subject for years to a vow of silence, holding all things in common, and admitted, according to their approved fitness, to {23} [47] successive revelations of the true doctrine of the Master. Those in the lower grades were called Listeners; those in the higher, Mathematicians or Students; those in the most advanced stage, Physicists or Philosophers. With the political relations of the school we need not here concern ourselves. In Crotona and many other Greek cities in Italy Pythagoreans became a predominant aristocracy, who, having learned obedience under their master, applied what they had learned in an anti-democratic policy of government. This lasted for some thirty years, but ultimately democracy gained the day, and Pythagoreanism as a political power was violently rooted out.

Returning to the philosophy of Pythagoras, in its relation to the general development of Greek theory, we may note, to begin with, that it is not necessary, or perhaps possible, to disentangle the theory of Pythagoras himself from that of his followers, Philolaus and others. The teaching was largely oral, and was developed by successive leaders of the school. The doctrine, therefore, is generally spoken of as that, not of Pythagoras, but of the Pythagoreans. Nor can we fix for certain on one fundamental conception, upon which the whole structure of their doctrine was built.


One dictum we may start with because of its analogies with what has been said of the earlier {24} philosophies. The universe, said the Pythagoreans, was constituted of indefinites and definers, i.e. of that which has no character, but has infinite capacities of taking a character; and secondly, of things or forces which impose a character upon this. Out of the combination of these two elements or principles all knowable [53] existences come into being. "All things," they said, "as known have Number; and this number has two natures, the Odd and the Even; the known thing is the Odd-Even or union of the two."


By a curious and somewhat fanciful development of this conception the Pythagoreans drew up two parallel columns of antithetical principles in nature, ten in each, thus:—

Definite Indefinite Odd Even One Many Right Left Male Female Steadfast Moving Straight Bent Light Dark Good Evil Four Square Irregular

Looking down these two lists we shall see that the first covers various aspects of what is conceived as the ordering, defining, formative principle in nature; and that the second in like manner comprises various {25} aspects of the unordered, neutral, passive, or disorganised element or principle; the first, to adopt a later method of expression, is Form, the second Matter. How this antithesis was worked out by Plato and Aristotle we shall see later on.


While, in a sense, then, even the indefinite has number, inasmuch as it is capable of having number or order imposed upon it (and only in so far as it has this imposed upon it, does it become knowable or intelligible), yet, as a positive factor, Number belongs only to the first class; as such it is the source of all knowledge and of all good. In reality the Pythagoreans had not got any further by this representation of nature than was reached, for example, by Anaximander, and still more definitely by Heraclitus, when they posited an Indefinite or Infinite principle in nature which by the clash of innate antagonisms developed into a knowable universe (see above, pp. 12, 16). But one can easily imagine that once the idea of Number became associated with that of the knowable in things, a wide field of detailed development and experiment, so to speak, in the arcana of nature, seemed to be opened. Every arithmetical or geometrical theorem became in this view another window giving light into the secret heart of things. Number became a kind of god, a revealer; and the philosophy of number a kind of religion or mystery. And this is why the {26} second grade of disciples were called Mathematicians; mathematics was the essential preparation for and initiation into philosophy.

Whether that which truly exists was actually identical with Number or Numbers, or whether it was something different from Number, but had a certain relation to Number; whether if there were such a relation, this was merely a relation of analogy or of conformability, or whether Number were something actually embodied in that which truly exists—these were speculative questions which were variously answered by various teachers, and which probably interested the later more than the earlier leaders of the school.


A further question arose: Assuming that ultimately the elements of knowable existence are but two, the One or Definite, and the Manifold or Indefinite, it was argued by some that there must be some third or higher principle governing the relations of these; there must be some law or harmony which shall render their intelligible union [57] possible. This principle of union was God, ever-living, ever One, eternal, immovable, self-identical. [58] This was the supreme reality, the Odd-Even or Many in One, One in Many, in whom was gathered up, as in an eternal harmony, all the contrarieties of lower [61] existence. Through the interchange and intergrowth of these contrarieties God realises Himself; the {27} universe in its evolution is the self-picturing of God. [62] God is diffused as the seminal principle throughout [68] the universe; He is the Soul of the world, and the world itself is God in process. The world, therefore, is in a sense a living creature. At its heart and circumference are purest fire; between these circle the sun, the moon, and the five planets, whose ordered movements, as of seven chords, produce an eternal music, the 'Music of the Spheres.' Earth, too, like the planets, is a celestial body, moving like them around the central fire.


By analogy with this conception of the universe as the realisation of God, so also the body, whether [72] of man or of any creature, is the realisation for the time being of a soul. Without the body and the life of the body, that soul were a blind and fleeting ghost. Of such unrealised souls there are many in various degrees and states; the whole air indeed is full of spirits, who are the causes of dreams and omens.


Thus the change and flux that are visible in all else are visible also in the relations of soul and body. Multitudes of fleeting ghosts or spirits are continually seeking realisation through union with bodies, passing at birth into this one and that, and at death issuing forth again into the void. Like wax which takes now one impression now another, yet remains in itself ever the same, so souls vary in the outward {28} [74] form that envelops and realises them. In this bodily life, the Pythagoreans are elsewhere described as saying, we are as it were in bonds or in a prison, whence we may not justly go forth till the Lord calls us. This idea Cicero mistranslated with a truly Roman fitness: according to him they taught that in this life we are as sentinels at our post, who may not quit it till our Commander orders.

On the one hand, therefore, the union of soul with body was necessary for the realisation of the former ((Greek) soma, body, being as it were (Greek) sema, expression), even as the reality of God was not in the Odd or Eternal Unity, but in the Odd-Even, the Unity in Multiplicity. On the other hand this union implied a certain loss or degradation. In other words, in so far as the soul became realised it also became corporealised, subject to the influence of passion and [75] change. In a sense therefore the soul as realised was double; in itself it partook of the eternal reason, as associated with body it belonged to the realm of unreason.

This disruption of the soul into two the Pythagoreans naturally developed in time into a threefold division, pure thought, perception, and desire; or even more nearly approaching the Platonic division (see below, p. 169), they divided it into reason, passion, and desire. But the later developments were largely influenced by Platonic and other doctrines, and need not be further followed here.

{29} [78] Music had great attractions for Pythagoras, not only for its soothing and refining effects, but for the intellectual interest of its numerical relations. Reference has already been made (see above, p. 27) to their quaint doctrine of the music of the spheres; and the same idea of rhythmic harmony pervaded the whole system. The life of the soul was a harmony; the virtues were perfect numbers; and the influence of music on the soul was only one instance among many of the harmonious relations of things throughout the universe. Thus we have Pythagoras described as soothing mental afflictions, and bodily ones also, by rhythmic measure and by song. With the morning's dawn he would be astir, harmonising his own spirit to his lyre, and chanting ancient hymns of the Cretan Thales, of Homer, and of Hesiod, till all the tremors of his soul were calmed and still.

Night and morning also he prescribed for himself and his followers an examination, as it were a tuning and testing of oneself. At these times especially was it meet for us to take account of our soul and its doings; in the evening to ask, "Wherein have I transgressed? What done? What failed to do?" In the morning, "What must I do? Wherein repair past days' forgetfulness?"

But the first duty of all was truth,—truth to one's own highest, truth to the highest beyond us. Through truth alone could the soul approach the divine. {30} Falsehood was of the earth; the real life of the soul must be in harmony with the heavenly and eternal verities.

Pythagoreanism remained a power for centuries throughout the Greek world and beyond. All subsequent philosophies borrowed from it, as it in its later developments borrowed from them; and thus along with them it formed the mind of the world, for further apprehensions, and yet more authentic revelations, of divine order and moral excellence.




God and nature—Knowledge and opinion—Being and evolution—Love the creator—The modern egotism


I. XENOPHANES.—Xenophanes was a native of Colophon, one of the Ionian cities of Asia Minor, but having been forced at the age of twenty-five to leave his native city owing to some political revolution, he wandered to various cities of Greece, and ultimately to Zancle and Catana, Ionian colonies in Sicily, and thence to Elea or Velia, a Greek city on the coast of Italy. This city had, like Miletus, reached a high pitch of commercial prosperity, and like it also became a centre of philosophic teaching. For there Xenophanes remained and founded a school, so that he and his successors received the name of Eleatics. His date is uncertain; but he seems to have been contemporary with Anaximander [80] and Pythagoras, and to have had some knowledge of the doctrine of both. He wrote in various poetic measures, using against the poets, and especially against Homer and Hesiod, their own weapons, to [83] denounce their anthropomorphic theology. If oxen {32} or lions had hands, he said, they would have fashioned gods after their likeness which would have been as [85] authentic as Homer's. As against these poets, and the popular mythology, he insisted that God must be one, eternal, incorporeal, without beginning or ending. [87] As Aristotle strikingly expresses it, "He looked forth over the whole heavens and said that God is one, [88] that that which is one is God." The favourite antitheses of his time, the definite and the indefinite, movable and immovable, change-producing and by change produced—these and such as these, he maintained, were inapplicable to the eternally and [86] essentially existent. In this there was no partition of organs or faculties, no variation or shadow of turning; the Eternal Being was like a sphere, everywhere equal; everywhere self-identical.


His proof of this was a logical one; the absolutely self-existent could not be thought in conjunction with attributes which either admitted any external influencing Him, or any external influenced by Him. The prevailing dualism he considered to be, as an ultimate theory of the universe, unthinkable and therefore false. Outside the Self-existent there could be no second self-existent, otherwise each would be conditioned by the existence of the other, and the Self-existent would be gone. Anything different from the Self-existent must be of the non-existent, i.e. must be nothing.


One can easily see in these discussions some adumbration of many theological or metaphysical difficulties of later times, as of the origin of evil, of freewill in man, of the relation of the created world to its Creator. If these problems cannot be said to be solved yet, we need not be surprised that Xenophanes did not solve them. He was content to emphasise that which seemed to him to be necessary and true, that God was God, and not either a partner with, or a function of, matter.


At the same time he recognised a world of phenomena, or, as he expressed it, a world of guesswork or opinion ((Greek) doxa). As to the origin of things within this sphere he was ready enough to borrow [90] from the speculations of his predecessors. Earth and water are the sources from which we spring; and he imagined a time when there was neither sea nor land, but an all-pervading slough and slime; nay, many such periods of inundation and emergence had been, hence the sea-shells on the tops of mountains and the fossils in the rocks. Air and fire also as agencies of change are sometimes referred to by him; anticipations in fact are visible of the fourfold classification of the elements which was formally made by some of his successors.


II. PARMENIDES.—The pupil and successor of Xenophanes was PARMENIDES, a native of Elea. In a celebrated dialogue of Plato bearing the name of {34} this philosopher he is described as visiting Socrates when the latter was very young. "He was then already advanced in years, very hoary, yet noble to look upon, in years some sixty and five." Socrates was born about 479 B.C. The birth of Parmenides might therefore, if this indication be authentic, be about 520. He was of a wealthy and noble family, and able therefore to devote himself to a learned leisure. Like his master he expounded his views in verse, and fragments of his poem of considerable length and importance have been preserved. The title of the work was Peri PhueosOf Nature.


The exordium of the poem is one of some grandeur. The poet describes himself as soaring aloft to the sanctuary of wisdom where it is set in highest aether, the daughters of the Sun being his guides; under whose leading having traversed the path of perpetual day and at length attained the temple of the goddess, he from her lips received instruction in the eternal verities, and had shown to him the deceptive guesses of mortals. "'Tis for thee," she says, "to hear of both,—to have disclosed to thee on the one hand the sure heart of convincing verity, on the other hand the guesses of mortals wherein is no ascertainment. Nevertheless thou shalt learn of these also, that having gone through them all thou may'st see by what unsureness of path must he go who goeth the way of opinion. From such a way of searching {35} restrain thou thy thought, and let not the much-experimenting habit force thee along the path wherein thou must use thine eye, yet being sightless, and the ear with its clamorous buzzings, and the chattering tongue. 'Tis by Reason that thou must in lengthened trial judge what I shall say to thee."


Thus, like Xenophanes, Parmenides draws a deep division between the world of reason and the world of sensation, between probative argument and the guess-work of sense-impressions. The former is the world of Being, the world of that which truly is, self-existent, uncreated, unending, unmoved, unchanging, ever self-poised and self-sufficient, like a sphere. [98] Knowledge is of this, and of this only, and as such, knowledge is identical with its object; for outside this known reality there is nothing. In other words, Knowledge can only be of that which is, and that which is alone can know. All things which mortals have imagined to be realities are but words; as of the birth and death of things, of things which were and have ceased to be, of here and there, of now and then.

It is obvious enough that in all this, and in much more to the same effect reiterated throughout the poem, we have no more than a statement, in various forms of negation, of the inconceivability by human reason of that passage from being as such, to that world of phenomena which is now, but was not before, {36} and will cease to be,—from being to becoming, from eternity to time, from the infinite to the finite (or, as Parmenides preferred to call it, from the perfect to the imperfect, the definite to the indefinite). In all this Parmenides was not contradicting such observed facts as generation, or motion, or life, or death; he was talking of a world which has nothing to do with observation; he was endeavouring to grasp what was assumed or necessarily implied as a prior condition of observation, or of a world to observe.

What he and his school seem to have felt was that there was a danger in all this talk of water or air or other material symbol, or even of the indefinite or characterless as the original of all,—the danger, namely, that one should lose sight of the idea of law, of rationality, of eternal self-centred force, and so be carried away by some vision of a gradual process of evolution from mere emptiness to fulness of being. Such a position would be not dissimilar to that of many would-be metaphysicians among evolutionists, who, not content with the doctrine of evolution as a theory in science, an ordered and organising view of observed facts, will try to elevate it into a vision of what is, and alone is, behind the observed facts. They fail to see that the more blind, the more accidental, so to speak, the process of differentiation may be; the more it is shown that the struggle for existence drives the wheels of progress along the {37} lines of least resistance by the most commonplace of mechanical necessities, in the same proportion must a law be posited behind all this process, a reason in nature which gathers up the beginning and the ending. The protoplasmic cell which the imagination of evolutionists places at the beginning of time as the starting-point of this mighty process is not merely this or that, has not merely this or that quality or possibility, it is; and in the power of that little word is enclosed a whole world of thought, which is there at the first, remains there all through the evolutions of the protoplasm, will be there when these are done, is in fact independent of time and space, has nothing to do with such distinctions, expresses rather their ultimate unreality. So far then as Parmenides and his school kept a firm grip on this other-world aspect of nature as implied even in the simple word is, or be, so far they did good service in the process of the world's thought. On the other hand, he and they were naturally enough disinclined, as we all are disinclined, to remain in the merely or mainly negative or defensive. He would not lose his grip of heaven and eternity, but he would fain know the secrets of earth and time as well. And hence was fashioned the second part of his poem, in which he expounds his theory of the world of opinion, or guess-work, or observation.


In this world he found two originative principles {38} at work, one pertaining to light and heat, the other to darkness and cold. From the union of these two principles all observable things in creation come, and over this union a God-given power presides, whose name is Love. Of these two principles, the bright one being analogous to Fire, the dark one to Earth, he considered the former to be the male or formative element, the latter the female or passive element; the former therefore had analogies to Being as such, the latter to Non-being. The heavenly existences, the sun, the moon, the stars, are of pure Fire, have therefore an eternal and unchangeable being; they are on the extremest verge of the universe, and corresponding to them at the centre is another fiery sphere, which, itself unmoved, is the cause of all motion and generation in the mixed region between. The motive and procreative power, sometimes called Love, is at other times called by Parmenides Necessity, Bearer of the Keys, Justice, Ruler, etc.

But while in so far as there was union in the production of man or any other creature, the [102] presiding genius might be symbolised as Love; on the other hand, since this union was a union of opposites (Light and Dark), Discord or Strife also had her say in the union. Thus the nature and character in every creature was the resultant of two antagonistic forces, and depended for its particular excellence or defect on the proportions in which these two elements—the {39} light and the dark, the fiery and the earthy—had been commingled.

No character in Greek antiquity, at least in the succession of philosophic teachers, held a more honoured position than Parmenides. He was looked on with almost superstitious reverence by his fellow-countrymen. Plato speaks of him as his "Father Parmenides," whom he "revered and honoured more than all the other philosophers together." To quote Professor Jowett in his introduction to Plato's dialogue Parmenides, he was "the founder of idealism and also of dialectic, or in modern phraseology, of metaphysics and of logic." Of the logical aspect of his teaching we shall see a fuller exemplification in his pupil and successor Zeno; of his metaphysics, by way of summing up what has been already said, it may be remarked that its substantial excellence consists in the perfect clearness and precision with which Parmenides enunciated as fundamental in any theory of the knowable universe the priority of Existence itself, not in time merely or chiefly, but as a condition of having any problem to inquire into. He practically admits that he does not see how to bridge over the partition between Existence in itself and the changeful, temporary, existing things which the senses give us notions of. But whatever the connection may be, if there is a connection, he is convinced that nothing would be more absurd than {40} to make the data of sense in any way or degree the measure of the reality of existence, or the source from which existence itself comes into being.

On this serenely impersonal position he took his stand; we find little or nothing of the querulous personal note so characteristic of much modern philosophy. We never find him asking, "What is to become of me in all this?" "What is my position with regard to this eternally-existing reality?"

Of course this is not exclusively a characteristic of Parmenides, but of the time. The idea of personal relation to an eternal Rewarder was only vaguely held in historical times in Greece. The conception of personal immortality was a mere pious opinion, a doctrine whispered here and there in secret mystery; it was not an influential force on men's motives or actions. Thought was still occupied with the wider universe, the heavens and their starry wonders, and the strange phenomena of law in nature. In the succession of the seasons, the rising and setting, the fixities and aberrations, of the heavenly bodies, in the mysteries of coming into being and passing out of it, in these and other similar marvels, and in the thoughts which they evoked, a whole and ample world seemed open for inquiry. Men and their fate were interesting enough to men, but as yet the egotism of man had not attempted to isolate his destiny from the general problem of nature. {41} To the crux of philosophy as it appeared to Parmenides in the relation of being as such to things which seem to be, modernism has appended a sort of corollary, in the relation of being as such to my being. Till the second question was raised its answer, of course, could not be attempted. But all those who in modern times have said with Tennyson—

Thou wilt not leave us in the dust: Thou madest man, he knows not why; He thinks he was not made to die; And Thou hast made him: Thou art just,

may recognise in Parmenides a pioneer for them. Without knowing it, he was fighting the battle of personality in man, as well as that of reality in nature.



THE ELEATICS (concluded)

Zeno's dialectic—Achilles and the tortoise—The dilemma of being—The all a sphere—The dilemmas of experience


III. ZENO.—The third head of the Eleatic school was ZENO. He is described by Plato in the Parmenides as accompanying his master to Athens on the visit already referred to (see above, p. 34), and as being then "nearly forty years of age, of a noble figure and fair aspect." In personal character he was a worthy pupil of his master, being, like him, a devoted patriot. He is even said to have fallen a victim to his patriotism, and to have suffered bravely the extremest tortures at the hands of a tyrant Nearchus rather than betray his country.

His philosophic position was a very simple one. He had nothing to add to or to vary in the doctrine of Parmenides. His function was primarily that of an expositor and defender of that doctrine, and his particular pre-eminence consists in the ingenuity of his dialectic resources of defence. He is in fact pronounced by Aristotle to have been the inventor of dialectic or systematic logic. The relation of {43} the two is humorously expressed thus by Plato (Jowett, Plato, vol. iv. p. 128); "I see, Parmenides, said Socrates, that Zeno is your second self in his writings too; he puts what you say in another way, and would fain deceive us into believing that he is telling us what is new. For you, in your poems, say, All is one, and of this you adduce excellent proofs; and he, on the other hand, says, There is no many; and on behalf of this he offers overwhelming evidence." To this Zeno replies, admitting the fact, and adds: "These writings of mine were meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides against those who scoff at him, and show the many ridiculous and contradictory results which they suppose to follow from the affirmation of the One. My answer is an address to the partisans of the many, whose attack I return with interest by retorting upon them that their hypothesis of the being of many if carried out appears in a still more ridiculous light than the hypothesis of the being of one."

The arguments of Zeno may therefore be regarded as strictly arguments in kind; quibbles if you please, but in answer to quibbles. The secret of his method was what Aristotle calls Dichotomy—that is, he put side by side two contradictory propositions with respect to any particular supposed real thing in experience, and then proceeded to show that both these contradictories alike imply what is {44} [105] inconceivable. Thus "a thing must consist either of a finite number of parts or an infinite number." Assume the number of parts to be finite. Between them there must either be something or nothing. If there is something between them, then the whole consists of more parts than it consists of. If there is nothing between them, then they are not separated, therefore they are not parts; therefore the whole has no parts at all; therefore it is nothing. If, on the other hand, the number of parts is infinite, then, the same kind of argument being applied, the magnitude of the whole is by infinite successive positing of intervening parts shown to be infinite; therefore this one thing, being infinitely large, is everything.


Take, again, any supposed fact, as that an arrow moves. An arrow cannot move except in space. It cannot move in space without being in space. At any moment of its supposed motion it must be in a particular space. Being in that space, it must at the time during which it is in it be at rest. But the total time of its supposed motion is made up of the moments composing that time, and to each of these moments the same argument applies; therefore either the arrow never was anywhere, or it always was at rest.

Or, again, take objects moving at unequal rates, as Achilles and a tortoise. Let the tortoise have a start of any given length, then Achilles, however {45} much he excel in speed, will never overtake the tortoise. For, while Achilles has passed over the originally intervening space, the tortoise will have passed over a certain space, and when Achilles has passed over this second space the tortoise will have again passed over some space, and so on ad infinitum; therefore in an infinite time there must always be a space, though infinitely diminishing, between the tortoise and Achilles, i.e. the tortoise must always be at least a little in front.

These will be sufficient to show the kind of arguments employed by Zeno. In themselves they are of no utility, and Zeno never pretended that they had any. But as against those who denied that existence as such was a datum independent of experience, something different from a mere sum of isolated things, his arguments were not only effective, but substantial. The whole modern sensational or experiential school, who derive our 'abstract ideas,' as they are called, from 'phenomena' or 'sensation,' manifest the same impatience of any analysis of what they mean by phenomena or sensation, as no doubt Zeno's opponents manifested of his analyses. As in criticising the one, modern critics are ready with their answer that Zeno's quibbles are simply "a play of words on the well-known properties of infinities," so they are quick to tell us that sensation is an "affection of the sentient organism"; ignoring in {46} the first case the prior question where the idea of infinity came from, and in the second, where the idea of a sentient organism came from.

Indirectly, as we shall see, Zeno had a great effect on subsequent philosophies by the development of a process of ingenious verbal distinction, which in the hands of so-called sophists and others became a weapon of considerable, if temporary, power.


IV. MELISSUS.—The fourth and last of the Eleatic philosophers was Melissus, a native of Samos. His date may be fixed as about 440 B.C. He took an active part in the politics of his native country, and on one occasion was commander of the Samian fleet in a victorious engagement with the Athenians, when Samos was being besieged by Pericles. He belongs to the Eleatic school in respect of doctrine and method, but we have no evidence of his ever having resided at Elea, nor any reference to his connection with the philosophers there, except the statement that he was a pupil of Parmenides. He developed very fully what is technically called in the science of Logic [110] the Dilemma. Thus, for example, he begins his treatise On Existence or On Nature thus: "If nothing exists, then there is nothing for us to talk about. But if there is such a thing as existence it must either come into being or be ever-existing. If it come into being, it must come from the existing or the non-existing. Now that anything which exists, {47} above all, that which is absolutely existent, should come from what is not, is impossible. Nor can it come from that which is. For then it would be already, and would not come into being. That which exists, therefore, comes not into being; it must therefore be ever-existing."


By similar treatment of other conceivable alternatives he proceeds to show that as the existent had no beginning so it can have no ending in time. From this, by a curious transition which Aristotle quotes as an example of loose reasoning, he concludes that the existent can have no limit in space [112] either. As being thus unlimited it must be one, therefore immovable (there being nothing else into which it can move or change), and therefore always self-identical in extent and character. It cannot, therefore, have any body, for body has parts and is not therefore one.


Being incapable of change one might perhaps conclude that the absolutely existing being is incapable of any mental activity or consciousness. We have no authority for assuming that Melissus came to this conclusion; but there is a curious remark of Aristotle's respecting this and previous philosophers of the school which certain critics have [114] made to bear some such interpretation. He says: "Parmenides seems to hold by a Unity in thought, Melissus by a Material unity. Hence the first {48} defined the One as limited, the second declared it to be unlimited. Xenophanes made no clear statement on this question; he simply, gazing up to the arch of heaven, declared, The One is God."

But the difference between Melissus and his master can hardly be said to be a difference of doctrine; point for point, they are identical. The difference is a difference of vision or mental picture as to this mighty All which is One. Melissus, so to speak, places himself at the centre of this Universal being, and sees it stretching out infinitely, unendingly, in space and in time. Its oneness comes to him as the sum of these infinities. Parmenides, on the other hand, sees all these endless immensities as related to a centre; he, so to speak, enfolds them all in the grasp of his unifying thought, and as thus equally and necessarily related to a central unity he pronounces the All a sphere, and therefore limited. The two doctrines, antithetical in terms, are identical in fact. The absolutely unlimited and the absolutely self-limited are only two ways of saying the same thing.

This difference of view or vision Aristotle in the passage quoted expresses as a difference between thought ((Greek) logos) and matter ((Greek) hule). This is just a form of his own radical distinction between Essence and Difference, Form and Matter, of which much will be said later on. It is like the difference {49} between Deduction and Induction; in the first you start from the universal and see within it the particulars; in the second you start from the particulars and gather them into completeness and reality in a universal. The substance remains the same, only the point of view is different. To put the matter in modern mathematical form, one might say, The universe is to be conceived as a sphere (Parmenides) of infinite radius (Melissus). Aristotle is not blaming Melissus or praising Parmenides. As for Xenophanes, Aristotle after his manner finds in him the potentiality of both. He is prior both to the process of thought from universal to particular, and to that from particular to universal. He does not argue at all; his function is Intuition. "He looks out on the mighty sky, and says, The One is God."

Melissus applied the results of his analysis in an interesting way to the question already raised by his predecessors, of the trustworthiness of sensation. His argument is as follows: "If there were many real existences, to each of them the same reasonings must apply as I have already used with reference to the one existence. That is to say, if earth really exists, and water and air and iron and gold and fire and things living and things dead; and black and white, and all the various things whose reality men ordinarily assume,—if all these really exist, and our sight and our hearing give us facts, then each of these as {50} really existing must be what we concluded the one existence must be; among other things, each must be unchangeable, and can never become other than it really is. But assuming that sight and hearing and apprehension are true, we find the cold becoming hot and the hot becoming cold; the hard changes to soft, the soft to hard; the living thing dies; and from that which is not living, a living thing comes into being; in short, everything changes, and what now is in no way resembles what was. It follows therefore that we neither see nor apprehend realities.

"In fact we cannot pay the slightest regard to experience without being landed in self-contradictions. We assume that there are all sorts of really existing things, having a permanence both of form and power, and yet we imagine these very things altering and changing according to what we from time to time see about them. If they were realities as we first perceived them, our sight must now be wrong. For if they were real, they could not change. Nothing can be stronger than reality. Whereas to suppose it changed, we must affirm that the real has ceased to be, and that that which was not has displaced it."

To Melissus therefore, as to his predecessors, the world of sense was a world of illusion; the very first principles or assumptions of which, as of the truthfulness of the senses and the reality of the various objects which we see, are unthinkable and absurd.


The weakness as well as the strength of the Eleatic position consisted in its purely negative and critical attitude. The assumptions of ordinary life and experience could not stand for a moment when assailed in detail by their subtle analysis. So-called facts were like a world of ghosts, which the sword of truth passed through without resistance. But somehow the sword might pierce them through and through, and show by all manner of arguments their unsubstantiality, but there they were still thronging about the philosopher and refusing to be gone. The world of sense might be only illusion, but there the illusion was. You could not lay it or exorcise it by calling it illusion or opinion. What was this opinion? What was the nature of its subject matter? How did it operate? And if its results were not true or real, what was their nature? These were questions which still remained when the analysis of the idea of absolute existence had been pushed to its completion. These were the questions which the next school of philosophy attempted to answer. After the Idealists, the Realists; after the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of matter.




Anaxagoras and the cosmos—Mind in nature—The seeds of existence


I. ANAXAGORAS.—Anaxagoras was born at Clazomenae, a city of Ionia, about the year 500 B.C. At the age of twenty he removed to Athens, of which city Clazomenae was for some time a dependency. This step on his part may have been connected with the circumstances attending the great invasion of Greece by Xerxes in the year 480. For Xerxes drew a large contingent of his army from the Ionian cities which he had subdued, and many who were unwilling to serve against their mother-country may have taken refuge about that time in Athens. At Athens he resided for nearly fifty years, and during that period became the friend and teacher of many eminent men, among the rest of Pericles, the great Athenian [118] statesman, and of Euripides, the dramatist. Like most of the Ionian philosophers he had a taste for mathematics and astronomy, as well as for certain practical applications of mathematics. Among other books he is said to have written a treatise on the art {53} of scene-designing for the stage, possibly to oblige his friend and pupil Euripides. In his case, as in that of his predecessors, only fragments of his philosophic writings have been preserved, and the connection of certain portions of his teaching as they have come down to us remains somewhat uncertain.


With respect to the constitution of the universe we have the following: "Origination and destruction are phrases which are generally misunderstood among the Greeks. Nothing really is originated or destroyed; the only processes which actually take place are combination and separation of elements already existing. [120] These elements we are to conceive as having been in a state of chaos at first, infinite in number and infinitely small, forming in their immobility a confused and characterless unity. About this chaos was spread the air and aether, infinite also in the multitude of their particles, and infinitely extended. Before separation commenced there was no clear colour or appearance in anything, whether of moist or dry, of hot or cold, of bright or dark, but only an infinite number of the seeds of things, having concealed in them all manner of forms and colours and savours."

There is a curious resemblance in this to the opening verses of Genesis, "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Nor is the next step in his philosophy without its resemblance to that in the Biblical record. [122] As summarised by Diogenes Laertius it takes this form, "All things were as one: then cometh Mind, and by division brought all things into order." [121] "Conceiving," as Aristotle puts it, "that the original elements of things had no power to generate or develop out of themselves things as they exist, philosophers were forced by the facts themselves to seek the immediate cause of this development. They were unable to believe that fire, or earth, or any such principle was adequate to account for the order and beauty visible in the frame of things; nor did they think it possible to attribute these to mere innate necessity or chance. One (Anaxagoras) observing how in living creatures Mind is the ordering force, declared that in nature also this must be the cause of order and beauty, and in so declaring he seemed, when compared with those before him, as one sober amidst a crowd of babblers."


Elsewhere, however, Aristotle modifies this commendation. "Anaxagoras," he says, "uses Mind only as a kind of last resort, dragging it in when he fails otherwise to account for a phenomenon, but never thinking of it else." And in the Phaedo Plato makes Socrates speak of the high hopes with which he had taken to the works of Anaxagoras, and how grievously he had been disappointed. "As I proceeded," he says, "I found my philosopher altogether forsaking Mind or any other principle of order, and having {55} recourse to air, and aether, and water, and other eccentricities."

Anaxagoras, then, at least on this side of his teaching, must be considered rather as the author of a phrase than as the founder of a philosophy. The phrase remained, and had a profound influence on subsequent philosophies, but in his own hands it was little more than a dead letter. His immediate interest was rather in the variety of phenomena than in their conceived principle of unity; he is theoretically, perhaps, 'on the side of the angels,' in practice he is a materialist.


Mind he conceived as something apart, sitting throned like Zeus upon the heights, giving doubtless the first impulse to the movement of things, but leaving them for the rest to their own inherent tendencies. As distinguished from them it was, he conceived, the one thing which was absolutely pure and unmixed. All things else had intermixture with every other, the mixtures increasing in complexity towards the centre of things. On the outmost verge were distributed the finest and least complex forms of things—the sun, the moon, the stars; the more dense gathering together, to form as it were in the centre of the vortex, the earth and its manifold existences. By the intermixture of air and earth and water, containing in themselves the infinitely varied seeds of things, plants and animals were {56} developed. The seeds themselves are too minute to be apprehended by the senses, but we can divine their character by the various characters of the visible things themselves, each of these having a necessary correspondence with the nature of the seeds from which they respectively were formed.


Thus for a true apprehension of things sensation and reason are both necessary—sensation to certify to the apparent characters of objects, reason to pass from these to the nature of the invisible seeds or atoms which cause those characters. Taken by themselves our sensations are false, inasmuch as they give us only combined impressions, yet they are a necessary stage towards the truth, as providing the materials which reason must separate into their real elements.

From this brief summary we may gather that Mind was conceived, so to speak, as placed at the beginning of existence, inasmuch as it is the first originator of the vortex motions of the atoms or seeds of things; it was conceived also at the end of existence as the power which by analysis of the data of sensation goes back through the complexity of actual being to the original unmingled or undeveloped nature of things. But the whole process of nature itself between these limits Anaxagoras conceived as a purely mechanical or at least physical development, the uncertainty of his view as between these two alternative ways of considering it being {57} typified in his use of the two expressions atoms and seeds. The analogies of this view with those of modern materialism, which finds in the ultimate molecules of matter "the promise and the potency of all life and all existence," need not be here enlarged upon.

After nearly half a century's teaching at Athens Anaxagoras was indicted on a charge of inculcating doctrines subversive of religion. It is obvious enough that his theories left no room for the popular mythology, but the Athenians were not usually very sensitive as to the bearing of mere theories upon their public institutions. It seems probable that the accusation was merely a cloak for political hostility. Anaxagoras was the friend and intimate of Pericles, leader of the democratic party in the state, and the attack upon Anaxagoras was really a political move intended to damage Pericles. As such Pericles himself accepted it, and the trial became a contest of strength, which resulted in a partial success and a partial defeat for both sides. Pericles succeeded in saving his friend's life, but the opposite party obtained a sentence of fine and banishment against him. Anaxagoras retired to Lampsacus, a city on the Hellespont, and there, after some five years, he died.



THE ATOMISTS (continued)

Empedocles at Etna—Brief life and scanty vision—The four elements—The philosophy of contradiction—Philosophy a form of poesy—The philosopher a prophet—Sensation through kinship—The whole creation groaneth


II. EMPEDOCLES.—Empedocles was a native of Agrigentum, a Greek colony in Sicily. At the time when he flourished in his native city (circa 440 B.C.) it was one of the wealthiest and most powerful communities in that wealthy and powerful island. It had, however, been infested, like its neighbours, by the designs of tyrants and the dissensions of rival factions. Empedocles was a man of high family, and he exercised the influence which his position and his abilities secured him in promoting and maintaining the liberty of his fellow-countrymen. Partly on this account, partly from a reputation which with or without his own will he acquired for an almost miraculous skill in healing and necromantic arts, Empedocles attained to a position of singular personal power over his contemporaries, and was indeed regarded as semi-divine. His death was hedged about with mystery. According to one story he gave a great feast to his friends and offered a {59} sacrifice; then when his friends went to rest he disappeared, and was no more seen. According to a story less dignified and better known—

Deus immortalis haberi Dum cupit Empedocles, ardentem frigidus Aetnam Insiluit. HOR. Ad Pisones, 464 sqq.

"Eager to be deemed a god, Empedocles coldly threw himself in burning Etna." The fraud, it was said, was detected by one of his shoes being cast up from the crater. Whatever the manner of his end, the Etna story may probably be taken as an ill-natured joke of some sceptic wit; and it is certain that no such story was believed by his fellow-citizens, who rendered in after years divine honours to his name.

Like Xenophanes, Parmenides, and other Graeco-Italian philosophers, he expounded his views in verse; but he reached a poetic excellence unattained by any predecessor. Aristotle characterises his gift as Homeric, and himself as a master of style, employing freely metaphors and other poetic forms. Lucretius also speaks of him in terms of high admiration (De Nat. Rer. i. 716 sqq.): "Foremost among them is Empedocles of Agrigentum, child of the island with the triple capes, a land wondrous deemed in many wise, and worthy to be viewed of all men. Rich it is in all manner of good things, and strong {60} in the might of its men, yet naught within its borders men deem more divine or more wondrous or more dear than her illustrious son. Nay, the songs which issued from his godlike breast are eloquent yet, and expound his findings wondrous well, so that hardly is he thought to have been of mortal clay."

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