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Should be without an end, else want were there,

Whenever naturalism and scepticism have thus stood opposed, the result has been their transformation or absorption into a new philosophy, combining the systematic formalism of the one with the introspective idealism of the other. In Greece such a revolution had already been effected once before by Plato; and a restoration of his system seemed the most obvious solution that could offer itself on the present occasion. Such was, in fact, the solution eventually adopted; what we have to explain is why its adoption was delayed so long. For this various reasons may be offered. To begin with, the speculative languor of the age was unfavourable to the rise of a new school. Greece was almost depopulated by the demands of foreign service; and at Alexandria, where a new centre of Hellenism had been created, its best energies were absorbed by the cultivation of positive science. It was, no doubt, in great part owing to the dearth of ability that ideas which, at an earlier period, would have been immediately taken up and developed, were allowed to remain stationary for a hundred years鈥攖he interval separating a Carneades from an Arcesilaus. The regular organisation of philosophical teaching was another hindrance to progress. A certain amount of property was annexed to the headships of the different schools, and served as an endowment, not of research but of contented acquiescence in the received traditions. Moreover, the jealousy with which the professors of rival doctrines would naturally regard one another, was likely to prevent their mutual approximation from going beyond160 certain not very close limits, and might even lead to a still severer definition of the characteristic tenets which still kept them apart. Another and deeper disturbing force lay in the dissensions which, at a very early stage of its development, had split the spiritualistic philosophy into two opposing tendencies respectively represented by Plato and Aristotle. Any thinker who wandered away from the principles either of Stoicism or of Scepticism was more likely to find himself bewildered by the conflicting claims of these two illustrious masters, than to discern the common ground on which they stood, or to bring them within the grasp of a single reconciling system. Finally, an enormous perturbation in the normal course of speculation was produced by the entrance of Rome on the philosophical scene. But before estimating the influence of this new force, we must follow events to the point at which it first becomes of calculable importance.

Notwithstanding the importance of this impulse, it does not represent the whole effect produced by Protagoras on philosophy. His eristic method was taken up by the Megaric school, and at first combined with other elements borrowed from Parmenides and Socrates, but ultimately extricated from them and used as a critical solvent of all dogmatism by the later Sceptics. From their writings, after a long interval of enforced silence, it passed over to Montaigne, Bayle, Hume, and Kant, with what redoubtable consequences to received opinions need not here be specified. Our object is simply to illustrate the continuity of thought, and the powerful influence exercised by ancient Greece on its subsequent development.

Such, as it seems to us, is the proper spirit in which we should approach the great thinker whose works are to occupy us in this and the succeeding chapter. No philosopher has ever offered so extended and vulnerable a front to hostile criticism. None has so habitually provoked reprisals by his own incessant and searching attacks on all existing professions, customs, and beliefs. It might even be maintained that none has used the weapons of controversy with more unscrupulous zeal. And it might be added that he who dwells so much on the importance of consistency has occasionally denounced and ridiculed the very principles which he elsewhere upholds as demonstrated truths. It was an easy matter for others to complete the work of destruction which he had begun. His system seems at first sight to be made up of assertions, one more outrageous than another. The ascription of an objective concrete separate reality to verbal abstractions is assuredly the most astounding paradox ever173 maintained even by a metaphysician. Yet this is the central article of Plato鈥檚 creed. That body is essentially different from extension might, one would suppose, have been sufficiently clear to a mathematician who had the advantage of coming after Leucippus and Democritus. Their identity is implicitly affirmed in the Timaeus. That the soul cannot be both created and eternal; that the doctrine of metempsychosis is incompatible with the hereditary transmission of mental qualities; that a future immortality equivalent to, and proved by the same arguments as, our antenatal existence, would be neither a terror to the guilty nor a consolation to the righteous:鈥攁re propositions implicitly denied by Plato鈥檚 psychology. Passing from theoretical to practical philosophy, it might be observed that respect for human life, respect for individual property, respect for marriage, and respect for truthfulness, are generally numbered among the strongest moral obligations, and those the observance of which most completely distinguishes civilised from savage man; while infanticide, communism, promiscuity, and the occasional employment of deliberate deceit, form part of Plato鈥檚 scheme for the redemption of mankind. We need not do more than allude to those Dialogues where the phases and symptoms of unnameable passion are delineated with matchless eloquence, and apparently with at least as much sympathy as censure. Finally, from the standpoint of modern science, it might be urged that Plato used all his powerful influence to throw back physical speculation into the theological stage; that he deliberately discredited the doctrine of mechanical causation which, for us, is the most important achievement of early Greek thought; that he expatiated on the criminal folly of those who held the heavenly bodies to be, what we now know them to be, masses of dead matter with no special divinity about them; and that he proposed to punish this and other heresies with a severity distinguishable from the fitful fanaticism of his native city only by its more disciplined and rigorous application.

In the face of such facts, to say, as Mr. Froude does, that Epicureanism was 鈥榯he creed of the men of science鈥 in the time of Julius Caesar111鈥攁n assertion directly contradicted by Lange112鈥攊s perhaps only of a piece with Mr. Froude鈥檚 usual inaccuracy when writing about ancient history; but such declarations as that of Mr. Frederic Pollock, that the Epicurean system56 鈥榳as a genuine attempt at a scientific explanation of the world; and was in its day the solitary protest against the contempt of physics which prevailed in the other post-Aristotelian schools;鈥113 of Prof. Trezza, that the Epicurean school 鈥榮ummed up in itself the most scientific elements of Greek antiquity;鈥114 of Dr. Woltjer, that 鈥榳ith respect to the laws and principles of science, the Epicureans came nearest of all the ancients to the science of our own time;鈥115 and finally, of M. Ernest Renan, that Epicureanism was 鈥榯he great scientific school of antiquity,鈥116 are absolutely amazing. The eminent French critic just quoted has elsewhere observed, with perfect justice, that the scientific spirit is the negation of the supernatural; and perhaps he argues that the negation of the supernatural must, reciprocally, be the scientific spirit. But this is only true when such a negation is arrived at inductively, after a disinterested survey of the facts. Epicurus started with the denial of supernatural interference as a practical postulate, and then hunted about for whatever explanations of natural phenomena would suit his foregone conclusion. Moreover, an enquirer really animated by the scientific spirit studies the facts for their own sake; he studies them as they actually are, not resting content with alternative explanations; and he studies them to the fullest extent of which his powers are capable. Epicurus, on the contrary, declares that physics would not be worth attending to if the mind could be set free from religious terrors in any other manner;117 he will not let himself be tied down to any one theory if there are others equally inconsistent with divine agency to be had;118 and when his demands in this respect are satisfied, that is, when the appearances vulgarly ascribed to supernatural causation have been provided with natural causes, he leaves off.while in his tragedies we have the realisation of those worlds鈥攖he workings of an eternal justice which alone remains faithful to one purpose through the infinite flux of passion and of sense.

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IX.Such a thinker was Xenophanes, of Colophon. Driven, like Pythagoras, from his native city by civil discords, he spent the greater part of an unusually protracted life wandering through the Greek colonies of Sicily and Southern Italy, and reciting his own verses, not always, as it would appear, to a very attentive audience. Elea, an Italiote city, seems to have been his favourite resort, and the school of philosophy which he founded there has immortalised the name of this otherwise obscure Phocaean settlement. Enough remains of his verses to show with what terrible strength of sarcasm he assailed the popular religion of Hellas. 鈥楬omer and Hesiod,鈥 he exclaims, 鈥榟ave attributed to the gods everything that is a shame and reproach among men鈥攖heft, adultery, and mutual deception.鈥12 Nor is Xenophanes content with attacking15 these unedifying stories, he strikes at the anthropomorphic conceptions which lay at their root. 鈥楳ortals think that the gods have senses, and a voice and a body like their own. The negroes fancy that their deities are black-skinned and snub-nosed, the Thracians give theirs fair hair and blue eyes; if horses or lions had hands and could paint, they too would make gods in their own image.鈥13 It was, he declared, as impious to believe in the birth of a god as to believe in the possibility of his death. The current polytheism was equally false. 鈥楾here is one Supreme God among gods and men, unlike mortals both in mind and body.鈥14 There can be only one God, for God is Omnipotent, so that there must be none to dispute his will. He must also be perfectly homogeneous, shaped like a sphere, seeing, hearing, and thinking with every part alike, never moving from place to place, but governing all things by an effortless exercise of thought. Had such daring heresies been promulgated in democratic Athens, their author would probably have soon found himself and his works handed over to the tender mercies of the Eleven. Happily at Elea, and in most other Greek states, the gods were left to take care of themselves.In order to understand how so vigorous an intellect could go so wildly astray, we must glance at his personal history, and at the manner in which his system seems to have been gradually built up.

237We now enter on the last period of purely objective philosophy, an age of mediating and reconciling, but still profoundly original speculation. Its principal representatives, with whom alone we have to deal, are Empedocles, the Atomists, Leucippus and Democritus, and Anaxagoras. There is considerable doubt and difficulty respecting the order in which they should be placed. Anaxagoras was unquestionably the oldest and Democritus the youngest of the four, the difference between their ages being forty years. It is also nearly certain that the Atomists came after Empedocles. But if we take a celebrated expression of Aristotle鈥檚21 literally (as there is no reason why it should not be taken),27 Anaxagoras, although born before Empedocles, published his views at a later period. Was he also anticipated by Leucippus? We cannot tell with certainty, but it seems likely from a comparison of their doctrines that he was; and in all cases the man who naturalised philosophy in Athens, and who by his theory of a creative reason furnishes a transition to the age of subjective speculation, will be most conveniently placed at the close of the pre-Socratic period.We find the same theory reproduced and enforced with weighty illustrations by the great historian of that age. It is not known whether Thucydides owed any part of his culture to Protagoras, but the introduction to his history breathes the same spirit as the observations which we have just transcribed. He, too, characterises antiquity as a scene of barbarism, isolation, and lawless violence, particularly remarking that piracy was not then counted a dishonourable profession. He points to the tribes outside Greece, together with the most backward among the Greeks themselves, as representing the low condition from which Athens and her sister states had only emerged within a comparatively recent period. And in the funeral oration which he puts into the mouth of Pericles, the legendary glories of Athens are passed over without the slightest allusion,69 while exclusive prominence is given to her proud position as the intellectual centre of Greece. Evidently a radical change had taken place in men鈥檚 conceptions since Herodotus wrote. They were learning to despise the mythical glories of their ancestors, to exalt the present at the expense of the past, to fix their attention exclusively on immediate human interests, and, possibly, to anticipate the coming of a loftier civilisation than had as yet been seen.

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