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INITIATION INTO PHILOSOPHY
by Emile Faguet of the French Academy
Author of “The Cult Of Incompetence,” “Initiation Into Literature,” etc.
Translated from the French by
Sir Homer Gordon, Bart.
This volume, as indicated by the title, is designed to show the way to the beginner, to satisfy and more especially to excite his initial curiosity. It affords an adequate idea of the march of facts and of ideas. The reader is led, somewhat rapidly, from the remote origins to the most recent efforts of the human mind.
It should be a convenient repertory to which the mind may revert in order to see broadly the general opinion of an epoch–and what connected it with those that followed or preceded it. It aims above all at being _a frame_ in which can conveniently be inscribed, in the course of further studies, new conceptions more detailed and more thoroughly examined.
It will have fulfilled its design should it incite to research and meditation, and if it prepares for them correctly.
Philosophical Interpreters of the Universe, of the Creation and Constitution of the World.
Logicians and Professors of Logic,
and of the Analysis of Ideas, and of Discussion.
Philosophy Entirely Reduced to Morality, and Morality Considered as the End of all Intellectual Activity.
Plato, like Socrates, is Pre-eminently a Moralist, but he Reverts to General Consideration of the Universe, and Deals with Politics and Legislation.
A Man of Encyclopaedic Learning; as Philosopher, more especially Moralist and Logician.
The Development in Various Schools of the General Ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Epicureanism Believes that the Duty of Man is to seek Happiness, and that Happiness Consists in Wisdom.
The Passions are Diseases which can and must be Extirpated.
ECLECTICS AND SCEPTICS
Philosophers who Wished to Belong to No School. Philosophers who Decried All Schools and All Doctrines.
Reversion to Metaphysics. Imaginative Metaphysicians after the Manner of Plato, but in Excess.
Philosophic Ideas which Christianity Welcomed, Adopted, or Created; How it must Give a Fresh Aspect to All Philosophy, even that Foreign to Itself.
IN THE MIDDLE AGES
FROM THE FIFTH CENTURY TO THE THIRTEENTH
Philosophy is only an Interpreter of Dogma. When it is Declared Contrary to Dogma by the Authority of Religion, it is a Heresy. Orthodox and Heterodox Interpretations. Some Independent Philosophers.
THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY
Influence of Aristotle. His Adoption by the Church. Religious Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.
THE FOURTEENTH AND FIFTEENTH CENTURIES
Decadence of Scholasticism. Forebodings of the Coming Era. Great Moralists. The Kabbala. Sorcery.
THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
It Is Fairly Accurate to Consider that from the Point of View of Philosophy, the Middle Ages Lasted until Descartes. Free-thinkers More or Less Disguised.
Partisans of Reason Apart from Faith, of Observation, and of Experiment.
THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
All the Seventeenth Century was under the Influence of Descartes. Port-Royal, Bossuet, Fenelon, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibnitz.
THE ENGLISH PHILOSOPHERS OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.
Locke: His Ideas on Human Liberty, Morality, General Politics, and Religious Politics.
THE ENGLISH PHILOSOPHERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Berkeley: A Highly Idealist Philosophy which Regarded Matter as Non-existent.
David Hume: Sceptical Philosophy.
The Scottish School: Philosophy of Common Sense.
THE FRENCH PHILOSOPHERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Voltaire a Disciple of Locke.
Rousseau a Free-thinking Christian, but deeply Imbued with Religious Sentiments.
Diderot a Capricious Materialist.
D’Holbach and Helvetius Avowed Materialists. Condillac a Philosopher of Sensations.
Kant Reconstructed all Philosophy by Supporting it on Morality.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: GERMANY
The Great Reconstructors of the World, Analogous to the First Philosophers of Antiquity. Great General Systems, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, etc.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: ENGLAND
The Doctrines of Evolution and of Transformism: Lamarck (French), Darwin, Spencer.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: FRANCE
The Eclectic School: Victor Cousin.
The Positivist School: Auguste Comte. The Kantist School: Renouvier.
Independent and Complex Positivists: Taine, Renan.
INITIATION INTO PHILOSOPHY
Philosophical Interpreters of the Universe, of the Creation and Constitution of the World.
PHILOSOPHY.–The aim of philosophy is to seek the explanation of all things: the quest is for the first _causes_ of everything, and also _how_ all things are, and finally _why_, with what design, with a view to what, things are. That is why, taking “principle” in all the senses of the word, it has been called the science of first principles.
Philosophy has always existed. Religions–all religions–are philosophies. They are indeed the most complete. But, apart from religions, men have sought the causes and principles of everything and endeavoured to acquire general ideas. These researches apart from religious dogmas in pagan antiquity are the only ones with which we are here to be concerned.
THE IONIAN SCHOOL: THALES.–The Ionian School is the most ancient school of philosophy known. It dates back to the seventh century before Christ. Thales of Miletus, a natural philosopher and astronomer, as we should describe him, believed matter–namely, that of which all things and all beings are made–to be in perpetual transformation, and that these transformations are produced by powerful beings attached to every portion of matter. These powerful beings were gods. Everything, therefore, was full of gods. His philosophy was a mythology. He also thought that the essential element of matter was water, and that it was water, under the influence of the gods, which transformed itself into earth, air, and fire, whilst from water, earth, air, and fire came everything that is in nature.
ANAXIMANDER; HERACLITUS.–Anaximander of Miletus, an astronomer also, and a geographer, believed that the principle of all things is _indeterminate_–a kind of chaos wherein nothing has form or shape; that from chaos come things and beings, and that they return thither in order to emerge again. One of his particular theories was that fish were the most ancient of animals, and that all animals had issued from them through successive transformations. This theory was revived for a while about fifty years ago.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (very obscure, and with this epithet attached permanently to his name) saw all things as a perpetual growth–in an indefinite state of becoming. Nothing is; all things grow and are destined to eternal growth. Behind them, nevertheless, there is an eternal master who does not change. It is our duty to resemble him as much as we can; that is to say, as much as an ape can resemble a man. Calmness is imperative: to be as motionless as transient beings can. The popular legend runs that Heraclitus “always wept”; what is known of him only tends to prove that he was grave, and did not favour emotionalism.
ANAXAGORAS; EMPEDOCLES.–Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, above all else a natural philosopher, settled at Athens about 470 B.C.; was the master and friend of Pericles; was on the point of being put to death, as Socrates was later on, for the crime of indifference towards the religion of the Athenians, and had to take refuge at Lampsacus, where he died. Like Anaximander, he believed that everything emerged from something indeterminate and confused; but he added that what caused the emergence from that state was the organizing intelligence, the Mind, just as in man, it is the intelligence which draws thought from cerebral undulations, and forms a clear idea out of a confused idea. Anaxagoras exerted an almost incomparable influence over Greek philosophy of the classical times.
Empedocles of Agrigentum, a sort of magician and high-priest, almost a deity, whose life and death are but little known, appears to have possessed an encyclopaedic brain. From him is derived the doctrine of the four elements, for whereas the philosophers who preceded him gave as the sole source of things–some water, others air, others fire, others the earth, he regarded them all four equally as the primal elements of everything. He believed that the world is swayed by two contrary forces–love and hate, the one desiring eternally to unite, the other eternally to disintegrate. Amid this struggle goes on a movement of organization, incessantly retarded by hate, perpetually facilitated by love; and from this movement have issued–first, vegetation, then the lower animals, then the higher animals, then men. In Empedocles can be found either evident traces of the religion of Zoroaster of Persia (the perpetual antagonism of two great gods, that of good and that of evil), or else a curious coincidence with this doctrine, which will appear again later among the Manicheans.
PYTHAGORAS.–Pythagoras appears to have been born about B.C. 500 on the Isle of Elea, to have travelled much, and to have finally settled in Greater Greece (southern Italy). Pythagoras, like Empedocles, was a sort of magician or god. His doctrine was a religion, the respect with which he was surrounded was a cult, the observances he imposed on his family and on his disciples were rites. What he taught was that the true realities, which do not change, were numbers. The fundamental and supreme reality is _one_; the being who is one is God; from this number, which is one, are derived all the other numbers which are the foundation of beings, their inward cause, their essence; we are all more or less perfect numbers; each created thing is a more or less perfect number. The world, governed thus by combinations of numbers, has always existed and will always exist. It develops itself, however, according to a numerical series of which we do not possess the key, but which we can guess. As for human destiny it is this: we have been animated beings, human or animal; according as we have lived well or ill we shall be reincarnated either as superior men or as animals more or less inferior. This is the doctrine of _metempsychosis_, which had many adherents in ancient days, and also in a more or less fanciful fashion in modern times.
To Pythagoras have been attributed a certain number of maxims which are called the _Golden Verses_.
XENOPHANES; PARMENIDES.–Xenophanes of Colophon is also a “unitarian.” He accepts only one God, and of all the ancient philosophers appears to be the most opposed to mythology, to belief in a multiplicity of gods resembling men, a doctrine which he despises as being immoral. There is one God, eternal, immutable, immovable, who has no need to transfer Himself from one locality to another, who is _without place_, and who governs all things by His thought alone.
Advancing further, Parmenides told himself that if He alone really exists who is one and eternal and unchangeable, all else is not only inferior to Him, but is only a _semblance_, and that mankind, earth, sky, plants, and animals are only a vast illusion–phantoms, a mirage, which would disappear, which would no longer exist, and _would never have existed_ if we could perceive the Self-existent.
ZENO; DEMOCRITUS.–Zeno of Elea, who must be mentioned more especially because he was the master of that Gorgias of whom Socrates was the adversary, was pre-eminently a subtle dialectician in whom the sophist already made his appearance, and who embarrassed the Athenians by captious arguments, at the bottom of which always could be found this fundamental principle: apart from the Eternal Being all is only semblance; apart from Him who is all, all is nothing.
Democritus of Abdera, disciple of Leucippus of Abdera (about whom nothing is known), is the inventor of the theory of atoms. Matter is composed of an infinite number of tiny indivisible bodies which are called atoms; these atoms from all eternity, or at least since the commencement of matter, have been endued with certain movements by which they attach themselves to one another, and agglomerate or separate, and thence is caused the formation of all things, and the destruction, which is only the disintegration, of all things. The soul itself is only an aggregation of specially tenuous and subtle atoms. It is probable that when a certain number of these atoms quit the body, sleep ensues; that when nearly all depart, it causes the appearance of death (lethargy, catalepsy); that when they all depart, death occurs. We are brought into relation with the external world by the advent in us of extremely subtle atoms–reflections of things, semblances of things–which enter and mingle with the constituent atoms of our souls. There is nothing in our intelligence which has not been brought there by our senses, and our intelligence is only the combination of the atoms composing our souls with the atoms that external matter sends, so to speak, into our souls. The doctrines of Democritus will be found again in those of Epicurus and Lucretius.
Logicians and Professors of Logic, and of the Analysis of Ideas, and of Discussion.
DOCTRINES OF THE SOPHISTS.–The Sophists descend from Parmenides and Zeno of Elea; Gorgias was the disciple of the latter. By dint of thinking that all is semblance save the Supreme Being, who alone is real, it is very easy to arrive at belief in all being semblance, including that Being; or at least what is almost tantamount, that all is semblance, inclusive of any idea we can possibly conceive of the Supreme Being. To believe nothing, and to demonstrate that there is no reason to believe in anything, is the cardinal principle of all the Sophists. Then, it may be suggested, there is nothing for it but to be silent. No, there is the cultivation of one’s mind (the only thing of the existence of which we are sure), so as to give it ability, readiness, and strength. With what object? To become a dexterous thinker, which in itself is a fine thing; to be also a man of consideration, listened to in one’s city, and to arrive at its government.
The Sophists accordingly gave lessons, especially in psychology, dialectics, and eloquence. They further taught philosophy, but in order to demonstrate that all philosophy is false; and, as Pascal observed later, that to ridicule philosophy is truly philosophical. They seem to have been extremely intellectual, very learned, and most serious despite their scepticism, and to have rendered Greece the very great service of making a penetrating analysis–the first recorded–of our faculty of knowledge and of the limitations, real, possible, or probable, of that faculty.
PROTAGORAS; GORGIAS; PRODICUS.–They were very numerous, the taste for their art, which might be called philosophical criticism, being widespread in Attica. It may be believed, as Plato maintains, that some were of very mediocre capacity, and this is natural; but there were also some who clearly were eminent authorities. The most illustrious were Protagoras, Gorgias, and Prodicus of Ceos. Protagoras seems to have been the most philosophical of them all, Gorgias the best orator and the chief professor of rhetoric, Prodicus the most eminent moralist and poet. Protagoras rejected all metaphysics–that is, all investigation of first causes and of the universe–and reduced all philosophy to the science of self-control with a view to happiness, and control of others with a view to their happiness. Like Anaxagoras, he was banished from the city under the charge of impiety, and his books were publicly burnt.
Gorgias appears to have maintained the same ideas with more moderation and also with less profundity. He claimed, above all, to be able to make a good orator. According to Plato, it was he whom Socrates most persistently made the butt of his sarcasms.
Prodicus, whom Plato himself esteemed, appears to have been principally preoccupied with the moral problem. He was the author of the famous apologue which represented Hercules having to choose between two paths, the one being that of virtue, the other of pleasure. Like Socrates later on, he too was subject to the terrible accusation of impiety, and underwent capital punishment. The Sophists furnish the most important epoch in the history of ancient philosophy; until their advent the philosophic systems were great poems on the total of all things, known and unknown. The Sophists opposed these ambitious and precipitate generalizations, in which imagination had the larger share, and their discovery was to bring philosophy back to its true starting point by affirming that the first thing to do, and that before all else, was to know our own mind and its mechanism. Their error possibly was, while saying that it was the first thing to do, too often to affirm that it was the only thing to do; still the fact remains that they were perfectly accurate in their assurance that it was primary.
Philosophy Entirely Reduced to Morality, and Morality Considered as the End of all Intellectual Activity.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCRATES.–Of Socrates nothing is known except that he was born at Athens, that he held many public discussions with all and sundry in the streets of Athens, and that he died under the Thirty Tyrants. Of his ideas we know nothing, because he wrote nothing, and because his disciples were far too intelligent; in consequence of which it is impossible to know if what they said was thought by him, had really been his ideas or theirs. What seems certain is that neither Aristophanes nor the judges at the trial of Socrates were completely deceived in considering him a Sophist; for he proceeded from them. It is true he proceeded from them by reaction, because evidently their universal scepticism had terrified him; but nevertheless he was their direct outcome, for like them he was extremely mistrustful of the old vast systems of philosophy, and to those men who pretended to know everything he opposed a phrase which is probably authentic: “I know that I know nothing;” for, like the Sophists, he wished to recall philosophy to earth from heaven, namely from metaphysics to the study of man, and nothing else; for, like the Sophists, he confined and limited the field with a kind of severe and imperious modesty which was none the less contemptuous of the audacious; for, finally, like the Sophists, but in this highly analogous to many philosophers preceding the Sophists, he had but a very moderate and mitigated respect for the religion of his fellow-citizens.
According to what we know of Socrates from Xenophon, unquestionably the least imaginative of his disciples, Socrates, like the Sophists, reduced philosophy to the study of man; but his great and incomparable originality lay in the fact that whereas the Sophists wished man to study himself in order to be happy, Socrates wished him to study himself in order to be moral, honest, and just, without any regard to happiness. For Socrates, everything had to tend towards morality, to contribute to it, and to be subordinated to it as the goal and as the final aim. He applied himself unceasingly, relates Xenophon, to examine and to determine what is good and evil, just and unjust, wise and foolish, brave and cowardly, etc. He incessantly applied himself, relates Aristotle–and therein he was as much a true professor of rhetoric as of morality–thoroughly to define and carefully to specify the meaning of words in order not to be put off with vague terms which are illusions of thought, and in order to discipline his mind rigorously so as to make it an organ for the ascertainment of truth.
HIS METHOD.–He had dialectical methods, “the art of conferring,” as Montaigne called it, more or less happy, which he had probably borrowed from the Sophists, that contributed to cause him to be considered one of them, and exercised a wide vogue long after him. He “delivered men’s minds,” as he himself said–that is, he believed, or affected to believe, that the verities are in a latent state in all minds, and that it needed only patience, dexterity, and skillful investigation to bring them to light. Elsewhere, he _interrogated_ in a captious fashion in order to set the interlocutor in contradiction to himself and to make him confess that he had said what he had not thought he had said, agreed to what he had not believed he had agreed to; and he triumphed maliciously over such confusions. In short, he seems to have been a witty and teasing Franklin, and to have taught true wisdom by laughing at everyone. Folk never like to be ridiculed, and no doubt the recollection of these ironies had much to do with the iniquitous judgment which condemned him, and which he seems to have challenged up to the last.
HIS INFLUENCE.–His influence was infinite. It is from him that morality became the end itself, the last and supreme end of all philosophy–the reason of philosophy; and, as was observed by Nietzsche, the Circe of philosophers, who enchants them, who dictates to them beforehand, or who modifies their systems in advance by terrifying them as to what their systems may contain irreverent towards itself or dangerous in relation to it. From Socrates to Kant and thence onward, morality has been the Circe of philosophers, and morality is, as it were, the spiritual daughter of Socrates. On the other hand, his influence was terrible for the religion of antiquity because it directed the mind towards the idea that morality is the sole object worthy of knowledge, and that the ancient religions were immoral, or of such a dubious morality as to deserve the desertion and scorn of honest men. Christianity fought paganism with the arguments of the disciples of Socrates–with Socratic arguments; modern philosophies and creeds are all impregnated with Socraticism. When it was observed that the Sophists form the most important epoch in the history of ancient philosophy, it was because they taught Socrates to seek a philosophy which was entirely human and preoccupied solely with the happiness of man. This led a great mind, and in his track other very great minds, to direct all philosophy, and even all human science, towards the investigation of goodness, goodness being regarded as the condition of happiness.
Plato, like Socrates, is Pre-eminently a Moralist, but he reverts to General Consideration of the Universe and Deals with Politics and Legislation.
PLATO A DISCIPLE OF SOCRATES.–Plato, like Xenophon, was a pupil of Socrates, but Xenophon only wanted to be the clerk of Socrates; and Plato, as an enthusiastic disciple, was at the same time very faithful and very unfaithful to Socrates. He was a faithful disciple to Socrates in never failing to place morality in the foremost rank of all philosophical considerations; in that he never varied. He was an unfaithful disciple to Socrates in that, imaginative and an admirable poet, he bore back philosophy from earth to heaven; he did not forbid himself–quite the contrary–to pile up great systems about all things and to envelop the universe in his vast and daring conceptions. He invincibly established morality, the science of virtue, as the final goal of human knowledge, in his brilliant and charming _Socratic Dialogues_; he formed great systems in all the works in which he introduces himself as speaking in his own name. He was very learned, and acquainted with everything that had been written by all the philosophers before Socrates, particularly Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Anaxagoras. He reconsidered all their teaching, and he himself brought to consideration a force and a wealth of mind such as appear to have had no parallel in the world.
THE “IDEAS.”–Seeking, in his turn, what are the first causes of all and what is eternally real behind the simulations of this transient world, he believed in a single God, as had many before him; but in the bosom of this God, so to speak, he placed, he seemed to see, _Ideas_–that is to say, eternal types of all things which in this world are variable, transient, and perishable. What he effected by such novel, original, and powerful imagination is clear. He replaced the Olympus of the populace by a spiritual Olympus; the material mythology by an idealistic mythology; polytheism by polyideism, if it may be so expressed–the gods by types. Behind every phenomenon, stream, forest, mountain, the Greeks perceived a deity, a material being like themselves, more powerful than themselves. Behind every phenomenon, behind every thought as well, every feeling, every institution–behind _everything, no matter what it be_, Plato perceived an idea, immortal, eternal, indestructible, and incorruptible, which existed in the bosom of the Eternal, and of which all that comes under our observation is only the vacillating and troubled reflection, and which supports, animates, and for a time preserves everything that we can perceive. Hence, all philosophy consists in having some knowledge of these Ideas. How is it possible to attain such knowledge? By raising the mind from the particular to the general; by distinguishing in each thing what is its permanent foundation, what it contains that is least changing, least variable, least circumstantial. For example, a man is a very complex being; he has countless feelings, countless diversified ideas, countless methods of conduct and existence. What is his permanent foundation? It is his conscience, which does not vary, undergoes no transformation, always obstinately repeats the same thing; the foundation of man, the eternal idea of which every man on earth is here the reflection, is the consciousness of good; man is an incarnation on earth of that part of God which is the will for good; according as he diverges from or approaches more nearly to this will, is he less or more man.
THE PLATONIC DIALECTIC AND MORALITY.–This method of raising oneself to the ideas is what Plato termed dialectic–that is to say, the art of discernment. Dialectic differentiates between the fundamental and the superficial, the permanent and the transient, the indestructible and the destructible. This is the supreme philosophic method which contains all the others and to which all the others are reduced. Upon this metaphysic and by the aid of this dialectic, Plato constructed an extremely pure system of morality which was simply an _Imitation of God_ (as, later on, came the Imitation of Jesus Christ). The whole duty of man was to be as like God as he could. In God exist the ideas of truth, goodness, beauty, greatness, power, etc.; man ought to aim at relatively realizing those ideas which God absolutely realizes. God is just, or justice lies in the bosom of God, which is the same thing; man cannot be the just one, but he can be a just man, and there is the whole matter; for justice comprises everything, or, to express it differently, is the characteristic common to all which is valuable. Justice is goodness, justice is beautiful, justice is true; justice is great, because it reduces all particular cases to one general principle; justice is powerful, being the force which maintains, opposed to the force which destroys; justice is eternal and invariable. To be just in all the meanings of the word is the duty of man and his proper goal.
THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL.–Plato shows marked reserve as to the immortality of the soul and as to rewards and penalties beyond the grave. He is neither in opposition nor formally favourable. We feel that he wishes to believe in it rather than that he is sure about it. He says that “it is a fine wager to make”; which means that even should we lose, it is better to believe in this possible gain than to disbelieve. Further, it is legitimate to conclude–both from certain passages in the _Laws_ and from the beautiful theory of Plato on the punishment which is an expiation, and on the expiation which is medicinal to the soul and consequently highly desirable–that Plato often inclined strongly towards the doctrine of posthumous penalties and rewards, which presupposes the immortality of the soul.
PLATONIC LOVE.–Platonic love, about which there has been so much talk and on which, consequently, we must say a word, at least to define it, is one of the applications of his moral system. As in the case of all other things, the idea of love is in God. There it exists in absolute purity, without any mixture of the idea of pleasure, since pleasure is essentially ephemeral and perishable. Love in God consists simply in the impassioned contemplation of beauty (physical and moral); we shall resemble God if we love beauty precisely in this way, without excitement or agitation of the senses.
POLITICS.–One of the originalities in Plato is that he busies himself with politics–that is, that he makes politics a part of philosophy, which had barely been thought of before him (I say _barely_, because Pythagoras was a legislator), but which has ever since been taken into consideration. Plato is aristocratic, no doubt because his thought is generally such, independently of circumstances, also, perhaps, because he attributed the great misfortunes of his country which he witnessed to the Athenian democracy; then yet again, perhaps, because that Athenian democracy had been violently hostile and sometimes cruel to philosophers, and more especially to his own master. According to Plato, just as man has three souls, or if it be preferred, three centres of activity, which govern him–intelligence in the head, courage in the heart, and appetite in the bowels–even so the city is composed of three classes: wise and learned men at the top, the warriors below, and the artisans and slaves lower still. The wise men will govern: accordingly the nations will never be happy save when philosophers are kings, or when kings are philosophers. The warriors will fight to defend the city, never as aggressors. They will form a caste–poor, stern to itself, and redoubtable. They will have no individual possessions; everything will be in common, houses, furniture, weapons, wives even, and children. The people, finally, living in strict equality, either by equal partition of land, or on land cultivated in common, will be strictly maintained in probity, honesty, austerity, morality, sobriety, and submissiveness. All arts, except military music and war dances, will be eliminated from the city. She needs neither poets nor painters not yet musicians, who corrupt morals by softening them, and by making all feel the secret pang of voluptuousness. All theories, whether aristocratic or tending more or less to communism, are derived from the politics of Plato either by being evolved from them or by harking back to them.
THE MASTER OF THE IDEALISTIC PHILOSOPHY.–Plato is for all thinkers, even for his opponents, the greatest name in human philosophy. He is the supreme authority of the idealistic philosophy–that is, of all philosophy which believes that ideas govern the world, and that the world is progressing towards a perfection which is somewhere and which directs and attracts it. For those even who are not of his school, Plato is the most prodigious of all the thinkers who have united psychological wisdom, dialectical strength, the power of abstraction and creative imagination, which last in him attains to the marvellous.
A Man of Encyclopedic Learning; as Philosopher, more especially Moralist and Logician.
ARISTOTLE, PUPIL OF PLATO.–Aristotle of Stagira was a pupil of Plato, and he remembered it, as the best pupils do as a rule, in order to oppose him. For some years he was tutor to Alexander, son of Philip, the future Alexander the Great. He taught long at Athens. After the death of Alexander, being the target in his turn of the eternal accusation of impiety, he was forced to retire to Chalcis, where he died. Aristotle is, before all else, a learned man. He desired to embrace the whole of the knowledge of his time, which was then possible by dint of prodigious effort, and he succeeded. His works, countless in number, are the record of his knowledge. They are the _summa_ of all the sciences of his epoch. Here we have only to occupy ourselves with his more especially philosophical ideas. To Aristotle, as to Plato, but more precisely, man is composed of soul and body. The body is composed of organs, a well-made piece of mechanism; the soul is its final purpose; the body, so to speak, results in the soul, but, in turn, the soul acts on the body, and is in it not its end but its means of acting upon things, and the whole forms a full and continuous harmony. The faculties of the soul are its divers aspects, and its divers methods of acting; for the soul is one and indivisible. Reason is the soul considered as being able to conceive what is most general, and in consequence it forms within us an intermediary between ourselves and God. God is unique; He is eternal; from all eternity He has given motion to matter. He is purely spiritual, but all is material save Him, and He has not, as Plato would have it, _ideas_–immaterial living personifications–residing in His bosom. Here may be perceived, in a certain sense, progress, from Plato to Aristotle, towards monotheism; the Olympus of ideas in Plato was still a polytheism, a spiritual polytheism certainly, yet none the less a polytheism; there is no longer any polytheism at all in Aristotle.
HIS THEORIES OF MORALS AND POLITICS.–The moral system of Aristotle sometimes approaches that of Plato, as when he deems that the supreme happiness is the supreme good, and that the supreme good is the contemplation of thought by thought–thought being self-sufficing; which is approximately the imitation of God which Plato recommended. Sometimes, on the contrary, it is very practical and almost mediocre, as when he makes it consist of a mean between the extremes, a just measure, a certain tact, art rather than science, and practical science rather than conscience, which will know how to distinguish which are the practices suitable for an honest and a well-born man. It is only just to add that in detail and when after all deductions he describes the just man, he invites us to contemplate virtues which if not sublime are none the less remarkably lofty.
His very confused political philosophy (the volume containing it, according to all appearance, having been composed, after his death, of passages and fragments and different portions of his lectures) is specially a review of the divergent political constitutions which existed throughout the Greek world. The tendencies, for there are no conclusions, are still very aristocratic, but less radically aristocratic than those of Plato.
THE AUTHORITY OF ARISTOTLE.–Aristotle, by reason of his universality, also because he is clearer than his master, and again because he dogmatises–not always, but very frequently–instead of discussing and collating, had throughout both antiquity and the Middle Ages an authority greater than that of Plato, an authority which became (except on matters of faith) despotic and well-nigh sacrosanct. Since the sixteenth century he has been relegated to his due rank–one which is still very distinguished, and he has been regarded as among the geniuses of the widest range, if not of the greatest power, that have appeared among men; even now he is very far from having lost his importance. For some he is a transition between the Greek genius–extremely subtle, but always poetic and always somewhat oriental–and the Roman genius: more positive, more bald, more practical, more attached to reality and to pure science.
The Development in Various Schools of the General Ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
THE SCHOOL OF PLATO; THEOPHRASTUS.–The school of Plato (not regarding Aristotle as belonging entirely to that school) was continued by Speusippus, Polemo, Xenocrates, Crates, and Crantor. Owing to a retrograde movement, widely different from that of Aristotle, it dabbled in the Pythagorean ideas, with which Plato was acquainted and which he often appreciated, but not blindly, and to which he never confined himself.
The most brilliant pupil of Aristotle was Theophrastus, naturalist, botanist, and moralist. His great claim to fame among posterity, which knows nothing of him but this, is the small volume of _Characters_, which served as a model for La Bruyere, and before him to the comic poets of antiquity, and which is full of wit and flavour, and–to make use of a modern word exactly applicable to this ancient work–“humour.”
SCHOOLS OF MEGARA AND OF ELIS.–We may just mention the very celebrated schools which, owing to lack of texts, are unknown to us–that of Megara, which was called the Eristic or “wrangling” school, so marked was its predilection for polemics; and that of Elis, which appears to have been well versed in the sophistic methods of Zeno of Elea and of Gorgias.
THE CYNIC SCHOOL; ANTISTHENES; DIOGENES.–Much more important is the Cynic school, because a school, which was nothing less than Stoicism itself, emanated or appeared to emanate from it. As often happens, the vague commencements of Stoicism bore a close resemblance to its end. The Stoics of the last centuries of antiquity were a sort of mendicant friars, ill-clothed, ill-fed, of neglected appearance, despising all the comforts of life; the Cynics at the time of Alexander were much the same, professing that happiness is the possession of all good things, and that the only way to possess all things is to know how to do without them. It was Antisthenes who founded this school, or rather this order. He had been the pupil of Socrates, and there can be no doubt that his sole idea was to imitate Socrates by exaggeration. Socrates had been poor, had scorned wealth, had derided pleasure, and poured contempt on science. The cult of poverty, the contempt for pleasures, for honours, for riches, and the perfect conviction that any knowledge is perfectly useless to man–that is all the teaching of Antisthenes. That can lead far, at least in systematic minds. If all is contemptible except individual virtue, it is reversion to savage and solitary existence which is preached: there is no more civilization or society or patriotism. Antisthenes in these ideas was surpassed by his disciples and successors; they were cosmopolitans and anarchists. The most illustrious of this school–illustrious especially through his eccentricity–was Diogenes, who rolled on the ramparts of Corinth the tub which served him as a house, lighted his lantern in broad daylight on the pretext of “searching for a man,” called himself a citizen of the world, was accused of being banished from Sinope by his fellow-countrymen and replied, “It was I who condemned them to remain,” and said to Alexander, who asked him what he could do for him: “Get out of my sunshine; you are putting me in the shade.”
CRATES; MENIPPUS; ARISTIPPUS.–Crates of Thebes is also mentioned, less insolent and better-mannered, yet also a despiser of the goods of this world; and Menippus, the maker of satires, whom Lucian, much later, made the most diverting interlocutor of his amusing dialogues. In an opposite direction, at the same epoch, Aristippus, a pupil of Socrates, like Antisthenes, founded the school of pleasure, and maintained that the sole search worthy of man was that of happiness, and that it was his duty to make himself happy; that in consequence, it having been sufficiently proved and being even self-evident, that happiness cannot come to us from without, but must be sought within ourselves, it is necessary to study to know ourselves thoroughly (and this was from Socrates) in order to decide what are the states of the mind which give us a durable, substantial, and, if possible, a permanent happiness. Now the seeker and the finder of substantial happiness is wisdom, or rather, there is no other wisdom than the art of distinguishing between pleasure and choosing, with a very refined discrimination, those which are genuine. Wisdom further consists in dominating misfortunes by the mastery of self so as not to be affected by them, and in dominating also pleasures even whilst enjoying them, so that they may not obtain dominion over us; “possessing without being possessed” was one of his mottoes which Horace thus translated: “I strive to subject things to myself, not myself to things.” This eminently practical wisdom, which is only a highly-developed egoism, is that of Horace and Montaigne, and was expressed by Voltaire in verses that were sometimes felicitous.
THE SCHOOL OF CYRENE.–Aristippus had for successor in the direction of his school, first his daughter Arete, then his grandson. The Aristippists, or Cyrenaics (the school being established in Cyrene), frankly despised the gods, regarding them as inventions to frighten women and little children. One of them, Euhemerus, invented the theory, which in part is false and in part accurate, that the gods are simply heroes, kings, great men deified after their death by the gratitude or terror of the populace. As often happens, philosophic theories being essentially plastic and taking the form of the temperament which receives them, a certain Cyrenaic (Hegesias) enunciated the doctrine that the supreme happiness of man was suicide. In fact, if the object of man is happiness, since life affords far fewer joys than sorrows, the philosophy of happiness is to get rid of life, and the sole wisdom lies in suicide. It does not appear that Hegesias gave the only proof of sincere belief in this doctrine which can be given by anyone professing it.
Epicureanism Believes that the Duty of Man is to Seek Happiness, and that Happiness Consists in Wisdom.
MORAL PHILOSOPHY.–Continuing to feel the strong impulse which it had received from Socrates, philosophy was now for a long while to be almost exclusively moral philosophy. Only it divided very sharply in two directions. Antisthenes and Aristippus were both pupils of Socrates. From Antisthenes came the Cynics; from Aristippus the philosophers of pleasure. The Cynics gave birth to the Stoics, the philosophers of pleasure to the Epicureans, and these two great schools practically divided all antiquity between them. We will take the Epicureans first because, chronologically, they slightly preceded the Stoics.
EPICURUS.–Epicurus, born at Athens a little after the death of Plato, brought up at Samos by his parents who had been forced to expatriate themselves owing to reverses of fortune, returned to Athens about 305 B.C., and there founded a school. Personally he was a true wise man, sober, scrupulous, a despiser of pleasure, severe to himself, _in practice_ a Stoic. As his general view of the universe, he taught approximately the doctrine of Democritus: the world is composed of a multitude of atoms, endowed with certain movements, which attach themselves to one another and combine together, and there is nothing else in the world. Is there not a first cause, a being who set all these atoms in motion–in short, a God? Epicurus did not think so. Are there gods, as the vulgar believe? Epicurus believed so; but he considered that the gods are brilliant, superior, happy creatures, who do not trouble about this world, do not interfere with it, and are even less occupied, were it possible, with mankind. Also they did not create the world, for why should they have created it? From goodness, said Plato; but there is so much evil in the world that if they created it from goodness, they were mistaken and must be fools; and if they willingly permitted evil, they are wicked; and therefore it is charitable towards them to believe that they did not create it.
EPICUREAN MORALITY.–From the ethical point of view, Epicurus certainly attaches himself to Aristippus; but with the difference that lies between pleasure and happiness. Aristippus taught that the aim of life was intelligent pleasure, Epicurus declared that the aim of life was happiness. Now, does happiness consist in pleasures, or does it exclude them? Epicurus was quite convinced that it excluded them. Like Lord Beaconsfield, he would say, “Life would be almost bearable, were it not for its pleasures.” Happiness for Epicurus lay in “phlegm,” as Philinte would put it; it lay in the calm of the mind that has rendered itself inaccessible to every emotion of passion, which is never irritated, never moved, never annoyed, never desires, and never fears. Why, for instance, should we dread death? So long as we fear it, it is not here; when it arrives, we shall no longer fear it; then, why is it an evil?–But, during life itself, how about sufferings?–We greatly increase our sufferings by complaints and by self-commiseration. If we acted in the reverse way, if when we were tortured by them we recalled past pleasures and thought of pleasures to come, they would be infinitely mitigated.–But, of what pleasures can a man speak who makes happiness consist in the exclusion of pleasures? The pleasures of the wise man are the satisfaction he feels in assuring himself of his own happiness. He finds pleasure when he controls a passion in order to revert to calmness; he feels pleasure when he converses with his friends about the nature of true happiness; he feels pleasure when he has diverted a youth from passionate follies or from despair, and brought him back to peace of mind, etc.–But what about sufferings after death? They do not exist. There is no hell because there is no immortality of the soul. The soul is as material as the body, and dies with it.
You will say, perhaps, that this very severe and austere morality more nearly approaches to Stoicism than to the teaching of Aristippus. This is so true that when Horace confessed with a smile that he returned to the morality of pleasure, he did not say, as we should, “I feel that I am becoming an Epicurean,” he said, “I fall back on the precepts of Aristippus;” and Seneca, a professed Stoic, cites Epicurus almost as often as Zeno in his lessons. It may not be quite accurate to state, but there would not be much exaggeration in affirming, that Epicureanism is a smiling Stoicism and Stoicism a gloomy Epicureanism. In the current use of the word we have changed the meaning of Epicurean to make it mean “addicted to pleasure.” The warning must be given that there is no more grievous error.
THE VOGUE OF EPICUREANISM.–Epicureanism had an immense vogue in antiquity. The principal professors of it at Athens were Metrodorus, Hermarchus, Polystratus, and Apollodorus. Penetrating to Italy Epicureanism found its most brilliant representative in Lucretius, who of the system made a poem–the admirable _De Natura Rerum_; there were also Atticus, Horace, Pliny the younger, and many more. It even became a political opinion: the Caesarians were Epicureans, the Republicans Stoics. On the appearance of Christianity Epicureanism came into direct opposition with it, and so did Stoicism also; but in a far less degree. In modern times, as will be seen, Epicureanism has enjoyed a revival.
The Passions are Diseases which can and must be Extirpated.
THE LOGIC OF STOICISM.–Stoicism existed as a germ in the Cynic philosophy (and also in Socrates) as did Epicureanism in Aristippus. Zeno was the pupil of Crates. In extreme youth he opened a school at Athens in the Poecile. The Poecile was a portico; portico in Greek is _stoa_, hence the name of Stoic. Zeno taught for about thirty years; then, on the approach of age, he died by his own hand. Zeno thought, as did Epicurus and Socrates, that philosophy should only be the science of life and that the science of life lay in wisdom. Wisdom consists in thinking justly and acting rightly; but to think justly only in order to act rightly–which is quite in the spirit of Socrates, and eliminates all the science of research, all consideration of the constitution of the world as well as the total and even the details of matter. Therein is Stoicism more narrow than Epicureanism.
In consequence, man needs clear, precise, and severe “logic” (the Stoics were the first to use this word). Armed with this weapon, and only employing it for self-knowledge and self-control, man makes himself wise. The “wise man” of the Stoic is a kind of saint–a superman, as it has since been called–very analogous to his God. All his efforts are concentrated on safeguarding, conquering, and suppressing his passions, which are nothing save “diseases of the soul.” In the external world he disregards all the “things of chance”–everything, that is, that does not depend on human will–and considers them as non-existent: the ailments of the body, pangs, sufferings, misfortunes, and humiliations are not evils, they are things indifferent. On the contrary, crimes and errors are such evils that they are _equally_ execrable, and the wise man should reproach himself as severely for the slightest fault as for the greatest crime–a paradoxical doctrine which has aroused the warmth of even respectful opponents of Stoicism, notably Cicero.
MAXIMS OF THE STOICS.–Their most frequently repeated maxim is “abstain and endure”; abstain from all evil, suffer all aggression and so-called misfortune without rebelling or complaining. Another precept widely propagated among them and by them, “Live according to nature,” remarkably resembles an Epicurean maxim. This must be made clear. This precept as they interpreted it meant: adhere freely and respectfully to the laws of the universe. The world is a God who lives according to the laws He Himself made, and of which we are not judges. These laws surround us and compel us; sometimes they wound us. We must respect and obey them, have a sort of pious desire that they should operate even against ourselves, and live in reverent conformity with them. Thus understood, the “life in conformity with nature” is nothing else than an aspect of the maxim, “Endure.”
PRINCIPAL STOICS.–The principal adepts and masters of Stoicism with and after Zeno were Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Aristo, and Herillus in Greece; at Rome, Cato, Brutus, Cicero to a certain degree, Thrasea, Epictetus (withal a Greek, who wrote in Greek), Seneca, and finally the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism rapidly developed into a religion, having its rites, obediences, ascetic practices, directors of conscience, examination of conscience, and its adepts with a traditional dress, long cloak, and long beard. It exerted considerable influence, comparable (comparable only) to Christianity, but it penetrated only the upper and middle classes of society in antiquity without descending, or barely descending, to the masses. Like Epicureanism, Stoicism had a renaissance in modern times in opposition to Christianity; this will be dealt with later.
ECLECTICS AND SCEPTICS
Philosophers who Wished to Belong to No School Philosophers who Decried All Schools and All Doctrines.
THE TWO TENDENCIES.–As might be expected to happen, and as always happens, the multiplicity of sects brought about two tendencies, one consisting in selecting somewhat arbitrarily from each sect what one found best in it, which is called “eclecticism,” the other in thinking that no school grasped the truth, that the truth is not to be grasped, which is called “scepticism.”
THE ECLECTICS: PLUTARCH.–The Eclectics, who did not form a school, which would have been difficult in the spirit in which they acted, had only this in common, that they venerated the great thinkers of ancient Greece, and that they felt or endeavoured to feel respect and toleration for all religions. They venerated Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno, Moses, Jesus, St. Paul, and loved to imagine that they were each a partial revelation of the great divine thought, and they endeavoured to reconcile these divergent revelations by proceeding on broad lines and general considerations. Among them were Moderatus, Nicomachus, Nemesius, etc. The most illustrious, without being the most profound–though his literary talent has always kept him prominent–was Plutarch. His chief effort, since then often renewed, was to reconcile reason and faith (I am writing of the polytheistic faith). Perceiving in mythology ingenious allegories, he showed that under the name of allegories covering and containing profound ideas, all polytheism could be accepted by the reason of a Platonist, an Aristotelian, or a Stoic. The Eclectics had not much influence, and only pleased two sorts of minds: those who preferred knowledge rather than conviction, and found in Eclecticism an agreeable variety of points of view; and those who liked to believe a little in everything, and possessing receptive but not steadfast minds were not far from sceptics and who might be called affirmative sceptics in opposition to the negative sceptics: sceptics who say, “Heavens, yes,” as opposed to sceptics who always say, “Presumably, no.”
THE SCEPTICS: PYRRHO.–The Sceptics proper were chronologically more ancient. The first famous Sceptic was a contemporary of Aristotle; he followed Alexander on his great expedition into Asia. This was Pyrrho. He taught, as it appears, somewhat obscurely at Athens, and for successor had Timon. These philosophers, like so many others, sought happiness and affirmed that it lay in abstention from decision, in the mind remaining in abeyance, in _aphasia_. Pyrrho being accustomed to say that he was indifferent whether he was alive or dead, on being asked, “Then why do you live?” answered: “Just because it is indifferent whether one lives or is dead.” As may be imagined, their favourite sport was to draw the various schools into mutual opposition, to rout some by the rest, to show that all were strong in what they negatived, but weak in what they affirmed, and so to dismiss them in different directions.
THE NEW ACADEMY.–Scepticism, albeit attenuated, softened, and less aggressive, reappeared in a school calling itself the New Academy. It claimed to adhere to Socrates–not without some show of reason, since Socrates had declared that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing–and the essential tenet of this school was to affirm nothing. Only the Academicians believed that certain things were probable, more probable than others, and they are the founders of probabilism, which is nothing more than conviction accompanied with modesty. They were more or less moderate, according to personal temperament. Arcesilaus was emphatically moderate, and limited himself to the development of the critical faculties of his pupil. Carneades was more negative, and arrived at or reverted to scepticism and sophistry pure and simple. Cicero, with a certain foundation of Stoicism, was a pupil, and one of the most moderate, of the New Academy.
AENESIDEMUS; AGRIPPA; EMPIRICUS.–Others built on experience itself, on the incertitude of our sensations and observations, on everything that can cheat us and cause us illusion in order to display how _relative_ and how miserably partial is human knowledge. Such was Aenesidemus, whom it might be thought Pascal had read, so much does the latter give the reasons of the former when he is not absorbed in faith, and when he assumes the position of a sceptic precisely in order to prove the necessity of taking refuge in faith. Such was Agrippa; such, too, was Sextus Empiricus, so often critical of science, who demonstrates (as to a slight extent M. Henri Poincare does in our own day) that all sciences, even those which, like mathematics and geometry, are proudest of their certainty, rest upon conventions and intellectual “conveniences.”
Reversion to Metaphysics.
Imaginative Metaphysicians after the Manner of Plato, but in Excess.
ALEXANDRINISM.–Amid all this, metaphysics–namely, the effort to comprehend the universe–appears somewhat at a discount. It enjoyed a renaissance in the third century of our era among some teachers from Alexandria (hence the name of the Alexandrine school) who came to lecture at Rome with great success. Alexandrinism is a “Neoplatonism”–that is, a renewed Platonism and, as considered by its authors, an augmented one.
PLOTINUS.–Plotinus taught this: God and matter exist. God is one, matter is multiple and divisible. God in Himself is incomprehensible, and is only to be apprehended in his manifestations. Man rises not to comprehension of Him but to the perception of Him by a series of degrees which are, as it were, the progressive purification of faith, and which lead us to a kind of union with Him resembling that of one being with another whom he could never see, but of whose presence he could have no doubt. Matter, that is, the universe, is an emanation from God, as perfume comes from a flower. All is not God, and only God can be God, but all is divine and all participates in God, just as each of our thoughts participates of our soul. Now, if all emanates from God, all also tends to return to Him, as bodies born of earth, nourished by earth, invigorated by the forces proceeding from the earth, tend to return to the earth. This is what makes the harmony of the world. The law of laws is, that every fragment of the universe derived from God returns to Him and desires to return to Him. The universe is an emanation from the perfect, and an effort towards perfection. The universe is a God in exile who has nostalgia for himself. The universe is a progressive descent from God with a tendency towards reintegration with Him.
How does this emanation from God becoming matter take place? That is a mystery; but it may be supposed to take place by successive stages. From God emanates spirit, impersonal spirit which is not spirit of this or that, but universal spirit spread through the whole world and animating it. From spirit emanates the soul, which can unite itself to a body and form an individual. The soul is less divine than spirit, which in turn is less divine than God, but yet retains divinity. From the soul emanates the body to which it unites itself. The body is less divine than the soul, which was less divine than spirit, which was less divine than God; but it still possesses divinity for it has a form, a figure, a design marked and impressed with divine spirit. Finally, matter without form is the most distant of the emanations from God, and the lowest of the descending stages of God. God _is_ in Himself; He thinks in pure thought in spirit; He thinks in mixed and confused thought in the soul; He feels in the body; He sleeps in unformed matter. The object of unformed matter is to acquire form, that is a body; and the object of a body is to have a soul; and the aim of a soul is to be united in spirit, and the aim of spirit is to be absorbed into God.
Souls not united to bodies contemplate spirit and enjoy absolute happiness. Other souls not united to bodies, but solicited by a certain instinct to unite themselves to bodies, are of ambiguous but still very exalted nature. Souls united to bodies (our own) have descended far, but can raise themselves and be purified by contemplation of the eternal intelligence, and by relative union with it. This contemplation has several degrees, so to speak, of intensity, degrees which Plotinus termed hypostases. By perception we obtain a glimpse of ideas, by dialectics we penetrate them; by a final hypostasis, which is ecstasy, we can sometimes unite ourselves directly to God and live in Him.
THE PUPILS OF PLOTINUS.–Plotinus had as pupils and successors, amongst others, Porphyry and Iamblichus. Porphyry achieves little except the exposition of the doctrine of his master, and shows originality only as a logician. Iamblichus and his school made a most interesting effort to revive exhausted and expiring paganism and to constitute a philosophic paganism. The philosophers of the school of Iamblichus are, by the way, magicians, charlatans, miracle-mongers, men as antipositivist as possible. Iamblichus himself sought to reconcile polytheism with Neoplatonism by putting in the centre of all a supreme deity, an essential deity from whom he made a crowd of secondary, tertiary, and quaternary deities to emanate, ranging from those purely immaterial to those inherent in matter. The subtle wanderings of Neoplatonism were continued obscurely in the school of Athens until it was closed for ever in 529 by the Emperor Justinian as being hostile to the religion of the Empire, which at that epoch was Christianity.
Philosophic Ideas which Christianity Welcomed, Adopted, or Created How it must Give a Fresh Aspect to All Philosophy, even that Foreign to Itself.
CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY AND MORALITY.–Christianity spread through the Empire by the propaganda of the Apostles, and more especially St. Paul, from about the year 40. Its success was extremely rapid, especially among the populace, and little by little it won over the upper classes. As a general philosophy, primitive Christianity did not absolutely bring more than the Hebrew dogmas: the unity of God, a providential Deity, that is, one directly interfering in human affairs; immortality of the soul with rewards and penalties beyond the grave (a recent theory among the Jews, yet one anterior to Christianity). As a moral system, Christianity brought something so novel and so beautiful that it is not very probable that humanity will ever surpass it, which may be imperfectly and incompletely summed up thus: love of God; He must not only be feared as He was by the pagans and the ancient Jews; He must be loved passionately as a son loves his father, and all things must be done for this love and in consideration of this love; all men are brethren as sons of God, and they should love one another as brothers; love your neighbour as yourself, love him who does not love you; love your enemies; be not greedy for the goods of this world, nor ambitious, nor proud; for God loves the lowly, the humble, the suffering, and the miserable, and He will exalt the lowly and put down the mighty from their seats.
Nothing like this had been said in all antiquity, and it needs extraordinary ingenuity (of a highly interesting character, by the way), to find in ancient wisdom even a few traces of this doctrine.
Finally, into politics, so to speak, Christianity brought this novelty: there are two empires, the empire of God and the empire of man; you do not owe everything to the earthly empire; you are bound to give it faithfully only what is needed for it to be strong and to preserve society; apart from that, and that done, you are the subject of God and have only to answer to God for your thoughts, your belief, your conscience; and over that portion of yourself the State has neither right nor authority unless it be usurped and tyrannical. And therein lay the charter of individual liberty like the charter of the rights of man.
As appeal to the feelings, Christianity brought the story of a young God, infinitely good and gentle, who had never cursed, who had been infinitely loved, who had been persecuted and betrayed, who had forgiven his executioners, and who died in great sufferings and who was to be imitated (whence came the thirst for martyrdom). This story in itself is not more affecting than that of Socrates, but it is that of a young martyr and not of an old one, and therein lies a marked difference for the imagination and emotions of the multitude.
THE SUCCESS OF CHRISTIANITY.–The prodigious rapidity of the success of Christianity is easily explicable. Polytheism had no longer a great hold on the masses, and no philosophic doctrine had found or had even sought the path to the crowd; Christianity, essentially democratic, loved the weak and humble, had a tendency to prefer them to the great ones of this world, and to regard them as being more the children of God, and was therefore received by the masses as the only doctrine which could replace the worm-eaten polytheism. And in Christianity they saw the religion for which they were waiting, and in the heads of Christianity their own protectors and defenders.
ITS EVOLUTION.–The evolution of Christianity was very rapid, and from a great moral doctrine with a minimum of rudimentary metaphysics it became, perchance mistakenly, a philosophy giving account, or desirous of giving account of everything; it so to speak incorporated a metaphysic, borrowed in great part from Greek philosophy, in great part from the Hebrew traditions. It possessed ideas on the origin of matter, and whilst maintaining that God was eternal, denied that matter was, and asserted that God created it out of nothing. It had theories on the essence of God, and saw Him in three Persons, or hypostases, one aspect of God as power, another as love, and the other as intelligence. It presented theories on the incarnation and humanisation of God, God being made man in Jesus Christ without ceasing to be God. It conceived new relationships of man to God, man having in himself powers of purgation and perfection, but always needing divine help for self-perfection (theory of grace). And this he must believe; if not he would feel insolent pride in his freedom. It had ideas about the existence of evil, declaring in “justification of God” for having permitted evil on earth, that the world was a place of trial, and that evil was only a way of putting man to the test and discovering what were his merits. It had its notions on the rewards and penalties beyond the grave, hell for the wicked and heaven for the good, as had been known to antiquity, but added purgatory, a place for both punishment and purification by punishment, an entirely Platonic theory, which Plato may have inspired but did not himself entertain. Finally, it was a complete philosophy answering, and that in a manner often admirable, all the questions that mankind put or could ever put.
And, as so often happens, that has proved a weakness and a strength to it: a weakness because embarrassed with subtle, complicated, insoluble questions wherein mankind will always be involved, it was forced to engage in endless discussions wherein the bad or feeble reasons advanced by this or that votary compromised the whole work; a strength because whoever brings a rule of life is practically compelled to support it by general ideas bearing on the relations of things and to give it a place in a general survey of the world; otherwise he appears impotent, weak, disqualified to give that very rule of life, incapable of replying to the interrogations raised by that rule of life; and finally, lacking in authority.
SCHISMS AND HERESIES.–Right or wrong, and it is difficult and highly hazardous to decide the question, Christianity was a complete philosophy, which was why it had its schisms and heresies, a certain number of sincere Christians not resolving the metaphysical questions in the way of the majority. Heresies were innumerable; only the two shall be cited which are deeply interesting in the history of philosophy. Manes, an Arab (and Arabia was then a Persian province), revived the old Zoroastrian doctrine of two principles of good and evil, and saw in the world two contending gods, the God of perfection and the god of sin, and laid upon man the duty of assisting the God of goodness so that His kingdom should come and cause the destruction of evil in the world. From him proceeded the Manicheans, who exerted great influence and were condemned by many Councils until their sect died out, only to reappear or seem to reappear fairly often in the Middle Ages and in modern times.
Arius denied the Trinity, believing only in one God, not only unique, but in one Person, and in consequence denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. He was perpetually involved in controversies and polemics, supported by some Bishops, opposed by the majority. After his death his doctrine spread strangely. It was stifled in the East by Theodosius, but was widely adopted by the “barbarians” of the West (Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, Lombards). It was revived, more or less exactly, after the Reformation, among the Socinians.
ROME AND CHRISTIANITY.–The relations of Christianity with the Roman government were in the highest degree tragic, as is common knowledge. There were ten sanguinary persecutions, some being atrocious. It has often been asked what was the cause of this animosity against the Christians on the part of a government which tolerated all religions and all philosophies. Persecutions were natural at Athens where a democracy, obstinately attached to the local deities, treated as enemies of the country those who did not take these gods into consideration; persecutions were natural on the part of a Calvin or a Louis XIV who combined in themselves the two authorities and would not admit that anyone in the State had the right to think differently from its head; but it has been argued that they were incomprehensible on the part of a government which admitted all cults and all doctrines. The explanation perhaps primarily lies in the fact that Christianity was essentially popular, and that the government saw in it not only plebeianism, which was disquieting, but an organisation of plebeianism, which was still more so. The administration of religion had always been in the hands of the aristocracy; the Roman pontiffs were patricians, the Emperor was the sovereign pontiff; to yield obedience, even were it only spiritually, to private men as priests was to be disobedient to the Roman aristocracy, to the Emperor himself, and was properly speaking a revolt.
A further explanation, perhaps, is that each new religion that was introduced at Rome did not oppose and did not contradict polytheism, the principle of polytheism being precisely that there are many gods; whereas Christianity denying all those gods and affirming that there is only one, and that all others must be despised as non-existent, inveighed against, denied, and ruined or threatened to destroy the very essence of polytheism. It was not a variation, it was a heresy; it was more than heretical, it was anarchical; it did not only condemn this or that religion, but even the very tolerance with which the Roman government accepted all religions. Hence it is natural enough that it should have been combated to the utmost by practically all the Emperors, from the most execrable, such as Nero, to the best, such as Marcus Aurelius.
CHRISTIANITY AND THE PHILOSOPHERS.–The relations of Christianity with philosophy were confused. The immense majority of philosophers rejected it, considering their own views superior to it, and moreover, feeling it to be formidable, made use against it of all that could be found beautiful, specious, or expedient in ancient philosophy; and the ardour of Neoplatonism, which we have considered, in part arose from precisely this instinct of rivalry and of struggle. At that epoch there was a throng of men like Ernest Havet presenting Hellenism in opposition to Christianity, and Ernest Havet is only a Neoplatonist of the nineteenth century.
A certain number of philosophers, nevertheless, either on the Jewish-Christian side or on the Hellenic, tried some reconciliation either as Jews making advances to Hellenism or as Greeks admitting there was something acceptable on the part of Sion. Aristobulus, a Jew (prior to Jesus Christ), seems to have endeavoured to bring Moses into agreement with Plato; Philo (a Jew contemporary with and surviving Jesus Christ and a non-Christian), about whom there is more information, throughout his life pursued the plan of demonstrating all the resemblances he could discover between Plato and the Old Testament, much in the same way as in our time some have striven to point out the surprising agreement of the Darwinian theory with Genesis. He was called the Jewish Plato, and at Alexandria it was said: “Philo imitates Plato or Plato imitates Philo.”
On their side, later on, certain eclectic Greeks already cited, Moderatus, Nicomachus, Nemesius, extended goodwill so far as to take into account, if not Jesus, at least Moses, and to admit Israelitish thought into the history of philosophy and of human wisdom. But, in general it was by the schools of philosophy and by the ever dwindling section of society priding itself upon its philosophy that Christianity was most decisively repulsed, thrust on one side and misunderstood.
CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHERS.–Without dealing with many others who belong more especially to the history of the Church rather than to that of philosophy, the Christians did not lack two very illustrious philosophers who must receive attention–Origen and St. Augustine.
ORIGEN.–Origen was a native of Alexandria at the close of the second century, and a pupil of St. Clement of Alexandria. A Christian and a Platonist, in order to give himself permission and excuse for reconciling the two doctrines, he alleged that the Apostles had given only so much of the Christian teaching as the multitude could comprehend, and that the learned could interpret it in a manner more subtle, more profound, and more complete. Having observed this precaution, he revealed his system, which was this: God is a pure spirit. He already has descended one step in _spirits_ which are emanations from Him. These spirits are capable of good and evil. When addicted to evil, they clothe themselves with matter and become souls in bodies;–which is what we are. There are others lower than ourselves. There are impure spirits which have clothed themselves with unclean bodies; these are demons. Now, as the fallen brethren of angels, we are free, less free than they, but still free. Through this freedom we can in our present existence either raise or lower ourselves. But this freedom does not suffice us; a little help is essential. This help comes to us from the spirits which have remained pure. The help they afford us is opposed by the efforts of the utterly fallen spirits who are lower in the scale than ourselves. To combat these fallen spirits, to help the pure spirits who help us, and to help them to help us, such is our duty in this life, which is a medicine, the medicine of Plato, namely a punishment; sterile when it is not accepted by us, salutary when gratefully accepted by us, it then becomes expiation and in consequence purification. The part of the Redeemer in all this is the same as that of the spirits, but on a grander and more decisive plane. King of spirits, Spirit of spirits, by revelation He illumines our confused intelligence and fortifies our weak will against temptation.
ST. AUGUSTINE.–St. Augustine of Tagaste (in Africa), long a pagan exercising the profession of professor of rhetoric, became a Christian and was Bishop of Hippo. It is he who “fixed” the Christian doctrine in the way most suitable to and most acceptable to Western intelligence. Instead of confusing it, more or less intentionally, more or less inadvertently, with philosophy, he exerted all his great talents to make the most precise distinction from it. Philosophers (he says) have always regarded the world as an emanation from God. Then all is God. Such is not the way to reason. There is no emanation, but creation; God created the world and has remained distinct from it. He lives in it in such a way that we live in Him; in Him we live and move and have our being; He dwells throughout the world, but He is not the world; He is everywhere but He is not all. God created the world. Then, can it be said that before the world was created God remained doing nothing during an immense space of time? Certainly not, because time only began at the creation of the world. God is outside time. The eternal is the absence of time. God, therefore, was not an instant before He created the world. Or, if it be preferred, there was an eternity before the birth of the world. But it is the same thing; for eternity is the non-existence of time.
Some understand God in three Persons as three Gods. This polytheism, this paganism must be rejected. But how to understand? How? You feel in yourself several souls? No. And yet there are several faculties of the soul. The three Persons of God are the three divine faculties. Man has body and soul. No one ought to have doubts about the soul, for to have doubts presupposes thought, and to think is to be; above all things we are thinking beings. But what is the soul? Something immaterial, assuredly, since it can conceive immaterial things, such as a line, a point, surface, space. It is as necessary for the soul to be immaterial in order to be able to grasp the immaterial, as it is necessary for the hand to be material in order that it can grasp a stone.
Whence comes the soul? From the souls of ancestors by transmission? This is not probable, for this would be to regard it as material. From God by emanation? This is inadmissible; it is the same error as believing that the world emanates from God. Here, too, there is no emanation, but creation. God creates the souls in destination for bodies themselves born from heredity. Once the body is destroyed, what becomes of the soul? It cannot perish; for thought not being dependent upon the senses, there is no reason for its disappearance on the disappearance of the senses.
Human liberty is an assured fact; we are free to do good or evil. But then God has not been able to know in advance what I shall do to-day, and in consequence God, at least in His knowledge, has limitations, is not omnipotent. St. Augustine replies confusedly (for the question is undoubtedly insoluble) that we have an illusion of liberty, an illusion that we are free, which suffices for us to acquire merit if we do right and demerit if we do wrong, and that this illusion of liberty is a relative liberty, which leaves the prescience of God, and therefore His omnipotence, absolute. Man is also extremely weak, debilitated, and incapable of good on account of original sin, the sin of our first parents, which is transmitted to us through heredity and paralyses us. But God helps us, and this is what is termed grace. He helps us gratuitously, as is indicated by the word “grace”–if He wishes and when He wishes and in the measure that He wishes. From this arises the doctrine of “predestination,” by which it is preordained whether a man is to be saved or lost.
IN THE MIDDLE AGES
FROM THE FIFTH CENTURY TO THE THIRTEENTH
Philosophy is only an Interpreter of Dogma.
When it is Declared Contrary to Dogma by the Authority of Religion, it is a Heresy.
Orthodox and Heterodox Interpretations.
Some Independent Philosophers.
DOGMA.–After the invasion of the barbarians, philosophy, like literature, sought refuge in monasteries and in the schools which prelates instituted and maintained near them. But the Church does not permit the free search for truth. The truth has been established by the Fathers of the Church and fixed by the Councils. Thenceforth the philosophic life, so to speak, which had never been interrupted, assumed a fresh character. Within the Church it sheltered–I will not say disguised–itself under the interpretation of dogma; it became a sort of respectful auxiliary of theology, and was accordingly called the “handmaid of theology,” _ancilla theologiae_. When emancipated, when departing from dogma, it is a “heresy,” and all the great heresies are nothing else than schools of philosophy, which is why heresies must come into a history of philosophy. And at last, but only towards the close of the Middle Ages, lay thought without disturbing itself about dogma and no longer thinking about its interpretation, created philosophic doctrines exactly as the philosophers of antiquity invented them apart from religion, to which they were either hostile or indifferent.
SCHOLASTICISM: SCOTUS ERIGENA.–The orthodox philosophy of the Middle Ages was the scholastic. Scholasticism consisted in amassing and in making known scientific facts and matters of knowledge of which it was useful for a well-bred man not to be ignorant and for this purpose encyclopaedias were constructed; on the other hand, it consisted not precisely in the reconciliation of faith with reason, not precisely and far less in the submission of faith to the criticism of reason, but in making faith sensible to reason, as had been the office of the Fathers of the Church, more especially St. Augustine.
Scotus Erigena, a Scotsman attached to the Palatine Academy of Charles the Bald, lived in the eleventh century. He was extremely learned. His philosophy was Platonic, or rather the bent of his mind was Platonic. God is the absolute Being; He is unnamable, since any name is a delimitation of the being; He _is_ absolutely and infinitely. As the creator of all and uncreated, He is the cause _per se_; as the goal to which all things tend, He is the supreme end. The human soul is of impenetrable essence like God Himself; accordingly, it is God in us. We have fallen through the body and, whilst in the flesh, we can, by virtue and more especially by the virtue of penitence, raise ourselves to the height of the angels. The world is the continuous creation of God. It must not be said that God created the world, but that He creates it; for if He ceased from sustaining it, the world would no longer exist. God is perpetual creation and perpetual attraction. He draws all beings to Himself, and in the end He will have them all in Himself. There is predestination to perfection in everything.
These theories, some of which, as has been seen, go beyond dogma and form at least the beginning of heresy, are all impregnated with Platonism, especially with Neoplatonism, and lead to the supposition that Scotus Erigena possessed very wide Greek learning.
ARABIAN SCIENCE.–A great literary and philosophical fact in the eighth century was the invasion of the Arabs. Mahometans successively invaded Syria, Persia, Africa, and Spain, forming a crescent, the two points of which touched the two extremities of Europe. Inquisitive and sagacious pupils of the Greeks in Africa and Asia, they founded everywhere brilliant universities which rapidly acquired renown (Bagdad, Bassorah, Cordova, Granada, Seville, Murcia) and brought to Europe a new quota of science; for instance, all the works of Aristotle, of which Western Europe possessed practically nothing. Students greedy for knowledge came to learn from them in Spain; for instance, Gerbert, who developed into a man of great learning, who taught at Rheims and became Pope. Individually the Arabs were often great philosophers, and at least the names must be mentioned of Avicenna (a Neoplatonist of the tenth century) and Averroes (an Aristotelian of the twelfth century who betrayed tendencies towards admitting the eternity of nature, and its evolution through its own initiative during the course of time). Their doctrines were propagated, and the ancient books which they made known became widely diffused. From them dates the sway of Aristotle throughout the middle ages.
ST. ANSELM.–St. Anselm, in the eleventh century, a Savoyard, who was long Abbot of Bec in Normandy and died Archbishop of Canterbury, is one of the most illustrious doctors of philosophy in the service of theology that ever lived. “A new St. Augustine” (as he has been called), he starts from faith to arrive at faith after it has been rendered sensible to reason. Like St. Augustine he says: “I believe in order to understand” (well persuaded that if I never believed I should never understand), and he adds what had been in the thought of St. Augustine: “I understand in order to believe.” St. Anselm proved the existence of God by the most abstract arguments. For example, “It is necessary to have a cause, one or multiple; one is God; multiple, it can be derived from one single cause, and that one cause is God; it can be a particular cause in each thing caused; but then it is necessary to suppose a personal force which must itself have a cause and thus we work back to a common cause, that is to say to a single one.”
He proved God again by the proof which has remained famous under the name of the argument of St. Anselm: To conceive God is to prove that He is; the conception of God is proof of His existence; for every idea has its object; above all, an idea which has infinity for object takes for granted the existence of infinity; for all being finite here below, what would give the idea of infinity to the human mind? Therefore, if the human brain has the idea of infinity it is because of the existence of infinity. The argument is perhaps open to difference of opinion, but as proof of a singular vigour of mind on the part of its author, it is indisputable.
Highly intellectual also is his explanation of the necessity of redemption. _Cur Deus Homo?_ (the title of one of his works) asked St. Anselm. Because sin in relation to an infinite God is an infinite crime. Man, finite and limited in capacity, could therefore never expiate it. Then what could God do to avenge His honour and to have satisfaction rendered to Him? He could only make Himself man without ceasing to be God, in order that as man He should offer to God a reparation to which as God He would give the character of infinitude. It was therefore absolutely necessary that at a given moment man should become God, which could only be done upon the condition that God made Himself man.
REALISTS; NOMINALISTS; CONCEPTUALISTS.–It was in the time of St. Anselm that there arose the celebrated philosophic quarrel between the “realists, nominalists, and conceptualists.” It is here essential to employ these technical terms or else not to allude to the dispute at all, because the strife is above all a war of words. The realists (of whom St. Anselm was one), said: “The ideas (idea of virtue, idea of sin, idea of greatness, idea of littleness) are realities; they exist, in a spiritual manner of course, but they really exist; they are: there is a virtue, a sin, a greatness, a littleness, a reason, etc. (and this was an exact reminiscence of the ideas of Plato). It is indeed only the idea, the general, the universal, which is real, and the particular has only the appearance of reality. Men do not exist, the individual man does not exist; what exists is ‘man’ in general, and individual men are only the appearance of–the coloured reflections of–the universal man.” The nominalists (Roscelin the Canon of Compiegne, for instance) answered: “No; the general ideas, the universals as you say, are only names, are only words, emissions of the voice, labels, if you like, which we place on such and such categories of facts observed by us; there is no greatness; there are a certain number of great things, and when we think of them we inscribe this word ‘greatness’ on the general idea which we conceive. ‘Man’ does not exist; there are men and the word humanity is only a word which to us represents a collective idea.”
Why did the realists cling so to their universals, held to be realities and the sole realities? For many reasons. If the individual alone be real, there are not three Persons in the Godhead, there are three Gods and the unity of God is not real, it is only a word, and God is not real, He is only an utterance of the voice. If the individual is not real, the Church is not real; she does not exist, there only exist Christians who possess freedom of thought and of faith. Now the Church is real and it is not only desirable that she should be real, but even that she alone should possess reality and that the individuals constituting her should exist by her and not by themselves. (This is precisely the doctrine with regard to society now current among certain philosophers: society exists independently of its members; it has laws of its own independently of its members; it is a reality on its own basis; and its members are by it, not it by them, and therefore they should obey it; M. Durckheim is a “realist.”)
ABELARD of Nantes, pupil of the nominalist, William of Champeaux, learned man, artist, man of letters, an incomparable orator, tried to effect a conciliation. He said: “The universal is not a reality, certainly; but it is something more than a simple word; it is a conception of the mind, which is something more than an utterance of the voice. As conception of the mind, in fact, it lives with a life which goes beyond the individual, because it can be common to several individuals to many individuals, and because in fact it is common to them. The general idea that I have and which I have communicated to my hearers, and which returns to me from my hearers, is more than a word since it is a link between my hearers and myself, and an atmosphere in which I and my hearers live. Is the Church only to be a word? God forbid that I should say so. She is a bond between all Christians; she is a general idea common to them all, so that in her each individual feels himself several, feels himself many; although it is true that were she not believed in by anyone she would be nothing.” At bottom he was a nominalist, but more subtle, also more profound and more precise, having a better grasp of what William of Champeaux had desired to say. He shared in his condemnation.
Apart from the great dispute, his ideas were singularly broad and bold. Half knowing, half guessing at ancient philosophy, he held it in high esteem; he found there, because he delighted in finding there, all the Christian ideas: the one God, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the imputation of the merits of the saints, original sin; and he found less of a gulf between ancient philosophy and Christianity than between the Old and the New Testament (this is because the only Christianity known to Abelard, not the primitive but that constituted in the fourth century, was profoundly impregnated with Hellenism). He believed the Holy Ghost to have revealed Himself to the wise men of antiquity as well as to the Jews and the Christians, and that virtuous pagans may have been saved. The moral philosophy of Abelard is very elevated and pure. Our acts proceed from God; for it is impossible that they should not; but He permits us the faculty of disobedience “in order that virtue may exist,” to which it tends; for if the tendency to evil did not exist, there would be no possibility of effort against evil, and if no efforts, then no virtue; God, who cannot be virtuous since He cannot be tempted by evil, can be virtuous in man, which is why He leaves him the tendency to evil for him to triumph over it and be virtuous so that virtue may exist; even if He were Himself to lead us into temptation, the tendency would still be the same; He would only lead us into it to give us the opportunity for struggle and victory, and therefore in order that virtue might exist; the possibility of sin is the condition of virtue, and in consequence, even in the admission of this possibility and above all by its admission, God is virtuous.
The bad deed, furthermore, is not the most considerable from the point of view of guilt; as merit or demerit the intention is worth as much as the deed and he is criminal who has had the intention to be so (which is clearly according to the Gospel).
HUGO DE SAINT-VICTOR; RICHARD.–Abelard possessed perhaps the broadest and greatest mind of the whole of the Middle Ages. After these famous names must be mentioned Hugo de Saint-Victor, a somewhat obscure mystic of German origin; and the not less mystical Richard, who, thoroughly persuaded that God is not attained by reason but by feeling, taught exaltation to Him by detachment from self and by six degrees: renunciation, elevation, impulsion, precipitation, ecstasy, and absorption.
THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY
Influence of Aristotle
His Adoption by the Church.
Religious Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.
ARISTOTLE AND THE CHURCH.–From the thirteenth century, Aristotle, completely known and translated into Latin, was adopted by the Church and became in some sort its lay vicar. He was regarded, and I think rightly, as of all the Greek thinkers the least dangerous to her and as the one to whom could be left all the scientific instruction whilst she reserved to herself all the religious teaching. Aristotle, in fact, “defended her from Plato,” in whom were always found some germs of adoration of this world, or some tendencies in this direction, in whom was also found a certain polytheism much disguised, or rather much purified, but actual and dangerous; therefore, from the moment when it became necessary to select, Aristotle was tolerated and finally invested with office.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS.–As Aristotelian theologians must be cited William of Auvergne, Vincent of Beauvais, Albertus Magnus; but the sovereign name of this period of the history of philosophy is St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote several small works but, surpassing them all, the _Summa_ (encyclopaedia) which bears his name. In general philosophy St. Thomas Aquinas is an Aristotelian, bending but not distorting the ideas of Aristotle to Christian conceptions. Like Aristotle, he demonstrated God by the existence of motion and the necessity of a first motive power; he further demonstrated it by the contingent, relative, and imperfect character of all here below: “There is in things more or less goodness, more or less truth.” But we only affirm the more or less of a thing by comparing it with something absolute and as it approaches more or less to this absolute; there is therefore an absolute being, namely God–and this argument appeared to him better than that of St. Anselm, which he refuted.
HIS CONCEPTION OF NATURE.–He showed the whole of nature as a great hierarchy, proceeding from the least perfect and the most shapeless to the most complete and determinate; from another aspect, as separated into two great kingdoms, that of necessity (mineral, vegetable, animal), and that of grace (humanity). He displayed it willed by God, projected by God, created by God; governed by God according to antecedent and consequent wills, that is, by general wills (God desires man to be saved) and by particular wills (God wishes the sinner to be punished), and the union of the general wills is the creation, and the result of all the particular wills is Providence. Nature and man with it are the work not only of the power but of the goodness of God, and it is by love that He created us and we must render Him love for love, which is involuntarily done by Nature herself in her obedience to His laws, and which we must do voluntarily by obedience to His commandments.
THE SOUL.–Our soul is immaterial and more complete than that of animals, for St. Thomas does not formally deny that animals have souls; the instinct of animals is the sensitive soul according to Aristotle, which is capable of four faculties: sensibility, imagination, memory, and estimation, that is elementary intelligence: “The bird picks up straw, not because it gratifies her feelings [not by a movement of sensibility], but because it serves to make her nest. It is therefore necessary that an animal should perceive those intuitions which do not come within the scope of the senses. It is by opinion or estimation that it perceives these intuitions, these distant ends.” We, mankind, possess a soul which is sensibility, imagination, memory, and reason. Reason is the faculty not only of having ideas, but of establishing connections and chains of connection between the ideas and of conceiving general ideas. Reason pauses before reaching God because the idea of God precisely is the only one which cannot be brought to the mind by the interrelation of ideas, for God surpasses all ideas; the idea of God is given by faith, which can be subsequently helped by reason, for the latter can work to make faith perceptible to reason.
Our soul is full of passions, divisible into two great categories, the passions of desire and those of anger. The passions of desire are rapid or violent movements towards some object which seems to us a good; the passions of anger are movements of revolt against something which opposes our movement towards a good. The common root of all the passions is love, for it is obvious that from it are derived the passions of desire; and as for the passions of wrath they would not exist if we had no love of anything, in which case our desire not coming into collision would not turn into revolt against the obstacle. We are free to do good or evil, to master our evil passions and to follow those of which reason approves. Here reappears the objection of the knowledge God must have beforehand of our actions: if God foresees our actions we are not free; if free, we act contrary to his previsions, then He is not all-powerful. St. Thomas makes answer thus: “There is not prevision, there is vision, because we are in time whereas God is in eternity. He sees at one glance and instantaneously all the past, present, and future. Therefore, He does not foresee but see, and this vision does not hinder human freedom any more than being seen acting prevents one from acting. Because God knows our deeds after they are done, no one can plead that that prevents our full liberty to do them; if He knew them before it is the same as knowing them after, because for Him past, present, and future are all the same moment.” This appears subtle but is not, for it only amounts to the statement that in speaking of God time must not be mentioned, for God is as much outside time as outside space.
THE MORAL SYSTEM OF ST. THOMAS.–The very detailed and circumstantial moral system of St. Thomas may thus be summarized: there is in conscience, first, an intellectual act which is the distinction between good and evil; secondly, an act of will which leads us to the good. This power for good urges the practice of virtue. There are human virtues, well known to the ancient philosophers, temperance, courage, wisdom, justice, which lead to happiness on earth; there are divine virtues, inspired in man by God, which are faith, hope, and charity, and they lead to eternal happiness. We practise the virtues, when we are well-disposed, because we are free; but our liberty and our will do not suffice; it is necessary for God to help us, and that is “grace.”
FAITH AND REASON.–On the question of the relation of reason to faith, St. Thomas Aquinas recognizes, or rather proclaims, that reason will never demonstrate faith, that the revealed truths, the Trinity, original sin, grace, etc., are above reason and infinitely exceed it. How, then, can one believe? By will, aided by the grace of God. Then henceforth must no appeal be made to reason? Yes, indeed! Reason serves to refute the errors of the adversaries of the faith, and by this refutation to confirm itself in belief. The famous _Credo ut intelligam_–I believe in order to understand–is therefore true. Comprehension is only possible on condition of belief; but subsequently comprehension helps to believe, if not more, at least with a greater precision and in a more abundant light. St. Thomas Aquinas here is in exactly the position which Pascal seems to have taken up: Believe and you will understand; understand and you will believe more exactly. Therefore an act of will: “I wish to believe”–a grace of God fortifying this will: faith exists–studies and reasoning: faith is the clearer.
ST. BONAVENTURA; RAYMOND LULLE.–Beside these men of the highest brain-power there are found in the thirteenth century mystics, that is, poets and eccentrics, both by the way most interesting. It was St. Bonaventura who, being persuaded, almost like an Alexandrine, that one rises to God by synthetic feeling and not by series of arguments, and that one journeys towards Him by successive states of the soul each more pure and more passionate–wrote _The Journey of the Soul to God_, which is, so to speak, a manual of mysticism. Learned as he was, whilst pursuing his own purpose, he digressed in agreeable and instructive fashion into the realms of real knowledge.
Widely different from him, Raymond Lulle or de Lulle, an unbridled schoolman, in his _Ars magna_ invented a reasoning machine, analogous to an arithmetical machine, in which ideas were automatically deduced from one another as the figures inscribe themselves on a counter. As often happens, the excess of the method was its own criticism, and an enemy of scholasticism could not have more ingeniously demonstrated that it was a kind of mechanism. Raymond de Lulle was at once a learned man and a well-informed and most enquiring naturalist for whom Arabian science held no secrets. With that he was poet, troubadour, orator, as well as very eccentric and attractive. He was beloved and persecuted in his lifetime, and long after his death still found enthusiastic disciples.
BACON.–Contemporaneously lived the man whom it is generally the custom to regard as the distant precursor of experimental science, Roger Bacon (who must not be confused with Francis Bacon, another learned man who lived much nearer to our own time). Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar, occupied himself almost exclusively with physical and natural science. He passed the greater portion of his life in prison by reason of alleged sorcery and, more especially, perhaps, because he had denounced the evil lives of his brethren. He had at least a presentiment of almost all modern inventions: gunpowder, magnifying glass, telescope, air-pump; he was distinctly an inventor in optics. In philosophy, properly speaking, he denounced what was hollow and empty in scholasticism, detesting that preference should be given to “the straw of words rather than to the grain of fact,” and proclaiming that reasoning “is good to conclude but not to establish.” Without discovering the law of progress, as has too often been alleged, he arrived at the conclusion that antiquity being the youth of the world, the moderns are the adults, which only meant that it would be at our school that the ancients would learn were they to return to earth and that we ought not to believe blindly in the ancients; and this was an insurrection against the principle of authority and against the idolatry of Aristotle. He preached the direct study of nature, observation, and experiment with the subsequent application of deduction, and especially of mathematical deduction, to experiment and observation. With all that, he believed in astrology; for those who are in advance of their time none the less belong to it: but he was a very great man.
THE FOURTEENTH AND FIFTEENTH CENTURIES
Decadence of Scholasticism. Forebodings of the Coming Era. Great Moralists. The Kabbala. Sorcery.
DECADENCE OF SCHOLASTICISM.–The fourteenth century dated the decadence of scholasticism, but saw little new. “Realism” was generally abandoned, and the field was swept by “nominalism,” which was the theory that ideas only have existence in the brains which conceive them. Thus Durand de Saint-Pourcain remains famous for having said, “To exist is to be individually,” which at that epoch was very audacious. William of Ockham repeated the phrase with emphasis; there is nothing real except the individual. That went so far as to cast suspicion on all metaphysics, and somewhat on theology. In fact, _although a devout believer_, Ockham rejected theology, implored the Church not to be learned, because her science proved nothing, and to content herself with faith: “Science belongs to God, faith to men.” But, or rather in addition, if the ministers of God were no longer imposing because of their ambitious science, it was necessary for them to regain their sway over souls by other and better means. It was incumbent on them to be saintly, to revert to the purity, the simplicity, and the divine childishness of the primitive Church; and here he was virtually a forerunner of the Reformation.
Ockham was indeed one of the auxiliaries of Philip the Fair in his struggle with the Holy See, suffered excommunication, and sought refuge with the Duke of Bavaria, the foe of the Pope.
BURIDAN: THE LIBERTY OF INDIFFERENCE.–Realists and nominalists continued their mutual strife, sometimes physically even, until the middle of the fifteenth century. But nominalism always gained ground, having among other celebrated champions, Peter d’Ailly and Buridan; the one succeeded in becoming Chancellor of the University of Paris, the other in becoming its Rector. Buridan has remained famous through his death and his donkey, both alike legendary. According to a ballad by Villon, Buridan having been too tenderly loved by Joan of Navarre, wife of Philip the Fair, was by his order “thrown in a sack into the Seine.” By comparison of dates, the fact seems impossible. According to tradition, either in order to show the freedom of indifference, or that animals are mere machines, Buridan declared that an ass with two baskets full of corn placed one on each side of him and at equal distance from him, would never decide from which he should feed and would die of starvation. Nothing of the kind is to be found in his works, but he may have said so in a lecture and his pupils remembering it have handed it down as a proverb.
PETER D’AILLY; GERSON.–Peter d’Ailly, a highly important ecclesiastic, head of the College of Navarre, chevalier of the University of Paris, Cardinal, a leader in the discussions at the Councils at Pisa and Constance, a drastic reformer of the morals and customs of the Church, did not evince any marked originality as a philosopher, but maintained the already known doctrines of nominalism with extraordinary dialectical skill.
Among his pupils he numbered Gerson, who was also Chancellor of the University of Paris, another highly zealous and energetic reformer, a more avowed enemy of scholasticism and mysticism, of exaggerated austerity and astrology, eminently modern in the best sense of the word, whose political and religious enemies are his title of respect. He was the author of many small books devoted to the popularization of science, religion, and morality. To him was long attributed the _Imitation of Jesus Christ_, which on the whole bears no resemblance to his writings, but which he might very well have written in old age in his retreat in the peaceful silence of the Celestines of Lyons.
THE KABBALA.–From the beginning of the fifteenth century the Renaissance was heralded by a revival of Platonism, both in philosophy and literature. But it was a Platonism strangely understood, a quaint medley of Pythagoreanism and Alexandrinism, the source of which is not very clear (the period not having been much studied). Then arose an incredible infatuation for the Kabbala–a doctrine which was for a long while the secret of the Jews, brooded over by them so to speak during the darkness of the Middle Ages, in which are to be found traces of the most sublime speculations and of the basest superstitions of antiquity. It contained a kind of pantheistic theology closely analogous to those of Porphyry and Iamblichus, as well as processes of magic mingled with astrology. The Kabbalists believe that the sage, who by his astrological knowledge is brought into relation with the celestial powers, can affect nature, alter the course of phenomena, and work miracles. The Kabbala forms part of the history of the marvelous and of occult science rather than of the history of philosophy. Nevertheless men of real learning were initiated and were infatuated, among them the marvelous Pico della Mirandola, Reuchlin, not less remarkable as humanist and Hebraist, who would have run grave risk at the hands of the Inquisition at Cologne if he had not been saved by Leo X. Cardan, a mathematician and physician, was one of the learned men of the day most impregnated with Kabbalism. He believed in a kind of infallibility of the inner sense, of the intuition, and regarded as futile all sciences that proceeded by slow rational operations. He believed himself a mage and magician. From vanity he spoke of himself in the highest terms and from cynicism in the lowest. Doubt has been cast on his sincerity and also on his sanity.
MAGIC.–There were also Paracelsus and Agrippa. Paracelsus, like Cardan, believed in an intense light infinitely superior to bestial reasoning and calls to mind certain philosophy of intuition of the present day. He too believed himself a magician and physician, and effected cures by the application of astrology to therapeutics. Agrippa did the same with