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Historians often speak as if philosophy took an entirely fresh start at different epochs of its existence. One such break is variously associated with Descartes, or Bacon, or some one of their Italian predecessors. In like manner, the introduction of Christianity, coupled with the closing of the Athenian schools by Justinian, is considered, as once was the suppression of the West-Roman Caesarate by Odoacer, to mark the beginning of a new r茅gime. But there can be no more a real break in the continuity of intellectual than in the continuity of political history, beyond what sleep or inactivity may simulate in the life of the organic aggregate no less than in the life of the organic individual. In each instance, the thread is taken up where it was dropped. If the rest of the world has been advancing meanwhile, new tendencies will come into play, but only by first attaching themselves to older lines of movement. Sometimes, again, what seems to be a revolution is, in truth, the revival or liberation of an earlier movement, through the decay or destruction of beliefs364 which have hitherto checked its growth. Thus the systems of Plato and Aristotle, after carrying all before them for a brief period, were found unsuitable, from their vast comprehension and high spirituality, to the undeveloped consciousness of their age, and were replaced by popularised versions of the sceptical or naturalistic philosophies which they had endeavoured to suppress. And when these were at length left behind by the forward movement of the human mind, speculative reformers spontaneously reverted to the two great Socratic thinkers for a better solution of the problems in debate. After many abortive efforts, a teacher appeared possessing sufficient genius to fuse their principles into a seemingly coherent and comprehensive whole. By combining the Platonic and Aristotelian spiritualism with a dynamic element borrowed from Stoicism, Plotinus did for an age of intellectual decadence what his models had done in vain for an age of intellectual growth. The relation in which he stood to Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Scepticism, reproduced the relation in which they stood to the various physical and sophistic schools of their time; but the silent experience of six centuries won for him a much more enduring success..
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Plotinus passes by an almost insensible transition from the more elementary and analytical to the more constructive portion of his philosophy. This naturally falls into two great divisions, the one speculative and the other practical. It has to be shown by what necessity and in what order the great cosmic principles are evolved from their supreme source; and it has also to be shown in what way this knowledge is connected with the supreme interests of the human soul. The moral aspect of Neo-Platonism is not at first very clearly distinguished from its metaphysical aspect; and both find their most general solution in the same line of thought that has led us up to a contemplation of the ultimate One. For the successive gradations of our ascent represent, in an inverted order, the steps of creative energy by which all things are evolved from their primal source; while they directly correspond to the process of purification through which every soul must pass in returning from the exile of her separate and material existence to the happiness of identification with God. And here we at once come on the fundamental contradiction of the system. What we were so carefully taught to consider as one and nothing more, must now be conceived as the first cause and the supreme good. Plotinus does, indeed, try to evade the difficulty by saying that his absolute is only318 a cause in relation to other things, that it is not so much good as the giver of good, that it is only one in the sense of not being many.468 But after making these reservations, he continues to use the old terms as confidently as if they stood for the ideas usually associated with them. His fundamental error was to identify three distinct methods of connecting phenomena, in thought, with each other or with ourselves. We may view things in relation to their generating antecedents, in relation to other things with which they are associated by resemblance or juxtaposition, or in relation to the satisfaction of our own wants. These three modes of reference correspond to Aristotle鈥檚 efficient, formal, and final causes; but the word causation should be applied only to the first. Whether their unfortunate confusion both by Aristotle and by his successors was in any appreciable degree due to their having been associated by him under a common denomination, may reasonably be doubted. It is rather more probable that the same name was given to these different conceptions in consequence of their having first become partially identified in thought. Social arrangements, which have a great deal to do with primitive speculation, would naturally lead to such an identification. The king or other chief magistrate stands at the head of the social hierarchy and forms the bond of union among its members; he is the source of all authority; and his position, or, failing that, his favour, is regarded as the supreme good. Religion extends the same combination of attributes to her chief God; and philosophy, following on the lines of religion, employs it to unify the methods of science and morality..
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The author of the Leviathan has sometimes been represented as one who carried the Baconian method into politics, and prepared the way for its more thorough application to psychology by Locke. But this view, which regards the three great leaders of English philosophy in the seventeenth century as successive links in a connected series, is a misapprehension of history, which could only have arisen through leaving out of account the contemporary development of Continental speculation, and through the inveterate habit of looking on the modern distinction between empiricism and transcendentalism as a fundamental antithesis dividing the philosophers of every epoch into two opposing schools. The truth is that, if the three writers just mentioned agree in deriving knowledge solely from experience, they agree in nothing else; and that their unanimity on this one point does not amount to much, will be evident if we consider what each understood by the notion in question..
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All these, however, are mere questions of detail. It is on a subject of the profoundest philosophical importance that Aristotle differs most consciously, most radically, and most fatally from his predecessors. They were evolutionists, and he was a stationarist. They were mechanicists, and he was a teleologist. They were uniformitarians, and he was a dualist. It is true that, as we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Mr. Edwin Wallace makes him 鈥榬ecognise the genesis of things by evolution and development,鈥 but the meaning of this phrase requires to be cleared up. In one sense it is, of course, almost an identical proposition. The genesis of things must be by genesis of some kind or other. The great question is, what things have been evolved, and how have they been evolved? Modern science tells us, that not only have all particular aggregates of matter and motion now existing come into being within a finite period of time, but also that the specific types under which we arrange those aggregates have equally been generated; and that their characteristics, whether structural or functional, can only be understood by tracing out their origin and history. And it further teaches us that the properties of every aggregate result from the properties of its ultimate elements, which, within the limits of our experience, remain absolutely unchanged. Now, Aristotle taught very nearly the contrary of all this. He believed that the cosmos, as we now know it, had existed, and would continue to exist, unchanged through all eternity. The sun, moon, planets, and stars, together with the orbs containing them, are composed of an absolutely ungenerable, incorruptible substance. The earth, a cold, heavy, solid sphere, though liable to superficial changes, has always occupied its present position in the centre of the universe.317 The specific forms of animal life鈥攅xcept a few which are produced spontaneously鈥攈ave, in like manner, been preserved unaltered through an infinite series of generations. Man shares the common lot. There is no continuous progress of civilisation. Every invention and discovery has been made and lost an infinite number of times. Our philosopher could not, of course, deny that individual living things come into existence and gradually grow to maturity; but he insists that their formation is teleologically determined by the parental type which they are striving to realise. He asks whether we should study a thing by examining how it grows, or by examining its completed form: and Mr. Wallace quotes the question without quoting the answer.203 Aristotle tells us that the genetic method was followed by his predecessors, but that the other method is his. And he goes on to censure Empedocles for saying that many things in the animal body are due simply to mechanical causation; for example, the segmented structure of the backbone, which that philosopher attributes to continued doubling and twisting鈥攖he very same explanation, we believe, that would be given of it by a modern evolutionist.204 Finally, Aristotle assumes the only sort of transformation which we deny, and which Democritus equally denied鈥攖hat is to say, the transformation of the ultimate elements into one another by the oscillation of an indeterminate matter between opposite qualities.
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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