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The Ethical Quest Among The Greeks

( Originally Published 1916 )

MAN'S primitive religious impulse is "an effective desire to be in right relation to the Power manifesting itself in the universe." By universe we may mean the world without, made up of sensible impressions, or the world within, made up of thoughts and desires. Where God is conceived as manifesting Himself through the external world the desire to be in right relation to Him will ordinarily express itself in ritual forms, and religion will be used as a screen. But where God is conceived as manifesting Himself through the internal world, the effort to be in right relation to Him will express itself as a phase of moral ideal-ism, and religion will become a way of life.

Primitive man was interested in religion because he wanted to be at home in the world, but when the moral sense developed, the desire for right relations was transformed into a quest for safe conduct. This singular change is best illustrated in the religious experience of the Greeks. The aim of Greek religion, as Lowes Dickinson has suggested, was to make man at home in the world. The easiest way to do this was to make the gods in man's image. The infinite was broken up into finite parts, and each part was personalised, localised, and worshipped in detail. The gods were founders of the Greek race, and the first citizens of the city-state. They were very like men; their passions and desires were altogether human. This conception of religion is expressed in the Homeric poems and for a long period was entirely satisfactory. The religious impulse developed the ritual, and the ritual was a screen which tempered the light of the eternal and enabled man to be at home in the world.

But occasionally this screen was penetrated by a trenchant criticism, which eventually introduced a disturbing element into the Greek religious consciousness. The earliest Greek philosophers were physicists whose main interest was in the study of natural phenomena, still they came to devote a great deal of attention to moral questions. The moral aspects of life appealed very powerfully to the poetic temperament, and philosophers and poets working from different points of view were able seriously to disturb the primitive contentment. "The evolution of theological and religious thought in Greece may be regarded as the result of the action and interaction of the two rival principles of orthodoxy and dissent. On the one hand the poets, especially Pindar, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, without abandoning the old Homeric anthropomorphism, gradually purified and spiritualised the elements of religious idealism al-ready contained in the Homeric poems. On the other hand the pre-Socratic philosophers were more and more led by their physical speculations towards a view of the universe in which no room was left for the Homeric gods, and began to ex-press their dissent at a very early period of Greek thought." The sombre idea of Fate or Nemesis came to the service of man's somnolent moral nature and awoke the conscience to a keen criticism not only of popular religious traditions but also of the conduct of life. As the moral nature developed man became aware that he was not as much at home in the world as he used to be. Religion could no longer serve as a screen because it could not satisfy the needs of conscience, and the desire for safe conduct through this life became a dominant passion.

The need for safe conduct was very acutely felt in the fifth century B. C. This was the age of enlightenment, the period of the sophists and the poet Euripides. For one thing philosophers were becoming deeply interested in the moral aspect of life. They had discovered the world of spirit which augmented the moral imperatives of life and developed the notion of individual responsibility and the worth of personality. The Greek genius for intellectual activity was fully born in that age. From this came a disposition to ex-amine, criticise and modify traditions of all kinds. "The age of the sophists," according to Zeller, "was a period of fermentation preceding the age of construction."

The sophists aimed to teach goodness, by which they meant "the art of succeeding in a democratic state, when you do not yourself belong to the ruling democracy, and in particular, the art of getting off when you are attacked in the courts of law." This was a peculiar sort of goodness, and doubtless the profession had a questionable side; still the original aim of the sophists was to teach men to think for themselves, especially on moral questions. They believed in the divine right of the individual as opposed to the arbitrary authority of tradition. This tendency of the fifth century is best illustrated by the teaching of Protagoras. He is remembered chiefly for his famous aphorism, "Man is the measure of all things." He was the first of the pragmatists, holding that truth was relative to the individual. The test of truth was its practical consequences, its essential utility 8 Applying this principle to religion he distinguished between traditional conceptions and moral relations which had to do with the conduct of life. He did not care to break violently with ancient traditions ; it was in fact highly inexpedient to do so; but he acted on the assumption that in essential things it was best to follow the custom of the country. In all other matters he advised men to think for themselves.

The growing feeling of individual importance which was the distinguishing feature of this age tended to clarify the need for safe conduct. It made the question of moral guidance an object of inquiry and transmitted the problem of its solution to the next age.

This brings us to Socrates, the first ethical thinker among the Greeks. There were two qualities of his personality which must be kept steadily in mind. One was his immense intellectual power, the other his mystical, or shall I venture to call it, his religious temperament. These qualities enabled him to render a dual service to his age, first of diagnosis, and second of construction.

He had in a remarkable degree the power of moral diagnosis. He seems to ask: What is the matter with this age? The people were richly endowed intellectually, of political sagacity and artistic sensibility, yet in spite of this they were not happy. It was easy to trace this unhappiness to evil. Men put true for false and false for true. They followed delusions of various kinds, and often mistook shadows for substance. Why? Be-cause they did not know, because they would not think. They followed opinion rather than knowledge. They were chiefly ignorant of themselves, of their capacities, limitations and needs. It is interesting to observe that more than three centuries earlier Isaiah was saying the same thing about his age : "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib : but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider."

According to Socrates man's misery was rooted in ignorance. His remedy for evil was knowledge, and his ruling principle the Delphic conception, "Know thyself."

The key to his view of human nature is found in the phrase, "No man errs of his own free will." He did not believe that man would deliberately choose evil, or reject the good. Therefore his remedy for evil is a sort of moral intellectualism. In and out of season he laboured to teach men to think for themselves. His favourite method of attack was by means of a series of skilful questions to expose the fallacies lurking in generally accepted phrases so as to produce confusion and perplexity in the mind of his hearer. He would then ascertain the truth underlying current ideas and endeavour to lead his disciples to form sound convictions. He had the wise man's healthy con-tempt for popular opinion; he was passionately interested in fundamental principles, because he believed that once in touch with principles a man would naturally go right. In other words, he believed that knowledge and goodness were identical, that knowledge was power, and in so far as virtue was knowledge it could be taught. His scheme then of safe conduct was one of self-education.

Socrates did the world a great service when he taught men to reflect. There is much to justify the notion that evil is due to ignorance, or even to a more subtle thing, a want of clearness in one's thinking. It is a difficult and an important thing, this thinking for one's self. But while we must recognise the place of self-knowledge in any scheme of life it is easy to point out the weakness of the Socratic position. If knowledge were always power the principle would be a valid one, but it is now a commonplace of ethical thinking, expressed long ago by Ovid "I see the good and approve it, but deliberately practise the wrong," or better still in the words of Paul, "To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, I find not. Socrates had discovered one of the reasons for human defection, but it did not go to the root of the matter. He does not appear to have had a clear notion of human perversity, and he is especially ignorant of the power of a lawless will.

The important aspect of his service was not in the problems he settled, but in giving an ethical direction to the mental inquiry of his time. From his day ethical questions had a definite place in Greek thought. It is not easy to overpraise his ethical passion. His wonder at the newly aroused sense of individual importance, his confidence in the power of clear thinking, and his splendid, if too optimistic, faith in the natural goodness of human nature arouse our admiration. The betterment of humanity was the aim of this Silenusfaced philosopher. He had little interest in speculation for its own sake, he did his thinking in be-half of a good life; and if his remedy is inadequate it is due in great measure to his downright sincerity. He was so passionately devoted to his ideal and so conscientious in his endeavour to attain it that he could not believe in the inaptitude for moral strenuousness which later thinkers found so characteristic of human nature.

There is, too, in the teaching of Socrates a sort of religious fervour. He believed that he was guided in all things by a good daemon. The Spirit of God was his monitor, "and the remarkable thing about it," says Burnet, "was that it never prompted him to do anything; it only op-posed something he was about to do." 5 This be-lief in an inner voice, this confidence in the guidance of a spiritual monitor higher than man which frequently gives to his teaching a kind of religious authority, suggests the instability of his main contention; for so soon as man's conscience is developed by a growing knowledge of the moral ideal, its ethical demands will far exceed his ability to satisfy them, and the consequence is a rift in the soul which destroys faith in the innate goodness of human nature and sets man on a fresh quest for God.

This was what took place in the thinking of Socrates' greatest disciple. Plato's thinking illustrates the truth that when man earnestly seeks to understand himself, he finds not only himself, but God.

Plato followed the master's suggestions to their logical conclusions and by constructing his doctrine of ideas, he developed the highest type of monotheism in Greek philosophy. But with this fresh sense of Divine reality came a new knowledge of human nature. Protagoras had said that "man was the measure of all things." But Plato seems to ask: "What man?" The doctrine of ideas revealed an antagonism between flesh and spirit, and as little as Plato sympathised with Orphic mysticism he was one with it on this point. The Orphic sects taught that the soul was imprisoned in the body; the flesh was the tomb of the soul, a bondage to evil which could be broken only at death. Plato's thinking sharpened the dualism between flesh and spirit. On the one hand man was a complex of passions and appetites, on the other hand of ideals and spiritual aspirations. If man was the measure of all things it must be the spiritual man. But this higher self proved the reality of a world above the senses—fair and lovely-made up of ideas, ideals and communion with God. If this higher selfhood be accepted as the norm it not only measured man's possibilities, but suggested his limitations. The problem was one of emancipation. How was the spiritual man to rid himself of the earthly handicap? Plato tells us how this might be accomplished in his famous allegory of the cave.

First he conceives a number of prisoners immured in a long and gradually sloping chamber. They are bound so that they cannot move and are obliged to look at a blank wall at the end of the cave. Behind and above them is a fire burning, and between them and the fire is a pathway flanked by a low wall. Along this pathway men are passing, carrying a number of vessels. These vessels, rising above the low wall flanking the pathway, cast their shadows on the blank wall at the bottom of the chamber. These shadow shapes are all that the prisoners see. He now supposes that the prisoners are released. At first they are reluctant to leave the cave. As they are taken into the light they are so confused that they are unable to distinguish the shadows from the objects which cast them; but gradually they become accustomed to distinguish real objects ; then they become aware of the element that reveals them. They recognise light itself, and finally by following it to its source, discover the sun;'

According to Plato men in their natural condition are creatures of delusion. Knowledge is of shadow shapes only, and has no validity because it has no connection with reality. But if men display an aptitude for thinking they gradually leave the cave and learn how to distinguish real objects from shadow shapes. Eventually they become aware of the element of truth which reveals reality, and finally by tracing truth to its source they find the eternal God. Thus the human spirit emancipates itself from the prisonhouse of the flesh. Every human idea has its divine counterpart. To know this is power, because it leads to God. Such knowledge is also virtue, and virtue means happiness.

This is very beautiful but is open to criticism. If every man was naturally endowed with a passion for high intellectual endeavour; if he felt that his relation to God was the first and most import-ant business of life, he might choose this contemplative way, and attain to Platonic virtue. But suppose man lacks a natural capacity for reflection, suppose he prefers a life of fleshly indulgence, how are you going to persuade him to abandon the cave? Plato does not answer this question simply because he is thinking of a certain type of man; of a man like himself of philosophic genius and ethical passion of the highest order. The good man is an intellectual aristocrat. If a man is to be saved he must turn philosopher and give himself to rigid intellectual discipline. But the masses who prefer to live in the cave, dealing ever with shadow shapes, must be left to their own devices.

By opening the way to God only to the man of passionate ethical aspiration Plato parts company with the great majority; his quest for safe conduct leads nowhere. On the contrary, it raises a greater problem Where can be found a virtue-making power of sufficient practicability to realise the Platonic ideal? Obviously it could not be found in the Socratic precept, "Know thyself." Knowledge alone was not enough. There must also be desire and moral passion to attain goodness, and Plato's gospel would have no meaning to those lacking these things. In this fashion Plato raised a problem which the more practical mind of Aristotle endeavoured to solve.

Aristotle, a man of universal interests, is never more practical than in his dealing with ethics. He aims to bring philosophy down to the level of the ordinary man and make it practicable for a worka-day world. While agreeing with Plato in saying that a virtuous life requires reflection, he insists that the concept of virtue should be clearly defined and, in the effort to give it greater distinctness, makes three important statements: first, virtue is not an extreme position, but a golden mean; secondly, it is not confined to specific actions, but is a habit of mind which must be formed by education and social discipline, and thirdly, the power to form virtuous habits comes from an ideal political environment.

These points deserve further consideration. Virtue is conceived as a golden mean between extremes. Excess and deficiency are characteristics of vice, and the mean state a characteristic of vir tue. For instance, courage is the mean between the excess of foolhardiness and the deficiency of cowardice; temperance the mean between licentiousness and insensibility; or modesty between shamelessness and bashfulness. This of course is entirely in harmony with the Greek ideal of proportion.'

Aristotle makes an important distinction between intellectual and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues belong to the rational part of the soul; such, for example, as wisdom and prudence. The moral virtues belong to the irrational part of the soul. This he describes as the concupiscent part of human nature, which, while not possessing reason, is capable of obedience to reason. Intellectual virtue is fostered by teaching and reflection, but moral virtue is the product of habit. Moral virtue is the fruit of a proper discipline of the irrational or concupiscent part of the soul. This calls for strenuous endeavour, since man is subject to both reason and impulse and they are frequently in conflict. Moral virtue is the issue of this struggle, it is the direct result of habits formed in obedience to right reason.

The power to form habits of moral virtue is derived chiefly from an ideal political environment. Ethics is a branch of political science, and the good life can be realised only under social discipline. It is the function of the state to make men good. By means of its authority it must discipline the irrational part of the soul in conformity to right reason.'

These points are open to criticism. From an ideal point of view the notion of a golden mean is above reproach, but it does not work in practice. The conception of the balanced life is an unstable one; it gives too much scope to prudence, and in the last analysis bases morality on expediency. "Be not righteous over much, neither be thou over much wicked," has been the favourite creed of culture; in fact the Epicurean code of morals was largely shaped by this notion of the mean.

Aristotle's distinction between the rational and irrational parts of the soul is a very important one. He clearly sees what his predecessors had but dimly discerned—that human nature is' not entirely subject to right reason. The disposition to act contrary to reason, to obey irrational impulses and follow perverse inclinations, must be reckoned with. This thing of being good is a strenuous business. "The mind reigns, but does not govern," says Woodrow Wilson. "We are governed by a tumultuous house of commons made up of the passions, and the ruling passion is prime minister and coerces the sovereign." Knowledge is not sufficient; man needs power to perform that which is right. He must be assisted in attaining a good life, and Aristotle is inclined to look for this in the direction of an ideal political environment. Doubtless a philosophic genius would voluntarily choose the path of virtue, but the plain man must be assisted on the way. This was the function of the state. Before the individual could be improved man must devise an ideal political institution, through which alone social discipline could be realised. Hence Aristotle places the virtue-making power in the function of the state. Dealing with this difficult question he says : "If theories were sufficient of themselves to make men good, they would deserve to receive any number of handsome rewards, and it would have been our duty to provide them. But it appears in fact, that, although they are strong enough to en-courage and stimulate youths who are already liberally minded: although they are capable of bringing a soul which is generous and enamoured of nobleness under the spell of virtue, they are impotent to inspire the mass of men to chivalrous action; for it is not the nature of such men to obey honour, but terror, nor to abstain from evil for fear of disgrace, but for fear of punishment. For as their life is one of emotion, they pursue their proper pleasures and the means of gaining these pleasures, and eschew the pains which are opposite to them. But of what is noble and truly pleasant they have not so much as a conception, because they have never tasted it. Where is the theory or argument which can reform such people as these?"

Aristotle's diagnosis is admirable. In recognising the difficulty of subduing the concupiscent part of the soul he was far in advance of his predecessors, but his view of that discipline is distinctly disappointing. The virtue-making power, which, according to Socrates, belonged to all men, and according to Plato, to a certain type of man, is by Aristotle lodged with the state. Ethical sanctions are derived from political relations.

The weakness of the position is clear, since it provides nothing for the proper discipline of a law-less will save an external relation to a political organisation. But social discipline has never been sufficient. Nothing short of a radical change of human nature from within can accomplish this. And the want of power in a political institution to provide an effective control of individual perversity practically reduces Aristotle's scheme to the Platonic level. It is for the few rather than the many. Assuming that it were possible in a compact city-state to provide a social discipline adequate to meet the situation, still the attainment of virtue in the citizen would be conditioned by the permanence of that form of government. The ethical sanction would be no stronger than the state itself. And if anything should happen to disturb political security it would immediately in-validate the ethical sanction. And if this should occur, the question of safe conduct would become acute again.

And this took place in Aristotle's lifetime. All ethical theories up to and including Aristotle's were conceived within the limits of the Greek city-state. But certain forces were now at work which were calculated to disturb and eventually to destroy that form of government.

One of these forces was a constantly growing sense of individual importance. Man was out-growing his traditions. The rationalistic movement, which in the fifth century had begun to question and modify ancient religious and political traditions, was peculiarly active in this direction in the fourth century. The notion of individual significance was being formulated, and this disturbed the social life of the age. Men were less interested in ultimate theories and wanted a way of life. The quest for safe conduct was becoming urgent again because the needs of the individual were felt to be paramount.

But another momentous change was impending. On the one hand man's spirit was going out to meet the world; on the other hand the world was coming to meet him. The spirit of unrest within the city-state was met from without by the rapid rise of the Macedonian power and the conquest of the world by Alexander the Great. The barrier between East and West was broken down and the currents of life and opinion freely mingled. The ancient provincialism was giving way to a new sense of cosmopolitanism and a feeling of world-wide interests cut up and modified the old racial exclusiveness.

Man was tormented by a new fear and a new desire. He feared the consequences of this momentous political upheaval. Could he retain his political freedom under the new conditions? Did not these changes expose the native Greek, ever the passionate lover of liberty, to slavery and degradation? Did not the collapse of the city-state seriously impair if it did not utterly destroy the authority of ancient religious traditions? Man was tormented by new and disturbing ideas about everything. He was intensely conscious of loneliness. In this enlarging world he was without shelter for body or soul. He was like a youth, born and bred in a provincial community, who suddenly finds himself alone and friendless in the streets of a great city. Amid new forces, strange faces and novel experiences he feels the remoteness and insignificance of his cherished traditions, the utter inaptitude of his point of view on everything. Such a man will desire a way of life above everything. So felt the people of the ancient world, particularly the conservative citizens of the old city-state when Alexander broke down the barriers between East and West and gave them a chance to see things from a cosmopolitan point of view. Old religions, philosophies and moralities; old notions of political rights and privileges were felt to be out of date. The time called for a new intellectual outlook. It wanted new teachers and new schools of thought to meet the new needs.

But if these momentous changes made man fearful, from another point of view they inspired him with a new desire. He wanted to take his place in the new order of things. He began to have visions of a wider human relationship and gradually became aware of the possibility of a world brotherhood. A fresh sense of the solidarity of humanity was altering the ancient racial exclusiveness. If the passing of the old made him lonely, the coming of the new order made him keenly desire a share in its experience.

The most pressing problem was how to meet the new conditions. Obviously the old theories would not suit the new age. They were too abstract and elusive to interest the plain man. He desired something that had to do with the business of living. It was a time when the ordinary man had to think about himself, and especially when everybody was looking for a way of life and a scheme of thought adjusted to the new conditions.

It was to provide a way of life that the philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism were devised. These philosophies represent the ethical quest for safe conduct in the Græco-Roman world. How these systems attained their influence over the ages immediately following Alexander's conquests is an important inquiry if we are to understand the temper of the times to which the gospel was preached.

The primary need of the fourth century was for individual guidance. This need is responsible for two features of the new philosophies. On the one hand they were quests for the chief good by means of ethical discipline; on the other hand they were intensely dogmatic.

The morality of the Greeks up to the time of Socrates was instinctive rather than reflective. Even with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle ethics was subordinated to political science. The ethical sanction was bound up with the fortunes of the city-state. But the city-state was doomed. Man was rapidly outgrowing its provincial limitations, besides, Alexander's successes proved that form of government inadequate. This immediately separated the science of ethics from politics and made it a distinct object of inquiry. What the individual required was to be assured of a way of life which could afford tranquillity apart from favourable circumstances and unconditioned by political relationships. Under the old economy the chief good was always conceived as a composite thing, composed of many elements besides moral sanity. Youth, personal beauty, riches, intellectual power and political security under the compact form of a city-state were not only desirable concomitants but the essentials of happiness. But the changes of the fourth century had completely destroyed this conception. It was impossible under the new conditions to realise a composite ideal of the chief good. Man was stripped bare of all outward goods ; be lost contact with inherited religious supports; he was tormented with new desires and new needs, and was forced to seek spiritual compensations apart from external conditions. How could he meet such a world as this? How could he face its adversities and cope with its uncertainties? How could he become a contented citizen of this enlarging commonwealth of humanity and still retain a tranquil mind? The new philosophies endeavoured to meet such needs as these.

But the age was indifferent to argument and weary of speculations dealing with ultimate questions. These seemed, beside the mark. The problems of life were urgent, and men wanted quick answers. They wanted something that would work, and work promptly. Some were inclined towards universal scepticism. It is interesting to remember that Pyrrho of Elis, the founder of the Sceptical school, followed Alexander to India and returned more than ever convinced of the futility of knowledge. He believed that nothing could be known for certain about anything. Vague probability was the only guide of life. This school persisted in the Gaeco-Roman world and had in Carneades a very able advocate, but we are not concerned with it here. The point of importance to remember is that the age was indifferent to sustained arguments and elaborate systems, and demanded dogmas. It was ready to believe in ex-cathedra deliverances of any kind, provided they had to do with the problem of moral direction.

It is an interesting thing, this recurrent demand for dogma in the history of human opinion. After ages of rationalism people will turn from argument and system and demand the dogmatist. It is a time when men will believe a conception not because they think it is true, but because it is powerfully and dogmatically proclaimed. It was the demand for dogma, this disposition to believe in a powerful preaching that gave to the philosophies of the fourth century something of the quality of Hebrew prophecy. It was the desire to believe in dogmas that made the personality of the philosopher a more important element than his teaching. The devotion of the followers to Epicurus savoured of religious veneration. In fact, it was attachment to his memory that protected his system from the syncretic tendencies of the succeeding centuries. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, had a personal influence that went far beyond the influence of his teaching. All this indicates that the age was rapidly approaching a time when it would readily yield to personal leadership, when it was going to realise so acutely the need for a way of life that it would follow any man who could speak with authority on the main question.

We must study these systems from this point of view. We cannot discuss them in detail; indeed, it is not desirable that we should. What is needed is to understand their spirit and main intention. They were intensely sincere efforts to meet a pressing need of the times. They were not attempts at final systems of thought, but inspired by the practical necessities of a series of profound changes growing out of Alexander's conquests.

Stoicism centres in the will, Epicureanism in the desires. Zeno's main principle was that man has the power to will the good, and gain absolute independence of external conditions of life. The right use of the will would make man free in a world of change. Zeno held, and rightly I think, that many of life's evils come from an over-elaboration of desire. If you reduce the number of your desires, you reduce your needs to a minimum, and you at once limit the possibility of worry. Desire must be brought under the discipline of the will. Man overcomes the world by a noble defiance, by the adjustment of his demands upon it to the requirements of a disciplined personality. But what assurance of success has he? Supposing his intention to be right, can he depend on the uni-verse? Will it help or hinder him? Is the universe friendly or otherwise? Zeno answers that the uni-verse is friendly because it is rational. All that is necessary to realise the chief good is to adjust decisions to right reason; hence the problem is simply one of adjustment. But by what rule? Zeno replies "by following nature." To "follow nature" means to obey her essential meaning. But what is the essential meaning of nature? Zeno goes back to the speculations of Heraclitus. Heraclitus taught that the universe was made of fire. It was instinct with reason and spirit. The uni-verse in short was alive, and this life had a voice which he called the "Logos," or word. The word was intelligible to any one who was willing to listen to it. It told man that God and humanity were alike essentially rational beings, and this notion of implicit rationality was taken over by the Stoics, and when they speak of following nature they mean to obey the voice of reason, which is the spirit and life of all things. This in many respects resembles Bergson's "elan vital" or push of life. It is open to all who have the sense to understand it. "Will to be good," Zeno seems to say, "and you may defy circumstances. By bringing the will under the control of reason man could never go wrong simply because the universe is friendly, in short instinct with Providence, with God. There is a Semitic strain in Stoicism which is expressed in this characteristic doctrine. Zeno himself was a native of Citium in Cyprus, and many of the later Stoics were Semites.

The notion of an immanent and guiding Spirit in the universe is suggested in the beautiful hymn of Cleanthes, the immediate follower of Zeno:

"O king of kings
Through ceaseless ages, God, whose purpose brings
To birth, whatever on land or in the sea
Is wrought, or in high heaven's immensity;
Save what the sinner works infatuate."

This quotation suggests Stoicism's noblest contribution and characteristic weakness. By following nature the Stoic believed he was following God. Man was akin to the eternal, and God was always willing to aid the striving spirit. It was a strenuous effort to adjust human nature to the requirements of God, and at the same time give man a position of undisturbed tranquillity in the midst of a changing world. Undoubtedly it proved a powerful agent in stabilising minds naturally disposed to goodness, but its characteristic confession is found in the statement that the Sovereign Will has no meaning for the "sinner infatuate." This, however, did not disturb the Stoic, because he was not interested in the "sinner infatuate."

He accepts Aristotle's notion of the irrational part of the soul and endeavours to destroy this side of human nature by a rigid discipline of the desires ; but the older Stoics thought of goodness and badness in such an absolute sense that they left no possible encouragement for the ordinary man. A man was either good or bad, and that was the end of it. Either he followed nature wholly, or not at all. There was no middle ground. They admitted that the ideal wise man was rare in our work-a day world, but they would not alter their view. Of course, this made for hardness, austerity and grimness, but it made men strong enough to face the world with a valiant spirit.

There was another element in Stoicism which made for hardness: I refer to its doctrine of intention without desire. The Stoic believed that desire in great measure determines happiness. Reduction of the number and intensity of desires limits the possibility of unhappiness. But his special aim was not to make man happy but to make him good, and goodness was an affair of the will rather than of desire. Still he did not believe in cloistered goodness. The Stoic must take part in the world's work because he belonged to a universal brotherhood. But he must aim to serve others without allowing his feelings to become involved. He must serve his neighbour, but he must not love him, neither must he worry if his service is a failure. His purpose was to do good to others but he would indulge in no useless regrets. Compassion or pity were vices because they operated against the interests of peace. "In the service of his fellow man he must be prepared to sacrifice his health, to sacrifice his possessions, to sacrifice his life; but there is one thing he must never sacrifice—his own eternal calm."

The Stoic was trying to end life in himself. He is the Pharisee of the heathen world, a preacher of an impossible creed of strenuous endeavour; a seeker always after virtue : very much of a Puritan, sometimes a prig, always a dogmatist, and always tremendously interested in preserving at any cost his peace of mind. But he was something more and greater than this. He was a citizen of the world because he believed in the universality of reason. He cheerfully put behind him the old social and political conceptions; he broke away from ancient speculations and faced the new age with a noble defiance of circumstance, simply be-cause he believed that everything meant intensely and meant good-for him. We can hardly over-estimate the power of Zeno's mind battering syllogisms and dogmatic preachments in stabilising an age adrift on a sea of cosmopolitanism. Men were willing to seize anything substantial enough to carry them through the great flood to peace and safety. This is enough to account for the influence of Stoicism on the life and opinions of later centuries.

The foil of Stoicism was Epicureanism. The Stoic believed in overcoming the world by defiance; the Epicurean by a judicious compromise and the avoidance of extremes. One was founded on predominance of will, the other on the proper co-ordination and development of desire. Stoicism had in it a Semitic strain of exclusive devotion to an ideal; Epicureanism expressed the Greek sense of proportion; the aim of the one was the safe life, of the other, the complete life.

Epicurus believed that most of life's troubles were due to excess and one-sidedness. He traced much of life's unrest to religious observances and endeavoured by means of the physical speculations of Democritus to show that, while there were gods, they took no interest in the affairs of men. He elaborated an atomic theory of the universe, holding that only two things exist : atoms and the void. All things being atomic and subject to change, the fear of gods and the fear of death are delusions. Best banish such fears and concentrate attention on this life. Since it is all we have, we ought to make the best of it. He aimed, you see, to abandon all extreme positions and all impossible quests, and to adapt life to a wise compromise with daily responsibilities. Happiness was to be realised in a proper co-ordination of de-sires, in the enjoyment of the amenities of human intercourse, in, the cultivation of friendships and the pleasures of social life.

In brief the ideal of the Stoic was perfection through the predominance of will over desire, while the ideal of the Epicurean was comfortableness in the cultivation and control of desire.

The chief good according to Epicurus was the pursuit of pleasure ; but by pleasure he meant only a condition of existence free from pain or want. In the avoidance of excess and indulgence, in the combination of plain living and high thinking, he was a conspicuous example of his teaching. But the weakness of the system lies in its loose definition of pleasure as the chief good and in giving too large an influence to worldly prudence. By leaving such matters to individual preference it is easy to understand why the system broke up into a series of lawless tendencies. We must not forget, however, that Epicureanism had an immense significance for one of the noblest minds of the last century of the Roman republic, and in the "De Rerum Natura" it attained a dignity and moral strength which gave it wide influence in that age.

These practical methods of dealing with the issues of life represent the ethical quest for safe conduct, which manifests itself among the Romans in the scepticism of Lucretius, the opportunism of Cicero, the humanism of Virgil, and the resignation of Seneca. Stoicism and Epicureanism were final efforts to obtain peace through philosophy. They had an important bearing on the religious situation in the Graeco-Roman world when Christianity began its westward movement.



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