World's Great Philosophers:
The Early Greeks
Socrates And Plato
Epicurus, Zeno, Pyrrho
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The Early Greeks
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In whatever manner Greece may be indebted to the speculation of the Orientals, there can be but small doubt that Thales was an original thinker. In him we find the germ of European philosophy. With him begins the movement that, running through all the schools until it produced a Socrates, a Plato, and an Aristotle, lost itself in the bizarre systems of the Alexandrian schools.
Those who came after Thales were, naturally enough, more adept logicians, keener observers, readier systematizers. Thales was no epistemologist, but his was the first Greek mind to rouse itself to inquiry and to at least suggest those questions that made Greek thought possible.
He was born at Miletus, in Asia Minor, about 640 B. C., whence he and those who came directly after him, have been called the Milesian school. Again, they have been called the cosmologists, and again the physicists. Divisions of history are at best arbitrary and never accurate. There are no epochs or ages or periods. Such exist only in the imagination, and are used for convenience, but too often they serve as a means of confusion instead of as instruments of elucidation. The growth of thought, as the growth of a plant or an animal, is a continuous process. And although Professor Draper is over careful in dividing the history of Greek intellectual development into ages of inquiry, faith and reason, there seems to be as little purpose therein as in other divisions of Greek philosophers into cosmologists, anthropologists, and systematists; physicists, mathematicians and metaphysicians.
Cosmologist or physicist, Thales struck out boldly to erect a theory of things, and the fact that his conclusions, in particulars, are absurd when regarded in the light of scientific truth, never can withhold from him the praise that is his unquestionable due. What we know of Thales' life is little. It is said that he was of Phoenician origin and of noble birth, and that he had been at one time deeply concerned with affairs of the state. He is said to have been active as a politician, and he is said to have not been a politician. He is said to have been a solitudinarian, and not to have been such. He is said to have derived his cosmological theory from Egypt, and not to have done so. He is said to have been known to Aristotle, and this is denied because, it is pointed out, he was not known to Plato.
That Thales came into contact with many strange people there is no doubt, for Miletus was the most prosperous and most commercial of the Greek colonies, and enjoyed an extensive shipping. That he traveled in Egypt is also clear, for it is related that he told the Egyptians the height of the Pyramids by the extension of their shadows. He was a mathematician, too, and, if the story related of his having calculated the solar eclipse of 585 be a true record, which is doubtful, he was a proficient mathematician. He escaped extinction during the invasion of the Persians in the middle of the Sixth Century, but there is no record of his death.
If we lack much that would be of interest in the life of Thales, we are more fortunate in the possession of something definite concerning his thought. This has come down to us in a few fragments, but from them we know that the founder of the Ionic school proposed to himself for answer an unanswerable question. He sought the ultimate qualitative analysis of matter. All things are transformed, one into another. But if this be true, there must be one abiding substance into which all forms can be re-solved, out of which all forms can be synthesized. This proposition assumes the monistic principle of existence. Thales busied himself with the observation of such natural processes as lay open to his view. He watched the growth of animal and vegetable life. He observed the seasons and the sea. One fact impressed him. He saw moisture everywhere. A desiccated seed was nourished and sprang into life through the influence of moisture. Without moisture life was impossible. His problem was primal matter. What should it be but water? Water, then, in Thales' opinion, was the element to which all forms of being could be reduced, out of which all sprang.
The Greek word apxn has been rendered as Beginning and as Cosmic Matter. Thales' philosophy certainly presupposed the existence of water as prior to all beginnings and, as a thing cannot begin of itself, we are forced to the conclusion that water, or moisture, was believed by him to be the uncaused cause and the material likewise. Thales believed in gods and devils, but he had no conception of a creative God, or of a cause other than the primal matter. He believed that gods propagated much after the same manner as animals and men, but gods them-selves were mere parts of the universal process, and had their origin in water as had all other beings. To say that Thales labored in the slightest degree under the influence of theology would be to state a glaring untruth. The gods are an insignificant incident in his philosophy. They occur to him as one of the forms into which his cosmic matter is transformed to be re-transformed, as in the case of other categories. If Thales is not an atheist in what might be the ancient understanding of that word, he is certainly not a Theist in the modern way of thinking.
In detail the philosophy of the first Ionian is calculated to excite a smile in the light of our larger knowledge. But his main conception is noble, and he had present in mind, and clearly stated it, the theory of Differentiation. That theory is accepted now as cousin to the self-evident and undeniable by some of the most eminent of modern scientific thinkers. It was not new when Thales announced it; it is by no means proved now, and the difference between the opinion Thales entertained and present day opinion is that the one specified water as the simplex materia, whereas the other does not know.
Anaximander was a disciple and a friend of Thales. He was born in the first quarter of the Seventh Century before Christ, and gave his attention among other things to a deep study of mathematics. He is said to have been the first man to invent a geographical map, and he is also credited with the ingenious origination of that very useful thing, the sun dial. Both of these assertions are denied. He frequently visited the court of Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, where Pythagoras is also said to have visited.
Anaximander did not profit largely by contact with Thales. His mathematical mind, given to abstractions, was in no wise receptive of the doctrine that water was the origin of all things. He used the word AM to describe the principal matter of his master. How can water be the resolvent of all things, he asked, when water itself is a thing? This simple question, at one coup, tumbled the theory of the first Milesian into a heap of ruins. But let it not be forgotten that while Anaximander, with one wave of his hand, swept aside Thales' conclusion, he accepted, in all sincerity, the tremendous importance-of Thales' first principle. There must be a simplest matter. What is it, then? Anaximander answered, "The Infinite." What Anaximander meant by the infinite has puzzled many commentators, but if we remember that he was opposing the Thalian theory of water, there will be no difficulty in understanding him. Anaximander cancels, one after an-other, all the forms assumed by the primordial matter. What is left is the common term in which all forms can be expressed. But this is a mere verbal trick, a kind of prestidigitation with logic. It leaves us precisely at the point from which Thales started out. It is a restatement, in a roundabout way, of the master's first conclusion. Anaximander goes on to speculate about the infinite. His philosophy is a strange mixture of materialism and mathematics abstractions that begin nowhere and lead anywhere.
Another native of Miletus whose name is always mentioned with that of Thales is Anaximenes, who was born about the same date as Anaximander. Anaximenes gave much of his attention to astronomy, and he is given the credit of having discovered the obliquity of the ecliptic. To him the Water theory of Thales was too limited. Water was a tangible, visible object. A more universal element of elements must be found. Anaximenes could think of nothing better than air. One breathed air. Hence air was life. Air, too, was far more mobile than water. It was more elastic. The expanse of the ocean was contrasted, not to its advantage, with the expanse of the atmosphere. It was clear the air reached up to and even surrounded the stars. There was no limit to it. It was infinite. The earth, itself, he said, floated in the air like a "broad leaf." Who could say that the air could not be, under certain conditions, ignited? This would account for the comets, meteors, and other and innumerable familiar phenomena. To the mind of Anaximenes the mat-ter was proved. Snow, rain, hail, heat, moisture, life, all came out of the air and into air returned.
This was all Anaximenes did for philosophy. The service is a questionable one, and is utterly valueless when compared with that rendered by Anaximander, for he, to say the least, removed the absurd conclusion of Thales, while Anaximenes only replaced it with one equally absurd.
Diogenes of Apollonia was born in the town of Crete whence he derived his generic appellation. He lived somewhat later than Anaximenes. Diogenes may be compared with Anaximander in that, although he rejected Thales' theory of water, he supplanted it with nothing but a mere word. He agreed with Anaximenes' thought that the air was at least the proximate source and substance of all things, but the ultimate air was Psyche, the principle of life, informing and causing all things, Soul. Now these are mere words, and represent nothing definite. "Soul," (in the Greek sense), "Principle of Life," "Vital force," "Animating power," all such are phrases of which no clear concept is possible to the human intellect. They are used to-day by the uncultured in the selfsame way, with the selfsame purpose as the Cretan philosopher used them. Ask that man who refers the phenomena of life to the action or presence of a "Vital Principle" for a definition, and the definition will be a simple periphrastic elusion.
Anaximander abstracted all things and called the abstract axpn the infinite. Diogenes of Apollonia called it the Soul, cue, which was seized through the air, its vehicle. Thus far, Thales stands alone, pre-eminently the Greek who placed high the target at which all were to shoot. He had missed the mark himself, but his followers do not seem to have been more expert marks-men.
Anaximander in his speculations on the Infinite clothed it with many attributes among others that of "The Divine." From that time to this no more highly philosophical conception of deity has been suggested. The predication of divinity in the Infinite was a protest on the part of the Milesian against the popular polytheism. If there must be a god, let there be one. However, it would be unfair to Anaximander to say his conception of the Infinite was theological. We may now glance at the philosopher who logically follows Anaximander, Xenophanes, the leader of the Eleatic School.
The primordial matter of Thales we find changed in Xenophanes, into an infinite, intelligent eternal, immutable, omniscient God. He was the first Greek theologian. The Source of Thales, the All of Anaximander, the Vital Principle of Diogenes, became the intelligent God of Xenophanes. The founder of the Eleatic School was born in Colophon, but fled thence from' the Persians, who over-spread Ionia. The date of his birth is usually fixed at about 570 B. C. He was a gnomic poet, sang his thoughts in the form of verse-maxims, a vehicle not too well suited to the refinements of metaphysics, but admirably instrumental in conveying the message Xenophanes brought. He traveled from city to city, singing as he went, and earning his livelihood in this manner. His place of birth had long been noted for its production of poets, and it may be imagined that he found many to listen to him, for the Greeks were fond of hearing what men had to say, but probably few who profited by his teachings. He found a resting place in Elea, the city which gave to his school its name.
Xenophanes was a poor man, despised riches. Had he enough to support life of the simplest fare, a place to lay his head, and decently appearing clothes, these were sufficient. Xenophanes saw around him a polytheism which, to his mind, was hideous and unworthy the state of man. The gross anthropomorphism of the Greeks was repulsive to his thought. He saw men worshipping idols in which they trafficked. He saw implements and utensils used in religious ceremonies bought and sold. The product of the hand of a base smith, purchased with dross, was, after some mummery had been pronounced upon it, a holy thing. There were gods to suit the tastes of the most fastidious displayed in the god-market and exposed for sale; gods upon whom vile men hung every passion and crime. The Colophonian swept the whole nauseating mass away and replaced it with the one, pure, unmoved and immovable, eternal Intelligence.
Xenophanes was no such philosopher as selected his pupils and taught them privately. He was a reformer, really more religious than philosophical. He lost no occasion of bitterly and fiercely denouncing the polytheism of his time and people. He hated from his innermost core the faith of the Greeks. His conception of God was as radically different from the prevailing beliefs as it could be. He preached his doctrines from the housetops and at the doors of the temples. He taught all men. Xenophanes found no words too harsh to say of Homer. In this respect, as well as in respect of the polytheism of the Greeks, he was fanatical.
To us the beauty of Greek mythos and fable, of the gods and demigods, and the heroes, is incomparable. Homer is the poet of poets. The inspiration of Greek art, of Greek poetry, of Greek architecture, is the inspiration of the art, poetry, and architecture of to-day. Phidias and the Parthenon are ours. The staves of Homer, chanted, as we may see if we look closely into the hexameter, in a sort of quasi rhyme, won the hearts of the people. These told in melifluent words the story of Greek gods and Greek heroes. Nations worship their own gods and their own heroes. The very maximum and ideal of the godlike and heroic pulsate in the verse of Homer. But to all this Xenophanes was blind. He had no patience with men who could accept the fancies of a wandering stave singer as the eternal truth. We must not forget that the Greek view of the deus ex machina was not same as ours. With the Greeks it was faith. They looked up to these gods and prayed to them. What wonder, when we find the poet Swinburne, even in these days, regretting that Olympus is bare?
The Eleatic denounced Homer as vicious, railed at the gods, poured vituperation and vitriol upon those who believed on them. The anthropomorphic theology he holds up to scorn by saying that had oxen and horses hands like ours, then they would make their gods like oxen and horses. The gods of the Ethiopians were black and flat-nosed; those of Thrace ruddy and azure-eyed.
Having conceived, or thought he conceived, his own god as impersonal, imperishable, unchangeable, infinite, he called attention to the vilely anthropomorphic belief that a god could beget a son. This notion was abhorrent to him. God can be, he taught, like unto man neither in body nor in spirit.
Xenophanes lived to be near a century old. Had he been satisfied with the monotheism he first taught, he had done well. But, having cleared the ground of the change-able and man-like gods of the Greeks, he could not with-stand the temptation of speculating on the attributes of his own. God was perfect. Therefore his form was spherical. This has been held to have been a figure of speech, and it probably was. But Xenophanes, perhaps by way of reaction from the intensity of his feeling, at times doubted everything, and it has been made out that he was the germ of the skeptics, an opinion not to be sustained by a study of most of those who have written with learning on his philosophy. The thought that reason, after all, may be unable to unlock the secret of things, is not precisely scepticism. And it appears that thus far only did Xenophanes go.
Contemporary with and a disciple of Xenophanes, was Parmenides, who was born about 536 B. C. Parmenides was the son of a rich and powerful family. In his youth he had all the temptations of his time and climate to lead a purely physical life. It has been said that he was not insensible to these allurements, and that he had been dissolute and worldly. Yet when his attention was drawn to the serious and noble concerns of men, and especially to the pure and lofty delights of the intellect, he readily forsook the evanescent pleasures of the commonplace and gave himself up unreservedly to the sober study of philosophy. The pupil of the Eleatic poet-philosopher con-served his thought and did not seek to thrust his views upon all comers. He stopped short of his master's god-head. He believed, like Xenophanes, in the One, but he pursued the doubt that Xenophanes had left behind further than his master cared to or could. The hinges of his philosophy turned on two points. The concrete (material of opinion) he regarded as changeful, impermanent, and uncertain; the abstract (material of reason) he regarded as eternal and true. He was not unacquainted with the Pythagoreans; had, indeed, come into contact with the Pythagorean Society, and he was mathematical. He had not remained unimpressed with the early philosophy of the physicists; and he was materialistic.
To satisfy these two demands of his mind he proposed a dual principle, the rational and the sensational; the one pertaining to logic, the other to experience. But he rejects the value of the senses on the ground that inasmuch as no two individuals have the same sense experience, all evidence based on the testimony of sense is worthless. The Rational was invariable in men: Therefore the Rational alone was truth. The One of Xenophanes he called Being, not God. The One with Parmenides was finite. Xenophanes believed that God was infinite, but his reason failed to verify his faith. Parmenides went further and taught that Being was definite, limited. His concept of it was spatial as well as in relation to time. It was a perfect sphere, homogeneous and sufficient for itself.
Zeno, of the Eleatics, was the friend and disciple of Parmenides. He antedated the more noted philosopher of the same name who founded the famous school of the Stoics, and must not be confused with that distinguished Greek. Zeno, who is said to have been adopted as a son by Parmenides, defended rather than developed, the teachings of his master. He was native to Elea, and is regarded as one of the most disinterested if not original thinkers of ancient Greece. He had the good fortune to grow up under the supervision of his mental foster-parent and never cultivated a taste for those pursuits followed by the wine-drinker and the voluptuary.
The short account we have of Zeno's life is yet sufficient to present his character and personality to us with a vividness that is almost startling. The story is not lengthy, but is a thrilling one. Bred in the cool, shady solitudes of his colonial home, he cultivated pure thoughts, pleasant and simple manners, and sought an evenly balanced mind. He was contemplative and yet not insensible to the life of the world around him. Beneath his calm philosophical exterior, however, there lay the infinite force of a volcano. His tragic death has no parallel in history. Zeno was the inventor of Dialectics, and his philosophy marks a long step in the advance of Greek thought. But to those who prefer political to scientific history, the interest that attaches to Zeno will ever center about his biography.
Philosopher though he was, Zeno was possessed of an intense affection for Elea, the city of his nativity. This localization of pride lies at the root of all patriotism. The patriot loves his home, his birth-place, his country. Zeno loved Greece, too, but he was not attracted by Athens. In Elea he found the rest, the placidity, the quiet that were most grateful to his disposition. He visited Athens many times, and undertook there to teach something of Parmenides' philosophy, but his homecomings were always a source of great satisfaction. The life at the capital hurt his fine sensibilities. There he saw the bold face of sensuality or discerned beneath an over-polished surface the corrosion of licentiousness. The heterogeneous crowd, the eagerness for new pleasures, the evidences on all sides of satiety and jaded passion, the brilliance, the noise and the hollowness of it all weighed upon him heavily, and when he returned to Elea he did so glad to leave Athens behind. He was not so self-centered but that he could be pleased by honest praise and pained by objurgation. Once when twitted with this sensitiveness to blame, he is said to have replied : "If the blame of my fellow men did not cause me pain, their approbation would not cause me pleasure."
Zeno, as we have seen, was a patriot. When Greeks were striving, and successfully, too, to liberate themselves from their Persian conquerors, and the flame of liberty was leaping in every Grecian heart, the Elean philosopher could not withhold himself from participating in the struggle, and threw himself into it with all his strength. That his influence was powerful there can be no doubt. The history of modern philosophy gives us many similar examples of the combination of love of country and love of truth that we find in Zeno.
His political work took him frequently from his retreat in Elea. On his return to his beloved city, just before his death, he found the people terrorized by the rule of the tyrant Diomedon. Zeno was not long in forming plans for the overthrow of the ruler, but unfortunately he was detected. Diomedon ordered the philosopher brought be-fore him. Zeno, calm in his mind, courageous in his patriotism, faced the tyrant without fear. Questioned as to the names of the men who had been associated with him in his conspiracy, Zeno replied by specifying all of Diomedon's friends and supporters. Turning to the people about him, he said : "If you are content to be enslaved for the fear of what you now behold, I am amazed at your cowardice." To emphasize the situation he then bit off his tongue and spat it into the tyrant's face. He was cruelly punished for this astounding performance by being beaten to death. The manner of his punishment is not certainly known. But the example he gave was not wasted, for it is said that the Eleans rose up against Diomedon and slew him.
The patriot-philosopher founded no system. He accepted the philosophy of his master without criticism or change, and so favorably did he regard it that he was at the expense of founding a new organ of reason to defend it. M. Cousin says of him : "Zeno's purpose was purely polemical. To the outside world he was the politician, dying a tragic death; in the world of his thought the dialectician." To prove the truth of the Parmenidean philosophy, he exercised all the skill of his ingenious intellect. He suggested the indivisibility of matter with his celebrated example of Achilles and the turtle. But the trick of logic he uses in that proposition was exposed by Aristotle. Zeno is remembered for the subtlety of his logic and the grandeur of his patriotism, rather than for his doctrines, which are neither original nor profound.
Few names in the history of Greek philosophy are given more prominence than that of Pythagoras; and few philosophers have been so variously interpreted. He is claimed by mystic, mathematician, and theurgist equally as their own. Yet Pythagoras left no writings by which his system may be judged or known. Such early Greeks as Plato and Aristotle make no mention of works to be directly attributable to the founder of the Pythagorean school. They know only what was taught by the Pythagoreans. More than a dozen dates are given for his birth. He seems to have been a contemporary of Anaximander. But if we strike an average he would appear to have been born about 58o B. C., at Samos. The Pythagorean Society made its appearance toward the end of the Sixth Century, and the body of doctrines which custom attributes to its founder is made up of those precepts and theories taught by his followers.
Pythagoras is singular among all the Greek philosophers in that he was regarded as descended from gods. He was a worker of miracles. Not only was the well-worn wonder of speaking in many tongues at one and the same time accredited to him; this was commonplace; he was even known to have appeared in several distant places simultaneously, and superabundant evidence is advanced to prove the case. In this respect he was the prototype of Apollonius of Tyana, who will engage our attention at another time. His wonder works lack no detail of testimony. His miracles, like those the prophet of Khorassan proposed for his dupes, were "seen, heard, attested, every-thing but true."
After journeying to many places, among them. it is asserted, Egypt, he settled in the wealthy and aristocratic city of Crotona, and there founded his school. His way of teaching was new to the methods employed hitherto by the Grecian masters, and it is this, together with some of the mystic doctrines of his school, that has led to the classic controversy as to how much of his system he owed to the Egyptians.
That Pythagoras visited Egypt is admitted. That he was given entrée by the priests to the temples and to the mysteries of the temples is controverted. The authorities are divided. Some dismiss the assertion that Pythagoras was not thoroughly imbued with Egyptian doctrine as idle. Others are quite as certain that a stranger, as Pythagoras was, could never have found his way to the sedulously guarded secrets of Isis. Yet when we regard the glamour that is thrown around the character and personality of Pythagoras, we cannot but believe that those who hold to the Egyptian theory are in the right. The very person of the philosopher was sacred. He is said to have once shown his initiates a golden thigh, to prove his Apollonian descent. He is said to have been the son of Mercury. Fable has been as busy with him as with any other human being who was saint or god in disguise. In his philosophy, to which we will presently call attention, are found many perfectly Asiatic doctrines; doctrines foreign to aught that had as yet entered into the minds of the Greeks. The many wonders related of him, the fear in which he was held, the supreme devotion of his followers, his great political power, and, above everything else, the arcanian plan of his school with its initiates and neophytes, all are calculated to sway the judgment in accepting the belief that he was at least an enthusiastic imitator of the East, for his own purposes, if not a believer in and a teacher of its mysteries.
To account for Pythagorean familiarity with the lore of the Egyptians and to answer the objection that a foreigner would hardly be accepted as a neophyte by the priests, a story is told of the manner in which the Greek gained his knowledge of the secrets behind the veil of Isis. In the time of Pythagoras, Amasis was the King of Egypt and Polycrates enjoyed the friendship and esteem of the monarch of the Nile. To Amasis Pythagoras went, armed with a request from the Greek ruler to the Egyptian King to provide the bearer of the message the means of learning the wisdom of the hierarchs. Hierarchs indeed they were, for the visitor found to his regret that even the signet of the King had not sufficient power to unlock the doors of the adytum. The priests to whom Pythagoras applied, commended him to Thebes with the artful suggestion that the Theban mysteries were of greater antiquity. It was at Thebes that Pythagoras was successful in his quest. After a stay of nearly the fourth part of a century, under the tuition of the Theban priests, Pythagoras returned to bestow upon his selected disciples the wisdom he had absorbed at the fountain of ancient source. But all this is improbable.
The Pythagorean school, unlike all the other schools of Greece contemporary with, before, or after its time, was an organization. Its doings were secret. To gain admission to its benefits the applicant was required to go through a lengthy term of probation and trial. Before he could approach its mysteries he must purge himself of all the baser instincts. The inner temple was sacred; those who approached its holy of holies must do so with purified hearts and unshod feet. The novitiate was sentenced to five years of preparation, in which he was not permitted to open his lips in speech. Fasts or physical privations of a severe kind were not prescribed, but the mind of the neophyte must be prepared carefully, and perfect control of self attained before even the vestibule of the temple was opened to him.
The initiations were of several degrees. In the last degree the candidate was brought face to face with the living flame of truth. What that truth was no Pythagorean ever told. Such philosophy as we have of -the Pythagoreans is the philosophy that was told to the out-side world. There were two bodies of doctrine, one taught and known to the initiates, the other taught to the world at large. The latter has come down to us, and is by no means clear. The exoteric teaching was supposed to have been allegorical of the esoteric. If so, it is an allegory so fine spun and so involved that it might as well have been left unsaid.
Much wit and wisdom has been wasted on attempts to decipher the jargon of the Pythagorean mysteries. The doctrines have been "explained" time and again, and few of the exegetists can strike an agreement as to precisely what the Pythagoreans believed or did not believe. The Great Arcanum was well preserved. The secrets of the Society were never betrayed. Yet all this mystery and secrecy becomes perfectly clear if one regards the organization which Pythagoras founded as a secret political society. Pythagoras was indisputably a philosopher; but he was also a politician and, as there are the best of reasons to believe, a politician of unbounded ambition. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, a high authority on all questions of ancient and modern mysticism and magic, presents a view of Pythagoras and his purposes adequate for all but the emotional or superstitious. In his "Athens, Its Rise and Fall," he speaks of Pythagoras in the following paragraphs:
"Pythagoras arrived in Italy during the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, according to the testimony of Cicero and Aulus Gellius, and fixed his residence in Croton, a city in the Bay of Tarentum, colonized by Greeks of the Achaean tribe. If we may lend a partial credit to the extravagant fables of later disciples, endeavoring to exact from florid super-additions some original germ of simple truth, it would seem that he first appeared in the character of a teacher of youth, and, as was not unusual in those times, soon rose from the preceptor to the legislator. Dissensions in the city favored his object. The Senate (consisting of a thousand members, doubtless of a different race from the body of the people, the first the posterity of the settlers, the last the native population) availed itself of the arrival and influence of an eloquent and renowned philosopher. He lent himself to the consolidation of aristocrats, and was equally inimical to democracy and tyranny. But his policy was that of no vulgar ambition. He refused, at least for a time, ostensible power and office, and was contented with instituting an organized and formidable society, not wholly dissimilar to that mighty Order founded by Loyola in times comparatively recent. The disciples admitted into this society underwent examination and probation; it was through degrees that they passed into its higher honors, and were admitted into its deeper secrets. Religion made the basis of the fraternity, but religion connected with human ends of advancement and power. He selected the three hundred who at Croton formed his Order, from the noblest families, and they were professedly reared to know themselves, that so they might be fitted to command the world. It was not long before this society, of which Pythagoras was the head, appears to have supplanted the ancient Senate and obtained the legislative administration. In this Institution Pythagoras stands alone; no other founder of Greek philosophy resembles him. By all accounts he also differed from the other sages of his time in his estimation of the importance of women. He is said to have lectured to, and taught them. His wife was herself a philosopher, and fifteen disciples of the softer sex rank among the prominent ornaments of his school. An Order based upon so profound a knowledge of all that can fascinate or cheat mankind could not fail to secure a temporary power. His influence was unbounded in Croton; it extended to other Italian cities; it amended or overturned political constitutions; and had Pythagoras possessed a more coarse and personal ambition, he might perhaps have founded a mighty dynasty, and enriched our social annals with the result of a new experiment. But his was the ambition not of a hero, but a sage. He wished rather to establish a system than to exalt himself. His immediate followers saw not all the consequences that might be derived from the fraternity he founded; and the political designs of his gorgeous and august philosophy, only for a while successful, left behind them but the mummeries of an impotent free masonry, and the enthusiastic ceremonies of half-witted ascetics.
"It was when this power, so mystic and so revolutionary, had, by the means of branch societies, established itself throughout -a considerable portion of Italy, that a general feeling of alarm and suspicion broke out against the sage and his sectarians. The anti-Pythagorean risings, according to Porphyry, were sufficiently numerous and active to be remembered long generations afterwards. Many of the sage's friends are said to have perished, and it is doubtful whether Pythagoras himself fell a victim to the rage of his enemies, or died a fugitive amongst his disciples at Metapontum. Nor was it until nearly the whole of lower Italy was torn by convulsions, and Greece herself drawn into the contest as pacificator and arbiter, that the ferment was allayed. The Pythagorean institutions were abolished, and the timocratic democracies of the Achaeans rose upon the ruins of those intellectual but ungenial oligarchies.
"Pythagoras committed a fatal error when, in his at-tempt to revolutionize society, he had recourse to aristocracies for his agents. Revolutions, especially those influenced by religion, can never be worked out but by popular emotions. It was from this error of judgment that he enlisted the people against him; for by the account of Neamthes, related by Porphyry, and indeed from all other testimony, it is clearly evident that to popular, not party, commotion his fall must be ascribed. It is no less clear that after his death, while his philosophical sect remained, his political code crumbled away. The only seeds sown by philosophers which spring up into great states, are those that, whether for good or evil, are planted in the hearts of the many."
In the Pythagorean organization, therefore, Lord Lytton sees only an instrument for the furtherance of a state to be ruled by an oligarchy of intellect, and this opinion is of the utmost value when we remember this writer's keen judgment and knowledge of societies supposed to be founded on an understanding of the hidden forces of nature.
The Pythagorean philosophy it may not be said the philosophy of Pythagoras, for he did not write a line is not intelligible to modern thought, if it was, indeed, intelligible to the thoughts of the teachers themselves. Yet it has given us some poetic if not rational conceptions. To that philosophy we owe the sublime figure of "the music of the spheres," a phrase that even today is continually used and ever excites our admiration. But what does it mean? The teaching was that the planets in their orbits, swinging majestically around the sun, made music of a kind commensurate with the dignity of these heavenly bodies. For, although the metaphysics of the Crotonians was obscure, their physics was among the most rational system of all the Greeks. They abandoned the geocentric scheme of the world and substituted the heliocentric. They taught that the earth revolved about the sun as did the other planets and, as the circle was the expression in every way of the perfect, the orbits of the planets were circular. The moon was also a planet, and was inhabited by men like terrestrial men, only taller. They assumed the existence of ether throughout space, which would account for the musical rhythm of the spheres. The sphericity of the earth and of the planets, the revolution of the planets in circular (elliptical) orbits about the sun, the assumption of ether throughout space with these doctrines modern science is at one. But science does not assert these doctrines; it demonstrates them. The Pythagoreans guessed them. It is told of Sir William Herschel, the astronomer, that he said to his sister : "The thought has just flashed upon me that there is iron in the sun."
The occurrence is related merely as an anecdote of the great observer. No astronomer credits Herschel with the true discovery. Spectral analysis has proved that his guess was the truth, but it was only a guess. Dean Swift, in one of his satires, presents us with an inhabitant of Laputa solemnly asserting that two moons attend the planet Mars and giving strikingly accurate details of their relative orbital speed. It was a wild guess, but not even Swift's warmest admirers will deny to Professor Hall the whole credit of the discovery.
Pythagoras did not believe the existence of a God. He taught transmigration of souls, a doctrine that should not be confounded with the Buddhist Karma. The Soul—"Monad"—traversed all the orders of plant and animal life according to the character of its aspirations or its passions.
Higher than Indra ye may lift your lot, Or sink it lower than the worm or gnat; The end of many myriad lives in this. The end of myriads that.
If the verses be not a precise statement of the teaching of Gautama, they serve us well to indicate that of Pythagoras. The latter, or at least his school, taught that the soul survived the body, a distinct entity from the body, and was drawn hither and thither by currents of force to unite with new bodies a kind of chemico-psychic affinity. They also held the now familiar belief that the body changes its substance every seven years. And this suggests the principle by which the Pythagoreans are best known and which is least understood the principle of Number. With them Number was everything. It was the "principle of all things," a statement that has never been satisfactorily explained. There were seven planets, seven days in the week, seven-year cycles in the body. The septenary had much weight with them; likewise the quarternary. Each man and each thing had its number. The synthesis, if we may so speak, of all things was the One. And each thing was a one in little. The illustration of the triturated stone, in which each particle is likened to the original stone itself as a unit, indicates the Pythagorean concept and the content of the numerical philosophy.
But small benefit can be derived from a study of this metaphysic. It is interesting, however, to know that the Pythagoreans were the first Greek school to advocate general culture. They were taught to perfect themselves in the arts and sciences, to study music, and to experiment with musical instruments; to master mathematics, to sharpen and make wide the intellect; to practice morality and virtue, and to be not as other men were. The ambitions and the great secret society founded by Pythagoras are sufficient to account for his apotheosis by those who came after him.
Of the philosophers who attained distinction as the founders of schools before the rise of Socrates, there remain to be considered Anaxagoras, Heraclitus, Democritus, Empedocles, and the Sophists. The first named was the master of Socrates. He likewise had for pupils such distinguished men as Empedocles and Pericles. Anaxagoras, like most of the ancient Greeks, taught a physics and a metaphysics. For the sake of his philosophy he suffered much privation and, in the end, became stripped of all his possessions. He was born in Lydia, at Klazomene, of a rich and most influential family, and had he turned his attention to politics, might have risen to a high position in the state. But Anaxagoras was a dreamy youth, whose mind was captive to the delights of the intellect. His worldly prospects he spurned and, despising the political ambitions of his associates and the traditions of his family, he left the ignorant city of his birth to seek abroad the knowledge and the intercourse he had not found at home. In Athens philosophy had already found a home and to Athens, Anaxagoras went. It is learned that the young provincial was attracted into the atmosphere of the literary life of the town, and that he came into contact with Sophocles and Empedocles. He read Homer with delight, but as he grew older the more serious concerns of the mind drew him away from the aesthetic and he turned to philosophy.
He looked at the stars, which in such climates as that of Greece, have a meaning they seem to lack in colder skies. Under the influence of their beamy light the mind of the young Greek expanded as if it would grasp them all, and as if it would grow until conterminous with the infinite, great universe. He was rich. His patrimony in Lydia was ample for the gratification of his utmost desires. It is to the eternal credit of Anaxagoras he a youth from the country, coming fresh into the gay and beautiful metropolis, which invited him temptingly to its warm, fascinating white arms that he shrank from the revels of the Athenians of his own age and caste, to seek out truth. An aristocrat of his wealth had easy entrée to the élite of the Grecian city, and his nights were spent in the company of the ripest and best scholars of the day. He soon constructed a philosophy of his own, and readily found pupils. Athens was thinking, and warmly welcomed all who thought, but enthusiastically welcomed all who thought anew. His most distinguished pupil was Pericles, and Socrates, then young, listened to his words. As he waxed in importance and as his school grew large, he forgot that wealth is not to be despised, even by a philosopher, and so neglected the stewardship of his property.
He was not long in losing it all. Perhaps it is with a touch of bitterness that he charges philosophy with his worldly poverty and credits it with the richness of his soul. But, like most men who fearlessly attack the superstitions of the mob, he learned that philosophy can often pay a more costly penalty than the loss of possessions. He was accused of impiety, of atheism, of blasphemy against the gods, and was brought into court. Tried and condemned to death, his philosophy was not of the heroic stamp that moves its votaries to die. He did not reject the opportunity to escape when, as the story has it, his friend and pupil Pericles opened to him the way. He fled to Lampsacus to Lampsacus, with its obscene god and its wine-red lusts. It was a bitter change for him, and crying out from the wilderness of faces, Anaxagoras proclaimed that it was not he who had lost the Athenians, but the Athenians who had lost him. He died in his 74th year, and his epitaph told how he had sought for Truth.
The metaphysics of Anaxagoras indicates that his doctrine was a growth, and that he altered it as fresh conceptions captured his mind. He taught many doctrines that are now admitted truths of psychology. One, for example, that ideas are not copies of things. This is but another way of putting the familiar truth that sensation itself has no likeness to the external cause of sensation. Sound, color, odor, savor, and the sensations of touch, such as hardness and roundness, do not inhere in the external causes of these sensations, but consist only of the molecular rearrangement of ganglionic cells. Thus, if there were no membranum tympani, no auditory nerve, no brain, universal silence would reign. But Anaxagoras knew of neither auditory nerve nor of ganglion-cell. He could not demonstrate his doctrine. He taught that Rea-son ruled the mind, Intelligence the universe.
His physics is more interesting. The elements were three, water, air and fire. The tissues of the body were formed by particles of like kind existing in the food. Bones came from bony particles, flesh from flesh. This theory was applied to inanimate things. The metals were built up by segregation of metallic particles of each kind. And this was equally true of all differentiated objects. There is a vague notion here of chemical combination, but it is only that. He taught that mind was distinct from matter, but held the true, doctrine that the difference between living things was only one of degree, not kind. Thus a tree or a flower was only an animal without power of locomotion, but with sensation and desire. Life issued from the mud.
He guessed at geology, and held that the earth had passed through various ages through the action of water and fire. The physical appearance of the earth was changed by the subsidence of certain portions of its surface and the elevation of other portions. The visible hills would be sunk out of sight one day. He taught that there were mountains in the moon. Science has verified all these guesses of Anaxagoras. But his most remarkable doctrine was that of the mechanical process of nature. He eliminated fate as folly, and chance because its true nature was not seen. The world, then, was a mere sequence of cause and effect. Indeed, Aristotle describes this now highly scientific theory as being taught by Anaxagoras in these words : "He uses Intelligence as a Machine in the formation of the world." Yet Aristotle never did as well, with all his art.
Heraclitus was not undeservedly called "the obscure," as will be seen presently. He was the son of a rich Ephesian, Blyson of name, and for a time wrought in politics. From what is known of his life, it is reasonable to infer that he was either mentally or physically abnormal. He was the Apemantus of Greek philosophy. He did not carry his hatred of men to the pathetically ridiculous extent of Diogenes, but he carried it far enough. With a most brilliant career in the state opening before him, he fled from Ephesus into the mountains and fared on roots. The grace of Apemantus at the banquet describes him :
Immortal gods, I crave no pelf,
Or a harlot for her weeping,
King Darius sent him an embassy, cordially tendering to the soured ascetic the privileges of the court. Heraclitus replied :
"All men depart from the path of truth and justice. They have no attachment of any kind but avarice; they aspire only to a vain glory, with the obstinacy of folly. For my part, I know not malice. I am the enemy of no one. I despise the vanity of courts and will never set foot on Persian soil. Content with little, I live as I please."
Heraclitus taught that from the senses springs all knowledge. It was only the uncultured who interpreted the senses falsely. Reason without the senses was barren. The source of all things was fire not flame, but its principle, heat. His ethical teaching was based upon his physics. "All is ordered by reason and intelligence, but all is determined by fate." This is the doctrine of predestination.
Anaxagoras taught that man's immeasurable superiority over all other animals was solely due to the possession of his two hands and Professor Lester F. Ward, in "Dynamic Sociology," is at some pains in proving the assertion. Heraclitus taught that the sun was one foot in diameter. It is scarcely credible that both men lived in the same age.
Democritus was born in the middle of the Sixth Century, B. C., at Abdera. He was rich, noble, and free to choose his way of life. He chose philosophy. The founder of the great atomic system, a theory that, among all the theories of the Greeks, alone survives to-day, went about his studies in a methodical manner. Taking his share of his father's estate in the form of portable property, such as money, easily disposed of gems, and treasures that could be packed into a small compass, he left home to win by travel all the knowledge he could glean in foreign lands. His early education was supervised by Magians and Chaldaeans supplied by Xerxes, whom the father of Democritus regally entertained in his palace in Abdera. It was not unnatural for the student, therefore, to go Eastward, and he visited Persia, India, Ethiopia, and Egypt. On his return to his native place Democritus assumed ineffable superiority over his fellows. He boasted of his travels, and was free in challenging the philosophers with the assertion that he had seen more of the world and knew more of men than any other among them. He at once commanded attention and respect, the more so when he accurately made forecasts of the weather and called attention to some truths, easy enough of comprehension when observed, but seldom enough observed. He might have been great in the state, but politely refused office and continued to philosophize. His less experienced opponents derided him. As, for example, it was said that he had destroyed both of his eyes in order that he might absorb wisdom undisturbed by the transient affairs of life. The bold satire was later recited as fact! He died old and honored.
Democritus was a shrewd thinker and a keen observer. Sensation, he taught, was true and false. True, so far as subjectivity was concerned, false objectively. Nothing exists as pictured by the mind. Outside of the mind there were only atoms and vacuum. From atoms and their aggregates radiated images (force) and these, seized by the mind, constituted sensation. Sensation and thought was one, but there was also Reflection. Reflection made true knowledge, sensation incomplete knowledge. Now this is modern psychology, pure and simple. Impressions ("vivid series") received from external atoms, and their aggregates become (in the "faint series") ideas. Reflection compounds ideas and these combinations, correlated and coordinated, make up the structure of the mind knowledge. The atomic theory of Democritus is substantially the modern theory of chemistry. The metaphysics of Democritus, springing out of this basis which may be truly described by the word "materialism," leads us into hopeless intricacies. Locke held to the only doctrine of Democritus that is intelligible or valuable. Democritus dismissed God from his universe as being unnecessary.
Of Empedocles and his place in Greek philosophy, no two historians agree. He was born in Sicily and lived in the fifth century B. C. He was rich and a traveler, and he was said to be gifted with a knowledge of magic and the art of prophesy. His philosophy is as little known as his life. He proposed four elements Earth, Fire, Water and Air. These were wrought upon by Love and Hate. If aught but the most extravagant symbolism can be understood by this, it is hard to see how. In this truth is probably concealed the cause of the Empedoclean controversies.
Before shifting the scene of Greek intellectual development from the provinces of Greece to Athens itself, where now Greek thought is soon to take on its most rapid and interesting movement, one school, famous as any other of the most celebrated schools, demands a brief glance. This is the school of the Sophists. The first avowed Sophist was Protogoras, but the biographies of him and his followers, who shot far ahead of the founder of the school, are insignificant beside their doctrines.
There are many schools of Greek philosophy whose names are household words today. The Cynics, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Peripatetics, are public property at least nominally. It is true that only the few who have gone in detail into the study of the history of philosophy are familiar with the doctrines they taught. Indeed, usage has changed the value of the words, and by a process, familiar enough to the student of the growth of languages, the modern signification of the names has become quite different from that of the ancient. Such substantial changes in word values are common enough. Cynicism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, these words have their own modern meaning. But Sophistry is to-day much what it was in the beginning.
The Sophists were, withal, a sleek and well robed sect. They were what might be called "men of the world," but with a doctrine. They were not the reverse of ascetic, but they lived well. They flatly denied that there was such a thing as "moral responsibility." Right and wrong, as a moral principle, they waved aside. There was no God. The Sophists swept over Greece and were every-where well received by the party in power, and by those who were successful in commerce and in agriculture. The cities were glad to have them within their walls. They were valued guests, fascinating talkers. They taught a most comforting philosophy to those who were responsive.
Right and wrong, they said, as a principle above the merely physical forces of society, existed solely in the imagination of supersensitive emotionalists. Right was that which the state declared to be right. By the state they meant society, the collectivity of men; wrong was what the state so defined. That which injured most men, or was displeasing to them, was wrong in direct ratio to the importance of the hurt and the number of the men. Right was the reverse. That which received the approbation of the public was right and good; that which was punished with popular reprobation, whether religious, social, or political, was wrong and bad. Morality, there-fore was a matter of convention; conscience a matter of education. Therefore, quoth the Sophists, do not trouble your minds about your sins, for if no one but yourself has knowledge of them, you will not be condemned.
The Sophists were fair of speech and had the persuasiveness of honeyed words. They proved their doctrines by calling attention to the fact that a man's conception of right and wrong may be changed by argument. A clever reasoner could thus by force of logic show that right was wrong and vice versa; or, rather, that what appeared to be right could be made to appear to be wrong. They turned the lamp of searching analysis on morality, and when they put morality together again it presented a totally different face. They were honest. They appealed to the reason of their hearers, and left it to the hearers themselves to answer. Was their premise true or false? If true and they had at least common experience to fall back upon their conclusion must be sound. There was no God. If there was, who had ever seen Him? There were men, and did not men do and think thus, as they said?
The Sophists suggest the Casuists, and Casuists have been held to be latter-day Sophists, with the addition of a hair-splitting probabilism.
Such men and doctrines as these found ready friends among the aristocrats of Athens. They preached a delightfully simple and direct philosophy. Their unaffected, easy manners, the thorough ingenuousness of their method, the somewhat shocking, but not unpleasantly shocking, originality of their tenets and, altogether, the polished and "modern" way they had about them, won them admirers everywhere. Said the Sophists, Lie, if you will, but lie with art. Let oratory bear your deceit skill-fully. If you can persuade your opponent that he is in the wrong, although he may be in the right, and that you are in the right, although you may be in the wrong, depend upon it you will gain the applause of the world. This is very like modern diplomacy. And we need not be surprised that such masters of logic were eagerly sought for by the state and entrusted with the most important missions, a fact drawn out by some defenders of the Sophists to show that they were certainly not as wicked as they were said to have been.
But in view of the manners and the morals of Greece at the time of the Sophists, it is no tax on the mind to imagine that these men had all that is academically ascribed to them. They have been denounced (by modern writers of the Nineteenth Century) as vile monsters in human form. They have been charged with wantoness, blasphemy, and atheism. They have been held up as indications of the moral dissolution of Greece, as the perverse signs of the decadent days of Greek intellectual and moral integrity. Yet Socrates, Plato, Zeno, and Aristotle were yet to come.
In dismissing the Sophists let us say that they were not unduly out of place and that their peculiar doctrines are almost identical with a highly respected modern system which is not now called Sophistry, but rather "the physical basis of ethics."