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Xenophanes does not seem to have been ever molested on account of his religious opinions. He complains bitterly enough that people preferred fiction to philosophy, that uneducated athletes engrossed far too much popular admiration, that he, Xenophanes, was not sufficiently appreciated;B but of theological intolerance, so far as our information goes, he says not one single word. It will easily be conceived that the rapid progress of Greek speculation was singularly favoured by such unbounded freedom of thought and speech. The views just set forth have often been regarded as a step towards spiritualistic monotheism, and so, considered in the light of subsequent developments, they unquestionably were. Still, looking at the matter from another aspect, we may say16 that Xenophanes, when he shattered the idols of popular religion, was returning to the past rather than anticipating the future; feeling his way back to the deeper, more primordial faith of the old Aryan race, or even of that still older stock whence Aryan and Turanian alike diverged. He turns from the brilliant, passionate, fickle Dyaus, to Z锚n, or Ten, the ever-present, all-seeing, all-embracing, immovable vault of heaven. Aristotle, with a sympathetic insight unfortunately too rare in his criticisms on earlier systems, observes that Xenophanes did not make it clear whether the absolute unity he taught was material or ideal, but simply looked up at the whole heaven and declared that the One was God.15 Aristotle was himself the real creator of philosophic monotheism, just because the idea of living, self-conscious personality had a greater value, a profounder meaning for him than for any other thinker of antiquity, one may almost say than for any other thinker whatever. It is, therefore, a noteworthy circumstance that, while warmly acknowledging the anticipations of Anaxagoras, he nowhere speaks of Xenophanes as a predecessor in the same line of enquiry. The latter might be called a pantheist were it not that pantheism belongs to a much later stage of speculation, one, in fact, not reached by the Greek mind at any period of its development. His leading conception was obscured by a confusion of mythological with purely physical ideas, and could only bear full fruit when the religious element had been entirely eliminated from its composition. This elimination was accomplished by a far greater thinker, one who combined poetic inspiration with philosophic depth; who was penetrating enough to discern the logical consequences involved in a fundamental principle of thought, and bold enough to push them to their legitimate conclusions without caring for the shock to sense and common opinion that his merciless dialectic might inflict.

If, in the domain of pure speculation, contemporary agnosticism exaggerates the existing divergences, in ethics157 its whole effort is, contrariwise, to reduce and reconcile them. Such was also the tendency of Carneades. He declared that, in their controversy about the highest good, the difference between the Stoics and the Peripatetics was purely verbal. Both held that we are naturally framed for the pursuit of certain objects, and that virtuous living is the only means by which they can be attained. But while the disciples of Aristotle held that the satisfaction of our natural impulses remains from first to last the only end, the disciples of Zeno insisted that at some point鈥攏ot, as would seem very particularly specified鈥攙irtuous conduct, which was originally the means towards this satisfaction, becomes substituted for it as the supreme and ultimate good.253 That the point at issue was more important than it seemed is evident from its reproduction under another form in modern ethical philosophy. For, among ourselves, the controversy between utilitarianism and what, for want of a better name, we must call intuitionism, is gradually narrowing itself to the question whether the pursuit of another鈥檚 good has or has not a higher value than the quantity of pleasure which accrues to him from it, plus the effects of a good example and the benefits that society at large is likely to gain from the strength which exercise gives to the altruistic dispositions of one of its members. Those who attribute an absolute value to altruism, as such, connect this value in some way or other with the spiritual welfare of the agent; and they hold that without such a gain to himself he would gradually fall back on a life of calculating selfishness or of unregulated impulse. Here we have the return from a social to an individual morality. The Stoics, conversely, were feeling their way from the good of the individual to that of the community; and they could only bridge the chasm by converting what had originally been a means towards self-preservation into an end in itself. This Carneades could not see. Convinced that happiness was both necessary and attainable,158 but convinced also that the systems which had hitherto offered it as their reward were logically untenable, he wished to place morality on the broad basis of what was held in common by all schools, and this seemed to be the rule of obedience to Nature鈥檚 dictates,鈥攁 rule which had also the great merit of bidding men do in the name of philosophy what they already felt inclined to do without any philosophy at all. We are told, indeed, that he would not commit himself to any particular system of ethics; the inference, however, is not that he ignored the necessity of a moral law, but that he wished to extricate it from a compromising alliance with untenable speculative dogmas. Nevertheless his acceptance of Nature as a real entity was a survival of metaphysics; and his morality was, so far as it went, an incipient return to the traditions of the Old Academy..
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This preference of pure abstract speculation to beneficent290 action may be traced to the influence of Aristotle. Some of the most enthusiastic expressions used by Plotinus in speaking of his supreme principle seem to have been suggested by the Metaphysics and the last book of the Nicomachean Ethics. The self-thinking thought of the Stagirite does not, indeed, take the highest rank with him. But it is retained in his system, and is only relegated to a secondary place because, for reasons which we shall explain hereafter, it does not fulfil equally well with Plato鈥檚 Idea of Good, the condition of absolute and indivisible unity, without which a first principle could not be conceived by any Greek philosopher. But this apparent return to the standpoint of the Republic really involves a still wider departure from its animating spirit. In other words, Plotinus differs from Aristotle as Aristotle himself had differed from Plato; he shares the same speculative tendency, and carries it to a greater extreme.?
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It was, no doubt, for these and similar reasons that all the most vigorous intellects of Hellas ranged themselves either on the Stoic or on the Sceptic side, leaving the halfhearted compromise of Epicurus to those who could not think out any one theory consistently, or who, like the Romans at first, were not acquainted with any system but his. Henceforth, during a period of some centuries, the whole philosophic movement is determined by the interaction of these two fundamental forces. The first effect of their conflict was to impose on Scepticism an important modification, illustrating its essentially parasitic character. We have seen it, as a general tendency of the Greek mind, clinging to the very texture of mythology, accompanying the earliest systematic compilation of facts, aiding the humanistic attacks on physical science, associated with the first great religious reaction, operating as the dialectic of dialectic itself, and finally assuming the form of a shadowy morality, in rivalry with and imitation of ethical systems based on a positive and substantial doctrine. We have now to trace its metamorphosis into a critical system extending its ramifications in parallelism with the immense dogmatic structure of Stoicism, and simultaneously endeavouring to reach the same practical results by a more elastic adaptation144 to the infirmities of human reason and the uncertainties of sensible experience. As such, we shall also have to study its influence over the most plastic of Roman intellects, the great orator in whose writings Greek philosophy was reclothed with something of its ancient charm, so that many who were debarred from admission to the groves and porticoes of Athens have caught an echo of the high debates which once stirred their recesses, as they trod the shady slopes of Tusculum under his visionary guidance, or followed his searching eyes over the blue waters to Pompeii, while he reasoned on mind and its object, on sense and knowledge, on doubt and certainty, with Lucullus and Hortensius, on the sunlight Baian shore. It is the history of the New Academy that we shall now proceed to trace.!
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Aristotle next takes the Idea of Substance and subjects it to a fresh analysis.243 Of all things none seem to possess so evident an existence as the bodies about us鈥攑lants and animals, the four elements, and the stars. But each of these344 has already been shown to consist of Form and Matter. A statue, for instance, is a lump of bronze shaped into the figure of a man. Of these two constituents, Matter seems at first sight to possess the greater reality. The same line of thought which led Aristotle to place substance before the other categories now threatens to drive him back into materialism. This he dreaded, not on sentimental or religious grounds, but because he conceived it to be the negation of knowledge. He first shows that Matter cannot be the real substance to which individuals owe their determinate existence, since it is merely the unknown residuum left behind when every predicate, common to them with others, has been stripped off. Substance, then, must be either Form alone or Form combined with Matter. Form, in its completest sense, is equivalent to the essential definition of a thing鈥攖he collection of attributes together constituting its essence or conception. To know the definition is to know the thing defined. The way to define is to begin with the most general notion, and proceed by adding one specific difference after another, until we reach the most particular and concrete expression. The union of this last with a certain portion of Matter gives us the individual Socrates or Callias. There are no real entities (as the Platonists pretend) corresponding to the successive stages of generalisation, biped, animal, and so forth, any more than there are self-existing quantities, qualities, and relations. Thus the problem has been driven into narrower and narrower limits, until at last we are left with the infim? species and the individuals contained under them. It remains to discover in what relation these stand to one another. The answer is unsatisfactory. We are told that there is no definition of individuals, and also that the definition is identical with the individual.244 Such, indeed, is the conclusion necessarily resulting from Aristotle鈥檚 repeated declarations that all knowledge is of345 definitions, that all knowledge is of something really existing, and that nothing really exists but individual things. Nevertheless, against these we have to set equally strong declarations to the effect that knowledge is of something general, not of the perishing individuals which may pass out of existence at any moment. The truth is, that we are here, as Zeller has shown,245 in presence of an insoluble contradiction, and we must try to explain, not how Aristotle reconciled it with itself, for that was impossible, but how he reconciled himself to it..
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It is probable that the philanthropic tendencies of the Stoics were, to a great extent, neutralised by the extreme individualism which formed the reverse side of their philosophical character; and also by what may be called the subjective idealism of their ethics. According to their principles, no one can really do good to any one else, since what does not depend on my will is not a good to me. The altruistic virtues are valuable, not as sources of beneficent action, but as manifestations of benevolent sentiment. Thus, to set on foot comprehensive schemes for the relief of human suffering seemed no part of the Stoic鈥檚 business. And the abolition of slavery, even had it been practicable, would have seemed rather superfluous to one who held that true freedom is a mental condition within the reach of all who desire it,88 while the richest and most powerful may be, and for the most part actually are, without it. Moreover, at the time when41 philosophy gained its greatest ascendency, the one paramount object of practical statesmen must have been to save civilisation from the barbarians, a work to which Marcus Aurelius devoted his life. Hence we learn without surprise that the legislative efforts of the imperial Stoic were directed to the strengthening, rather than to the renovation, of ancient institutions.89 Certain enactments were, indeed, framed for the protection of those who took part in the public games. It was provided, with a humanity from which even our own age might learn something, that performers on the high rope should be ensured against the consequences of an accidental fall by having the ground beneath them covered with feather beds; and the gladiators were only allowed to fight with blunted weapons.90 It must, however, be noted that in speaking of the combats with wild beasts which were still allowed to continue under his reign, Marcus Aurelius dwells only on the monotonous character which made them exceedingly wearisome to a cultivated mind; just as a philosophic sportsman may sometimes be heard to observe that shooting one grouse is very like shooting another; while elsewhere he refers with simple contempt to the poor wretches who, when already half-devoured by the wild beasts, begged to be spared for another day鈥檚 amusement.91 Whether he knew the whole extent of the judicial atrocities practised on his Christian subjects may well be doubted; but it maybe equally doubted whether, had he known it, he would have interfered to save them. Pain and death were no evils; but it was an evil that the law should be defied.92
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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