With subjectivism in philosophy, anarchism in politics
goes hand in hand. Already during Luther's lifetime, unwelcome and
unacknowledged disciples had developed the doctrine of Anabaptism, which, for a
time, dominated the city of
It was common in antiquity to reproach the atomists with attributing everything to chance. They were, on the contrary, strict determinists, who believed that everything happens in accordance with natural laws. Democritus explicity denied that anything can happen by chance. Leucippus, though his existence is questioned, is known to have said one thing: 'Naught happens for nothing, but everything from a ground and of necessity.' It is true that they gave no reason why the world should originally have been as it was; this, perhaps, might have been attributed to chance. But when once the world existed, its further developpment was unalterably fixed by mechanical principles. Aristotle and others reproached him and Democritus for not accounting for the original motion of the atoms, but in this the atomists were more scientific than their critics. Causation must start from something, and wherever it starts no cause can be assigned for the initial datum. The world may be attributed to a Creator, but even then the Creator Himself is unaccounted for. The theory of the atomists, in fact, was more nearly that of modem science than any other theory propounded in antiquity.
The atomists, unlike Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, sought to explain the world without introducing the notion of purpose or final cause. The 'final cause' of an occurrence is an event in the future for the sake of which the occurrence takes place. In human affairs, this conception is applicable. Why does the baker make bread? Because people wail be hungry. Why are railways built? Because people wail wish to travel. In such cases, things are explained by the purpose they serve. When we ask 'why ?' conceming an event, we may mean either of two things. We may mean : 'What purpose did this event serve ? ' or we may mean : 'What earlier circumstances causeâ this event ? ' The answer to the forlner ques- tion is a teleological explanation, or an explanation by final causes; the answer to the latter question is a mechanistic explana- tion. I do not see how it could have been known in advance which of these two questions science ought to ask, orwhether it ought to ask both. But experience has shown that the mechanistic question leads to scientific knowledge, while the teleological question does not. The atomists asked the mechanistic question, and gave a mechanistic answer. Their successors, until the Renaissance, were interested in the teleological question, and thus led science up a blind alley.
Democritus was a thorough-going materialist; for him, as we have seen, the soul was composed of atoms, and thought was a physical process. There was no purpose in the universe; there were only atoms governed by mechanical laws. He disbelieved in popular religion [...]. In ethics, he considrered cheerfulness the goal of life, and regarded moderation and culture as the best means to it.
What is amiss, even in the best philosophy after Democritus, is an undue emphsis on man as compared with the universe.
What makes the difference between an 'ideal' and an ordinary object of desire is that the former is impersonal; it is something having (at least ostensibly) no special reference to the ego of the man who feels the desire, and therefore capable, theoretically, of being desired by everybody. Thus we might define an 'ideal' as something desired, not egocentric, and such that the person desiring it wishes that every one else also desired it. I may wish that everybody had enough to eat, that everybody felt kindly towards everybody, and so on, and if I wish anything of this kind l shalI also wish others to wish it. In this way, l can build up what Iooks like an impersonaI ethic, although in fact it rests upon the personal basis of my own desires-for the desire remains mine, even when what is desired has no reference to myself. For example, one man may wish that everybody understood science, and another that everybody appreciated art; it is a personal difference between the two men that produces this difference in their desires.
The personal element becomes apparent as soon as controversy is involved. Suppose some man says : 'You are wrong to wish everybody to be happy; you ought to desire the happiness of Germans and the unhappiness of everyone else.' Here 'ought' may be taken to mean that that is what the speaker wishes me to desire. I might retort that, not being German, it is psychologicalIy impossible for me to desire the unhappiness of aIl non-Germans; but this answer seems inadequate.
Again, there may be a conflict of purely impersonal ideals. Nietzsche's hero differs from a Christian saint, yet both are impersonalIy admired, the one by Nietzscheans, the other by Christians. How are we to decide between the two except by means of our own desires? Yet, if there is nothing further, an ethical disagreement can only be decided by emotional appeals, or by force-in the ultimate resort, by war. On questions of fact, we can appeal to science and scientific methods of observation; but on ultimate questions of ethics there seems to be nothing analogous. Yet, if this is realIy the case, ethIcal dIsputes resolve themselves mto contests for power-including propaganda power.
He [Thrasymacus] proclaims empatathically that 'justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger'.
This point of view is refuted by Socrates with quibbles; it is never fairly faced. It raises the fundamental question in ethics and politics, namely: Is there any standard of 'good' and 'bad', except what the man using these words desires? If there is not, many of the consequences drawn by Thrasymachus seem unescapable. Yet how are we to say that there is?
At this point, religion has, at first sight, a simple answer. God determines what is good and what bad; the man whose will is in harmony with the will of God is a good man. Yet this answer is not quite orthodox. Theologians say that God is good, and this implies that there is a standard of goodness which is independent of God's will. We are thus forced to face the question: Is there objective truth or falsehood in such a statement as 'pleasure is good', in the same sense as in such a statement as 'snow is white’?
To answer this question, a very long discussion would be necessary. Some may think that we can, for practical purposes, evade the fundamental issue, and say: 'I do not know what is meant by "objective truth", but I shall consider a statement "true" if all, or virtually alI, of those who have investigated it are agreed in upholding it: In this sense, it is 'true' that snow is white, that Caesar was assassinated, that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, and so on. We are then faced with a question of fact: are there any similarly agreed statements in ethics? If there are, they can be made the basis both for rules of private conduct, and for a theory of politics. If there are not, we are driven in practice, whatever may be the philosophic truth, to a contest by force or propaganda or both, whenever an irreconciliable ethical difference exists between powerful groups.
It should be observed, further, that the view which substitutes the consensus of opinion for an objective standard has certain consequences that few would accept. What are we to say of scientific innovators like Galileo, who advocate an opinion with which few agree, but finally win the support of almost everybody? They do so by means of arguments, not by emotional appeals or state propaganda or the use of force. This implies a criterion other than the general opinion. In ethical matters, there is something analogous in the case of the great religious teachers. Christ taught that it is not wrong to pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath, but that it is wrong ta hate your enemies. Such ethical innovations obviously imply some standard other than majority opinion, but the standard, whatever it is, is not objective fact, as in a scientific question. This problem is a difficult one, and I do not profess to be able to solve it. For the present, let us be content to note it.
Death, says Socrates, is the separation of soul and body. Here we come under Plato’s dualism: between reality and appearance, ideas and sensible objects, reason and sense-perception, soul and body. These pairs are connected: the first in each pair is superior to the second both in reality and in goodness. An ascetic morality was the natural consequence of this dualism. Christianity adopted this doctrine in part, but never wholly. There were two obstacles. The first was that the creation of the visible world, if Plato was right, might seem to have been an evil deed, and therefore the Creator could not be good. The second was that orthodox Christianity could never bring itself to condemn marriage, though it held celibacy to be nobler. The Manichaeans were more conistent in both respects.
That two shades of colour, both of which I am seeing, are similar or dissimilar as the case may be, is something which I, for my part, should accept, not indeed as a 'percept', but as a 'judgment of perception'. A percept, I should say, is not knowledge, but merely something that happens, and that belongs equally to the world of physics and to the world of psychology. We naturalIy think of perception, as Plato does, as a relation between a percipient and an object: we say 'I see a table.' But here 'I' and 'table' are logical constructions. The core of crude occurrence is merely certain patches of colour.These are associated with images of touch, they may cause words, and they may become a source of memories. The percept as filled out with images of touch becomes an 'object', which is supposed physical; the percept as filled out with words and memories becomes a ’perrception’ which is part of a 'subject' and is considered mental. The percept is just an occurrence, and neither true nor false; the percept as filIed out with words is a judgment, and capable of truth or falsehood. This judgment I call a 'judgment of perception'. The proposition 'knowledge is perception' must be interpreted as meaning 'knowledge is judgments of perception'. It is only in this form that it is grammaticalIy capable of being correct.
To return to likeness and unlikeness, it is quite possible, when I perceive two colours simultaneously, for their likeness or unlikeness to be part of the datum, and to be asserted in a judgment of perception. Plato's argument that we have no sense-organ for perceiving likeness and unlikeness ignores the cortex and assumes that all sense-organs must be at the surface of the body.
The argument for including likeness and unlikeness as possible perceptive data is as folIows. Let us assume that we see two shades of colour A and B, and that we judge 'A is like B'. Let us assume further, as Plato does, that such a judgment is in general correct, and, in particular, is correct in the case we are considering. There is, then, a relation of likeness between A and B, and not merely a judgment on our part asserting likeness. If there were only our judgment, it would be an arbitrary judgment, incapable of truth or falsehood. Since it obviously is capable of truth or falsehood, the likeness can subsist between A and B, and cannot be merely something 'mental'. The judgment 'A is like B' is true (if it is true) in virtue of a 'fact', just as much as the judgment ' A is red' or' A is round'. The mind is no more involved in the perception of likeness than in the perception of colour.
We now come to the famous doctrine of the golden mean. Every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice. This is proved by an examination of the various virtues. Courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness; liberality, between prodigality and meanness; proper pride, between vanity and humility: ready wit, between buffoonery and boorishness; modesty, between bashfulness and shamelessness. Some virtues do not seem to fit into this scheme; for instance, truthfulness. Aristotle says that this is a mean between boastfulness and mock-modesty (II08a), but this only applies to truthfulness about oneself. I do not see how truthfulness in any wider sense can be titted into the scheme. There was once a mayor who had adopted Aristotle's doctrine; at the end of his term of office he made a speech saying that he had endeavoured to steer the narrow line between partiality on the one hand and impartiality on the other. The view of truthfulness as a mean seems scarcely less absurd.
The magnanimous man, since he deserves most, must be good, in the highest degree; for the better man always deserves more, and the best man most. Therefore the truly magnanimous man must be good. And greatness in every virtue would seem to be characteristic of the magnanimous man. And it would be most unbecoming for the magnanimous man to fly from danger, swinging his arms by his sides, or to wrong another; for to what end should he do disgraceful acts, he to whom nothing is great? ...magnanimity, then, seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues; for it makes them greater, and it is not found without them. Therefore it is hard to be truly magnanimous; for it is impossible without nobility and goodness of character. It is chiefly with honours and dishonours, then, that the magnanimous man is concemed; and at honours that are great and conferred by good men he will be moderately pleased, thinking that he is coming by his own or even less than his own; for there can be no honour that is worthy of perfect virtue, yet he will at any rate accept it since they have nothing greater to bestow on him; but honour from casual people and on trifling grounds he will utterly despise, since ît is not this that he deserves, and dishonour too, since in his case it cannot be just. ...Power and wealth are desirable for the sake of honour; and to him for whom even honour is a little thing the others must be so too. Hence magnanimous men are thought to be disdainful. ...The magnanimous man does not run into trifling dangers. ...but he will face great dangers, and when he is in danger he is unsparing of bis life, knowing that there are conditions on which life is not worth having. And he is the sort of man to confer benefits, but he is ashamed of receiving them; for the one is the mark of a superior, the other of an inferior. And he is apt to confer greater benefits in return; for thus the original benefactor besides being repaid will incur a debt to him. ...It is the mark of the magnanimous man to ask for nothing or scarcely anything, but to give help readily, and to be dignified towards people who enjoy a high position but unassuming towards those of the middle class; for it is a difficult and lofty thing to be superior to the former, but easy to be so to the latter, and a lofty bearing over the former is no mark of ill-breeding, but among humble people it is as vulgar as a display of strength against the weak. ...He must also be open in his hate and in bis love, for to conceal one's feelings, i.e. to care less for truth than for what people think, is a coward's part. ...He is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony to the vulgar. ...Nor is he given to admiration, for to him nothing is great. ...Nor is he a gossip; for he will speak neither about himself nor about another, since he cares not to be praised nor for others to be blamed. ...He is one who will possess beautiful and profitless things rather than profitable and useful ones. ... Further, a slow step is thought proper to the magnanimous man, a deep voice, and a level utterance. ...Such, then, is the magnanimous man; the man who falls short of him is unduly humble, and the man who goes beyond bim is vain' (II23b-II25a).
Many modern philosophers, however, have not accepted this view of ethics. They have thought that one should first define the good, and then say that our actions ought to be such as tend to realize the good. This point of view is more like that of Aristotle, who holds that happiness is the good. The highest happiness, it is true, is only open to the philosopher, but to Aristotle that is no objection to the theory.
Ethical theories may be divided into two classes, according as they regard virtue as an end or a means. Aristotle, on the whole, takes the view that virtues are means to an end, namely happiness. 'The end, then, being what we wish for, the means what we deliberate about and choose, actions concerning means must be according to choice and voluntary. Now the exercise of the virtues is concerned with means' (1113b). But there is another sense of virtue in which it is included in the ends of action: 'Human good is activity of soul in accordance with virtue in a complete life' (1098a). I think he would say that the intenectual virtues are ends, but the practical virtues are only means. Christian moralists hold that, while the consequences of virtuous actions are in general good, they are not as good as the virtuous actions themselves, which are to be valued on their own account, and not on account of their effects. On the other hand, those who consider pleasure the good regard virtues solely as means. Any other definition of the good, except the definition as virtue, will have the same consequence, that virtues are means to goods other than themselves. On this question, Aristotle, as already said, agrees mainly, though not wholly, with those who think the first business of ethics is to define the good, and that virtue is to be defined as action tending to produce the good.
As we have seen in connection with slavery, Aristotle is no believer in equality. Granted, however, the subjection of slaves and women, it still remains a question whether aIl citizens should be politically equal. Some men, he says, think this desirable, on the ground that aIl revolutions turn on the regulation of property. He rejects this argument, maintaining that the greatest crimes are due to excess rather than want; no man becomes a tyrant in order ta avoid feeling the cold.
A govemment is good when it aims at the good of the whole community, bad when it cares only for itself. There are three kinds I of govemment that are good: monarchy, aristocracy, and constituitional govemment (or polity): there are three that are bad: tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. There are also many mixed interrnediate forms. It will be observed that the good and bad govemments are defined by the ethical qualities of the holders of power, not by the forrn of the constitution. This, however, is only partly true. An aristocracy is a rule of men of virtue, an oligarchy is a rule of the rich, and Aristotle does not consider virtue and wealth strictly synonymous. What he holds, in accordance with the doctrine of the golden mean, is that a moderate competence is most likely to be associated with virtue: 'Mankind do not acquire or preserve virtue by the help of extemal goods, but extemal goods by the help of virtue and happiness, whether consisting in pleasure or virtue, or both, is more often found with those who are most highly cultivated in their mind and in their character, and have only a moderate share of extemal goods, than among those who possess extemal goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities' (1323a and b). There is therefore a difference between the rule of the best (aristocracy) and of the richest (oligarchy), since the best are likely to have only moderate fortunes. There is also a difference between democracy and polity, in addition to the ethical difference in the govemment, for what Aristotle calls 'polity' retains some oligarchic elements (1293b). But between monarchy and tyranny the only difference is ethical.
The Greeks in general attached more importance to deduction as a source of knowledge than modern philosophers do. In this respect, Aristotle was less at fault than Plato; he repeatedly admitted the importance of induction, and be devoted considerable attention to the question: how do we know the first premisses from which deduction must start? Nevertheless, he, like other Greeks, gave undue prominence to deduction in his theory of knowledge. We shaIl agree that Mr Smith (say) is mortal, and we may, loosely, say that we know this because we know that aIl men are mortal. But what we reaIly know is not 'alI men are morta1'; we know rather something like 'aIl men born more than one hundred and fifty years ago are mortal, and so are almost aIl men born more than one hundred years ago'. This is our reason for thinking that Mr Smith wiIl die. But this argument is an induction, not a deduction. It has less cogency than a deduction, and yields only a probability, not a certainty; but on the other band it gives new knowledge, which deduction does not. AIl the important inferences outside logic and pure mathematics are inductive, not deductive; the only exceptions are law and theleogy , each of which derives its first principles from an unquestionable text, viz. the statute books or the scriptures.
Who was still, when I was young, the sole acknowledged text-book of geometry
for boys, lived in Alexandria, about 300 B.C., a few years after the death of Alexander
and Aristotle. Most of his Elements was not
original, but the order of propositions, and the logical structure, were
largely his. The more one studies geometry, the more admirable these are seen
to be. The treatment of paralls by means of the famous
postulate of parallels has the twofold merit of rigour
in deduction and of not concealing the dubiousness of the initial assumption.
The theory of proportion, which follows Eudoxus,
avoids all the difficulties connected with irrationals, by methods essentially
similar to those introduced by Weierstrass into
were too practical-minded to appreciate
The Pythagorean theory is attributed to Philolaus, a Theban, who lived at the end of the fifth century B.C. Although it is fanciful and in part quite unscientific, it is very important, since it involves the greater part of the imaginative effort required for conceiving the Copemican hypothesis. To conceive of the earth, not as the centre of the universe, but as one among the planets, not as eternally fixed, but as wandering through space, showed an extraordinary emancipation from anthropocentric thinking. When once this jolt had been given to men’s natural picture of the universe, it was not so very difficult to be led by scientific arguments to a more accurate theory .
Aristarchus of Samos, who lived approximately from 310 to 230 B.C., and was thus about twenty-five years older than Archimedes, is the most interesting of all ancient astronomers, because he advanced the complete Copemican hypothesis, that alI the planets, including the earth, revolve in circles round the sun, and that the earth, rotates on its axis once in twenty-four hours. It is a little disappoinring to find that the only extant work of Aristarchus, On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and the Moon, adheres to the geocentric view. It is true that, for the problems with which this book deals, it makes no difference which theory is adopted, and he may therefore have thought it unwise to burden his calculations with an unnecessary opposition to the general opinion of astronomers; or he may have only arrived at the Copemican hypothesis after writing this book.
His doctrine, though he was a contemporary of Aristotle, belongs in its temper to the Hellenistic age. Aristotle is the last Greek philosopher who faces the world cheerfully; after him, allI have, in one form or another, a philosophy of retreat. The world is bad; let us learn to be independent of it. External goods are precarious; they are the gift of fortune, not the reward of our own efforts. Only subjective goods – virtue or contentment through resignation – are secure, and these alone, therefore, will be valued by the wise man. Diogenes personally was a man full of vigour, but his doctrine, like aIl those of the Hellenistic age, was one to appeal to weary men, in whom disappointment had destroyed natural zest. And certainly not a doctrine calculated to promote art or science statesmanship, or any useful activity except one of powerful evil.
The Sophists, notably Protagoras and Gorgias, had been led by the ambiguities and apparent contradictions of sense-perception to a subjectivism not unlike Hume's. Pyrrho seems (for he very wisely wrote no books) to have added moral and logical scepticism to scepticism as to the senses. He is said to have maintained that there could never be any rational ground for preferring one course of action to another. In practice, this meant that one conformed to the customs of whatever country one inhabited.
Scepticism naturally made an appeal to many unphilosophic minds. People observed the diversity of schools and the acerbity of their disputes, and decided that all alike were pretending to knowledge which was in fact unattainable. Scepticism was a lazy man's consolation, since it showed the ignorant to be as wise as the reputed men of learning. To men who, by temperament, required a gospel, it might seem unsatisfying, but like every doctrine of the Hellenistic period it recommended itself as an antidote to worry. Why trouble about the future? It is wholly uncertain. You may as well enjoy the present; 'what's to corne is still unsure.' For these reasons, Scepticism enjoyed a considerable popular success.
It should be observed that Scepticism as a philosophy is not merely doubt, but what may be called dogmatic doubt. The man of science says 'l think it is so-and-so, but I am not sure.' The man of intellectual curiosity says 'I don't know how it is, but I hope to find out.' The philosophical Sceptic says 'nobody knows, and nobody, ever can know.' It is this element of dogmatism that makes the system vulnerable.
This treatise begins by explaining that, in behaviour, the Sceptics are orthodox : 'We sceptics follow in practice the way of the world, but without holding any opinion about it. We speak of the Gods as existing and offer worship to the Gods and say that they exercise providence, but in saying this we express no belief, and avoid the rashness of the dogmatizers.'
He then argues that people differ as to the nature of God; for instance, some think Him corporeal, some incorporeal. Since we have no experience of Him, we cannot know His attributes. The existence of God is not self-evident, and therefore needs proof. There is a somewhat confused argument to show that no such proof is possible. He next takes up the problem of evil and concludes with the words:
'Those who affirm positively that God exists cannot avoid falling into an impiety. For if they say that God controls everything, they make Him the author of evil things; if, on the other hand, they say that He controls some things only, or that He controls nothing, they are compelled to make God either grudging or impotent, and to do that is quite obviously an impiety .'
The life of the community was very simple, partly on principle, and partly (no doubt) for lack of money. Their food and drink was mainly bread and water, which Epicurus found quite satisfying. ‘I am thrilled with pleasure in the body,’ he says, 'when I live on bread àrtd water, and I spît on luxurious pleasures, not for their own sake, but because of the inconveniences that follow them.’
The philosophy of Epicurus, like all those of his age (with the partial exception of Scepticism), was primarily designed to secure tranquillity. He considered pleasure to be the good, and adhered, with remarkable consistency, to all the consequences of this view. 'Pleasure,' he said, 'is the beginning and end of the blessed life.’ Diogenes Laertius quotes him as saying, in a book on TheEnd of Life, 'I know not how I can conceive the good, if I withdraw pleasures of taste and withdraw the pleasures of love and those of hearing and sight.' Again: 'The beginning and the root of all good is the pleasure of the stomach; even wisdom and culture referred to this.' The pleasure of the mind, we are told, is the contemplation of pleasures of the body. Its only advantage over bodily pleasures is that we can leam to contemplate pleasure rather pain, and thus have more control over mental than over physical pleasures. 'Virtue', unless it means 'prudence in the pursuit of pleasure', is an empty name. Justice, for example, consists in so acting as not to have occasion to fear other men's resentment – a view which leads to a doctrine of the origin of society not unlike the theory of the Social Contract.
Sexual love, as one of the most 'dynamic' of pleasures, naturally cornes under the ban. 'Sexual intercourse,' the philosopher declares, ‘has never done a man good and he is lucky if it has not harmed him.' He was fond of chlldren (other people's), but for the gratlfication of this taste he seems to have relied upon other people not to follow his advice. He seems, in fact, to have liked children against his better judgment; for he considered marriage and children a distraction from more serious pursuits. Lucretius, who follows him in denouncing love, sees no harm in sexual intercourse provided it is divorced from passion.
It was through the problem of avoiding fear that Epicurus was led into theoretical philosophy. He held that two of the greatest sources of fear were religion and the dread of death, which were connected, since religion encouraged the view that the dead are unhappy. He therefore sought a metaphysic which would prove that the gods do not interfere in human affairs, and that the soul perishes with the body. Most modern people think of religion as a consolation, but to Epicurus it was the opposite. Supernatural interference with the course of nature seemed to him a source of terror, and immortality fatal to the hope of release from pain. Accordingly he constructed an elaborate doctrine designed to cure men of the beliefs that inspire fear.
Epicurus was a
materialist, but not a determinist. He followed Democritus in believing that
the world consists of atoms and the void; but he did not believe, as Oemocritus did, that the atoms are at all times completely
controlled by natural laws. The conception of necessity in
for the gods, Epicurus firmly believes in their existence, since he cannot
otherwise account for the widespread existence of the idea of gods. But he is
persuaded that they do not trouble themselves with the affairs of our human
world. They are rational hedonists, who follow his precepts, and abstain from
public life; government would be an unnecessary labour,
to which, in their life of complete blessedness, they feel no temptation. Of
course, divination and augury and all such practices are purely superstitious,
and so is the belief in
The phases of the moon, for example, have been explained in many different ways; any one of these, so long as it does not bring in the gods, is as good as any other, and it would be idle curiosity to attempt to determine which of them is true. It is no wonder that the Epicureans contributed practically nothing to natural knowledge. They served a useful purpose by their protest against the increasing devotion of the later pagans to magic, astrology, and divination; but they remained, like their founder, dogmatic, limited, and without genuine interest in anything outside individual happiness.
of Mithras, which was of PersIan
origin, was a close competitor of Christianity, especially during the latter
half of the third century A.D. The emperors, who were making attempts to
control the army, felt that religion might give a much needed stability; but it
would have to be one of the new religions, since it was these that the soldiers
favoured. The cult was introduced at
Plotinus, accordingly, is historically important as an influence in moulding the Christianity of the Middle Ages and of Catholic theology.The historian, in speaking of Christianity, has to be careful to recognize the very great changes that it has undergone, and the variety of forms that it may assume even at one epoch, The Christianity of the Synoptic Gospels is almost innocent of metaphysics. The Christianity of modem America, in this respect, is like primitive Christianity; Platonism is alien in popular thought and feeling in the United States, and most American Christians are much more concemed with duties here on earth, and with social progress in the everyday world, than with the transcendental hopes that consoled men when everything terrestrial inspired despair. I am not speaking of any change of dogma, but of a difference of emphasis and interest. A modem Christian, unless he realizes how great this difference is, will fail to understand the Christianity of the past. We, since our study is historical, are concemed with the effective beliefs of past centuries, and as to these it is impossible to disagree with what Dean Inge says on the influence of Plato and Plotinus.
Plotinus, however, is not only historically important. He represents, better than any other philosopher, an important type of theory. A philosophical system may be judged important for various different kinds of reasons. The first and most obvious is that we think it may be true. Not many students of philosophy at the present time would feel this about Plotinus; Dean Inge is, in this respect, a rare exception. But truth is not the only merit that metaphysic can possess. It may have beauty, and this is certainly to be found in Plotinus; there are passages that remind one of the late cantos of Dante's Paradiso, and of almost nothing else in literature.
Now and again, his descriptions of the eternaI world of glory
To our high-wrought fantasy present
That undisturbed song of pure concent
Aye sung before the sapphire-coloured throne
To Him that sits thereon.
Again, a philosophy may be important because it expresses what men are prone to believe in certain moods or in circumstances. Uncomplicated joy and sorrow is not matter for philosophy, but rather for the simpler kinds of poetry and music. Only joy and sorrow accompanied by reflection on the universe generate metaphysical theories. A man may be a cheerful pessimist or a melancholy optimist.
first great period of Catholic philosophy was dominated by
thirteenth-century synthesis, which had an air of completeness and finality,
was destroyed by a variety of causes. Perhaps the most important of these was
the growth of a rich commercial class, first in
cause of the end of the Middle Ages was the rise of
strong national monarchies in
papacy, meanwhile, had lost the moral prestige which it had enjoyed, and on the
whole deserved, in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. First by
The Greek view, that creation out of nothing is impossible, has recurred at intervals in Christian times, and has led to pantheism. Pantheism holds that God and the world are not distinct, and that everything in the world is part of God. This view is developed most fully in Spinoza, but is one to which almost all mystics are attracted. It has thus happened, throughout the Christian centuries, that mystics have had difficulty in remaining orthodox, since they find it hard to believe that the world is outside God. Augustine, however, feels no difficulty on this point; Genesis is explicit, and that is enough for him. His view on this matter is essential to his theory of time.
Why was the
world not created sooner? Because there was no ‘sooner'.
Time was created when the world was created. God is eternal, in the sense of
being timeless; in God there is no before and after, but only an eternal
present. God's eternity is exempt from the relation of time; all time is
present to Him at once. He did not precede His own creation of time, for
that would imply that He was in time, whereas He stands eternally outside the
stream of time. This leads
'What, then, is time?' he asks. ‘If no one asks of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.' Various difficulties perplex him. Neither past nor future, he says, but only the present, really is; the present is only a moment, and time can only be measured while it is passing. Nevertheless, there really is time past and future. We seem here to be led into contradictions. The only way Augustine can find to avoid these contradictions is to say that past and future can only be thought of as present: ‘past' must be identified with memory, and ‘future' with expectation, memory and expectation being both present facts. There are, he says, three times: ‘a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future'. 'The present of things past is memory: the present of things present is sight; and the present of things future is expectation. To say that there are three times, past, present, and future, is a loose way of speaking.
The Jewish pattern of
history, past and future, is such as to make a powerful appeal ta the oppressed and unfartunate
at all times.
Yahweh = Dialectical Materialism
The Messiah = Marx
The Elect = The Proletariat
The Church = The Communist Party
The Second Coming = The Revolution
Hell = Punishment of the Capitalists
Millennium = The
The terms on the left give the emotional content of the terms on the right, and it is this emotional content, familiar to those who have had a Christian or a Jewish upbringing, that makes Marx's eschatology credible. A similar dictionary could be made for the Nazis, but their conceptions are more purely Old Testament and less Christian than those of Marx, and their Messiah is more analogous to the Maccabees than to Christ.
use of the phrase 'the Dark Ages' to cover the period from 600 to 1000 marks
our undue concentration on
superiority since the Renaissance is due partly to science and scientific
technique, partly to political institutions slowly built up during the Middle
Ages. There is no reason, in the nature of things, why this superiority should
continue. In the present war, great military strength has been shown by
John was invited to
He escaped punishment, however, owing to the support of the king, with
whom he seems to have been on faimiliar terms. If
William of Malmesbury is to be believed, the king,
when John was dining with him, asked: 'What separates a Scot froll a Sot ?' and John replied,
'Only the dinner table’. The king died in 877, and after this date nothing is
known as to John. Some think that he also died in that year. There are legends
that he was invited to
The Arab Empire was an absolute monarchy, under the caliph, who was the successor of the Prophet, and inherited much of his holiness. The caliphate was nominaIly elective, but soon became hereditary. The first dynasty, that of the Umayyads, who lasted till 750, was founded by men whose acceptance of Mohammed was purely political, and it remained always opposed to the more fanatical among the faithful. The Arabs, although they conquered a great part of the world in the name of a new religion, were not a very religious race; the motive of their conquests was plunder and wealth rather than religion. It was only in virtue of their lack of fanaticism that a handful of warriors were able to govern, witbout much difficulty, vast populations of higher civilization and alien religion.
Persians, on the contrary, have been, from the earlier times, deeply religious
and highly speculative. After their conversion, they made out of Islam
something much more interesting, more religious, and more philosophical, than
had been imagined by the Prophet and his kinsmen. Ever since the death of
Mohammed’s son-in-law Ali in 661, Mohammedans have been divided into two sects,
the Sunni and the Shiah. The former is the larger;
the latter follows Ali, and considers the Umayyad dynasty to have been usurpers.
The Persians have long belonged to the Shiah sect.
Largely by Persian influence, the Umayyads were at
last overthrown, and succeeded by the Abbasids, who represented Persian
interests. The change was marked by the removal of the capital from
The Abbasids were,
politically, more in favour of the fanatics than the Umayyads had heen. They did not,
however, acquire the whole of the empire. One member of the Umayyad family
escaped general massacre, fled to
early Abbasids the caliphate attained its greatest splendour.
The best known of them is Harun-al-Rashid (d. 809),
who was a contemporary of Charlemagne and the Empress Irene, and is to every
one in legendary form through the Arabian Nights. His court was a
brilliant centre of luxury, poetry, and learning; his revenue was enormous; his
empire stretched from the Straits of Gibraltar to the
The political and social
system of the Arabs had defects similar those of the
One of the best features of the Arab economy was agriculture, particularly the skilful use of irrigation, which they learnt from living where water is scarce. To this day Spanish agriculture profits by Arab irrigation works.
distinctive culture of the Muslim world, though it began in
Persian civilization remained both intellectuaIly and artisticaIly admirable, though it was seriously damaged by the invasion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Omar Khayyam, the only man known to me who was both a poet and a mathematician, reformed the calendar in 1079. His best friend, oddly enough, was the founder of the sect of the Assassins, the 'Old Man of the Mountain', of legendary fame. The Persians were great poets: Firdousi (ca. 941), author of the Shahnama, is said by those who have read him to be comparable to Homer. They were also remarkable as mystics, which other Mohammedans were not. The Sufi sect, which still exists, allowed itself great latitude in the mystical and allegorical interpretation of orthodox dogma; it was more or less Neoplatonic.
Nestorians, through whom, at first, Greek influences came into the Muslim
world, were by no means purely Greek in their outlook. Their school at
philosophers, one of
Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (980-1037) spent his
life in the sort of places that one used to think only exist in poetry. He was
born in the
His philosophy is nearer to Aristotle, and less Neoplatonic, than that of his Muslim predecessors. Like the Christian scholastics later, he is occupied with the problem of universals. Plato said they were anterior to things. Aristotle has two views, one when he is thinking, the other when he is combating Plato. This makes him ideal material for the commentator.
Arabic philosophy is not important as original thought. Men like Avicenna and Averroes are essentially commentators. Speaking generally, the views of the more scientific philosophers come from Aristotle and the Neoplatonists in logic and metaphysics, from Galen in medicine, from Greek and Indian sources in mathematics and astronomy, and among mystics religious philosophy has also an admixture of old Persian beliefs. Writers in Arabic showed some originality in mathematics and in chemistry-in the latter case, as an incidental result of alchemical researches. Mohammedan civilization in its great days was admirable in the arts and in many technical ways, but it showed no capacity for independent speculation in theoretical matters. Its importance, which must not be under-rated, is as a transmitter. Between ancient and modern European civilization, the dark ages intervened. The Mohammedans and the Byzantines, while lacking the intellectual energy required for innovation, preserved the apparatus of civilization-education, books, and learned leisure. Both stimulated the West when it emerged from barbarism-the Mohammedans chiefly in the thirteenth century, the Byzantines chiefly in the fifteenth. In each case the stimulus produced new thought better than any produced by the transmitters -in the one case scholasticism, in the other the Renaissance (which however had other causes also).
Spanish Moors and the Christians, the Jews formed a useful link. There were
many Jews in
The rise of free cities is what proved of most ultimate importance in this long strife. The power of the Emperor was associated with the decaying feudal system; the power of the Pope, though still growing, was largely dependent upon the world's need of him as an antagonist to the Emperor, and therefore decayed when the Empire ceased to be a menace; but the power of the cities was new, a result of economic progress, and a source of new political forms. Although this does not appear in the twelfth century, the Italian cities, befare long, developed a non-clerical culture which reached the very highest levels in literature, in art, and in science. All this was rendered possible by their successful resistance to Barbarossa.
the fifteenth century, various other causes were added to the decline of the
papacy to produce a very rapid change, both political and cultural. Gunpowder
strengthened central governments at the expense of the feudal nobility. In
The men who founded modem science had two merits which are not necessarily found together: immense patience in observation, and great boldness in framing hypotheses. The second of these merits had belonged to the earliest Greek philosophers; the first existed, to a considerable degree, in the later astronomers of antiquity. But no one among the the ancients, except perhaps Aristarchus, possessed both merits, and no one in the Middle Ages possessed either. Copernicus, like his great successor, possessed both.
[Descartes] lived in
Even before the Reformation, theologians tended to
believe in setting limits to kingly power. This was part of the battle between
the Church and the State which raged throughout
Kant himself was a man whose ourlook on practical affairs was kindly and humanitarian, but the same cannot be said of most of those who rejected happiness as the good. The sort of ethic that is calIed 'noble' is less associated with attempts to improve the world than is the more mundane view that we should seek to make men happier. This is not surprising. Contempt for happiness is easier when the happiness is other people's than when it is our own. Usually the substitute for happiness is some form of heroism. This affords unconscious outlets for the impulse to power, and abundant excuses for cruelty. Or, again, what is valued may be strong emotion; this was the case with the romantics. This led to a toleration of such passions as hatred and revenge; Byron's heroes are typical, and are never persons of exemplary behaviour. The men who did most to promote human happiness were--as might have been expected--those who thought happiness important, not those who despised it in comparison with something more 'sublime'. Moreover, a man's ethic usually reflects his character, and benevolence leads to a desire for the general happiness. Thus the men who thought happiness the end of life tended to be the more benevolent, while those who proposed other ends were often dominated, unconsciously, by cruelty or love of power.
We may say, in a broad way, that Greek philosophy down to Aristotle expresses the mentality appropriate to the City State; that Stoicism is appropriate to a cosmopolitan despotism; that scholastic philosophy is an intellectual expression of the Church as an organization; that philosophy since Descartes, or at any rate since Locke, tends to embody the prejudices of the commercial middle class; and that Marxism and Fascism are philosophies appropriate to the modem industrial State. This, I think, is both true and important. I think, however, that Marx is wrong in two respects. First, the social circumstances of which account must be taken are quite as much political as economic; they have to do with power, of which wealth is only one form. Second, social causation largely ceases to apply as soon as a problem becomes detailed and technical. The first of these objections I have set forth in my book Power, and I shall therefore say no more about it. The second more intimately concems the history of philosophy, and I will give some examples of its scope.
Modem analytical empiricism, of which I have been giving an outline, difiers from that of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume by its incorporation of mathematics and its development of a powerful logical technique. It is thus able, in regard to certain problems, to achieve definite answers, which have the quality of science rather than of philosophy. It has the advantage, as compared with the philosophies of the system-builders, of being able to tackle its problems one at a time, instead of having to invent at one stroke a block theory of the whole universe. Its methods, in this respect, resemble those of science. I have no doubt that, in so far as philosophical knowledge is possible, it is by such methods that it must be sought; I have also no doubt that, by these methods, many ancient problems are completely soluble.
There remains, however, a vast field, traditionally included in philosophy, where scientific methods are inadequate. This field includes ultimate questions of value; science alone, for example, cannot prove that it is bad to enjoy the infliction of cruelty .Whatever can be known, can be known by means of science; but things which are legitimately matters of feeling lie outside its province.
Philosophy, throughout its history, has consisted of two parts inharmoniously blended: on the one hand a theory as to the nature of the world, on the other an ethical or political doctrine as to the best way of living. The failure to separate these two with sufficient clarity has been a source of much confused thinking. Philosophers, from Plato to William James, have allowed their opinions as to the constitution of the universe to be influenced by the desire for edification: knowing, as they supposed, what beliefs would make men virtuous, they have invented arguments, often very sophistical, to prove that these beliefs are true. For my part I reprobate this kind of bias, both on moral and on intellectual grounds. Morally, a philosopher who uses his professional competence for anything except a disinterested search for truth is guilty of a kind of treachery. And when he assumes, in advance of inquiry, that certain beliefs, whether true or false, are such as to promote good behaviour, he is so limiting the scope of philosophical speculation as to make philosophy trivial; the true philosopher is prepared to examine all preconceptions. When any limits are placed, consciously or unconsciously, upon the pursuit of truth, philosophy becomes paralysed by fear, and the ground is prepared for a govemment censorship punishing those who utter 'dangerous thoughts'- in fact, the philosopher has already placed such a censorship over his own investigations.
the effect of mistaken moral considerations upon philosophy has been to impede
progress to an extraordinary extent. I do not myself believe that philosophy
can either prove or disprove the truth of religious dogmas, but ever since
Plato most philosophers have considered it part of their business to produce
'proofs' of immortality and the existence of God. They have found fault with
the proofs of their predecessors--
All this is rejected by the philosophers who make logical analysis the main business of philosophy. They confess frankly that the human intellect is unable to find conclusive answers to many questions of profound importance to mankind, but they refuse to believe that there is some 'higher' way of knowing, by which we can discover truths hidden from science and the intellect. For this renunciation they have been rewarded by the discovery that many questions, formerly obscured by the fog of metaphysics, can be answered with precision, and by objective methods which introduce nothing of the philosopher's temperament except the desire to understand. Take such questions as: What is number? What are space and time? What is mind, and what is matter? I do not say that we can here and now give definitive answers to all these ancient questions, but I do say that a method has been discovered by which, as in science, we can make successive approximations to the truth, in which each new stage results from an improvement, not a rejection, of what has gone before.
In the welter of conflicting fanaticisms, one of the few unifying forces is scientific truthfulness, by which I mean the habit of basing our beliefs upon observations and inferences as impersonal, and as much divested of local and temperamental bias, as is possible for human beings. To have insisted upon the introduction of this virtue into philosophy, and to have invented a powerful method by which it can be rendered fruitful, are the chief merits of the philosophical school of which I am a member. The habit of careful veracity acquired in the practice of this philosophical method can be extended to the whole sphere of human activity, producing, wherever it exists, a lessening of fanaticism with an increasing capacity of sympathy and mutual understanding. In abandoning a part of its dogmatic pretensions, philosophy does not cease to suggest and inspire a way of life.