|PART I. THE STATE OF CULTURE IN GREECE|
|Chapter I. The Intellectual and Political State of Greece at the Close of the Fourth Century B.C.|
|Chapter II. Character and Chief Features of the Post-Aristotelian Philosophy|
|PART II. THE STOICS|
|Chapter III. History of the Stoics until the End of the Second Century B.C.|
|Chapter IV. Authorities for the Stoic Philosophy; Its Problem and Divisions.|
|Chapter V. Logic of the Stoics.|
|Chapter VI. The Study of Nature: 1. Fundamental Positions.|
|Chapter VII. The Study of Nature: 2. Course, Character, and Government of the Universe.|
|Chapter VIII. The Study of Nature: 3. Irrational Nature. The Elements.--The Universe.|
|Chapter IX. The Study of Nature: 4. Man.|
|Chapter X. Ethics: 1. The General Principles of the Stoic Ethics. Abstract Theory of Morality.|
|Chapter XI. Ethics: 2. The Stoic Theory of Morals as Modified in Practice.|
|Chapter XII. Ethics: 3. Applied Moral Science|
|Chapter XIII. The Relation of the Stoics to Religion.|
|Chapter XIV. The Stoic Philosophy as a Whole and Its Historical Antecedents.|
|PART III. THE EPICUREANS.|
|Chapter XV. Epicureans and the Epicurean School.|
|Chapter XVI. Character and Divisions of the Epicurean Teaching. The Test-Science of Truth.|
|Chapter XVII. The Epicurean Views of Nature.|
|Chapter XVIII. Views of Epicurus on Religion.|
|Chapter XIX. The Moral Science of the Epicureans: 1. General Views.|
|Chapter XX. The Epicureans Ethics Continued: 2. Special Points|
|Chapter XXI. The Epicurean System as a Whole. Its Position in History.|
|PART IV. THE SCEPTICS: PYRRHO AND THE OLDER ACADEMY|
|Chapter XXII. Pyrrho.|
|Chapter XXIII. The New Academy|
The translation has been carefully revised for the present edition, with the view of rendering more clear any passages which seemed obscure.
À LA RONDE, NEAR LYMPSTONE, DEVON:
Great as was the progress made by Greek philosophy in the fourth century before Christ, quite as great were the difficulties with which it had perpetually to contend; quite as difficult the problems on the solution of which it had to labor. Aristotle had already pointed out the weak points in the system of Plato, which rendered it impossible for him to accept that system as satisfactory. From the platform of later knowledge still further objections might be raised to it. Even in Aristotle’s own system inconsistencies on some of the most important points might be found, concealed under a certain indefiniteness of expression, but fatal if once brought to light to the soundness of the whole. For with all his ingenuity, Aristotle never succeeded in harmoniously blending all the elements out of which his system was composed. Thus the divergencies of his immediate followers from the original Aristotelian teaching may be accounted for.
Nor were these defects of a kind that could be easily disposed of. The deeper the inquiry is carried, the clearer it becomes that they were defects embedded in the foundations of the systems both of Plato and Aristotle, and underlying the whole previous range of philosophic thought. Omitting details and minor points, they may all be ultimately referred to two: either to an imperfect knowledge and experience of the world, or to the overhaste of idealistic philosophy to draw conclusions. To the former defect may be attributed the mistakes in natural science into which Plato and Aristotle fell, and the limited character of their view of history; to the latter, the Platonic theory of ideas with all that it involves--the antithesis of ideas and appearances, of reason and the senses, of knowledge and ignorance, of the present world and the world to come--and likewise the corresponding points in the system of Aristotle; such, for instance (to name some of the principal ones only), as the relation of the particular and the general, of form and matter, of God and the world, of the theory of final causes and natural explanations, of the rational and the irrational parts of the soul, of speculative theory and practice.
Both defects are closely connected. The Greek philosophers were content with an uncertain and imperfect knowledge of facts, because they trusted conceptions too implicitly, and were ignorant of their origin and worth; and they had this unconditional trust in the truth of conceptions because the study of nature was yet in its infancy. Their knowledge of history was too limited for them to see the difference between the results of careful observation and those of ordinary unmethodical experience, to realize the uncertainty of most of the traditional principles and the necessity for a stricter method of induction. The fault common to both Plato and Aristotle lay in attaching undue prominence to the dialectical method inherited from Socrates to the neglect of observation, and in assuming that conceptions expressing the very essence of things can be deduced in a purely logical way from current beliefs and the use of language. In Plato this dialectical exclusiveness appears most strongly, and finds striking expression in his theory of recollection. If all conceptions are inherent from the moment of birth and need only the agency of sensible things to produce a consciousness of their existence, it is only legitimate to infer that, to know the essence of things, we must look within and not without, and obtain ideas by abstraction from the mind rather than by induction from experience. It is equally legitimate to infer that the ideas derived from the mind are the true standard by which experience must be judged. Whenever ideas and experience disagree, instead of regarding ideas as at fault, we ought to look upon the data of experience as imperfect, and as inadequately expressing the ideas which constitute the thing as it really exists. Thus the whole theory of ideas, and all that it implies, is seen to be a natural corollary from the Socratic theory of conceptions. Even those parts of this theory which seem most incongruous are best explained by being referred to the principles of the Socratic process.
From this defective assumption Aristotle is only partially free. He attempted, it is true, to supply the defects in the Socratic and Platonic theory of conceptions by observation of a kind with which Plato’s experimental knowledge cannot be compared either for accuracy or extent. With that attempt he also combined a complete transformation of the Platonic metaphysics, whereby he secured the same position for particulars in relation to the universal that his predecessor had secured for observation in relation to conceptional knowledge. But Aristotle did not go far enough. In his theory of knowledge he cannot wholly discard the assumption that the soul has its knowledge by a process of development from within, and is not only endowed with the capacity of thinking, but possesses also from its birth the substance of ideas. In his scientific method a critical investigation of common notions and of idiom--that in fact which he himself calls proof by probabilities--is constantly taking the place of strict induction. His endeavors to harmonize the two antagonistic currents in Plato’s teaching may have been undertaken in all sincerity, but the antagonism was too deeply seated to yield to his efforts. It not only reappears in the fundamental ideas of his system, but it colors all its general results. Beginning with the antithesis between form and matter, it ends in the contrast between the world and a soul independent of the world, in the conception of reason as something above man, never combining with the lower parts of his nature to form one complete living unity.
Granting that the Socratic philosophy of conceptions is the source from which these peculiarities are derived, still that philosophy is itself only the expression of the character of the nation which produced it. In an earlier work it has been shown that the most distinctive feature of Greek life lay in confounding the outer and the inner worlds, in ingenuously assuming that the two originally corresponded, and are still in perfect harmony with one another. When the whole mental life of a people bears this impress, it is sure to be reflected in its philosophy also. Together with the advantages which accrue from the confusion of the two, philosophy shares also the disadvantages which unavoidably attend any theory which ignores the real distinction between them. The mind only gradually and imperfectly becomes aware of the distinctive peculiarity of mental life, of the notion of personality, of the fact that moral rights and duties are independent of external circumstances, of the share of the individual will in creating ideas. It has also less hesitation in transferring phases of consciousness directly to things themselves, in regarding the world from ideal points of view borrowed from the sphere of mind, in accepting its own notions of things as realities without testing their actual truth, and even treating them as more real than the reality of the senses, and in confounding the critical analysis of a notion with the experimental investigation of a thing. If the philosophy of Greece in the time of its greatest perfection was not free from these defects; if, further, these defects were the cause of all the important faults in the systems of Plato and Aristotle; the creators of these systems and their immediate successors are not the only ones to blame; but the whole mental peculiarity of the people is at fault of which within the province of science these men were the greatest representatives.
As the faults of the Platonic and Aristotelian systems are seen to be connected with the general character of Greek life, it becomes obvious how difficult it must have been for Greeks to emancipate themselves from them. To overcome the difficulty nothing short of a radical breaking away from old lines of thought would avail. The origin of ideas, the primary meaning of conceptions, must be inquired into with searching thoroughness; a sharper distinction must be drawn between what is supplied from without and what is supplied from within; the truth of axioms hitherto received in metaphysics must be more carefully investigated than had ever been done as yet. The intellect must accustom itself to an accuracy of observation, and to a strictness of inductive process, never before reached in Greece. Experimental sciences must attain a degree of completeness which it was vain to hope to reach by the methods and means then in vogue. The fashion of regarding nature as though it were a living being which allowed questions as to facts to be answered by speculations as to final causes or by the desire of nature to realize beauty, must be abandoned. Inquiries into a man’s moral nature and duties must be kept apart from the simple study of his conduct in relation to natural surroundings, the disastrous effects which flow from the confusion of the two being only too apparent in the national type of the Greeks, in the exclusively political character of their morality, and in their adherence to slavery.
Before this pass could be reached how much was there not to alter in the condition and mental habit of Greece! Could it indeed be expected that a more vigorous and more scientific method would gain foothold so long as the tendency to look upon the life of nature as analogous to the life of man was kept alive by a religion such as that of Hellas? Or that moral science would liberate itself from the trammels of Greek propriety of conduct, whilst in all practical matters those trammels were in full force? Or that a clearer distinction would be drawn between what comes from without and what from within in ideas--a distinction which we vainly look for in Aristotle--until a depth and an intensity had been given to the inner life, and until the rights and value of the individual as such had obtained a recognition which it required the combined influence of Christianity and the peculiar Germanic character to bring about? The more vividly the national type and the national conditions surrounding Greek philosophy are realized, the firmer becomes the conviction, that to heal its defects--which are apparent even in its greatest and most brilliant achievements--nothing short of a revolution in the whole mental tone of Greece would avail--such as history has seen accomplished, but not till after many shifts and many centuries.
On the platform of the ancient life of Greece such a change could not possibly have come about. It may be that under more favorable circumstances Greek philosophy might have further developed along the same course of purely intellectual inquiry which it had previously so successfully followed in the hands of its earlier representatives, more particularly of Aristotle. What results might in this way have been attained, we cannot exactly determine. Speculation is, however, useless. In point of fact, the historical circumstances under which philosophy had. to grow cannot be ignored. Philosophy had become what it was under the influence of those circumstances. The Socratic theory of conceptions, and Plato’s theory of ideas, presuppose on the one hand the high culture of the age of Pericles, and the brilliant career of Athens and Greece following on the Persian war. They also presuppose the political degradation and the moral exhaustion of Greece during and after the Peloponnesian war. Aristotle, with his high intellectual culture, despairing of everything direct and practical, with his wide view of things, his knowledge of every kind, his system matured and elaborate, and embracing all the results of previous inquiry--appears as the child of an age which was bearing to the grave a great historical epoch, in which intellectual labor had begun to take the place of vigorous political action.
The bloom of Greek philosophy was short-lived, but not more short-lived than the bloom of national life. The one was dependent on the other, and both were due to the action of the same causes. The Greeks, with a high appreciation of freedom, a ready aptitude for politics, and a genius for artistic creations, produced within the sphere of politics one result of its kind unrivaled and unique. They neglected, however, to lay the foundations wide and deep. Their political endurance was not equal to their versatility and restlessness. Communities limited in extent and simple in arrangement sufficed for them. But how could such communities include all branches of the Greek family, and satisfy at once all legitimate aspirations? It is the same within the department of science. Prematurely concluding and rashly advancing from isolated experiences without mediating links to the most general conceptions, they constructed theories upon a foundation of limited and imperfect experience, which it was wholly inadequate to bear. Whether, and in how far, the intellect of Greece, if left to itself, might have remedied these defects in a longer protracted calm of development, is a question which it is impossible to answer. As a fact, that intellect was far too intimately bound up with the political, the moral, and the religious life--in short, with the whole mental tone and culture of the people--not to be seriously affected by a change in any one of them. It lay, too, in the character and historical progress of that people to have only a brief period of splendor, and that soon over. At the time that the philosophy of Greece reached its highest point in Plato and Aristotle, Greece was in all other respects in a hopeless state of decline. Notwithstanding individual attempts to revive it, the old morality and propriety of conduct had disappeared since the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. The old belief in the gods was likewise gone. To the bulk of the people the rising philosophy with its ethics afforded no substitute. Art, although carefully cultivated, failed to come up to the excellence of the strictly classic period. Political relations became daily more unsatisfactory. In the fifth century before Christ the rivalry of Athens and Sparta had ranged the states of Greece into two groups. In the succeeding century disunion spread further. The effort made by Thebes under Epaminondas to found a new leadership only multiplied parties. Destitute of a political center of gravity, the Greeks, of their own choice, drifted into a disgraceful dependence on the conquered and now declining Persian empire. Persian gold wielded an influence which Persian arms had been unable to exercise. The petty jealousies of tiny states and tribes frittered away in endless local feuds resources which with unity and leadership might have accomplished wonders. Civil order declined, and with it the well-being and martial prowess of the nation declined also. The growing pursuit of the art of war as a profession took the decision of battle more and more out of the hands of free citizens, and placed it in those of the numerous bands of mercenaries which are one of the most baneful phenomena of that age, a sure sign of the decline of freedom, and of the approach of a military despotism. When by the rise of the Macedonian power the danger of a military despotism loomed nearer, patriots in Greece continued to deceive themselves with the hope that their self-devotion would avert the danger, but any unbiased reader of history sees in the failure of their attempts to avert it the natural and inevitable result of causes so deeply rooted in the Greek character and the course of Greek history, that neither the most heroic exertions of individuals, nor the united resistance of the divided states, which came too late, could for one moment have rendered the final issue doubtful.
By the battle of Chaeronea the doom of Greece was sealed. Never since then has Greece attained to real political freedom. All attempts to shake off the Macedonian supremacy ended in humiliating disasters. In the subsequent struggles Hellas, and Athens in particular, were the play-ball of changing rulers, the continual arena of their warfare. The second half of the third century was reached before a purely Grecian power--the Achaean League--was formed, round which the hopes of the nation rallied, but the attempt was wholly inadequate to meet the real requirements of the times. Soon it became apparent that no remedies were forthcoming to heal the ills from which the country was suffering. Discord, their old hereditary failing, rendered it impossible for Greeks to be independent in foreign relations, or to be united and settled at home. Their best resources were wasted in perpetual struggles between Achaeans, Aetolians, and Spartans. The very individual who led the Achaeans against the Macedonians in the cause of independence, called the Macedonians back to the Peloponnesus to gain their support against Sparta. When the supremacy of Macedonia was broken by the arms of Rome, a more avowed dependence on Italian allies succeeded. And when, in the year B.C., the province of Achaia was incorporated into the Roman empire, even the shadow of freedom which up to that time had been assured departed for ever.
Sad as were the external affairs of Greece at this period, and
marked as was the decline of its intellectual power, its mental
horizon, nevertheless, extended and its culture became more
generally diffused. The Macedonian ascendancy, which gave the
deathblow to the independence of Greece, also broke down the
barriers which had hitherto separated Greeks from foreigners. A
new world was opened out before them, and a vast territory offered
for their energies to explore. Greece was brought into manifold
contact with the Eastern nations belonging to the Macedonian
monarchy, whereby it secured for its culture the place of honor
among them, but at the same time became subject to a slow, but, in
the long run, important back-current of Oriental thought, traces
of which appear in its philosophy a few centuries later. By the
side of the old famed centers of learning in the mother country of
Hellas, new centers arose, suited by position, inhabitants, and
peculiar circumstances to unite the culture of East and West, and
to fuse into one homogeneous mass the intellectual forces of
different races. Whilst Hellas, by the number of emigrants who
left her shores to settle in Asia and Egypt, was losing her
population and the Greeks in their ancestral homes were being
ousted by foreigners, they were gaining the most extensive
intellectual conquests at the time over the very nations by and
through whom they had been oppressed.
An age like that did not require theoretical knowledge, but it did require moral bracing and strengthening. If these were not to be had from popular religion in its then state, was it matter for wonder that philosophy should be looked to to supply the deficiency, seeing that in all cultivated circles philosophy had already taken the place of religion? If we ask in what form, and in what form only, philosophy could supply the deficiency under the then circumstances, the answer is not far to seek. There was little room for creative effort, plenty for sustained endurance; little for activity without, plenty for activity within; little room for public life, plenty of room for private life. So utterly hopeless had the public state of Greece become, that even the few who made it their business to provide a remedy could only gain for themselves the honor of martyrdom. As matters stood, the only course open for the best-intentioned was to withdraw entirely within themselves, to entrench themselves within the safe barriers to their inner life against outward misfortunes, and to make happiness dependent entirely on their own inward state.
Stoic apathy, Epicurean self-contentment, and Sceptic imperturbability, were the doctrines which suited the political helplessness of the age, and they were therefore the doctrines which met with the most general acceptance. There was yet another which suited it--viz., the sinking of national distinctions in the feeling of a common humanity, the severance of morals from politics which characterizes the philosophy of the Alexandrian and Roman period. The barriers which kept nations apart had been swept away, together with their national independence: East and West, Greeks and barbarians, were united in large empires, brought into communication and forced into comparison with one another in matters the most important. Philosophy declared that all men are of one blood and are equally privileged citizens of one empire, that morality rests on the relation of man to man, and is independent of nationality and position in the state; but in so doing it only explicitly stated a truth which was partly realized and partly implied in actual life.
The very course which philosophy itself had taken during the previous century and a half had prepared the way for the turn which now set in. Socrates and the Sophists, in different ways no doubt, had each devoted themselves to the practical side of life; and thus the Cynic School was the precursor of Stoicism, the Cyrenaic of Epicureanism. These two Schools are, however, were only of minor importance in the general progress of philosophy in the fourth century, and sophistry by the close of the same century was already a thing of the past. Socrates, it is true, would have nothing to do with physical inquiries; yet he felt the desire for knowledge far too keenly to bear comparison with the post-Aristotelian philosophers. Proposing to concern himself only with subjects which were of practical use in life, he yet put forth a theory of knowledge which involved a reform quite as much of speculative as of practical philosophy, and that reform was accomplished on a grand scale by Plato and Aristotle.
However little Greek philosophy as a whole developed during the fourth century along the lines of its subsequent expansion, still the speculations of Plato and Aristotle necessarily helped to prepare for the coming charge. The antagonism between the ideal and phenomenal worlds which Plato set up, and Aristotle vainly attempted to bridge over, leads ultimately to a contrast between the outer and the inner life, between thought and the object of thought. The generic conceptions or forms, which Plato and Aristotle regard as most truly real, are, after all, fabrications of the human mind. The conception of reason, even in its expanded form as the divine Reason, or reason of the world, is an idea formed by abstraction from the inner life. And what is really meant by identifying form in itself with what is, and matter with what is possible, or even (as Plato does) with what is not, or by placing God outside of and in contrast to the world, but the admission that man finds in his own mind a higher and more real existence than any which he finds outside of it, and that what is truly divine and unlimited must be in the mind as an idea, apart from and independent of all impressions from without? Plato and Aristotle in fact declared that reason constitutes the real essence of man--reason coming from above and uniting itself with the body, but in itself superior to the world of sense and life in time--and that man’s highest activity is thought, turned away from all external things, and meditating only on the inner world of ideas. It was only one step further in the same direction for the post-Aristotelian philosophy to contemplate man in complete severance from the outer world, and to refer him to himself for that satisfaction winch he can find nowhere else in life.
This step was taken by the Schools of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics which appeared in the first half of the third century before Christ, superseded the the influence of the older Schools, and asserted their supremacy without great variation in their teaching until the beginning of the first century. In whatever else these three Schools may differ, at least they agree in two fundamental points, (1) in subordinating theory to practice, and (2) in the peculiar character of their practical philosophy.
The subordination of, theory to practice is most apparent in the School of Epicurus. It is nearly as clear in the case of the Sceptics, who. denying all possibility of knowledge, left as the only ground of action conviction based on probabilities. Both Schools also agree in considering philosophy as only a means for securing happiness. By the Stoics, on the other hand, the need of philosophic speculation was felt more strongly; but even in their case it may be seen that speculation was not pursued simply for its own sake, but for practical purposes, by which it was also determined. Thus the Stoics, like the Epicureans, in the speculative part of their system confined themselves to current views--thereby showing that the source of their philosophical peculiarities lay elsewhere than in speculation, and that other studies had greater value in their eyes, in which also they considered themselves more proficient. They even expressly stated that the study of nature is only necessary as a help to the study of virtue. It is beyond question, that their chief peculiarities, and those which give them an importance in history, are ethical. The other parts of their system, more particularly those in which their distinctive tenets appear, are likewise regulated by practical considerations. This statement will hereafter be shown in detail. It may suffice to observe now, that the most important point in the logic of the Stoics--the question as to the standard of truth--was decided by a practical postulate; that the fundamental principles of the Stoic metaphysics are only intelligible from the ground of their ethics; that for natural science the Stoics did very little; that in their theory of final causes on which they lay so much stress nature is explained by moral considerations; and that their natural as well as their positive theology bears ample testimony to the practical tone of their system. Standing in advance of the Epicureans by their higher intellectual training and their learned energy, and in opposition to the Sceptics by their dogmatism, the Stoics nevertheless agree with both these Schools in the essentially practical character of their teaching.
This relationship is more strikingly seen in the way in which they deal with the practical problem. The Epicurean imperturbability is akin to that of the Sceptics; both resemble the Stoic apathy. All three Schools are agreed that the only way to happiness consists in peace of mind, and in avoiding all those disturbances which sometimes arise from external influences, at other times from internal emotions; they are only divided as to the means by which peace of mind may be secured. They are also agreed in making moral activity independent of external circumstances, and in separating morals from politics, although only the Stoics set up the doctrine of the original unity of the whole human family, and insist on being citizens of the world. Through all the Schools runs the common trait of referring everything to the subject, and constantly falling back on man and his own inner life, one consequence of which is the prominence given to action in preference to speculation, and another that action is determined by personal certainty, and a mental equilibrium which must be attained by the exercise of will and the cultivation of the intellect.
The same character belongs to philosophy in the centuries succeeding the rise of these three Schools; during which the circumstances which produced that character were not materially altered. In addition to the followers of the old Schools, Eclectics are now met with, who gather from every system what seems true and probable. In this process of selection their guiding principle is regard for the practical wants of man. Hence the ultimate standard of truth is placed in personal consciousness. Everything is referred to the subject as its center. In ethics and natural theology the Eclectics were mainly indebted to the Stoics. A new School of Sceptics also arose, not differing in its tendencies from the older one. Neopythagoreans and Platonists appeared, not satisfied with human knowledge, but aspiring to higher revelations. Professing to appeal to the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, these philosophers betray their connection with the later post-Aristotelian Schools, not only by borrowing largely from the Stoics for the material for their theology and ethics, but also by their general tone; knowledge is for them less even than for the Stoics an end in itself, and they are further from natural science. With them philosophy is subservient to the interests of religion; its aim is to bring men into proper relation with God; and the religious needs of mankind are the highest authority for science.
The same observations apply also to Plotinus and his successors. These philosophers are not lacking in an elaborate science of metaphysics. The care which they devoted to this science leaves no doubt as to their lively interest in scientific completeness and systematic arrangement. For all that their speculative efforts bear the same relation to the practical aim of philosophy as those of the Stoics, who in point of learning and logical elaboration of a system are quite their equals. A real interest in knowledge was no doubt one of the elements which brought Neoplatonism into being; but it was not strong enough to counterbalance another, the practical and religious sentiment. The mind was not sufficiently independent to be able to get on without appealing to intellectual and theological authorities; the scientific procedure was too mixed to lead to a simple study of things as they are. As in the case of the Neopythagoreans, the ultimate ground of the system is a religious want. The divine world is only a portion of human thought projected out of the mind, and incapable of being fully grasped by the understanding. The highest business of philosophy is to reunite man with the divine world external to himself. To attain this end, all the means which science supplies are employed. Philosophy endeavors to explain the steps by which the finite gradually came to be separated from the original infinite being; it seeks to bring about a return by a regular and systematic course; and in this attempt the philosophic spirit of Greece, by no means extinct, proved its powers by a result of its kind unrivaled In the first instance, no doubt, the problem was so raised as to press philosophy into the service of religion; but, in the long run, it became apparent that, with the premises assumed, a scientific solution of the religious question was impossible. The idea of an original being with which the system started was a reflex of the religious sentiment, and not the result of scientific research, and the doctrine of a mystical union with a transcendental being was a religious postulate, the gratuitous assumption of which betrays an origin in the mind of the thinker. The platform of Neoplatonism is the same, therefore, as that of the other post-Aristotelian systems; and it is hardly necessary in proof of this position to point to the agreement of Neoplatonism in other respects with Stoicism, and especially in ethics. Far the two systems lie asunder, the one standing at the beginning the other at the end of the post-Aristotelian philosophy, nevertheless both display one and the same attitude of thought; and we pass from one to the other by a continuous series of intermediate links.
In passing from School to School the post-Aristotelian philosophy assumed, as might be expected, various modifications of character in course of time; nevertheless, it retained a certain mental habit and certain common elements. Such was the neglect of intellectual originality, which drove some thinkers to a skeptical denial of all knowledge, and induced others to take their knowledge at second hand from older authorities. Such was the prominence given to practical over speculative questions. Such was the disregard for natural science, and, in comparison with former times, the greater importance attached to theology, apparent not only in the controversy between the Epicureans and Stoics, but also in the apologetic writings of the Stoics and Platonists. Such, too, was the negative morality which aimed at independence of the outer world, at mental composure, and philosophic contentment; the separation of morals from politics; the moral universalism and citizenship of the world; the going within self into the depths of the soul, the will, and the thinking powers; the deepening of the consciousness accompanied at the same time by a narrowing and isolation of it, and the loss of a lively interest in the outer world, and in the simple scientific study thereof.
This mental habit, first of all, found simple dogmatic expression in philosophical systems. Not only moral science, but also logic and natural science, were treated in a way consonant with it, although they were partially built upon older views. In dealing with the moral problem, two Schools come to view, markedly different and decided in their peculiarities. The Stoics regard almost exclusively the universal element in man who seeks contentment within, the Epicureans catch at the individual side of his being. The Stoics regard man exclusively as a thinking being, the Epicureans as a creature of feeling. The Stoics make happiness to consist in subordination to the law of the whole, in the suppression of personal feelings and inclinations, in virtue; the Epicureans in individual independence of everything external, in the unruffled serenity of the inner life, in painlessness. The theoretical bases of their teaching correspond with these fundamental ethical positions.
Although the rivalry between these two Schools was great, both, nevertheless, stand on the same platform. Absolute composure of mind, freedom of the inner life from all disturbance from without, is the goal at which both aim, although they follow different methods. Hence it becomes necessary to insist on the common element as the essential aim and matter of philosophy. If the philosophic axioms of the two systems contradict one another, it may be thence inferred that the aim of both may be attained independently of any definite dogmatic view; in short, knowledge may be despaired of in order to pass from a recognition of ignorance to a general indifference to everything and to an unconditional repose of mind. Thus Skepticism is connected with Stoicism and Epicureanism, as the third chief form of the philosophy of that age. Apart from Pyrrho’s School, it is most effectually represented in the New Academy.
The rise, the growth, and the conflict of these three Schools, by the side of which the older Schools have only a subordinate value, occupies the first portion of the period of post-Aristotelian philosophy, and extends from the end of the fourth to the beginning of the first century before Christ. The distinctive features of this epoch consist partly in the predominance of the above tendencies, and partly in their separate existence, without modification by intermixture. After the middle of the second century a gradual change may be observed. Greece had then become a Roman province, and the intellectual intercourse between Greece and Rome was continually on the increase. Many learned Greeks resided at Rome, frequently as the companions of families of high birth; others living in their own country, were visited by Roman pupils. Was it possible that in the face of the clearly-defined and sharply-expressed Roman character, the power and independence of the Greek intellect, already unquestionably on the decline, would assert its ancient supremacy? Or that Greeks could become the teachers of Romans without accommodating themselves to their demands, and experiencing in turn a reflex influence? Even Greek philosophy could not withdraw itself from this influence. Its creative power was long since in abeyance, and in Skepticism it had openly avowed that it could place no trust in itself. To the practical sense of a Roman no philosophical system commended itself which did not make for practical results by the shortest possible route. To him practical needs were the ultimate standard of truth. Little did he care for strict logic and argumentative accuracy in scientific procedure. Differences of schools, so long as they had no practical bearing, were for him of no importance. No wonder that Greek philosophy, touched by the breath of Rome, lent itself to Eclecticism!
Whilst on the one side of the world the Greeks were falling under the influence of the nation that had subdued them, on the other they were assimilating the views of the Oriental nations whom they had subdued by martial as well as by mental superiority. For two centuries, in philosophy at least, Greece had held her own against Oriental modes of thought. Now that her intellectual incapacity continually increased, those modes of thought gained for themselves a foothold in her philosophy. Alexandria was the place where the connection of Greece with the East was first and most completely brought about. In that center of commerce for all parts of the globe, East and West entered into a connection more intimate and more lasting than in any other center. Nor was this connection a mere accident of circumstances; it was also a work of political forecast. From its founder, Ptolemy Soter, the Ptolemaean dynasty inherited as the principle of government the rule always to combine what is native with what is foreign, and to clothe new things in the old and venerable forms of Egyptian custom and religious ceremony. At Alexandria, accordingly, there arose, towards the beginning of the first century before Christ, a School calling itself at first Platonic, afterwards Pythagorean, which later still, in the shape of Neoplatonism, gained the ascendancy over the whole domain of philosophy. The very fact, however, that such a change in philosophic views did not appear sooner, is sufficient to show that it was produced by external circumstances. But notwithstanding external circumstances it would never have come about had not the intellect of Greece in the course of its own development been ripe for it.
The same remark holds good of the rise of that practical Eclecticism which we have before traced to the influence of Rome. Even in the period of intellectual exhaustion, Greek philosophy was not simply the resultant of its outward surroundings, but, under the influence of outward surroundings, took shape in a way indicated by its previous progress. If the lingering remains of a few small Schools, which soon expired, are excepted, there existed, after the beginning of the third century before Christ, only four great philosophic Schools--the Peripatetic, the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the School of Platonists. The last-named of these was converted to Skepticism by Arcesilaus. These four Schools were all permanently established at Athens, where a lively interchange of thought took place between them, which renders a thorough comparison of their several teachings comparatively easy. It was only natural that they would not long exist side by side without making overtures towards union and agreement. These overtures were favored by Skepticism, which, denying the possibility of knowledge, only allowed a choice between probabilities, and decided that choice by the standard of practical needs. Hence, towards the close of the second century before Christ, these philosophic Schools may be observed to emerge more or less from their exclusiveness. An eclectic tendency steals over philosophy, aiming not so much at scientific knowledge as at attaining certain results for practical use. The distinctive doctrines of each School drop into the background; and in the belief that infallibility resides solely in the mind itself, such portions are selected from each system as seem most in harmony with the selecting mind. The germ of this eclectic mode of thought lay in Skepticism On the other hand, Eclecticism involves doubt. Hence, soon after the Christian era, a new school of doubt developed, which continued until the third century. There was thus, on the one hand, a lively interest in knowledge, which was desired in the practical interest of religion and morals; and, on the other hand, a disbelief in the truths of existing knowledge, and, indeed, of knowledge generally, openly avowed by some as Sceptics, secretly betrayed by others in the unsettledness of their Eclecticism. These two currents coalescing, led to the thought that truth, which cannot be found in knowledge, exists somewhere outside of it, and must be looked for partly in the religious traditions of the early days of Greece and the East, partly in direct divine revelation. Then came in such a notion of God, and of His relations to the world, as accords with this belief in revelation. Man knowing that truth lies outside himself, and doubting his own capacities to attain it, removes deity, as the absolute source of truth, into another world; and because the need of a revelation of truth still exists, the interval between God and the world is peopled with intermediate beings, who are sometimes conceived of as metaphysical entities, and at other times appear as the demons of popular belief. This mental habit, which is connected with Plato and Pythagoras, among the older systems, forms the transition to Neoplatonism. The appearance of Neoplatonism introduces the last stage in the development of Greek philosophy.
Yet even this turn in Greek philosophy was not uninfluenced by the circumstances of the times. Since the end of the second century after Christ, the decline of the Roman Empire progressed apace. Dread of the dangers which threatened it on all sides, the pressure of the times and distress made startling progress. All means of defense hitherto employed had proved unavailing to stem destruction. With ruin everywhere impending, the desire and longing for higher assistance increased. No such assistance was forthcoming from the old gods of Rome or the religious faith of the day; despite which circumstances were daily becoming more hopeless. Then it was that the desire for foreign forms of worship which had been gradually spreading over the Roman world since the last days of the Republic, and which the circumstances of the Empire had stimulated, gained ground. That desire was favored by the highest power in the state, under the Oriental and half Oriental emperors who for nearly half a century after Septimius Severus occupied the imperial throne. The state and the gods of the state were continually losing their hold on the respect of men. Meanwhile, on the one hand, Oriental worships, mysteries old and new, and foreign heathen religions of the most varying kinds, were ever gaining fresh adherents. On the other, Christianity was rapidly acquiring a power which enabled it openly to enter the lists for supremacy among the recognized religions of the state. The powerful monarchs who about the middle of the third century attempted to refound the Empire, had not for their object to restore a specifically Roman form of government, but to bring the various elements which composed the Empire under one sovereign will by fixed forms of administration. In this attempt Diocletian and Constantine succeeded. The Roman character asserted itself, as a ruling and regulating power, but it did so under the influence of another originally foreign character. The Empire was a congeries of nations artificially held together, and arranged on a carefully-designed plan; its center of gravity lay not within the nation, but in the simple will of the prince, himself exalted above all rules and laws of state, and deciding everything without appeal and without responsibility.
In like manner Neoplatonism united all the elements of previous philosophical Schools into one comprehensive and well-arranged system, in which each class of existences had its definite place assigned to it. The initial point in this system, the all-embracing unity, was a being lying beyond the world, high above every notion that experience and conception can supply, unmixed with the process of life going on in the world, and from his unattainable height causing all things, but himself subject to no conditions of causality. Neoplatonism is the intellectual reproduction of Byzantine Imperialism. As Byzantine Imperialism combines Oriental despotism with the Roman idea of the state, so Neoplatonism supplements the scientific forms of Greek philosophy with Oriental mysticism.
In Neoplatonism the post-Aristotelian philosophy had manifestly
veered round into its opposite. Self-dependence and the
self-sufficingness of thought made way for implicit resignation
to higher powers, for a craving for revelation, for an ecstatic
departure from the sphere of conscious mental activity. Man has
abandoned the idea of truth within for truth to be found only in
God. God stands there as abstract spirituality removed into
another world in contrast to man and the world of appearances.
Speculation has but one aim--to explain the procession of the
finite from the infinite, and the conditions of its return into
the absolute; but neither of these problems can meet with a
satisfactory intellectual solution. Even this form of thought
betrays undeniably the personal character of the
post-Aristotelian philosophy, and is the natural outcome of
previous teaching, as will be more fully seen in the sequel. With
it the creative powers of the Greek mind were exhausted. After
being driven step by step during centuries from the platform of
their own national philosophy, the Greeks were eventually entirely
dislodged therefrom by the victory of Christianity. Neoplatonism
made one more futile attempt to rescue the forms of Greek culture
from its mighty rival, but when that attempt failed Greek religion
and Greek philosophy went down together.
The founder of the Stoic School, Zeno by name, was the son of Mnaseas, and a native of Citium in Cyprus. Leaving his home, he repaired to Athens, about the year 320 B.C., where be at first joined the Cynic Crates. He appears to have soon become disgusted with the extravagances of the Cynics’ mode of life, and his keen desire for knowledge could find no satisfaction in a teaching so meager as theirs. To supply their defects he had recourse to Stilpo, who united to the moral teaching of the Cynics the logical acumen of the Megarians. He also studied under Polemo, and it is said under Xenocrates and Diodorus the logician, with whose pupil Philo he was on terms of intimacy. After a long course of intellectual preparation, he at last appeared as a teacher, soon after the beginning of the third, or perhaps during the last years of the fourth century B.C. From the Stoa, the place which he selected for delivering his lectures, his followers derived their name of Stoics, having first been called after their master Zenonians. Such was the universal respect inspired by his earnestness, moral strictness, and simplicity of life, and the dignity, modesty, and affability of his conduct, that Antigonus Gonatas vied with the city of Athens in showing appreciation of him. Although lacking smoothness of style and using a language far from pure, Zeno had nevertheless an extensive following. Leading a life of singular moderation, he reached an advanced age untouched by disease, although he naturally enjoyed neither robust health nor an attractive person. A slight injury having at length befallen him, which be regarded as a hint of destiny, he put an end to his own life. His not very numerous writings have been lost, with the exception of a few fragments, some no doubt dating from the time when, as a pupil of Crates, he adhered more strictly to Cynic ideas than was afterwards the case. This point ought not to be forgotten in sketching his teaching.
The successor to the chair of Zeno was Cleanthes, a native of Assos in the Troad, a man of strong and firm character, of unusual endurance, energy, and contentment, but also slow of apprehension, and somewhat heavy in intellect. Resembling Xenocrates in mind, Cleanthes was in every way adapted to uphold his master’s teaching, and to recommend it by the moral weight of his own character, but he was incapable of expanding it more completely, or of establishing it on a wider basis.
Besides Cleanthes, the best known among the pupils of Zeno are Aristo of Chios, and Herillus of Carthage, who diverged from his teaching in the most opposite directions, Aristo confining himself rigidly to Cynicism, Herillus approximating to the leading positions held by the Peripatetic School.
Other pupils of Zeno were Persteus, a countryman and companion of Zeno; Aratus, the well-known poet of Soli; Dionysius of Heraclea in Pontus, who afterwards joined the Cyrenaic or Epicurean School; and Sphaerus from the Bosporus, who studied first in the School of Zeno, and afterwards in that of Cleanthes, and was the friend and adviser of Cleomenes, the unfortunate Spartan reformer. Of a few other pupils of Zeno the names are also known; but nothing beyond their names. No appreciable addition was made to the Stoic doctrine by any one of them.
It was therefore fortunate for Stoicism that Cleanthes was followed in the presidency of the School by a man of learning and argumentative power like Chrysippus. In the opinion of the ancients, Chrysippus was the second founder of Stoicism. Born in the year 280 B.C., at Soli in Cilicia, after being a pupil of Cleanthes and it is said even of Zeno himself, he succeeded, on the death of Cleanthes, to the conduct of his School. He is also said to have attended the lectures of Arcesilaus and Lacydes, philosophers of the Middle Academy; whose critical methods he so thoroughly appropriated, that later Stoics accused him of furnishing Carneades with the necessary weapons for attacking them, by the masterly manner in which he raised philosophical doubts without being able to answer them satisfactorily. This critical acuteness and skill, more than anything else, entitle him to be regarded as the second founder of Stoicism. In learning, too, he was far in advance of his predecessors, and passed for the most industrious and learned man of antiquity. Independent in tone, as his general conduct and intellectual self-reliance often proved, he deviated from the teaching of Zeno and Cleanthes, as might be expected, in many respects. Still, the fundamental principles of the system were not altered by him; only their intellectual treatment was perfected and deepened. In fact, the Stoic doctrine was expanded by him with such completeness in details, that hardly a gleaning was left for his successors to gather up. In multitude of writings he exceeded Epicurus; their titles, and a comparatively small number of fragments, being all that have come down to us. With such an extraordinary literary fertility, it will be easily understood that their artistic value is not very high. The ancients are unanimous in complaining of their careless and impure language, of their dry and often obscure style, of their prolixity, their endless repetitions, their frequent and lengthy citations, and their too frequent appeals to etymologies, authorities, and other irrelevant proofs. But by Chrysippus the Stoic teaching was brought, to completeness; and when he died, in the year 206 B.C., the form was in every respect fixed in which Stoicism would be handed down for the next following centuries.
A contemporary of Chrysippus, but probably somewhat his senior,
was Teles, from whose writings a few extracts have been preserved
by Stobaeus, in the shape of popular moral considerations written
from a Cynic or Stoical point of view. The same age also produced
the Cyrenaic Eratosthenes, a man distinguished in every branch of
knowledge, but particularly celebrated for his mathematical
attainments, who was gained for Stoicism by Aristo. Another
contemporary of Chrysippus, and perhaps his fellow-student, who in
many respects approximated to the teaching of the Peripatetics,
was the Stoic Boethius. The proper scholars of Chrysippus were
without doubt numerous; but few of their names are known to us.
The most important among them appear to have been Zeno of Tarsus,
and Diogenes of Seleucia, who succeeded Chrysippus in the
presidency of the School. The pupil and successor of Diogenes, in
his turn, was Antipater of Tarsus, in connection with whom
Archedemus his countryman is frequently mentioned. Under
Panaetius, Antipater’s scholar, Stoicism entered the Roman world,
and there underwent internal changes, to which attention will be
drawn in the sequel.
The path is thus marked out, which must be followed in giving an exposition of the Stoic philosophy. If full information were forthcoming respecting the rise of the Stoic system and the form it assumed under each one of its representatives, it would be most natural to begin by reviewing the motives which led Zeno to his peculiar teaching, and by describing the system as it grew up. Next it would be right to trace step by step the changes and expansions which it received at the hands of each succeeding teacher. In default of the necessary information for such a treatment of the subject, it will be better to pursue another course. The Stoic teaching will have to be treated as a whole, in which the contributions of individuals can no longer be distinguished. It will have to be set forth in the form which it assumed after the time of Chrysippus. The share of individuals in constructing the system, and their deviations from the general type, cannot be considered, except in cases where they are placed beyond doubt by the statements of the ancients, or by well-founded historical surmises. Stoicism will have to be described in the first place as it is traditionally known, without having its principles explained or resolved into their component factors; without even considering how they grew out of previous systems. Not till this has been done will it be possible to analyze the purport and structure of the system, so as to fathom its leading motives, to understand the connection of its various parts, and thus to ascertain its true position in history.
Proceeding next to ask in what form the problem of philosophy presented itself to the Stoics, three points deserve to be specially noticed. (1) In the first place, philosophy was determined practically by an end in view. (2) The character of this end was decided by the idea of conformity with reason; and (3), this view was substantiated by intellectual proof.
The real business of all philosophy, according to the Stoics, is the moral conduct of man. Philosophy is the exercise of an art, and more particularly of the highest art--virtue: it is therefore the learning of virtue. Now virtue can only be learned by exercise, and therefore philosophy is at the same time virtue, and the several parts of philosophy are so many distinct virtues. Morality is the central point towards which all other inquiries converge. Even natural science, although lauded as the inmost shrine of philosophy, is, according to Chrysippus, only necessary for the philosopher to enable him to distinguish between things good and evil, between what should be done and what should be left undone. So far from approving pure speculation, which Plato and Aristotle had commended as the height of human happiness, Chrysippus plainly asserted that to live for speculation is equivalent to living only for pleasure. With this view of Chrysippus most of the statements of the Stoics as to the relation of various branches of philosophy to each other agree, although there is a certain amount of vagueness about them, owing to reasons which will shortly be mentioned; and on no other hypothesis can the internal structure and foundation of their system be satisfactorily explained. It is enough to remark here, as has been done before, that the most important and most distinctive points established by the Stoic School belong to the sphere of ethics. In logic and natural science the School displays far less independence, for the most part following older teachers; and it is expressly noted, as a deviation from the ordinary teaching of the School, that Herillus, the pupil of Zeno, declared knowledge to be the highest good, thus making it the chief end in philosophy.
This view of the problem of philosophy is more precisely defined by the Stoic doctrine of virtue. Philosophy should lead to right action and to virtue. But right action is, according to the Stoics, only rational action, and rational action is action which is in harmony with human and inanimate nature. Virtue consists therefore in bringing man’s actions into harmony with the laws of the universe, and with the general order of the world. This is only possible when man knows that order and those laws; and thus the Stoics are brought back to the principles of Socrates, that virtue may be learned; that knowledge is indispensable for virtue, or rather that virtue is identical with right knowledge. They define virtue in so many words as knowledge, vice as ignorance. If sometimes they seem to identify virtue with strength of will, it is only because they consider strength of will to be inseparable from knowledge, so that the one cannot be conceived without the other. Hence the practical study of philosophy conducts with them to the intellectual; philosophy is not only virtue, but without philosophy no virtue is possible. Granting that the attainment of virtue, and the happiness of a moral life, are the chief ends which the Stoics propose to themselves, still the possession of a comprehensive scientific knowledge is indispensable, as the only means thereto.
These remarks prove the need for the Stoics of that kind of scientific knowledge which has to do with life, the morals and the actions of mankind, in short, of Ethics. Whether further scientific knowledge is necessary, was a question on which the earliest adherents of the Stoic teaching expressed different opinions. Zeno’s pupil, Aristo of Chios, held (a) that the sole business of man is to pursue virtue, and that the sole use of language is to purify the soul. This purifying process, however, is neither to be found in logical subtleties nor in natural science. Logic, as doing more harm than good, he compared to a spider’s web, which is as useless as it is curious; or else to the mud on a road. Those who studied it he likened to people eating lobsters, who take a great deal of trouble for the sake of a little bit of meat enveloped in much shell. Convinced, too, that the wise man is free from every deceptive infatuation, and that doubt, for the purpose of refuting which logic has been invented, can be more easily overcome by a healthy tone of mind than by argument, he felt no particular necessity for logic. Nay, more, he considered that excessive subtlety transforms the healthy action of philosophy into an unhealthy one. Just as little was Aristo disposed to favor the so-called encyclical knowledge: those who devote themselves to this knowledge instead of to philosophy he compared to the suitors of Penelope, who won the maids but not the mistress. Natural science would probably have received a more favorable treatment at the hands of Aristo, had he not shared the opinion of Socrates, that it is a branch of knowledge which transcends the capacity of the human mind; and having once embraced this notion, he was inclined to pronounce all physical inquiries useless. His attitude towards other sciences has therefore been generally expressed by saying that he excluded from philosophy both logic and natural science, on the ground that both are useless; the former being irrelevant, and the latter transcending our powers. Even ethics was limited by Aristo to most fundamental notions--to inquiries into good and evil, virtue and vice, wisdom and folly. The special application of these notions to the moral problems suggested by particular relations in life, he declared to be useless and futile; proper for nursemaids and trainers of young children, but not becoming for philosophers; wherever there is a proper knowledge and a right disposition, such particular applications will come of themselves without teaching; but when these are wanting, all exhortations are useless.
These views are mentioned as peculiar to Aristo, and as points in which he differed from the rest of his School; and, to judge from his controversial tone, the opposite views were those almost universally entertained by Stoics. That controversial tone, in fact, appears to have been directed not only against assailants from without--such as the Peripatetics and Platonists--but far more against those members of the Stoic School, who attached greater importance than he did to special ethical investigations, and to logical and physical inquiries. Among their number must have been Zeno and Cleanthes; for Zeno set the example to his School of dividing philosophy into logic, ethics, and natural science; witness the titles of his logical and physical treatises and also the statements in reference to theoretical knowledge and natural science which are expressly attributed to him. Moreover, Zeno himself recommended to others, and himself pursued, logical inquiries. Indeed, his whole mental habit, with its keen appreciation of even the subtleties of the Megarians, bears testimony to an intellectual type of thought which is far removed from that of Aristo. It was, moreover, Zeno who chose that curt and unadorned logical style, which is found in its greatest perfection in Chrysippus. Logical and scientific treatises are also known to have been written by Cleanthes, who, in his division of philosophy, allotted separate parts to logic, to rhetoric, and to natural science, and the name of Cleanthes is one of frequent occurrence, not only in the natural science, but more particularly in the theology of the Stoics. Still more exhaustive inquiries into logic and natural science appear to have been set on foot by Sphaerus. These prove that the energies of the Stoic School must have been directed to these subjects before the time of Chrysippus, although these branches of science were no doubt subservient to ethics, whilst ethics held the most important and highest place in their philosophy. At a later time, when Chrysippus had expanded the system of the Stoics in every direction, and especial attention had been devoted to logic, the necessity for these sciences came to be generally recognized More especially was this the case with regard to natural science, including ‘theology.’ All ethical inquiries must start, according to Chrysippus, with considering the universal order and arrangement of the world. Only by a study of nature, and a knowledge of what God is, can anything really satisfactory be stated touching good and evil, and all that is therewith connected.
Less obvious is the connection between logic and the ultimate aim of all philosophical inquiries. Logic is compared by the Stoics to the shell of an egg, or to the wall of a city or garden; and is considered to be of importance, because it contributes towards the discovery of truth and the avoiding of error. The value of logic in their eyes is, therefore, essentially due to its scientific method; its proper aim is the art of technical reasoning; and thus, following Aristotle, an unusually full treatment is allowed to the doctrine of the syllogism. That the value attached to logic must have been considerable is proved by the extraordinary care which Chrysippus devoted to the subject; hence, the Stoics would never allow, in dispute with the Peripatetics, that logic was only an instrument, and not a part of philosophy. To later writers that stiff logical mode of description, regardless of all beauty of language, appeared to be a peculiarity of the Stoic school, and hence that School was characteristically known as the School of the Reasoners. Frequent instances will be found hereafter of the Stoic preference for dry argument and formal logic; in Chrysippus this fondness degenerated to a dry formalism devoid of taste.
The foregoing remarks have already established the three main divisions of philosophy which were universally acknowledged by the Stoics--Logic, Natural Science, and Ethics. As regards the relative worth and sequence of these divisions, very opposite views may be deduced from the principles of the Stoic teaching, there can be no doubt, and, indeed, all are agreed in allowing, that logic was subservient to the other two branches of science, being only an outpost of the system. If therefore in arranging the parts the advance is from the less important to the more important, logic will hold the first place. It will occupy the last place if the opposite mode of procedure is followed. But the relation existing between ethics and natural science is an open question. On the one hand, ethics appears to be the higher science, the crowning point of the system, the subject towards which the whole philosophical activity of the School was directed; for philosophy is practical knowledge, and its object is to lead to virtue and happiness. On the other hand, virtue and the destiny of man consist in conformity to the laws of nature, which it is the province of science to investigate. Therefore, natural science has the higher object. It lays down the universal laws which in ethics are applied to man. To it, therefore, in the graduated scale of sciences, belongs the higher rank.
In attempting to harmonize these opposite considerations, the
Stoics did not always succeed. At one time natural science is
preferred to ethics, at another time ethics to natural science, in
the enumeration of the several branches of philosophy. In the
comparisons by means of which their relations to each other were
explained, ethics appears at one time, at another time natural
science, to be the aim and soul of the whole system. Different
views were even entertained in reference to the order to be
followed in teaching these sciences. In describing the Stoic
system, preference will be here given to that arrangement which
begins with logic end goes on to natural science, ending with
ethics; not only because that arrangement has among its supporters
the oldest and most distinguished adherents of the Stoic School,
but also because in this way the internal relation of the three
parts to each other can be most clearly brought out. Allowing
that, in many essential respects, natural science is modified by
ethical considerations; still, in the development of the system,
the chief results of science are used as principles on which
ethical doctrines are founded; and logic, although introduced
later than the other two branches of study, is the instrument by
means of which they are put into scientific shape. If the
opportunity were afforded of tracing the rise of the Stoic
teaching in the mind of its founder, it would probably be possible
to show how the physical and logical parts of the system gradually
gathered around the original kernel of ethics. But knowing
Stoicism only as we do from the form which it attained after the
time of Chrysippus, it will be enough, in analyzing that form, to
proceed from without to within, and to advance from logic through
natural science to ethics. When this has been done it will be time
to go back over the same ground, and to explain how from the
ethical tone of Stoicism its peculiar speculative tenets may be
The Stoic theory of knowledge turns about the inquiry for a criterion or standard by which what is true in notions may be distinguished from what is false. Since every kind of knowledge, no matter what be its object, must be tested by this standard, it follows that the standard cannot be sought in the subject-matter of notions, but, on the contrary, in their form. The inquiry after a standard becomes therefore identical with another--the inquiry as to what kind of notions supply a knowledge that may be depended upon, or what activity of the power of forming conceptions carries with it a pledge of its own truth. It is impossible to answer these questions without investigating the origin, the various kinds, and the value and importance of notions. Hence the problem proposed to the Stoics is reduced to seeking by an analysis of notions to obtain a universally valid standard by which their truth may be tested.
Whether this inquiry was pursued by the older Stoics in all its comprehensiveness is a point on which we have no information. Boethius, whose views on this subject were attacked by Chrysippus, had assumed the existence of several standards, such as Reason, Perception, Desire, Knowledge. Others, in the vaguest manner, had spoken of Right Reason as being the standard of truth. Hence it may be inferred that before the time of Chrysippus the Stoics had no distinctly developed theory of knowledge. Nevertheless there are expressions of Zeno and Cleanthes still extant which prove that the essential parts of the later theory were already held by these philosophers, although it is no doubt true that it first received that scientific form in which alone it is known to us at the hands of Chrysippus.
The character of this theory of knowledge appears mainly in three particulars:--(1) In the importance attached by the Stoics to the impressions of the senses. This feature they inherited from the Cynics and shared with the Epicureans. (2) In the exaltation of expression into a conception--a trait distinguishing this from either of the two other contemporary Schools. (3) In the practical turn given to the question of a criterion or standard of truth. We proceed to the expansion of this theory in detail.
The origin of all perceptions maybe referred to the action of some object on the soul, the soul at birth resembling a blank page, and only receiving definite features by experience from without. By the elder Stoics, this action of objects on the soul was regarded as grossly material, Zeno defining a perception to be an impression made on the soul, and Cleanthes took this definition so literally as to compare the impression on the soul to the impression made by a seal on wax. Being himself a very exact pupil of Zeno, Cleanthes probably rendered the views of Zeno correctly in this comparison. The difficulties of this view were recognized by Chrysippus, who accordingly defined a perception to be the change produced in the soul by an object, or, more accurately, the change produced thereby in the ruling part of the soul; and whereas his predecessors had only considered sensible things to be objects, he included among objects conditions and activities of the mind. The mode, however, in which the change was produced in the soul did not further engage his attention.
It follows, as a necessary corollary from this view, that the Stoics regarded sensation as the only source of all perceptions: the soul is a blank leaf, sensation is the hand which fills it with writings. But this is not all. Perceptions give rise to memory, repeated acts of memory to experience, and conclusions based on experience suggest conceptions which go beyond the sphere of direct sensation. These conclusions rest either upon the comparison, or upon the combination of perceptions, or else upon analogy; some add, upon transposition and contrast. The formation of conceptions by means of these agencies sometimes takes place methodically and artificially, at other times naturally and spontaneously. In the latter way are formed the primary conceptions, which were regarded by the Stoics as the natural types of truth and virtue, and as the distinctive possession of rational beings. To judge by many expressions, it might seem that by primary conceptions, or innate ideas were meant; but this view would be opposed to the whole character and connection of the system. In reality, these primary conceptions are only those conceptions which, by reason of the nature of thought, can be equally deduced by all men from experience; even the highest ideas, those of good and evil, having no other origin. The artificial formation of conceptions gives rise to knowledge, which is defined by the Stoics to be a fixed and immovable conception, or system of such conceptions. Persistently maintaining, on the one hand, that knowledge is a system of artificial conceptions, impossible without a logical process, they must, on the other hand, have felt it imperative from this platform that knowledge should agree in its results with primary conceptions, agreement with nature being in every department their watchword. For them it was as natural to derive support for their system from a supposed agreement with nature, as it was easy for their opponents to show that this agreement with nature was imaginary, and that many of their assertions were wholly opposed to general opinions.
Perceptions, and the conclusions based upon them, being thus, according to the Stoics, the two sources of all notions, the further question arises, How are these two sources related to each other? It might have been expected that only perceptions would be stated to be originally and absolutely true, since all general conceptions are based on them. Nevertheless, the Stoics are far from saying so. Absolute certainty of conviction they allow only to knowledge, and therefore declare that the truth of the perceptions of the senses depends on their relation to thought. Truth and error do not belong to disconnected notions, but to notions combined in the form of a judgment, and a judgment is produced by an effort of thought. Hence sensations, taken alone, are the source of no knowledge, knowledge first arising when the activity of the understanding is allied to sensation. Or, starting from the relation of thought to its object, since like can only be known by like according to the well-known adage, the rational element in the universe can only be known by the rational element in man. But again, the understanding has no other material to work upon but that supplied by sensation, and general conceptions are only obtained from sensation by conclusions. The mind, therefore, has the capacity of formally working up the material supplied by the senses, but to this material it is limited. Still, it can progress from perceptions to notions not immediately given in sensation, such as the conceptions of what is good and of God. And since, according to the Stoic teaching, material objects only possess reality, the same vague inconsistency may be observed in their teaching as has been noticed in Aristotle--reality attaching to individuals, truth to general notions. This inconsistency, however, is more marked in their case than in that of Aristotle, because the Stoics so far adhere to the Cynic nominalism as to assert that no reality attaches to thought. Such an assertion makes it all the more difficult to understand how greater truth can be attributed to thought, unreal as it is said to be, than to sensations of real and material objects. Do we then ask in what the peculiar character of thought consists, the Stoics, following Aristotle, reply that in thought the idea of universality is added to that which presents itself in sensation as a particular. More importance was attached by them to another point--the greater certainty which belongs to thought than to sensation. All the definitions given above point to the immovable strength of conviction as the distinctive feature of knowledge; and of like import is the language attributed to Zeno, comparing simple sensation with an extended finger, assent, as being the first activity of the power of judgment, with a closed hand, conception with the fist, and knowledge with one fist firmly grasped by the other. According to this view, the whole difference between the four processes is one of degree, and depends on the greater or less strength of conviction, on the mental exertion and tension. It is not an absolute difference in kind, but a relative difference, a gradual shading off of one into the other.
From these considerations it follows that in the last resort only a relative distinction is left whereby the truth of notions may be tested. Even the general argument for the possibility of knowledge starts with the Stoics by practically taking something for granted. Without failing to urge intellectual objections--and often most pertinent ones--against Skepticism, as was indeed natural, particularly since the time of Chrysippus, the Stoics nevertheless specially took up their stand on one point, which was this, that, unless the knowledge of truth were possible, it would be impossible to act on fixed principles and convictions. Thus, as a last bulwark against doubt, practical needs are appealed to.
The same result is obtained from a special inquiry into the nature of the standard of truth. If the question is asked, How are true perceptions distinguished from false ones? the immediate reply given of by the Stoics is, that a true perception is one which represents a real object as it really is. You are no further with this answer, and the question has again to be asked, How may it be known that a perception faithfully represents a reality? The Stoics can only reply by pointing to a relative, but not to an absolute, test--the degree of strength with which certain perceptions force themselves on our notice. By itself a perception does not necessarily carry conviction or assent; for there can be no assent until the faculty of judgment is directed towards the perception, either for the purpose of allowing or of rejecting it, truth and error residing in judgment. Assent therefore, generally speaking, rests with us, as does also the power of decision; and a wise man differs from a fool quite as much by conviction as by action. Some of our perceptions are, however, of such a kind that they at once oblige us to bestow on them assent, compelling us not only to regard them as probable, but also as true and conformable to the actual nature of things. Such perceptions produce in us that strength of conviction which the Stoics call a conception; they are therefore termed conceptional perceptions. Whenever a perception forces itself upon us in this irresistible form, we are no longer dealing with a fiction of the imagination, but with something real; but whenever the strength of conviction is wanting, we cannot be sure of the truth of our perception. Or, expressing the same idea in the language of Stoicism, conceptional or irresistible perceptions, are the standard of truth. The test of irresistibility was, in the first place, understood to apply to sensations from without, such sensations, according to the Stoic view, alone supplying the material for knowledge. An equal degree of certainty was, however, attached to terms deduced from originally true data, either by the universal and natural exercise of thought, or by scientific processes of proof. Now, since among these derivative terms some--the primary conceptions, for instance--serve as the basis for deriving others, it may in a certain sense be asserted that sensation and primary conceptions are both standards of truth. In strict accuracy, neither sensation nor primary conceptions can be called standards. The real standard, whereby the truth of a perception is ascertained, consists in the power, inherent in certain perceptions, of carrying conviction--a power which belongs, in the first place, to sensations, whether of objects without or within, and, in the next place, to primary conceptions formed from them in a natural way. On the other hand, conceptions and terms formed artificially can only have their truth established by being subjected to a scientific process of proof. How, after these statements, the Stoics could attribute a greater strength of conviction to artificial than to primary conceptions; how they could raise doubts as to the trustworthiness of simple sensations, is one of the paradoxes of the Stoic system, which prove the existence, as in so many other systems, of a double current of thought. There is, on the one hand, a seeking for what is innate and original, a going back to nature, an aversion to everything artificial and of human device, inherited by Stoicism from its ancestral Cynicism. On the other hand, there is a desire to supplement the Cynic appeal to nature by a higher culture, and to assign scientific reasons for truths which the Cynics laid down as self-evident.
The latter tendency will alone explain the care and precision which the Stoics devoted to studying the forms and rules which govern intellectual processes. Attention to this branch of study may be noticed in Zeno and his immediate successors at the first separation of Stoicism from Cynicism. Aristo is the only Stoic who is opposed to it, his whole habit of mind being purely that of a Cynic. In Chrysippus it attained its greatest development, and by Chrysippus the formal logic of the Stoics reached scientific completeness. In later times, when Stoicism reverted more nearly to its original Cynic type, and appealed directly to the immediate suggestions of the mind, it lost its interest in logic, as may be observed in Musonius, Epictetus, and others. For the present, however, let it suffice to consider the logic of Chrysippus, as far as that is known to us.
The term formal logic is here used to express those investigations which the Stoics included under the doctrine of utterance. The common object of those inquiries is that which is thought, or, as the Stoics called it, that which is uttered, understanding thereby the substance of thought--thought regarded by itself as a distinct something, differing alike from the external object to which it refers, from the sound by which it is expressed, and from the power of mind which produces it. For this reason, they maintain that only utterance is not material; things are always material; even the process of thought consists in a material change within the soul, and an uttered word, in a certain movement of the atmosphere. A question is here suggested in passing, which should not be lost sight of, viz. How far was it correct for the Stoics to speak of thoughts as existing, seeing they are not material, since, according to their teaching, reality only belongs to material things?
Utterance may be either perfect or imperfect. It is perfect when it contains a proposition; imperfect when the proposition is incomplete. The portion of logic, therefore, which treats of utterance falls into two parts, devoted respectively to the consideration of complete and incomplete expression.
In the section devoted to incomplete expression, much is found which we should include under grammar rather than under logic. Thus all incomplete expressions are divided into two groups--one group includes proper names and adjectives, the other includes verbs. These two groups are used respectively to express what is essential and what is accidental, and are again divided into a number of subdivisions and varieties. To this part of logic investigations into the formation and division of conceptions, and the doctrine of the categories, properly belong; bat it cannot be said with certainty what place they occupy in the logic of the Stoics.
Certain it is that these researches introduced little new matter. All that is known of the Stoic views in reference to the formation, the mutual relation and the analysis of conceptions, differs only from the corresponding parts in the teaching of Aristotle by the change of a few expressions, and a slightly altered order of treatment.
Of greater importance is the Stoic doctrine of the categories. In this branch of logic, the Stoics again follow Aristotle, but not without deviating from him in three points. Aristotle referred his categories to no higher conception, but looked upon them severally as the highest class-conceptions; the Stoics referred them all to one higher conception. Aristotle enumerated ten categories; the Stoics thought that they could do with four, which four only partially coincide with those of Aristotle. Aristotle placed the categories side by side, as co-ordinate, so that no object could come under a second category in the same respect in which it came under the first one; the Stoics placed them one under the other, as subordinate, so that every preceding category is more accurately determined by the next succeeding one.
The highest conception of all was apparently by the older Stoics declared to be the conception of Being. Since, however, speaking strictly, only what is material can be said to have any being, and many of our notions refer to incorporeal and therefore unreal objects, the conception of Something was in later times put in the place of the conception of Being. This indefinite Something comprehends alike what is material and what is not material--in other words, what has being and what has not being; and the Stoics appear to have made this contrast the basis of a real division of things. When it becomes a question, however, of formal elementary conceptions or categories, other points are emphasized which have no connection with the division into things material and things not material. Of this kind are the four highest conceptions,--all subordinate to the conception of Something, viz. subject-matter or substance, property or form, variety, and variety of relation.
The first of these categories denotes the subject-matter of things in themselves, the material of which they are made, irrespective of any and every quality, the something which underlies all definite being, and which alone has a substantial value. Following Aristotle, the Stoics distinguish, in this category of matter, between matter in general, or universal matter, and the particular matter or material out of which individual things are made. The former alone is incapable of being increased or diminished. Far otherwise is the material of which particular things are made. This can be increased and diminished, and, indeed, is ever undergoing change; so much so, that the only feature which continues the same during the whole term of its existence and its quality.
The second category, that of property or form, comprises all those essential attributes, by means of which a definite character is impressed on matter otherwise indeterminate. If the definite character be one which belongs to a group or class, it is called a common quality--or, if it be something peculiar and distinctive, it is called a distinctive quality. Properties therefore combined with matter constitute the special materials out of which individual things are made; and quality in this combination corresponds, as Trendelenburg has well shown, with the form of Aristotle. It may, in fact, like that, be described as the active and efficient part of a thing. Aristotle's form, however, expresses only the non-material side of a thing, whereas quality is regarded by the Stoics as something material--in fact, as an air-current. Hence the mode in which a quality is conceived to reside in matter is that of an intermingling of elements. The same theory of intermingling applies of course to the union of several properties in one and the same matter, and likewise to the combination of several attributes to produce a single conception of quality. In all cases the relation is supposed to be materialistic, and is explained by the doctrine of the mutual interpenetration of material things. This explanation, indeed, could not apply to every kind of attributes. Unable to dispense entirely with things not material, the Stoics were obliged to admit the existence of attributes belonging to immaterial things, these attributes being, of course, themselves not material. What idea they formed to themselves of these incorporeal attributes, when reality was considered to belong only to things corporeal, it is, of course, impossible for us to say.
The two remaining categories include everything which may be excluded from the conception of a thing on the ground of being either non-essential or accidental. In as far as such things belong to an object taken by itself alone, they come under the category of variety; but when they belong to it, because of its relation to something else, they come under the category of variety of relation. Variety includes all accidental qualities, which can be assigned to any object independently of its relation to any other object. Size, color, place, time, action, passion, possession, motion, state, in short, all the Aristotelian categories, with the exception of substance, whenever they apply to an object independently of its relation to other objects, belong to the category of variety. On the other hand, those features and states which are purely relative--such as right and left, sonship and fatherhood, &c.--come under the category of variety of relation, and from this category the simple notion of relation must be distinguished. Simple relation is not treated as a distinct category, since it includes not only accidental relations, but also those essential properties which presuppose a definite relation to something else--such as knowledge and perception.
The relation of these four categories to one another is such, that each preceding category is included in the one next following, and receives from it a more definite character. Substance never occurs in reality without property, but has always some definite quality to give it a character. On the other hand, property is never met with alone, but always in connection with some subject-matter. Variety presupposes some definite substance, and variety of relation supposes the existence of variety. It will hereafter be seen how closely these deductions, and, indeed, the whole doctrine of the categories, depend on the metaphysical peculiarities of the Stoic system.
Passing from incomplete to complete utterance, we come, in the first place, to sentences or propositions, all the various kinds of which, as they may be deduced from the different forms of syntax, are enumerated by the Stoics with the greatest precision. Detailed information is, however, only forthcoming in reference to the theory of judgment, which certainly occupied the chief and most important place in their speculations. A judgment is a perfect utterance, which is either true or false. Judgments are divided into two classes: simple judgments, and composite judgments. By a simple judgment the Stoics understand a judgment which is purely categorical. Under the head of composite judgments are comprised hypothetical, corroborative, copulative, disjunctive, comparative, and causal judgments. In the case of simple judgments, a greater or less definiteness of expression is substituted in place of the ordinary difference in respect of quantity; and with regard to quality, they not only make a distinction between affirmative and negative judgments, but, following the various forms of language, they speak of judgments of general negation, judgments of particular negation, and judgments of double negation. Only affirmative and negative judgments have a contradictory relation to one another; all other judgments stand to each other in the relation of contraries. Of two propositions which are related as contradictories, according to the old rule, one must be true and the other false.
Among composite judgments the most important are the hypothetical and the disjunctive. As judgments. regards the latter, next to no information has reached us. A hypothetical judgment is a judgment consisting of two clauses, connected by the conjunction 'if,' and related to one another as cause and effect; the former being called the leading, and the latter the concluding or inferential clause. In the correctness of the inference the truth of a hypothetical judgment consists. As to the conditions upon which the accuracy of an inference rests, different opinions were entertained within the Stoic School itself. In as far as the leading clause states something, from the existence of which an inference may be drawn for the statement in the concluding clause, it is also called an indication or suggestive sign.
The modality of judgments, which engaged the attention of Aristotle and his immediate pupils so much, was likewise treated by the Stoics at considerable length; but of this branch of inquiry so much only is known to us as concerns possible and necessary judgments, and it is the outcome chiefly of the contest between Chrysippus and the Megarian Diodorus. It is in itself of no great value. By the Stoics, nevertheless, great value was attached to it, in the hope of escaping thereby the difficulties which necessarily result from their views on freedom and necessity.
In their theory of illation, to which the Stoics attached special value, and on which they greatly prided themselves, chief attention was paid to hypothetical and disjunctive inferences. In regard to these forms of inference, the rules they laid down are well known: and from these forms they invariably take their examples, even when treating of inference in general. According to Alexander, the hypothetical and disjunctive forms are held to be the only regular forms of inference; the categorical form is considered correct in point of fact, but defective in syllogistic form. In hypothetical inferences a distinction was also made between such as are connected and such as are disconnected. In connected inferences the Stoics look principally at the greater or less accuracy of expression, and partly at the difference between correctness of form and truth of matter. They also remark that true conclusions do not always extend the field of knowledge; and that those which do frequently depend on reasons conclusive for the individual, but not on proofs universally acknowledged. The main point, however, to be considered in dividing inferences is their logical form. There are, according to Chrysippus, who herein adopted the division of Theophrastus, five original forms of hypothetical inference, the accuracy of which is beyond dispute, and to which all other forms of inference may be referred and by which they may be tested. Yet even among these five, importance is attached to some in which the same sentence is repeated tautologically in the form of a conclusion, which proves how mechanical and barren must have been the formalism with which the Stoic logic abounds.
The combination of these five simple forms of inference gives rise to the composite forms of inference, all of which may be again resolved into their simple forms. Among composite forms of inference, those composed of similar parts are distinguished from those composed of dissimilar parts; in the treatment of the former, however, such a useless formality is displayed, that it is hard to say what meaning the Stoics attached to them. If two or more inferences, the conclusion of one of which is the first premise of the other, are so combined that the judgment which constitutes the conclusion and premise at once is omitted in each case, the result is a Sorites or Chain-inference. The rules prescribed by the Peripatetics for the Chain-inference are developed by the Stoics with a minuteness far transcending all the requirements of science. With these composite forms of inference Antipater contrasted other forms having only a single premise, but it was an addition to the field of logic of very doubtful worth. On a few other points connected with the Stoic theory of illation, we have very imperfect information. The loss, however, is not to be regretted, seeing that in what we already possess there is conclusive evidence that the objections brought against the Stoic logic were really well deserved, because of the microscopic care expended by them on the most worthless logical forms.
Next to describing inferences which are valid, another subject engaged the close attention of the Stoics, and afforded opportunity for displaying their dialectical subtlety. This is the enumeration and refutation of false inferences, and in particular the exposing of the many fallacies which had become current since the age of the Sophists and Megarians. In this department, as might be expected, Chrysippus led the way. Not that Chrysippus was always able to overcome the difficulties that arose; witness his remarkable attitude towards the Chain-inference, from which he thought to escape by withholding judgment. The fallacies, however, to which the Stoics devoted their attention, and the way in which they met them, need not occupy our attention further.
In all these researches the Stoics were striving to find firm ground for a scientific process of proof. Great as was the value which they attached to such a process, they nevertheless admitted, as Aristotle had done before, that everything could not be proved. Here was their weak point. Instead, however, of strengthening this weak point by means of induction, and endeavoring to obtain a more complete theory of induction, they were content with conjectural data, sometimes self-evident, at other times depending for their truth on the truth of their inferences. Thus, their theory of method, like their theory of knowledge, ended by an ultimate appeal to what is directly certain.
No very high estimate can therefore be formed of the formal
logic of the Stoics. Incomplete as our knowledge of that logic may
be, still what is known is enough to determine the judgment
absolutely. We see indeed that the greatest care was expended by
the Stoics since the time of Chrysippus in tracing the forms of
intellectual procedure into their minutest ramifications, and
referring them to fixed types. At the same time, we see that the
real business of logic was lost sight of in the process, the
business of portraying the operations of thought, and giving its
laws, whilst the most useless trifling with forms was recklessly
indulged in. The Stoics can have made no discoveries of importance
even as to logical forms, or they would not have been passed over
by writers ever on the alert to note the slightest deviation from
the Aristotelian logic. Hence the whole contribution of the Stoics
to the field of logic consists in their having clothed the logic
of the Peripatetics with a new terminology, and having developed
certain parts of it with painful minuteness, whilst they wholly
neglected other parts, as was the fate of the part treating of
inference. Assuredly it was no improvement for Chrysippus to
regard the hypothetical rather than the categorical as the
original form of inference. Making every allowance for the
extension of the field of logic, in scientific precision it lost
more than it gained by the labors of Chrysippus. The history of
philosophy cannot pass over in silence this branch of the Stoic
system, so carefully cultivated by the Stoics themselves, and so
characteristic of their intellectual attitude. Yet, when all has
been said, the Stoic logic is only an outpost of their system, and
the care which was lavished on it since the time of Chrysippus
indicate the decline of intellectual originality.
The present chapter will be devoted to considering the first of these groups--the fundamental positions held by the Stoics in regard to nature; among which three specially deserve notice--their Materialism; their Dynamical view of the world; and their Pantheism.
Nothing appears more striking to a reader fresh from the study of Plato or Aristotle than the startling contrast to those writers presented by the Materialism of the Stoics. Whilst so far following Plato as to define a real thing to be anything possessing the capacity of acting or being acted upon, the Stoics nevertheless restricted the possession of this power to material objects. Hence followed their conclusion that nothing real exists except what is material; or, if they could not deny existence in some sense or other to what is incorporeal, they were fain to assert that essential and real Being only belongs to what is material, whereas of what is incorporeal only a certain modified kind of Being can be predicated. Following out this view, it was natural that they should regard many things as corporeal which are not generally considered such; for instance, the soul and virtue. Nevertheless, it would not be correct to say that the Stoics gave to the conception of matter or corporeity a more extended meaning than it usually bears. For they define a body to be that which has three dimensions, and they also lay themselves out to prove how things generally considered to be incorporeal may be material in the strictest sense of the term. Thus, besides upholding the corporeal character of all substances, including the human soul and God, they likewise assert that properties or forms are material: all attributes by means of which one object is distinguished from another are produced by the existence of certain air-currents, which, emanating from the center of an object, diffuse themselves to its extremities, and having reached the surface, return again to the center to constitute the inward unity. Nor was the theory of air-currents confined to bodily attributes. It was applied quite as much to mental attributes. Virtues and vices are said to be material, and are deduced from the tension imparted to the soul by atmospheric substances therein subsisting. For the same reason the Good is called a body, for according to the Stoics the Good is only a virtue, and virtue is a definite condition of that material which constitutes the soul. In the same sense also truth is said to he material, personal and not independent, truth being of course meant, that is to say, knowledge, or a property of the soul that knows. And since according to the Stoics knowledge consists in the presence of certain material elements within the soul, truth in the sense of knowledge may be rightly called something material. Even emotions, impulses, notions and judgments, in so far as they are due to material causes--the air-currents pouring into the soul--were regarded as material objects, and for the same reason not only artistic skill but individual actions were said to be corporeal. Yet certain actions, such as walking and dancing, can hardly have been called bodies by the Stoics, any more than being wise was called a body; but the objects which produced these actions, as indeed everything which makes itself felt, were considered to be corporeal. To us it appears most natural to refer these actions to the soul as their originating cause; but the Stoics, holding the theory of subject-matter and property, preferred to refer each such action to some special material as its cause, considering that an action is due to the presence of this material. The idealism of Plato was thus reproduced in a new form by the materialism of the Stoics. Plato had said, a man is just and musical when he participates in the idea of justice and music; the Stoics said, a man is virtuous when the material producing virtue is in him; musical, when he has the material producing music.
Moreover, these materials produce the phenomena of life. Hence, not content with calling them bodies, the Stoics actually went so far as to call them living beings. It seems, however, strange to hear such things as day and night, and parts of the day and parts of the night, months and years, even days of the month and seasons of the year, called bodies; but by these singularly unhappy expressions Chrysippus appears to have meant little more than that the realities corresponding to these names depend on certain material conditions: by summer is meant a certain state of the air when highly heated by the sun; by month the moon for a certain definite period during which it gives light to the earth. From all these examples one thing is clear, how impossible the Stoics found it to assign reality to what is not material.
In carrying out this theory, they could not, as might be expected, wholly succeed. Hence a Stoic could not deny that there are certain things which it is absurd to call material. Among such include empty space, place, time, and expression. Admitting these to be incorporeal, they still would not allow that they do not exist at all. This view belongs only to isolated members of the Stoic School, for which they must be held personally responsible. How they could harmonize belief in incorporeal things with their tenet that existence alone belongs to what is material is not on record.
The question next before us is: What led the Stoics to this materialism? It might be supposed that their peculiar theory of knowledge based on sensation was the cause; but this theory did not preclude the possibility of advancing from the sensible to the super-sensible. It might quite as well be said that their theory of knowledge was a consequence of their materialism, and that they referred all knowledge to sensation, because they could allow no real being to anything which is not material. The probability therefore remains that their theory of knowledge and their materialistic view of nature both indicate one and the same habit of mind, and that both are due to the action of the same causes.
Nor will it do to seek for these causes in the influence exercised by the Peripatetic or pre-Socratic philosophy on the Stoic School. At first sight, indeed, it might appear that the Stoics had borrowed from Heraclitus their materialism, together with their other views on nature; or else their materialism might seem to be an expansion of the metaphysical notions of Plato and Aristotle. For if Aristotle denied Plato's distinction of form and matter to such an extent that he would hardly allow form to exist at all except in union with matter, might it not appear to others more logical to do away with the distinction between them in thought, thus reducing both to a property of matter? Were there not difficulties in the doctrine of a God external to the world, of a passionless Reason? Were there not even difficulties in the antithesis of form and matter, which Aristotle’s system was powerless to overcome? And had not Aristoxenus and Dicaearchus before the time of Zeno, and Strato immediately after his time, been led from the ground occupied by the Peripatetics to materialistic views? And yet we must pause before accepting this explanation. The founder of Stoicism appears, from what is recorded of his intellectual growth, to have been repelled by the Peripatetic School more than by any other; nor is there the least indication in the records of the Stoic teaching that that teaching resulted from a criticism of the Aristotelian and Platonic views of a double origin of things. Far from it, the proposition that everything capable of acting or being acted upon must be material, appears with the Stoics as an independent axiom needing no further proof.
The supposed connection between the Stoics and Heraclitus, so far from explaining their materialistic views, already presumes their existence. Yet long before Zeno's time the philosophy of Heraclitus as a living tradition had become extinct. No historical connection therefore, or relation of original dependence, can possibly exist between the two, but at most a subsequent perception of relationship can have directed Zeno to Heraclitus. Zeno’s own view of the world was not a consequence, but the cause, of his sympathy with Heraclitus. In short, neither the Peripatetics nor Heraclitus can have given the first impulse to Zeno’s materialism, although they may have helped in many ways to strengthen his views on that subject, when already formed.
The real causes for these views must therefore be sought elsewhere, and will be found in the central idea of the whole system of the Stoics--the practical character of their philosophy. Devoting themselves from the outset with all their energies to practical inquiries, the Stoics in their theory of nature occupied the ground of common views, which know of no real object excepting what is grossly sensible and corporeal. Their aim in speculation was to discover a firm basis for human actions. In action, however, men are brought into direct and experimental contact with objects. The objects thus presented to the senses we are brought face to face with in naked reality, nor is an opportunity afforded for doubting their real being. Their reality is proved practically, inasmuch as it affects us and offers itself for the exercise of our powers. In every such exercise of power, both subject and object are always material. Even when an impression is conveyed to the soul of man, the direct instrument is something material--the voice or the gesture. In the region of experience there are no such things as non-material impressions. This was the ground occupied by the Stoics: a real thing is what either acts on us, or is acted upon by us. Such a thing is naturally material; and the Stoics with their practical ideas not being able to soar above that which is most obvious, declared that reality belongs only to the world of bodies.
Herefrom it would appear to follow that only individual perceptions are true, and that all general conceptions without exception must be false. If each notion is incorporeal, and consequently unreal, will not absence of reality in a much higher degree belong to the notion of what is general? Individual notions refer directly to perceptions, i.e. to things incorporeal; nevertheless they indirectly refer to the things perceived, i.e. to what is material. But general notions do not even indirectly refer to anything corporeal; they are pure fabrications of the mind, which have nothing real as their object. This the Stoics explicitly maintained. It was therefore a gross inconsistency to attribute notwithstanding to these general conceptions, to which no real objects correspond, a higher truth and certainty than belongs to the perceptions of individual objects, but an inconsistency which the Stoic system made not the slightest attempt to overcome.
The materialism of the Stoics likewise led to some remarkable assertions in the province of natural science. If the attributes of things, the soul and even the powers of the soul, are all corporeal, the relation of attributes to their objects, of the soul to the body, of one body to another body, is that of mutual intermingling. Moreover, inasmuch as the essential attributes of any definite material belong to every part of that material, and the soul resides in every part of the body, without the soul's being identical with the body, and without the attributes being identical with the material to which they belong, or with one another; it follows that one body may intermingle with another not only by occupying the vacant spaces in that body, but by interpenetrating all its parts, without, however, being fused into a homogeneous mass with it. This view involves not only a denial of the impenetrability of matter, but it further supposes that a smaller body when mingled with a greater body will extend over the whole of the latter. It is known as the Stoic theory of universal intermingling, and is alike different from the ordinary view of mechanical mixture and from that of chemical mixture. It differs from the former in that every part of the one body is interpenetrated by every part of the other; from the latter, because the bodies after mixture still retain their own properties. This peculiar theory, which is one of the much debated but distinctive features of the Stoic system, cannot have been deduced from physical causes. On the contrary, the arguments by which Chrysippus supported it prove that it was ultimately the result of metaphysical considerations. We have, moreover, no reason to doubt it as a fact, inasmuch as the materialistic undercurrent of the Stoic system affords the best explanation of it.
Although the stamp of materialism was sharply cut, and its application fearlessly made by the Stoics, they were yet far from holding the mechanical theory of nature, which appears to us to be a necessary consequence of strict materialism. The universe was explained on a dynamical theory; the notion of force was placed above the notion of matter. To matter, they held, alone belongs real existence; but the characteristic of real existence they sought in causation, in the capacity to act and to be acted upon. This capacity belongs to matter only by virtue of certain inherent forces, which impart to it definite attributes. Let pure matter devoid of every attribute be considered, the matter which underlies all definite materials, and out of which all things are made; it will be found to be purely passive, a something subject to any change, able to assume any shape and quality, but taken by itself devoid of quality and unable to produce any change whatsoever. This inert and powerless matter is first reduced into shape by means of attributes, all of which suppose tension in the air-currents which produce them, and consequently suppose a force producing tension. Even the shape of bodies, and the place they occupy in space, is, according to the Stoics, something derivative, the consequence of tension; tension keeping the different particles apart in one or the other particular way. Just as some modern physiologists construct nature by putting together a sum of forces of attraction and repulsion, so the Stoics refer nature to two forces, or, speaking more accurately, to a double kind of motion--expansion and condensation. Expansion works outwardly, condensation inwardly; condensation produces being, or what is synonymous with it, matter; expansion gives rise to the attributes of things. Whilst, therefore, they assert that everything really existing must be material, they still distinguish in what is material two component parts--the part which is acted upon, and the part which acts, or in other words matter and force.
The Stoics, however, would not agree with Plato and Aristotle so far as to allow to formal and final causes a place side by side with this acting force or efficient cause. If in general anything may be called a cause which serves to bring about a definite result--and various kinds of causes may be distinguished, according as they bring about this result directly or indirectly, by themselves alone or by the help of others--in the highest sense there can be, according to the Stoics, only one acting or efficient cause. The form is due to the workman, and is therefore only a part of the efficient cause. The type-form is only an instrument, which the workman employs in his work. The final cause or end-in-chief, in as far as it represents the workman's intention, is only an occasional cause; in as far as it belongs to the work he is about, it is not a cause at all, but a result. There can be but one pure and unconditional cause, just as there can be but one matter; and to this efficient cause everything that exists and everything that takes place must be referred.
In attempting to form a more accurate notion of this efficient cause, the first point which deserves attention is, that the Stoics believed every kind of action ultimately to proceed from one source. For how could the world be such a self-circumscribed unity, such an harmonious whole, unless it were governed by one and the same force? Again, as everything which acts is material, the highest efficient cause must likewise be considered material; and since all qualities and forces are produced by vapor-like or fiery elements, can it be otherwise with the highest acting force? Everywhere warmth is the cause of nourishment and growth, life and motion; all things have in themselves their own natural heat, and are preserved and kept in life by the heat of the sun. What applies to parts of the world must apply to the world as a whole; hence heat or fire is the power to which the life and the existence of the world must be referred.
This power must be further defined to be the soul of the world, the highest reason, a kind, beneficent, and philanthropic being; in short, deity. The universal belief and the universal worship of God prove this, as the Stoics think, beyond a doubt; still more accurate investigation confirms it. Matter can never move or fashion itself: nothing but a power inherent as the soul is in man can produce these results. The world would not be the most perfect and complete thing it is unless Reason were inherent therein; nor could it contain any beings possessed of consciousness, unless it were conscious itself. It could not produce creatures endowed with a soul and reason, unless it were itself endowed with a soul and reason. Actions so far surpassing man’s power could not exist, unless there were a cause for them in perfection equally surpassing man. The subordination of means to ends which governs the world in every part down to the minutest details would be inexplicable, unless the world owed its origin to a reasonable creator. The graduated rank of beings would be incomplete, unless there were a highest Being of all whose moral and intellectual perfection cannot be surpassed. Although this perfection belongs, in the first place, to the world as a whole, nevertheless, as in everything consisting of many parts, so in the world the ruling part must be distinguished from other parts. It is the part from which all acting forces emanate and diffuse themselves over the world, whether the seat of this efficient force be placed in the heaven, as was done by Zeno, Chrysippus, and the majority of the Stoics; or in the sun, as by Cleanthes; or in the center of the world, as by Archedemus. This primary source of all life and motion, the highest Cause and the highest Reason, is God. God, therefore, and formless matter, are the two ultimate grounds of things.
The language used by the Stoics in reference to the Deity at one time gives greater prominence to the material, at another to the spiritual side of their conception of God. As a rule, both are united in expressions which only cease to be startling when taken in connection with Stoic views in general. God is spoken of as being Fire, Ether, Air, most commonly as being pneuma or Atmospheric-Current, pervading everything without exception, what is most base and ugly, as well as what is most beautiful. He is further described as the Soul, the Mind, or the Reason of the world; as a united Whole, containing in Himself the germs of all things; as the Connecting element in all things; as Universal Law, Nature, Destiny, Providence; as a perfect, happy, ever kind and all-knowing Being; nor was it hard to show that no conception could be formed of God without these attributes. Both kinds of expression are combined in the assertion that God is the fiery Reason of the World, the Mind in Matter, the reasonable Air-Current, penetrating all things, and assuming various names according to the material in which He resides, the artistically molding Fire, containing in Himself the germs of everything, and producing according to an unalterable law the world and all that is therein.
As used in the Stoic system, these expressions generally mean one and the same thing. It is an unimportant difference whether the original cause is described as an Air-Current or as Ether, or as Heat or as Fire. It is an Air-Current, for Air-Currents are, as we have already seen, the causes of the properties of things, giving them shape and connection. It is also Fire, for by fire is only meant the warm air, or the fiery fluid, which is sometimes called Ether, at other times Fire, at other times Heat, and which is expressly distinguished from ordinary fire. Moreover the terms, Soul of the world, Reason of the world, Nature, Universal Law, Providence, Destiny--all mean the same thing, the one primary force penetrating the whole world. Even the more abstract expressions, Law, Providence, Destiny, have with the Stoics an essentially gross meaning, implying not only the form according to which the world is arranged and governed, but also the essential substance of the world, as a power above everything particular and individual. If Nature must be distinguished from Destiny, and both of these notions again from Zeus, the distinction can only consist herein, that the three conceptions describe one original Being at different stages of His manifestation and growth. Viewed as the whole of the world it is called Zeus; viewed as the inner power in the world, Providence or Destiny; and to prove this identity at the close of every period, so taught Chrysippus, Zeus goes back into Providence.
Upon closer examination, even the difference between the materialistic and idealistic description of God vanishes. God, according to Stoic principles, can only be invested with reality when He has a material form. Hence, when He is called the Soul, the Mind, or the Reason of the world, this language does not exclude, but rather presupposes, that these conceptions have bodies; and such bodies the Stoics thought to discern in that heated fluid which they at one time call the all-penetrating Breath, at another Ether, or primary Fire. Each of these two determinations appeared to them indispensable, and both became identical by assuming, as the Stoics did, that the infinite character of the divine Reason depends on the purity and lightness of the fiery material which composes it. Seneca is therefore only following out the principles of his School when he pronounces it indifferent whether God is regarded as Destiny or as an all-pervading Breath. Those who charge the Stoics with inconsistency for calling God at one time Reason, at another Soul of the universe, at another Destiny, at another Fire, Ether, or even the Universe, forget that they are attaching to these terms a meaning entirely different from that in which they were used by the m.
The more the two sides of the conception of God--the material and the ideal--are compared, the clearer it becomes that there is no difference between God and primary Matter. Both are one and the same substance, which, when regarded as the universal substratum, is known as undetermined matter; but when conceived of as acting force, is called all-pervading Ether, all-warming Eire, all-penetrating Air, Nature, Soul of the world, Reason of the world, Providence, Destiny, God. Matter and power, material and form, are not, as with Aristotle, things radically different, though united from all eternity. Far from it, the forming force resides in matter as such; it is in itself something material; it is identical with Ether, or Fire-element, or Breath. Hence the difference between efficient and material cause, between God and matter, resolves itself into the difference between Breath and other elements. This difference, too, is no original or ultimate difference. According to the Stoic teaching, every particular element has in process of time developed out of primary fire or God, and to God it will return at the end of every period of the world. It is therefore only a derivative and passing difference with which we are here concerned. But taking the conception of Deity in its full meaning, it may he described as primary matter, as well as primary power. The sum total of all that is real is the divine Breath, moving forth from itself and returning to itself again. Deity itself is primary fire, containing in itself in germ both God and matter; the world in its original gaseous condition; the Universal Substance changing into particular elements, and from them returning to itself again, which regarded in its real form as God includes at one time everything, at another only a part of real existence.
From what has been said it follows that the Stoics admitted no essential difference between God and the world. Their system was therefore strictly pantheistic. The world is the sum of all real existence, and all real existence is originally contained in deity, which is at once the matter of everything and the creative force which molds this matter into particular individual substances. We can, therefore, think of nothing which is not either immediately deity or a manifestation of deity. In point of essence, therefore, God and the world are the same; indeed, the two conceptions are declared by the Stoics to be absolutely identical. If they have nevertheless to be distinguished, the distinction is only derivative and partial. The same universal Being is called God when it is regarded as a whole, World when it is regarded as progressive in one of the many forms assumed in the course of its development. The difference, therefore, is tantamount to assigning a difference of meaning to the term world, according as it is used to express the whole of what exists, or only the derivative part.
Still this distinction does not depend only upon our way of looking at things, but it is founded in the nature of things. Primary force, as such, primary fire, primary reason, constitute what is primarily God. Things into which this primary substance has changed itself are only divine in a derivative sense. Hence deity, which is ultimately identical with the whole of the world, may again be described as a part of the world, as the leading part, as the Soul of the world, as the all-pervading fiery Breath. The distinction, however, is only a relative one. What is not immediately divine is nevertheless divine derivatively, as being a manifestation of primary fire; and if the soul of the world is not identical with the body, at least it pervades every part of that body. It is a distinction, too, which applies only to a part of the conditions of the world. At the end of every period, the sum of all derivative things reverts to the unity of the divine Being, and the distinction between what is originally and what is derivatively divine, in other words, the distinction between God and the world, ceases.
Boethius alone dissented from the pantheism of the Stoics by
making a real distinction between God and the world. Agreeing with
the other Stoics in considering deity to be an ethereal Substance,
he would not allow that it resided, as the Soul, within the whole
world, and, consequently, he refused to call the world a living
being. Instead of doing so, he placed the seat of deity in the
highest of the heavenly spheres, the sphere of the fixed stars,
and made it operate upon the world from this abode. The opposite
view detracted, in his eyes, from the unchangeable and exalted
character of the divine Being. How anxious he was to vindicate
that character will also be seen in the way in which he differed
from his fellow-Stoics in reference to the destruction of the
As the distinction between matter and force has its origin in time, so it will also have an end in time. Matter which primary Being has separated from itself to form its body is being gradually resolved into primary Being again; so that, at the end of the present course of things, a general conflagration of the world will restore all things to their original form, in which everything derivative will have ceased to exist, and pure Deity, or primary fire, will alone remain in the original purity. This resolution of the world into fire or ether, the Stoics thought, would take place, through the same intermediate stages as its generation from the primary fire. Cleanthes, following his peculiar view as to the seat of the governing force in the world, supposed that its destruction would come from the sun.
No sooner, however, will everything have returned to its original unity, and the course of the world have come to an end, than the formation of a new world will begin, so exactly corresponding with the previous world that every particular thing, every particular person, and every occurrence will recur in it, precisely as they occurred in the world preceding. Hence the history of the world and of Deity--as, indeed, with the eternity of matter and acting force, must necessarily be the case--revolves in an endless cycle through exactly the same stages. Still there were not wanting, even in comparatively early times, members of the Stoic School who entertained doubts on this teaching; and among the most distinguished of the later Stoics some gave it up altogether. Besides the periodical destruction by fire, periodical destructions by floods were also assumed; there being, however, a difference of opinion as to whether the whole universe, or only the earth and its inhabitants, were subject to these floods.
One point established by the generation and destruction of the world--the uncertainty of all particular things, and the unconditional dependence of everything on a universal law and the course of the universe--is a leading one in the Stoic inquiries into nature. All things in nature come about by virtue of a natural and unchangeable connection of cause and effect, as the nature of the universe and the general law require. This absolute necessity, regulating all Being and Becoming, is expressed in the conception of Fate or Destiny. Viewed from the point of view of natural science, Destiny is only another name for primary Being, for the all-pervading, all-producing Breath, for the artistic fire which is the soul of the world. But again the activity of this Being being always rational and according to law, Destiny may also be described as the Reason of the World, as universal Law, as the rational form of the world's course. When regarded as the groundwork of natural formations, this primary Being or general Law is called Nature; but when it appears as the cause of the orderly arrangement and development of the world, it is known as Providence; or in popular language it is called Zeus, or the will of Zeus; and in this sense it is said that nothing happens without the will of Zeus.
In action as the creative force in nature, this universal Reason also bears the name of Generative Reason. It bears this name more immediately in relation to the universe, not only as being the generating power by which all things are produced from primary fire as from seed according to an inner law, but because in the present condition of things all form and shape, all life and reason, grow out of it, in short, because primary fire and reason contain in themselves the germ of all things. In the same sense, generative powers in the plural are spoken of as belonging to Deity and Nature; and in treating of man, denote the generative powers as a part of the soul, and must be thought of as bearing the same relation to the individual soul that the generative powers of Nature do to the soul of nature. By the term Generative Reason, therefore, must be understood the creative and forming forces in nature, which have collectively produced the universe, and particular exercises of which produce individual things. These forces, agreeably with the ordinary Stoic speculations, are spoken of as the original material, or material germ of things. On the other hand, they also constitute the form of things--the law which determines their shape and qualities, the logos--only we must beware of trying to think of form apart from matter. Just as the igneous or ethereal material of primary Being is in itself the same as the forming and creating element in things, the Reason of the world or the Soul of nature; so the atmospheric substance in the seeds of individual things, in which the Stoics thought the generative power alone resides, is in itself the germ out of which the corresponding thing is produced by virtue of an inherent law. The inward form is the only permanent element in things amid the perpetual change of materials. It constitutes the identity of the universe; and whereas matter is constantly changing from one form to another, the universal law of the process alone continues unchangeably the same.
All parts of the Stoic system lead so unmistakably to the conclusion, not only that the world as a whole is governed by Providence, but that every part of it is subject to the same unchangeable laws, that no definite arguments would appear necessary to establish this point. Nevertheless, the Stoics lost no opportunity of meeting objections to their views in the fullest manner. In the true spirit of a Stoic, Chrysippus appealed to the general conviction of mankind, as expressed in the names used to denote fate and destiny, and to the language of poetry. Nor was it difficult to show that a divine government of the world followed of necessity from the Stoic conception of the perfection of God. Besides, in proving the existence of a God by the argument drawn from the adaptation of means to ends, a providential government of the world was at the same time proved. Chrysippus also thought to defend his theory of necessity in the same strictly logical manner. For must not every judgment be either true or false? And does not this apply to judgments which refer to future events, as well as to others? Judgments, however, referring to the future can only be true when what they affirm must come to pass of necessity; they can only be false when what they affirm is impossible; and, accordingly, everything that takes place must follow of necessity from the causes which produce it.
The same process of reasoning, transferred from the outer world to the inner world of mind, underlies the argument from the foreknowledge of God. If in the one case it is alleged that whatever is true, before it comes to pass, is necessary, so in the other it is said to be necessary, if it can be truly known before it comes to pass.
To this argument may be added a further one to which the Stoics attached great importance--the argument from the existence of divination. If it is impossible to know beforehand with certainty what is accidental, it is also impossible to predict it.
But the real kernel of the Stoic fatalism is expressed in the maxim, that nothing can take place without a sufficient cause, nor, under given circumstances, can happen differently from what has happened. This were as impossible, according to the Stoics, as for something to come out of nothing; were it possible, the unity of the world would be at an end, consisting, as it does, in the chain-like dependence of cause upon cause, and in the absolute necessity of everything and of every change. The Stoic doctrine of necessity was the direct consequence of the Stoic pantheism. The divine power which rules the world could not be the absolute uniting cause of all things, if there existed anything in any sense independent of it, and unless one unchanging causal connection governed every thing.
Divine Providence, therefore, does not extend to individual things taken by themselves, but only to things in their relation to the whole. Everything being in every respect determined by this relation, and being consequently subject to the general order of the world, it follows that we may say that God cares not only for the universe, but for all individual members of the universe. The converse of this may also be asserted with equal justice, viz. that God’s care is directed to the whole, and not to individuals, and that it extends to things great, but not to things small. Directly it always extends to the whole, indirectly to individuals throughout the whole, in so far as they are therein contained, and their condition is determined by its condition. The Stoic notion of Providence is therefore entirely based on a view of the universe as a whole; individual things and persons can only come into consideration as dependent parts of this whole.
The Stoics were thus involved in a difficulty which besets every theory of necessity--the difficulty of doing justice to the claims of morality, and of vindicating the existence of moral responsibility. This difficulty became for them all the more pressing the higher those claims were advanced, and the more severely they judged the great majority of their fellow-men. To overcome it, Chrysippus appears to have made most energetic efforts. The existence of chance he could not allow, it being his aim to establish that what seems to be accidental has always some hidden cause. Nor would he allow that everything is necessary, since that can only be called necessary which depends on no external conditions, and is therefore always true; in other words, what is eternal and unchangeable, not that which comes to pass in time, however inevitable it may be. And, by a similar process of reasoning, he still tried to rescue the idea of the Possible, little as that idea accords with the Stoic system.
In reference to human actions, the Stoics did not allow the freedom of the will, in the proper sense of the term; but were of opinion that absence of freedom does not prejudice the character of the will as a deciding power. For is not one and the same all-determining power everywhere active, working in each particular being according to the law of its nature, in one way in organic beings, in another in inorganic beings, differently again in animals and plants, in rational and irrational creatures? And albeit every action may be brought about by the co-operation of causes depending on the nature of things and the character of the agent, is it not still free, the resultant of our own impulses and decision? Involuntary it would only be were it produced by external causes alone, without any co-operation, on the part of our wills, with external causes. Moral responsibility, according to the Stoics, depends only on freedom of the will. What emanates from my will is my action, no matter whether it be possible for me to act differently or not. Praise and blame, rewards and punishment, express the judgment of society relative to the character of certain persons or actions. Whether they could have been different, or not, is irrelevant. Otherwise virtue and vice must be set down as things not in our power, for which, consequently, we are not responsible, seeing that when a man is once virtuous or vicious, he cannot be otherwise; and the highest perfection, that of the Gods, is absolutely unchangeable. Chrysippus even endeavored to show, not only that his whole theory of destiny was in harmony with the claims of morality and moral responsibility, but that it presupposed their existence. The arrangement of the universe, he argued, involves law, and law involves the distinction between what is conventionally right and what is conventionally wrong, between what deserves praise and what deserves blame. Moreover, it is impossible to think of destiny without thinking of the world, or to think of the world without thinking of the Gods, who are supremely good. Hence the idea of destiny involves also that of goodness, which again includes the contrast between virtue and vice, between what is praiseworthy and what is blameworthy. If his opponents objected that, if everything is determined by destiny, individual action is superfluous, since what has been once foreordained must happen, come what may, Chrysippus replied:--There is a distinction to be made between simple and complex predestination; the consequences of human actions being simply results of those actions, are quite as much foreordained as the actions themselves.
From these observations, it appears that the Stoics never intended to allow man to hold a different position, in regard to destiny, from that held by other beings. All the actions of man--in fact, his destiny--are decided by his relation to things: one individual only differs from another in that one acts on his own impulse, and agreeably with his own feelings, whereas another, under compulsion and against his will, conforms to the eternal law of the world.
Everything in the world being produced by one and the same divine power, the world, as regards its structure, is an organic whole, in respect of its constitution perfect. The unity of the world, a doctrine distinguishing the Stoics from the Epicureans, followed as a corollary from the unity of primary substance and of primary force. It was further proved by the intimate connection, or, as the Stoics called it, the sympathy of all its parts, and, in particular, by the coincidence of the phenomena of earth and heaven. The perfection of the world follows generally from a consideration of fundamental principles. But the Stoics made use of many arguments in support of its perfection, appealing, after the example of preceding philosophers, sometimes to its beauty, and, at other times, to the adaptation of means to ends. An appeal to beauty is the assertion of Chrysippus, that nature made many creatures for the sake of beauty, the peacock, for instance, for the sake of its tail;--and the dictum of Marcus Aurelius, that what is purely subsidiary and subservient to no purpose, even what is ugly or frightful in nature, has peculiar attractions of its own; and the same kind of consideration may have led to the Stoic assertion, that no two things in nature are altogether alike. Their chief argument, however, for the beauty of the world, was based on the shape, the size, and the color of the heavenly structure.
The other line of argument is followed not so much in individual expressions. But owing no doubt to the pre-eminently practical character of its treatment of things, the Stoic view of nature, like the Socratic, has ever an eye on the adaptation of means to ends in the world. As, on the one hand, this adaptation of means to ends is the most convincing proof of the existence of deity, so, on the other hand, by it, more than by anything else, the divine government of the world makes itself manifest. Like Socrates, however, they took a very superficial view of the adaptation of means to ends, arguing that everything in the world was created for the benefit of some other thing--plants for the support of animals, animals for the support and the service of man, the world for the benefit of Gods and men--not unfrequently degenerating into the ridiculous and pedantic, in their endeavors to trace the special end for which each thing exists. But, in asking the farther question, For what purpose do Gods and men exist? they could not help being at length carried beyond the idea of a relative end to the idea of an end-in-itself. The end for which Gods and men exist is that of mutual society. Or, expressing the same idea in language more philosophical, the end of man is the contemplation and imitation of the world; man has only importance as being a part of a whole; only this whole is perfect and an end-in-itself.
The greater the importance attached by the Stoics to the perfection of the world, the less were they able to avoid the difficult problem of reconciling the various forms of evil in the world. By the attention which, following the example of Plato, they gave to this question, they may be said to be the real creators of the moral theory of the world. The character of this moral theory was already determined by their system. Subordinating individuals, as that system did, to the law of the whole, it met the charges preferred against the evil found in the world by the general maxim, that imperfection in details is necessary for the perfection of the whole. This maxim, however, might be explained in several ways, according to the meaning assigned to the term necessary. If necessity is taken to be physical, the existence of evil is excused as being a natural necessity, from which not even deity could grant exemption. If, on the other hand, the necessity is not a physical one, but one arising from the relation of means to ends, evil is justified as a condition or necessary means for bringing about good. Both views are combined in the three chief questions involved in the moral theory of the world: the existence of physical evil, the existence of moral evil, and the relation of outward circumstances to morality.
The existence of physical evil gave the Stoics little trouble, since they refused to regard it as an evil at all, as will be seen in treating of their ethical system. It was enough for them to refer evils of this kind--diseases, for instance---to natural causes, and to regard them as the inevitable consequences of causes framed by nature to serve a definite purpose. Still, they did not fail to point out that many things only become evil by a perverted use, and that other things, ordinarily regarded as evils, are of the greatest value.
Greater difficulty was found by the Stoics to beset the attempt to justify the existence of moral evil, and the difficulty was enhanced in their case by the prevalence and intensity of moral evil in the world according to their view. By their theory of necessity they were prevented from shifting the responsibility for moral evil from natural law or deity on to man, which is one way out of the difficulty. In not altogether eschewing this course, and yet refusing to allow to deity any participation in evil, and referring evil to the free will and intention of man, they acted as other systems of necessity have done before, reserving the final word. The real solution which they gave to the difficulty is to be found partly in the assertion that even the deity is not able to keep human nature free from faults, and partly in the consideration that the existence of evil is necessary, as a counterpart and supplement to good, and that, in the long run, evil will be turned by the deity into good.
The third point in their moral theory of the world, the connection between moral worth and happiness, engaged all the subtlety of Chrysippus and his followers. To deny any connection between them would have been to contradict the ordinary views of the relation of means to ends. Besides, they were prepared to regard some part of the evils of life as divine judgments. Still there were facts which could not be reconciled with this view--the misfortunes of the virtuous, the good fortune of the vicious--and these required explanation. The task of explaining them appears to have involved the Stoics in considerable embarrassment, nor were their answers altogether satisfactory. The spirit of their system, however, rendered only one explanation possible: no real evil could happen to the virtuous, no real good fortune could fall to the lot of the vicious. Apparent misfortune will be regarded by the wise man partly as a natural consequence, partly as a wholesome training for his moral powers; there is nothing which is not matter for rational action: everything that happens, when rightly considered, contributes to our good; nothing that is secured by moral depravity is in itself desirable. With this view it was possible to connect a belief in divine punishment, by saying that what to a good man is a training of his powers, is a real misfortune and consequently a punishment to a bad man; but we are not in a position to say whether the scattered hints of Chrysippus really bear this meaning.
The whole investigation is one involving much doubt and
inconsistency. Natural considerations frequently intertwine with
considerations based on the adaptation of means to ends; the
divine power is oftentimes treated as a will working towards a
definite purpose, at one time arranging all things for the best
with unlimited power, at another time according to an unchangeable
law of nature; but all these inconsistencies and defects belong to
other moral theories of the world, quite as much as they belong to
that of the Stoics.
Of a more peculiar character are the views of the Stoics as to the intermingling of substances, to which reference has already been made. With regard to Time and Space, they found some innovations on Aristotle’s theory to be necessary. Space, according to their view, is the room occupied by a body, the distance enclosed within the limits of a body. From Space they distinguish the Empty. The Empty is not met with in the universe, but beyond the universe it extends indefinitely. And hence they assert that Space is limited, like the world of matter, and that the Empty is unlimited. Nay, not only Space, but Time also, is by them set down as immaterial; and yet to the conception of Time a meaning as concrete as possible is given, in order that Time may have a real value. Zeno defined Time as the extension of motion; Chrysippus defines it, more definitely, as the extension of the motion of the world. The Stoics affirm the infinite divisibility of Time and Space, but do not appear to have instituted any deep researches into this point.
In expanding their views on the origin of the world, the Stoics begin with the doctrine of the four elements, a doctrine which, since the time of Aristotle and Plato, was the one universally accepted. They even refer this doctrine to Heraclitus, desiring, above all things, to follow his teaching in natural science. On a previous occasion, the order and the stages have been pointed out, according to which primary fire developed into the several elements in the formation of the world. In the same order, these elements now go over one into the other. Yet, in this constant transformation of materials, in the perpetual change of form to which primary matter is subject, in this flux of all its parts, the unity of the whole still remains untouched. The distinctive characteristic of fire is heat; that of air is cold; that of water, moisture; dryness that of the earth. These essential qualities, however, are not always found in the elements to which they belong in a pure state, and hence every element has several forms and varieties. Among the four essential qualities of the elements, Aristotle had already singled out two, viz. heat and cold, as the active ones, calling dryness and moisture the passive ones. The Stoics do the same, only more avowedly. They consider the two elements to which these qualities properly belong to be the seat of all active force, and distinguish them from the other two elements, as the soul is distinguished from the body. In their materialistic system, the finer materials, as opposed to the coarser, occupy the place of incorporeal forces.
The relative density of the elements also determines their place in the universe. Fire and air are light; water and earth are heavy. Fire and air move away from the center of the universe; water and earth are drawn towards it; and thus, from above to below--or, what is the same thing, from without to within--the four layers of fire, air, water, and earth are formed. The fire on the circumference goes by the name of Ether. Its most remote portion was called by Zeno Heaven; and it differs from earthly fire not only by its greater purity, but also because the motion of earthly fire is in a straight line, whereas the motion of the Ether is circular. Because of this difference of motion, Aristotle supposed a radical difference to exist between these two kinds of fire, but the Stoics did not feel it necessary to admit such a difference. They could always maintain that, when beyond the limits of its proper locality, fire tried to return to it as quickly as possible, whereas within those limits it moved in the form of a circle.
Holding this view of the elements, the Stoics, it will be seen, did not deviate to any very great extent, in their ideas of the World, from Aristotle and the views which were generally entertained. In the center of the Universe reposes the globe of the earth; around it is water, above the water is air. These three strata form the kernel of the world, which is in a state of repose, and around these the Ether revolves in a circle, together with the stars which are set therein. At the top, in one stratum, are all the fixed stars; under the stratum containing the fixed stars are the planets, in seven different strata--Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Venus, then the Sun, and in the lowest stratum, bordering on the region of air, is the Moon. Thus the world consists, as with Aristotle, of a globe containing many strata, one above another. That it cannot be unlimited, as Democritus and Epicurus maintain, follows from the very nature of body. The space within the world is fully occupied by the material of the world, without a vacant space being anywhere left. Outside the world, however, is empty space, or else how--the Stoics asked--would there be a place into which the world could be resolved at the general conflagration? Moreover, this empty space must be unlimited; for how can there be a limit, or any kind of boundary, to that which is immaterial and non-existent? But although the world is in empty space, it does not move, for the half of its component elements being heavy, and the other half light, as a whole it is neither heavy nor light.
The stars are spherical masses, consisting of fire; but the fire is not in all cases equally pure, and is sustained, as Heraclitus taught, by evaporations from the earth and from water. With this process of sustentation the motion of the stars is brought into connection, their orbit extending over the space in which they obtain their nutriment. Not only the sun, but the moon also, was believed to be larger than the earth. Plato and Aristotle had already held that the stars are living rational divine beings; and the same view was entertained by the Stoics, not only because of the wonderful regularity of their motion and orbits, but also from the very nature of the material of which they consist. The earth, likewise, is filled by an animating soul; or else how could it supply plants with animation, and afford nutriment to the stars? Upon the oneness of the soul, which permeates all its parts, depends, in the opinion of the Stoics, the oneness of the universe.
Most thoroughly, however, did the Stoics--and in particular, Posidonius--devote themselves to investigating those problems, which may be summed up under the name of meteorology. This portion, however, of their inquiries is of little value for illustrating their philosophical tenets, and it may suffice to mention in a note the objects which it included, and the sources whence information may be obtained. The same treatment may be given to the few maxims laid down by the Stoics on the subject of inorganic nature which have come down to us. Nor need we mention here the somewhat copious writings of Posidonius, on the subjects of geography, history, and mathematics.
Little attention was devoted by the Stoics to the world of
plants and animals. About this fact there can be no doubt, since
we neither hear of any treatises by the Stoics on this subject,
nor do they appear to have advanced any peculiar views. The most
prominent point is, that they divided all things in nature into
four classes--those of inorganic beings, plants, animals, and
rational beings. In beings belonging to the first class a simple
quality constitutes the bond of union; in those of the second
class, a forming power; in those of the third class, a soul; and
in those of the fourth class, a rational soul. By means of this
division, the various branches of a science of nature were mapped
out, based on a gradually increasing development of the powers of
life. No serious attempt was made by the Stoics to work out this
thought. With the single exception of man, we know exceedingly
little of their views on organic beings.
The same hypothesis was also used to explain the origin of the soul. One part of the soul was believed to be transmitted to the young in the seed. From the part so transmitted there arises, by development within the womb, first the soul of a plant; and this becomes the soul of a living creature after birth by the action of the outer air. This view led to the further hypothesis that the seat of the soul must be in the breast, not in the brain; since not only breath and warm blood, but also the voice, the immediate expression of thought, comes from the breast.
Nor is this hypothesis out of harmony with the notions otherwise entertained by the Stoics as to the nature of man. Plato and Aristotle had already fixed on the heart as the central organ of the lower powers; the brain they assigned to reason, with the view of distinguishing the rational from the mere animal soul. When, therefore, the Stoics assimilated man’s rational activity to the activity of the senses, deducing both from one and the same source, it was natural that they would depart from Aristotle’s view. Accordingly, the various parts of the soul were supposed to discharge themselves from their center in the heart into the several organs, in the form of atmospheric currents. Seven such parts are enumerated, besides the dominant part or reason. These seven parts consist of the five senses, the power of reproduction, and the power of speech; and, following out their view of the close relation of speech and thought, great importance is attached to the power of speech. At the same time, the Stoics upheld the oneness of the substance of the soul with greater vigor than either Plato or Aristotle had done. Reason is with them the primary power, of which all other powers are only parts, or derivative powers. Even feeling and desire they derive from it, in direct contradiction to the teaching of Plato and Aristotle; and this power is declared to be the seat of personal identity, a point on which former philosophers had refrained from expressing any opinion.
The individual soul bears the same relation to the soul of the universe that a part does to the whole. The human soul is not only a part, as are all other living powers, of the universal power of life, but, because it possesses reason, it has a special relationship to the Divine Being--a relationship which becomes closer in proportion as we allow greater play to the divine element in ourselves, i.e. to reason. On this very account, however, the soul cannot escape the law of the Divine Being, in the shape of general necessity, or destiny. It is a mere delusion to suppose that the soul possesses a freedom independent of the world’s course. The human will, like everything else in the world, is bound into the indissoluble chain of natural causes, and that irrespectively of our knowing by what causes the will is decided or not. Its freedom consists in this, that, instead of being ruled from without, it obeys the call of its own nature, external circumstances concurring. To this power of self-determination, however, the greatest value is attached. Not only are our actions due to it to such an extent that only because of it can they be considered ours, but even our judgments are, as the Stoics thought, dependent on it. The soul itself being open to truth or error, convictions are quite as much in our power as actions: both are alike the necessary result of the will. And just as the individual soul does not possess activity independently of the universal soul, no more can the individual soul escape the law of destiny. It, too, at the end of the world’s course, will be resolved into the primary substance, the Divine Being. The only point about which the Stoics were undecided was, whether all souls would last until that time as separate souls, which was the view of Cleanthes, or only the souls of the wise, as Chrysippus held.
The effects of the Stoic principles appear unmistakably in the above statements. They, however, pervade the whole body of the Stoical views on man. From one point of view, the theory of necessity, and the denial of everlasting life after death, seem quite unintelligible in a system the moral tone of which is so high; yet the connection of these theories with the Stoic ethics is very intimate. These theories commended themselves to the Stoics, as they have done in later times to Spinoza and Schleiermacher, because they corresponded with their fundamental view of morality, according to which the individual is the instrument of reason in general, and a dependent portion of the collective universe. Moreover, since the Stoics admitted a future existence, of limited, but yet indefinite, length, the same practical results followed from their belief as from the current belief in immortality. The statements of Seneca, that this life is a prelude to a better; that the body is a lodging-house, from which the soul will return to its own home; his joy in looking forward to the day which will rend the bonds of the body asunder, which he, in common with the early Christians, calls the birthday of eternal life; his description of the peace of the eternity there awaiting us, of the freedom and bliss of the heavenly life, of the light of knowledge which will there be shed on all the secrets of nature; his language on the future recognition and happy society of souls made perfect; his seeing in death a great day of judgment, when sentence will be pronounced on every one; his making the thought of a future life the great stimulus to moral conduct here; even the way in which he consoles himself for the destruction of the soul by the thought that it will live again in another form hereafter--all contain nothing at variance with the Stoic teaching, however near they may approach to Platonic or even Christian modes of thought. Seneca merely expanded the teaching of his School in one particular direction, in which it approaches most closely to Platonism; and, of all the Stoics, Seneca was the most distinctly Platonic.
Excepting the two points which have been discussed at an earlier
time, and one other point relating to the origin of ideas and
emotions, which will be considered subsequently, little is on
record relating to the psychological views of the Stoics.
Proceeding to group the materials in such a way as to give the clearest insight into the peculiarities and connection of the Stoic principles, the first distinction to be made will be one between morality in general and particular points in morality. In considering morality in general, those statements which give the abstract theory of morals will be distinguished from those which modify it with a view to meet practical wants. The former again may be grouped round three points:--the inquiry into the highest good, that into the nature of virtue, and that relating to the wise man.
The inquiry into the destiny and end of man turns, with the Stoics, as it did with all moral philosophers since the time of Socrates, about the fundamental conception of the good, and the ingredients necessary to make up the highest good or happiness. Happiness, they consider, can only be sought in rational activity or virtue. Speaking more explicitly, the primary impulse of every being is towards self-preservation and self-gratification. It follows that every being pursues those things which are most suited to its nature, and that such things only have for it a value. Hence the highest good--the end-in-chief, or happiness--can only be found in what is conformable to nature. Nothing can be conformable to nature for any individual thing, unless it be in harmony with the law of the universe, or with the universal reason of the world; nor, in the case of a conscious and reasonable being, unless it proceeds from a recognition of this general law--in short, from rational intelligence. In every inquiry what is conformable to nature, all turns upon agreement with the essential constitution of the being, and this essential constitution consists, in the case of a man, simply in reason. One and the same thing, therefore, always meant, whether, with Zeno, life according to nature is spoken of as being in harmony with oneself, or whether, following Cleanthes, it is simply said to be the agreement of life with nature, and whether, in the latter case, nature is taken to mean the world at large, or is limited to human nature in particular. In every case the meaning is, that the life of the individual approximates to or falls short of the goal of happiness, exactly in proportion as it approaches to or departs from the universal law of the world and the particular rational nature of man. In a word, a rational life, an agreement with the general course of the world, constitutes virtue. The principle of the Stoic morality might therefore be briefly expressed in the sentence: Only virtue is good, and happiness consists exclusively in virtue. If, however, following Socrates, the good is defined as being what is useful, then the sentence would run thus: Only Virtue is useful; advantage cannot he distinguished from duty, whilst to a bad man nothing is useful, since, in the case of a rational being, good and evil does not depend on what happens to him, but simply on his own conduct. A view of life is here presented to us in which happiness coincides with virtue, the good and the useful with duty and reason. There is neither any good independently of virtue, nor is there in virtue and for virtue any evil.
The Stoics accordingly refused to admit the ordinary distinction, sanctioned by popular opinion and the majority of philosophers, between various kinds and degrees of good; nor would they allow bodily advantages and external circumstances to be included among good things, together with mental and moral qualities. A certain difference between goods they did not indeed deny, and various kinds are mentioned by them in their formal division of goods. But these differences amount, in the end, to no more than this, that whilst some goods are good and useful in themselves, others are only subsidiary to them. The existence of several equally primary goods appears to the Stoics to be at variance with the conception of the good. That only is a good, according to their view, which has an unconditional value. That which has a value only in comparison with something else, or as leading to something else, does not deserve to be called a good. The difference between what is good and what is not good is not only a difference of degree, but also one of kind; and what is not a good per se can never be a good under any circumstances. The same remarks apply to evil. That which is not in itself an evil can never become so from its relation to something else. Hence only that which is absolutely good, or virtue, can be considered a good; and only that which is absolutely bad, or vice, can be considered an evil. All other things, however great their influence may be on our state, belong to a class of things neither good nor evil, but indifferent. Neither health, nor riches, nor honor, not even life itself, is a good; and just as little are the opposite states--poverty, sickness, disgrace, and death--evils. Both are in themselves indifferent a material which may either be employed for good or else for evil.
The Academicians and Peripatetics were most vigorously attacked by the Stoics for including among goods external things which are dependent on chance. For how can that be a good under any circumstances, which bears no relation to man’s moral nature, and is even frequently obtained at the cost of morality? If virtue renders a man happy, it must render him perfectly happy in himself, since no one can be happy who is not happy altogether. Were anything which is not in man’s power allowed to influence his happiness, it would detract from the absolute worth of virtue, and man would never be able to attain to that imperturbable serenity of mind without which no happiness is conceivable.
Least of all, can pleasure be considered a good, or be regarded, as it was by Epicurus, as the ultimate and highest object in life. He who places pleasure on the throne makes a slave of virtue; he who considers pleasure a good ignores the real conception of the good and the peculiar value of virtue; he appeals to feelings, rather than to actions; he requires reasonable creatures to pursue what is unreasonable, and souls nearly allied to God to go after the enjoyments of the lower animals. Pleasure must never be the object of pursuit, not even in the sense that true pleasure is invariably involved in virtue. That it no doubt is. It is true that there is always a peculiar satisfaction, and a quiet cheerfulness and peace of mind, in moral conduct, just as in immoral conduct there is a lack of inward peace; and in this sense it may be said that the wise man alone knows what true and lasting pleasure is. But even the pleasure afforded by moral excellence ought never to be an object, but only a natural consequence, of virtuous conduct; otherwise the independent value of virtue is impaired.
Nor may pleasure be placed side by side with virtue, as a part of the highest good, or be declared to be inseparable from virtue. Pleasure and virtue are different in essence and kind. Pleasure may be immoral, and moral conduct may go hand in hand with difficulties and pains. Pleasure is found among the worst of men, virtue only amongst the good; virtue is dignified, untiring, imperturbable; pleasure is grovelling, effeminate, fleeting. Those who look upon pleasure as a good are its slaves; those in whom virtue reigns supreme control pleasure, and hold it in check. In no sense can pleasure be allowed to weigh in a question of morals; seeing it is not an end-in-itself, but only the result of an action; not a good, but something absolutely indifferent. The only point on which the Stoics are not unanimous is, whether every pleasure is contrary to nature, as the stern Cleanthes, in the spirit of Cynicism, asserted, or whether there is such a thing as a natural and desirable pleasure. Virtue, on the other hand, needs no extraneous additions, but contains in itself all the conditions of happiness. The reward of virtuous conduct, like the punishment of wickedness, consists only in the character of those actions, one being according to nature, the other contrary to nature. And so unconditional is this self-sufficiency of virtue, that the happiness which it affords is not increased by length of time. Rational self-control is here recognized as the only good; thereby man makes himself independent of all external circumstances, absolutely free, and inwardly satisfied.
The happiness of the virtuous man--and this is a very marked feature in Stoicism--is thus more negative than positive. It consists in independence and peace of mind rather than in the enjoyment which moral conduct brings with it. In mental disquietude--says Cicero, speaking as a Stoic--consists misery; in composure, happiness. How can he be deficient in happiness, he inquires, whom courage preserves from care and fear, and self-control guards from passionate pleasure and desire? How can he fail to be absolutely happy who is in no way dependent on fortune, but simply and solely on himself? To be free from disquietude, says Seneca, is the peculiar privilege of the wise; the advantage which is gained from philosophy is, that of living without fear, and rising superior to the troubles of life. Far more emphatical than any isolated expressions is the support which this negative view of moral aims derives from the whole character of the Stoic ethics, the one doctrine of the apathy of the wise man sufficiently proving that freedom from disturbances, an unconditional assurance, and self-dependence, are the points on which these philosophers lay especial value.
The Good, in as far as it is based on the general arrangement of the world, to which the individual is subordinate, appears to man in the character of Law. Law being, however, the law of man’s own nature, the Good becomes the natural object of man’s desire, and meets his natural impulse. The conception of the Good as law was a view never unfamiliar to moral philosophy, but it was cultivated by the Stoics with peculiar zeal; and forms one of the points on which Stoicism subsequently came into contact, partly with Roman jurisprudence, partly with the ethics of the Jews and Christians. Moreover, as the Stoics considered that the Reason which governs the world is the general Law of all beings, so they recognized in the moral demands of reason the positive and negative aspects of the Law of God. Human law comes into existence when man becomes aware of the divine law, and recognizes its claims on him. Civil and moral law are, therefore, commands absolutely imperative on every rational being. No man can feel himself to be a rational being without at the same time feeling himself pledged to be moral. Obedience to this law is imposed upon man not only by external authority, but by virtue of his own nature. The good is for him that which deserves to be pursued--the natural object of man's will; on the other hand, evil is that against which his will revolts. The former arouses his desire, the latter his aversion: and thus the demands of morality are called forth by the natural impulse of a reasonable being, and are, at the same time, also the object towards which that impulse is naturally directed.
However simple this state of things may be to a purely rational being, it must be remembered that man is not purely rational. He has, therefore, irrational as well as rational impulses. He is not originally virtuous, but be becomes virtuous by overcoming his emotions. Emotion or passion is a movement of mind contrary to reason and nature, an impulse transgressing the right mean. The Peripatetic notion, that certain emotions are in accordance with nature, was flatly denied by the Stoics. The seat of the emotions--and, indeed, of all impulses and every activity of the soul--is man's reason, that which is dominant. Emotion is that other dominant state in which it is hurried into what is contrary to nature by excess of impulse. Like virtue, emotion is due to a change taking place simultaneously, not to the effect of a separate extraneous force. Imagination, therefore, alone calls it into being, as it does impure in general. All emotions arise from faults in judgment, from false notions of good and evil, and may therefore be called, in so many words, judgments or opinions;--avarice, for instance, is a wrong opinion as to the value of money, fear is a wrong opinion as regards future, trouble as regards present ills. Still, as appears from the general view of the Stoics respecting impulses, this language does not imply that emotion is only a theoretical condition. On the contrary, the effects of a faulty imagination--the feelings and motions of will, to which it gives rise--are expressly included in its conception; nor is it credible, as Galenus states, that this was only done by Zeno, and not by Chrysippus. The Stoics, therefore, notwithstanding their theory of necessity, did not originally assent to the Socratic dictum, that no one does wrong voluntarily. Younger members of the School may have used the dictum as an excuse for human faults, fearing lest, in allowing freedom to emotions, they should admit that they were morally admissible and give up the possibility of overcoming them. Nay more, as all that proceeds from the will and impulse is voluntary, so too emotions are also in our power; and it is for us to say, in the case of convictions out of which emotions arise, as in the case of every other conviction, whether we will yield or withhold assent. Just as little would they allow that only instruction is needed in order to overcome emotions; for all emotions arise, as they say, from lack of self-control, and differ from errors in that they assert themselves and oppose our better intelligence. How irregular and irrational impulses arise in reason was a point which the Stoics never made any serious attempt to explain.
Emotions being called forth by imagination, their character depends on the kind of imagination which produces them. Now all impulses are directed to what is good and evil, and consist either in pursuing what appears to be a good, or in avoiding what appears to be an evil. This good and this evil is sometimes a present, and sometimes a future object. Hence there result four chief classes of faulty imagination, and, corresponding with them, four classes of emotions. From an irrational opinion as to what is good there arises pleasure, when it refers to things present; desire, when it refers to things future. A faulty opinion of present evils produces care; of future evils, fear. Zeno had already distinguished these four principal varieties of emotions. The same division was adopted by his pupil Aristo, and afterwards became quite general. Yet the vagueness, already mentioned, appears in the Stoic system in the definition of individual emotions. By some, particularly by Chrysippus, the essence of emotions is placed in the imagination which causes them; by others, in the state of mind which the imagination produces. The four principal classes of emotions are again subdivided into numerous subordinate classes, in the enumeration of which the Stoic philosophers appear to have been more guided by the use of language than by psychology.
In treating the subject of emotions in general, far less importance was attached by the Stoics to psychological accuracy than to considerations of moral worth. That the result could not be very satisfactory, follows from what has been already stated. Emotions are impulses, overstepping natural limits, upsetting the proper balance of the soul’s powers, contradicting reason--in a word, they are failures, disturbances of mental health, and, if indulged in, become chronic diseases of the soul. Hence a Stoic demands their entire suppression: true virtue can only exist where this process has succeeded. As being contrary to nature and symptoms of disease, the wise man must be wholly free from them. When we have once learned to value things according to their real worth, and to discover everywhere nature’s unchanging law, nothing will induce us to yield to emotion. Hence the teaching of Plato and Aristotle, requiring emotions to be regulated, but not uprooted, was attacked in the most vigorous manner by these philosophers. A moderate evil, they say, always remains an evil. What is faulty and opposed to reason, ought never to be tolerated, not even in the smallest degree. On the other hand, when an emotion is regulated by and subordinated to reason, it ceases to be an emotion, the term emotion only applying to violent impulses, which are opposed to reason. The statement of the Peripatetics, that certain emotions are not only admissible, but are useful and necessary, appears of course to the Stoics altogether wrong. To them, only what is morally good appears to be useful: emotions are, under all circumstances, faults; and were an emotion to be useful, virtue would be advanced by means of what is wrong. The right relation, therefore, towards emotions--indeed, the only one morally tenable--is an attitude of absolute hostility. The wise man must be emotionless. Pain he may feel, but, not regarding it as an evil, he will suffer no affliction, and know no fear. He may be slandered and ill-treated, but he cannot be injured or degraded. Being untouched by honor and dishonor, he has no vanity. To anger he never yields, nor needs this irrational impulse, not even for valor and the championship of right. But he also feels no pity, and exercises no indulgence. For how can he pity others for what he would not himself consider an evil? How can he yield to a diseased excitement for the sake of others, which he would not tolerate for his own sake? If justice calls for punishment, feelings will not betray him into forgiveness. We shall subsequently have an opportunity for learning the further application of these principles.
Virtue is thus negatively defined as the being exempt from emotions, as apathy. There is also a positive side to supplement this negative view. Looking at the matter of virtuous action, this may be said to consist in subordination to the general law of nature; looking at its manner, in rational self-control. Virtue is exclusively a matter of reason--in short, it is nothing else but rightly ordered reason. To speak more explicitly, virtue contains in itself two elements--one practical, the other speculative. At the root, and as a condition of all rational conduct, lies, according to the Stoic, right knowledge. On this point they are at one with the well-known Socratic doctrine, and with the teaching of the Cynics and Megarians. Natural virtue, or virtue acquired only by exercise, they reject altogether. After the manner of Socrates, they define virtue as knowledge, vice as ignorance, and insist on the necessity of learning virtue. Even the avowed enemy of all speculative inquiry, Aristo of Chios, was on this point at one with the rest of the School. All virtues were by him referred to wisdom, and, consequently, he denied the claims of most to be virtues at all.
However closely the Stoics cling to the idea that all virtue is based on knowledge, and is in itself nothing else but knowledge, they are not content with knowledge, or with placing knowledge above practical activity, as Plato and Aristotle had done. As we have seen already, knowledge with them was only a means towards rational conduct, and it is expressly mentioned, as a deviation from the teaching of the School, that Herillus of Carthage, Zeno’s pupil, declared knowledge to be the end of life, and the only unconditional good. Virtue may, it is true, be called knowledge, but it is, at the same time, essentially health and strength of mind, a right state of the soul agreeing with its proper nature; and it is required of man that he should never cease to labor and contribute towards the common good. Thus, according to Stoic principles, virtue is a combination of theory and practice, in which action is invariably based on intellectual knowledge, but, at the same time, knowledge finds its object in moral conduct--it is, in short, power of will based on rational understanding. This definition must not, however, be taken to imply that moral knowledge precedes will, and is only subsequently referred to will, nor conversely that the will only uses knowledge as a subsidiary instrument. In the eyes of a Stoic, knowledge and will are not only inseparable, but they are one and the same thing. Virtue cannot be conceived without knowledge, nor knowledge without virtue. The one, quite as much as the other, is a right quality of the soul, or, speaking more correctly, is the rightly endowed soul,--reason, when it is as it ought to be. Hence virtue may be described, with equal propriety, either as knowledge or as strength of mind; and it is irrelevant to inquire which of these two elements is anterior in point of time.
But how are we to reconcile with this view the Stoic teaching of a plurality of virtues and their mutual relations? As the common root from which they spring, Zeno, following Aristotle, regarded understanding, Cleanthes, strength of mind, Aristo, at one time health, at another the knowledge of good and evil. Later teachers, after the time of Chrysippus, thought that it consisted in knowledge or wisdom, understanding by wisdom absolute knowledge, the knowing all things, human and divine. From this common root, a multiplicity of virtues was supposed to proceed, which, after Plato's example, are grouped round four principal virtues--intelligence, bravery, justice, self-control. Intelligence consists in knowing what is good and bad, and what is neither the one nor the other, the indifferent; bravery, in knowing what to choose, what to avoid, and what neither to choose nor to avoid; or, substituting the corresponding personal attitude for knowledge, bravery is fearless obedience to the law of reason, both in boldness and endurance. Self-control consists in knowing what to choose, and what to eschew, and what neither to choose nor eschew; justice, in knowing how to give to everyone what is his due. In a corresponding manner, the principal faults are traced back to the conception of ignorance. Probably all these definitions belong to Chrysippus. Other definitions are attributed to his predecessors, some more nearly, others more remotely, agreeing with him in their conception of virtue. Within these limits, a great number of individual virtues were distinguished, their differences and precise shades of meaning being worked out with all the pedantry which characterized Chrysippus. The definitions of a portion of them have been preserved by Diogenes and Stobaeus. In a similar way, too, the Stoics carried their classification of errors into the minutest details.
The importance attaching to this division of virtues, the ultimate basis on which it rests, and the relation which virtues bear, both to one another and to the common essence of virtue, are topics upon which Zeno never entered. Plutarch, at least, blames him for treating virtues as many, and yet inseparable, and at the same time for finding in all virtues only certain manifestations of the understanding. Aristo attempted to settle this point more precisely. According to his view, virtue is in itself only one; in speaking of many virtues, we only refer to the variety of objects with which that one virtue has to do. The difference of one virtue from another is not one of inward quality, but depends on the external conditions under which they are manifested; it only expresses a definite relation to something else, or, in the language of Herbart, an accidental aspect. The same view would seem to be implied in the manner in which Cleanthes determines the relations of the principal virtues to one another. It was, however, opposed by Chrysippus. The assumption of many virtues, he believed, rested upon an inward difference; each definite virtue, as also each definite fault, becoming what it does by a peculiar change in the character of the soul itself; in short, for a particular virtue to come into being, it is not enough that the constituent clement of all virtue should be directed towards a particular object, but to the common element must be superadded a further characteristic element, or differentia; the several virtues being related to one another, as the various species of one genus.
All virtues have, however, one and the same end, which they compass in different ways, and all presuppose the same moral tone and conviction, which is only to be found where it is to be found perfect, and ceases to exist the moment it is deprived of one of its component parts. They are, indeed, distinct from one another, each one having its own end, towards which it is primarily directed; but, at the same time, they again coalesce, inasmuch as none can pursue its own end without pursuing that of the others at the same time. Accordingly, no part of virtue can be separated from its other parts. Where one virtue exists, the rest exist also, and where there is one fault, there all is faulty. Even each single virtuous action contains all other virtues, for the moral tone of which it is the outcome includes in itself all the rest. What makes virtue virtue, and vice vice, is simply and solely the intention. The will, although it may lack the means of execution, is worth quite as much as the deed; a wicked desire is quite as criminal as the gratification of that desire. Hence only that action can be called virtuous which is not only good in itself, but which proceeds from willing the good; and although, in the first instance, the difference between the discharge and the neglect of duty depends on the real agreement or disagreement of our actions with the moral law, yet that alone can be said to be a true and perfect discharge of duty which arises from a morally perfect character.
Such a character, the Stoics held, must either exist altogether, or not at all; for virtue is an indivisible whole, which we cannot possess in part, but must either have or not have. He who has a right intention and a right appreciation of good and evil, is virtuous: he who has not these requisites is lacking in virtue: there is no third alternative. Virtue admits neither of increase nor diminution, and there is no mean between virtue and vice. This being the case, and the value of an action depending wholly on the intention, it follows, necessarily, that virtue admits of no degrees. If the intention must be either good or bad, the same must be true of actions; and if a good intention or virtue has in it nothing bad, and a bad intention has in it nothing good, the same is true of actions. A good action is unconditionally praiseworthy; a bad one, unconditionally blameworthy, the former being only found where virtue exists pure and entire; the latter, only where there is no virtue at all. All good actions are, on the one hand, according to the well-known paradox, equally good; all bad actions, on the other, equally bad. The standard of moral judgment is an absolute one; and when conduct does not altogether conform to this standard, it falls short of it altogether.
From what has been said, it follows that there can be but one thoroughgoing moral distinction for all mankind, the distinction between the virtuous and the vicious; and that within each of these classes there can be no difference in degree. He who possesses virtue possesses it whole and entire; he who lacks it lacks it altogether; and whether he is near or far from possessing it is a matter of no moment. He who is only a hand-breadth below the surface of the water will be drowned just as surely as one who is five hundred fathoms deep; he who is blind sees equally little whether he will recover his sight tomorrow or never. The whole of mankind are thus divided by the Stoics into two classes--those who are wise and those who are foolish; and these two classes are treated by them as mutually exclusive, each one being complete in itself. Among the wise no folly, among the foolish no wisdom of any kind, is possible. The wise man is absolutely free from faults and mistakes: all that he does is right; in him all virtues center; he has a right opinion on every subject, and never a wrong one, nor, indeed, ever what is merely an opinion. The bad man, on the contrary, can do nothing aright; he has every kind of vice; he has no right knowledge, and is altogether rude, violent, cruel, and ungrateful.
The Stoics delight in insisting upon the perfection of the wise man, and contrasting with it the absolute faultiness of the foolish man, in a series of paradoxical assertions. The wise man only is free, because he only uses his will to control himself; he only is beautiful, because only virtue is beautiful and attractive; he only is rich and happy, because goods of the soul are the most valuable, true riches consisting in being independent of wants. Nay, more, he is absolutely rich, since he who has a right view of everything has everything in his intellectual treasury, and he who makes the right use of everything bears to everything the relation of owner. The wise only know how to obey, and they also only know how to govern; they only are therefore kings, generals, pilots; they only are orators, poets, and prophets; and since their view of the Gods and their worship of the Gods is the true one, only amongst them can true piety he found--they are the only priests and friends of heaven; all foolish men, on the contrary, are impious, profane, and enemies of the Gods. Only the wise man is capable of feeling gratitude, love, and friendship, he only is capable of receiving a benefit, nothing being of use or advantage to the foolish man. To sum up, the wise man is absolutely perfect, absolutely free from passion and want, absolutely happy; as the Stoics conclusively assert, he in no way falls short of the happiness of Zeus, since time, the only point in which he differs from Zeus, does not augment happiness at all. On the other hand, the foolish man is altogether foolish, unhappy, and perverse; or, in the expressive language of the Stoics, every foolish man is a madman, he being a madman who has no knowledge of himself, nor of what most closely affects him.
This assertion is all the more trenchant because the Stoics recognized neither virtue nor wisdom outside their own system or one closely related to it, and because they took a most unfavorable view of the moral condition of their fellow-men. That they should do so was inevitable from their point of view. A system which sets up its own moral idea against current notions so sharply as that of the Stoics can only be the offspring of a thorough disapproval of existing circumstances, and must, on the other hand, contribute thereto. According to the Stoic standard, by far the majority, indeed, almost the whole of mankind, belong to the class of the foolish. If all foolish people are equally and altogether bad, mankind must have seemed to them to be a sea of corruption and vice, from which, at best, but a few swimmers emerge at spots widely apart. Man passes his life--such had already been the complaint of Cleanthes--in wickedness. Only here and there does one, in the evening of life, after many wanderings, attain to virtue. And that this was the common opinion among the successors of Cleanthes, is witnessed by their constant complaints of the depravity of the foolish, and of the rare occurrence of a wise man.
No one probably has expressed this opinion more frequently or more strongly than Seneca. We are wicked, he says; we have been wicked; we shall be wicked. Our ancestors complained of the decline of morals; we complain of their decline; and posterity will utter the very same complaint. The limits within which morality oscillates are not far asunder; the modes in which vice shows itself change, but its power remains the same. All men are wicked; and he who has as yet done nothing wicked is at least in a condition to do it. All are thankless, avaricious, cowardly, impious; all are mad. We have all done wrong--one in a less, the other in a greater degree; and we shall all do wrong to the end of the chapter. One drives the other into folly, and the foolish are too numerous to allow the individual to improve. He who would be angry with the vices of men. instead of pitying their faults, would never stop. So great is the amount of iniquity!
No doubt the age in which Seneca lived afforded ample occasion
for such effusions, but his predecessors must have found similar
occasions in their own days. Indeed, all the principles of the
Stoic School, when consistently developed, made it impossible to
consider the great majority of men as anything else than a mass of
fools and sinners. From this sweeping verdict, even the most
distinguished names were not excluded. If asked for examples of
wisdom, they would point to Socrates, Diogenes, Antisthenes, and,
in later times, to Cato; but not only would they deny philosophic
virtue, as Plato had done before them, to the greatest statesmen
and heroes of early times, but they would deny to them all and
every kind of virtue. Even the admission that general faults
belong to some in a lower degree than to others can hardly he
reconciled with their principle of the equality of all who are not
The two moral states being thus at opposite poles, a gradual transition from one to the other is, of course, out of the question. There may be a progress from folly and wickedness in the direction of wisdom, but the actual passage from one to the other must be momentary and instantaneous. Those who are still progressing belong, without exception, to the class of the foolish; and one who has lately become wise is in the first moment unconscious of his new state. The transition takes place so rapidly, and his former state affords so few points of contact with the one on which he has newly entered, that the mind does not keep pace with the change, and only becomes conscious of it by subsequent experience.
In this picture of the wise man, the moral idealism of the Stoic
system attained its zenith. A virtuous will appears here so
completely sundered from all outward conditions of life, so wholly
free from all the trammels of natural existence, and the
individual has become so completely the organ of universal law,
that it may be asked, What right has such a being to call himself
a person? How can such a being be imagined as a man living among
fellow-men? Nor was this question unknown to the Stoics
themselves. Unless they are willing to allow that their theory was
practically impossible, and their ideal scientifically untenable,
how could they escape the necessity of showing that it might be
reconciled with the wants of human life and the conditions of
reality? Let the attempt be once made, however, and withal they
would be forced to look for some means of adapting it to those
very feedings and opinions towards which their animosity had
formerly been so great. Nor could the attempt be long delayed.
Daily a greater value was attached to the practical working of
their system, and to its agreement with general opinion. The
original direction of Stoic morality aimed at the absolute and
unconditional submission of the individual to the law of the
universe, yet, in developing that theory, the rights of the
individual asserted themselves unmistakably. From this confluence
of opposite currents arose a deviation from the rigid type of the
Stoic system, some varieties of which, in the direction of the
ordinary view of life, deserve now further consideration.
Still, there remains the question, How can this be possible? and this is no easy one to answer. The contemporary opponents of the Stoics already took exception to the way in which the first demands of nature were by them excluded from the aims of a life according to nature; and we, too, cannot suppress a feeling of perplexity at being told that all duties aim at attaining what is primarily according to nature, but that what is according to nature must not be looked upon as the aim of our actions; since not that which is simply according to nature, but the rational choice and combination of what is according to nature constitutes the good. Even if the Stoics pretend to dispose of this difficulty, they cannot, at least, fail to see that whatever contributes to bodily well-being must have a certain positive value, and must be desirable in all cases in which no higher good suffers in consequence; and, conversely, that whatever is opposed to bodily well-being, when higher duties are not involved, must have a negative value, and, consequently, deserve to be avoided. Such objects and actions they would not, however, allow to be included in the class of goods which are absolutely valuable. It was therefore a blending of Peripatetic with Stoic teaching when Herillus, the fellow-student of Cleanthes, enumerated bodily and outward goods as secondary and subsidiary aims besides virtue.
Nor were the Stoics minded to follow the contemporary philosopher. Aristo of Chios (who in this point, too, endeavored to place their School on the platform of the Cynic philosophy), in denying any difference in value between things morally indifferent and in making the highest aim in life consist in indifference to all external things. Virtue with them bears, in comparison with the Cynic virtue, a more positive character, that of an energetic will; they, therefore, required some definite relation to the outward objects and conditions of this activity which should regulate the choosing or rejecting--or, in other words, the practical decision. Accordingly, they divided things indifferent into three classes. To the first class belong all those things which, from a moral or absolute point of view, are neither good nor evil, but yet which have a certain value; no matter whether this value belongs to them properly, because they are in harmony with human nature, or whether it belongs to them improperly, because they are means for advancing moral and natural life, or whether it belongs to them on both grounds. The second class includes everything which, either by itself or in its relation to higher aims, is opposed to nature and harmful. The third, things which, even in this conditional sense, have neither positive nor negative value. The first class bears the name of things preferential, or things desirably; the second is the class of things to be eschewed; the third is the class of things intermediate. The last is called, in the strict sense, indifferent. It includes not only what is really indifferent, but whatever has such a slight negative or positive value that it neither enkindles desire nor aversion. Hence the terms preferential and eschewed are defined to mean respectively that which has an appreciable positive or negative value. Under things preferential, the Stoics include partly mental qualities and conditions, such as talents and skill, even progress towards virtue, in as far as it is not yet virtue; partly bodily advantage--beauty, strength, health, life itself; partly external goods--riches, honor, noble birth, relations, &c. Under things to be eschewed, they understand the opposite things and conditions; under things indifferent, whatever has no appreciable influence on our choice, such as the question whether the number of hairs on the head is even or uneven; whether I pick up a piece of waste paper from the floor, or leave it; whether one piece of money or another is used in payment of a debt. Yet they drew a sharp distinction between the purely relative value of things preferential, and the absolute value of things morally good. Only the latter are really allowed to be called good, because they only, under all circumstances, are useful and necessary. Of things morally indifferent, on the other hand, the best may, under certain circumstances, be bad, and the worst--sickness, poverty, and the like--may, under certain circumstances, be useful. Just as little would they allow that the independence of the wise man suffered by the recognition outside himself of a class of things preferential. For the wise man, said Chrysippus, uses such things without requiring them. Nevertheless, the admission of classes of things to be preferred and to be declined obviously undermines their doctrine of the good. Between what is good and what is evil, a third group is introduced, of doubtful character; and since we have seen the term indifferent is only applied to this group in its more extended meaning, it became impossible for them to refuse to apply the term good to things desirable, or to exclude unconditionally from the highest good many of the things which they were in the habit of pronouncing indifferent. Nor was this concession merely the yielding of a term, as will appear when particular instances are considered. Not only may Seneca be heard, in Aristotelian manner, defending external possessions as aids to virtue--not only Hecato, and even Diogenes, uttering ambiguous sentences as to permitted and forbidden gains--not only Panaetius giving expression to much that falls short of Stoic severity--but even Chrysippus avows that in his opinion it is silly not to desire health, wealth, and freedom from pain, and that a statesman may treat honor and wealth as real goods; adding that the whole Stoic School agrees with him in thinking it no disparagement for a wise man to follow a profession which lies under a stigma in the common opinion of Greece. He did not even hesitate to assert that it is better to live irrationally than not live at all. It is impossible to conceal the fact that, in attempting to adapt their system to general opinion and to the conditions of practical life, the Stoics were driven to make admissions strongly at variance with their previous theories. It may hence be gathered with certainty that, in laying down those theories, they had overstrained a point.
By means of this doctrine of things to be preferred and things to be eschewed, a further addition was made to the conception of duty. Under duty, or what is proper, we have already seen, the Stoics understand rational action in general, which becomes good conduct, by being done with a right intention. The conception of duty, therefore, contains in itself the conception of virtuous conduct, and is used primarily to express what is good or rational. Duty thus appears to have a twofold meaning, in consequence of the twofold characters of things desirable and things good. If the good were the only permitted object of desire, there would, of course, be but one duty--that of realizing the good; and the various actions which contribute to this result would only be distinguished by their being employed on a different material, but not in respect of their moral value. But if, besides what is absolutely good, there are things relatively good, things not to be desired absolutely, but only in cases in which they may be pursued without detriment to the absolute good or virtue--if, moreover, besides vice, as the absolute evil, there are also relative evils, which we have reason to avoid in the same cases--the extent of our duties is increased likewise; a number of conditional duties are placed by the side of duties unconditional, differing from the latter in that they aim at pursuing things to be preferred, and avoiding things to be eschewed. From this platform, all that accords with nature is regarded as proper, or a duty in the more extended sense of the term; and the conception of propriety is extended to include plants and animals. Proper and dutiful actions are then divided into those which are always such and those which are only such under peculiar circumstances--the former being called perfect, the latter intermediate duties; and it is stated, as a peculiarity of the latter, that, owing to circumstances, a course of conduct may become a duty which would not have been a duty without those peculiar circumstances. In the wider sense of the term, every action is proper or in accordance with duty which consists in the choice of a thing to be preferred and in avoiding a thing to be eschewed. On the other hand, a perfect duty is only fulfilled by virtuous action. A virtuous life and a wish to do good constitute the only perfect duty.
Some confusion is introduced into this teaching by the fact that in setting up the standard for distinguishing perfect from imperfect duties, the Stoics sometimes look at the real, sometimes at the personal value, of actions, without keeping these two aspects distinct. They therefore use the terms perfect and imperfect sometimes to express the difference between conditional and unconditional duties; at other times, to express that between morality and law. Far worse than the formal defect is the grouping in this division under the conception of duty things of the most varied moral character. If once things which have only a conditional value are admitted within the circle of duties, what is there to prevent their being defended, in the practical application of the Stoic teaching, on grounds altogether repugnant to the legitimate consequences of the Stoic principles?
In accordance with these admissions, the Stoic system sought in another respect to meet facts and practical wants by abating somewhat from the austerity of its demands. Consistently carried out, those demands require the unconditional extirpation of the whole sensuous nature, such as was originally expressed by the demand for apathy. But just as the stricter Stoic theory of the good was modified by the admission of the thing to be preferred, so this demand was modified in two ways; the first elements of the forbidden emotions were allowed under other names; and whilst emotions were still forbidden, certain mental affections were permitted, and even declared to be desirable. Taking the first point, it is allowed by the Stoics that the wise man feels pain, and that at certain things he does not remain wholly calm. This admission shows that their system was not identical with that of the Cynics. It is not required that men should be entirely free from all mental affections, but only that they should refuse assent to them, and not suffer them to obtain the mastery. With regard to the other point, they propound the doctrine of rational dispositions, which, as distinct from emotions, are to be found in the wise man, and in the wise man only. Of these rational dispositions, they distinguish three chief besides several subordinate varieties. Although this admission was intended to vindicate the absence of emotions in the wise man, since the permitted feelings are not emotions, still it made the boundary line between emotions and feelings so uncertain that in practice the sharply-defined contrast between the wise and the foolish threatened well nigh to disappear altogether.
This danger appears more imminent when we observe the perplexity in which the Stoics were placed when asked to point out the wise man in experience. For not only do opponents assert that, according to their own confession, no one, or as good as no one, can be found in actual history who altogether deserves that high title, but even their own admissions agree therewith. They describe even Socrates, Diogenes, and Antisthenes as not completely virtuous, but only as travelers towards virtue. It was of little avail to point to Hercules or Ulysses, or with Posidonius, to the mythical golden age, in which the wise are said to have ruled. The pictures of those heroes would have to be changed altogether, to bring them into harmony with the wise man of the Stoics; and Posidonius might be easily disposed of on Stoic principles, by the rejoinder that virtue and wisdom are things of free exercise, and, since free exercise was wanting in the case of the first men, their condition can only have been a state of unconscious ignorance, and not one of perfection. If, in reality, there are no wise men, the division of men into wise and foolish falls at once to the ground: all mankind belong to the class of fools; the conception of the wise man is an unreal fancy. It becomes, then, difficult to maintain the assertion that all fools are equally foolish, and all the wise are equally wise. If, instead of producing real wisdom, philosophy can only produce progress towards wisdom, it can hardly be expected to take such a modest estimate of its own success as to allow that there is no real distinction between a zealous student and a bigoted despiser of its doctrines.
It was therefore natural that the Stoics, notwithstanding their
own maxims, found themselves compelled to recognize differences
among the bad and differences among good. In reference to their
system these differences were, indeed, made to depend in the case
of the bad upon the greater or less difficulty of healing the
moral defects, or, in the case of the good, upon qualities morally
indifferent. It was also natural that they should so nearly
identify the state of progress towards wisdom, the only really
existing state, with wisdom that it could hardly be distinguished
therefrom. If there is a stage of progress in which a man is free
from all emotions, discharges all his duties, knows all that is
necessary, and is even secure against the danger of relapse, such
a stage cannot be distinguished from wisdom, either by its want of
experience or by the absence of a clear knowledge of oneself. For
has it not been frequently asserted that happiness is not
increased by length of time, and that the wise man is at first not
conscious of his wisdom? If, however, the highest stage of
approximation to wisdom is supposed still to fall short of wisdom,
because it is not sure of its continuance, and though free from
mental diseases, it is not free from emotions, how, it may be
asked, do these passing emotions differ from the mental affections
which are found in the wise man? Is there any real distinction
between them? If the progressing candidate has attained to freedom
from diseased mental states, is the danger of a relapse very
great? Besides, the Stoics were by no means agreed that the really
wise man is free from all danger. Cleanthes held with the Cynics
that virtue can never be lost; Chrysippus admitted that, in
certain cases, it is defectible. After all this admission is only
one among many traits which prove that the Stoics were obliged to
abate from the original severity of their demands.
In this extension of the moral theory, besides the desire for scientific completeness, the endeavor may also be observed to subordinate all sides of human activity to moral considerations. In the virtuous man, as the Stoics held, everything becomes virtue; and hence everything is included in moral philosophy. Thereby, without doubt, the Stoic School contributed in no small decree towards settling and defining moral ideas, not only for its immediate contemporaries. but also for all subsequent times. Nevertheless, the more the teaching of the School entered into the details of every-day life, the more impossible it became to prevent practical considerations from overriding the natural severity of Stoic principles, or to keep the strictness of scientific procedure from yielding to considerations of experience.
The order and division which the Stoics adopted for discussing details in the hortatory part of moral science are not known to us; nor, indeed, is it known whether that order was uniform in all cases. It will be most convenient for the purpose of our present description to distinguish, in the first place, those points which refer to the moral activity of the individual as such, and afterwards to go on to those which relate to social life. Subsequently, the teachings of the Stoics on the relation of man to the course of the world and to necessity will engage our attention.
It was in keeping with the whole tone of the the Stoic system to devote, in ethics, more attention to the conduct and duties of the individual than had been done by previous philosophy. Not that previous philosophers had altogether ignored this side. Indeed, Aristotle, in his investigations into individual virtue, had been led to inquire carefully into individual morality. Still, with Aristotle, the influence of classic antiquity on the border-land of which he stands was sufficiently strong to throw the individual into the background as compared with the community, and to subordinate ethics to politics. In the post-Aristotelian philosophy, this relation was exactly reversed. With the decline of public life in Greece, intellectual interest in the state declined also; and, in equal degree, the personality of the individual and circumstances of private life came into prominence. This feature may be already noticed in some of the older Schools, for instance, in the Academy and Peripatetic School. The Peripatetic, in particular, had, in the time of its first adherents, traveled far on the road which the founder had struck out. Among the Stoics, the same feature was required by the whole spirit of their system. If happiness depends upon man's internal state and nothing external has power to affect it, the science which professes to lead man to happiness must primarily busy itself with man's moral nature. It can only consider human society in as far as action for society forms part of the moral duty of the individual. Hence, in the Stoic philosophy, researches into the duties of the individual occupy a large space, and there is a corresponding subordination of politics. These duties form the subject of by far the greater part of the applied moral science of the Stoics: and it has been already set forth how minutely they entered in that study into possible details. At the same time, the scientific harvest resulting from these researches is by no means in proportion to their extent.
Confining our attention to the two first books of Cicero’s work, De Officiis, to form some idea of the treatise of Panaetius on duties, we find, after a few introductory remarks, morality as such described, according to the scheme of the four cardinal virtues (i. 5-42). In discussing the first of these, intelligence, love of research is recommended, and useless subtlety is deprecated. Justice and injustice are next discussed in all their various forms, due regard being had to the cases of ordinary occurrence in life. Liberality, kindness, and benevolence are treated as subdivisions of justice; and this leads to a consideration of human society in all its various forms (c. 16-18, 60). Turning next to bravery (18, 61), the philosopher draws attention to the fact that bravery is inseparably connected with justice. He then describes it partly as it appears in the forms of magnanimity and endurance, regardless of external circumstances, partly in the form of energetic courage; and, in so doing, he discusses various questions which suggest themselves, such as the nature of true and false courage, military and civil courage, and the exclusion of anger from valor Lastly, the object of the fourth chief virtue (c. 27) is described, in general terms, as what is proper, and the corresponding state as propriety, both in controlling the impulses of the senses, in jest and play, and in the whole personal bearing. The peculiar demands made by individual nature, by time of life, by civil position, are discussed. Even outward proprieties--of speech and conversation, of domestic arrangement, tact in behavior, honorable and dishonorable modes of life--do not escape attention.
In the second book of his work, Cicero considers the relation of interest to duty; and having proved, at length, that most that is advantageous and disadvantageous is brought on us by other men, he turns to the means by which we may gain the support of others, and by which affection, trust, and admiration may be secured. He reviews various kinds of services for individuals and the state, and embraces the opportunity to give expression to his abhorrence of despotism and republican servility to the people. The principles on which this review is conducted are such that objection can rarely be taken to them from the platform of modern morality. Yet the Stoic bias is unmistakably present in the conception and support of the rules of life, and particularly in the definitions of various virtues; few of the moral judgments, however, are other than might have been expressed from the platform of the Platonic and Aristotelian ethics. The same remark holds good of some other recorded points by means of which the Stoics gave a further expansion to their picture of the wise man. Revolting as their tenets at times appear, there is yet little in their application that deviated from the moral ideas generally current.
More peculiar, and at the same time more startling, is another feature about the Stoics. Let not too much be made of the fact that they, under certain circumstances, permitted a lie. Were not Socrates and Plato, at least, of the same opinion? And, to be frank, we must admit that, although in this respect moral theories are strict enough, yet practice is commonly far too lax now. Very repulsive, however, are many assertions attributed to the Stoics, respecting the attitude of the wise man to the so-called intermediate things. Was not the very independence of externals, the indifference to everything but the moral state, which found expression in the doctrine of things indifferent and of the wise man's apathy, at the root of that imperfection of life and principle which is so prominent in the Cynic School, the parent School of the Stoics? Granting that in the Stoic School this imperfection was toned down and supplemented by other elements, still the tendency thereto was too deeply rooted from its origin, and too closely bound up with its fundamental view of life, to be ever properly eradicated. It did not require, indeed, a Cynic life from its members; nay, more, it avowed that, except in rare cases, such a life ought not to be followed; still the Cynic’s life was its ideal; and when it asserted that it was not necessary for a wise man to be a Cynic, it implied that, if once a Cynic, he would always be a Cynic. Stoicism took for its patterns Antisthenes and Diogenes quite as much as Socrates; even those who held, with Seneca, that a philosopher ought to accommodate himself to prevailing customs, and, from regard to others, do what he would not himself approve, did not therefore cease to bestow their highest admiration on Diogenes’s independence of wants, not-withstanding his eccentricities. Move consistent thinkers even approximated to Cynicism in their moral precepts, and in later times a School of younger Cynics actually grew out of the Stoic School.
Bearing, as the Stoics did, this close relationship to the Cynics, it cannot astonish us to find amongst them many instances of the most revolting traits in Cynicism. Their contempt for cultured habits and violation of right feelings fully justify the righteous indignation of their opponents. Chrysippus regarded many things as perfectly harmless in which the religious feeling of Greece saw pollution, and pleaded in defense of his opinion the example of animals, to show that they were according to nature. The care for deceased relatives he not only proposed to limit to the simplest mode of burial, but would have it altogether put aside; and he made the horrible suggestion, which he even described in full, of using for purposes of nourishment the flesh of amputated limbs and the corpses of the nearest relatives. Great offense, too, was given by the Stoics, and, in particular, by Chrysippus, in their treatment of the relation of the sexes to each other; nor can it be denied that some of their language on this subject sounds exceedingly offensive. The Cynic assertion, that anything which is in itself allowed may be mentioned plainly and without a periphrasis, is also attributed to the Stoics. By his proposals for the dress of women, Zeno offended against propriety and modesty, and both he and Chrysippus advocated community of wives in their state of wise men. It is, moreover, asserted that the Stoics raised no objection to the prevalent profligacy and the trade in unchastity, nor to the still worse vice of unnatural crime. Marriage among the nearest relatives was held to be consonant to nature by the leaders of the School; and the atrocious shamelessness of Diogenes found supporters in Chrysippus, perhaps, too, in Zeno.
It would, however, be doing the Stoics a great injustice to take these statements for more than theoretical conclusions drawn from the principles to which they were pledged. The moral character of Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus is quite above suspicion. It seems, therefore, strange that they should have felt themselves compelled to admit in theory what strikes the natural feeling with horror. It cannot, however, be unconditionally accepted that the statements laid to their charge as they used them imply all that historians find in them. Far from it; of some of their statements it may be said not only that they do not justify conduct recognized to be immoral, but that they are directed against actions customarily allowed, the argument being, that between such actions and actions admittedly immoral there is no real difference. This remark applies, in particular, to Zeno’s language on unnatural vice. It was not, therefore, in opposition to the older Stoics, or a denial of their maxim that love is permitted to a wise man, for the younger Stoics to condemn most explicitly any and every form of unchastity, and, in particular, the worst form of all, unnatural vice. In the same way, the language permitting marriage between those nearest of kin, when examined, is very much milder than it seems. And Zeno's proposition for a community of wives may be fairly laid to the charge of Plato, and excused by all the charitable excuses of which Plato is allowed the benefit.
Taking the most unprejudiced view of the Stoic propositions, there are enough of them to arouse extreme dislike, even if they could, without difficulty, be deduced from the fundamental principles of the system. A moral theory which draws such a sharp distinction between what is without, and what is within, that it regards the latter as alone essential, the former as altogether indifferent, which attaches no value to anything except virtuous intention, and places the highest value in being independent of everything--such a moral theory must of necessity prove wanting, whenever the business of morality consists in using the senses as instruments for expressing the mind, and in raising natural impulses to the sphere of free will. If its prominent features allow less to the senses than naturally belongs to them, there is a danger that, in particular cases in which intentions are not so obvious, the moral importance of actions will often be ignored, and such actions treated as indifferent.
The same observation will have to be made with regard to the positions which the Stoics laid down in reference to social relations. Not that it was their intention to detach man from his natural relation to other men. On the contrary, they hold that the further man carries the work of moral improvement in himself, the stronger he will feel drawn to society. But by the introduction of the idea of society, opposite tendencies arise in their ethics--one towards individual independence, the other in the direction of a well-ordered social life. The former tendency is the earlier one, and continues to predominate throughout; still, the latter was not surreptitiously introduced--nay, more, it was the logical result of the Stoic principles, and to the eye of an Epicurean must have seemed a distinctive feature of Stoicism. In attributing absolute value only to rational thought and will, Stoicism had declared man to be independent of anything external, and, consequently, of his fellow-men. But since this value only attaches to rational thought and intention, the freedom of the individual also involves the recognition of the community, and brings with it the requirement that everyone must subordinate his own wishes to the wishes and needs of others. Rational conduct and thought can only then exist when the conduct, of the individual is in harmony with general law. General law is the same for all rational beings. All rational beings must therefore aim at the same end. and recognize themselves subject to the same law. All must feel themselves portions of one connected whole. Man must not live for himself, but for society.
This connection between the individual and society is clearly set forth by the Stoics. The desire for society, they hold, is immediately involved in reason. By the aid of reason, man feels himself a part of a whole, and, consequently, is bound to subordinate his private interests to the interests of the whole. As like always attracts like, this remark holds true of everything endowed with reason, since the rational soul is in all cases identical. From the consciousness of this unity, the desire for society at once arises in individuals endowed with reason. They are all in the service of reason; there is, therefore, for all, but one right course and one law, and they all contribute to the general welfare in obeying this law. The wise man, as a Stoic expresses it, is never a private man.
At other times, social relations were explained by the theory of final causes. Whilst everything else exists for the sake of what is endowed with reason, individual beings endowed with reason exist for the sake of each other. Their social connection is therefore a direct natural command. Towards animals we never stand in a position to exercise justice, nor yet towards ourselves. Justice can only be exercised towards other men and towards God. On the combination of individuals and their mutual support rests all their power over nature. A single man by himself would be the most helpless of creatures.
The consciousness of this connection between all rational beings finds ample expression in Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Stoics. The possession of reason is, with him, love of society (vi. 14; x. 2). National beings can only be treated on a social footing (vi. 23 ), and can only feel happy themselves when working for the community (viii. 7); for all rational beings are related to one another (iii. 4), all form one social unit, of which each individual is an integral part (ix. 23): one body, of which every individual is an organic member (ii. 1; vii. 13). Hence the social instinct is a primary instinct in man (vii. 55), every manifestation of which contributes, either directly or indirectly, to the good of the whole (ix. 23). Our fellow-men ought to be loved from the heart. They ought, to be benefited, not for the sake of outward decency, but because the benefactor is penetrated with the joy of benevolence, and thereby benefits himself. Whatever hinders union with others has a tendency to separate the members from the body, from which all derive their life (viii. 55); and he who estranges himself from one of his fellow-men voluntarily severs himself from the stock of mankind (xi. 23). We shall presently see that the language used by the philosophic emperor is quite in harmony with the Stoic principles.
In relation to our fellow-men, two fundamental points are insisted on by the Stoics--the duty of justice and the duty of mercy. Cicero, without doubt following Panaetius, describes these two virtues as the bonds which keep human society together, and, consequently, gives to each an elaborate treatment. In expanding these duties, the Stoics were led by the fundamental principles of their system to most distracting consequences. On the one hand, they required from their wise men that strict justice which knows no pity and can make no allowances; hence their ethical system had about it an air of austerity, and an appearance of severity and cruelty. On the other hand, their principle of the natural connection of all mankind imposed on them the practice of the most extended and unreserved charity, of beneficence, gentleness, meekness, of an unlimited benevolence, and a readiness to forgive in all cases in which forgiveness is possible. This last aspect of the Stoic teaching appears principally in the later Stoics--in Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Musonius; and it is quite possible that they may have given more prominence, to it than their predecessors. But the fact is there, that this aspect is due. not only to the peculiar character of these individuals, but is based on the spirit and tone of the whole system.
The question then naturally arises, how these two opposites may be reconciled--how stern justice may be harmonized with forgiveness and mercy. Seneca, who investigated the question fully, replies: Not severity, but only cruelty, is opposed to mercy; for no one virtue is opposed to another: a wise man will always help another in distress, but without sharing his emotion, without feeling misery or compassion; he will not indulge, but he will spare, advise, and improve; he will not remit punishments in cases in which he knows them to be deserved, but, from a sense of justice, he will take human weakness into consideration in allotting punishments, and make every possible allowance for circumstances. Every difficulty is not, indeed, removed by these statements; still, those which remain apply more to the Stoic demand for apathy than to the reconciliation of the two virtues which regulate our relations to our fellow-men.
The society for which all rational beings are intended will naturally be found to exist principally among those who have become alive to their rational nature and destiny--in other words, among the wise. All who are wise and virtuous are friends, because they agree in their views of life, and because they all love one another's virtue. Thus every action of a wise man contributes to the well-being of every other wise man--or, as the Stoics pointedly express it, if a wise man only makes a rational movement with his finger, he does a service to all wise men throughout the world. On the other hand, only a wise man knows how to love properly; true friendship only exists between wise men. Only the wise man possesses the art of making friends, since love is only won by love. If, however, true friendship is a union between the good and the wise, its value is thereby at once established; and hence it is distinctly enumerated among goods by the Stoics.
On this point, difficulties reappear. How can this need of society be reconciled with the wise man's freedom from wants? If the wise man is self-sufficient, how can another help him? How can he stand in need of such help? The answers given by Seneca are not satisfactory. To the first question, he replies, that none but a wise man can give the right inducement to a wise man to call his powers into exercise. He meets the second by saying, that a wise man suffices himself for happiness, but not for life. Everywhere the wise man finds inducements to virtuous action; if friendship is not a condition of happiness, it is not a good at all. Nor are his further observations more satisfactory. The wise man, he says, does not wish to be without friends, but still he can be without friends. But the question is not whether he can be, but whether he can be without loss of happiness. If the question so put is answered in the negative, it follows that the wise man is not altogether self-sufficing; if in the affirmative--and a wise man, as Seneca affirms, will bear the loss of a friend with calmness, because he comforts himself with the thought that he can have another at any moment--then friendship is not worth much. Moreover, if a wise man can help another by communicating to him information and method, since no wise man is omniscient, is not a wise man, if not in possession of all knowledge, at least in possession of all knowledge contributing to virtue and happiness? If it be added, that what one learns from another he learns by his own powers, and in consequence of himself helping himself, does not this addition still overlook the fact that the teacher’s activity is the condition of the learner’s? True and beautiful as is the language of Seneca: Friendship has its value in itself alone; every wise man must wish to find those like himself; the good have a natural love for the good; the wise man needs a friend, not to have a nurse in sickness and an assistant in trouble, but to have some one whom he can tend and assist, and for whom he can live and die--nevertheless, this language does not meet the critical objection, that one who requires the help of another, be it only to have an object for his moral activity, cannot be wholly dependent on himself. If friendship, according to a previously quoted distinction, belongs to external goods, it makes man, in a certain sense, dependent on externals. If its essence is placed in an inward disposition of friendliness, such a disposition depends on the existence of those for whom it can be felt. Besides, it involves the necessity of being reciprocated, and of finding expression in outward conduct, to such an extent that it is quite subversive of the absolute independence of the individual.
Nor is the friendship of the wise the only form of society which appeared to the Stoics necessary and essential. If man is intended to associate with his fellow-men in a society regulated by justice and law, how can he withdraw from the most common institution--the state? If virtue does not consist in idle contemplation, but in action, how dare he lose the opportunity of promoting good and repressing evil by taking part in political life? If laws further the well-being and security of the citizens, if they advance virtue and happiness, how can the wise man fail to regard them as beautiful and praiseworthy? For the same reason, matrimony will command his respect. He will neither deny himself a union so natural and intimate, nor will he deprive the state of relays of men nor society of the sight of well-ordered family life Hence, in their writings and precepts, the Stoics paid great attention to the state and to domestic life. In marriage they required chastity and moderation. Love was to be a matter of reason, not of emotion--not a yielding to personal attractions, nor a seeking sensual gratification. As to their views on the constitution of a state, we know that they prefer a mixed constitution, compounded of the three simple forms, without objecting to other forms of government. The wise man, according to Chrysippus, will not despise the calling of a prince, if his interest so require, and, if he cannot govern himself, will reside at the court and in the camp of princes, particularly of good princes.
The ideal of the Stoics, however, was not realized in any one of the existing forms of government, but in that polity of the wise which Zeno described, undoubtedly when a Cynic, but which was fully set forth by Chrysippus--a state without marriage, or family, or temples, or courts, or public schools, or coins--a state excluding no other states, because all differences of nationality have been merged in a common brotherhood of all men. Such an ideal may show that, for the Stoic philosophers, there could be no hearty sympathy with the state or the family, their ideal state being, in truth, no longer a state. Indeed, the whole tone of Stoicism, and still more, the circumstances of the times to which it owed its rise and growth, were against such a sympathy. If Plato could find no place for a philosopher in the political institutions of his time, how could a Stoic, who looked for happiness more exclusively in seclusion from the world, who contrasted, too, the wise man more sharply with the multitude of fools, and lived for the most part under political circumstances far less favorable than Plato? To him the private life of a philosopher must have seemed beyond compare more attractive than a public career. An intelligent man, taking advice from Chrysippus, avoids business; he withdraws to peaceful retirement; and, though he may consider it his duty not to stand aloof from public life, still he can only actively take a part in it in states which present an appreciable progress towards perfection. But where could such states be found? Did not Chrysippus state it as his conviction that a statesman must either displease the Gods or displease the people? And did not later Stoics accordingly advise philosophers not to intermeddle at all in civil matters? Labor for the commonwealth is only then a duty when there is no obstacle to such labor; but, as a matter of fact, there is always some obstacle, and in particular, the condition of all existing states. A philosopher who teaches and improves his fellow-men benefits the state quite as much as a warrior, an administrator, or a civil functionary.
Following out this idea, Epictetus dissuades from matrimony and the begetting of children. Allowing that the family relation may be admitted in a community of wise men, he is of opinion that it is otherwise under existing circumstances; for how can a true philosopher engage in connections and actions which withdraw him from the service of God? The last expression already implies that unfavorable times were not the only cause deterring the Stoics from caring for family or the state, but that the occupation in itself seemed to them a subordinate and limited one. This is stated in plain terms by Seneca and Epictetus: He who feels himself a citizen of the world finds in an individual state a sphere far too limited, and prefers devoting himself to the universe; man is no doubt intended to be active, but the highest activity is intellectual research. On the subject of civil society, opinions were likely to vary, according to the peculiarities and circumstances of individuals. The philosopher on the throne was more likely than the freedman Epictetus to feel himself a citizen of Rome as well as a citizen of the world, and to lower the demands made on a philosophic statesman. At the same time, the line taken by the Stoic philosophy cannot be ignored. A philosophy which attaches moral value to the cultivation of intentions only, and considers all external circumstances as indifferent, can hardly produce a taste or a skill for overcoming those outward interests and circumstances with which a politician is chiefly concerned. A system which regards the mass of men as fools, which denies to them every healthy endeavor and all true knowledge, can hardly bring itself unreservedly to work for a state, the course and institutions of which depend upon the majority of its members, and are planned with a view to their needs, prejudices, and customs. Undoubtedly, there were able statesmen among the Stoics of the Roman period; but Rome, and not Stoicism, was the cause of their statesmanship. Taken alone, Stoicism could form excellent men, but hardly excellent statesmen. And, looking to facts, not one of the old masters of the School ever had or desired to have any public office. Hence, when their opponents urged that retirement was a violation of their principles, Seneca could with justice meet the charge by replying, that the true meaning of their principles ought to be gathered from their actual conduct.
The positive substitute wherewith the Stoics thought to replace the ordinary relations of civil society was by a citizenship of the world. No preceding system had been able to overcome the difficulty of nationalities. Even Plato and Aristotle shared the prejudice of the Greeks against foreigners. The Cynics alone appear as the precursors of the Stoa, attaching slight value to the citizenship of any particular state, in comparison with citizenship of the world. With the Cynics, this idea had not attained to the historical importance which afterwards belonged to it; nor was it used so much with a positive meaning, to express the essential oneness of all mankind, as, in a negative sense, to imply the philosopher’s independence of country and home. From the Stoic philosophy it first received a definite meaning, and was generally pressed into service. The causes of this change may be sought, not only in the historical surroundings amongst which Stoicism grew up, but also in the person of its founder. It was far easier for philosophy to overcome national dislikes, after the genial Macedonian conqueror had united the vigorous nationalities comprised within his monarchy, not only under a central government, but also in a common culture. Hence the Stoic citizenship of the world may be appealed to, to prove the assertion, that philosophic Schools reflect the existing facts of history. On the other hand, taking into account the bias given to a philosopher’s teaching by his personal circumstances, Zeno, being only half a Greek, would be more ready to underestimate the distinction of Greek and barbarian than any one of his predecessors.
However much these two causes--and, in particular, the first--must have contributed to bring about the Stoic ideal of a citizenship of the world, nevertheless the connection of this idea with the whole of their system is most obvious. If human society, as we have seen, has for its basis the identity of reason in individuals, what ground have we for limiting this society to a single nation, or feeling ourselves more nearly related to some men than to others? All men, apart from what they have made themselves by their own exertions, are equally near, since all equally participate in reason. All are members of one body; for one and the same nature has fashioned them all from the same elements for the same destiny. Or, as Epictetus expresses it in religious language, all men are brethren, since all have in the same decree God for their father. Man, therefore, who and whatever else he may be, is the object of our solicitude, simply as being man. No hostility and ill-treatment should quench our benevolence. No one is so low but that he has claims on the love and justice of his fellow-men. Even the slave is a man deserving our esteem, and able to claim from us his rights.
In their recognition of the universal rights of mankind the Stoics did not go so far as to disapprove of slavery. Attaching in general little value to external circumstances, they cared the less to throw down the gauntlet to the social institutions and arrangements of their time. Still, they could not wholly suppress a confession that slavery is unjust, nor cease to aim at mitigating the evil both in theory and practice. If all men are, as rational beings, equal, all men together form one community. Reason is the common law for all, and those who owe allegiance to one law are members of one state. If the Stoics, therefore, compared the world, in its more extended sense, to a society, because of the connection of its parts, they must, with far more reason, have allowed that the world, in the narrower sense of the term, including all rational beings, forms one community, to which individual communities are related, as the houses of a city are to the city collectively. Wise men, at least, if not others, will esteem this great community, to which all men belong, far above any particular community in which the accident of birth has placed them. They, at least, will direct their efforts towards making all men feel themselves to be citizens of one community; and, instead of framing exclusive laws and constitutions, will try to live as one family, under the common governance of reason. The platform of social propriety receives hereby a universal width. Man, by withdrawing from the outer world into the recesses of his own intellectual and moral state, becomes enabled to recognize everywhere the same nature as his own, and to feel himself one with the universe, by sharing with it the same nature and the same destiny.
But, as yet, the moral problem is not exhausted. Reason, the same as man's, rules pure and complete in the universe; and if it is the business of man to give play to reason in his own conduct, and to recognize it in that of others, it is also his duty to subordinate himself to collective reason, and to the course of the world, over which it presides. In conclusion, therefore, the relation of man to the course of the world must be considered.
Firmly as the principles of the Stoic ethics insist upon moral conduct, those ethics, judged by their whole tone, cannot rest short of requiring an absolute resignation to the course of the universe. This requirement is based quite as much upon the historical surroundings of their system as upon its intellectual principles. How, in an age in which political freedom was crushed by the oppression of the Macedonian and subsequently of the Roman dominion, and the Roman dominion was itself smothered under the despotism of imperialism, in which Might, like a living fate, crushed every attempt at independent action--how, in such an age, could those aiming at higher objects than mere personal gratification have any alternative but to resign themselves placidly to the course of circumstances which individuals and nations were alike powerless to control? In making a dogma of fatalism. Stoicism was only following the current of the age. At the same time, as will be seen from what has been said, it was only following the necessary consequences of its own principles. All that is individual in the world being only the result of a general connection of cause and effect--only a carrying out of a universal law--what remains possible, in the face of this absolute necessity, but to yield unconditionally? How can yielding be called a sacrifice, when the law to which we yield is nothing less than the expression of reason? Hence resignation to the world’s course was a point chiefly insisted upon in the Stoic doctrine of morality. The verses of Cleanthes, in which he submits without reserve to the leading of destiny, are a theme repeatedly worked out by the writers of this School. The virtuous man, they say, will honor God by resigning his will to the divine will; the divine will he will think better than his own will; he will remember that under all circumstances we must follow destiny, but that it is the wise man’s prerogative to follow of his own accord; that there is only one way to happiness and independence--that of willing nothing except what is in the nature of things, and what will realize itself independently of our will.
Similar expressions are not wanting amongst other philosophers. Nevertheless, by the Stoic philosophy, the demand is pressed with particular force, and is closely connected with its whole view of the world. In resignation to destiny, the Stoic picture of the wise man is completed. Therewith is included that peace and happiness of mind, that gentleness and benevolence, that discharge of all duties, and that harmony of life, which together make up the Stoic definition of virtue. Beginning by recognizing the existence of a general law, morality ends by conditionally submitting itself to the ordinances of that law.
The one case in which this resignation would give place to active resistance to destiny is when man is placed in circumstances calling for unworthy action or endurance. Strictly speaking, the first case can never arise, since, from the Stoic platform, no state of life can be imagined which might not serve as an occasion for virtuous conduct. It does, however, seem possible that even the wise man may be placed by fortune in positions which are for him unendurable; and in this case he is allowed to withdraw from them by suicide. The importance of this point in the Stoic ethics will become manifest from the language of Seneca, who asserts that the wise man’s independence of externals depends, among other things, on his being able to leave life at pleasure. To Seneca, the deed of the younger Cato appears not only praiseworthy, but the crowning act of success over destiny, the highest triumph of the human will. By the chief teachers of the Stoic School this doctrine was carried into practice. Zeno, in old age, hung himself, because he had broken his finger; Cleanthes, for a still less cause, continued his abstinence till he died of starvation, in order to traverse the whole way to death; and, in later times, the example of Zeno and Cleanthes was followed by Antipater.
In these cases suicide appears not only as a way of escape, possible under circumstances, but absolutely as the highest expression of moral freedom. Whilst all are far from being advised to adopt this course, everyone is required to embrace the opportunity of dying with glory, when no higher duties bind him to life. Everyone is urged, in case of need, to receive death at his own hand, as a pledge of his independence. Nor are cases of need decided by what really makes a man unhappy--moral vice or folly. Vice and folly must be met by other means. Death is no deliverance from them, since it makes the bad no better. The one satisfactory reason which the Stoics recognized for taking leave of life is, when circumstances over which we have no control make continuance in life no longer desirable.
Such circumstances may be found in the greatest variety of things. Cato committed suicide because of the downfall of the republic; Zeno, because of a slight injury received. According to Seneca, it is a sufficient reason for committing suicide to anticipate merely a considerable disturbance in our actions and peace of mind. The infirmity of age, incurable disease, a weakening of the powers of the mind, a great degree of want, the tyranny of a despot from which there is no escape, justify us--and even, under circumstances, oblige us--to have recourse to this remedy. Seneca, indeed, maintains that a philosopher should never commit suicide in order to escape suffering, but only to withdraw from restrictions in following out the aim of life; but he is nevertheless of opinion that anyone may rightly choose an easier mode of death instead of a more painful one in prospect, thus avoiding a freak of destiny and the cruelty of man. Besides pain and sickness, Diogenes also mentions a case in which suicide becomes a duty, for the sake of others. According to another authority, five cases are enumerated by the Stoics in which it is allowed to put oneself to death; if, by so doing, a real service can be rendered to others, as in the case of sacrificing oneself for one's country; to avoid being compelled to do an unlawful action; otherwise, on the ground of poverty, chronic illness, or incipient weakness of mind.
In nearly all these cases, the things referred to belong to the class of things which were reckoned as indifferent by the Stoics; and hence arises the apparent paradox, with which their opponents immediately twitted them, that not absolute and moral evils, but only outward circumstances, are admitted as justifying suicide. The paradox, however, loses its point when it is remembered that, to the Stoics, life and death are quite as much indifferent as all other external things. To them, nothing really good appears to be involved in the question of suicide, but a choice between two things morally indifferent--one of which, life, is only preferable to the other, death, whilst the essential conditions for a life according to nature are satisfied. The philosopher, therefore, says Seneca, chooses his mode of death just as he chooses a ship for a journey or a house to live in. He leaves life as he would leave a banquet--when it is time. He lays aside his body when it no longer suits him, as he would lay aside worn-out clothes; and withdraws from life as he would withdraw from a house no longer weather-proof.
A very different question, however, it is, whether life can be
treated in this way as something indifferent, and whether it is
consistent with an unconditional resignation to the course of the
world, to evade by personal interposition what destiny with its
unalterable laws has decreed for us. Stoicism may, indeed, allow
this course of action. But in so doing does it not betray its
ill-success in the attempt to combine, without contradiction, two
main tendencies so different as that of individual independence
and that of submission to the universe?
This philosophic religion is quite independent of the traditional religion. The Stoic philosophy contains no feature of importance which we can pronounce with certainty to be taken from the popular faith. The true worship of God, according to their view, consists only in the mental effort to know God, and in a moral and pious life. A really acceptable prayer can have no reference to external goods; it can only have for its object a virtuous and devout mind. Still, there were reasons which led the Stoics to seek a closer union with the popular faith. A system which attached so great an importance to popular opinion, particularly in proving the existence of God, could not, without extreme danger to itself, declare the current opinions respecting the Gods to be erroneous. And again, the ethical platform of the Stoic philosophy imposed on its adherents the duty of upholding rather than overthrowing the popular creed--that creed forming a barrier against the violence of human passions. The practical value of the popular faith may, then, be the cause of their theological orthodoxy. Just as the Romans, long after all faith in the Gods had been lost under the influence of Greek culture, still found it useful and necessary to uphold the traditional faith, so the Stoics may have feared that, were the worship of the people’s Gods to be suspended, that respect for God and the divine law on which they depended for the support of their own moral tenets would at the same time be exterminated.
Meantime, they did not deny that much in the popular belief would not harmonize with their principles; and that both the customary forms of religious worship, and also the mythical representations of the Gods, were altogether untenable. So little did they conceal their strictures, that it is clear that conviction, and not fear (there being no longer occasion for fear), was the cause of their leaning towards tradition. Zeno spoke with contempt of the erection of sacred edifices; for how can a thing be sacred which is erected by builders and laborers? Seneca denies the good of prayer. He considers it absurd to entertain fear for the Gods, who are ever-beneficent beings. God he would have worshipped, not by sacrifices and ceremonies, but by purity of life; not in temples of stone, but in the shrine of the heart. Of images of the Gods, and the devotion paid to them, he speaks with strong disapprobation; of the unworthy fables of mythology, with bitter ridicule; and he calls the popular Gods, without reserve, creations of superstition, whom the philosopher only invokes because it is the custom so to do. Moreover, the Stoic in Cicero, and the elder authorities quoted by him, allow that the popular beliefs and the songs of the poets are full of superstition and foolish legends. Chrysippus is expressly said to have declared the distinction of sex among the Gods, and other features in which they resemble men, to be childish fancies; seasons called Gods, as was done by Zeno, or at least by bis School. Yet, it must be remembered, that the Stoics referred these times and seasons to heavenly bodies, as their material embodiments.
As the stars are the first manifestation, so the elements are the first particular forms of the Divine Being, and the most common materials for the exercise of the divine powers. It is, however, becoming that the all-pervading divine mind should not only be honored in its primary state, but likewise in its various derivate forms, as air, water, earth, and elementary fire.
All other things, too, which, by their utility to man, display in a high degree the beneficent power of God, appeared to the Stoics to deserve divine honors, such honors not being paid to the things themselves, but to the powers active within them. They did not, therefore, hesitate to give the names of Gods to fruits and wine, and other gifts of the Gods.
How, then, could they escape the inference that among other beneficent beings, the heroes of antiquity in particular deserve religious honors, seeing that in these benefactors of mankind, whom legend commemorates, the Divine Spirit did not show Himself under the lower form of a stable disposition, as in the elements, nor yet as simple nature, as in plants, but as a rational soul? Such deified men had, according to the Stoic view--which, on this point, agrees with the well-known theory of Euemerus--greatly helped to swell the number of the popular Gods; nor had the Stoics themselves any objection to their worship. Add to this the personification of human qualities and states of mind, and it will be seen what ample opportunity the Stoics had for recognizing everywhere in nature and in the world of man divine agencies and powers, and, consequently, Gods in the wider sense of the term. When once it is allowed that the name of God may be diverted from the Being to whom it properly belongs and applied, in a derivative sense, to what is impersonal and a mere manifestation of divine power, the door is opened to everything; and, with such concessions, the Stoic system could graft into itself even exceptional forms of polytheism.
With the worship of heroes is also connected the doctrine of demons. The soul, according to the Stoic view already set forth, is of divine origin, a part of and emanation from God. Or, distinguishing more accurately in the soul one part from the rest, divinity belongs to reason only, as the governing part. Now, since reason alone protects man from evil and conducts him to happiness--this, too, was the popular belief--reason may be described as the guardian spirit, or demon, in man. Not only by the younger members of the Stoic School, by Posidonius, Seneca, Epictetus, and Antoninus, are the popular notions of demons, as by Plato aforetime, explained in this sense, but the same method is pursued by Chrysippus. who made eudaimonia, or happiness, consist in a harmony of the demon in man (which, in this case, can only be his own will and understanding) with the will of God. Little were the Stoics aware that, by such explanations, they were attributing to popular notions a meaning wholly foreign to them. But it does not therefore follow that they shared the popular belief in guardian spirits. Their system, however, left room for believing that, besides the human soul and the spirits of the stars, other rational souls might exist, having a definite work to perform in the world, subject to the law of general necessity, and knit into the chain of cause and effect. Nay, more, such beings might seem to them necessary for the completeness of the universe. What reason have we, then, to express doubt, when we are told that the Stoics believed in the existence of demons, playing a part in man and caring for him? Is there anything extraordinary, from the Stoic platform, in holding that some of these demons are by nature inclined to do harm, and that these tormentors are used by the deity for the punishment of the wicked, especially when in such a strict system of necessity these demons could only work, like the powers of nature, conformably with the laws of the universe and without disturbing those laws, occupying the same ground as lightning, earthquakes, and drought? And yet the language of Chrysippus, when speaking of evil demons who neglect the duties entrusted to them, sounds as though it were only figurative and tentative language, not really meant. Besides, the later Stoics made themselves merry over the Jewish and Christian notions of demons and demoniacal possession.
Even without accepting demons, there were not wanting in the Stoic system points with which the popular beliefs could be connected, if it was necessary to find in these beliefs some deeper meaning. It mattered not that these beliefs were often so distorted in the process of accommodation as to be no longer recognized The process required a regular code of interpretation by means of which a philosophic mind could see its own thoughts in the utterances of commonplace thinkers. By the Stoics, as by their Jewish and Christian followers, this code of interpretation was found in the method of allegorical interpretation--a method which received a most extended application, in order to bridge over the gulf between the older and the more modern types of culture. Zeno, and still more Cleanthes, Chrysippus, and their successors, sought to discover natural principles and moral ideas--the physical aspects,--in the Gods of popular belief and the stories of these Gods, and supposed that such principles and ideas were represented in these stories in a sensuous form. In this attempt, they clung to the poems of Homer and Hesiod, the Bible of the Greeks, without, however, excluding other mythology from the sphere of their investigation. One chief instrument which they, and modern lovers of the symbolical following in their footsteps, employed was a capricious playing with etymologies of which so many instances are on record. Like most allegorisers, they also laid down certain principles of interpretation sensible enough theoretically, but proving, by the use which was made of them, that their scientific appearance was only a blind to conceal the most capricious vagaries. Approaching in some of their explanations to the original bases of mythological formation, they were still unable to shake off the curious notion that the originators of myths, fully conscious of all their latent meanings, had framed them as pictures to appeal to the senses; and, in innumerable cases, they resorted to explanations so entirely without foundation that they would have been impossible to anyone possessing a sound view of nature and the origin of legends. To make theory tally with practice, the founder of the School--following Antisthenes, and setting an example afterwards repeated by both Jews and Christians--maintained that Homer only in some places expressed himself according to truth, in others according to popular opinion. Thus did Stoicism surround itself with the necessary instruments for the most extended allegorical and dogmatic interpretation.
Proceeding further to inquire how this method was applied to particular stories, the first point which attracts attention is the contrast which they draw between Zeus and the remaining Gods. From their belief in one divine principle everywhere at work, it followed as a corollary that this contrast, which elsewhere in Greek mythology is only a difference of degree, was raised to a specific and absolute difference. Zeus was compared to other Gods as an incorruptible God to transitory divine beings. To the Stoics, as to their predecessor Heraclitus. Zeus is the one primary Being, who has engendered, and again absorbs into himself, all things and all Gods. He is the universe as a unity, the primary fire, the ether, the spirit of the world, the universal reason, the general law or destiny. All other Gods, as being parts of the world, are only parts and manifestations of Zeus--only special names of the one God who has many names. That part of Zeus which goes over into air is called Hera; and its lower strata, full of vapors, Hades; that which becomes elementary fire is called Hephaestus; that which becomes water, Poseidon; that which becomes earth, Demeter, Hestia, and Rhea; lastly, that portion which remains in the upper region is called Athene in the more restricted sense. And since, according to the Stoics, the finer elements are the same as spirit, Zeus is not only the soul of the universe, but Athene, Reason, Intelligence, Providence. The same Zeus appears in other respects as Hermes, Dionysus, Hercules. The Homeric story of the binding and liberation of Zeus points to the truth, already established in Providence, that the order of the world rests on the balance of the elements. The rise and succession of the elements is symbolized in the hanging of Hera; the arrangement of the spheres of the universe, in the golden chain by which the Olympians thought to pull down Zeus. The lameness of Hephaestus goes partly to prove the difference of the earthly from the heavenly fire, and partly implies that earthly fire can as little do without wood as the lame can do without a wooden support; and if, in Homer, Hephaestus is hurled down from heaven, the meaning of the story is, that in ancient times men lighted their fires by lightning from heaven and the rays of the sun. The connection of Hera with Zeus points to the relation of the ether to the air surrounding it; and the well-known occurrence on Mount Ida was referred to the same event. The still more offensive scene in the Samian picture was expounded by Chrysippus as meaning that the fertilizing powers of God are brought to bear upon matter. A similar meaning is found by Heraclitus in the story of Proteus, and in that of the shield of Achilles. If Hephaestus intended this shield to be a representation of this world, what else is thereby meant but that, by the influence of primary fire, matter has been shaped into a world?
In a similar way, the Homeric theomachy was explained by many to mean a conjunction of the seven planets, which would involve the world in great trouble. Heraclitus, however, gives the preference to an interpretation, half physical and half moral, which may have been already advanced by Cleanthes. Ares and Aphrodite, rashness and profligacy, are opposed by Athene, or prudence; Leto, forgetfulness, is attacked by Hermes, the revealing word: Apollo, the sun, by Poseidon, the God of the water, with whom, however, he comes to terms, because the sun is fed by the vapors of the water; Artemis, the moon, is opposed by Hera, the air, through which it passes, and which often obscures it; Fluvius, or earthly water, by Hephaestus, or earthly fire. That Apollo is the sun, and Artemis the moon, no one doubts; nor did it cause any difficulty to these mythologists to find the moon also in Athene. Many subtle discussions were set on foot by the Stoics respecting the name, the form, and the attributes of these Gods, particularly by Cleanthes, for whom the sun had particular importance, as being the seat of the power which rules the world. The stories of the birth of the Lotoides and the defeat of the dragon Pytho are, according to Antipater, symbolical of events which took place at the formation of the world, and the creation of the sun and moon. Others find in the descent of two Gods from Leto the simpler thought, that sun and moon came forth out of darkness. In the same spirit, Heraclitus, without disparaging the original meaning of the story, sees in the swift-slaying arrows of Apollo a picture of devastating pestilence; but then, in an extraordinary manner, misses the natural sense, in gathering from the Homeric story of Apollo’s reconciliation (II. i. 53) the lesson, that Achilles stayed the plague by the medical science which Chiron had taught him.
Far more plausible is the explanation given of the dialogue of Athene with Achilles, and of Hermes with Ulysses. These dialogues are stated to be simply soliloquies of the two heroes respectively. But the Stoic skill in interpretation appears in its fullest glory in supplying the etymological meanings of the various names and epithets which are attributed to Athene. We learn, for instance, that the name Tritogeneia refers to the three divisions of philosophy. Heraclitus discovers the same divisions in the three heads of Cerberus. Chrysippus, in a diffuse manner, proves that the coming forth of the Goddess from the head of Zens is not at variance with his view of the seat of reason. It has been already observed that Dionysus means wine, and Demeter fruit; but, just as the latter was taken to represent the earth and its nutritions powers, so Dionysus was further supposed to stand for the principle of natural life, the productive and sustaining breath of life; and since this breath comes from the sun, according to Cleanthes, it was not difficult to find the sun represented by the God of wine. Moreover, the stories of the birth of Dionysus, his being torn to pieces by Titans, his followers, no less than the rape of Proserpine, and the institution of agriculture, and the names of the respective Gods, afforded ample material for the interpreting tastes of the Stoics.
The Fates, as their name already indicates, stand for the righteous and invariable rule of destiny; the Graces, as to whose names, number, and qualities Chrysippus has given the fullest discussion, represent the virtues of benevolence and gratitude; the Muses, the divine origin of culture. Ares is war; Aphrodite unrestrained passion, or, more generally, absence of control. Other interpreters, and among them Empedocles, consider Ares to represent the separating, Aphrodite the uniting, power of nature. The stories of the two deities being wounded by Diomedes, of their adulterous intrigues, and their being bound by Hephaestus, are explained in various ways--morally, physically, technically, and historically.
In the case of another God, Pan, the idea of the Allnear was suggested simply by the name. His shaggy goat's feet were taken to represent the solid earth, and the human form of his upper limbs implied that the sovereign power in the world resides above. To the Stoic without a misgiving as to these and similar explanations, it was a matter of small difficulty to make the Titan Iapetus stand for language, and Coeus for quality. Add to this the many more or less ingenious explanations of the well-known stories of Uranos and Cronos, and we are still far from having exhausted the resources of the Stoic explanations of mythology. The most important attempts of this kind have, however, been sufficiently noticed.
Besides the legends of the Gods, the legends of the heroes attracted considerable attention in the Stoic-Schools. Specially were the persons of Hercules and Ulysses singled out for the sake of illustrating the ideal of the wise man. But here, too, various modes of interpretation meet and cross. According to Cornutus, the God Hercules must be distinguished from the hero of the same name--the God being nothing less than Reason, ruling in the world without a superior: and the grammarian makes every effort to unlock with this key his history and attributes. Nevertheless, with all his respect for Cleanthes, he could not accept that Stoic's explanation of the twelve labors of Hercules. Heraclitus has probably preserved the chief points in this explanation. Hercules is a teacher of mankind, initiated into the heavenly wisdom. He overcomes the wild boar, the lion, and the bull, i.e. the lusts and passions of men; he drives away the deer, i.e. cowardice; he purifies the stall of Augeas from filth, i.e. he purifies the life of men from extravagances; he frightens away the birds, i.e. empty hopes; and burns to ashes the many-headed hydra of pleasure. He brings the keeper of the nether world to light, with his three heads--these heads representing the three chief divisions of philosophy. In the same way, the wounding of Hera and Hades by Hercules is explained. Hera, the Goddess of the air, represents the fog of ignorance, the three-barbed arrow undeniably (so thought the Stoics) pointing to philosophy, with its threefold division, in its heavenly flight. The laying prostrate of Hades by that arrow implies that philosophy has access even to things most secret. The Odyssey is explained by Heraclitus in the same strain, nor was he apparently the first so to do. In Ulysses you behold a pattern of all virtues, and an enemy of all vices. He flees from the country of the Lotophagi, i.e. from wicked pleasures; he stays the wild rage of the Cyclopes; he calms the winds, having first secured a prosperous passage by his knowledge of the stars; the attractions of pleasure in the house of Circe he overcomes, penetrates into the secrets of Hades, learns from the Sirens the history of all times, saves himself from the Charybdis of profligacy and the Scylla of shamelessness, and, in abstaining from the oxen of the sun, overcomes sensuous desires. Such explanations may suffice to show how the whole burden of the myths was resolved into allegory by the Stoics, how little they were conscious of foisting in foreign elements, and how they degraded to mere symbols of philosophical ideas those very heroes on whose real existence they continually insisted.
The Stoic theology has engaged a good deal of our attention, not only because it is instructive to compare their views, in general and in detail, with similar views advanced nowadays, but also because it forms a very characteristic and important part of their entire system. To us, much of it appears to be a mere worthless trilling; but, to the Stoics, these explanations were solemnly earnest. To them they seemed to be the only means of rescuing the people’s faith, of meeting the severe charges brought against tradition and the works of the poets, on which a Greek had been fed from infancy. Unable to break entirely with these traditions, they still would not sacrifice to them their scientific and moral convictions. Can we, then, wonder that they attempted the impossible, and sought to unite contradictions? or that such an attempt landed them in forced and artificial methods of interpretation?
Illustrative of the attitude of the Stoics towards positive religion are their views on divination. The importance attached by them to the prophetic art appears in the diligence which the chiefs of this School devoted to discussing it. The ground for the later teaching having been prepared by Zeno and Cleanthes, Chrysippus gave the finishing touch to the Stoic dogmas on the subject. Particular treatises respecting divination were drawn up by Sphaerus, Diogenes, Antipater, and, last of all, by Posidonius. The subject was also fully treated by Boethius, and by Panaetius from a somewhat different side. The common notions as to prognostics and oracles could not commend themselves to these philosophers, nor could they approve of common soothsaying. In a system so purely based on nature as theirs, the supposition that God works for definite ends after the manner of men, exceptionally announcing to one or the other a definite result--in short, the marvelous--was out of place. But to infer thence--as their opponents, the Epicureans, did--that the whole art of divination is a delusion, was more than the Stoics could do. The belief in an extraordinary care of God for individual men was too comforting an idea for them to renounce; they not only appealed to divination as the strongest proof of the existence of Gods and the government of Providence, but they also drew the converse conclusion, that, if there be Gods, there must also be divination, since the benevolence of the Gods would not allow them to refuse to mankind so inestimable a gift. The conception of destiny, too, and the nature of man, appeared to Posidonius to lead to the belief in divination; if all that happens is the outcome of an unbroken chain of cause and effect, there must be signs indicating the existence of causes, from which certain effects result; and if the soul of man is in its nature divine, it must also possess the capacity, under circumstances, of observing what generally escapes its notice. Lest, however, the certainty of their belief should suffer from lacking the support of experience, the Stoics had collected a number of instances of verified prophecies; but with so little discrimination, that we should only wonder at their credulity, did we not know the low state of historical criticism in their time, and the readiness with which, in all ages, men believe whatever agrees with their prejudices.
In what way, then, can the two facts be combined--the belief in prophecy, on the one hand, and, on the other, the denial of unearthly omens arising from an immediate divine influence? In answering this question, the Stoics adopted the only course which their system allowed. The marvelous, which, as such, they could not admit, was referred to natural laws, from which it was speculatively deduced. The admirable Panaetius is the only Stoic who is reported to have maintained the independence of his judgment by denying omens, prophecy, and astrology. Just as in modern times Leibniz and so many others both before and after him thought to purge away from the marvelous all that is accidental and superhuman, and to find in wonders links in the general chain of natural causes, so, too, the Stoics, by assuming a natural connection between the token and its fulfillment, made an effort to rescue omens and divination, and to explain portents as the natural symptoms of certain occurrences. Nor did they confine themselves to cases in which the connection between the prophecy and the event can be proved. They insisted upon divination in cases in which it cannot possibly be verified. The flight of birds and the entrails of victims are stated to be natural indications of coming events; and there is said to be even a formal connection between the positions of the stars and the individuals born under those positions. If it is urged, that in this case omens must be far more numerous than they are supposed to be, the Stoics answered, that omens are countless, but that only the meaning of a few is known to men. If the question is asked, how is it that, in public sacrifices, the priest should always offer those very animals whose entrails contain omens, Chrysippus and his followers did not hesitate to affirm that the same sympathy which exists between objects and omens also guides the sacrificer in the choice of a victim. And yet so bald was this hypothesis, that they had. at the same time, a second answer in reserve, viz. that the corresponding change in the entrails did not take place until the victim had been chosen. In support of such views, their only appeal was to the almighty power of God; but, in making this appeal, the deduction of omens from natural causes was at an end.
The Stoics could not altogether suppress a suspicion that an unchangeable predestination of all events has rendered individual activity superfluous, nor meet the objection that, on the hypothesis of necessity, divination itself is unnecessary. They quieted themselves, however, with the thought that divination, and the actions resulting from divination, are included among the causes foreordained by destiny.
Divination, or soothsaying, consists in the capacity to read and interpret omens; and this capacity is, according to the Stoics, partly a natural gift, and partly acquired by art and study. The natural gift of prophecy is based, as other philosophers had already laid down, on the relationship of the human soul to God. Sometimes it manifests itself in sleep, at other times in ecstasy. A taste for higher revelations will be developed, in proportion as the soul is withdrawn from the world of sense, and from all thought respecting things external. The actual cause of the prophetic gift was referred to influences coming to the soul partly from God or the universal spirit diffused throughout the world, and partly from the souls which haunt the air or demons. External causes, however, contribute to put people in a state of enthusiasm.
Artificial prophesying, or the art of foretelling the future, depends upon observation and guess-work. One who could survey all causes in their effects on one another would need no observation. Such a one would be able to deduce the whole series of events from the given causes. But God alone is able to do this. Hence men must gather the knowledge of future events from the indications by which their coming is announced. These indications may be of every variety; and hence all possible forms of foretelling the future were allowed by the Stoics; the inspection of entrails, divination by lightning and other natural phenomena, by the flight of birds, and omens of every kind. Some idea of the mass of superstition which the Stoics admitted and encouraged may be gathered from the first book of Cicero’s treatise on divination. The explanation of these omens being, however, a matter of skill, individuals in this, as in every other art, may often go wrong in their interpretation. To make sure against mistakes tradition is partly of use, since it establishes by manifold experiences the meaning of each omen; and the moral state of the prophet is quite as important for scientifically foretelling the future as for the natural gift of divination. Purity of heart is one of the most essential conditions of prophetic success.
In all these questions the moral character of Stoic piety is
ever to the fore, and great pains were taken by the Stoics to
bring their belief in prophecy into harmony with their philosophic
view of the world. Nevertheless, it is clear that success could
not be theirs either in making this attempt, or indeed in dealing
with any other parts of the popular belief. Struggling with
indefatigable zeal in an attempt so hopeless, they proved at least
the sincerity of their wish to reconcile religion and philosophy;
but they also disclosed by these endeavors a misgiving that
science, which had put on so bold a face, was not in itself
sufficient, but needed support from the traditions of religion,
and from a belief in divine revelations. Probably we shall not be
far wrong in referring to this practical need the seeming vagaries
of men like Chrysippus, who, with the clearest intellectual
powers, could be blind to the folly of the methods they adopted in
defending untenable and antiquated opinions. These vagaries show
in Stoicism practical interests preponderating over science. They
also establish the connection of Stoicism with Schools which
doubted altogether the truth of the understanding, and thought to
supplement it by divine revelations. Thus the Stoic theory of
divination leads directly to the Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic
doctrine of revelation.
If it be then asked what is the right moral attitude, the Stoics reply: action conformable to nature and reason--in other words, virtue. Virtue, however, implies two things. On the one hand it implies the resignation of the individual to the universe, obedience to the universal law; on the other hand it implies the harmony of man with himself, the dominion of the higher over the lower nature, of reason over emotion, and the rising superior to everything which does not belong to his true nature. Both statements may be reconciled, because the law of morality is addressed only to reasonable beings, and is the law of their nature, and can only be carried into execution by their own exertions. Still, in the Stoic ethics, two currents of thought may be clearly distinguished, which from time to time come into actual collision; the one requiring the individual to live for the common good and for society, the other impelling him to live for himself only, to emancipate himself from all that is not himself, and to console himself with the feeling of virtue. The first, of these tendencies impels man to seek the society of others; the second enables him to dispense with it. From the former spring the virtues of justice, sociability, love of man; from the latter, the inner freedom and happiness of the virtuous man. The former culminates in citizenship of the world; the latter in the self-sufficingness of the wise man. In as far as virtue includes everything that can be required of man, happiness depends on it alone; nothing is good but virtue, nothing is evil but vice; all that is not connected with the moral nature is indifferent. On the other hand, in as far as virtue is based on human nature, it stands on the same footing with all else that is conformable with nature. If its own peculiar value cannot be surrendered, no more can it be required that we should be indifferent to its conformity to nature, that it should not have for us some positive or negative value, or in some way affect our feelings. Therewith the doctrine of things indifferent and the wise man’s freedom from emotions begins to totter. Lastly, if we look at the way in which virtue exists in man, we arrive at different results, according as we look at its essence or its manifestation. Virtue consists in acting conformably with reason, and reason is one and undivided; hence it appears that virtue forms an undivided unity, and must be possessed whole and entire or not at all. From this proposition the contrast of the wise and foolish man, with all its bluntness and extravagances, is only a legitimate consequence. Or, again, if we look at the conditions upon which, owing to human nature, the acquisition and possession of virtue depends, the conviction is inevitable that the wise man as drawn by the Stoics never occurs in reality. Hence the conclusion is undeniable that the contrast between wise men and fools is more uncertain than it at first appeared to be. Thus all the main features of the Stoic ethics may be simply deduced from their one fundamental notion, that rational action or virtue is the only good.
Not only does this view of ethics require a peculiar theory of the world to serve as its scientific basis, but it has a reflex action also, influencing alike the tone and the results of theoretic inquiry. If the duty of man is declared to consist in bringing his actions into harmony with the laws of the universe, it becomes also necessary that he should endeavor himself to know the world and its laws. The more his knowledge of the world increases, the greater will be the value which he attaches to the forms of scientific procedure. If, moreover, man is required to be nothing more than an instrument of the universal law, it is only consistent to suppose an absolute regularity of procedure in the universe, an unbroken connection of cause and effect, and ultimately to refer everything to one highest all-moving cause, and to include everything under one primary substance. If in human life the individual has no rights as against the laws of the universe, then all that is of individual occurrence in the world is powerless against universal necessity. On the other hand, if in the case of man everything turns upon strength of will, then likewise in the universe the acting power must be regarded as the highest and most exalted. There arises thus that view of the world as a series of forces which constitutes one of the most peculiar and thorough-going characteristics of the Stoic view of nature. Lastly, if such excessive importance is attached to practical conduct as is done by the Stoics, that sensuous view of the world which finds its crudest expression in the Stoic Materialism and reliance on the senses, will most nearly accord with speculation, a union of ethical and speculative elements, in which both were more definitely determined by one another; still the ethical platform is the one on which its formation commences, and which primarily determined its course and results.
In order to obtain a more accurate notion of the rise of Stoicism, the premises on which it proceeds, and the grounds on which it is based, we must take a glance at its relation to preceding systems. The Stoics themselves deduced their philosophical pedigree directly from Antisthenes, and indirectly from Socrates. Clear as is their connection with both these philosophers, it would nevertheless be a mistake to regard their teaching as a revival of Cynicism, still more to regard it as a simple following of Socrates. From both it undoubtedly borrowed much. The self-sufficiency of virtue, the distinction of things good, evil, and indifferent, the ideal picture of the wise man, the whole withdrawal from the outer world within the precincts of the mind, and the strength of moral will, are ideas taken from the Cynics. In the spirit of Cynicism, too, it explained general ideas as simply names. Not to mention many peculiarities of ethics, the contrasting of one God with the many popular Gods, and the allegorical explanation of myths, were likewise points borrowed from Cynicism. The identification of virtue with intelligence, the belief that virtue was one, and could be imparted by teaching, were at once in the spirit of Socrates and also in that of the Cynics. The argument for the existence of God based on the subordination of means to ends, the whole view of the world as a system of means and ends, and the Stoic theory of Providence, are views peculiarly Socratic; and the Stoics followed Socrates in ethics by identifying the good and the useful.
And yet the greatness of the interval which separates the Stoics even from the Cynics becomes at once apparent on considering the relation of Aristo to the rest of the Stoic School. In refusing to meddle with natural or mental science, or even with ethical considerations at all, Aristo faithfully reflects the principles of Antisthenes. In asserting the unity of virtue to such an extent that all virtues are merged in one, he was only repeating similar expressions of Antisthenes. In denying any difference in value to things morally indifferent, and in placing the highest morality in this indifference, he was, according to the older writers, reasserting a Cynic tenet. Conversely in denying these statements, as the great majority of Stoics did, the points are indicated in which Stoicism differed from Cynicism. In the feeling of moral independence, and in invincible strength of will, the Cynic is opposed to the whole world; he needs for virtue no scientific knowledge of the world and its laws; he regards nothing external to himself; he allows nothing to influence his conduct, and attaches value to nothing; but, in consequence, he remains with his virtue confined to himself; virtue makes him independent of men and circumstances, but it has neither the will nor the power to interpose effectively in the affairs of life, and to infuse therein new moral notions. Stoicism insists upon the self-sufficiency of virtue quite as strongly as Cynicism, and will allow quite as little that anything except virtue can be a good in the strictest sense of the term. But in Stoicism the individual is not nearly so sharply opposed to the outer world as in Cynicism. The Stoic is too cultivated; he knows too well that he is a part of the universe to ignore the value of an intellectual view of the world, or to neglect the natural conditions of moral action, as things of no moment. What he aims at is not only a negation--independence from externals--but a positive position--life according to nature; and that life only he considers according to nature which is in harmony with the laws of the universe as well as with those of human nature. Hence Stoicism is not only far in advance of Cynicism by its intellectual attitude, but its moral philosophy also breathes a freer and milder spirit. Let only the principles of the Stoics on the necessity and value of scientific knowledge be compared with the sophistical assertions of Antisthenes, destructive of all knowledge; or the cultivated logical form of the intellectual edifice of the Stoics, with the chaotic condition of Cynic thought; or the careful metaphysical and psychological researches and the copious learning of the School of Chrysippus, with the Cynics’ contempt for all theory and all learned research, and it becomes apparent at once how deep-seated is the difference between the two systems, and how little Stoicism as a philosophic system can be deduced from Cynicism.
In ethics, too, the difference of the two Schools is also fully apparent. Stoic morality recognizes, at least conditionally, a positive and negative value in external things and circumstances; the Cynic allows to these absolutely no value. The former forbids affection contrary to reason, the latter any and every kind of affection. The former throws the individual back upon human society, the latter isolates him. The former teaches citizenship of the world in a positive sense, requiring all to feel themselves one with their fellow-men; the latter in a negative sense, that of feeling indifferent to home and family. The former has a pantheistic tone about it, due to the lively feeling of the connection between man and the universe, and a definite theological stamp owing to its taking a stand by positive religion; the latter has a rationalistic character, owing to the enfranchisement of the wise man from the prejudices of popular belief, with which it has exclusively to do. In all these respects Stoicism preserves the original character of the Socratic philosophy far better than Cynicism, which only caricatured them. Still it departs from that character in two respects. In point of theory the Stoic doctrine received a systematic form and development such as Socrates never contemplated; and in natural science, it cultivated a field avoided by Socrates on principle, however much its doctrine of Providence, and its view of nature as a system of means subordinated to ends, may remind of Socrates. On the other hand, interest in science, although limited to the subject of ethics, is with Socrates far deeper and stronger than with the Stoics, the latter pursuing scientific research only as a means for solving moral problems. Hence the Socratic theory of a knowledge of conceptions, simple though it may sound, contained a fruitful germ of unexpanded speculation, in comparison with which all that the Stoics did is fragmentary. The Stoic ethics are not only more expanded and more carefully worked out in detail than those of Socrates, but they are also more logical in clinging to the principle that virtue alone is an unconditional good. There are no concessions to current modes of thought, such as Socrates allowed, who practically based his doctrine of morals upon utility. On the other hand, the moral science of the Stoics also falls far short of the frankness and cheerfulness of the Socratic view of life. If in many respects it toned down the asperities of Cynicism, still it appropriated its leading principles far too unreservedly to avoid accepting a great number of its conclusions.
Asking in the next place in how far the Stoics were induced by other influences to change and extend the platform of the Socratic philosophy, we have for determining the practical side of their system, besides the general tendency of the post-Aristotelian philosophy, the example of Cynicism. Its speculative development, on the other hand, is partly connected with the Megarians. partly with Heraclitus; to the Megarians the personal connection of Zeno with Slilpo points, to Heraclitus the fact that from him the Stoics themselves deduced their views on natural science, which they expanded in commentaries on his writings.
Probably the Megarian influence must not be rated too high. Zeno may have thence received an impulse to that reasoning habit which appears with him in a preference for compressed sharp-pointed syllogisms; but in post-Aristotelian times, contact with Megarians was no longer wanted for this, and the greatest reasoner among the Stoics, Chrysippus, appears not only to have had no personal relations to them, but his logic is throughout a simple continuation of that of Aristotle.
Far greater, and more generally recognized, is the importance of the influence which the views on nature of the philosopher of Ephesus exercised on the Stoics. A system which laid such emphasis on the subordination of everything individual to the law of the universe, which singled out universal reason from the flux of things as the one thing everlastingly and permanently the same--a system in many other ways so nearly related to their own, must have strongly commended itself to their notice, and offered them many points with which to connect their own. If to us the view that life is dependent for its existence on matter is repulsive, it was otherwise to the Stoics; for them this very theory possessed special attractions. Hence, with the exception of the threefold division of the elements, there is hardly a single point in the Heraclitean theory of nature which the Stoics did not appropriate:--fire or ether as the primary element, the oneness of this element with universal reason, the law of the universe, destiny, God, the flux of things, the gradual change of the primary element into the four elements, and of these back to the primary element, the regular alternation of creation and conflagration in the world, the oneness and eternity of the universe, the description of the soul as fiery breath, the identification of the mind with the demon, the unconditional sovereignty of the universal law over individuals--these and many other points in the Stoic system, originally derived from Heraclitus, prove how greatly this system is indebted to him.
Nor must it be forgotten that there is nothing in Heraclitus analogous to the reasoning forms of the Stoics, nor can their ethical views be referred to his few and undeveloped hints. With all the importance the Stoics attached to natural science, it is with them only subordinate to moral science; and the very fact that it is referred to Heraclitus as its author, proves its inferior position, and the want of any independent interest in the subject. It is also unmistakable that oven in natural science the Stoics only partially follow Heraclitus, and that principles taken from Heraclitus often bear an altered meaning when wrought into the Stoic system. Omitting minor points, not only is the Stoic doctrine of nature in a formal point of view far more developed, and with regard to its extension far more comprehensive, than the corresponding doctrine of Heraclitus, but the whole Stoic view of the world is by no means so completely identical with his as might be supposed. The flux of things, which the Stoics teach equally with Heraclitus, has not for them that overwhelming importance that it had for him. The matter of which the universe consists may be always going over into new forms, but, at the same time, it is for them the permanent material and essence of things. Individual substances, too, are treated by the Stoics as corporeally permanent. Moreover, from the material they distinguish the active principle, Reason or deity, far more definitely than Heraclitus had done, and the same distinction is carried into individual things in the contrast between matter and quality. Thereby it becomes possible for them to contrast much more sharply than their predecessor had done the reason of the world, and the blindly working power of nature. Heraclitus, it would appear, confined his attention to observing nature and describing its elementary meteorological processes. But the natural science of the Stoics includes the idea of means working for ends. It sees the object in referring the whole arrangement of the world to man, and it pursues this line of thought exclusively, neglecting in consequence science proper. Hence the idea of sovereign reason or the universal law had not the same meaning in the minds of both. Heraclitus sees this reason, primarily and chiefly, in the ordinary sequence of natural phenomena, in the regularity of the course by which to each individual phenomenon its place in the world, its extent and duration are prescribed--in short, in the unchanging coherence of nature. Without excluding this aspect in their proofs of the existence of God and the rule of Providence, the Stoics attach the chief importance to the serviceableness of the order of nature. The reason which rules the world appears in Heraclitus primarily as a natural power; in the Stoics, as intelligence working with a purpose. For Heraclitus Nature is the highest object, the object of independent and absolute interest; and hence the infinite Being is no more than the power which forms the world. The Stoics regard nature from the platform of humanity, as a means for the wellbeing and activity of man. Their deity accordingly does not work as a simple power of nature, but essentially as the wisdom which cares for the wellbeing of man. The highest conception in the system of Heraclitus is that of nature or destiny. Stoicism accepted this conception also, but at the same time developed it to the higher idea of Providence.
Shall we be wrong if we attribute this modification of the Heraclitean theory of nature by the Stoics partly to the influence of Socrates’ and Plato's theory of final causes, but in a still greater degree to the influence of the Aristotelian philosophy? To Aristotle belongs properly the idea of matter without qualities, no less than the distinction between a material and a formal Cause. Aristotle applied the idea of purpose to natural science far more extensively than any other system had done before; and although the mode in which the Stoics expressed this idea has more resemblance to the popular theological statements of Socrates and Plato than to Aristotle, still the Stoic conception of a natural power working with a purpose, such as is contained in the idea of artificial fire and the generative principle of the Universe, is essentially Aristotelian. Even many positions which appear to be advanced in opposition to Aristotle were yet connected with him. Thus the existence of ether as a body distinct from the four elements is denied, and yet in point of fact it is asserted under a new name--that of artificial fire. The Peripatetic doctrine of the origin of the rational soul is contradicted by the Stoic theory of development, and yet the latter is based on a statement in Aristotle to the effect that the germ of the animal soul lies in the warm air which surrounds the seed, warm air which Aristotle distinguishes from fire quite as carefully as Zeno and Cleanthes distinguished the two kinds of fire. Even the point of greatest divergence from Aristotelian teaching--the transformation of the human soul and the divine spirit into something corporeal--might yet be connected with Aristotle, and, indeed, the Peripatetic School here comes to their assistance. For had not Aristotle described the ether as the most divine body, the stars formed out of it as divine and happy beings? Had he not brought down the acting and moving forces from a heavenly sphere to the region of earth? Had he not, as we have just seen, sought the germ of the soul in an ethereal matter? And might not others go a little further and arrive at materialistic views? and all the more so, seeing how hard it is to conceive the extra-mundane intelligence of Aristotle, at once as incorporeal, and yet touching and encircling the world of matter, and to make personal unity in the human soul accord with an origin in a reason coming from above?
The way for Stoicism was more directly paved by the Aristotelian speculations as to the origin of notions and conceptions. Here the Stoics did little more than omit (in conformity with their principles) what their predecessor had said as to an original possession and immediate knowledge of truth. It has been remarked on an earlier occasion how closely their formal logic followed that of Aristotle; they contented themselves with building on Aristotelian foundations, and even their additions have more reference to grammar than to logic. The actual influence of Peripatetic views on those of the Stoics appears to have been least in the province of ethics. Here the crudity of the Stoic conception of virtue, the entire suppression of emotions, the absolute exclusion of everything external from the circle of moral goods, the distinction between the wise and the foolish man, the attacks on a purely speculative life, present a sharp contrast to the caution and many-sidedness of Aristotle's moral theory, to his careful weighing of current opinions and their practicability, to his recognition of propriety in every shape and form, and to the praise which he lavishes on a purely speculative life. What the Stoics chiefly owe to Aristotle is the formal treatment of the materials and the psychological analysis of individual moral faculties. On the other hand, the province of ethics must be looked to for traces of the teaching which Zeno received from Polemo, perhaps even from Xenocrates.
The speculative portions of Plato’s teaching could offer no great attractions to practical men and materialists like the Stoics, either in their original form or in the form which they assumed in the older Academy under Pythagorean influence. On the other hand, such points in Platonism as the Socratic habit of making knowledge the foundation of virtue, the comparative depreciation of external goods, the disparagement of all that is sensual, the elevation and the purity of moral idealism, and, in the older Academy, the demand for life according to nature, the doctrine of the self-sufficingness of virtue, and the growing tendency to confine philosophy to practical issues--all these were questions for a Stoic full of interest. Unfounded as the notion of the later Eclectics is, that the Stoic and Academician systems of morality were altogether the same, the Stoics, nevertheless, appear to have received suggestions from the Academy which they carried out in a more determined spirit. Thus the theory of living according to nature belongs originally to the Academy, although the Stoics adopted it with a peculiar and somewhat different meaning. Besides influencing the moral doctrines of the Stoics, the attitude assumed by the older Academy towards positive religion may also have had some influence on their orthodoxy; their most prominent representative. Cleanthes is in his whole philosophic character the counterpart of Xenocrates. Although later in its origin than Stoicism, the new Academy was not without important influence on that system, through the person of Chrysippus, but this influence was at first only of an indirect kind, inasmuch as it obliged the Stoics by its logical contradiction to look about for a more logical basis for their system, and therewith to attempt a more systematic expansion of their teaching. Somewhat similar is the effect of Epicureanism, which by its strong opposition in the field of ethics imparted decision and accuracy to the Stoic doctrine, and thus indirectly helped to form it.
By the aid of these remarks it now becomes possible to give a satisfactory account of the history of Stoicism. Belonging to an age of moral debasement and political oppression, its founder, Zeno, conceived the idea of liberating himself and all who were able to follow him from its degeneracy and slavery by means of a philosophy which, by purity and strength of moral will, would procure independence from all external things, and unruffled inward peace. That his endeavors should have taken this practical turn, that he should have proposed to himself not knowledge as such, but the moral exercise of knowledge as the object to be realized, was in part due to his own personal character, and may be in part referred to the general circumstances of the times. On nobler and more serious minds, these circumstances weighed too heavily not to call forth opposition and resistance in place of listless contemplation. The sway of the Macedonian, and afterwards of the Roman Empire, was far too despotic to allow the least prospect of open resistance. Nor must it be overlooked that philosophy itself had reached a pass at which satisfactory answers to speculative problems were no longer forthcoming; hence attention was naturally directed to questions of morals.
Haunted by this longing for virtue, Zeno must have felt attracted by a system of philosophy which had at an earlier period followed a similar course with marked success, viz. the system of the Cynics, and what he doubtless identified therewith, the old Socratic teaching. Anxious to find a positive meaning and scientific basis for virtue, he strove to appropriate from every system whatever agreed with the bent of his own mind. By using all the labors of his predecessors, and keeping his eye steadily fixed upon the practical end of philosophy, he succeeded in forming a new and more comprehensive system, which was afterwards completed by Chrysippus. In point of form this system was most indebted to the Peripatetic philosophy; in point of matter, next to its debt to the Cynics, which has been already mentioned, its chief obligation was to Heraclitus. But the moral theory of the Stoics was as little identical with that of the Cynics, as the natural science of the Stoics was with that of Heraclitus. If the divergence was, in the first instance, due to the influence of the Stoic principles, still the influence of the Peripatetic teaching is unmistakable in the natural and speculative science of the Stoics, and the influence of the Academy in their moral science. Stoicism does not, therefore, appear simply as a continuation of Cynicism, nor yet as an isolated innovation, but, like every other form of thought which marks an epoch, it worked up into itself all previous materials, and produced from their combination a new result. In this process of assimilation much that was beautiful and full of meaning was omitted; everything was absorbed that could be of use in the new career on which the Greek mind was about to enter.
It was the fault of the age that it could no longer come up to
the many-sidedness of an Aristotle or a Plato. Stoicism, it is
true, approximates thereto more nearly than any other of the
post-Aristotelian systems. But in its practical view of
philosophy, in its materialistic appeal to the senses, in its
theoretical self-sufficiency, setting up the wise man as superior
to the weaknesses and wants of human nature; in its citizenship of
the world, throwing political interests into the background; and
in so many other traits it is the fit exponent of an epoch in
which the taste for purely scientific research and the delight in
ethical speculation were at an end, whilst out of the overthrow of
states, and the growth of freedom, the idea of humanity was coming
to the fore. Stoicism represented most powerfully the moral and
religious convictions of such an age, yet not without onesidedness
and exaggeration. By exercise of the will and by rational
understanding, man is to become free and happy. This aim is,
however, pursued so persistently that the natural conditions of
human existence and the claims of individuality are ignored. To
man, regarded as the exponent of universal law, as little freedom
of will is allowed by the Stoic natural science in face of the
inexorable course of nature as freedom of action is allowed by the
Stoic ethics in face of the demands of duty. The universal claims
of morality are alone acknowledged; the right of the individual to
act according to his peculiar character, and to develop that
character, is almost ignored. The individual, as such, dwindles
into obscurity, whilst a high place in the world is assigned to
mankind collectively. The individual is subordinated to the law of
the whole; but by regarding nature as a system of means and ends,
and introducing the belief in Providence and Prophecy, the
universe is again subordinated to the interests of man--a view
against which a more careful research has many objections to urge.
In both respects Epicureanism is in decided contrast to Stoicism,
though agreeing with it in the general tone of its practical
philosophy and in its aim to make man independent of the outer
world and happy in himself.
After having been engaged as a teacher in several Schools in Asia Minor, he repaired to Athens about the year 306 B.C., and there founded a School of his own. The meeting-place of this School was the founder’s garden, and its center of attraction was the founder himself, around whom a circle of friends gathered, knit together by a common set of principles, by a common affection for a master whom they almost worshipped, and by a common enjoyment of cultivated society. Opponents charged the Epicureans with gross impropriety, because they admitted not only women, but women of loose morality, to this circle of philosophic culture; but in the then state of Greek society, such conduct does not appear extraordinary. Here Epicurus labored for six and thirty years, during which he succeeded in impressing a stamp on his School which is now seen definite and unchanged after the lapse of centuries. In the year 270 B.C. he succumbed to disease, the pains and troubles of which he bore with great fortitude. Out of the multitude of his writings only a few have come down to us, and these are for the most part unimportant ones. On the whole, these fragments bear out the unfavorable opinions which opponents have expressed with regard to his style.
Among the numerous scholars of Epicurus the best known are Metrodorus and Polyaenus, both of whom died before their master; Hermarchus, upon whom the presidency of the School devolved after the death of Epicurus; and Colotes, against whom Plutarch, four hundred years later, wrote a treatise. Many others are also known, at least by name. The garden which Epicurus in his will left to the School continued after his death to be the external rallying-point for his followers. Hermarchus was succeeded by Polystratus, with whom Hippoclides is also mentioned as joint-president. Hermarchus and Hippoclides were succeeded by Dionysius, and Dionysius again by Basilides. Protarchus of Bargylium, and his pupil, Demetrius the Laconian, appear to belong to the second century before Christ; but the time in which these philosophers flourished cannot be established with certainty; and the same remark applies to several others whose names are on record.
Before the middle of the second century B.C. Epicureanism is said to have obtained a footing in Rome. It is certain that it existed there not long afterwards. C. Amafinius is mentioned as the first who paved the way for the spread of Epicurean doctrines by discussing them in Latin; and it is stated that these doctrines soon found many supporters, attracted partly by their merits, but more often by the simplicity and the ease with which they could be understood.
Towards the close of the second century Apollodorus, one of the most voluminous writers on philosophy, taught at Athens. His pupil, Zeno of Sidon, the most important among the Epicureans of that age, labored for a long time successfully, both orally and in writing. About the same time Phaedrus is heard of in Rome and Athens, and at a little later period Philodemus, and Syro or Sciro in Rome, and Patro, the successor of Phaedrus, in Athens. The number of Epicureans at Rome, known to us chiefly from Cicero’s writings, is not small. No one of them has obtained a higher repute than T. Lucretius Carus. His poem, carefully reproducing the Epicurean notions on natural science, is one of the most valuable sources for the knowledge of their system. Contemporary with Lucretius was the celebrated physician Asclepiades of Bithynia, who resided at Rome, but to judge by the views on nature attributed to him, he was no genuine Epicurean, although connected with the Epicurean School.
In the following century several supporters of the practical
philosophy of the Epicureans are known to us, but no one
apparently approaching Zeno or Phaedrus in scientific importance.
Rehabilitated under the Antonines by the establishment of a public
chair in Athens, the Epicurean School outlived most other systems,
and continued to exist as late as the fourth century after Christ.
The want of intellectual taste here displayed appears also in the view taken by Epicurus of the aim and business of philosophy. If among the Stoics the subordination of theory to practice was frequently felt, among the Epicureans this subordination was carried to such an extent as to lead to a depreciation of all science. The aim of philosophy was. with them, to promote human happiness. Indeed, philosophy is nothing else than an activity helping us to happiness by means of speech and thought. Nor is happiness, according to Epicurus, directly promoted by knowledge, but only indirectly in as far as knowledge ministers to practical needs, or clears away hindrances to their attainment. All science which does not serve this end is superfluous and worthless. Epicurus, therefore, despised learning and culture, the researches of grammarians, and the lore of historians, and declared it a piece of good fortune for simplicity of feeling to be uncontaminated by learned rubbish. Nor was his opinion different respecting mathematical science, of which he was wholly ignorant. The calculations of mathematicians, he maintained, are based on false principles; at any rate, they contribute nothing to human happiness, and it is therefore useless and foolish to trouble oneself about them. The theory of music and poetry he likewise found exceedingly irksome, although he took pleasure in music itself and the theater; and rhetoric, as an artificial guide to eloquence, seemed to him as worthless as the show-speeches which are the only result of the study of it. The power of public speaking is a matter of practice and of momentary feeling, and hence the skillful speaker is far from being a good statesman. The greater part of logical inquiries fared no better in his judgment. Himself no logician, he set little store by logic. Definitions are of no use: the theory of division and proof may be dispensed with: the philosopher does best to confine himself to words, and to leave all the logical ballast alone. Of all the questions which engrossed the attention of Stoic logicians, one only, the theory of knowledge, was studied by Epicurus, and that in a very superficial way.
Far greater, comparatively, was the importance he attached to the study of nature, but even natural science was deemed valuable not so much for its own sake as because of its practical use. The knowledge of natural causes is the only means of liberating the soul from the shackles of superstition; this is the only use of natural science. If it were not for the thought of God and the fear of death, there would be no need of studying nature. The investigation of our instincts is also of use, because it helps us to control them, and to keep them within their natural bounds. Thus the one-sided practical view of philosophy which we have already encountered in Stoicism was carried by the Epicureans to an extreme length.
Nor is it otherwise than in harmony herewith that logic did not receive a fuller or more perfect treatment in the further development of their system. Even the study of nature, going far more fully into particulars than logic, was guided entirely by practical considerations, all scientific interest in nature being ignored. Following the usual method, however, the Epicureans divided philosophy into three parts--logic, natural science, and moral science. Limiting the first of these parts to one branch of logic, the part which deals with the characteristics of truth, and which they therefore called neither logic, nor dialectic, but Canonic, they really reduced this part to a mere introductory appendage to the two other parts, and studied Canonic as a part of natural science. Natural science moreover was so entirely subordinated to moral science, that we might almost feel tempted to follow some modern writers in their view of the Epicurean system, by giving to moral science precedence of the two other parts, or at least of natural science. The School, however, followed the usual order, and not without reason; for although the whole tendency of the Epicurean Canonic and natural science can only, like the Stoic, be explained by a reference to moral science, yet moral science with them presupposes the test-science of truth and natural science. We shall, therefore, do well to treat of Canonic in the first place, and subsequently to prove how this branch of study depends on Ethics.
Canonic or the test-science of truth, as has been observed, is occupied with investigating the standard of truth, and with inquiring into the mode of acquiring knowledge. The whole of formal logic, the doctrine of the formation of conceptions and conclusions, is omitted by Epicurus. Even the theory of the acquisition of knowledge assumes with him a very simple form. If the Stoics were fain, notwithstanding their ideal ethics and their pantheistic speculations, ultimately to take their stand on materialism, could Epicurus avoid doing the same? In seeking a speculative basis for a view of life which refers everything to the feeling of pleasure or pain, he appealed far more unreservedly than they had done to sensation. Now, since the senses can alone inform us what is pleasant or unpleasant, and what is desirable or the contrary, our judgment as to truth or falsehood must ultimately depend on the senses. Viewed speculatively, sensation is the standard of truth; viewed practically, the feeling of pleasure or pain. If the senses may not be trusted, still less may knowledge derived from reason be trusted, since reason itself is primarily and entirely derived from the senses. There remains, therefore, no distinctive mark of truth, and no possibility of certain conviction. We are at the mercy of unlimited doubt. If, however, this doubt, is contradictory of itself--for how can men declare they know, that they can know nothing?--it is also contradictory of human nature, since it would do away not only with all knowledge but with every possibility of action--in short, with all the conditions on which human life depends. To avoid doubt we must allow that sensation as such is always, and under all circumstances, to be trusted; nor ought the delusions of the senses to shake our belief; the causes of these deceptions do not lie in sensation as such, but in our judgment about sensation. What the senses supply is only that an object produces this or that effect upon us, and that this or that picture has impressed our soul. The facts thus supplied are always true, only it does not follow that the object exactly corresponds with the impression we receive of it, or that it produces on others the same impression that it produces on us. Many different pictures may emanate from one and the same object, and these pictures may be changed on their way to the ear or eye. Pictures, too, may strike our senses with which no real objects correspond. To confound the picture with the thing, the impression made with the object making the impression, is certainly an error, but this error must not be laid to the charge of the senses, but to that of opinion. Indeed, how is it possible, asks Epicurus, to refute the testimony of the senses? Can reason refute it? But reason is itself dependent on the senses, and cannot bear testimony against that on which its own claims to belief depend. Or can one sense convict another of error? But different sensations do not refer to the same object, and similar sensations have equal value. Nothing remains, therefore, but to attach implicit belief to every impression of the senses. Every such impression is directly certain, and is accordingly termed by Epicurus clear evidence. Nay, more, its truth is so paramount that the impressions of madmen, and appearances in dreams, are true because they are caused by something real, and error only becomes possible when we go beyond sensation.
This going beyond sensation becomes, however, a necessity. By a repetition of the same perception a notion arises. A notion, therefore, is nothing else than the general picture retained in the mind of what has been perceived. On these notions retained by memory depend all speaking and thinking. They are what commonly go under the name of things; and speech is only a means of recalling definite perceptions to the memory. Notions are presupposed in all scientific knowledge. Together with sensations they form the measure of the truth of our convictions; and it holds true of them as it did of sensations--that they are true in themselves and need no proof. Taken by themselves, notions, like perceptions, are reflections in the soul of things on which the transforming action of the mind, changing external impressions into conceptions, has not as yet been brought to bear.
For this very reason notions are not sufficient. From appearances we must advance to their secret causes; from the known to the unknown. Far too little value was attached by Epicurus to the logical forms of thought, or he would have investigated more accurately the nature of this process of advancing. Thoughts, in his view, result from sensations spontaneously, and although a certain amount of reflection is necessary for the process, yet it requires no scientific guidance. The thoughts arrived at in this way do not stand as a higher genus above perceptions, but they are only opinions without a note of truth in themselves, and depending for their truth upon sensation. That opinion may be considered a true one which is based on the testimony of the senses, or is at least not contrary to the senses, and that a false opinion in which the opposite is the case. Sometimes we suppose that upon certain present impressions other impressions will follow: for instance, that a tower which appears round at a distance will appear round close at hand. In that case, if the real perception corresponds with the assumption, the opinion is true, otherwise it is false. At other times we suppose that certain appearances are due to secret causes: for instance, that empty space is the cause of motion. If all appearances tally with their explanations, we may consider our assumptions correct; if not, our assumptions are incorrect. In the first case the test of the truth of an opinion is that it is supported by experience; in the latter that it is not refuted by experience. Have we not here all the leading features of a theory of knowledge based purely on sensation? The Epicurean's interest in these questions was, however, far too slight to construct with them a developed theory of materialism.
Little pains seem to have been taken by Epicurus to overcome the difficulties by which this view was beset. If all sensations as such are true, the saying of Protagoras necessarily follows that for each individual that is true which seems to him to be true, that contrary impressions about one and the same object are true, and that deceptions of the senses, so many instances of which are supplied by experience, are really impossible. To avoid these conclusions, Epicurus maintained that for each different impression there is a different object-picture. What immediately affects our senses is not the object itself, but a picture of the object, and these pictures may be innumerable, a different one being the cause of each separate sensation. Moreover, although the pictures emanating from the same object are in general nearly alike, it is possible that they may differ from one another owing to a variety of causes. If, therefore, the same object appears different to different individuals, the cause of these different sensations is not one and the same, but a different one, and different pictures must have affected their senses. If our own sensations deceive us, the blame does not belong to our senses, as though they had depicted to us unreal objects, but to our judgment for drawing unwarranted inferences from pictures as to their causes.
This line of argument, however, only removes the difficulty one
step further. Sensation is said always to reproduce faithfully the
picture which affects the organs of sense, but the picture's do
not always reproduce the object with equal faithfulness. How then
can a faithful picture be known from one which is not faithful? To
this question the Epicurean system can furnish no real answer. To
say that the wise man knows how to distinguish a faithful from an
unfaithful picture is to despair of an absolute standard at all,
and to make the decision of truth or error depend upon the
individual's judgment. Such a statement reduces all our
impressions of the properties of things to a relative level. If
sensation does not show us things themselves, but only those
impressions of them which happen to affect us, it does not supply
us with a knowledge of things as they are, but as they happen to
be related to us. It was, therefore, a legitimate inference from
this theory of knowledge for Epicurus to deny that color belongs
to bodies in themselves, since some only see color in the dark,
whilst others do not. Like his predecessor, Democritus, he must
have been brought to this view by his theory of atoms. Few of the
properties belong to atoms which we perceive in things, and hence
all other properties must be explained as not belonging to the
essence, but only to the appearance of things. The taste for
speculation was, however, too weak, and the need of a direct truth
of the senses too strong in Epicurus for him to be able to turn
his thoughts in this direction for long. Whilst allowing to
certain properties of things only a relative value, he had no wish
to doubt the reality of objects, nor to disparage the
object-pictures which furnish us with sensations.
Great stress is, however, laid by him on the general explanation. In contrast with the religious view which regards the world as a system of means leading to ends, the leading business of the natural science of the Epicureans is to refer all phenomena to natural causes. To an Epicurean nothing appears more absurd than to suppose that the arrangements of nature have for their object the well-being of mankind, or that they have any object at all. The tongue is not given us for the purpose of speaking, nor the ears for the purpose of hearing. As a matter of fact, it would, indeed, be more correct to say, that we speak because we have a tongue, and hear because we have ears. Natural powers have acted purely according to the law of necessity, and among their various products there could not fail to be some presenting the appearance of purpose in their arrangement. In the case of man there have resulted many such products and powers. But this result is by no means intentional; it is an accidental consequence of natural causes. In explaining nature all thought of Gods must be put out of sight. For their happiness would be inconceivable, on the supposition that they cared for man and his welfare.
Confining his interest in nature, as Epicurus did, entirely to this general view of things, he was all the more inclined, in carrying it into details, to rely upon some older system. No system, however, appeared to correspond better with his tone of mind than that of Democritus, which, moreover, commended itself to him not only by absolutely banishing the idea of final cause, but by referring everything to matter, and by its theory of atoms. As Epicurus places in each individual thing taken by itself the ultimate end of action, so Democritus had theoretically made all that is real to consist in what is absolutely individual or in atoms. His natural science, therefore, seemed to present the most natural basis for the Epicurean Ethics. If the Stoics, in their views of nature, closely followed Heraclitus, Epicurus in his followed Democritus still mere closely, and hence, with the exception of one single point, the additions made by Epicurus to the theory of this philosopher are of no philosophical importance.
With Democritus Epicurus agreed in holding that there is no other form of reality except that of bodily reality. Every substance, he says in the words of the Stoics, must affect others, and be affected by them; and whatever affects others or is itself affected, is corporeal. Corporeal substance is, therefore, the only kind of substance The various qualities of things, essential as well as accidental qualities, are accordingly not incorporeal existences, but simply chance modes of body, the former being called by Epicurus accidental properties, the latter symptoms. But a second something is necessary besides corporeal substance in order to explain phenomena, viz. empty space. That empty space exists is proved by the differences of weight in bodies. For what else could be the cause of this difference? It is proved still more conclusively by motion, motion being impossible without empty space. Mind as a moving cause, however, seems to Epicurus altogether superfluous. Everything that exists consists of bodies and empty space, and there is no third thing.
Democritus had resolved the two conceptions of body and empty space into the conceptions of being and not being. True to his position, Epicurus dispensed with this speculative basis, and clinging to the ordinary notions of empty space, and of a material filling space, he simply proves these notions by the qualities of phenomena. For this very reason Democritus’s division of body into innumerable primary particles or atoms appeared to him most necessary. All bodies known to us by sensation are composed of parts. If the process of division were infinitely continued, all things would ultimately be resolved into the non-existent--in this Epicurus and Democritus agree;--and conversely all things must have been formed out of the non-existent, in defiance of the first principle of natural science that nothing can come from nothing, and that nothing can be resolved into nothing. Hence, we must conclude that the primary component parts of things can neither have come into existence nor cease to exist, nor yet be changed in their nature. These primary bodies contain no empty space in themselves, and hence can neither be divided nor destroyed, nor be changed in any way. They are so small that they do not impress the senses, and as a matter of fact we do not see them. Nevertheless they must not be regarded as mathematical atoms, the name atoms being assigned to them only because their bodily structure will not admit of division. They have neither color, warmth, smell, nor any other property; properties belong only to distinct materials; and for this reason they must not be sought in the four elements, all of which, as experience shows, come into being and pass away. They possess only the universal qualities of all corporeal things, viz. shape, size, and weight.
Not only must atoms, like all other bodies, have shape, but there must exist among them indefinitely many varieties of shape, or it would be impossible to account for the innumerable differences of things. There cannot, however, be really an infinite number of shapes, as Democritus maintained, in any limited body--this is intelligible of itself--nor yet in the whole universe, since an unlimited number would make the arrangement of the world impossible, everything in the world being circumscribed by certain containing limits. Again, atoms must be different in point of size; for all materials cannot be divided into particles of equal size. Yet even to this difference there must be some limitation. An atom must neither be so large as to become an object of sense, nor can it, after what has been said, be infinitely small. From difference in point of size the difference of atoms in point of weight follows. In point of number atoms must be innumerable, and in the same way empty space must be unbounded also. For since everything bounded must be bounded by something, it is impossible to imagine any bounds of the universe beyond which nothing exists, and hence there can be no bounds at all. The absence of bounds must apply to the mass of atoms quite as much as to empty space. If an infinite number of atoms would not find room in a limited space, conversely a limited number of atoms would be lost in empty space, and never able to form a world. In all these views Epicurus closely follows Democritus, no doubt agreeing with him also in explaining the qualities of things by the composition of their atoms.
In deducing the origin of things from their primary causes, Epicurus, however, deviates widely from his predecessor. Atoms--so it was taught by both--have by virtue of their weight been eternally engaged in a downward motion. That all bodies should move downwards in empty space seemed to Epicurus a matter of course; for whatever is heavy must fall unless it is supported. He was therefore opposed to the Aristotelian view that heaviness shows itself in the form of attraction towards a center, and consequently to his further supposition that downward mode of motion belongs only to certain bodies, circular motion being for others more natural. The objection that in endless space there is no above or below he could meet only by appealing to experience; some things always appear above our heads, others beneath our feet. But whilst Democritus held that atoms in their downward motion meet together, thus giving rise to a rotatory motion, no such view commended itself to Epicurus. Nay rather in his view all atoms will fall equally fast, since empty space offers no resistance, and falling perpendicularly it is impossible to see how they can meet. To render a meeting possible he supposes the smallest possible swerving aside from the perpendicular line in falling. This assumption seemed to him indispensable, since it would be otherwise impossible to assert the freedom of the human will. For how can the will be free if everything falls according to the strict law of gravity? For the same reason this swerving aside was not supposed to proceed from any natural necessity, but simply from the power of self-motion in the atoms. In consequence of their meeting one part of the atoms rebounds--so Democritus also taught; the lighter ones are forced upwards, and from the upward and downward motions combined a rotatory motion arises. When this motion takes place a clustering of atoms is the consequence, which by their own motion separate themselves from the remaining mass, and form a world of themselves. Atoms being eternal and unchangeable, the process of forming worlds must go on without beginning or end; and inasmuch as they are also infinite in number, and empty space is infinite also, there must be an innumerable number of worlds. In the character of these worlds the greatest possible variety may be supposed, since it is most unlikely that the innumerable combinations of atoms all brought about at random will fall out alike. Equally impossible is it to assert that all these worlds are absolutely dissimilar. In general, Epicurus assumed that they are extremely different both in point of size and arrangement, and that here and there one may be similar to our own. Moreover, since eternity affords time for all imaginable combinations of atoms, nothing can ever be brought about now which has not already existed. In one respect all worlds are alike; they come into existence, are liable to decay, and, like all other individual elements, are exposed to a gradual increase and decrease. So we might have assumed from other positions in his system. Between the individual worlds both Democritus and Epicurus insert intermediate world-spaces, in which by the clustering of atoms from time to time new worlds come into being.
The origin of our world is thus described. At a certain period of time--Lucretius believes at no very distant period--a cluster of atoms of varying shape and size was formed in this definite portion of space. These atoms meeting, there first arose from the pressure and rebound of the quickly falling particles motions of every variety in every direction. Soon the greater atoms pressing downwards, by dint of weight forced upwards the smaller and lighter atoms, the fiery ones topmost and with the greatest impetus to form the ether, and afterwards those which form the air. The upper pressure ceasing, these masses, under the pressure of particles still joining it from below, spread forth sidewards, and thus the belts of fire and air wore formed. Next uprose those atoms out of which the sun and stars are formed into the heights, and at the same time the earth settled down, its inner part being partially exhausted in those places where the sea now is. By the influence of the warmth of the ether, and the sun-heat, the earth-mass was bound together more closely, the sea was pressed out of it, and the surface assumed an uneven character. The world is shut off from other worlds and from empty space by those bodies which form its external boundary.
Asking, in the next place, what idea must be formed of the arrangement of the world, we are met by the two principles which Epicurus is never weary of inculcating; one, that we must explain nothing as an intentional arrangement by deity, but refer everything simply and solely to mechanical causes; the other, that in explaining phenomena the widest, possible room must be given for hypotheses of every kind, and that nothing is more absurd than to abridge the wide range of possible explanations by exclusively deciding in favor of any one. Thereby the investigation of nature loses for him its value as such, nor is it of any great interest to us to follow his speculations on nature into detail. On one point he dogmatizes, protesting that the framework of heaven must not be considered the work of God, nor must life and reason be attributed to the stars. Otherwise, on nearly all the questions which engaged the attention of astronomers at that time, he observes the greatest indifference, treating the views of his predecessors, good and bad alike, with an easy superficiality which can only be explained by supposing him altogether indifferent as to their truth. The state of his own astronomical knowledge can, moreover, be easily seen by recalling the notorious assertion that the sun, the moon, and the stars are either not at all, or only a little larger, and may possibly be even less than they appear to be. The Epicureans also thought to support their theory that the earth, borne by the air, reposes in the middle of the world--a theory which on their hypothesis of the weight of bodies is impossible--by the gradual diminution in weight of the surrounding bodies. It would be impossible here to go through the treatment which they gave to atmospheric and terrestrial phenomena, particularly as the principle already indicated was most freely used, and many explanations were given as being all equally possible.
Out of the newly made earth plants at first grew, and afterwards animals came forth, since the latter, according to Lucretius, can by no possibility have fallen from heaven. In other worlds, likewise, living beings came into existence, though not necessarily in all. Among these beings were originally, as Empedocles had previously supposed, all sorts of composite or deformed creatures. Those, however, alone continued to exist which were fitted by nature to find support, to propagate, and to protect themselves from danger. Romantic creatures, such as centaurs or chimeras, can never have existed here, because the beings of which they are compounded would require conditions of life altogether different.
Aiming, as the Epicureans did, at explaining the origin of men and animals in a purely natural manner, they likewise tried to form an idea, equally according to nature, of the original state and historical development of the human race. In this attempt they ignored all legendary notions, and, notwithstanding their leaning towards materialism, they on the whole advocated perfectly sound views. The men of early times, so thought Lucretius, were stronger and more powerful than the men of to-day. Rude and ignorant as beasts, they lived in the woods in a perpetual state of warfare with the wild animals, without justice or society. The first and most important step in a social direction was the discovery of fire, the learning to build huts, and to clothe themselves in skins; then began marriage and domestic life, and speech, originally not a matter of convention, but, like the noises of animals, the natural expression of thoughts and feelings, was developed. The older the human race grew, the more they learned of the arts and skill which minister to the preservation and enjoyment of life. These arts were first learned by experience, under the pressure of nature, or the compulsion of want. What had thus been discovered was completed by reflection, the more gifted preceding the rest as teachers. In exactly the same way civil society was developed. Individuals built strongholds, and made themselves rulers. In time the power of kings aroused envy, and they were massacred. To crush the anarchy which then arose, magistrates were chosen, and order established by penal laws. It will subsequently be seen that Epicurus explained religion in the same way by natural growth.
The apotheosis of nature, which has been apparent in Epicurus's whole view of history, becomes specially prominent in his treatment of psychology. This treatment could, after all that has been said, be only purely materialistic. The soul, like every other real being, is a body. In support of this view the Epicureans appealed to the mutual relations of the body and the soul, agreeing on this point with the Stoics. The body of the soul, however, consists of the finest, lightest, and most easily moved atoms, as is manifest from the speed of thought, from the instantaneous dissolution of the soul after death, and, moreover, from the fact that the soulless body is as heavy as the body in which there is a soul. Hence Epicurus, again agreeing with the Stoics, describes the soul as a material resembling fire and air, or, more accurately, as composed of four elements, fire, air, vapor, and a fourth nameless element. It consists of the finest atoms, and is the cause of feeling, and according as one or other of these elements preponderates, the character of man is of one or the other kind. Like the Stoics, Epicurus believed that the soul-element is received by generation from the parents’ souls, and that it is reread over the whole body, growing as the body grows. At the same time he makes a distinction somewhat similar to that made by the Stoics in their doctrine of the sovereign part of the soul. Only the irrational part of the soul is diffused as a principle of life over the whole body; the rational part has its seat in the breast. To the rational part belong mental activity, sensation, and perception, the motion of the will and the mind, and in this latter sense life itself; both parts together make up one being, yet they may exist in different conditions. The mind may be cheerful whilst the body and the irrational soul feel pain, or the reverse may be the case. It is even possible that portions of the irrational soul may be lost by the mutilation of the body, without detriment to the rational soul, or consequently to life. When, however, the connection between soul and body is fully severed, then the soul can no longer exist. Deprived of the surrounding shelter of the body, its atoms are dispersed in a moment, owing to their lightness; and the body in consequence, being unable to exist without the soul, goes over into corruption. If this view appears to hold out the most gloomy prospect for the future, Epicurus considers that it cannot really be so. With death every feeling of evil ceases, and the time when we shall no longer exist affects us just as little as the time before we existed. Nay, more, he entertains the opinion that his teaching alone can reconcile us to death by removing all fear of the nether world and its terrors.
Allowing that many of these statements are natural consequences of the principles of Epicurus, the distinction between a rational and an irrational soul must, nevertheless, at first sight, seem strange in a system so thoroughly materialistic as was that of the Epicureans. And yet this distinction is not stranger than the corresponding parts of the Stoic teaching. If the Stoic views may be referred to the distinction which they drew in morals between the senses and the reason, not less are the Epicurean ethics marked by the same contrast between the general and the sensuous side of the mind. Hence Epicurus shares the Stoic belief in an ethereal origin of the human race; and although this belief as at first expressed only implies that man, like other living beings, is composed of ethereal elements, yet there is connected with it the distinction already discussed in the case of the Stoics between the higher and the lower parts of man, which ultimately comes to be simply another mode of expressing the difference between mind and matter.
Among the phenomena of the soul's life, sensation is made to harmonize with the general principles of the Epicurean view of nature by the aid of Democritus's doctrine of atom-pictures. From the surface of bodies--this is the pith of that doctrine--the finest possible particles are constantly being thrown off, which by virtue of their fineness traverse the furthest spaces in an infinitely short time, hurrying through the void. Many of these exhalations are arrested by some obstacle soon after coming forth, or are otherwise thrown into confusion. In the case of others the atoms for a long time retain the same position and connection which they had in bodies themselves, thus presenting a picture of things, and only lacking corporeal solidity. As these pictures are conveyed to the soul by the various organs of sense, our impressions of things arise. Even those impressions, which have no corresponding real object, must be referred to such pictures present in the soul. For often pictures last longer than things themselves; and often by a casual combination of atoms pictures are formed in the air resembling no one single thing. Sometimes, too, pictures of various kinds are combined on their way to the senses; thus, for instance, the notion of a Centaur is caused by the union of the picture of a man with that of a horse, not only in our imagination, but already previously in the atom-picture. If, therefore, sensation distorts or imperfectly represents real objects, it must be explained as being due to some change or mutilation in the atom-pictures before they reach our senses.
In thus (explaining mental impressions, the Epicureans do not allow themselves to be disturbed by the fact that we can recall at pleasure the ideas of all possible things. The cause of this power was rather supposed to be the circumstance that we are always surrounded by an innumerable number of atom-pictures, none of which we perceive unless our attention is directed to them. Likewise the seeming motion of forms which we behold in dreams is explained by the hasty succession of similar atom-pictures, appearing to us as changes of one and the same picture. But besides receiving pictures supplied from without, spontaneous motion with regard to these pictures takes place on our part, a motion connected in the first instance with the soul's motion when it receives the outward impression, but not to be regarded as a simple continuation thereof. This independent motion gives rise to opinion, and hence opinion is not so necessary or so universally true as feeling. It may agree with feeling, or it may not agree with it. It may be true or it may be false. The conditions of its being true or false have been previously investigated.
Impressions also give rise to will and action, the soul being
set in motion by impressions, and this motion extending from the
soul to the body. Into the nature of will, however, Epicurus does
not appear to have instituted a more careful psychological
investigation. It was enough for him to assert the freedom of the
will. This freedom he considers absolutely indispensable, if
anything we do is to be considered our own. unless we are prepared
to despair of moral responsibility altogether, and to resign
ourselves to a comfortless and inexorable necessity. To make
freedom possible, Epicurus had introduced accident into the motion
of atoms, and for the same reason he denies the truth of
disjunctive propositions which apply to the future. In the latter
respect, he, no doubt, only attacked the material truth of two
clauses, without impugning the formal accuracy of the disjunction.
i.e. he did not deny that of two contradictory cases either one or
the other must happen, nor did he deny the truth of saying:
Tomorrow Epicurus will either be alive or not alive. But he
disputed the truth of each clause taken by itself. He denied the
truth of the sentence. Epicurus will be alive; and equally that of
its contradictory, Epicurus will not be alive; on the ground that
the one or the other statement only becomes true by the
actual realization of an event at present uncertain. For this he
deserves little blame. Our real charge against him is that he did
not more thoroughly investigate the nature of the will and the
conception of freedom, and that he treats the subject of the soul
as scantily and superficially as he had treated the subject of
With the denial of the popular Gods, the denial of demons, of course, goes hand in hand; and, together with Providence, the need of prayer and of prophecy is at the same time negatived. All these notions, according to Epicurus, are the result of ignorance and fear. Pictures seen in dreams have been confounded with real existences; regularity of motion in the heavenly bodies has been mistaken by the ignorant for the work of God; events which accidentally happened in combination with others have been regarded as portents; terrific natural phenomena, storms and earthquakes, have engendered in men's minds the fear of higher powers. Fear is therefore the basis of religion; and, on the other hand, freedom from fear is the primary object aimed at by philosophy.
For all that, Epicurus was unwilling to renounce belief in the Gods, nor is it credible that this unwillingness was simply a yielding to popular opinion. The language used by the Epicureans certainly gives the impression of sincerity; and the time was past when avowed atheism was attended with danger. Atheism would have been as readily condoned in the time of Epicurus as the deism which denied most unreservedly the popular faith. It is, however, possible to trace the causes which led Epicurus to believe that there are Gods. There was first the general diffusion of a belief in Gods which appeared to him to establish the truth of this belief, and hence he declared the existence of Gods to be something directly certain, and grounded on a primary notion. Moreover, with his materialistic theory of knowledge he no doubt supposed that the primary notion which convinces us of the existence of Gods arises from the actual contemplation of divine beings, and from the perception of those atom-pictures from which Democritus had already deduced the belief in Gods. And in addition to these theoretical reasons, Epicurus had also another, half aesthetical, half religious--the wish to see his ideal of happiness realized in the person of the Gods, and it is this ideal which determines the character of all his notions respecting them. His Gods are therefore, throughout, human beings. Religious belief only knows beings such as these, or, as Epicurus expresses it, only such beings come before us in those pictures of the Gods which present themselves to our minds, sometimes in sleep, sometimes when we are awake. Reflection, too, convinces us that the human form is the most beautiful, that to it alone reason belongs, and that it is the most appropriate form for perfectly happy beings. Epicurus even went so far as to attribute to the Gods difference of sex At the same time everything must be eliminated which is not appropriate to a divine being.
The two essential characteristics of the Gods, according to Epicurus, are immortality and perfect happiness. Both of these characteristics would be impaired were we to attribute to the bodies of the Gods the same dense corporeity which belongs to our own. We must, therefore, only assign to them a body analogous to our body, ethereal, and consisting of the finest atoms. Such bodies would be of little use in a world like ours. In fact, they could not live in any world without being exposed to the temporal ruin which will in time overwhelm it, and, meantime, to a state of fear, which would mar their bliss. Epicurus, therefore, assigns the space between the worlds for their habitation, where, as Lucretius remarks, troubled by no storms, they live under a sky ever serene.
Nor can these Gods be supposed to care for the world and the affairs of men, else their happiness would be marred by the most distressing occupation; but perfectly free from care and trouble, and absolutely regardless of the world, in eternal contemplation of their unchanging perfection, they enjoy the most unalloyed happiness. The view which the School formed to itself of this happiness we learn from Philodemus. The Gods are exempt from sleep, sleep being a partial death, and not needed by beings who live without any exertion. And yet he believes that they require nourishment, though this must, of course, be of a kind suited to their nature. They also need dwellings, since every being requires some place wherein to dwell. Were powers of speech to be refused to them, they would be deprived of the highest means of enjoyment--the power of conversing with their equals. Philodemus thinks it probable they use the Greek or some other closely allied language. In short, he imagines the Gods to be a society of Epicurean philosophers, who have everything that they can desire--everlasting life, no care, and perpetual opportunities of sweet converse. Only such Gods,--the Epicureans thought,--need not be feared. Only such Gods are free and pure, and worshipped because of this very perfection. Moreover, these Gods are innumerable. If the number of mortal beings is infinite, the law of counterpoise requires that the number of immortal beings must not be less. If we have only the idea of a limited number of Gods, it is because, owing to their being so much alike, we confound in our minds the innumerable pictures of the Gods which, are conveyed to our souls.
Priding themselves, in contrast to the Stoics, on their
agreement by means of this theology with the anthropomorphic views
of the popular belief, and even outdoing polytheism in the
assumption of innumerable Gods, the Epicureans were willing to
join in the customary services of religion, without being nearly
so anxious as the Stoics to prove themselves in harmony with the
popular creed. Whilst the Stoics in their anxiety to do this had
plunged head over heels into allegory, no such tendency is
observed on the part of the Epicureans. Only the poet of the
School gives a few allegorical interpretations of mythical ideas,
and he does it with more taste and skill than is usual with the
Stoics. On other points the Epicureans, not excluding Lucretius,
observe towards the popular faith a negative attitude, that of
opposing it by explanations; and by this attitude, without doubt,
they rendered one of the most important services to humanity.
NATURAL science is intended to overcome the prejudices which stand in the way of happiness; moral science to give positive instruction as to the nature and means of attaining to happiness. The speculative parts of the Epicurean system had already worked out the idea that reality belongs only to individual things, and that all general order must be referred to the accidental harmony of individual forces. The same idea is now met with in the sphere of morals, individual feeling being made the standard, and individual well-being the object of all human activity. Natural science, beginning with external phenomena, went back to the secret principles of these phenomena, accessible only to thought. It led from an apparently accidental movement of atoms to a universe of regular motions. Not otherwise was the course followed by Epicurus in moral science. Not content with human feelings alone, nor with selfishly referring everything to the individual taken by himself alone, that science, in more accurately defining the conception of well-being, ascertained that the same can only be found by rising superior to feelings and purely individual aims, in short by that very process of referring consciousness to itself and its universal being, which the Stoics declared to be the only path to happiness. It is for us now to portray this development of the Epicurean philosophy in its most prominent features.
The only unconditional good, according to Epicurus, is pleasure; the only unconditional evil is pain. No proof of this proposition seemed to him to be necessary; it rests on a conviction supplied by nature herself, and is the ground and basis of all our doing and not doing. If proof, however, were required, he appealed to the fact that all living beings from the first moment of their existence pursue pleasure and avoid pain, and that consequently pleasure is a natural good, and the normal condition of every being. Hence follows the proposition to which Epicurus in common with all the philosophers of pleasure appealed, that pleasure must be the object of life.
At the same time, this proposition was restricted in the Epicurean system by several considerations. In the first place, neither pleasure nor pain is a simple thing. There are many varieties and degrees of pleasure and pain, and the case may occur in which pleasure has to be secured by the loss of other pleasures, or even by pain, or in which pain can only be avoided by submitting to another pain, or at the cost of some pleasure. In this case Epicurus would have the various feelings of pleasure and pain carefully weighed, and in consideration of the advantages and disadvantages which they confer, would under circumstances advise the good to be treated as an evil, and the evil as a good. He would have pleasure forsworn if it would entail a greater corresponding pain, and pain submitted to if it holds out the prospect of greater pleasure. He also agrees with Plato in holding that every positive pleasure presupposes a want, i.e. a pain which it proposes to remove; and hence he concludes that the real aim and object of all pleasure consists in obtaining freedom from pain, and that the good is nothing else but emancipation from evil. By a Cyrenaic neither repose of soul nor freedom from pain, but a gentle motion of the soul or positive pleasure was proposed as the object of life; and hence happiness was not made to depend on man's general state of mind, but on the sum-total of his actual enjoyments. But Epicurus, advancing beyond this position, recognized both the positive and the negative side of pleasures, both pleasure as repose, and pleasure as motion. Both aspects of pleasure, however, do not stand on the same footing in his system. On the contrary, the essential and immediate cause of happiness is repose of mind--ataraxia. Positive pleasure is only an indirect cause of ataraxia in that it removes the pain of unsatisfied craving. This mental repose, however, depends essentially on the character of a man’s mind, just as conversely positive pleasure in systems so materialistic must depend on sensuous attractions. It was consistent, therefore, on the part of Aristippus to consider bodily gratification the highest pleasure; and conversely Epicurus was no less consistent in subordinating it to gratification of mind.
In calling pleasure the highest object in life, says Epicurus, we do not mean the pleasures of profligacy, nor indeed sensual enjoyments at all, but the freedom of the body from pain, and the freedom of the soul from disturbance. Neither feasts nor banquets, neither the lawful nor unlawful indulgence of the passions, nor the joys of the table, make life happy, but a sober judgment, investigating the motives for action and for inaction, and dispelling those greatest enemies of our peace, prejudices. The root from which it springs, and, therefore, the highest good, is intelligence. It is intelligence that leaves us free to acquire possession thereof, without being ever too early or too late. Our indispensable wants are simple, little being necessary to ensure freedom from pain; other things only afford change in enjoyment, by which the quantity is not increased, or else they rest on a mere sentiment. The little we need may be easily attained. Nature makes ample provision for our happiness, would we only receive her gifts thankfully, not forgetting what she gives in thinking what we desire. He who lives according to nature is never poor; the wise man living on bread and water has no reason to envy Zeus; chance has little hold on him; with him judgment is everything, and if that be right, he need trouble himself but little about external mishaps. Not even bodily pain appeared to Epicurus so irresistible as to be able to cloud the wise man’s happiness. Although he regards as unnatural the Stoic’s insensibility to pain, still he is of opinion that the wise man may be happy on the rack, and can smile at pains the most violent, exclaiming in the midst of torture, How sweet! A touch of forced sentiment may be discerned in the last expression, and a trace of self-satisfied exaggeration is manifest even in the beautiful language of the dying philosopher on the pains of disease. Nevertheless, the principle involved is based in the spirit of the Epicurean philosophy, and borne out by the testimony of the founder. The main thing, according to Epicurus, is not the state of the body, but the state of the mind; bodily pleasure being of short duration, and having much about it to unsettle: mental enjoyments only being pure and incorruptible. For the same reason mental sufferings are more severe than those of the body, since the body only suffers from present ills, whilst the soul feels those past and those to come. In a life of limited duration the pleasures of the flesh never attain their consummation. Mind only, by consoling us for the limited nature of our bodily existence, can produce a life complete in itself, and not standing in need of unlimited duration.
At the same time, the Epicureans, if consistent with their principles, could not deny that bodily pleasure is the earlier form, and likewise the ultimate source, of all pleasure, and neither Epicurus nor his favorite pupil Metrodorus shrank from making this admission; Epicurus declaring that he could form no conception of the good apart from enjoyments of the senses; Metrodorus asserting that everything good has reference to the belly. For all that the Epicureans did not feel themselves driven to give up the pre-eminence which they claimed for goods of the soul over those of the body. Did even the Stoics, notwithstanding the grossness of their theory of knowledge, ever abate their demand for a knowledge of conceptions: or cease to subordinate the senses to reason, although they built their theory of morals on nature? But all definite character has vanished from these intellectual joys and pains. The only distinctive feature which they possess is the addition either of memory, or of hope, or of fear to the present feeling of pleasure or pain; and their greater importance is simply ascribed to the greater force or duration belonging to ideal feelings as compared with the attractions which momentarily impress the senses. Incidentally the remembrance of philosophic discourses is mentioned as a counterpoise to bodily pain; properly speaking, mental pleasures and pains are not different from other pleasures in kind, but only in degree, by reason of their being stronger and more enduring. Accordingly Epicurus cannot escape the admission that we have no cause for rejecting gross and carnal enjoyments if these can liberate us from the fear of higher powers, of death, and of sufferings; and thus the only consolation he can offer in pain is the uncertain one that the most violent pains either do not last long, or else put an end to life; and the less violent ones ought to be endured since they do not exclude a counterbalancing pleasure. Hence victory over the impression of the moment must be won, not so much by mental force stemming the tide of feeling, as by a proper estimate of the conditions and actions of the senses.
In no other way can the necessity of virtue be established in the Epicurean system. Agreeing with the strictest moralists, so far as to hold that virtue can be as little separated from happiness as happiness from virtue, having even the testimony of opponents as to the purity and integrity of his moral teaching, which in its results differed in no wise from that of the Stoics; Epicurus, nevertheless, holds a position of strong contrast to the Stoics in respect of the grounds on which his moral theory is based. To demand virtue for its own sake seemed to him a mere phantom of the imagination. Those only who make pleasure their aim have a real object in life. Virtue has only a conditional value as a means to happiness; or, as it is otherwise expressed, Virtue taken by itself does not render a man happy, but the pleasure arising from the exercise of virtue. This pleasure the Epicurean system does not seek in the consciousness of duty fulfilled, or of virtuous action, but in the freedom from disquiet, fear, and dangers, which follows as a consequence from virtue. Wisdom and intelligence contribute to happiness by liberating us from the fear of the Gods and of death, by making us independent of immoderate passions and vain desires, by teaching us to bear pain as something subordinate and passing, and by pointing the way to a more cheerful and natural life. Self-control aids, in that it points out the attitude to be assumed towards pleasure and pain, so as to receive the maximum of enjoyment and the minimum of suffering; valor, in that it enables us to overcome fear and pain; justice, in that it makes life possible without that fear of Gods and men, which ever haunts the transgressor. To the Epicurean virtue is never an end in itself, but only a means to an end lying beyond--a happy life--but withal a means so certain and necessary, that virtue can neither be conceived without happiness, nor happiness without virtue. However unnecessary it may seem, still Epicurus would ever insist that an action to be right must be done not according to the letter, but according to the spirit of the law, not simply from regard to others, or by compulsion, but from delight in what is good.
The same claims were advanced by Epicurus on behalf of his wise man as the Stoics had urged on behalf of theirs. Not only does he attribute to him a control over pain, in nothing inferior to the Stoic insensibility of feeling, but he endeavors himself to describe the wise man’s life as most perfect and satisfactory in itself. Albeit not free from emotions, and in particular susceptible to the higher feelings of the soul such as compassion, the wise man finds his philosophic activity in no wise thereby impaired. Without despising enjoyment, he is altogether master of his desires, and knows how to restrain them by intelligence, so that they never exercise a harmful influence on life. He alone has an unwavering certainty of conviction; he alone knows how to do the right thing in the right way; he alone, as Metrodorus observes, knows how to be thankful. Nay, more, he is so far exalted above ordinary men, that Epicurus promises his pupils that, by carefully observing his teaching, they will dwell as Gods among men; so little can destiny influence him, that he calls him happy under all circumstances. Happiness may, indeed, depend on certain external conditions; it may even be allowed that the disposition to happiness is not found in every nature, nor in every person; but still, when it is found, its stability is sure, nor can time affect its duration. For wisdom--so Epicurus and the Stoics alike believed--is indestructible, and the wise man’s happiness can never be increased by time. A life, therefore, bounded by time can be quite as complete as one not so bounded.
Different as are the principles and the tone of the systems of
the Stoics and of Epicurus, one and the same tendency may yet be
traced in both--the tendency which characterizes all the
post-Aristotelian philosophy--the desire to place man in a
position of absolute independence by emancipating him from
connection with the external world, and by awakening in him the
consciousness of the infinite freedom of thought.
It has been already seen how Epicurus thought to rise above pains, and to emancipate himself from the fear of the Gods and death. And it has been further noticed that he thinks to secure by means of his principles the same independence and happiness which the Stoics aspired to by means of theirs. But whilst the Stoics hoped to attain this independence by crushing the senses, Epicurus was content to restrain and regulate them. Desires he would not have uprooted, but he would have them brought into proper proportion to the collective end and condition of life, into the equilibrium necessary for perfect repose of mind. Hence, notwithstanding his own simplicity, Epicurus is far from disapproving, under all circumstances, of a fuller enjoyment of life. The wise man will not live as a Cynic or a beggar. Care for business he will not neglect; only he will not trouble himself too much about it, and will prefer the business of education to any and every other. Nor will he despise the attractions of art, although he is satisfied when obliged to do without them. In short, his self-sufficiency will not consist in using little, but in needing little; and it is this freedom from wants which adds flavor to his more luxurious enjoyments. His attitude to death is the same. Not fearing death, rather seeking it when he has no other mode of escaping unendurable suffering, he will resort to suicide if necessary, but the cases will be rare, because he has learned to be happy under all bodily pains. The Stoic’s recommendation of suicide finds no favor with him.
However self-sufficing the wise man may be, still Epicurus will not separate him from connection with others. Not, indeed, that he believed with the Stoics in the natural relationship of all rational beings. Yet even he could form no idea of human life except in connection with human society. He does not, however, assign the same value to all forms of social life. Civil society and the state have for him the least attraction. Civil society is only an external association for the purpose of protection. Justice reposes originally on a contract entered into for purposes of mutual security. Laws are made for the sake of the wise, not to prevent their committing, but to prevent their suffering injustice. Law and justice are not, therefore, binding for their own sake, but for the general good; nor is injustice to be condemned for its own sake, but only because the offender can never be free from fear of discovery and punishment. There is not, therefore, any such thing as universal, unchangeable justice. The claims of justice only extend to a limited number of beings and nations--those, in fact, which are able and willing to enter into the social compact. And the particular applications of justice which constitute positive right differ in different cases, and change with circumstances. What is felt to be conducive to mutual security must pass for justice, and whenever a law is seen to be inexpedient it is no longer binding. The wise man will therefore only enter into political life in case and in as far as this is necessary for his own safety. Sovereign power is a good, inasmuch as it protects from harm. He who pursues it, without thereby attaining this object, acts most foolishly. Since private individuals live as a rule much more quietly and safely than statesmen, it was natural that the Epicureans should be averse to public affairs; public life, after all, is a hindrance to what is the real end-in-chief--wisdom and happiness. Their watchword is Live unknown. To them the golden mean seemed by far the most desirable lot in life. They only advise citizens to take part in public affairs when special circumstances render it necessary, or when an individual has such a restless nature that he cannot be content with the quiet of private life. Otherwise they are too deeply convinced of the impossibility of pleasing the masses to wish even to make the attempt. For the same reason they appear to have been partisans of monarchy. The stern and unflinching moral teaching of the Stoics had found its political expression in the unbending republican spirit, so often encountered at Rome. Naturally the soft and timid spirit of the Epicureans took shelter under a monarchical constitution. Of their political principles one thing at least is known, that they did not consider it degrading for a wise man to pay court to princes, and under all circumstances they recommended unconditional obedience to the powers that be.
Family life is said to have been deprecated by Epicurus equally with civil life. Stated thus baldly, this is an exaggeration. It appears, however, to be established, that Epicurus believed it to be generally better for the wise man to forego marriage and the rearing of children, since he would thereby save himself many disturbances. It is also quite credible that he declared the love of children towards parents to be no inborn feeling. This view is, after all, only a legitimate consequence of his materialism; but it did not oblige him to give up parental love altogether. Nay, it is asserted of him that he was anything but a stranger to family affections.
The highest form of social life was considered by Epicurus to be friendship--a view which is peculiar in a system that regarded the individual as the atom of society. Such a system naturally attributes more value to a connection with others freely entered upon and based on individual character and personal inclination, than to one in which a man finds himself placed without any choice, as a member of a society founded on nature or history. The basis, however, on which the Epicurean friendship rests is very superficial; regard is mainly had to its advantages, and in some degree to the natural effects of common enjoyments; but it is also treated in such a way, that its scientific imperfection has no influence on its moral importance. Only one section oft the School, and that not the most consistent, maintained that friendship is pursued in the first instance for the sake of its own use and pleasure, but that it subsequently becomes an unselfish love. The assumption that among the wise there exists a tacit agreement requiring them to love one another as much as they love themselves, is clearly only a lame shift. Still, the Epicureans were of opinion that a grounding of friendship on motives of utility was not inconsistent with holding it in the highest esteem. Friendly connection with others affords so pleasant a feeling of security, that it entails the most enjoyable consequences; and since this connection can only exist when friends love one another as themselves, it follows that self-love and the love of a friend must be equally strong.
Even this inference sounds forced, nor does it fully state the grounds on which Epicurus’s view of the value of friendship reposes. That view, in fact, was anterior to all the necessary props of the system. What Epicurus requires is primarily enjoyment. The first conditions of such enjoyment, however, are inward repose of mind, and the removal of fear of disturbances. But Epicurus was far too effeminate and dependent on externals to trust his own powers to satisfy these conditions. He needed the support of others, not only to obtain their help in necessity and trouble, and to console himself for the uncertainty of the future, but still more, to make sure of himself and his principles by having the approval of others, and thus obtaining an inward satisfaction which he could not otherwise have had. Thus, the approval of friends is to him the pledge of the truth of his convictions. In sympathy with friends his mind first attains to a strength by which it is able to rise above the changing circumstances of life. General ideas are for him too abstract, too unreal. A philosopher who considers individual beings as alone real, and perceptions as absolutely true, cannot feel quite happy and sure of his ground, unless he finds others to go with him. The enjoyment which he seeks is the enjoyment of his own cultivated personality; and wherever this standard prevails, particular value is attached to the personal relations of society, and to friendship.
Hence Epicurus uses language on the value and necessity of friendship which goes far beyond the grounds on which he bases it. Friendship is unconditionally the highest of earthly goods. It is far more important in whose company we eat and drink, than what we eat and drink. In case of emergency, the wise man will not shrink from suffering the greatest pains, even death, for his friend.
It is well known that the conduct of Epicurus and his followers was in harmony with these professions. The Epicurean friendship is hardly less celebrated than the Pythagorean. There may be an offensive mawkishness and a tendency to mutual admiration apparent in the relations of Epicurus to his friends, but of the sincerity of his feelings there can be no doubt. One single expression referring to the property of friends, is enough to prove what a high view Epicurus held of friendship; and there is evidence to show that he aimed at a higher improvement of his associates.
In other respects Epicurus bore the reputation of being a kind,
benevolent, and genial companion. His teaching bears the same
impress. It meets the inexorable sternness of the Stoics by
insisting on compassion and forgiveness, and supersedes its own
egotism by the maxim that it is more blessed to give than to
receive. The number of such maxims on record is, no doubt,
limited; nevertheless, the whole tone of the Epicurean School is a
pledge of the humane and generous character of its moral teaching.
To this trait that School owes its chief importance in history. By
its theory of utility it undoubtedly did much harm, partly
exposing, partly helping forward, the moral decline of the classic
nations. Still, by drawing man away from the outer world within
himself, by teaching him to seek happiness in the beautiful type
of a cultivated mind content with itself, it contributed quite as
much as Stoicism, though after a gentler fashion, to the
development and the extension of a more independent and more
The strongest argument in favor of Epicureanism is that the development of the system does not pretend to rest upon an intellectual platform. Epicurus sought in philosophy a path to happiness, a school of practical wisdom. For him knowledge has only a secondary value, because it contributes to this end; indeed, both the tone and the results of his intellectual activity were determined by a reference to this end. In the case of the Stoics, however, it has been already seen that the comparative subordination of Logic and Natural Science to Moral Science, the going back to the older view of nature, the vindication of the truth of the senses and of the reality of matter, grew out of their peculiarly one-sided view of the scope of philosophy. In the case of Epicurus the same results appear, and all the more markedly, since Epicurus did not, like the Stoics, look for happiness in subordination to a universal law, but in individual gratification or pleasure. For him the recognition of a universal law had not the same importance as for the Stoics; and consequently Epicurus did not feel the same need of a scientific method as they had done. He could therefore more exclusively content himself with the impressions of the senses, and regard them as the only unfailing source of knowledge. No necessity compelled him to advance from pure materialism to a view of matter in which it is described as possessing a soul, and made to be the bearer of reason. In fact, the more exclusively everything was referred by him to mechanical causes, the more easily could he regard the individual as independent of all superhuman forces in his pursuit of happiness, and left entirely to himself and his natural powers. No system in ancient times has so consistently carried out the mechanical view of nature as that of the Atomists. None, therefore, afforded such a strong metaphysical support to the Epicurean views of the absolute worth of the individual. It was as natural for Epicurus to build on the teaching of Democritus as for the Stoics to build on that of Heraclitus. But Epicurus, influenced probably more by practical than by scientific considerations, allowed himself, by his theory of the swerving aside of atoms, to destroy the consistency of the theory of Democritus.
It is hardly necessary to notice here how the distinctive features of the Epicurean morals were developed out of their theory of happiness, in contrast to the Stoic teaching. The happiness of Epicurus, however, does not depend upon sensual gratification as such, but upon repose of mind and cheerfulness of disposition. His theory of morals, therefore, notwithstanding its foundation in pleasure, bears a nobler character, which is seen in its language as to the wise man’s relations to the pains and passions of the body, to poverty and riches, to life and death, quite as much as in the mild humanity and the warm and hearty appreciation of friendship by the Epicurean School. The rationalizing spirit of that School was undoubtedly opposed to any religious belief which supposed an intervention of God in the course of the world, or the world's influence on man for weal or woe; but its appeal to the senses without criticism placed no objection in the way of admitting divine beings, from whom no such intervention need be feared. Nay, more, this belief seemed the most natural ground for explaining the popular belief in Gods. It satisfied an inborn and apparently keenly felt want by supplying an appropriate object of devotion, and a standard by which to test the accuracy of moral ideas. Hence, notwithstanding scientific defects and contradictions, the whole system of Epicurus bears a definite stamp. All the essential parts of that system are subservient to one and the same end. The consistent working out of a scientific view of nature is looked for in vain; but there is no lack of consistency arising from an undeniable reference of the individual to a definite and practical standard.
Looking to the wider historical relations of the Epicurean system, the first point which calls for remark is the relation of that system to Stoicism. The contrast between the two Schools is obvious; attention having been already drawn to it on all the important points, it is likewise well known that a constant rivalry existed between the two Schools during their whole careers, that the Stoics looked down on the Epicureans, and circulated many calumnies with respect to their morals. For these statements proofs may be found in the preceding pages. Nevertheless, the two Schools are related in so many respects, that they can only be regarded as parallel links connected in one chain, their differences being varieties where the same main tendency exists. Both agree in the general character of their philosophy. In both practical considerations prevail over speculation. Both treat natural science and logic as sciences subsidiary to ethics--natural science especially in view of its bearing on religion. Both attach more importance to natural science than to logic. If the Epicurean neglect of scientific rules forms a contrast to the care which the Stoics devoted thereto, both Schools are at least agreed in one thing--in displaying greater independence in investigating the question as to a test of truth. By both this standard was placed in the senses; and to all appearances both were led to take this view by the same cause; appeals to the senses being a consequence of their purely practical way of looking at things. Both, moreover, employed against skepticism the same practical postulate--the argument that knowledge must be possible, or no certainty of action would be possible. They even agree in not being content with the phenomena supplied by the senses as such, although Epicurus as little approved of the Stoic theory of irresistible impressions as he did of their logical analysis of the forms of thought. With such appeals to the senses how could there be any other result than materialism both in the Stoic and Epicurean systems? But it is strange that the materialism in both Schools should be based on the same definition of reality, corresponding with their practical way of looking at things.
In the unfolding and detailed exposition of their materialistic views the systems diverge, more widely, perhaps, than the philosophers themselves, whose leading they professed to follow. These divergencies appear particularly on the subject of nature, the Stoics regarding nature as a system of design, the Epicureans explaining it as a mechanical product. Whilst the Stoics adhered to fatalism, and saw God everywhere, the Epicureans held the theory of atoms, and the theory of necessity. Whilst the Stoics were speculatively orthodox, the Epicureans were irreligious freethinkers. Both meet again in that branch of natural science which is most important in respect of morals--the part dealing with man. Both hold that the soul is a fiery atmospheric substance. Even the proof for this view, derived from the mutual influence of body and soul, is common to both. Both distinguish between the higher and the lower parts of the soul, and thus even the Epicureans in their psychology allow a belief in the superiority of reason to the senses, and in the divine origin of the soul.
The arena of the warmest dispute between the two Schools is, however, ethics. Yet, even on this ground, they are more nearly related than appears at first sight. No greater contrast appears to be possible than that between the Epicurean theory of pleasure and the Stoic theory of virtue; and true it is that the two theories are diametrically opposite. Nevertheless, not only are both aiming at one and the same end--the happiness of mankind--but the conditions of happiness are also laid down by both in the same spirit. According to Zeno virtue, according to Epicurus pleasure, is the highest and only good; but the former in making virtue consist essentially in withdrawal from the senses or insensibility; the latter in seeking pleasure in repose of mind or imperturbability, are expressing the same belief. Man can only find unconditional and enduring satisfaction, when by means of knowledge he attains to a condition of mind at rest with itself, and also to an independence of external attractions and misfortunes. The same unlimited appeal to personal truth is the common groundwork of both systems. Both have expanded this idea under the same form--that of the ideal wise man--for the most part with the same features. The wise man of Epicurus is, as we have seen, superior to pain and want; he enjoys an excellence which cannot be lost; and he lives among men a very God in intelligence and happiness. Thus, when worked out into details, the difference in the estimate of pleasure and virtue by the Stoics and Epicureans seems to vanish. Neither the Stoic can separate happiness from virtue, nor the Epicurean separate virtue from happiness.
But, whilst recommending a living for society, both systems take no real interest in social life. The recognition of a natural society amongst mankind, of certain positive relations to state and family, above all, a clear enunciation of a citizenship of the world, characterize the Stoics. The pursuit of friendship, and the gentle humanity of their ethics, characterize the Epicureans. Together with these peculiarities one common feature cannot be ignored. Both have renounced the political character of the old propriety of conduct, and diverting their attention from public life, seek to find a basis for universal morality in the simple relation of man to man.
The united weight of all these points of resemblance is sufficient to warrant the assertion that, notwithstanding their differences, the Stoics and Epicureans stand on the same footing, and that the sharpness of the contrast between them is owing to their laying hold of opposite sides of one and the same principle. Abstract personality, and self-consciousness developed into a generic idea, is for both the highest aim. Compared with it not only the state of the senses, but the scientific knowledge of things, and the realization of moral ideas in a commonwealth, are of minor importance. In this self-consciousness happiness consists. To implant it in man is the object of philosophy, and knowledge is only of value when and in as far as it ministers to this end. The point of difference between the two Schools is their view of the conditions under which that certainty of consciousness is attained. The Stoics hope to attain it by the entire subordination of the individual to universal law. The Epicureans, on the other hand, are of the opinion that man can only then be content in himself when he is restrained by nothing external to himself. The first condition of happiness consists in liberating individual life from all dependence on others, and all disturbing causes. The former, therefore, make virtue, the latter make personal well-being or pleasure, the highest good. By the Epicureans, however, pleasure is usually conceived as of a purely negative character, as being freedom from pain, and is referred to the whole of human life. Hence it is always made to depend on the moderation of desires, on indifference to outward ills, and the state of the senses, on intelligence and actions conformable with intelligence, in short, on virtue and wisdom. Hence, too, the Epicureans arrive by a roundabout course at the same result as the Stoics--the conviction that happiness can only be the lot of those who are altogether independent of external things, and enjoy perfect inward harmony.
Towards the older philosophy Epicureanism bears nearly the same relation as Stoicism. True it is that Epicurus and his School would not recognize their obligation to either one or other of their predecessors. But far from disproving the influence of previous systems on his own, this conduct only shows the personal vanity of Epicurus. Epicureanism, like Stoicism, starts with the object of bringing down science from metaphysical speculation to the simpler form of a practical science of life. Both systems of philosophy, therefore, turn away from Plato and Aristotle, whose labors they notably neglect, to Socrates and those Socratic Schools which, without more extensive meddling with science, are content with ethics. Circumstances, however, led Epicurus to follow Aristippus as Zeno had followed Antisthenes. Not only in morals did Epicurus derive his principle of pleasure from the Cyrenaics; he likewise derived from them his theory of knowledge, that the sense-impressions are the only source of ideas, and that every feeling is true in itself. Nor can he altogether deny that feelings only furnish direct information respecting our personal states, and respecting the relative properties of things. With the Cyrenaics, too, he taught that true pleasure can only be secured by philosophic intelligence, and that this intelligence aims, before all things, at liberating the mind from passion, fear, and superstition. At the same time, he is by no means prepared to follow the Cyrenaics unreservedly. His theory of morals differs, as has already been seen, from the Cyrenaic theory in this important particular, that not sensual and individual pleasure, but mental repose and the whole state of the mind is regarded as the ultimate end, and the highest good in life. It was thus impossible for him to be content, as the Cyrenaics were, with feelings only, with individual and personal impressions. He could not help requiring conviction which reposed on a real knowledge of things, since only on such conviction can an equable and certain tone of mind depend.
Epicurus, therefore, not only differed from Aristippus with regard to feelings, by referring all feelings to impressions from without, of which he considered them true representations, but he felt himself called upon to oppose the Cyrenaic contempt for theories of nature, just as the Stoics had opposed the Cynic contempt for science. To the physics of Democritus he looked for a scientific basis for his ethics, just as they had looked to the system of Heraclitus. But the closer he clung to Democritus, owing to the weakness of his own interest in nature, the more it becomes apparent that his whole study of nature was subservient to a moral purpose, and hence of a purely relative value. Accordingly, he had not the least hesitation in setting consistency at defiance, by assuming the swerving aside of atoms and the freedom of the will. It is not only altogether improbable that Epicurus was but a second edition of Democritus--for history knows of no such repetitions--but as a matter of fact it is false. Closer observation proves that even when the two philosophers agree in individual statements, the meaning which they attach to these assertions and the whole spirit of their systems are widely divergent. Democritus aims at explaining natural phenomena by natural causes. He wishes, in short, for a science of nature purely for its own sake. Epicurus wishes for a view of nature which shall be able to avert disturbing influences from man’s inner life. Natural science stands with him entirely in the service of ethics. If in point of substance his system is borrowed from another system, yet its whole position and treatment supposes an entirely new view of things. The Socratic introspection, and the Sophistic resolution of natural philosophy into personal rationalizing, are its historical antecedents; and it owes its existence to that general dislike for pure theory, which constitutes the common peculiarity of all the post-Aristotelian systems.
Excepting the systems named, Epicureanism, so far as is known, is connected with no other previous system. Even its attack upon those systems appears to have consisted of general dogmatic and superficial statements. Still it must not be forgotten that Epicureanism presupposes the line of thought originated by Socrates, not only as found in the collateral Cyrenaic branch, but as found in the main line of regular development by Plato and Aristotle. The view of Plato and Aristotle, which distinguishes the immaterial essence from the sensible appearance of things, and attributes reality only to the former, is undoubtedly attacked by Epicurus as by Zeno, on metaphysical grounds. Practically, however, he approaches very much nearer to this view in all those points in which his teaching deviates from the Cyrenaic and resembles that of the Stoics.
It has been observed on a former occasion that the indifference
to the immediate conditions of the senses, the withdrawal of the
mind within itself, the contentment with itself of the thinking
subject, which Epicurus no less than the Stoics and contemporary
Sceptics required, is itself a consequence of the idealism of
Plato and Aristotle. Even the materialism of the
post-Aristotelian systems, it is said, was by no means a going
back to the old pre-Socratic philosophy of nature, but a
one-sided practical apprehension of that idealism. These systems
deny a soul in nature or a soul in man, because they look
exclusively to consciousness and to personal activity for
independence of the senses. The correctness of this observation
may be easily proved from the Epicurean teaching, notwithstanding
the severity and harshness of its materialism. Why was it that
Epicurus relentlessly banished from nature all immaterial causes
and all idea of purpose? And why did he confine himself
exclusively to a mechanical explanation of nature? Was it not
because he felt afraid that the admission of any other than
material causes would imperil the certainty of consciousness;
because he feared to lose the firm groundwork of reality by
admitting invisible forces, and to expose human life to influences
beyond calculation if he allowed anything immaterial? Yet in his
view of life, how little does he adhere to present facts, since
his wise man is made to enjoy perfect happiness by himself alone,
independent of everything external. The same ideal is reproduced
in the Epicurean Gods. In their isolated contemplation of
themselves, what else do they resemble but the God of Aristotle,
who, aloof from all intermeddling with the world, meditates on
himself alone? No doubt the independent existence of the thinking
mind is held by Aristotle in a clear and dignified manner. By
Epicurus it is portrayed in a sensuous, and, therefore, a
contradictory form. But the connection of the views of both cannot
be ignored. There is a similar general relation between the
Epicurean philosophy and that of Plato and Aristotle. Little as
the former can be compared with the latter in breadth and depth,
it must not, therefore, be regarded as an intellectual
monstrosity. Epicureanism is a tenable though one-sided
expression of a certain stage in the development of the intellect
More than one point of departure was offered to Skepticism by the earlier philosophy. The Megarian criticism and the Cynic teaching had taken up a position subversive of all connection of ideas, and of all knowledge. Pyrrho, too, had received from the School of Democritus an impulse to doubt. In particular, the development of the Platonic and Aristotelian speculations by those who were not able to follow them, had made men mistrustful of all speculation. until they at last doubted the possibility of all knowledge. Not seldom do Skeptical theories follow times of great philosophical originality. A stronger impulse was given in the sequel by the Stoic and Epicurean systems. Related to Skepticism by their practical tone, it was natural that these systems should afford fuel to Skepticism At the same time the unsatisfactory groundwork upon which they were built, and the contrast between their moral and physical teaching, promoted destructive criticism. If, according to the Stoics and Epicureans, the particular and the universal elements in the personal soul, the isolation of the individual as an independent atom, and his being merged in a pantheistic universe, are contrasted without being reconciled; among the Sceptics this contrast has given place to neutrality. Neither the Stoic nor the Epicurean theory can claim our adherence; neither the unconditional value of pleasure, nor yet the unconditional value of virtue; neither the truth of the senses nor the truth of rational knowledge; neither the Atomist’s view of nature, nor the Pantheistic view as it found expression in Heraclitus. The only thing which remains certain amid universal uncertainty is abstract personality content with itself, personality forming at once the starting-point and the goal of the two contending systems.
The important back-influence of Stoicism and Epicureanism upon Skepticism may be best gathered from the fact that Skepticism only attained a wide extension and a more comprehensive basis in the New Academy after the appearance of those systems. Before that time its leading features had been indeed laid down by Pyrrho, but they had never been developed into a permanent School of Skepticism, nor given rise to an expanded theory of doubt.
Pyrrho was a native of Elis, and may therefore have early made the acquaintance of the Elean and Megarian criticism--that criticism, in fact, which was the precursor of subsequent Skepticism It can, however, hardly be true that Bryso was his instructor. To Anaxarchus, a follower of Democritus, he attached himself, and accompanied that philosopher with Alexander's army as far as India. Perhaps, however, he is less indebted to Anaxarchus for the skeptical than for the ethical parts of his teaching. At a later period he resided in his native city, honored by his fellow-citizens, but in poor circumstances, which he bore with his characteristic repose of mind. He died, it would appear, at an advanced age, between 275 and 270 B.C., leaving no writings behind. Even the ancients, therefore, only knew his teaching by that of his pupils, among whom Timon of Phlius was the most distinguished. Besides Timon several other of his pupils are known by name. His School, however, was short-lived. Soon after Timon it seems to have become extinct. Those who were disposed to be skeptical now joined the New Academy, towards whose founder even Timon made no secret of his grudge.
The little which is known of Pyrrho’s teaching may be summed up in the three following statements: We can know nothing as to the nature of things: Hence the right attitude towards them is to withhold judgment: The necessary result of suspending judgment is imperturbability. He who will live happily--for happiness is the starting-point with the Sceptics--must, according to Timon, take these things into consideration: What is the nature of things? What ought our attitude to things to be? What is the gain resulting from these relations? To the first of these three questions Pyrrho can only reply by saying that things are altogether inaccessible to knowledge, and that whatever property may be attributed to a thing, with equal justice the opposite may be predicated. In support of this statement Pyrrho appears to have argued that neither the senses nor reason furnish certain knowledge. The senses do not show things as they are, but only as they appear to be. Rational knowledge, even where it seems to be most certain, in the sphere of morals, does not depend upon real knowledge, but only upon tradition and habit. Against every statement the opposite may be advanced with equal justice. If, however, neither the senses nor reason alone can furnish trustworthy testimony, no more can the two combined, and thus the third way is barred, by which we might possibly have advanced to knowledge. How many more of the arguments quoted by the later Sceptics belong to Pyrrho it is impossible to say. The short duration and diffusion of Pyrrho's School renders it probable that with him Skepticism was not far advanced. The same result appears to follow from its further development in the Academy. The ten trophes, or aspects under which skeptical objections were grouped, cannot with certainty be attributed to any one before Aenesidemus. Portions of the arguments used at a later day may be borrowed from Pyrrho and his pupils, but it is impossible to discriminate these portions with certainty.
Thus, if knowledge of things proves to be a failure, there only remains as possible an attitude of pure Skepticism; and therein is contained the answer to the second question. We know nothing whatever of the real nature of things, and hence can neither believe nor assert anything as to their nature. We cannot say of anything that it is or is not; but we must abstain from every opinion, allowing that of all which appears to us to be true, the opposite may with equal justice be true. Accordingly, all our statements (as the Cyrenaics taught) only express individual opinions, and not absolute realities. We cannot deny that things appear to be of this or the other kind; but we can never say that they are so. Even the assertion that things are of this or the other kind is not an assertion, but a confession by the individual of his state of mind. Hence, too, the universal rule of indecision cannot be taken as an established principle, but only as a confession, and, therefore, as only problematical. It must, however, remain a matter of doubt how far the captious turns of expression by which the Sceptics thought to parry the attacks of their opponents come from Pyrrho's School. The greater part, it is clear, came into use in the struggle with the Dogmatists, and are not older than the development of the Stoic theory of knowledge by Chrysippus, and the criticism of Carneades to which it gave rise. In this despairing of anything like certain conviction consists speechlessness, incomprehensibleness, or suspension, the withholding of judgment or state of indecision which Pyrrho and Timon regard as the only true attitude in speculation, and from which the whole School derived its distinctive name.
From this state of indecision, Timon, in reply to the third
question, argues that mental imperturbability or ataraxia
proceeds, which can alone conduct to true happiness. Men are
disturbed by views and prejudices which mislead them into the
efforts of passion. Only the Sceptic who has suspended all
judgment is in a condition to regard things with absolute
calmness, unruffled by passion or desire. He knows that it is a
fond delusion to suppose that one external condition is preferable
to another. In reality only the tone of mind or virtue possesses
value. Thus, by withdrawing within himself, man reaches happiness,
which is the goal of all philosophy. Absolute inactivity being,
however, impossible, the Sceptic will act on probabilities, and
hence follow custom; but at the same time he will be conscious
that such conduct does not rest on a basis of firm conviction. The
province of uncertain opinion includes all positive judgments
respecting good and evil. Only in this conditional form will Timon
allow of goodness and divine goodness as standards of conduct. The
real object of Skepticism is, therefore, a purely negative
one--indifference. It cannot even be proved that Pyrrho’s School
so far accommodated itself to life, as to make moderation rather
than indifference the regulating principle for unavoidable actions
and desires. In this direction the School seems to have done but
This connection of the New Academy with Stoicism can be proved in the case of its first founder, Arcesilaus. The doubts of this philosopher are directed not only to knowledge derived from the senses, but to rational knowledge as well. The principal object of his attack was, however, the Stoic theory of irresistible impressions; and in overthrowing that theory Arcesilaus, it would seem, believed he had exploded every possibility of rational knowledge; for the Stoic appeal to the senses he regarded as the only possible form of a theory of knowledge, and the theories of Plato and Aristotle he ignored altogether. Indeed, no peculiar arguments against knowledge are referred to him. The old skeptical arguments of Plato and Socrates, of Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, Heraclitus, and Parmenides, are repeated, all of which apply only to the knowledge of the senses, and not to rational knowledge. Nevertheless, Arcesilaus aimed at overthrowing the latter along with the former. The opinion that he only used doubt to prepare for or to conceal genuine Platonism, is opposed to all credible authorities. It appears, however, established that he deemed it unnecessary to refute the theory of a knowledge existing independently of the senses.
The Stoic arguments in favor of irresistible impressions Arcesilaus met by asserting that an intermediate something between knowledge and opinion, a kind of conviction common to the wise and the unwise, such as the Stoic comprehension, is inconceivable; the wise man’s conviction is always knowledge, that of the fool is always opinion. Going then farther into the idea of comprehensible perception, he endeavored to show that it contained an internal contradiction; for to conceive is to approve, and approval never applies to sensation, but only to thoughts and general ideas. Lastly, if the Stoics regarded force of conviction as the distinctive mark of a true or irresistible conception, and as belonging to it in distinction from every other, the Sceptic rejoined that such conceptions do not exist, and that no true conception is of such a nature, but that a false one may be equally irresistible. If no certainty of perception is possible, no knowledge is possible. And since the wise man--for on this point Arcesilaus agrees with the Stoics--must only consider knowledge, and not opinion, nothing remains for him but to abstain from all and every statement, and to despair of any certain conviction. It is therefore impossible to know anything, nor can we even know for certain that we do not know anything. It was quite in accordance with this theory for Arcesilaus to lay down no definite view in his lectures, but only to refute the views of others. Even his disparaging remarks on dialectic, supposing them to be genuine, are not at variance with this conduct. He might consider the arguments of the Stoics and the sophisms of the Megarians as useless, whilst, at the same time, he was convinced that no real knowledge could be attained by any other means. He might even have inferred from their sterility, that thought leads to truth quite as little as the senses. There is no real difference between the result at which he arrived and that of Pyrrho.
If opponents asserted that by denying knowledge all possibility of action is denied, Arcesilaus declined to accede to this statement. No firm conviction is, as he maintained, necessary for a decision of the will; for an action to come about a perception influences the will immediately, leaving the question as to its truth entirely out of sight. In order to act sensibly we need no knowledge; for this purpose probability is quite enough; any one can follow probability, even though he is conscious of the uncertainty of all knowledge. Thus probability is the highest standard for practical life. We are but scantily informed how Arcesilaus applied this principle to the sphere of morals, but a few of his utterances are on record. All bear witness to the beautiful spirit of moderation in the moral theory of the Academy, which was otherwise exemplified in his own life.
Comparing with the theory of Arcesilaus that which was propounded by Carneades a century later, the same leading features are found to be underlying; but the points have been more carefully worked out, and the theory placed on a wider footing. Of the immediate followers of Arcesilaus it can only be stated that they clung to their teacher. It may be presumed that they did little in the way of expansion, since the ancients are silent as to their labors; Carneades is only mentioned as the continuer of the Academic Skepticism The importance of Carneades is therefore very great, whence he is in consequence called the founder of the third or New Academy; and it is justly great, witness the admiration which his talents called forth among contemporaries and posterity, and the flourishing condition in which he left his School. Himself a pupil of Chrysippus, and resembling him in tone of mind, Carneades expanded not only the negative side of the Skeptical theory in all directions with an acuteness entitling him to the first place among the ancient Sceptics, but he was also the first to investigate the positive side of Skepticism, the doctrine of probability, and to determine the degrees and conditions of probability. By his labors in both ways he brought the philosophy of Skepticism to its greatest scientific perfection.
As regards the negative side of these investigations, or the refutation of dogmatism, the attacks of Carneades were directed partly against the formal possibility of knowledge, and partly against the chief actual results of the knowledge of his day. In both respects he had mainly to do with the Stoics, though he did not confine himself to them.
To prove the impossibility of knowledge in general, he appeals sometimes to experience. There is no kind of conviction which does not sometimes deceive us; consequently there is none which guarantees its own truth. Going then further into the nature of our notions, he argues, that since notions consist in the change produced on the soul by impressions from without, they must, to be true, not only furnish information as to themselves, but also as to the objects producing them. Now, this is by no means always the case, many notions avowedly giving a false impression of things. Hence the note of truth cannot reside in an impression as such, but only in a true impression. It is, however, impossible to distinguish with certainty a true impression from one that is false. For independently of dreams, visions, and the fancies of madmen, in short, of all the unfounded chimeras which force themselves on our notice under the guise of truth, it is still undeniable that many false notions closely resemble true ones. The transition, too, from truth to falsehood is so gradual, the interval between the two is occupied by intermediate links so innumerable, and gradations so slight, that they imperceptibly pass one into the other, and it becomes impossible to draw a boundary line between the two opposite spheres. Not content with proving this assertion in regard to impressions of the senses, Carneades went on to prove it with regard to general notions based on experience and intellectual conceptions. He showed that it is impossible for us to distinguish objects so much alike as one egg is to another; that at a certain distance the painted surface seems raised, and a square tower seems round; that an oar in the water seems broken, and the neck-plumage of a pigeon assumes different colors in the sun; that objects on the shore seem to be moving as we sail by, and so forth; in all these cases the same strength of conviction belongs to the false as to the true impressions. He showed further that this applies equally to purely intellectual ideas; that many logical difficulties cannot be solved; that no absolute distinction can be drawn between much and little, in short between all differences in quantity; and that it is the most natural course in all such cases to follow Chrysippus, and to avoid the dangerous inferences which may be drawn by withholding judgment. Arguing from these facts, Carneades concluded at first in regard to impressions of the senses, that there is no such thing as comprehensible perception in the Stoic sense of the term, in other words, that no perception contains in itself characteristics, by virtue of which its truth may be inferred with certainty. This fact being granted, the possibility is in his opinion precluded of there residing in the understanding a standard for the distinction of truth from falsehood. The understanding--and this belief was shared by his opponents--must derive its material from the senses. Logic tests the formal accuracy of combinations of thought, but gives no insight into their import. Direct proofs of the uncertainty of intellectual convictions are not therefore needed. The same result may also be attained in a more personal way, by raising the question, how individuals obtain their knowledge. He can only be said to know a thing who has formed an opinion respecting it. In the mean time, until he has decided in favor of some definite opinion, he has still no knowledge. And what dependence can be placed on the judgment of one who has no knowledge?
In these formal inquiries into the possibility of knowledge, Carneades had chiefly to deal with the Stoics, with whom he holds a common ground in his appeal to the senses. The Stoics were also his chief opponents in his polemic against the material results of the dogmatic philosophy. Natural science having throughout the period of the post-Aristotelian philosophy been subordinated to ethics, ethics likewise engaged more attention at the hands of Carneades than science. In as far as he studied Natural science, he appears to have been entirely opposed to the Stoic treatment of the subject, and to this circumstance we owe it, that better information is forthcoming regarding his scientific, or rather his theological, investigations than regarding his moral views. The Stoic theories of God and of final causes afforded ample scope for the exercise of his ingenuity, and from the ground he occupied it was not difficult for him to expose the weak points of that theory. The Stoics had appealed in support of the belief in God to the consensus theory of truth. How close at hand was the answer, that the universality of this belief was neither proved to exist, nor as a matter of fact did it exist, but that in no case could the opinion of an ignorant multitude decide anything. The Stoics thought to find a proof of divine providence in the manner in which portents and prophecies come true. To expose this delusion, no very expanded criticism of divination was necessary. Going beyond this, Carneades proceeded to call in question the cardinal point of the Stoic system--the belief in God, the doctrine of the soul and reason of the universe, and of the presence of design in its arrangements. How, he asks, is the presence of design manifested? Whence all the things which cause destruction and danger to men if it be true that God has made the world for the sake of man? If reason is praised as the highest gift of God, is it not manifest that the majority of men only use it to make themselves worse than brutes? In bestowing such a gift God must have been taking but little care of this majority. Even if we attribute to man direct blame for the misuse of reason, still, why has God bestowed on him a reason which can be so much abused? The Stoics themselves say that a wise man can nowhere be found. They admit, too, that folly is the greatest misfortune. How, then, can they speak of the care bestowed by God on men, when, on their own confession, the whole of mankind is sunk in tire deepest misery? But allowing that the Gods could not bestow virtue and wisdom upon all, they could, at least, have taken care that it should go well with the good. Instead of this, the experience of hundreds of cases shows that the upright man comes to a miserable end; that crime succeeds; and that the criminal can enjoy the fruits of his misdeeds undisturbed. Where, then, is the agency of Providence? The facts being entirely different from what the Stoics suppose, what becomes of their inferences? Allowing the presence of design in the world, and granting that the world is as beautiful and good as possible, why is it inconceivable that nature should have formed the world according to natural laws without the intervention of God? Admitting, too, the connection of parts in the universe, why should not this connection be the result simply of natural forces, without a soul of the universe or a deity? Who can pretend to be so intimately acquainted with the powers of nature, as to be able to prove the impossibility of this assumption? Zeno argued that rational things are better than things irrational, that the world is the best possible, and must therefore be rational. Man, says Socrates, can only derive his soul from the world; therefore the world must have a soul. But what, replies the Academician, is there to show that reason is best for the world, if it be the best for us? or that there must be a soul in nature for nature to produce a soul? What man is not able to produce, that, argues Chrysippus, must have been produced by a higher being--by deity. But to this inference the same objection was raised by the Academicians as to the former one, viz. that it confounds two different points of view. There may, indeed, be a Being higher than man. But why must there needs be a rational man-like Being? Why a God? Why not nature herself? Nor did the argument seem to an Academician more conclusive, that as every house is destined to be inhabited, so, too, the world must be intended for the habitation of God. To this there was the obvious reply: If the world were a house, it might be so; but the very point at issue is whether it is a house constructed for a definite purpose, or whether it is simply an undesigned result of natural forces.
Not content with attacking the conclusiveness of the arguments upon which the Stoics built their belief in a God, the skepticism of the Academy sought to demonstrate that the idea of God itself is an untenable one. The line of argument which Carneades struck out for this purpose is essentially the same as that used in modern times to deny the personality of God. The ordinary view of God regards Him as an infinite, but, at the same time, as a separate Being, possessing the qualities and living the life of an individual. To this view Carneades objected, on the ground that the first assertion contradicts the second; and argues that it is impossible to apply the characteristics of personal existence to God without limiting His infinite nature. Whatever view we may take of God, we must regard Him as a living Being; and every living being is composite, having parts and passions, and is therefore destructible. Moreover, every living being has a sense-nature. Far, therefore, from refusing such a nature to God, Carneades attributed to Him, in the interest of omniscience, other organs of sense than the five we possess. Now, everything capable of impressions through the senses is also liable to change, sensation, according to the definition of Chrysippus, being nothing more than a change of soul. Every such being must therefore be capable of pleasure and pain, without which sensation is inconceivable. Whatever is capable of change is liable to destruction; whatever is susceptible to pain is also liable to deterioration, pain being caused by deterioration, and is also liable to destruction. As the capacity for sensation, so too the desire for what is in harmony with nature, and the dislike of what is opposed to nature, belong to the conditions of life. Whatever has the power of destroying any being is opposed to the nature of that being, everything that lives being exposed to annihilation. Advancing from the conception of a living being to that of a rational being, all virtues would have to be attributed to God as well as bliss. But how, asks Carneades, can any virtue be ascribed to God? Every virtue supposes an imperfection, in overcoming which it consists. He only is continent who might possibly be incontinent, and persevering who might be indulgent. To be brave, a man must be exposed to danger; to be magnanimous, he must be exposed to misfortunes. A being not feeling attraction for pleasure, nor aversion for pain and difficulties, dangers and misfortunes, would not be capable of virtue. Just as little could we predicate prudence of a being not susceptible of pleasure and pain; prudence consisting in knowing what is good, bad, and morally indifferent. But how can there be any such knowledge where there is no susceptibility to pleasure or pain? Or how can a being be conceived of capable of feeling pleasure, but incapable of feeling pain, since pleasure can only be known by contrast with pain, and the possibility of increasing life always supposes the possibility of lessening it? Nor is it otherwise with intelligence. He only is intelligent who always discovers what will subserve his purpose. If, however, he must discover it, it cannot have been previously known to him. Hence intelligence can only belong to a being who is ignorant about much. Such a being can never feel sure that sooner or later something will not cause his ruin. He will therefore be exposed to fear. A being susceptible of pleasure and exposed to pain, a being who has to contend with dangers and difficulties, and who feels pain and fear, must inevitably, so thought Carneades, be finite and destructible. If, therefore, we cannot conceive of God except in this form, we cannot conceive of Him at all, our conception being self-destructive.
There is yet another reason, according to Carneades, why God cannot have any virtue; because virtue is above its possessor, and there can be nothing above God. Moreover, what is the position of God in regard to speech? It was easy to show the absurdity of attributing speech to Him, but to call him speechless seemed also to be opposed to the general belief. Quite independently, however, of details, the inconceivableness of God appears, so soon as the question is raised, whether the deity is limited or unlimited, material or immaterial. God cannot be unlimited; for what is unlimited is necessarily immovable because it has no place, and soulless because by virtue of its boundlessness it cannot form a whole permeated by a soul; but God we ordinarily think of both as moving and as endowed with a soul. Nor can God be limited; for all that is limited is incomplete. Moreover, God cannot be immaterial, for Carneades, like the Stoics, held that what is immaterial possesses neither soul, feeling, nor activity. Neither can he be material, all composite bodies being liable to change and destruction, and simple bodies, fire, water, and the like, possessing neither life nor reason. If, then, all, the forms under which we think of God are impossible, His existence cannot be asserted.
Easier work lay before the Sceptics in criticizing polytheistic views of religion and their defense by the Stoics. Among the arguments employed by Carneades to overthrow them, certain chain-arguments are prominent, by means of which he endeavored to show that the popular belief has no distinctive marks for the spheres of God and man. If Zeus is a God, he argues, his brother Poseidon must likewise be one, and if he is one, the rivers and streams must also be Gods. If Helios is a God, the appearance of Helios above the earth, or day, must be a God; and, consequently, month, year, morning, midday, evening, must all be Gods. Polytheism is here refuted by establishing an essential similarity between what is accepted as God and what is avowedly not a God. It may readily be supposed that this was not the only proof of the acuteness of Carneades’ reasoning.
Divination, to which the Stoics attached especial importance, was vigorously assailed. Carneades proved that no peculiar range of subjects belonged thereto, but that in all cases which admit professional judgment experts pass a better judgment than diviners. To know accidental events beforehand is impossible; it is useless to know those that are necessary and unavoidable, nay, more, it would even be harmful. No causal connection can be conceived of between a prophecy and the ensuing realization If the Stoics met him by pointing to fulfilled prophecies, he replied that the coincidence was accidental, at the same time declaring many such stories to be without doubt false.
Connected probably with these attacks on divination was the defense by Carneades of the freedom of the will. The Stoic fatalism he refuted by an appeal to the fact that our decision is free; and since the Stoics appealed in support of their view to the law of causality, he likewise attacked this law. In so doing his intention was not to assert anything positive respecting the nature of the human will, but only to attack the Stoic assertion, and if for his own part he adhered to the old Academic doctrine of a free will, he still regarded that doctrine as only probable.
Less information exists as to the arguments by which Carneades sought to assail the current principles of morality. Nevertheless, enough is known to indicate the course taken by his Skepticism in relation thereto. In the second of the celebrated speeches which he delivered at Rome in the year 156 B.C., he denied that there is such a thing as natural right: all laws are only positive civil institutions devised by men for the sake of safety and advantage, and for the protection of the weak; and hence he is regarded as foolish who prefers justice to interest, which after all is the only unconditional end. In support of these statements he appealed to the fact that laws change with circumstances, and are different in different countries. He pointed to the example of great nations, such as the Romans, all of whom attained to greatness by unrighteous means. He impressed into his service the many casuistical questions raised by the Stoics, expressing the opinion that in all these cases it is better to commit the injury which brings advantage--for instance, to murder another to save one's own life--than to postpone advantage to right, and hence inferred that intelligence is a state of irreconcilable opposition to justice.
This free criticism of dogmatic views could not fail to bring Carneades to the same result as his predecessors. Knowledge is absolutely impossible. A man of sense will look at everything from all sides and invariably withhold judgment, thus guarding himself against error. And to this conviction he clings so persistently that he altogether refuses to listen to the objection that the wise man must be at least convinced of the impossibility of any firm conviction. The earlier Sceptics, far from attributing on this ground an equal value to all notions, had not dispensed with reasons for actions and thoughts. This point was now taken up by Carneades, who, in attempting to establish the conditions and degrees of probability, hoped to obtain a clue to the kind of conviction which might be still permitted in his system. However much we may despair of knowledge, some stimulus and groundwork for action is needed. Certain things must therefore be assumed, from which the pursuit of happiness must start. To these so much weight must be attached that they are allowed to decide our conduct, but we must be on our guard against considering them to be true, or to be something really known and conceived. Nor must we forget that even the nature of true ideas is similar to that of false ones, and that the truth of ideas can never be known with certainty. Hence we should withhold all assent, not allowing any ideas to be true, but only to have the appearance of truth or probability. In every notion two things need to be considered, the relation to the object represented which makes it either true or false, and the relation to the subject who has the notion, which makes it seem either true or false. The former relation is, for the, reasons already quoted, quite beyond the compass of our judgment; the latter, the relation of a notion to ourselves, falls within the sphere of consciousness. So long as a notion seemingly true is cloudy and indistinct, like an object contemplated from a distance, it makes no great impression on us. When, on the contrary, the appearance of truth is strong, it produces in us a belief strong enough to determine us to action, although it does not come up to the impregnable certainty of knowledge.
Belief, however, like probability, is of several degrees. The lowest degree of probability arises when a notion produces by itself an impression of truth, without being taken in connection with other notions. The next higher degree is when that impression is confirmed by the agreement of all notions which are related to it. The third and highest degree is when an investigation of all these notions results in producing the same corroboration for all. In the first case a notion is called probable; in the second probable and undisputed; in the third probable, undisputed, and tested. Within each one of these three classes different gradations of probability are again possible. The distinguishing marks, which must be considered in the investigation of probability, appear to have been investigated by Carneades in the spirit of the Aristotelian logic. In proportion to the greater or less practical importance of a question, or to the accuracy of investigation which the circumstances allow, we must adhere to one or the other degree of probability. Although no one of them is of such a nature as to exclude the possibility of error, this circumstance need not deprive us of certainty in respect to actions, provided we have once convinced ourselves that the absolute certainty of our practical premises is not possible. Just as little should we hesitate to affirm or deny anything in that conditional way which is alone possible after what has been stated. Assent will be given to no notion in the sense of its being absolutely true, but to many notions in the sense that we consider them highly probable.
Among questions about which the greatest possible certainty is felt to be desirable, Carneades, true to his whole position, gave a prominent place to principles of morals; life and action being the principal things with which the theory of probability has to do. We hear, therefore, that he thoroughly discussed the fundamental questions of Ethics, the question as to the highest Good. On this subject he distinguished six, or relatively four, different views. If the primary object of desire can in general only consist of those things which correspond with our nature, and which consequently call our emotions into exercise, the object of desire must be either pleasure, or absence of pain, or conformity with nature. In each of these three cases two opposite results are possible: either the highest Good may consist in the attainment of a purpose, or else in the activity which aims at its attainment. The latter is the view of the Stoics only, and arises from regarding natural activity or virtue as the highest Good. Hence the six possible views are practically reduced to four, which taken by themselves, or else in combination, include all existing views respecting the highest Good. But so ambiguously did Carneades express himself as to his particular preference of any one view, that even Clitomachus declared he was ignorant as to his real opinion. It was only tentatively and for the purpose of refuting the Stoics, that he propounded the statement that the highest Good consists in the enjoyment of such things as afford satisfaction to the primary impulses of nature. Nevertheless, the matter has often been placed in such a light as though Carneades had propounded this statement on his own account; and the statement itself has been quoted to prove that he considered the satisfaction of natural impulses apart from virtue as an end in itself. It is also asserted that he approximated to the view of Callipho, which does not appear to have been essentially different from that of the older Academy. The same leaning to the older Academy and its doctrine of moderation appears in other recorded parts of the Ethics of Carneades. The pain caused by misfortune he wished to lessen by thinking beforehand of its possibility; and after the destruction of Carthage he deliberately asserted before Clitomachus that the wise man would never allow himself to be disturbed, not even by the downfall of his country.
Putting all these statements together, we obtain a view not unworthy of Cameades, and certainly quite in harmony with his position. That philosopher could not, consistently with his skeptical principles, allow scientific certainty to any of the various opinions respecting the nature and aim of moral action; and in this point he attacked the Stoics with steady home-thrusts. Their inconsistency in calling the choice of what is natural the highest business of morality, and yet not allowing to that which is according to nature a place among goods, was so trenchantly exposed by him that Antipater is said to have been brought to admit that not the objects to which choice is directed, but the actual choice itself is a good. He even asserted that the Stoic theory of Goods only differed in words from that of the Peripatetics; to this assertion he was probably led by the fact that the Stoic morality appeals to nature only, or perhaps by the theory therewith connected of things to be desired and things to be eschewed. If there were any difference between the two, Stoicism, he thought, ignored the real wants of nature. The Stoics, for instance, called a good a name a thing indifferent; Carneades, however, drove them so much into a corner because of this statement that they ever after (so Cicero assures us) qualified their assertion, attributing to a good name at least a secondary value among things to be desired. Chrysippus, again, thought to find some consolation for the ills of life in the reflection that no man is free from them. Carneades was, however, of opinion that this thought could only afford consolation to a lover of ill; it being rather a matter for sorrow that all should be exposed to so hard a fate. Believing, too, that man's happiness does not depend on any theory of ethics, he could avow without hesitation that all other views of morality do not go beyond probability; and thus the statement of Clitomachus, as far as it refers to a definite decision as to the highest good, is without doubt correct. But just as the denial of knowledge does not, according to the view of Carneades, exclude conviction in general on grounds of probability, no more does it in the province of ethics. Here, then, is the intermediate position which was attributed to him--a position not only suggested by the traditions of the Academic School, but remaining as a last resource to the skeptical destroyer of systems so opposite as Stoicism and the theory of pleasure. The inconsistency of at one time identifying the satisfaction of natural instincts with virtue, and at another time distinguishing it from virtue, which is attributed to Carneades, is an inconsistency for which probably Cicero is alone responsible. The real meaning of Carneades can only be that virtue consists in an activity directed towards the possession of what is according to nature, and hence that it cannot as the highest Good be separated from accordance with nature. For the same reason, virtue supplies all that is requisite for happiness. Hence, when it is stated that, notwithstanding his skepticism on moral subjects, Carneades was a thoroughly upright man, we have not only no reason to doubt this statement as to his personal character, but we can even discern that it was a practical and legitimate consequence of his philosophy. It may appear to us inconsistent to build on a foundation of absolute doubt the certainty of practical conduct; nevertheless, it is an inconsistency deeply rooted in all the skepticism of post-Aristotelian times. That skepticism Carneades brought to completeness, and in logically developing his theory, even its scientific defects came to light.
For the same reason we may also give credit to the statement that Carneades, like the later Sceptics, notwithstanding his severe criticisms on the popular and philosophic theology of his age, never intended to deny the existence of divine agencies. On this point he acted like a true Sceptic. He expressed doubts as to whether anything could be known about God, but for practical purposes he accepted the belief in God as an opinion more or less probable and useful.
Taking all things into account, the philosophic importance of Carneades and the School of which he was the head cannot be estimated at so low a value as would be the case were the New Academy merely credited with entertaining shallow doubts, and Carneades’ theory of probabilities deduced from rhetorical rather than from philosophical considerations. For the last assertion there is no ground whatever; Carneades distinctly avowed that a conviction resting on probabilities seemed indispensable for practical needs and actions. On this point he is wholly in accord with all the forms of Skepticism, not only with the New Academy, but also with Pyrrho and the later Sceptics. He differs from them in the degree of accuracy with which he investigates the varieties and conditions of probability; but a question of degree can least of all be urged against a philosopher. Nor should doubts be called shallow which the ancients even in later times could only very inadequately dissipate, and which throw light on several of the deepest problems of life by the critical investigations they occasioned. No doubt, in the despair of attaining to knowledge at all, and in the attempt to reduce everything to opinion more or less certain, indications may be seen of the exhaustion of the intellect, and of the extinction of philosophic originality. Nevertheless it must never be forgotten that the skepticism of the New Academy was not only in harmony with the course naturally taken by Greek philosophy as a whole, but that it was pursued with an acuteness and a scientific vigor leaving no doubt that it was a really important link in the chain of philosophic development.
In Carneades this Skepticism attained its highest growth. The
successor of Carneades, Clitomachus, is known as the literary
exponent of the views taught by Carneades. At the same time we
hear of his being accurately acquainted with the teaching of the
Peripatetics and Stoics; and although it was no doubt his first
aim to refute the dogmatism of these Schools, it would appear that
Clitomachus entered into the connection of their doctrines more
fully than is usually the case with opponents. As to his
fellow-pupil, Charmidas (or Charmadas), one wholly unimportant
utterance is our only guide for determining his views. For
ascertaining the philosophy of the other pupils of Carneades,
nothing but the scantiest fragments have been preserved. The
statement of Polybius that the Academic School degenerated into
empty subtleties, and thereby became an object of contempt, may
deserve no great amount of belief; but it does seem probable that
the School made no important advance on the path marked out by
himself and Arcesilaus. It did not even continue true to that path
for very long. Not a generation after the death of its most
celebrated teacher, and even among his own pupils, that
eclecticism began to appear, the general and simultaneous spread
of which ushered in a new period in the history of the