We have accompanied Plato to a point where he begins to see his way towards a radical reconstruction of all existing beliefs and institutions. In the next chapter we shall attempt to show how far he succeeded in this great purpose, how much, in his positive contributions to thought is of permanent, and how much of merely biographical or literary value.The purely intellectual view of human nature, the definition of mind in terms of cognition, is one more fallacy from which Aristotle’s teaching, had it not fallen into neglect or contempt, might have guarded Spinoza. Nevertheless, his parallelism between passion and sensuous perception saves him from the worst extravagances of his Greek predecessors. For the senses, however much they might be maligned, never were nor could be altogether rejected; while the passions met with little mercy from Plato and with none from the Stoics, who considered them not only unnecessary but even unnatural. Spinoza more wisely sees in them assertions, however obscure and confused, of the will to be and grow which constitutes individual existence. And he sees that they can no more be removed by pointing out their evil consequences than sense-impressions can be abolished by proving their fallaciousness. On the other hand, when Spinoza speaks as if one emotion could only be conquered or expelled by another emotion, we must not allow his peculiar phraseology to conceal from us the purely intellectual character of his whole ethical system. What he really holds is that emotion can be416 overcome by reason or better knowledge, because it is itself an imperfect cognition. Point by point, an analogy—or something more than an analogy—is made out between the errors of sensuous perception joined to imagination, and the errors of our spontaneous efforts after happiness or self-realisation. Both are imposed on us from without, and neither can be got rid of by a simple act of volition. Both are affected by illusions of perspective: the nearer object of desire, like the nearer object of perception, assuming a disproportionate place in the field of view. In both, accidental contiguity is habitually confounded with causation; while in both the assignment of causes to effects, instead of being traced back through an infinite series of antecedents, stops short with the antecedent nearest to ourselves. If objects are classified according to their superficial resemblances or the usages of common language, so also are the desires sustained and intensified by imitation and rivalry. By parity of reasoning, moral education must be conducted on the same lines as intellectual education. First, it is shown how our individual existence, depending as it does on forces infinitely exceeding our own, is to be maintained. This is chiefly done by cultivating friendly relations with other men; probably, although Spinoza does not himself make the comparison, on the same principle as that observed in the mutual assistance and rectification of the senses, together with their preservation by means of verbal signs. The misleading passions are to be overcome by discovering their origin; by referring the pleasures and pains which produce them to the right causes; by calling in thought to redress the balance of imagination; by dividing the attention among an infinite number of causes; finally, by demonstrating the absolute necessity of whatever actions excite them, and classifying them according to their relations, in the same way that the phenomena of the material world are dealt with when subjected to scientific analysis.
What progress devotional feeling had made during the interval which separated Apuleius from Plutarch and his school, may be illustrated by a comparison of the terms which they respectively employ in reference to the Egyptian Isis. The author of the treatise on Isis and Osiris identifies the goddess with the female or material, as distinguished from the formative principle in Nature; which, to say the least of it, is not giving her a very exalted rank in the scheme of creation. Apuleius, on the other hand, addresses her, or makes his hero address her, in the following enthusiastic language:—Than rightfully to celebrateAntisthenes pushed to its extreme consequences a movement begun by the naturalistic Sophists. His doctrine was what would now be called anarchic collectivism. The State, marriage, private property, and the then accepted forms of religion, were to be abolished, and all mankind were to herd promiscuously together.5 Either he or his followers, alone among the ancients, declared that slavery was wrong; and, like Socrates, he held that the virtue of men and women was the same.6 But what he meant by this broad human virtue, which according to him was identical with happiness, is not clear. We only know that he dissociated it in the strongest manner from pleasure. ‘I had rather be mad than delighted,’ is one of his characteristic sayings.7 It would appear, however, that what he really objected to was self-indulgence—the pursuit of sensual gratification for its own sake—and that he was ready to welcome the enjoyments naturally accompanying the healthy discharge of vital function.8IV.This dogma of universal determinism was combined in the Stoical system with an equally outspoken materialism. The capacity for either acting or being acted on was, according to Plato, the one convincing evidence of real existence; and he had endeavoured to prove that there is such a thing as mind apart from matter by its possession of this characteristic mark.28 The Stoics simply reversed his argument. Whatever acts or is acted on, they said, must be corporeal; therefore the soul is a kind of body.29 Here they only followed the common opinion of all philosophers who13 believed in an external world, except Plato and Aristotle, while to a certain extent anticipating the scientific automatism first taught in modern times by Spinoza, and simultaneously revived by various thinkers in our own day. To a certain extent only; for they did not recognise the independent reality of a consciousness in which the mechanical processes are either reflected, or represented under a different aspect. And they further gave their theory a somewhat grotesque expression by interpreting those qualities and attributes of things, which other materialists have been content to consider as belonging to matter, as themselves actual bodies. For instance, the virtues and vices were, according to them, so many gaseous currents by which the soul is penetrated and shaped—a materialistic rendering of Plato’s theory that qualities are distinct and independent substances.30
- Nor is this all. Besides the arguments from relativity and causation, Mr. Spencer has a third method for arriving at his absolute. He thinks away all the determinations imposed by consciousness on its objects, and identifies the residual substance with the ultimate reality of things. Now, this residue, as we have seen, exactly corresponds to the Matter, whether intelligible or sensible, of Aristotle and Plotinus. As such, it stands in extreme antithesis to the One, and yet there is a near kinship between them. Probably, according to Plotinus, and certainly according to Proclus,526 Matter is a direct product of the One, whose infinite power it reflects.355 All existence is formed by the union, in varying proportions, of these two principles. Above all, both are unknowable. Thus it was natural that in the hands of less subtle analysts than the Greeks they should coalesce into a single substance. And, as a matter of fact, they have so coalesced in the systems of Giordano Bruno, of Spinoza, and finally of Mr. Spencer.
- Nor leave unburied and exposed to sight
- Hath Justice turned approving eyes on him;
- Thus we can quite agree with Zeller when he observes435293 that Neo-Platonism only carried out a tendency towards spiritualism which had been already manifesting itself among the later Stoics, and had been still further developed by the Neo-Pythagoreans. But what does this prove? Not what Zeller contends for, which is that Neo-Platonism stands on the same ground with the other post-Aristotelian systems, but simply that a recurrence of the same intellectual conditions was being followed by a recurrence of the same results. Now, as before, materialism was proving its inadequacy to account for the facts of mental experience. Now, as before, morality, after being cut off from physical laws, was seeking a basis in religious or metaphysical ideas. Now, as before, the study of thoughts was succeeding to the study of words, and the methods of popular persuasion were giving place to the methods of dialectical demonstration. Of course, the age of Plotinus was far inferior to the age of Plato in vitality, in genius, and in general enlightenment, notwithstanding the enormous extension which Roman conquest had given to the superficial area of civilisation, as the difference between the Enneads and the Dialogues would alone suffice to prove. But this does not alter the fact that the general direction of their movement proceeds in parallel lines.
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