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t1 iAirMi 1(7 rojulfdv- rfrfi E) si rv^^i^d ^ivra khI ir£t kr 


Quamquam ab his philosophiam et omnes ingenuos disciplinus 
habemus : seil lameo est oliquid quod nobis non liceat, liceat illis 



( The rights of ttanslatiim ami of refroductian are resened) 






THE STOICS • ... pages I -52 

I. Why the systems of Plato and Aristotle failed to secure a hold on contem- 
porary thought, I— Fate of the schools which they founded, 3 — Revival of earlier 
philosophies and especially of naturalism, 3— Antisthenes and the Cynics, 4 — 
Restoration of naturalism to its former dignity, 6. 

II. 2^no and Crates, 7 — Establishment of the Stoic school, 8 — Cleanthes and 
Chrysippus, 9 — Encyclopwiedic character of the Stoic teaching, 9 — The great 
place which it gave to physical science, 10 — Heracleitean reaction against the 
dualism of Aristotle, ii — Determinism and materialism of the Stoics, 12 — Their 
concessions to the popular religion, 14. 

III. The Stoic theory of cognition purely empirical, 15 — Development of 
formal logic, 16 — New importance attributed to judgment as distinguished from 
conception, 16 — ^The idea- of law, 17 — Consistency as the principle of the Stoic 
ethics, 18 — Meaning of the precept. Follow Nature, 19 — Distinction between 
pleasure and self-interest as moral standards, 20 — Absolute sufficiency of virtue 
for happiness, 21 — The Stoics wrong from an individual, right from a social point 
of view, 22 — Theory of the passions, 23 — Necessity of volition and freedom of 
judgment, 24 — Difficulties involved in an appeal to purpose in creation, 24. 

IV. The Stoic paradoxes follow logically from the absolute distinction between 
right and wrong, 25 — Attempt at a compromise with the ordinary morality by the 
doctrines (i.) of preference and objection, 26 — (ii. ) of permissible feeling, 27 — (iii.) 
of progress from folly to wisdom, 27 — and (iv.) of imperfect duties, 27 — Cicero's 
De OfficiiSf 28 — Examples of Stoic casuistry, 29 — ^Justification of suicide, 30. 

V. Thrgfi^great contributions made by the Stoics to ethical speculation, (i. ) 
The inwardness of virtue, including the notion of conscience, 31 — Prevalent mis- 
conception with regard to the Erinyes, 32 — (ii.) The individualisation of duty, 
33 — Process by which this idea was evolved, 35 —Its influence on the Romans of 
the empire, 36 — (iii. ) The idea of humanity, 36 — Its connexion with the idea of 
Nature, 37 — Utilitarianism of the Stoics, 38. 

VI. '1 he philanthropic tendencies of Stoicism partly neutralised by its extreme 
individualism, 40— Conservatism of Marcus Aurelius, 41 — The Stoics at once un- 




pitying and forgiving, 42 — Humility produced by their doctrine of universal de- 
pravity, 42 — It is not in the power of others to injure us, 43 — The Stoic satirists 
and Roman society, 44. 

VII. The idea of Nature and the unity of mankind, 44 — The dynamism of 
Heracleitus dissociated from the teleology of Socrates, 46 — Standpoint of Marcus 
Aurelius, 46 — Tendency to extricate morality from its external support, 47 — 
Modem att^ks on Nature, 48 — Evolution as an ethical sanction, 49 — The vicious 
circle of evolutionist ethics, 50— The idea of humanity created and maintained by 
the idea of a cosmos, 51 — The prayer of Cleanthes, 52. 


EPICURUS AND LUCRETIUS . . pages 53-1 19 

I. Stationary character of Epicureanism, 53 — Prevalent tendency to exaggerate 

its scientific value, 55 — Opposition or indifference of Epicurus to the science of 
his time, 57. 

II. Life of Epicurus, 58 — His philosophy essentially practical, 59 — The rela- 
tion of pleasure to virtue : Aristippus, 60 — Pessimism of Hegesias, 61 — Hedonism 
of Plato's Protagoras, 61— The Epicurean definition of pleasure, 62 — Reaction of 
Plato's idealism on Epicurus, 63 — He accepts the negative definition of pleasure, 
64 — Inconsistency involved in his admissions, 65. 

III. Deduction of the particular virtues : Temperance, 66 — Points of contact 
with Cynicism, 66 — Evils bred by excessive frugality, 67 — Sexual passion dis- 
couraged by Epicureanism, 67 — Comparative indulgence shown to pity and grief, 
68 — Fortitude inculcated by minimising the evils of pain, 69 — Justice as a regard 
for the general interest, 70 — The motives for abstaining from aggression purely 
selfish, 70 — Indifference of the Epicureans to political duties, 73 — Success of 
Epicureanism in promoting disinterested friendship, 74. 

IV. Motives which led Epicurus to include physics in his teaching, 75 — His 
attacks on supei naturalism directed less against the old Polytheism than against 
the religious movement whence Catholicism sprang, 76 — Justification of the tone 
taken by Lucretius, 78 — Plato and Hildebrand, 78— Concessions made by 
Epicurus to the religious reaction, 80— His criticism of the Stoic theology, 81. 

^ ^^Jlr'^tff^ Epicurus adopted the atomic theory, 82 — Doctrine of infinite com- 
wnations, 83 — Limited number of chances required by the modem theory of evo- 
lution, 84— Objections to which Democritus had laid himself open, 85— They are 
not satisfactorily met by Epicurus, 85- -One naturalistic theory as good as another, 
87— except the conclusions of astronomy, which are false, 87. 

VL^^lartrialism and the denial of a future life, 88 — Epicurus tries to argue 

..^•wSyTlie dread of death, 89 — His enterprise inconsistent with human nature, 90 
— 1 he l)clicf in future torments is the dread of death under another form, 92 — 
How the prospect of death adds to our enjoyment of life, 93 — Its stimulating 
effect on the energies, 94 — The love of life gives meaning and merit to courage, 95. 

*- VII. Th^Epicurean theory of sensation and cognition, 95 — Negative character 
^jMile^ whole system, 98 — Theory of human history : the doctrine of progressive 
civilisation much older than Epicunis, 98 — Opposition between humanism and 
naturalism on this point, 99— Passage from a drama of Euphorion, 99. 

VIII. Lucretius : his want of philosophic originality, 100- His alleged im- 
provements on the doctrine of Epicurus examined, 101 —His unreserved acceptance 


of Ihe Epicurean ethics, 103— In whal Ihe difference between Lucretius and 
Epicurus conMsts, ro3^Roman enthusiasm for ptiysicat science, 104— Sympathy 
of Lucrelias with early Greek thought, 105 — The true heroine of the De Ktrum 
Naliird, 105 — Exhibition of life in all its forms, 106 — Venus as the beginning 
and end of existence, 106— Elucidation of the atomic theory by vital phenomena, 
107— Imperfect apprehension of law : Vhe/etdira Naturai and \he/oedera/ati, loS 
— Assimilation of the great cosmic changes to organic processes, 1 10 — False beliefs 
considered as necessary products of human nature, III — and consequently as fit 
subjects for poetic treatment, 112 — High ardstic value of the .^f AVrun A^urii, 
11,1— Comparison between Lucretius and Danle, 113. 

■^ IX. Merits and defects of Epicurus : his revival of atomism and rcjecti 
supernatural ism, 114 — His Iheoiy of ethics, 115 — His contributions to the sciei 
human nature, 116 — His eminence as a professor of the art of happiness, lt6~Hi 
influence on modem philosophy greatly exaggerated by M. Guyau, 117 — Uniij ut 
combination of circumstances to which Epicureanism owed its origin, 119. 



IN ROME . . . pages lzo-|i)4 

/ I. Philosophic embassyfrom Athens to Rome, izo — Lectures of Carneades on 

T~^ustice venus Expediency, iii— Public and private morality in Rome : position 

of Cato, 121— His motion for the dismissal of the embassy, 123— Carneades and 

Plato, 123. 

II. Different meanings of the word scepticism, 123— False scepticism as an 
ally of orthodoxy, 125 — Vein of doubl running through Greek mythology, *2(r^^ 
Want of seriousness in Homer's religion, 127— Incredulous spirit shown by some 
of his characters, 127 — Similar tendency in Aeschylus and Herodotus, iz8 — 
Negative and sceptical elements in early Greek thought, 128. 

III. Protagoras the true father of philosophical scepticism, 129— The three 
ihesesof Gorgias, 130— Sceptical idealism of the Cyrenaic school, 1 31— Scepticism 
as an ally of religion with Socrates and Plato, 133— The Parmenidei, the Safhitt, 
and the Timaaa, 134— Synthesis of affirmation and negation in metaphysics 
and in dialectics, 135— Use of scepticism as a moral sanction by the Megarians, 

IV. Life and opinions of Pyrrho, 137— Denial of first principles: present 
aspect of the questtsfl, 139— Practical teaching of Pyriho, 140 - Encouragement 
given to scepticism % the concentration of ihought on human interests. 141 — 
Illogical compromise of Epicurus, 143 — Parasitic character of the sceptical 
school, 143- 

V. Origin of the New Academy, 144 -Character and position of Arccsiligis,--' 
1 45— The Stoic theoiy of certainly, 146— Criticism of Arcesilaus : his method of 
infinitesimal transitions, 147— Systematic development and application of Ihe 
Academic principle by Cameades, 14S — His analysis of experience, 149— His 
attack on syllc^stic and inductive reasoning, 150 — kis criticism of the Stoic ami-' 
Epicurean, theolc^es, 151 — Sceptical conformity to the established religion, ijj 
— Theory of probable evidence as a guide to action, 154— -J /nori reasoning of 
the ancient sceptics, 155— Their resemblance in this respect to modern agnoslits, 
156— and also in their treatment of ethics, 157— Obedience to Nature inculcated 
by Carneades, 158. 




VI. Return of Greek thought to the Sophistic standpoint, 158 — Obstacles to 
a revival of spiritualism, 159 — Platonising eclecticism of the Academy : Philo and 
Antiochus, 160 — Approximation of Stoicism to Aristotle's teaching, >$^-General 
craving for certainty and stability in philosophy, 163. ^^ 

VII. Sudden paralysis of the Greek intellect, 165 — Probable influence of the 
new Latin literature, 165 — Adaptation of Greek philosophy to Roman require- 
ments, 166 — Increased prominence given to the anti-religious side of Epicureanism, 
167 — Its ethics ill-suited to the Roman character, 168 — Growing popularity of 
Stoicism : Panaetius and Posidonius, 168 — It is temporarily checked by the 
influence of the Academy, 169. 

VIII. Academic eclecticism of Cicero, 170 — His attempted return to the 
principles of Socrates, 171 — Natural instinct as the common ground of philosophy 
and untrained experience, 172 — Practical agreement of the diflerent ethical sys- 
tems, 173 — The weakness of Cicero's character favourable to religious sentiment, 
173 — His theological position, 174 — Contrast between Cicero and Socrates, 175. 

IX. The ideas of Nature, reason, and utility, 176 — Meaning and value which 
they possessed for a Roman, 177 — Cyni c tendencies of Roman thought, 178 — 
Influence exercised by the younger Cato in favour of Stoicism, 179— The philo- 
sophy of natural law as illustrated in Roman poetry, 180 — Stoic elements in the 
Aeneid^ 18 1 — The Roman love of simplification and archaism, 182— Cynicism 
of Juvenal, 183. 

X. Neo-Scepticism as a reaction against Naturalism : Aenesidemus, 184 — 
Return to the standpoint of Protagoras, 184 — Critical analysis of causation and 
perception, 185 — The ten Trope s, 186 — Their derivation from the categories of 
Aristotle, 186 — Ethical scepticism of Aenesidemus, 187 — The Tropes simplified 
and extended to reasoning, 188 — Their continued invincibility as against all appeals 
to authority, 189— Association of Scepticism with Empiricism, 189— Sextus 
Empiricus and Hume on causation, 190. 

XI. The philosophy of the dinner-bell and its implications, 191 — Subsequent 
influence of Scepticism on Greek thought, 192 — Unshaken confidence of the Neo-1 
Platonists in the power of reason, 193 — Their philosophy a genuine return to the I 
standpoint of Plato and Aristotle, 193. 


THE RELIGIOUS REVIVAL . . pages 195-265 

I. New views respecting the civilisation of the Roman empire, 195 — Preju- 
dices formerly entertained by its historians, 196 — The literary bias, 197 — Evidence 
of intellectual and moral progress supplied by the study of jurisprudence and 
epigraphy, 197— The new school of historians, 198 — The vitality of polytheism 
much greater than was formerly supposed, 199— notwithstanding the scepticism 
of the most distinguished Roman writers, 199— opposed as they were by a large 
and increasing body of religious belief, 200. 

11.^ Revival of religious authority under Augustus, 200 — Feeling of the pro- 
^^iacfals, 201 — Isolated position of Horace, 201 — The spread of religious beliefs^ 
checked by the political organisation of the old city-state, 202 — an<l encouraged^ 
by the Roman conquest, 203— Sceptical tendencies of the city-aristocracies, 204 — 
the higher classes more favourable than the people to free thought down to the 
time of the Freach Revolution, 205. 


III. Dissociation of wealth from education under the empire, 206 — Stupidity 
and credulity of the centurions, 207 — Ever-increasing influence exercised by 
women, 208 — and indirectly by children, 210 — Slavery and religion, 211 — The 
social despotism of the empire destructive to intellectual independence, 21 1 — 
Causes which prevented the formation of a new aristocracy, 213. 

IV. Nature- worship as a universal religion, 214 — Isis and Serapis, 215 — 
Mithras and the worship of the heavenly bodies, 215 — Spread of Judaism in 
Rome and elsewhere, 216 — The Holy Land and the Sabbath, 218— Continued 
devotion paid to the Olympian deities, 219 — Elasticity of Graeco- Roman poly- I 
theism, 219 — Development of indigenous superstition, 220. 

V. Oracular character of the pagan religions, 221 — Effect produced by the 
intellectual movement in Greece, 221 — Popular belief remains stationary or 
becomes retrograde : Deisidaimonia, 222 — Faith in omens among the educated 
classes under Augustus, 223 — Conversion of an infldel by the oracle of Mopsus, 
224 — Alexander of Abonuteichus and his dupes, 224. 

VI. Belief in prophetic dreams : the work of Artemid6rus, 227 — Conversion 
of an Epicurean, 229 — The fighting-cock of Tanagra, 229 — Piety displayed by 
animals, 230 — Increased reverence paid to Asclepius and Heracles, 230 — Aris- 
teides the rhetor, 231 — Deification of mortals, 232. 

VII. The doctrine of immortality, 233 — Epicurean epitaphs, 233— Attitude 
of the Stoics and Peripatetics, 234 — Opinions of literary and scientific men, 234 
— Epitaphs testifying to the popular belief in a future life, 235 — Articles found in 
tombs, 236 — Evidence afforded by figured representations, 237 — Frequency of 
ghostly apparitions, 240. 

VIII. Reaction of supematuralisuL jap. . philosophy. 241— Decline of Epicu- -v. 
reanism, 241 — Religious tendencies of Stoicism :-5>enecay 2ai — Complete substi- 
tution of theology for physics by Epictetus, 243 — Why he rejected the doctrine of 
human immortality, 244 — Superstition of Marcus Aurelius, 245 — DecompositioiL_4^ 
of Stoicism : the Cynic revival. 246 — Neo-Pythagoreanism : its temporary alliance 

with Stoicism, 247 — and subsequent return to the spiritualism of Plato and Aris- 
totle, 248 — The Neo-Pythagorean creed, 249. 

IX. Advantages possessed by Platonism in the struggle for existence, 250 — 
Great extent of its influence, 250 — T hjg Platonist daemonology. 251 — Conflicting 
tendencies in Plutarch's writings, 253 — Unmixed superstition of Maximus Tyrius 
and Apuleius/25^^A prose hymn to Isis, 255 —Combination of philosophy 
Oriental theology, 256 — PV^jl/^ ^r^A )^f T^^nc^ 0.^7 — Dualistic pessimism of the 
Gnostics, 259. 

X. Superficial analogy between modem Europe and the Roman empire, 261 
— ^Anal3^is of the points on which they differ, 262 — Growth and influence of 
physical science, 264 — Spread of rationalism through all classes of society, 265. 



I, Plutarch on Delays in the Divine Vengeance^ 266— A vision of judgment, 
267 — Nero forgiven for the sake of Greece, 268 —A century of western supremacy 
in politics and literature, 268 — Reaction begun by Nero, 269— Revival of Greek 
literature : Plutarch and his successors, 269 — Renewed cultivation of philosophy 


and science, 270 — Sophisticism and Platonism of the second century, 271— The 
two methods of interpreting Plato, 272 — The problem of the age, 273. 

If. Life of Plotinus, 273— His personal influence and popularity, 275 — The 
part assigned to him in a dialogue of Leopardi's, 277 — Composition and arrange- 
ment of his writings, 277 — Mythical elements in his biography, 280— Alleged 
derivation of his teaching from Ammonius Saccas, 281. 

III. Difficulties presented by the style of Plotinus, 282— General clearness of 
his philosophy, 284 — His dependence on Plato and exclusive attention to the 
metaphysical side of Plato's teaching, 285— His unacknowledged obligations to 
Aristotle, 287. 

IV. Plotinus on the spiritual interpretation of love and beauty, 287 — His 
departure from the method of Plato, 289- Aristotelian influences, 290— His 
subjective standpoint shared by Plato and Aristotle, 291 — Relation of the post- 
Aristotelian schools to their predecessors, 292 — The antithesis between materialism 
and spiritualism common to both, 292— Services rendered by the later schools, 293. 

V. Anti-materialistic arguments of Plotinus, 294 -Coincidence with modem 
philosophy, 295 — Criticism of the Aristotelian doctrine, 296— Weakness of Greek — V* 
philosophy in dealing with the phenomena of volition, 297— Difficulties raised by 

S^strology, 298 — Plotinus as a philosophical critic and reformer, 299. 

VI. Intermediate position of the soul between the principles of unity and 
division, 302 — Combination of the Aristotelian Nous with the Platonic Ideas, 
303— Difficulties to which it gave rise, 304 — Unity and plurality in the Ideas and 
in the Nous, 304 — Descent of the soul into the material world, 305 —The triad of 
body, soul, and spirit, 307— Search for a supreme principle of existence : data 
furnished by Plato and Aristotle, 307— The unity of all souls, 309 — Universal 
dependence of existence on unity, 310— Method for arriving at the One, 310 — 
To what extent Plotinus can be called a mystic, 312— Mystical elements in the 
systems of his predecessors, 313. 

VII. Retrospect and recapitulation, 315— Transition to the constructive 
philosophy of Plotinus, 317— TJuEfii^-^spects of the supreme principle, 317 — 
Creative power of the One, 318 — Influence of false physical analogies on meta- 
physics, 319— Inconceivability of causation apart from time, 320— Subjective 
nature of logical and mathematical sequence, 321 — The Neo-Platonic method in 
the Christian creeds, 322 — How Plotinus employed the method of generation by 
contraries, 322— Difficulty of explaining the derivation of Soul from Nous, 323 — 
and of accounting for the existence of Matter, 323 --Return to the Platonic 
identification of Matter with Extension, 326— Generation of the Infinite from the 
One, 327 — Hesitation of Plotinus between monism and dualism, 328 — Influence 
of Stoicism, 329- Substitution of contemplation for action as a creative prin- 
ciple, 330. 

VIII. The ethics of Plotinus : derivation of the cardinal virtues, 331 — 
Absence of asceticism, 332— Condemnation of suicide, 332— Similar view ex- 
pressed by Schopenhauer, 333 — Dialectic as a method for attaining perfection, 
333 — The later writings of Plotinus, 334. 

IX. Four points of view from which ever)' great philosophical system may be 
considered, 334 — Inferiority of Neo-Platonism to the older schools of Greek 
thought in absolute value, 335— Deserved neglect into which it has fallen, 336 — 
In combining the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle with Sioicigm, Plotinus 
eliminates the elements of truth and utility which they severally contain, 336 — 
High aesthetic value of Neo-Platonism, 338— Purity and unworldliness of 
Plotinus, 339 -Complete self-absorption of thought which he represents, 340. 


X. Neo-Platonism not a product of Oriental tendencies, 341 — Nor of the 
religious revival of the empire, 342— Nor a mystical reaction against Scepticism, 
343 — Indqiendent attitude of Plotinus towards the old religion, 344 -His views 
on immortality, 345 — His relation to pantheism, 346 —His attack on the Gnostics, 
347 — Plotinus on the relation between religion and morality, 348— Neo-Platonism 
a part of the great classical revival, 349. 

XI. The place of Plotinus in the history of philosophy, 350— The triumph of 
spiritualism due to his teaching, 350— He secures the supremacy of Plato and 
Aristotle during the Middle Ages, 351— His interpretation of Plato universally y 
accepted until a recent date, 352— The pantheistic direction of modern meta- ^ 
physics largely determined by Plotinus, 353 — Neo-Platonic derivation of the 
Unknowable, 353 — Atavism in philosophy, 355. 

Xn. History of Neo-Platonism after Plotinus, 355— Its alliance with the old 
religion, 356— Continued vitality of polytheism, 357 — Increased study of the 
classic philosophers, 358— Proclus and his system, 358 — The schools of Athens 
closed by Justinian, 360— The Greek professors in Persia, 361— Final extinction 
of pagan philosophy, 362. 



I. Continuity in the history of thought, 363 — The triumph of spiritualism 
followed by a breach l)ctwcen the two spiritualistic schools, 364- Imjwrtance of 
the Realistic controversy, 365 — Why Realism was at first favoured by the Church, 
366 -Revolution effected by the introduction of Aristotle's complete works into 
the West, 367— Platonic reaction of the Renaissance, 368— Its influence on 
literature, 369 — Shaks^x' arc a Plgitonist, 370— Renewed ascendency of Aristotle 
in science, 371. 

II. Hacon as an Aristotelian, 372- History the matter of science, 373 - 
Bacon's method of arrangement taken from Aristotle, 374— Origin of his con- 
fusion between Form and Law, 375— The su}K*rinduction of Forms and the 
atomic theory, 376- - Relation of the Novum Organum to the Topica^ 377— The 
method of negative instances, 378 — The Lord Chancellor and Nature, 379 -The 
utilisation of natural forces brought al)out by a method opposed to Rncon's, 3S0-- 
Association of the formal philosophy of Aristotle and Hacon with the j;cocentric 
astronomy, 381. 

III. The philosophic importance of the Coixrrnican system first perceived by 
(Giordano Bruno, 382— How it le<l to a revival of Atomism, 383 - Common pan- 
theistic tendency of the anti- Aristotelian schools, 384 --The analytical mcthcxl 
applied to m.ithematics, 385 — Survival of Ari>totclian ideas in the physics of 
(■alileo, 385 — His affinities with Plato, 386 - Influence of Platonic ideas on 
Kepler, 387. 

IV'. Descartes' theory of Matter derive<l from the Timaeus^ 388 and de- 
veloped under the influence of Democritus, 389 - How the identification of 
Matter with Extension le<l to its complete separation from Thought, 390— The 
denial of final causes a consequence of this se))aration, 390-- Difference l)etwecn 
the Cartesian and Baconian views of teleolog}-, 391 — Doctrine of animal automa- 
libm, 391 - Localisation of feeling in the brain, 392 The Cot^'/o crt^o sum and its 
antecedents in (ireek philosophy, 392 - Descartes interprets Thought after the 


analogy of Extension, 393 — Revival of the gtoic and Epicurean materialism : 
transition to Hobbes, 394. ^ 

V. Hobbes not a link between Bacon and Locke, 395 — The different meanings 
which they respectively attached to the notion of experience, 395 — Deductive and 
mathematical method of Hobbes, 396 — His opposition to the ethics of Aristotle, 
397 — His identification of happiness with power, 398 — Subordination of the-V- 
infinite to the finite in Greek philosophy, 398 — Contrast offered by the illimit- 
able aspirations of the Renaissance, 399 — Elements out of which Spinozism was 
formed, 400. 

VI. Platonic method of Spinoza, 401 — The lim iting princip les.. of Greek 
idealism, 402 — Their tendency to coalesce in a single conception, 403— Similar 
result obtained by an analysis of extension and thought, 404 — Genesis of Spinoza's 
Infinite Substance, 405 — The uses of unlimited credit in metaphysics, 406 — 
Spinoza's theory of cognition, 407— The identity of extension and thought, 408. 

VII. Influence of Aristotle's logic on Spinoza, 409 — Meaning of *the infinite 
intellect of God,' 410 — Contingency as a common property of extension and 
thought, 411 — The double-aspect theory not held .by Spinoza, 412— The dis- 
tinction between necessity and contingency in its application to ethics, 413 — The 
study of illusion in Malebranche and Moli^re, 414 — Intellectual character of 
Spinoza's ethics, 415 — Parallel between knowledge and virtue, 416 — Enumeration 
of the Greek elements in Spinoza's philosophy, 417. 

VIII. The place of S cepticism ii iX»reek thought, 418 — Parallel between Locke 
and the New Academy, 419— Results obtained by a complete application of the 
analytical method, 420 — Close connexion between philosophy and positive science, 
420 — Increased prominence given to ethical and practical interests by the method 
of Locke, 421 — The idea of Nature and the revival of teleology, 422 — New 
meaning given to hedonism by modem philosophy, 423 — The Stoic si de of 
modem utilitarianism, 423 — Different combinations of the same ideas in ancient 
and modem systems, 425. 

IX. Conflict between anal3rtical criticism and scholasticism, 426 — The theory 
of evolution as a new application of the atomistic method, 427 — Transitional 
character of the principal systems of the nineteenth century, 428 — Aristotelian 
ideas in modem French thought, 428— Contrasting relations of ancient and 
modem philosophy to theology, 430. 




/ . r ^ 

I^ t CU^ yv f V gnic*' 

The systems of Plato and Aristotle were splendid digressions i 
from the main line of ancient speculation rather than stages! 
in its regular development/' The philosophers who came after! 
them went back to an earlier tradition, and the influence of \ 
the two greatest Hellenic masters, when it was felt at all, was 
felt almost entirely as a disturbing or deflecting force. The 
extraordinary reach of their principles could not, in truth, be 
appreciated until the or ganised experience^ o f man kind had 
accumulated to an extent requiring the application of new 
rules for its comprehension and utilisation ; and to make 
such an accumulation possible, nothing less was needed than 
the combined efforts of the whole western world. Such 
religious, educational, social, and political reforms as those 
contemplated in Plato's Republic^ though originally designed 
for a single city-community, could not be realised, even 
approximately, within a narrower field than that offered by 
the mediaeval church and the feudal state. The ideal 
rTBeory first gained practical significance in connexion with the 
metaphysics of Christian theology. The place given by Plato 
to mathematics has only been fully justified by the develop- 




ment of modern science. So also, Aristotle's criticism became 
of practical importance only when the dreams against which 
it was directed had embodied themselves in a fabric of oppres- 
sive superstition. Only the vast extension of reasoned know- 
ledge has enabled us to disentangle the vitally important 
elements of Aristotle's logic from the mass of useless refine- 
ments in which they are imbedded ; his fourfold division of 
causes could not be estimated rightly even by Bacon, Des- 
cartes, or Spinoza ; while his arrangement of the sciences, 
his remarks on classification, and his contributions to com- 
parative biology bring us up to the very verge of theories 
whose first promulgation is still fresh in the memories of 

Again, the spiritualism taught by Plato and Aristotle alike 
— by the disciple, indeed, with even more distinctness than by 
the master — v/as so entirely inconsistent with the common 
belief of antiquity as to remain a dead letter for nearly six 
centuries — that is, until the time of Plotinus. The difference 
between body and mind was recognised by every school, but 
only as the difference between solid and gaseous matter is 
recognised by us ; while the antithesis between conscious and 
unconscious existence, with all its momentous consequences, 
was recognised by none. The old hypothesis had to be 
thoroughly thought out before its insufficiency could be com- 
pletely and irrevocably confessed. 

Nor was this the only reason why the spiritualists lost 
touch of their age. If in some respects they were far in 
advance of early Greek thought, in other respects they were 
far behind it. Their systems were pervaded by an unphilo- 
sophical dualism which tended to undo much that had been 
achieved by their less prejudiced predecessors. For this we / 
have partly to blame their environment. The opposition of/ 
God and the world, heaven and earth, mind and matten 
necessity in Nature and free-will in man, was a concession— J- 
though of course an unconscious concession — to the stupiq 


bigotry of Athens. Yet at the same time they had failed to 
solve those psychological problems which had most interest 
for an Athenian public. Instead of following up the attempt 
made by the Sophists and Socrates to place morality on a 
scientific foundation, they busied themselves with the con- 
struction of a new machinery for diminishing the efficacy of 
temptation or for strengthening the efficacy of law. To the 
question, What is the highest good } Plato gave an answer 
which nobody could understand, and Aristotle an answer 
which was almost absolutely useless to anybody but himself. 
The other great problem, A\Tiat is the ultimate foundation 
of knowledge ? was left in an equally unsatisfactory state. 
Plato never answered it at all ; Aristotle rtierely pointed 
out the negative conditions which must be fulfilled by its 

It is not, then, surprising that the Academic and Peripa- 
tetic schools utterly failed to carry on the great movement 
inaugurated by their respective founders. The successors of 
Plato first lost themselves in a labyrinth of Pythagorean 
mysticism, and then sank into the position of mere moral"'^ 
instructors. The history of that remarkable revolution by 
which the Academy regained a foremost place in Greek 
thought, will form the subject of a future chapter : here we 
may anticipate so far as to observe that it was effected by 
taking up and presenting in its original purity a tradition of 
older date than Platonism, though presented under a new 
aspect and mixed with other elements by Plato, The heirs of 
Aristotle, after staggering on a few paces under the immense 
burden of his encyclopaedic bequest, came to a dead halt, and 
contented themselves with keeping the treasure safe until the 
time should arrive for its appropriation and reinvestment by 
a stronger speculative race. 

No sooner did the two imperial systems lose their as- 
cendency than the germs which they had temporarily over- 
shadowed sprang up into vigorous vitality, and for more than 

B 2 


five centuries dominated the whole course not only of Greek 
but of European thought Of these by far the most import- 
ant was the naturalistic idea, the belief that physical science 
might be substituted for religious superstitions and local con - A 
ventions as an impregnable basis of conduct. In a former ^ 
chapter * we endeavoured to show that, while there are traces 
of this idea in the philosophy of Heracleitus, and while its 
roots stretch far back into the literature and popular faith of 
Greece, it was formulated for the first time by the two great 
Sophists, Prodicus and Hippias, who, in the momentous 
division between Nature and Law, placed themselves — 
Hippias more particularly — on the side of Nature. Two 
causes led to the temporary discredit of their teaching. One 
was the perversion by which natural right became the watch- 
word of those who, like Plato's Callicles, held that nothing 
should stand between the strong man and the gratification of 
his desire for pleasure or for power. The other was the keen » 
criticism of the Humanists, the friends of social convention,*^ 
who held with Protagoras that Nature was unknowable, or 
with Gorgias that she did not exist, or with Socrates that her 
laws were the secret of the gods. It was in particular the 
overwhelming personal influence of Socrates which triumphed. 
He drew away from the Sophists their strongest disciple, 
^tisthen es, and convinced him that philosophy was valuable 
only in so far as it became a life-renovating power, and that, 
viewed in this light, it had no relation to anything outside 
ourselves. But just as Socrates had discarded the physical 
speculations of former teachers, so also did Antisthenes dis- 
card the dialectic which Socrates had substituted for them, 
even to the extent of denying that definition was possible.' 
Yet he seems to have kept a firm hold on the tsvo great ideas 
that were the net result of all previous philosophy, the idea of 
a cosmos, the common citizenship of which made all men 

» See Vol. I., pp. 78-83. » Aristotle, Metaph., VIII., iii., 1043, ^» 25. 


potentially equal,' and the idea of reason as the essential pre- 
rogative of man.* 

A ntisthene s pushed to its extreme consequences a move- 
ment 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.' 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.* 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 de- 
lighted,* is one of his characteristic sayings.* 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 | 

Antisthenes and his school, of which Diogenes is the most 
popular and characteristic type, were afterwards known as 
Cynics ; but the name is never mentioned by Plato and 
Aristotle, nor do they allude to the scurrility and systematic 
indecency afterwards associated with it. The anecdotes 
relating to this unsavoury subject should be received with 
extreme suspicion. There has always been a tendency to 
believe that philosophers carry out in practice what are 
vulgarly believed to be the logical consequences of their 
theories. Thus it is related of Pyrrho the Sceptic that when 

" Zeller, PhiLdLGr,, II., a, 277. « Diog. L.. VL . 3. 

' According to the very probable conjecture of 2^11er, /. c, 

* Zeller, /. r. ; Diog. L., VI., 12. 
» Diog., VI., 3. -" 

* For the authorities, see Zeller, op, cit,, p. 263. 



out walking he never turned aside to avoid any obstacle or 
danger, and was only saved from destruction by the vigilance 
of his friends.' This is of course a silly fable ; and we have 
Aristotle's word for it that the Sceptics took as good 
care of their lives as other people.* In like manner we 
may conjecture that the Cynics, advocating as they did a 
return to Nature and defiance of prejudice, were falsely 
credited with what was falsely supposed to be the practical 
exemplification of their precepts. It is at any rate remark- 
able that Epict^tus, a man not disposed to undervalue the 
obligations of decorum, constantly refers to Diogenes as a^' V 
kind of philosophical saint, and that he describes the ideal 
Cynic in words which would apply without alteration to the 
character of a Christian apostle.^ 

Cynicism, if we understand it rightly, was only the muti- 
lated form of an older philosophy having for its object to set v . 
morality free from convention, and to found it anew on 3^ 
scientific knowledge of natural law. The need of such a 
system was not felt so long as Plato and Aristotle were 
unfolding their wonderful schemes for a reorganisation of 
action and belief. With the temporary collapse of those 
schemes it came once more to the front. The result was a 
new school which so thoroughly satisfied the demands of the 
age, that for five centuries the noblest spirits of Greece and 
Rome, with few exceptions, adhered to its doctrines ; that in 
dying it bequeathed some of their most vital elements to 
the metaphysics and the theology by which it was succeeded ; 
that with their decay it reappeared as an important factor in 
modern thought ; and that its name has become imperishably 
associated in our own language with the proud endurance of 
suffering, the sclf-sufficingncss of conscious rectitude, and the 
renunciation of all sympathy, except what may be derived 
from contemplation of the immortal dead, whose heroism is 

• Diog., IX., 62. « Metaph., IV., iv., icx)8, b, 12 ff.— | — 

• Diss.^ III., xxii. * 



recorded in history, or of the eternal cosmic forces periorming 
their glorious offices with unimpassioned energy and imper- 
turbable repose. 


One day, some few years after the death of Aristotle, a 
short, lean, swarthy young man, of weak build, with clumsily 
shaped limbs, and head inclined to one side, was standing in 
an Athenian bookshop, intently studying a roll of manuscript. 
His name was Zeno, and he was a native of Citium, a Greek 
colony in Cyprus, where the Hellenic element had become 
adulterated with a considerable Phoenician infusion. Accord- 
ing to some accounts, Zeno had come to the great centre of 
intellectual activity to study, according to others for the sale 
of Tyrian purple. At any rate the volume which he held in 
his hand decided his vocation. It was the second book of 
Xenophon's Memoirs of Socrates. Zeno eagerly asked where 
such men as he whose sayings stood recorded there were to 
be found. At that moment the Cynic Crates happened to 
pass by. ' There is one of them,' said the bookseller, ' follow 
him.' ' 

The histoiy of this Crates was distinguished by the one 
solitary romance of Greek philosophy. A young lady of 
noble family, named Hipparchia, fell desperately in love with 
him, refused several most eligible suitors, and threatened to 
kill herself unless she was given to him in marriage. Her 
parents in despair sent for Crates. Marriage, for a philosopher, 
was against the principles of his sect, and he at first joined 
them in endeavouring to dissuade her. Finding his remon- 
strances unavailing, he at last fiung at her feet the staff and 
wallet which constituted his whole worldly possessions, 
exclaiming, ' Here is the bridegroom, and that is the dower. 
Think of this matter well, for you cannot be my partner 
' Dio(., VIII., i. ff. 


unless you follow the same calling with me/ Hipparchia 
consented, and thenceforth, heedless of taunts, conformed her 
life in every respect to the Cynic pattern.* 

Zeno had more delicacy or less fortitude than Hipparchia ; 
and the very meagre intellectual fare provided by Crates mustr' 
have left his inquisitive mind unsatisfied. Accordingly we 
find him leaving this rather disappointing substitute for 
Socrates, to study philosophy under Stilpo the Megarian 
dialectician and Polemo the head of the Academy ; * while 
we know that he must have gone back to Her^clfiitus for the 
physical basis from which contemporary speculation had by 
this time cut itself completely free. At length, about the 
beginning of the third century B.C., Zeno, after having been 
a learner for twenty years, opened a school on his own 
account. As if to mark the practical bearing of his doctrine 
he chose one of the most frequented resorts in the city for its 
promulgation. There was at Athens a portico called the 
Poecile Stoa, adorned with frescoes by Polygn6tus, the greatest 
painter of the Cimonian period. It was among the monuments 
of that wonderful city, at once what the Loggia dei Lanzi is 
to Florence, and what Raphael's Stanze are to Rome ; while, 
like the Place de la Concorde in Paris, it was darkened by the 
terrible associations of a revolutionary epoch. A century 
before Reno's time fourteen hundred Athenian citizens had 
been slaughtered under its colonnades by order of the Thirty. 
* I will purify the Stoa/ said the Cypriote stranger ; ' and the 
feelings still associated with the word Stoicism prove how 
nobly his promise was fulfilled. 

How much of the complete system known in later times 
under this name was due to Zeno himself, we do not know ; 
for nothing but a few fragments of his and of his immediate 
successors* writings is left. The idea of combining Antisthenes 
with Heracleitus, and both with Socrates, probably belongs ^ 

• Diog., VI., 96. » Zellcr, Ph. d, Gr,, III., a, 29. 

» Diog., VII., 5. 


to the founder of the school. His successor, Cleanthes, a man 
of character rather than of intellect, was content to hand on 
what the master had taught. Then came another Cypriote, 
Chrysippus, of whom we are told that without him the Stoa 
would not have existed ; * so thoroughly did he work out the 
system in all its details, and so strongly di^ he fortify its 
positions against hostile criticism by a framework of elaborate 
dialectic. * Give me the propositions, and I will find the 
proofs ! ' he used to say to Cleanthes.^ After him, nothing of 
importance was added to the doctrines of the school ; although 
the spirit by which they were animated seems to have under- 
gone profound modifications in the lapse of ages. 

In reality, Stoicism was not, like the older Greek philoso- 
phies, a creation of individual genius. It bears the character 
of a coQUjulalioirboth on its first exposition and on its final 
completion. Polemo, who had been a fine gentleman before 
he became a philosopher, taunted Zeno with filching his 
opinions from every quarter, like the cunning little Phoenician — \ 
trader that he was.* And it was said that the seven hundred 
treatises of Chrysippus would be reduced to a blank if every- 
thing that he had borrowed from others were to be erased; 
He seems, indeed, to have been the father of review-writers, 
and to have used the reviewer's right of transcription with more 
than modem license. Nearly a whole tragedy of Euripides re- 
appeared in one of his 'articles,' and a wit on being asked » 
what he was reading, replied, * the Medea of Chr>'sippus.' * 1 

In this respect Stoicism betrays its descent from the 
encyclopaedic lectures o? the earlier Sophists, particularly 
Hippias ,,^ While professedly subordinating every other study 
to the art of virtuous living, its expositors seem to have either 
put a very wide interpretation on virtue, or else to have raised 
, its foundation to a most unnecessary height. They protested 
against Aristotle's glorification of knowledge as the supreme 
end, and declared its exclusive pursuit to be merely a more 

» Diog., VII., 183. « Ibid., 179. ' Ibid', 25. * Ibid., 180 £• 


refined form of self-indulgence;' but, being Greeks, they 
shared the speculative passion with him, and seized on any 
pretext that enabled them to gratify it. And this inquisitive- 
ness was apparently much stronger in Asiatic HeilasTwfience 
the Stoics were almost entirely recruited, than in the old 
country, where oenturies of intellectual activity had issued in a 
scepticism from which their fresher minds revolted.* It is 
mentioned by Zeller as a proof of exhaustion and comparative 
indifference to such enquiries, that the Stoics should have 
fallen back on the Heracleitean philosophy for their physics.* 
But all the ideas respecting the constitution of Nature that 
were then possible had already been put forward. The Greek 
capacity for discovery was perhaps greater in the third century 
than at any former time ; but from the very progress of science 
it was necessarily confined to specialists, such as Aristarchus 
of Samos or Archimedes. And if the Stoics made no original 
contributions to physical science, they at least accepted what \ 
seemed at that time to be its established results ; here, as in 
other respects, offering a marked contrast to the Epicurean 
school. If a Cleanthes assailed the heliocentric hypothesis of 
Aristarchus on religious grounds, he was treading in the foot- 
steps of Aristotle. It is far more important that he or his 
successors should have taught the true theory of the earth's 
shape, of the moon's phases, of eclipses, and of the relative 
size and distance of the heavenly bodies.^ On this last 
subject, indeed, one of the later Stoics, Posidonius, arrived at 
or accepted conclusions which, although falling far short of 
the reality, approximated to it in a very remarkable manner, 
when we consider what imperfect means of measurement the 
Greek astronomers had at their disposition.* 

* Plutarch, D€ Stoic, Repug,^ iii., 2. 

* It is significant that the only Stoic who fell back on pure Cynicism should 
have been Arislo of Chios, a genuine Greek, while the only one who, like Aris- 
totle, identified good with knowledge was Herillus, a Carthaginian. 

» Op, at,, p. i8, cf. p. 362. * Diog., VII., 144 AT. 

^ Posidonius estimated the sun's distance from the earth at 5oo,ooo,ocx) stades. 


In returning to one of the older cosmologies, the Stoics 
placed themselves in opposition to the system of Aristotle as 
a whole, although on questions of detail they frequently 
adopted his conclusions. The object of Heracleitus, as 
against the Pythagoreans, had been to dissolve away every 

a ntithesis in a pervading unity of contradictories ; and, as 
against the Eleatics, to substitute an eternal series of trans- 

formations for the changeless unity of absolute existence. 
The Stoics now applied the same "metTibd on a scale propot^' 
tionate to the subsequent development of thought. Aristotle 
had carefully distinguished God from the world, even to the 
extent of isolating him from all share in its creation and 
interest in its affairs. The Stoics declared that God and the i^ 
world were one. So far, it ? g ^Howahl^ \cs <;;^11 them pantheist s. 
Yet their pantheism was very different from what we are 
accustomed to denote by that name ; from the system of 
Spinoza, for example. Their strong faith in final causes 
and in Providence — a f aith in which th^ y rlr^Hy fnllnwrrT 
Socrates — would be hardly consistent with anything but the 
ascr iption of a distinct a nd individual consciousness to th e 
Supreme Being, which is just what modern pantheisj:s refuse 
to admit. Their God was sometimes described as the 
soul of the world, the fiery element surrounding and pene- 
trating every other kind of matter. What remained was the 
body of God ; but it was a body which he had originally 
created out of his own substance, and would, in the fulness of 
time, absorb into that substance again.* Thus they kept the r\ 
future conflagration f oretold by Heracl gituoy but gave it a i 
more religious colouring. The process of creation was then 
to begin over again, and all things were to run the sam e 

and the moon*s distance at 2,000,000 stades, which, counting the stade at 
200 yards, gives about 57,000,000 and 227,000 miles respectively. The sun's 
diameter he reckoned, according to one account, at 440,000 miles, about half the 
real amount ; according to another account at a quarter less. Zeller, op, cii, , 
p. 190, Note 2. 

' For the authorities, see Zeller, op, cit., p. 139, Note i. 


course as before down to the minutest particulars, human 
history repeating itself, and the same persons returning to 
live the same lives once more.* Such a belief evidently 
involved the most rigid Jatalis m : and here again their 
doctrine offers a pointed contrast to that of Aristotle. The 
Stagirite, differing, as it would seem, in this respect from all 
the older physicists, maintained that there was an element of 

rlTQjQp#> ^nd spnn^^^^'^y in the sublunary sphere ; and with- 
out going very deeply into the mechanism of motives or the 
theory of moral responsibility, he had claimed a similar 
i ndetermj nntrnftnn for the human will. Stoicism would hear 
of neither ; with it, as with modem science, the chain of 
causation is unbroken from first to last, and extends to all 
phenomena alike. The old theological notion of an omnipo- 
tent divine will, or of a destiny superior even to that will, was 
at once confirmed and continued by the new theory of natural 
law ; just as the predestination of the Reformers reappeared 
in the metaphysical rationalism of Spinoza,* 

This dogma of uni versal determ inism was combined in 
the Stoical system with an equally o utspoken materialis m. 
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,* 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.* Here they 
only followed the common opinion of all philosophers who 

» Zeller, p. 155. 

' The Stoic necessarianism gave occasion to a repartee which has rem ained 
classical ever since, although its original authorship is known to few. A slave of 
Zeno's, on receiving chastisement for athef^, tried to excuse himself by quoting his 
master's principle that he was fated to steal. 'And to be flogged for it/ replied 
the philosopher, calmly continuing his predestined task. (Diog., VII., 23.) 

» Soph,, 247, D. 

* Plutarch, De Comm. Notit,, xxx., 2 ; Cicero, Acad,, I., xi., 39 ; Diog., 
VII., 150; 2^Uer, p. 117. 



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 j-ecogn ise the independent 
reality of a consciousness in which the mechanical processes 
are either reflected, ox 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, accordmg fo 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.* 

We must mention as an additional point of contrast 
between the Stoics and the subsequent schools which they 
most resembled, that while these look on the soul as in- 
separable from the body, and sharing its fortunes from first 
to last, although perfectly distinct from it in idea, they 
emphasised the antithesis between the two just as strongly as 
Plato, giving the soul an absolutely infinite power of self-ij 
assertion during our mortal life, and allowing it a continued, ] 
though not an immortal, existence after death.* 

What has been said of the human soul applies equally to 
God, who is the soul of the worlds He also is conceived 
under the form of a material but very subtle and all-penetrat- 
ing element to which our souls are much more closely akin 
than to the coarse clay with which they are temporarily 
associated. And it was natural that the heavenly bodies, in 
whose composition the ethereal element seemed so visibly to 
predominate, should pass with the Stoics, as with Plato and 
Aristotle, for conscious beings inferior only in sacredness and 

' Plutarch, De Stoic ^ ^<^^%, xliii., 4. 
* Zeller, p. 201, ff. 


majesty to the Supreme Ruler of all.* Thus, the philosophy 
which we are studying helps to prove the strength and 
endurance of the religious reaction to which Socrates first 
gave an argumentative expression, and by which he was 
ultimately hurried to his doom. We may even trace its 
increasing ascendency through the successive stages of the 
Naturalistic school. Prodicus simply identified the gods of 
polytheism with unconscious physical forces ; * Antisthenes, 
while discarding local worship, believed, like Rousseau, in the 
existence of a single deity ; ' Zeno, or his successors, revived 
the whole pantheon, but associated it with a pure moralityv 
and explained away its more offensive features by an elabo- 
rate system of allegorical interpretation.* 

It was not, however, by its legendary beliefs that the 
living power of ancient religion was displayed, but by the 
study and practice of divination. This was to the Greeks 
and Romans what priestly direction is to a Catholic, or the 
interpretation of Scripture texts to a Protestant believer. 
And the Stoics, in their anxiety to uphold religion as a 
bulwark of morality, went entirely along with the popular 
superstition ; while at the same time they endeavoured to 
reconcile it with the universality of natural law by the same 
clumsily rationalistic methods that have found favour with 
some modern scientific defenders of the miraculous. The 
signs by which we are enabled to predict an event entered, 
they said, equally with the event itself, into the order of 
Nature, being either connected with it by direct causation, as 
is the configuration of the heavenly bodies at a man's birth 
with his after fortunes, or determined from the beginning of 
the world to precede it according to an invariable rule, as 
with the indications derived from inspecting the entrails of 
sacrificial victims. And when sceptics asked of what use was 

* Cicero, De Nai, Deor.^ II., xv., 39. 

' Scxtus F^mpiricus, Adi\ Math., IX., 18. 
' Cicero, De Nat, Deor,^ I., xiii., 32 

* ZcUcr, p 309 ff. 


the premonitory sign when everything was predestined, they 
replied that our behaviour in view of the warning was pre- 
destined as well.' 

To us the religion of the Stoics is interesting chiefly as a 
part of the machinery by which they attempted to make 

good the conn exio n be tween natural and moral law, as5uniecl_ 
rather than proved by their Sophistic and Cynic precarsQCS^' 
But before proceeding to this branch of the subject we must 
glance at their mode of conceiving another side of the funda- 
mental relationship between man and the universe. This is 
logic in its widest sense, so understood as to include the 
theory of the process by which we get our knowledge and of 
the ultimate evidence on which it rests, no less than the 
theory of formal ratiocination. 


In their theory of cognition the Stoics chiefly followed 
Aristotle ; only with them the doctrine of empiricism is 
enunciated so distinctly as to be placed beyond the reach of 
misinterpretation. The mind is at first a tabula rasa, and all 
our ideas are derived exclusively from the senses.' But 
while knowledge as a whole rests on sense, the validity of 
each particular sense-perception must be determined by an 
appeal to reason, in other words, to the totality of our acquired 
experience.' So also the first principles of reasoning are not 
to be postulated, with Aristotle, as immediately and uncon- 
ditionally certain ; they are to be assumed as hypothetically 
true and gradually tested by the consequences deducible 
from them.* Both principles well illustrate the synthetic 
method of the Stoics — their habit of bringing into close 

' See Cicero, Di Divinaiiam, I., fastim. 
' Plularch. De PImil. Phil., IV., xi. 

* This seems the best eiplanalion of the various slatemenls on (he subject 
mode hj our authorities, for which see Zeller, pp. 71-Sd. 
< Sextus Einp., Adv. Math., VIII., 375. 


connexion whatever Aristotle had studiously held apart. And 
we must maintain, in opposition to the German critics, that 
their method marks a real advance on his. It ought at any 
rate to find more favour with the experiential school of 
modern science, with those who hold that the highest mathe- 
matical and physical laws are proved, not by the impossibility 
of conceiving their contradictories, but by their close agree- 
ment with all the facts accessible to our observation. 

It was a consequence of the principle just stated that in 
formal logic the Stoics should give precedence to the hypo- 
thetical over the categorical syllogism.* From one point of 
view their preference for this mode of stating an argument 
was an advance on the method of Aristotle, whose reasonings, 
if explicitly set out, would have assumed the form of disjunc- 
tive syllogisms. From another point of view it was a return 
to the older dialectics of Socrates and Plato, who always 
looked on their major premises as possessing only a con- 
ditional validity — conditional, that is to say, on the consent 
of their interlocutor. We have further to note that both the 
disjunctive and the hypothetical syllogism were first recog- 
nised as such by the Stoics ; a discovery connected with the 
feature which most profoundly distinguishes their logic from 
Aristotle's logic. We showed, in dealing with the latter, that 
it is based on an analysis of the concept, and that all its 
imperfections are due to that single circumstance. It was 
the Stoics who first brought judgment, so fatally neglected 
by the author of the Aftalytics, into proper prominence. 
Having once grasped propositions as the beginning and end 
of reasoning, they naturally and under the guidance of 
common language, passed from simple to complex assertions, 
and immediately detected the arguments to which these 
latter serve as a foundation. And if we proceed to ask why 
they were more interested in judgment than in conception, 
we shall probably find the explanation to be that their 

* ZdleiTi p. 109. 


philosophy had its root in the ethical and practical interests 
which involve a continual process of injunction and belief, 
that is to say, a continual association of such disparate 
notions as an impression and an action ; while the Aristote- 
lian philosophy, being ultimately derived from early Greek 
thought, had for its leading principle the circumscription of 
external objects and their representation under the form of a 
classified series. Thus the naturalistic system, starting with 
the application of scientific ideas to human life, ultimately 
carried back into science the vital idea of Law ; that is, of 
fixed relations subsisting between disparate phenomena. 
And this in turn led to the reinterpretation of knowledge 
as the subsumption of less general under more general 

Under the guidance of a somewhat similar principle the 
Stoic logicians attempted a reform of Aristotle's categories. 
These they reduced to four : Substance, Quality, Disposition, 
and Relation (to viroKsifisvov^ to ttoiop, to tt&s s'xpv, and to 
irpos Tt TT&s i'xpv *) ; and the change was an improvement in 
so far as it introduced a certain method and subordination 
where none existed before ; for each category implies, and is 
contained in, its predecessor ; whereas the only order trace- 
able in Aristotle's categories refers to the comparative 
frequency of the questions to which they correspond. 

With the idea of subsumption and subordination to law, 
we pass at once to the Stoic ethics. For Zeno, the end of 
life was self-consistency ; for Cleanthes, consistency wit 
Nature ; for Chrysippus, both the one and the othcr.^ The 
still surviving individualism of the Cynics is represented in 
the first of these principles ; the religious inspiration of the 
Stoa in the second ; and the comprehensiveness of its great 
systematising intellect in the last. On the other hand, there 

» 2^ller; p. 93. 

• Stobaeus, Eclog,^ II., p. 132, quoted by Rilter and rrcUer, p. 394 ; Diog. 
VII.. 89. 



IS a vagueness about the idea of self-consistency which seems 
to date from a time when Stoicism was less a new and 
exclusive school than an endeavour to appropriate what- 
ever was best in the older schools. For to be consistent is 
the common ideal of all philosophy, and is just what distin- 
guishes it from the uncalculating impulsiveness of ordinary 
life, the chance inspirations of ordinary thought. But the 
Peripatetic who chose knowledge as his highest good differed 
widely from the Hedonist who made pleasure or painlessness 
his end ; and even if they agreed in thinking that the highest 
pleasure is yielded by knowledge, the Stoic himself would 
assert that the object of their common pursuit was with both 
alike essentially unmoral. He would, no doubt, maintain 
that the self-consistency of any theory but his own was a 
delusion, and that all false moralities would, if consistently 
acted out, inevitably land their professors in a contradiction.' 
Yet the absence of contradiction, although a valuable verifica- 
tion, is too negative a mark to serve for the sole test of 
rightness; and thus we are led on to the more specific 
standard of conformability to Nature, whether our own or that 
of the universe as a whole. Here again a difficulty presents 
itself. The idea of Nature had taken such a powerful hoMrX 
on the Greek mind that it was employed by every school in 1 
turn— except perhaps by the extreme sceptics, still faithful 
to the traditions of Protagoras and Gorgias — and was con- 
fidently appealed to in support of the most divergent ethical 
systems. We find it occupying a prominent place both in 
Plato's Laws and in Aristotle's Politics ; while the maxim. 
Follow Nature, was borrowed by Zeno himself from Polemo, 
the head of the Academy, or perhaps from Polcmo's pre- 
decessor, Xenocratcs. And Epicurus, the great opponent of 
Stoicism, maintained, not without plausibility, that every 

' * Quid est sapicntia ? Semper idem vclle atque idem nolle. Licet illam 
c.xceptiunculam non adicias ut rectum sit (luod vclis. Non potest cuic^uam semper 
idem placere nisi rectum.' Seneca, Episl,^ xx., 4. 


animal is led by Nature to pursue its own pleasure in prefer- 
ence to any other end.* Thus, when Cleanthes declared that 
pleasure was unnatural,^ he and the Epicureans could not 
have been talking about the same thing.. They must have 
meant something different by pleasure or by nature or by 
both. r? 

The last alternative seems the most probable. Natures 
with the Stoics was a fixed objective order whereby all things 
work together as co-operant parts of a single system. Each 
has a certain office to perform, and the perfect performance of 
it is the creature's virtue, or reason, or highest good : these 
three expressions being always used as strictly synonymous 
terms. Here we have the teleology, the dialectics, and the 
utilitarianism of Socrates, so worked out and assimilated that 
they differ only as various aspects of a single truth. The 
three lines of Socratic teaching had also been drawn to a single 
point by Plato ; but his idealism had necessitated the creation 
of a new world for their development and concentration. The 
idea of Nature as it had grown up under the hands of Hera- 
cleitus, the Sophists, and Antisthenes, supplied Zeno with a 
ready-made mould into which his reforming aspirations could ( 
be run. The true Republic was not a pattern laid up in 
heaven, nor was it restricted to the narrow dimensions of a 
single Hellenic state. It was the whole real universe, in every 
part of which except in the works of wicked men a divine law 
was recognised and obeyed.^ Nay, according to Cleanthes, 
God's law is obeyed even by the wicked, and the essence of 
morality consists only in its voluntary fulfilment. As others 

' Cicero, De Fin.^ I., ix., 30. In this he followed the Cyrenaics ; see Diog., 
II., 87. 

' Sextus Emp., Adv, Math,^ XI., 73. 

' Das platonische Gedicht vom himmlischen Gottcsstaat hatte durch diestoische 
Auffassung dcr Welt als eines vom Gottlichen durchdningenen und beseelten 
Korpers einen Leib bekommen, in dessen zwingenden Organismus der Einzelne 
als Glied beschlossen ist und sich fiigen muss.' Bruno Bauer, Chrisius u. d, 
CdsariHy p. 328. 

c 2 


very vividly put it, we are like a dog tied under a cart ; if we 
do not choose to run we shall be dragged along. * 

It will now be better understood whence arose the hostility 
of the Stoics to pleasure, and how they could speak of it in 

what seems such a paradoxical style. It was subjective 

feeling as opposed to objective law ; it was relative, particular, 
and individual, as opposed to their formal standard of right ; 
and it was continually drawing men away from their true 
nature by acting as a temptation to vice. Thus, probably for 
the last reason, Cleanthes could speak of pleasure as con- 
trary to Nature ; while less rigorous authorities regarded it as 
absolutely indifferent, being a consequence of natural actions, 
not an essential element in their performance. And when 
their opponents pointed to the universal desire for pleasure as 
a proof that it was the natural end of animated beings, the 
Stoics answered that what Nature had in view was not 
pleasure at all, but the preservation of life itself.^ 

Such an interpretation of instinct introduces us to a new 
principle — self-interest ; and this was, in fact, recognised on 
all hands as the foundation of right conduct ; it was about 
the question. What is our interest } that the ancient moralists 
were disagreed. The Cynics apparently held that, for every 
being, simple existence is the only good, and therefore with 
them virtue meant limiting oneself to the bare necessaries of 
life ; while by following Nature they meant reducing exist- 
ence to its lowest terms, and assimilating our actions, so far as 
possible, to those of the lower animals, plants, or even stones, 
all of which require no more than to maintain the integrity of 
their propernature. 

Where the Cynics left off the Stoics began. Recognising 
simple self-preservation as the earliest interest and duty of 
man, they held that his ultimate and highest good was com- 
plete self-realisation, the development of that rational, sociai, 

and beneficent nature which distinguishes him from the lower 

» Zcllcr, p. i68, Note 2. - Diog., VII., vii., 85. 


animals.* Here their teleological religion came in as a 
valuable sanction for their ethics. Epictetus, probably follow- 
ing older authorities, argues that self-love has purposely been 
made identical with sociability. * The nature of an animal is 
to do all things for its own sake. Accordingly God has so 
ordered the nature of the rational animal that it cannot 
obtain any particular good without at the same time contri- 
buting to the common good. Because it is self-seeking it is 
not therefore unsocial.' * But if our happiness depends on 
external goods, then we shall begin to fight with one another 
for their possession : ^ friends, father, country, the gods them- 
selves, everything will, with good reason, be sacrificed to 
their attainment And, regarding this as a self-evident 
absurdity, Epictetus concludes that our happiness must con- 
sist solely in a righteous will, which we know to have been 
the doctrine of his whole school. 

We have now reached the great point on which the Stoic 
ethics differed from that of Plato and Aristotle. The two latter, 
while uph olding virtue as the highest good, allowed external 

advantages like pleasure and exemption from pain to enter 
into their definition of perfect happiness ; nor did they 
demand the entire su ppression of passion, but, on the contrary, 
assigned it to a certain part in the formation of character. We 
must add, although it was not a point insisted on by the 
ancient critics, that they did not bring out the socially bene- 
ficent character of virtue with anything like the distinctness of 
their successors. The Stoics, on the other hand, refused to 
admit that there was any good but a virtuous will, or that any 
useful purpose could be served by irrational feeling. If the 
passions agree with virtue they are superfluous, if they are 
opposed to it they are mischievous ; and once we give them 
the rein they are more likely to disagree with than to obey it.* 

' Gellius, NocL AU.^ XII., v., 7, quoted by Ritter and Preller, p. 395. 

• Dissert,^ T., >:ix., 11. > Ibid.^ xxii., 9, if. 

* Cicero, Tusc, Disput,, IV., xix. ff. 


The severer school had more reason on their side than is 
commonly admitted. Either there is no such thing as duty 
at all, or duty must be paramount over every other motive — 
that is to say, a perfect man will discharge his obligations at 
the sacrifice of every personal advantage. There is no pleasure 
that he will not renounce, no pain that he will not endure, 
rather than leave them unfulfilled. But to assume this 
supremacy over his will, duty must be incommensurable wil 
any other motive ; if it is a good at all, it must be the only 
good. To identify virtue with happiness seems to us absurd, 
because we are accustomed to associate it exclusively with those 
dispositions which are the cause of happiness in others, or 
altruism ; and happiness itself with pleasure or the absence of 
pain, which are states of feeling necessarily conceived as 
egoistic. But neither the Stoics nor any other ancient moral- 
ists recognised such a distinction. All agreed that public 
and private interest must somehow be identified ; the only 
question being, should one be merged in the other, and if so, 
which } or should there be an illogical compromise between the 
two. The alternative chosen by Zeno was incomparably nobler 
than the method of Epicurus, while it was more consistent than 
the methods of Plato and Aristotle. He regarded right conduct 
exclusively in the light of those universal interests with which 
alone it is properly concerned ; and if he appealed to the 
motives supplied by personal happiness, this was a confusion 
of phraseology rather than of thought. 

The treatment of the passions by the Stoic school presents 
greater difficulties, due partly to their own vacillation, partly 
to the very indefinite nature of the feelings in question. It 
will be admitted that here also the claims of duty are supreme. 
To follow the promptings of fear or of anger, of pity or of love, 
without considering the ulterior consequences of our action, 
is, of course, wrong. For even if, in any particular instance, 
no harm comes of the concession, we cannot be sure that 
such will always be the case ; and meanwhile the passion is 


strengthened by indulgence. And we have also to consider 
the bad effect produced on the character of those who, finding 
themselves the object of passion, learn to address themselves 
to it instead of to reason. Difficulties arise when we begin to 
consider how far education should aim at the systematic dis- 
couragement of strong emotion. Here the Stoics seem to 
have taken up a position not very consistent either with their 
appeals to Nature or with their teleological assumptions. 
Nothing strikes one as more unnatural than the complete 
absence of human feeling ; and a believer in design might 
plausibly maintain that every emotion conduced to the pre- 
servation either of the individual or of the race. We find, 
however, that the Stoics, here as elsewhere reversing the Aris- 
totelian method, would not admit the existence of a psycho- 
logical distinction between reason and passion. According to 
their analysis, the emotions are so many different forms of 
judgment. Joy and sorrow are false opinions re specting good 
and evil in the present : desire and fear, false opinions res] 
ing good and evil in the future.* But, granting a righteous 
will to be the only good, and its absence the only evil, there 
can be no room for any of these feelings in the mind of a truly 
virtuous man, since his opinions on the subject of good are 
correct, and its possession depends entirely on himself. 
Everything else arises from an external necessity, to strive 
with which would be useless because it is inevitable, foolish 
because it is beneficent, and impious because it is supremely 

It will be seen that the Stoics condemned passioiLJiQt— as. 
the cause of immoral actions b ^t as intrinsically vic ious in 
itself. Hence their censure extended to the rapturous delight 
and passionate grief which seem entirely out of relation to 
conduct properly so called. This was equivalent to saying 
that the will has complete control over emotion ; a doctrine 
which our philosophers did not shrink from maintaining. It 

* Cic, Tusc, Disput.f IV., vi. 


might have been supposed that a position which the most 
extreme supporters of free-will would hardly accept, would 
find still less favour with an avowedly necessarian school. 
And to regard the emotions as either themselves beliefs, or as 
inevitably caused by beliefs, would seem to remove them even 
farther from the sphere of moral responsibility. The Stoics, 
however, having arrived at the perfectly true doctrine that 
judgment is a form of volition, seem to have immediately 
invested it as such with the old associations of free choice 
which they were at the same time busily engaged in stripping 
off from other exercises of the same faculty. They took up 
the Socratic paradox that virtue is knowledge ; but they 
would not agree with Socrates that it could be instilled by 
force of argument. To them vice was not so much ignorance 
as the obstinate refusal to be convinced.* 

The Stoic arguments are, indeed, when we come to analyse 
them, appeal to authority rather than to the logical under- 
standing. We are told again and again that the common 
objects of desire and dread cannot really be good or evil, 
because they are not altogether under our control.^ And if we 
ask why this necessarily excludes them from the class of 
things to be pursued or avoided, the answer is that man, 
having been created for perfect happiness, must also have 
been created with the power to secure it by his own unaided 
exertions. But, even granting the very doubtful thesis that 
there is any ascertainable purpose in creation at all, it is hard 
to see how the Stoics could have answered any one who chose 
to maintain that man is created for enjoyment ; since, judging 
by experience, he has secured a larger share of it than of 
virtue, and is just as capable of gaining it by a mere exercise 
of volition. For the professors of the Porch fully admitted 
that their ideal sage had never been realised; which, with 
their opinions about the indivisibility of virtue, was equivalent 
to saying that there never had been such a thing as a good 

' Zeller, p. 229. * See the Dissertations of Epictetus throughout. 


man at all. Or, putting the same paradox into other words, 
since the two classes of wise and foolish divide humanity 
between them, and since the former class has only an ideal 
existence, they were obliged to admit that mankind are not 
merely most of them fools, but all fools. And this, as Plu- 
tarch has pointed out in his very clever attack on Stoicism, 
is equivalent to saying that the scheme of creation is a com- 
plete failure.* 


/The inconsistencies of a great philosophical system are 
best explained by examining its historical antecedent^ We 
have already attempted to disentangle the roots from which 
Stoicism was nourished, but one of the most important has 
not yet been taken into account. This was the still continued 
influence of Parmenides, de rived, if not from his originar 
teaching, then from some one or more of the altered shapes 
through which it had passed. It has been shown how Zeno 
used the Heracleitean method to break down all the demar- 
cations laboriously built up by Plato and Aristotle. Spirit 
was identified with matter ; ideas with aerial currents ; God 
with the world ; rational with sensible evidence ; volition with 
judgment ; and emotion with thought. But the idea of a 
fundamental antithesis , exp elled from every othe i^ department 
of enquiry, took hol d with all the more energy on what, to 
Stoicism, was the most vital of all distinctions — that between' 
righj and. WPQixig.^ Once grasp this transformati on of a m eta- 
phjsi^nl into a m^ral rri"^?plf, an^ every paradox of the 
system will be seen to follow from it with IqgiCfi.l n^icessity. 
What^^thei5up^meT3eahad been to Plato and self-thinking 
thought to Aristotle, that virtue became to the new school, 
simple, unchange able, and self-sufficient It must not only be 
independent of pleasure and pain, but absolutely incommen- 

* Plutarch, Df Communibus Notitiis, cap. xxxiii., p. 1076 B. 
2 Cf. Zeller, p. 583. 



surablc with them ; therefore there can be no happiness except 
what it gives. As an indivisible unity, it must be possessed 
entirely or not at all ; and being eternal, once possessed it 
can never be lost. Further, since the same action may be 
either right or wrong, according to the motive of its perform- 
ance, virtue is nothing external, but a subjective disposition, 
a state of the will and the affections ; or, if these are to be 
considered as judgments, a state of the reason. Finally, since 
the universe is organised reason, virtue must be natural, and 
especially consonant to the nature of man as a rational ani- 
mal ; while, at the same time, its existence in absolute purity 
being inconsistent with experience, it must remain an un- 
attainable ideal. 

It has been shown in former parts of this work how Greek 
philosophy, after straining an antithesis to the utmost, was 
driven by the very law of its being to close or bridge over the — V~ 
chasm by a series of accommodationsjaT]Ld.iraasitiafts. To 
this rule Stoicism was no c^fSeption ; and perhaps its extra- 
ordinary vitality may have been partly due to the necessity 
imposed on its professors of continually revising their ethics, 
with a view to softening down its most repellent features. We 
proceed to sketch in rapid outline the chief artifices employed 
for this purpose. 

The doctrine, in its very earliest form, had left a large 
neutral ground between good and evil, comprehending almost 
all the common objects of desire and avoidance. These the 
Stoics now proceeded to divide according to a similar prin- 
ciple of arrangement. Whatever, wit hout being nio raUy^od 
in the strictest sense, was either conducive to morality, or 
conformable to human nature, or both, they called p refera ble. 
Under this head came personal advantages, such as mental 
accomplishments, beauty, health, strength, and life itself; 
together with external advantages, such as wealth, honour, 
and high connexions. The opposite to n^rfifcrahle things they^ 
called objectionable ; and what lay between the two, such as 


the particular coin selected to make a payment with, absolutely 

The thorough-going condemnationof passion was explained 
away to a certain extent by allowing the sage himself to feel 
a slight touch of the feelings which fail to shake his determi- 
nation, like a scar remaining after the wound is healed ; and 
by admitting the desirability of sundry emotions, which, 
though carefully distinguished from the passions, seem to 
have differed from them in degree rather than in kind.^ 

In like manner, the pere mptory alteri^ ative between con - 
summa te wisdo m and utter folly wa&SQfteiie d down by admit- 
ting the possibility of a gradual progress from one to the other, 
itself subdivided into a number of more or less advanced 
grades, recalling Aristotle's idea of motion as a link between 
Privation and Form.' 

If there be a class of persons who although not perfectly 
virtuous are on the road to virtue, it follows that there are 
moral actions which they are capable of performing. These 
the Stoics called i ntermediate or imperfert Hiitip«^j^ and, in 
accordance with their intellectual view of conduct, they 
defined them as actions for which a probable reason might be 
given ; apparently in contradistinction to those which were 
deduced from a single principle with the extreme rigour of 
scientific demonstration. Such in termediate d i^^'^*^ would 
have for their appropriate object the ends which, without 
being absolutely good, were still relatively worth seeking, or 
the avoidance of what, without being an absolute evil, was 
allowed to be relatively objectionable. They stood midway 
between virtue and vice, just as the progressive characters 
stood between the wise and the foolish, and preferable objects 
between what was really good and what was really evil. 

The idea of such a prpvisional cod£ .^cems to have origi- 
nated v;ith Zeno ; but the form under which we now know it is 

feller, pp. 260-1. * Ibid,^ pp. 267-8. ' Ibid,^ p. 270. 

* Cicero, De Fin.^ III., xvii., 58 ; Acad.^ I., x., 37 ; De Off.^ I., iii., 8. 


the result of at least two successive revisions. The first and 
most important is due to fanaetius , a Stoic philosopher of 
the second century B.C., on whose views the study of Plato 
and Aristotle exercised a considerable influence. A work of 
this teacher on the Duties of Man furnished Cicero with 
the materials for his celebrated De Officiis, under which 
form its lessons have passed into the educational literature 
of modern Europe. The Latin treatise is written in a some- 
what frigid and uninteresting style, whether through the fault 
of Cicero or of his guide we cannot tell. The principles laid 
down are excellent, but there is no vital bond of union holding 
them together. We can hardly imagine that the author's 
son, for whom the work was originally designed, or anyone 
else since his time, felt himself much benefited by its perusal. 
Taken, however, as a register of the height reached by 
ordinary educated sentiment under the influence of specula- 
tive ideas, and of the limits imposed by it in turn on their 
vagaries, after four centuries of continual interaction, the 
De Officiis presents us with very satisfactory results. The 
old quadripartite division of the virtues is reproduced ; but 
each is treated in a large and liberal spirit, marking an 
immense advance on Aristotle's definitions, wherever the two 
can be compared. Wisdom is identified with the investiga- 
tion of truth ; and there is a caution against believing on 
insufficient evidence, which advantageously contrasts with 
what were soon to be the lessons of theology on the same 
subject. The other great intellectual duty inculcated is to x 
refrain from wasting our energies on difficult and uselesr"^ 
enquiries.* This injunction has been taken up and very 
impressively repeated by some philosophers in our own time ; 
but in the mouth of Cicero it probably involved much greater 
restrictions on the study of science than they would be dis- 
posed to admit. And the limits now prescribed to specula- 
tion by Positivism will perhaps seem not less injudicious, 

• De Off,, I., vi. 


when viewed in the h'ght of future discoveries, than those 
fixed by the ancient moralists seem to us who know what 
would have been lost had they always been treated with 

The obligations of justice come next. They are summed 
up in two precepts that leave nothing to be desired : the first 
is to do no harm except in self-defence ; the second, to bear 
our share in a perpetual exchange of good offices. And the 
foundation of justice is rightly placed in the faithful fulfilment 
of contracts — an idea perhaps suggested by Epicurus.* The 
virtue of fortitude is treated with similar breadth, and so 
interpreted as to cover the whole field of conduct, being 
identified not only with fearlessness in the face of danger, but 
with the energetic performance of every duty. In a word, it 
is opposed quite as much to slothfulness and irresolution as 
to physical timidity.^ Temperance preserves its old meaning 
of a reasonable restraint exercised over the animal passions 
and desires ; and furthermore, it receives a very rich signifi- 
cance as t he quality by which w e are enabled to discern and 
act up to the part assigned to us in life by natural endow- 

ment, social p osition, and individual c hoice. But this, as one 
of the most important ideas contributed by Stoicism to subse- j/^ ^ 
quent thought, must be reserved for separate discussion in 
the following section. 

In addition to its system of intermediate duties, the Stoic 
ethics included a code of casuistry which, to judge by some 
recorded specimens, allowed a very startling latitude both to 
the ideal sage and to the ordinary citizen. Thus, if Sextus 
Empiricus is to be believed, the Stoics saw nothing objection- 
able about the trade of a courtesan.' Chrysippus, like 
Socrates and Plato, denied that there was any harm in false- 
hoods if they were told with a good intention. Diogenes of 
Seleucia thought it permissible to pass bad money ,^ and to 

' I., Vlll. ' I., XVUI-XXIll. 

* Pyrrh, Hyp,^ III., 20I. * Cic, Dc Off., IIT.^ xxiii., 91. 


sell defective articles without mentioning their faults ; ^ he 
was, however, contradicted on both points by another Stoic, 
Antipater. Still more discreditable were the opinions of 
Hecato, a disciple of Panaetius. He discussed the question 
whether a good man need or need not feed his slaves in a 
time of great scarcity, with an evident leaning towards the 
latter alternative ; and also made it a matter of deliberation 
whether in case part of a ship's cargo had to be thrown over- 
board, a valuable horse or a worthless slave should be the 
more readily sacrificed. His answer is not given ; but that 
the point should ever have been mooted does not say much 
for the rigour of his principles or for the benevolence of his 
disposition.* Most outrageous of all, from the Stoic point of 
view, is the declaration of Chrysippus that Heracleitus and 
Pherecydes would have done well to give up their wisdom, 
had they been able by so doing to get rid of their bodily 
infirmities at the same time.* That overstrained theoretical 
severity should be accompanied by a corresponding laxity in 
practice is a phenomenon of frequent occurrence ; but that 
this laxity should be exhibited so undisguisedly in the 
details of the theory itself, goes beyond anything quoted 
against the Jesuits by Pascal, and bears witness, after a 
fashion, to the extraordinary sincerity of Greek thought* 

It was not, however, in any of these concessions that the 
Stoics found from first to last their most efficient solution 
for the difficulties of practical experience, but in the coun- 
tenance they extended to an act which, more than any other, 
might have seemed fatally inconsistent both in spirit and in 
letter with their whole system, whether we choose to call it a j 
defiance of divine law, a reversal of natural instinct, a selfish / 
abandonment of duty, or a cowardly shrinking from pain./ 
We allude, of course, to their habitual recommendation o^ 
suicide. * If you are not satisfied with life,* they said, ' you 

• Cic, De Off.f III., xii., 51. ' Ibid,, xxiii., 89. 

' Plutarch, De Comm, A'otii., xi., 8. * QU Zclltr, pp. 263-4, 278-84. 


have only got to rise and depart ; the door is always open.' 
Various circumstances were specified in which the sage would 
exercise the privilege of 'taking himself off,' as they euphe- 
mistically expressed it. Severe pain, mutilation, incurable 
disease, advanced old age, the hopelessness of escaping from 
tyranny, and in general any hindrance to leading a ' natural' 
life, were held to be a sufficient justification for such a step.' 
The first founders of the school set an example afterwards 
frequently followed. Zeno is said to have hanged himself 
for no better reason than that he fell and broke his finger 
through the weakness of old age ; and Cleanthes, having 
been ordered to abstain temporarily from food, resolved, as 
he expressed it, not to turn back after going half-way to 
death.' This side of the Stoic doctrine found particular 
favour in Rome, and the voluntary death of Cato was always 
spoken of as his chief title to fame. Many noble spirits were 
sustained in their defiance of the imperial despotism by the 
thought that there was one last liberty of which not even 
Caesar could deprive them. Objections were silenced by the 
ai^ument that, life not being an absolute good, its loss might 
fairly be preferred to some relatively greater inconvenience.' 
But why the sage should renounce an existence where perfect 
happiness depends entirely on his own will, neither was, nor 
could it be, explained. 

If now, abandoning all technicalities, we endeavour to 
estimate the significance and value of the most g eneral ideas 
contributed by Stoicism to-ethical ■specolation,Tve shall find 
tHat they may be most conveniently considered under the 
following heads. Firat o f all, the Stoics made morality com- 
pletely inward, T^ey declared that the intention was equiva- 
lent to the deed, and that the wish was equivalent to the 

' Diog., VII., 130; Cic, Dt Fill., HI., xviii., 60; Zcller, pp, 305 9. 
» Diog,, VII,, 31, 176, ' riularch, Dt Slok. Kcfus-, xviii., 5. 


intention — a view which has been made familiar to all by the 
teaching of the Gospel, but the origin of which in Greek 
philosophy has been strangely ignored even by rationalistic 
writers.^ From the inaccessibility of motives and feelings to 
direct external observation, it follows that each man must be, 
in the last resort, his own judge. Hence the notion of con- 
science is equally a Stoic cr eation. That we have a mystical 
intuition informing us, prior to experience, of the difference 
between right and wrong is, indeed, a theory quite alien to 
their empirical derivation of knowledge. But that the edu- 
cated wrongdoer carries in his bosom a perpetual witness and 
avenger of his guilt, they most distinctly asserted.* The 
difference between ancient and modern tragedy is alone 
sufficient to prove the novelty and power of this idea ; for 
that the Eumenides do not represent even the germ of a 
conscience is as certain as anything in mythology can be.^ 

* * Omnia scelera, etiam ante effectum operis, quantum culpae satis est, per- 
fecta sunt.' — Seneca, De Const. Sap.y vii., 4. Cf. Zeno <7/«</ Sext. Emp., Adv, 
Math.^ XI., 190. 

* * Prope est a te Deus, tecum est, intus est ... . sacer intra nos spiritus 
sedet bonorum roalorumque nostrorum observator et custos. ' — Seneca, <f//., xli., I . 
Cf. Horace, Epp,^ I., i., 61 ; Lucan, IX., 573 ; Persius, III., 43 ; Juvenal, 
XIII., 192-235. 

' It may be desirable to give some reasons in support of this opinion, as the 
contrary has been stated by scholars writing within a comparatively recent period. 
Thus Welcker says : * Das Gcwissen ward bei den Griechen als ein gottliches 
Wesen, Erinys, gescheut und wie wir es sonst nicht Bnden, zur Gottheit erhoben ' 
{Gfiechische GotterUhre^ I., 233); and again (p. 699) * 'EptviJs . . . . ist das 
Gewissen.' Similarly, M. Alfred Maury observes that, *les remords se pt-rsonni- 
fiaient sous la forme de deesses Erinnyies, chargees de punir tous les forfaits ' 
{^Histoire cUs Religions de la Grke Antique^ I., 342). And Preller, while enter- 
taining sounder views respecting their origin, contents himself with the caution 
that, * Man sich hiiten muss die Furien bios fiir die subjectiven Machte des 
menschlichen Gewissen zu halten * {Gritchische Mythologies I., 686, 3rd ed.) 
Now, in the first place, the Erinyes did not punish all crime, as they ought to 
have done had they represented conscience. According to Aeschylus {^Eumen.^ 
604-5), ^^^y considered that the murder of her husband by Clytaemnestra was no 
affair of theirs, there being no blood relationship between the parties concerned. 
They did not persecute Electra, who, short of striking the fatal blow, had as 
much hand in her mother's death a& Orestes. And even when a father was killed 
by his son, they do not always seem to have taken up the matter ; for in the 
Odyssey it is not by the Erinyes of Laius, but by those of Epicaste that Oedipus 
is pursued — a conception very uiklikc that of Sophocles, who makes him feel as 


On the other hand, the fallibility of conscience and the extent 
to which it may be sophisticated were topics not embraced 
within the limits of Stoicism, and perhaps never adequately 
illustrated by any writer, even in modern times, except the 
great English novelist whose loss we still deplore. 

The ■tprnnd Stoir idea to which we would invite attention 
is that, in the economy of life, every one ha s a certa in func- 
tion to fulfil, a certain part to play, which is marked out for 
him by circumstances beyond his control, but in the adequate 
performance of which his duty and dignity are peculiarly 
involved. It is true that this idea finds no assignable place 
in the teaching of the earliest Stoics, or tather in the few 
fragments of their teaching which alone have been preserved ; 
but it is touched upon by Cicero under the head of Tem- 
perance, in the adaptation from Panaetius already referred 
to ; it frequently recurs in the lectures of EpictStus ; and it is 
enunciated with energetic concision in the solitary medita- 
^-tions of Marcus Aurelius.' The belief spoken of is, indeed, 
closely connected with the Stoic teleology, and only applies 
to the sphere of free intelli gence a principle l ike that sup- 
posed to regulate the activity of inanimate or irrational 

much cemorse for the psmcide as foi ihe incest and its consequences. In the 
next place, the Erinyei are let loose not by the action itself but by the curves aX 
the injured oi oRended blood-ielalion, as we see by Homer, //., IX., 4J4 and 
566; which seems to show that if the]' personified anything human it was the 
imprecations of ihe victim, not the self-reproach of the aggressor. Thirdly, Ihe 
Orestes of Aeschylus, so far from feeling conscience-smitten, disclaims all re- 
sponsibility for his mother's death, inflicted as it was in consequence of a direct 
commaiid from the higher gods, accompanied by threats of heavy punishment in 
case of disobedience. {Etimtn., 443 (f.). And. finally, the ol!ice assigned to the 
Erinyes of seeing that the laws of nature are not broken [vol. I., 67) shows that 
the Greeks conceiied their enistence as something altogether objective and 
physical. [There is a short but very sensible account of the Erinyes in Keightley's 
Mythahgy, p. 175, 4'h ed.] 

> Cicero, Di Of., I., mxi. ; Epict&us, Afan., 17, i., 30 ; Diss., I., ii., 33 ; 
ivi., x> ; axil.. 39 ; II., v., 10 ; li., 11 ; x., 4, liv,, 8 ; xxiii., 38 ; xxt., 2^ ; 
^^..-JoAovAmii, Cemm., VI„ 39, 43 ; IX., ag ; cf. Seneca, £pp., ixxiv., 34, and the 
layiog of Mucus Aurelius quoted by Dion Cas-ius (Epit., LXXI., ixiiv., 4), that 
we cannot make men what we wish them to be ; we can only turn what faculties 
Ih^ have to the best account in working for Ihe pubU: good. 


beings. If every mineral, every plant, and every animal has 

ts special use and office, so also must we, according to the 

capacity of our individual and determinate existence. By 

accomplishing the work thus imposed on us, we fulfil the 

purpose of our vocation, we have done all that the highest 

morality demands, and may with a clear conscience leave the 

rest to fate^ To put the same idea into somewhat different 

terms -f-^^e are born into certain relationships, domestic, 

social, and political, by which the lines of our daily duties 

are prescribed with little latitude for personal choice. What 

does depend upon ourselves is to make the most of these 

conditions and to perform the tasks arising out of them in as 

thorough a manner as possible. ' It was not only out of 

ivory,' says Seneca, ' that Pheidias could make statues, but 

out of bronze as well; had you offered him marble or some 

cheaper material still, he would have carved the best that 

could be made out of that. So the sage will exhibit his 

virtue in wealth, if he be permitted ; if not, in poverty ; if 

possible, in his own country ; if not, in exile ; if possible, as 

a general ; if not, as a soldier ; if possible, in bodily vigour ; 

if not, in weakness. Whatever fortune be granted him, he will 

make it the means for some memorable achievement.' Or, to 

take the more homely comparisons of Epictfitus : ' The 

weaver does not manufacture his wool, but works up what is 

given him.' ' Remember that you are to act in whatever 

drama the manager may choose, a long or short one according 

to his pleasure. Should he give you the part of a beggar, 

take care to act that becomingly ; and the same should it 

be a lame man, or a magistrate, or a private citizen. For your 

business is to act well the character that is given to you, but 

to choose it is the business of another.' So spoke the humble 

freedman ; but the master of the world had also to recognise 

what fateful limits were imposed on his beneficent activity. 

' Why wait, O man ! ' exclaims Marcus Aurelius. ' Do what 

Nature now demands ; make haste and look not round to see 


if any know it ; nor hope for Plato's Republic, but be content 
with the smallest progress, and consider that the result even 
of this will be no little thing/ * Carlyle was not a Stoic ; but 
in this respect his teaching breathes the best spirit of Stoicism ; 
and, to the same extent also, through his whole life he prac- 
tised what he taught. 

The implications of such an ethical standard are, on the 
whole, conservative ; it is assumed that social institutions are, 
taking them altogether, nearly the best possible at any 
moment ; and that our truest wisdom is to make the most of 
them, instead of sighing for some other sphere where our 
grand aspirations or volcanic passions might find a readier 
outlet for their feverish activity. And if the teaching of the 
first Stoics did not take the direction here indicated, it was 
because they, with the c ommunistic theori es inherited from 
their Cynic predecessors, began by condemning all existing 
soQ Jal distinctioiv i nri irrationni They wished to abolish local 
religion, property, the family, and the State, as a substitute 
for which the whole human race was to be united under a 
single government, without private possessions or slaves, and 
with a complete community of women and children.* It 
must, however, have gradually dawned on them that such a 
radical subversion of the present system was hardly com- 
patible with their belief in the providential origin of all things ; 
and that, besides this, the virtues which they made it so much 
their object to recommend, would be, for the most part, super- 
fluous in a communistic society. At the same time, the old 
notion o f S6phrosyn6 as a virtue which^consisti^d jjLDainding. 
one's own business, or, stated more geneially^jji-jdisGerning 
anJt i u ing wha t evei wuffe 'dnins best fitted for, would continue 
to influence ethical teaching, with the effect of giving more 
and more individuality to the definition of duty. And the 

' For the references to these and other similar passages, see the last note. 
* Plutarch, De Alex, Virt., I., vi. ; Diog., VII., 33. 

D 2 


Stoic idea of a perfect sage, including as it did the possession 
of every accomplishment and an exclusive fitness for dis- 
charging every honourable function, would seem much less 
chimerical if interpreted to mean that a noble character, 
while everywhere intrinsically the same, might be realised 
under as many divergent forms as there are opportunities for 
continuous usefulness in life,^ 

We can understand, then, why the philosophy which, 
when first promulgated, had tended to withdraw its adherents 
from participation in public life, should, when transplanted to 
Roman soil, have become associated with an energetic interest 
in politics ; why it was so eagerly embraced by those noble 
statesmen who fought to the death in defence of their ancient 
liberties ; how it could become the cement of a senatorial 
opposition under the worst Caesars ; how it could be the 
inspiration and support of Rome*s Prime Minister during that 
quinquennium Neronis which was the one bright episode in 
more than half a century of shame and terror ; how, finally, it 
could mount the throne with Marcus Aurelius, and prove, 
through his example, that the world's work might be most 
faithfully performed by one in whose meditations mere worldly 
interests occupied the smallest space. Nor can we agree with 
Zeller in thinking that it was the nationality, and not the 
philosophy, of these disciples which made them such efficient 
statesmen.' On the contrary, it seems to us that the ' Roman- 
ism * of these men was inseparable from their philosophy, and 
that they were all the more Roman because they were Stoics 
as well. 

The third great idea of Stoicism was its doctrine of 
humanity. Men are all children of one Father, and citizens 

* It need hardly be observed that here also the morality of natural law has — \t 
Mtained its highest artistic development under the hand of George Eliot— some- I 
times even to the neglect of purely artistic effect, as in Daniel Deronda and the 
Spanish Gypsy. ^ 

* Zeller, p. 297, followed by Mr. Capca^n his excellent little work on 
Stoicism (p. 51). 


of one State ; the highest moral law is, Follow Nature, and 
Nature has made them to be social and to love one another ; 
the private interest of each is, or should be, identified with 
the universal interest ; we should live for others that we may 
live for ourselves ; even to our enemies we should show love 
and not anger ; the unnaturalness of passion is proved by 
nothing more clearly than by its anti-social and destructive 
tendencies. Here, also, the three great Stoics of the Roman 
empire — Seneca, Epict^t'us, and Marcus Aurelius — rather 
than the founders of the school, must be our authorities ; ' 
whether it be because their lessons correspond to a more 
developed state of thought, or simply because they have been 
more perfectly preserved. The former explanation is, perhaps, 
the more generally accepted. There seems, however, good 
reason for believing that the idea of universal love— the 
highest of all philosophical ideas next to that of the universe 
itself— dates further back than is commonly supposed. It 
can hardly be due to Seneca, who had evidently far more 
capacity for popularising and applying the thoughts of others 
than for original speculation, and who on this subject expresses 
himself with a rhetorical fluency not usually characterising 
the exposition of new discoveries. The same remark applies 
to his illustrious successors, who, while agreeing with him in 
tone, do not seem to have drawn on his writings for their 
philosophy. It is al so clear that the idea in question sp rincfs 
from two essentially Stoic conceptions : the objectiv e con- 
ception of a iinififH wnrlfl, a cos mos to which all men belong ; 

' Senec>, Dt IrS, I,, v., J ff. ; II., JXXi.,T, DiCIim., I,, iii., j; Dt Batif., 
IV., xivi., I, Epp., xcv.. 51 ff. ; EpiclSlus, ZJirj., IV., y., lo ; Antoninus, VII., 
13 ; togetber with the additional lefeiences given by Zeller, p. 2S6 ff. It is lo be 
observed that the mutual lov« attributed to human beings by the Stoic philosophers 
stands, not for an empirical characteristic, but for an unrealised idea of human 
nstare. The actual feelings of men towards one another ate described by Seneca — 
in language recalling that of Schopenhauer and Leopardi, ■ Erras,' he eicEaimi, 
' ti isloium tib) qui occurrunt vuliibus credii ; horoinuin effigies habeni, animos 
feiBium : nisi quod illanim pemiciosior est primus incursus. Nnnquam enim iUas 
ad nocendum nisi necessilas inidl : aul fame aul liinoTe cogunlur ad pugnam : 
bomini perdere hominem libct.' — Epp., ciii., z. 




and the su bjective concepti oi]Mofa_rational natur e <ppn nTpr>n fr> — ^ 
them all. These, again, are rooted in early Greek thought, 
and were already emerging into distinctness at the time of 
Socrates. Accordingly we find that Plato, having to compose 
a characteristic speech for the Sophist Hippias, makes him \ 
say that like-minded men are by nature kinsmen and friends'"! 
to one another.* Nature, howevpr, soon came to be viewed 
under a different aspect, and it was maintained, just as by some 
living philosophers, that her true law is the universal oppression 
of the weak by the strong. Then the idea of mind came in 
as a salutary corrective. It had supplied a basis for the ethics 
of Protagoras, and still more for the ethics of Socrates ; it was 
^ now combined with its o ld rival b y the Stoics, an d from their 
union arose the conception of human nature as something 
allied with and illustrated by all other forms of animal life, 
yet capable, if fully developed, of rising infinitely above them. 
Nevertheless, the individual and the universal element were 
never quite reconciled in the Stoic ethics. The altruistic 
quality of justice was clearly perceived ; but no attempt was 
made to show that all virtue is essentially social, and has come 
to be recognised as obligatory on the individual mainly 
because it conduces to the safety of the whole community. 
The learner was told to conquer his passions for his own sake 
rather than for the sake of others ; and indulgence in violent 
anger, though more energetically denounced, was, in theory, 
placed on a par with immoderate delight or uncontrollable 
distress. So also, vices of impurity were classed with com- 
paratively harmless forms of sensuality, and considered in 
reference, not to the social degradation of their victims, but to 
the spiritual defilement of their perpetrators. 

Yet, while the Stoics were far from anticipating the methods 
of modern Utilitarianism, they were, in a certain sense, strict 
Utilitarians— that is to say, they measured the goodness ott — 
badness of actions by their consequences ; in other words, by \ 

' Plato, Protagoras, 337, D. 


their bearing on the supposed interest of the individual or of 
the commumty. They did not, it is true, identify interest 
with pleasure or the absence of pain ; but although, in our 
time, Hedonism and Utilitarianism are, for convenience, 
treated as interchangeable terms, they need not necessarily 
be so. If any one choose to regard bodily strength, health, 
wealth, beauty, intellect, knowledge, or even simple existence, 
as the highest good and the end conduciveness to which 
determines the morality of actions, he ts a Utilitarian ; and, 
even if it could be shown that a maximum of happiness would 
be ensured by the attainment of his end, he would not on that 
account become a Hedonist Now it is certain that the early 
Stoics, at least, regarded the preservation of the human race 
as an end which rightfully took precedence of every other 
con»deration ; and, like Charles Austin, they sometimes pushed 
their principles to paradoxical or oncii&Ive cn.UeRie5, appa- 
rently for no other purpose than that of atlronting the common 
feelings of mankind,' without remembering that such feelings 
were likely to represent embodied experiences of utility. 
Thus — apart from their communistic theories — they were 
fond of specifying the circumstances in which incest would 
become legitimate ; and they are said not only to have 
sanctioned cannibalism in cases of extreme necessity, but 
even to have recommended its introduction as a substitute 
for burial or cremation ; although this, we may hope, was 
rather a grim illustration of what they meant by moral 
indifference than a serious practical suggestion.* 

Besides the encouragement which it gave to kind offices 
between friends and neighbours, the Stoic doctrine of humanity 
and mutual love was honourably exemplified in Seneca's 
emphatic condemnation of the gladiatorial games and of the 

' ' He [Charles Austin] picsenled the Benthamic doclrines in the most 
itartliDg fonn of which they were susceptible, enaKieraling everything in ihenT 
which tended to consequences offensive to any one's prH-jincfivpH feelings. '- 
Mill's Aulobiogrttphy, p. 7S. 

' ZeUer, p. 281. 


horrible abuses connected with domestic slavery in Rome.* 
But we miss a clear perception that such abuses are always 
and everywhere the consequences of slavery ; and the out- 
spoken abolitionism of the naturalists alluded to by Aristotle 
does not seem to have been imitated by their successors in 
later ages,* The most one can say is that the fiction of 
or i^nal liberty was imported into Roman jurisprudence 
through <-Vif> :^gf*nry r^f c^fr^frjnwy^rc and heTped'toTamiliarise 
men's minds with the idea of univerSaPemanCfpation before 
political and economical conditions permitted it to be made a 


It is probable that the philanthropic tendencies of the 
Stoics were, to a great extent, neutralised by the extreme 

r individualism which formed the reverse side of their philo- 
sophical character ; and also by what may be called the 
subjective idealism of their ethics. According to their 
principles, no one can really do good to any one else, since 
what does not depend on my will is not a good to me. The 
altruistic virtues are valuable, not as sources of beneficent 
action, but as manifestations of benevolent sentiment. Thus, 
to set on foot comprehensive schemes for the relief of human 
suffering seemed no part of the Stoic'-s business. And the 
abolition of slavery, even had it been practicable, would have 
seemed rather superfluous to one who held that true freedom 
is a mental condition within the reach of all who desire it,* 
while the richest and most powerful may be, and for the most 
part actually are, without it. Moreover, at the time when 

* ' Homo sacra res homini jam per lusum et jocum occiditur .... satisque 
spectacoli ex homine mors est.* — Seneca, Epp.^ xcv., 33. *Servi sunt? Immo 
homines. Servi sunt ? Immo contubemales. Servi sunt ? Immo humiles amici. 
Servisunt? Immo conservi.' — Ibid,^ xlvii., I. Compare the treatise De Ird^ 


' Seneca once lets falls the words, * fort una aequo jure genitos alium alii 
donavit.' — Conspl, od Marciam^ xx, 2 ; but this is the only expression of the kinc 
that we have been able to discover in a Stoic writer of the empire. 

• Seneca, /;//., Ixxx. 


philosophy gained its greatest ascendency, the one paramount 
object of practical statesmen must have been to save civilisa- 
tion from the barbarians, a work to which Marcus Aurelius 
devoted his life. Hence we learn without surprise that the 
legislative efforts of the imperial Stoic were directed to the 
strengthening, rather than to the renovation, of ancient insti- 
tutions.' Certain enactments were, indeed, framed for the 
protection of those who took part in the public games. It 
was provided, with a humanity from which even our own age 
might learn something, that performers on the high rope 
should be ensured against the consequences of an accidental 
fall by having the ground beneath them covered with feather 
beds ; and the gladiators were only allowed to fight with 
blunted weapons.* It must, however, be noted that in speak- 
ing of the combats with wild beasts which were still allowed 
to continue under his reign, Marcus Aurelius dwells only on 
the monotonous character which made them exceedingly'T^ 
wearisome to a cultivated mind; just as a philosophic sports- 
man may sometimes be heard to observe that shooting one 
grouse is very like shooting another ; while elsewhere he 
refers with simple contempt to the poor wretches who, when 
already half-devoured by the wild beasts, begged to be spared 
for another day's amusement.* Whether he knew the whole 
extent of the judicial atrocities practised on his Christian ■ 
subjects may welt be doubted ; but tt maybe equally doubted 
whether, had he known it, he would have interfered to save 
them. Pain and death were no evils ; but it was an evil that 
the law should be defied* 

' 'L'empereui avul po'Jr principe de maialenit les anciennes maiimcs ro- 
mainesdam leur inl^ite.' {}ijttAa'% Mare-Aurilt, p. 54.) The authority given by 
M. Renan is Dion Cass., LXXI., xxxiv. ; where, however, (here is nothing of 
the kind stated. Capitolinus sayi l^Anton. J^il., ctp. xi.) : 'Jiu mtem magis velus 
restituil quam novum fecil.' 

' Renan, p. 30 ; Capitolinus, Aiilim. Phil., xii. ; Dion Cass., E/if., LXXI., 
xxix., 3. 

' Antoninus, Cemm., VI., 46) X., 8. 

I The eipicuions used by M. Ernest Rcnan when treating of this subject are 


Those manifestations of sympathy which are often so 
much more precious than material assistance were also 
repugnant to Stoic principles. On this subject, Epict^tus 
expresses himself with singular harshness. * Do not/ he says, * 
* let yourself be put out by the sufferings of your friends. If 
they are unhappy, it is their own fault. God made them for 
happiness, not for misery. They are grieved at parting from 
you, are they ? Why, then, did they set their affections on 
things outside themselves ? If they suffer for their folly it 
serves them right.' * 

On the other hand, if Stoicism did not make men p itifaL^ 
it made them infinitely forgiving. Various causes conspired 
to bring about this rSiiltr -1^-all are sinners, and if all sins 
are equal, no one has a right, under pretence of superior 
virtue, to cast a stone at his fellows. Such is the point of 
view insisted on with especial emphasis by Seneca, who, more 
perhaps than other philosophers, had reason to be conscious 
how far his practice fell short of his professions.^ But, speak- 
ing generally, pride was the very last fault with which the 
Stoics could be charged. Both in ancient and modern times, 
satirists have been prone to assume that every disciple of the 
Porch, in describing his ideal of a wise man, was actually 
describing himself. No misconception could be more com- 
plete. It is like supposing that, because Christ commanded 
his followers to be perfect even as their heavenly Father is 
perfect, every Christian for that reason thinks himself equal 

somewhat oonflkting. la reference to the penal enactments against Christianity 
under Marcus Aurelius, he first states that, however objectionable they may have 
been, * en tout cas dans l*application la mansuetude du bon empereur fut ^ Tabri 
de tout reprochc ' (Marc-Aurtie, p. 58. ) Further on, however we are told that 
when the martyrs of Lyons appealed to Rome, ' la r^ponse imp^riale arriva en 
fin. EUe ^tait dure et cruclle.' (p. 329.) And subsequently M. Renan makes 
the Emperor personally responsible for the atrocities practised on that occasion by 
observing, *Si Marc Aur^le, au lieu d'employer les lions et la chaise rougie,*&c. 
(p. 345. ) But })erhaps such inconsistencies are to be expected in a writer who 
has elevated the necessity of perpetual self-contradiction into a principle. 

* Ei>ictelus, />/>.f., III., xxiv. 

' Seneca, De Ir&^ I., xiv., 2; Dc ClemctU.^ I., vi., 2. 


to God, Th e wise man of the Stoics had, by their ow n 
nrlfnowlfflfymi'nt.nfveT hfrn rfnliird nf nil ; hr hnH only been 
approached by three characters, Socrates, Antisthenes, and 
Dic^enes.* ' May the sage fall in love ? ' asked a young man 
of Panaetius. 'What the sage may do,' replied the master, ^^ 
'is a question to be considered at some future time. Mean- >-^ 
while, you and I, who are very far from being sages, had I 
better take care not to let ourselves become the slaves of a \ 
degnuling passion.' * 

In the next place, if it is not in the power of others to 
injure us, we have no right to resent anything that they can 
do to us. So argues Epict^us, who began to learn f^ilosophy 
when still a slave, and was carefully prepared by his instructor, 
Musonius, to bear without repining whatever outrages his 
master might choose to inflict on him. Finally, to those who 
urged that they might justly blame the evil intentions of their 
as.sailants, Marcus Aurclius could reply that even this was too 
presumptuous, that all men did what they thought right, and 
that the motives of none could be adequately judged except 
by himself.* And all the Stoics found a common ground for 
patience in their optimistic fatalism, in the doctrine that what- 
ever happens is both necessarily determined, and determined 
by absolute goodness combined with infallible wisdom.* 

Doctrines like these, if consistently carried out, would have 
/ utterly destroyed so much of morality as depends on the social 
(sanction; while, by inculcating the abs olute indifference of 

' Diog., VII., 01. Txti^e.^ {Gtich. d. Elhik, Bonn, i88a, I,, 174) holds, in 
opposition to Zeller, that originally cveiy Stoic, ai sach, was assmncd to be a 
perfect sage, and that the question was only whethci the ideal had ever been 
realised outside the school. This, however, goes against the cridence of Plutarch, 
who tells as {De SttU. Rtpug., xxiti., 5) that Chrysippus neither professed to be 
good himself not supposed that any of his fiiends or tcachcis or dudplcs was 

* Seneca, Efp., cxvi., 4. It must be borne in mind that Panaetius was 
speaking at > time when Ibe object of passion would at best be either aoolhei 
man's wife or a member of ihe demi nuindi. 

• Csmm., VII., 36} XII., 16. 

' See especially Antoninus, Cenini., IX., 1. 


external actions, they might ultimately have paralysed the 
individual conscience itself. But the Stoics were not con- 
sistent. Unlike some modem moralists, who are ready to 
forgive every injury so long as they are not themselves the 
victims, our philosophers were unsparing in their denunciations 
of wrong-doing ; and it is very largely to their indignant pro- 
tests that we are indebted for our knowledge of the corruption 
prevalent in Roman society under the Empire. It may even 
be contended that, in this respect, our judgment has been un- 
fairly biassed. The picture drawn by the Stoics, or by writers 
trained under their influence, seems to have been too heavily 
charged with shadow ; and but for the archaeological evidence 
we should not have known how much genuine human affection 
lay concealed in those lower social strata whose records can 
only be studied on their tombs.' It was among these classes 
that Christianity found the readiest acceptance, simply because 
it gave a supernatural sanction to habits and sentiments already 
made familiar by the spontaneous tendencies of an unwarlike 


Before parting with Stoicism we have to sa}' a few words 
on the rnrtnphyhibi*! fuiiiiiliiti^n of the whole system — the 

theory of Nature rfmg[H<^ fgyi j ^f ^afmnml jiiiHnn w # < ^ uppn iH- It 

jN api) 

has been snown that the ultimate object of this, as of many 
other ethical theories, both ancient and modern, was to recon- 
cile the instincts of individual self-preservation with virtue, 
which is the instinct of self-preservation in an entire com- 
munity. The Stoics identified both impulses by declaring 
that virtue is the sole good of the individual no less than the 
supreme interest of the whole ; thus involving themselves in 
an insoluble contradiction. For, from their nomin^Iistic point 
of view, the good of the whole can be nothing but an aggre- 

' Fricdlander, Romiscki SiUengesfkickUf I., 463 ; Duruy, Histoire cUs Romains^ 
v., 349 ff., 370 ; cf. Gaston Boissier^ La Religion Roniaine^ II., 152 ff., 212 ff. 


gate of particular goods, or else a means for their attainment ; 
and in either case the happiness of the individual has to be 
accounted for apart from his duty. And an analysis of the 
special virtues and vices would equally have forced them back 
on the assumption, which they persistently repudiated, that 
individual existence and pleasure arc intrinsically good, and 
their opposites intrinsically evil. To prove their fundamental 
paradox — the non-existence of individual as distinguished from 
social interest — the Stoics employed the analogy of an organ- 
ised body where the good of the parts unquestionably sub- 
serves the good of the whole ; ' and the object of their teleology 
was to show that the universe and, by implication, the human 
race, were properly to be viewed in that light. The acknow- 
ledged adaptation of life to its environment furnished some 
plausible arguments in support of their thesis ; and the defi< 
ciencics were made good by a revival of the Heracleitean 
theory in which the un ity of Nature was conceived partly as a 
necessary interdependence of opposing forces, partly as a 
perpetuaT transformation of every substance into every 
- otherT- Universal history also tended to confirm the same 
principle in its application to the human race. The Mace- 
donian, and still more the Roman empire, brought the idea of 
a world-wide community living under the same laws ever 
nearer to its realisation ; the decay of the old religion and the 
old civic patriotism set free a vast fund of altruism which now 
took the form of simple philanthropy ; while a rank growth 
of immorality offered ever new opportunities for an indignant 
protest against senseless luxury and inhuman vice. This last 
circumstance, however, was not allowed to prejudice the 
optimism of the system ; for the fertile physics of Heracleitus 
suggested a method by which moral evil could be interpreted 
as a necessary concomitant of good, a material for the per- 
petual exercise and illustration of virtuous deeds.' 

'Jlna ideals most distinctly eiprened by Maivns Aorcliiu, II., I, and VII., 13. 
^r-"^ For the authorities, see Zdlet, p. 176. 


Yet, if the conception of unity was gaining ground, the 
conceptions of purpose and vitality must have been growing 
weaker as the triumph of brute force prolonged itself without 
limit or hope of redress. Hence Stoicism in its later form 
shows a tendency to dissociate the dynamism of Heracleitui 
from the teleology of Socrates, and to lean on the former 
rather than on the latter for support. One symptom of this 
changed attitude is a blind worship of power for its own sake. 
We find the renunciation of pleasure and the defiance of pain 
appreciated more from an aesthetic than from an ethical point 
of view ; they are exalted almost in the spirit of a Red Indian, 
not as means to higher ends, but as manifestations of uncon- 
querable strength ; and sometimes the highest sanction of 
duty takes the form of a morbid craving for applause, as if 
the universe were an amphitheatre and life a gladiatorial 

The noble spirit of Marcus Aurelius was, indeed, proof 
against such temptations : and he had far more to dread than 
to hope from the unlightened voice of public opinion ; but to 
him also, * standing between two eternities,* Nature presented 
herself chiefly under the aspect of an overwhelming and ab- 
sorbing Power. Pleasure is not so much dangerous as worth- 
less, weak, and evanescent Selfishness, pride, anger, and dis- 
content will soon be swept into abysmal gulfs of oblivion by 
the roaring cataract of change. Universal history is one long 
monotonous procession of phantasms passing over the scene 
into death and utter night. In one short life we may see all 
that ever was, or is, or is to be ; the same pageant has already 
been and shall be repeated an infinite number of times. 
Nothing endures but the process of unending renovation : we 
must die that the world may be ever young. Death itself y^ 
only reunites us with the absolute All whence we come, in 
which we move, and whither we return.* But the imperial 

* Sec especially Seneca, -£//., Ixiv., and the whole treatise De PrffvidentiA. 
> See, inter alia^ Comm.^ IV., 3; VI., 15, 37; VII., 21,49; XL, i; XII., 
7, 21, 23, 24, 26, 31, 32. 



sage makes no attempt to explain why we should ever have 
separated ourselves from it in thought ; or why one life should 
be better worth living than another in the universal vanity of 

The physics of Stoicism was, in truth, the scaffolding 
rather thanthe Foundati on fir i^" rt'hi"nl ni i pirm^niirtiu-' Thr 
real foundation was the necessity of social existence, formulated 
under the influence of a logical exclu siveness first introduced 
by Parmenides, and inherited from his teaching by every 
system of philosophy in turn. Yet there is no doubt that 
Stoic morality was considerably strengthened and steadied 
by the support it found in conceptions derived from a different 
order of speculations ; so much so that at last it grew to 
conscious independence of that support. 

Marcus Aurelius, a constant student of Lucretius, seems 
to have had occasional misgivings with respect to the certainty 
of his own creed ; but they never extended to his practical-^ 
beliefs. He was determined that, whatever might be the 
origin of this world, his relation to it should be still the same. 
Though things be purposeless, act not thou without a pur-' 

If the universe is an ungovemed chaos, be content 
that in that wild torrent thou hast a governing reason within 
thyself.' ' 

■ CVnm., XI., 28, xii. 14. A modem disciple of Aorelius has expressed 
self to tbe same purpose in slightly difTercnt language : — 

' Long fed on bonadless hopes, O race of man. 

How angrily thou spum'st all simpler fare I 

" Chrisi, " some one says, " was human as we are. 

No judge eyes us from heaven our sin to scan ; 

We live no more, when we have done odt span." 

" Well, then, for Christ," thou aniwerest, " who can care ? 

From un, which Heaven records not, why forbear? 

IJve we, like brutes, our life without a plan I " 

So answerest thou ; bat why not rather say : 

" Hath man no second life ? — filch Ihtt mu high ! 

Sils there no judge in Heaven, our sin to see ? 

Afort strictly, Ihtn, the itrward jtidgi oity I 

Was Christ a man like us 1—Ah I lit ui try 

1/ wt then, 109, can bt such mat as hi I" ' 
—The Better Part, by Mr. Matthew Arnold. The italics are in the original. 


There seems, then, good reason for believing that the law / 
of duty, after being divorced from mythology, and seriously/ 
compromised by its association, even among the Stoics them-l 
selves, with our egoistic instincts, gained an entirely new! 
authority when placed, at least in appearance, under the I . 
sanction of a power whose commands did not even admit ^^r\ 
being disobeyed. And the question spontaneously presents 
itself whether we, after getting rid of the old errors and con- 
fusions, may profitably employ the same method in defence 
of the same convictions, whether the ancient alliance between 
fact and right can be reorganised on a basis of scientific 

A great reformer of the last generation, finding that the 
idea of NaluiL rrac constantly put forward to thwart his most 
cherished schemes, prepared a mine for its destruction which 
was only exploded after his death. Seldom has so powerful 
a charge of logical dynamite been collected within so small a^\ 
space as in Mill's famous Essay on Nature. But the imme- 
diate effect waT^ess than might haVeHiJcen anticipated, 
because the attack was supposed to be directed against 
religion, whereas it was only aimed at an abstract metaphysical 
dogma, not necessarily connected with any theological beliefs, 
and held by many who have discarded all such beliefs. A 
stronger impression was, perhaps, produced by the nearly 
simultaneous declaration of Sir W. Gull — in reference to the 
supposed vis medicatrix naturae — that, in cases of disease, 
* what Nature wants is to put the man in his coffin.' The 
new school of political economists have also done much to 
show that legislative interference with the ' natural laws ' of 
wealth need by no means be so generally mischievous as wasA 
once supposed. And the doctrine of Evolution, besides 
breaking down the old distinctions between Nature and MafT;"; 
has represented the former as essentially variable, and there- 
fore, to that extent, incapable of affording a fixed standard-^ 
for moral action. It is, however, from this school that a new 


attempt to rehabilitate th e old physical ethics has lately 
proceeded. The object of Mr. Herbert Spencer*s Data of 
Ethics is, among other points, to prove that a true morality 
represents the ultimate stage of evolution, and reproduces in 
ial life that p ermanent er^^l^' j jhrat: l^n towards which every 
form of evolution constantly tends. And Mr. Spencer also 
shows how evolution is bringing about a state of things in 
which the self-rejarding shall be finally harmonised with the 
social impulses. Now, it will be readily admitted that 
morality is a product of evolution in this sense that it is a 
gradual formation, that it is the product of many converging 
conditions, and that it progresses according to a certain 
method. But that the same method is observed through all 
orders of evolution seems less evident. For instance, in the 
formation, first of the solar system, and then of the earth's 
crust, there is a continual loss of force, while in the develop- 
ment of organic life there is as continual a gain ; and on 
arriving at subjective phenomena, we are met by facts which, 
in the present state of our knowledge, cannot advantageousl/^^^ 
be expressed in terms of force and matter at all. Even if we 
do not agree with G^orgfi.Saildin thi nking that self-sacrifice is 
the only virtue, we must admit that the possiBility, at least, of 
its being sometimes demanded is inseparable from the idea of 
duty. But self-sacrifice cannot be conceived without conscious- 
ness ; which is equivalent to saying that it involves other than 
mechanical notions. Thus we are confronted by the standing 
difficulty of all evolutionary theories, and on a point where 
that difficulty is peculiarly sensible. Nor is this an objection 
to be got rid of by the argument that it applies to all philo- 
sophical systems alike. To an idealist, the dependence of 
^Vflaorality on consciousness is a practical confirmation of his 
professed principles. Holding that the universal forms of 
experience are the conditions under which an object is 
apprehended, rather than modifications imposed by an un- 
knowable object on an unknowable subject, and that these 



forms are common to all intelligent beings, he holds also that . 
the perception of duty is the widening of our individual selvesT^ 
into that universal self which is the subjective side of all 

Again, whatever harmony evolution may introduce into 
our conceptions, whatever hopes it may encourage with regard 
to the future of our race, one does not see precisely whatt* 
sanction it gives to morality at present — that is to say, how 
it makes self-sacrifice easier than before. Because certain 
forces have been unconsciously working towards a certain end 
through ages past, why should I consciously work towards the 
same end ? If the perfection of humanity is predetermined, 
my conduct cannot prevent its consummation ; if it in any 
way depends on me, the question returns, why should my 
particular interests be sacrificed to it ? The man who does 
not already love his contemporaries whom he has seen is 
unlikely to love them the more for the sake of a remote-^^ 
posterity whom he will never see at all. Finally, it must be 
remembered that evolution is only half the cosmic process ; it 
is partially conditioned at every stage by dissolution, to which 
in the long run it must entirely give way ; and if, as Mr. 
Spencer observes, evolution is the more interesting of the two,* 
this preference is itself due to the Hfeward tendency of our 
thoughts ; in other words, to those moral sentiments which it 
is sought to base on what, abstractedly considered, has all 
along been a creation of their own. 

The idea of Nature, or of the universe, or of humaKA. 
history as a whole — but for its evil associations with fanaticism ^ 
and superstition, we should gladly say the belief in God — is 
/\^ one the ethical value of which can be more easily felt than 
analysed. We do not agree with the most brilliant of the 
English Positivists in restricting its influence to the aesthetic 
emotions." The elevating influence of these should be fully 

' First Principles, § 177. . 

• See an article entitled 'Pantheism and Cosmic Emotion,* by Frederick j^ 
Harrison, in the Nineteenth Century for Au^ist, 1 88 1. 


recognised ; but the place due to more severely intellectual 
pursuits in moral training is greater far. Whatever studies 
tend to withdraw us from t hp \ ^* Xy r i rrli nf ni i r pirffim l' — t 
interests and pleasures, are indirectly favourable to the pre- 
ponderance of social over selfish impulses ; and the service 
thus rendered is amply repaid, since these very studies 
necessitate for their continuance a large expenditure of moral 
enei^. It might even be contended that the influence of 
speculation on practice is determined by the previous influence . 
of practice on speculation. Physical laws act as an armature*"^ 
to the law of duty, extending and perpetuating its grasp on 
the minds of men ; but it was through the magnetism of duty 
that their confused currents were flrst drawn into parallelism 
and harmony with its attraction. We have just seen how, 
from this point of view, the interpretation of evolution by con- 
science might be substituted for the interpretation of conscience — ^ 
by evolution. Yet those who base morality on religion, or give 
faith precedence over works, have discerned with a sure 
though dim instinct the dependence of noble and far-stghted — h~ 
action on some paramount intellectual initiative and control ; 
in other words, the highest ethical ideals are conditioned by p ( 
the highest philosophical generalisations. Before the Greeks 
could think of each man as a citizen of the world, and as bound 
to all other rational beings by virtue of a common origin and ^ 
a common abode, it was first necessary that they should think-^ 
of the world itself as an orderly and comprehensive whole. 
And what was once a creative, still continues to work as an 
educating force. Our aspirations towards agreement with 
ourselves and with humanity as a whole are strengthened by 
the contemplation of that supreme unity which, even if it be 
but the glorified reflection of our individual or generic identity, 
still remains the idea in and through which those lesser unities 
were first completely realised — the idea which has originated 
all man's most fruitful faiths, and will at last absorb them all. 
Meanwhile our highest devotion can hardly find more fitting 


utterance than in the prayer which once rose to a Stoic's 
lips : — 

But Jove all-bounteous ! who, in clouds 

enwrapt, the lightning wieldest ; 
Ma/st Thou from baneful Ignorance 

the race of men deliver ! 
This, Father ! scatter from the soul, 

and grant that we the wisdom 
May reach, in confidence of which, 

Thou justly guidest all things ; 
That we, by Thee in honour set, 

with honour may repay Thee, 
Raising to all thy works a hymn 

perpetual ; as besecmeth 
A mortal soul : since neither man 

nor god has higher glory 
Than rightfully to celebrate 

Eternal Law all-ruling.^ 

' From the Hymn of Cleanthes, translated by Mr. Francis Newman in The 
Soulf p. 73, fifth edition. 





Among the systems of ancient philosophy, Epicureanism is 
remarkable for the completeness with which its doctrines 
were worked out by their first author, and for the fidelity with 
which they were handed down to the latest generation of his 
disciples. For a period of more than five hundred years, 
nothing was added to, and nothing was taken away from, the 
original teaching of Epicurus. In this, as in other respects, 
it offers a striking contrast to the system which we last 
reviewed. In our sketch of the Stoic philosophy, we had to 
notice the continual process of development through which it 
passed, from its commencement to its close. There is a 
marked difference between the earlier and the later heads 
of the school at Athens — between these, as a class, and the 
Stoics of the Roman empire — and, finally, even between two 
Stoics who stood so near to one another as Epict&tus and 
Marcus Aurelius. This contrast cannot be due to external 
circumstances, for the two systems were exactly coeval, and 
were exposed, during their whole lifetime, to the action of 
precisely the same environment. The cause must be sought 
for in the character of the philosophies themselves, and of the 
minds which were naturally most amenable to their respective 
influence. Stoicism retained enough of the Socratic spirit to 
foster a love of enquir}' for its own sake, and an indisposition 
to accept any authority without a searching examination of 
its claims to obedience or respect. The learner was submitted 



to a thorough training in dialectics ; while the ideal of life set 
before him was not a state of rest, but of intense and unre- 
mitting toil Whatever particular conclusions he might carry- 
away with him from the class-room were insignificant in 
comparison with the principle that he must be prepared to 
demonstrate them for himself with that self-assurance happily 
likened by Zeno to the feeling experienced when the clenched 
fist is held within the grasp of the other hand. Epicurus, on 
the contrary, did not encourage independent thought among 
his disciples ; nor, with one exception hereafter to be noticed, 
did his teaching ever attract any very original or powerful 
intellect From the first a standard of orthodoxy was 
erected ; and, to facilitate their retention, the leading tenets 
of the school were drawn up in a series of articles which its 
adherents were advised to learn by heart. Hence, as Mr. 
Wallace observes,* while the other chief sects among which 
philosophy was divided — the Academicians, the Peripatetics, 
and the Stoics — drew their appellation, not from their first 
founder, but from the locality where his lectures had been 
delivered, the Epicureans alone continued to bear the name 
of a master whom they regarded with religious veneration. 
Hence, also, we must add with Zeller,^ and notwithstanding 
the doubt expressed by Mr. Wallace,' on the subject, that 6ur 
acquaintance with the system so faithfully adhered to may be 
regarded as exceptionally full and accurate. The excerpts 
from Epicurus himself, preserved by Diogenes Laertius, the 
poem of Lucretius, the criticisms of Cicero, Plutarch, and 
others, and the fragments of Epicurean literature recovered 
from the Herculanean papyri, agree so well where they cover 
the same ground, that they may be fairly trusted to supple- 
ment each other's deficiencies ; and a further confirmation, if 
any was needed, is obtained by consulting the older sources, 
whence Epicurus borrowed most of his philosophy. 

• Epicureanismy p. I. ^ Ph, d. Gr.., III., a, p. 380. 

* Op, cit.t p. 72. 


It may safely be assumed that the prejudices once enter- 
tained against Epicureanism are now extinct. Whatever may 
have been the speculative opinions of its founder, he had as 
good a right to them as the Apostles had to theirs ; nor did 
he stand further aloof from the popular religion of any age 
than Aristotle, who has generally been in high favour with 
theologians. His practical teaching was directed towards the 
constant inculcation of virtue ; nor was it belied by the 
conduct either of himself or of his disciples, even judged by 
the standard of the schools to which they were most opposed. 
And some of his physical theories, once rejected as self- 
evidently absurd, are now proved to be in harmony with the 
sober conclusions of modem science. At any rate, it is not 
in this quarter, as our readers will doubtless have already 
perceived, that the old prejudices, if they still exist, are likely 
to find an echo. Just now, indeed, the danger is not that 
Epicurus should be depreciated, but that his merits should 
obtain far more than their proper meed of recognition. It 
seems to be forgotten that what was best in his physics he 
borrowed from others, and that what he added was of less 
than no value ; that he was ignorant or careless of demon- 
strated truths ; that his avowed principles of belief were in- 
consistent with any truth rising above the level of vulgar 
apprehension ; and finally, that in his system scientific 
interests were utterly subordinated to practical interests. 

In the face of such facts, to say, as Mr. Froude does, that 
Epicureanism was * the creed of the men of science ' in the 
time of Julius Caesar ' — an assertion directly contradicted by 
Lange * — is perhaps only of a piece with Mr. Froude's usual 
inaccuracy when writing about ancient history; but such 
declarations as that of Mr. Frederic Pollock, that the Epicu- 
rean system 'was a genuine attempt at a scientific explanation 
of the world ; and was in its day the solitary protest against 
the contempt of physics which prevailed in the other post- 

» Short Studies y III., p. 246. * Gesck, des Mater, ^ I., p. 93. 



Aristotelian schools;'* of Prof. Trezza, that the Epicurean 
MChool ' summed up in itself the most scientific elements of 
Greek antiquity ; ' * of Dr. Woltjer, that * with respect to the 
laws and principles of science, the Epicureans came nearest 
of all the ancients to the science of our own time ; ' ' and 
finally, of M. Ernest Renan, that Epicureanism was * the great 
scientific school of antiquity/ * are absolutely amazing. The 
eminent French critic just quoted has elsewhere observed, 
with perfect justice, that the scientific spirit is the negation of 
the supernatural ; and perhaps he argues that the negation of 
the supernatural must, reciprocally, be the scientific spirit. 
But this is only true when such a negation is arrived at in- 
ductively, after a disinterested survey of the facts. Epicurus 
started with the denial of supernatural interference as a 
practical postulate, and then hunted about for whatever 
explanations of natural phenomena would suit his foregone 
conclusion. Moreover, an enquirer really animated by the 
scientific spirit studies the facts for their own sake ; he 
studies them as they actually are, not resting content with 
alternative explanations ; and he studies them to the fullest 
extent of which his powers are capable. Epicurus, on the 
contrary, declares that physics would not be worth attending 
to if the mind could be set free from religious terrors in any 
other manner ; • he will not let himself be tied down to any 
one theory if there are others equally inconsistent with divine 
agency to be had ; * and when his demands in this respect 
are satisfied, that is, when the appearances vulgarly ascribed 
to supernatural causation have been provided with natural 
causes, he leaves off. 

To get rid of superstitious beliefs was, no doubt, a highly 
meritorious achievement, but it had been far more effectually 

* Pollock's Spifwta^ p. 64. 

» Epituro e P Epiairisnio^ Florence, 1877, p. 29. 

• I.ucretii Philosophia cum Jontibus comparatay Groningen, 1877, p. 137. 

• Diahguts Philosophiques^ p. 54, quoted by Woltjer, loc. tit, 

* Diog. L., X., 142. • /^k/., 113. 


performed by the great pre-Socratic thinkers, Heracleitus, 
Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus. These men or 
their followers had, besides, got hold of a most important 
principle — the vital principle of all science — which was the 
reign of law, the universality and indefeasibility of physical 
causation. Now, Epicurus expressly refused to accept such 
a doctrine, declaring that it was even worse than believing in 
the gods, since they could be propitiated, whereas fate could 
not.* Again, Greek physical philosophy, under the guidance 
of Plato, had been tending more and more to seek for its 
foundation in mathematics. Mathematical reasoning was 
seen to be the type of all demonstration ; and the best hopes 
of progress were staked on the extension of mathematical 
methods to every field of enquiry in turn. How much might 
be done by following up this clue was quickly seen not only 
in the triumphs of geometry, but in the brilliant astronomical 
discoveries by which the shape of the earth, the phases of the 
moon, and the cause of eclipses were finally cleared up and 
placed altogether outside the sphere of conjecture. Nor was 
a knowledge of these truths confined to specialists : they were 
familiar alike to the older Academy, to the Peripatetic, and 
to the Stoic schools ; so that, with the exception of those who 
doubted every proposition, we may assume them to have been 
then, as now, the common property of all educated men. 
Epicurus, on the other hand, seems to have known nothing of 
mathematics, or only enough to dispute their validity, for we 
are told that his disciple Polyaenus, who had previously been 
eminent in that department, was persuaded, on joining the 
school, to reject the whole of geometry as untrue ; * while, in 
astronomy, he pronounced the heavenly bodies to be no larger 
than they appear to our senses, denied the existence of Anti- 
podes, and put the crudest guesses of early philosophy on the 
same footing with the best-authenticated results of later 
observation. It is no wonder, then, that during the whole 

> Diog. L., X., 134. ' Cicero, Acad.^ II., xxxiii., 106. 


continuance of his school no man of science ever accepted its 
teaching, with the single exception of Asclepiades, who was 
perhaps a Democritean rather than a disciple of the Garden, 
and who, at any rate, as a physiologist, would not be brought 
into contact with its more flagrant absurdities. 

In order to understand how so vigorous an intellect could 
go so wildly astray, we must glance at his personal history* 
and at the manner in which his system seems to have been 
gradually built up. 



Epicurus was bom 341 B.C., about the same time as Zeno 
the Stoic. Unlike all the other philosophers of his age, he 
was of Athenian parentage ; that is to say, he belonged to a 
race of exclusively practical tendencies, and marked by a 
singular inaptitude or distaste for physical enquiries. His 
father, a poor colonist in Samos, was, apparently, not able to 
give him a very regular education. At eighteen he was sent 
to Athens, but was shortly afterwards obliged to rejoin his 
family, who were driven from Samos in 322, along with the 
other Athenian settlers, by a political revolution, and had taken 
refuge in Colophon, on the Asiatic coast. In the course of 
his wanderings, the future philosopher came across some 
public lecturers, who seem to have instructed him in the 
physics of Democritus, and perhaps also in the scepticism of 
Pyrrho ; but of such a steady discipline as Plato passed 
through during his ten years* intercourse with Socrates, Aris- 
totle during his twenty years' studies under Plato, and Zeno 
during his similarly protracted attendance at the various 
schools of Athens, there is no trace whatever. Epicurus 
always described himself as self-taught, meaning that his 
knowledge had been acquired by reading instead of by 
listening ; and we find in him the advantages as well as the 
defects common to self-taught men in all ages — considerable 
freshness and freedom from scholastic prejudices, along with a 


certain narrowness of sympathies, incompleteness of informa- 
tion, inaptitude for abstract reasoning, and last, but not least, an 
enormous opinion of his own abilities, joined to an overweening 
contempt for those with whose opinions he did not c^ree. 
After teaching for some time in Mitylfinfi, Epicurus established 
himself as the head of a school in Athens, where he bought 
a house and garden. In the latter he lectured and gathered 
round him a band of devoted friends, among whom women 
were included, and who were wont to assemble for purposes 
of social recreation not less than of philosophic discipline. 
Just before his death, which occurred in the year 270, he 
declared in a letter to his friend and destined successor Her- 
marchus, that the recollection of his philosophical achieve- 
ments had been such a source of pleasure as to overcome the 
agonies of disease, and to make the last day the happiest of 
his life." For the rest, Epicurus secluded himself, on prin- 
ciple, from the world, and few echoes of his teaching seem to 
have passed beyond the circle of his immediate adherents. 
Thus, whatever opportunities might otherwise have offered 
themselves of profiting by adverse criticism were completely 

Epicureanism was essentially a practical philosophy. The 
physical, theological, and logical portions of the system were 
reasoned out with exclusive reference to its ethical end, and 
their absolute subordination to it was never allowed to be 
Tot^otteiu It is therefore with the moral theory of Epicurus 
that we must begin. 

From the time of Socrates on, the majority of Greeks, had 
they been asked what was the ultimate object of endeavour, 
or what made life worth living, would have answered, pleasure. 
But among professional philosophers such a definition of the 

' Cicero, Dt Fin., II., xiic., 96 ; Diog., X., aj. Cicero translates the wends 
kaXffviffrwr >ir^p, 'memoria ralioDum iovenlorumque noitionim.' They may 
refer merely to the pleasure derived froin intellectual conversation. 

* The aulhorities for the lire ofGpicunis are given by Zeller, of. tit., p. 363 AT, 


supreme good met with little favour. Seeing very clearly 
that the standard of conduct must be social, and convinced 
that it must at the same time include the highest good of the 
individual, they found it impossible to believe that the two 
could be reconciled by encouraging each citizen in the un- 
restricted pursuit of his own private g^tifications. Nor had 
such an idea as the greatest happiness of the greatest number 
ever risen above their horizon ; although, from the necessities 
of life itself, they unconsciously assumed it in all their politi- 
cal discussions. The desire for pleasure was, however, too 
powerful a motive to be safely disregarded. Accordingly we 
find Socrates frequently appealing to it when no other argu- 
ment was likely to be equally efficacious, Plato striving to 
make the private satisfaction of his citizens coincide with 
the demands of public duty, and Aristotle maintaining that 
this coincidence must spontaneously result from the consoli- 
dation of moral habits ; the true test of a virtuous disposition 
being, in his opinion, the pleasure which accompanies its 
exercise. One of the companions of Socrates, Aristippus the 
Cyrenaean, a man who had cut himself loose from every 
political and domestic obligation, and who was remarkable for 
the versatility with which he adapted himself to the most 
varying circumstances, went still further. He boldly declared 
that pleasure was the sole end worth seeking, and on the 
strength of this doctrine came forward as the founder of a 
new philosophical school. According to his system, the 
summum bonum was not the total amount of enjoyment 
secured in a lifetime, but the greatest single enjoyment that 
could be secured at any moment ; and this principle was 
associated with an idealistic theory of perception, apparently 
suggested by Protagoras, but carrying his views much further. 
Our knowledge, said Aristippus, is strictly limited to pheno- 
mena; we are conscious of nothing beyond our own feel- 
ings ; and we have no right to assume the existence of any 
objects by which they are caused. The study of natural 


science is therefore waste of time ; our whole enei^es should 
be devoted to the interests of practical life. ' Thus Greek 
humanism seemed to have found its appropriate sequel in 
hedonism, which, as an ethical theory, might quote in its 
favour both the dictates of immediate feeling and the sanction 
of public opinion. 

The Cyrenaic school ended, curiously enough, in pessim- 
ism. The doctrine that pleasure is the only good, and the 
doctrine that life yields a preponderance of painful over 
pleasurable feelings, are severally compatible with a preference 
of existence to non-existence ; when united, as they were by 
Hfigfisias, a Cyrenaic professor, they logically lead to suicide ; 
and we are told that the public authorities of Alexandria were 
obliged to order the discontinuance of his lectures, so great 
was thar effect in promoting self-destruction.* 

Meanwhile, hedonism had been temporarily taken up by 
Plato, and developed into the earliest known form of utilitari- 
anism. In his Protagoras, he endeavours to show that every 
virtue has for its object either to secure a greater pleasure by 
the sacrifice of a lesser pleasure, or to avoid a greater pain by 
the endurance of a lesser pain ; nothing being taken into 
account but the interests of the individual agent concerned. 
Plato afterwards discarded the theory sketched in the Prota- 
goras for a higher and more generous, if less distinctly formu- 
lated morality ; but while ceasing to be a hedonist he remained 
a utilitarian ; that is to say, he insisted on judging actions by 
their tendency to promote the general welfare, not by the 
sentiments which they excite in the mind of a conventional 

The idea of virtue as a hedonistic calculus, abandoned by 
its first originator, and apparently neglected by his immediate 
successors, was taken up by Epicurus ; for that the latter 
borrowed it from Plato seems to be proved by the exact 

' Diog., II., 93. • Zeller, /*■ "'. Gr., II., «, 894- 


resemblance of their language ; * and M. Guyau is quite mis- 
taken when he represents his hero as the founder of utilitarian 
morality.^ It was not enough, however, to appropriate the 
cast-off ideas of Plato ; it was necessary to meet the argu- 
ments by which Plato had been led to think that pleasure was 
not the supreme good, and to doubt whether it was, as such, 
a good at all. The most natural course would have been to 
begin by exhibiting the hedonistic ideal in a more favourable 
light Sensual gratifications, from their remarkable intensity, 
had long been the accepted types of pleasurable feeling, and 
from their animal character, as well as from other obvious 
reasons, had frequently been used to excite a prejudice 
against it. On the other hand, Plato himself, and Aristotle 
still more, had brought into prominence the superiority, simply 
as pleasures, of those intellectual activities which they con- 
sidered to be, even apart from all pleasure, the highest good. 
But Epicurus refused to avail himself of this opportunity for 
effecting a compromise with the opposite school, boldly 
declaring that he for his part could not conceive any pleasures 
apart from those received through the five senses, among 
which he, characteristically enough, included aesthetic enjoy- 
ments. The obvious significance of his words has been 
explained away, and they have been asserted to contain only 
the very harmless proposition that our animal nature is the 
basis, the condition, of our spiritual nature.' But, if this were 
the true explanation, it would be possible to point out what 
other pleasures were recognised by Epicurus. These, if they 
existed at all, must have belonged to the mind as such. 
Now, we have it on Cicero's authority that, while admitting 
the existence of mental feelings, both pleasurable and painful, 
he reduced them to an extension and reflection of bodily feel- 
ings, mental happiness properly consisting in the assurance of 

' Cf. Plato, Protag.^ 353, C, ff., with Epicurus in the letter to Menoeceus, 
quoted by Diog., X., 129. 
» Morale (TJ^pioire, p. 20. 
■ Wallace*s iifncurtanism^ p. 154; Guyau, Morale d* Epicure y p. 34. 


prolonged and painless sensual gratification. This is some- 
thing very different from saying that the highest spiritual 
enjoyments are conditioned by the healthy activity of the 
bodily organs, or that they cannot be appreciated if the ani- 
mal appetites are starved. It amounts to saying that there 
are no specific and positive pleasures apart from the five senses 
as exercised either in reality or in imagination.^ And even 
without the evidence of Cicero, we can see that some such 
conclusion necessarily followed from the principles elsewhere 
laid down by Epicurus. To a Greek, the mental pleasures, 
par excellence^ were those derived from friendship and from 
intellectual activity. But our philosopher, while warmly 
panegyrising friendship, recommends it not for the direct 
pleasure which it affords, but for the pain and danger 
which it prevents ; * while his restriction of scientific studies 
to the office of dispelling superstitious fears seems meant 
for a direct protest against Aristotle's opinion, that the 
highest pleasure is derived from those studies. Equally 
significant is his outspoken contempt for literary culture.* In 
this respect, he offers a marked contrast to Aristippus, who, 
when asked by some one what good his son would get by 
education, answered, * This much, at least, that when he is at 
the play he will not sit like a stone upon a stone,' * the custom- 
ary attitude, it would seem, of an ordinary Athenian auditor. 
It appears, then, that the popular identification of an 
Epicurean with a sensualist has something to say in its favour. 
Nevertheless, we have no reason to think that Epicurus was 
anything but perfectly sincere when he repudiated the charge 
of being a mere sensualist^ But the impulse which lifted him 
above sensualism was not derived from his own original 
philosophy. It was due to the inspiration of Plato ; and 
nothing testifies more to Plato's moral greatness than that the 

* Cicero, Tusc, Disput,^ III., xviii., 41 ; Zeller, III., a, p. 444. 
« Zeller, p. 460. • IHd.y p. 581. 

« Diog., II., 72. » Diog., X., 131. 


doctrine most opposed to his own idealism should have "been 
raised from the dust by the example of its flight. We pro- 
ceed to show how the peculiar form assumed by Epicureanism 
was determined by the pressure brought to bear on its original 
germ two generations before. 

It had been urged against hedonism that pleasure is a 
process, a movement ; whereas the supreme good must be a 
completed product — an end in which we can rest. Against 
sensual enjoyments in particular, it had been urged that they 
are caused by the satisfaction of appetite, and, as such, must 
result in a mere negative condition, marking the zero point of 
pleasurable sentiency. Finally, much stress had been laid on 
the anti-social and suicidal consequences of that selfish grasp- 
ing at power to which habits of unlimited self-indulgence must 
infallibly lead. The form given to hedonism by Epicurus is a 
reaction against these criticisms, a modification imposed on it 
for the purpose of evading their force. He seems to admit 
that bodily satisfaction is rather the removal of a want, and 
consequently of a pain, than a source of positive pleasure. 
But the resulting condition of liberation from uneasiness is, 
according to him, all that we can desire ; and by extending 
the same principle to every other good, he indirectly brings 
back the mental felicity which at first sight his system threat- 
ened either to exclude or to reduce to a mere shadow of 
sensual enjoyment. For, in calculating the elements of un- 
happiness, we have to deal, not only with present discomfort, 
but also, and to a far greater extent, with the apprehension of 
future evil. We dread the loss of worldly goods, of friends, 
of reputation, of life itself We are continually exposed to 
pain, both from violence and from disease. We are haunted 
by visions of divine vengeance, both here and hereafter. To 
get rid of all such terrors, to possess our souls in peace, is the 
highest good — a permanent, as distinguished from a transient 
state of consciousness — and the proper business of philosophy 
is to show us how that consummation may be attained. 


Thus we are brought back to that blissful self-contemplation 
of mind which Aristotle had already declared to be the goal 
of all endeavour and the sole happiness of God. 

But Epicurus could only borrow the leading principle of 
his opponents at the expense of an enormous inconsistency. 
It was long ago pointed out by the Academicians — and the 
objection has never been answered — that pleasure and mere 
painlessness cannot both be the highest good, although the one 
may be an indispensable condition of the other. To confound 
the means with the end was, indeed, a common fault of Greek 
philosophy ; and the Stoics also were guilty of it when they 
defmed self-preservation to be the natural object of every 
creature, and yet attached a higher value to the instruments 
than to the aims of that activity. In Epicureanism, how- 
ever, the change of front was more open, and was attempted 
under the eyes of acute and vigilant enemies. If the total 
absence of pain involves a pleasurable state of consciousness, 
we have a right to ask for a definition or description of it, and 
this, so far as can be made out, our philosopher never pre- 
tended to supply. Of course, a modern psychologist can 
point out that the functions of respiration, circulation, secre- 
tion, and absorption are constantly going on, and that, in their 
normal activity, they give rise to a vast sum of pleasurable con- 
sciousness, which far more than makes up in volume for what 
it wants in acuteness. But, whatever his recent interpreters 
may say,* Epicurus nowhere alludes to this diffused feeling of 
vitality ; had he recognised it, his enumeration of the positive 
sensations, apart from which the good is inconceivable, would 
have seemed as incomplete to him as it does to us. If, on the 
other hand, the complete removal of pain introduces us to a 
state of consciousness, which, without being positively pleasur- 
able, has a positive value of some kind, we ought to be told 
wherein it differs from the ideals of the spiritualist school ; 

* Guyau, Morale d Epicure^ p. 55. 


whil/?, if It has no positive value at all, we ought equally to be 
toM wherein it differs from the unconsciousness of sleep or of 


We have now to see how, granting Epicurus his conception 
of painlepsness as the supreme good, he proceeds to evolve 
from it a whole ethical, theological, and physical system. For 
reasons already mentioned, the ethical development must be 
studied first. We shall therefore begin with an analysis of 
the particular virtues. Temperance, as the great self-regard- 
ing duty, obviously takes precedence of the others. In deal- 
ing with this branch of his subject, there was nothing to 
prevent Epicurus from profiting by the labours of his pre- 
decessors, and more especially of the naturalistic school from 
Prodicus down. So far as moderation is concerned, there 
need be little difference between a theory of conduct based 
exclusively on the interests of the individual, and a theory 
which regards him chiefly as a portion of some larger whole. 
Accordingly, we find that our philosopher, in his praises of 
frugality, closely approximated to the Cynic and Stoic 
standards — so much so, indeed, that his expressions on the 
subject are repeatedly quoted by Seneca as the best that could 
be found. Perhaps the Roman moralist valued them less for 
their own sake than as being, to some extent, the admissions 
of an opponent. But, in truth, he was only reclaiming what 
the principles of his own sect had originally inspired. To be 
content with the barest necessaries was a part of that Nature- 
worship against which Greek humanism, with its hedonistic 
and idealistic offshoots, had begun by vigorously protesting. 
Hence many passages in Lucretius express exactly the same 
sentiments as those which are most characteristic of Latin 
literature at a time when it is completely dominated by Stoic 

It is another Cynic trait in Epicurus that he should 


address himself to a much wider audience than the Sophists, 
or even than Socrates and his spiritualistic successors. This 
circumstance suggested a new argument in favour of temper- 
ance. His philosophy being intended for the use of all man- 
kind without exception, was bound to show that happiness is 
within the reach of the poor as well as of the rich ; and this 
could not be did it depend, to any appreciable extent, on 
indulgences which wealth alone can purchase. And even the 
rich will not enjoy complete tranquillity unless they are taught 
that the loss of fortune is not to be feared, since their appetites 
can be easily satisfied without it. Thus the pains arising from 
excess, though doubtless not forgotten, seem to have been 
the least important motive to restraint in his teaching. The 
precepts of Epicurus are only too faithfully followed in the 
southern countries for whose benefit they were first framed. 
It is a matter of common observation, that the extreme 
frugality of the Italians, by leaving them satisfied with the 
barest sufficiency, deprives them of a most valuable spur to 
exertion, and allows a vast fund of possible energy to 
moulder away in listless apathy, or to consume itself more 
rapidly in sordid vice. Moreover, as economists have long 
since pointed out, where the standard of comfort is high, there 
will be a large available margin to fall back upon in periods 
of distress ; while where it is low, the limit of subsistence will 
be always dangerously near. 

The enemies of hedonism had taken a malicious satisfaction 
in identifying it with voluptuous indulgence, and had scorn- 
fully asked if that could be the supreme good and proper 
object of virtuous endeavour, the enjoyment of which was 
habitually associated with secresy and shame. It was, 
perhaps, to screen his system from such reproaches that 
Epicurus went a long way towards the extreme limit of 
asceticism, and hinted at the advisability of complete abstinence 
from that which, although natural, is not necessary to self- 

F 2 


preservation, and involves a serious drain on the vital energies.* 
In this respect, he was not followed by Lucretius, who has no 
objection to the satisfaction of animal instinct, so long as it is 
not accompanied by personal passion.^ Neither the Greek 
moralist nor the Roman poet could foresee what a great part 
in the history of civilisation chivalrous devotion to a beloved 
object was destined to play, although the uses of idealised 
desire had already revealed themselves to Plato's penetrating 

With regard to those more refined aspects of temperance, 
in which it appears as a restraint exercised by reason over 
anger, pity, and grief, Epicurus and his followers refused to go 
all lengths with the Stoics in their effort to extirpate emotion 
altogether. But here they seem not to have proceeded on 
any fixed principle, except that of contradicting the opposite 
school. That the sage will feel pity, and sometimes shed 
tears,* is a sentiment from which few are now likely to dissent ; 
yet the absolute impassivity at which Stoicism aimed seems 
still more consistent with a philosophy whose ideal was com- 
plete exemption from pain ; while in practice it would be 
rather easier to attain than the power of feeling quite happy 
on the rack, which the accomplished Epicurean was expected 
to possess.* 

Next to Temperance comes Fortitude ; and with it the 
difficulties of reconciling Epicureanism with the ordinary 
morality are considerably increased. The old conception of 
this virtue was willingness to face pain and death on behalf of 
a noble cause,* which would be generally understood to mean 
the salvation of family, friends, and fatherland ; and the ultimate 
sanction of such self-devotion was found in the pressure of public 
opinion. Idealistic philosophy, taking still higher ground, not 

> Diog., X., ii8. • Lucret., IV., 1057-66. 

' Diog., X., 117, 118. 

• Cicero, De Fin,^ V., xxvii., 80; Diog., X., 118. 

* That is, if we assume what Aristotle says on the subject to be derived from 
common usage [^Eth, Nu^^ III., ix., p. 11 15, a, 33). 


oaly refused to balance the fear of pain and death against the 
fear of infamy or the hope of applause, but added public opinion 
to the considerations which a good man in the dischai^c of his 
duty would, if necessary, despise. Epicurus also inculcated dis- 
regard for reputation, except when it might lead to incon- 
veniences of a tangible description ; ' but he had nothing 
beyond the calculations of self-interest to put in its place. A 
modern utilitarian is bound to undergo loss and suffering in 
his own person for the prevention of greater loss and suffering 
elsewhere ; an ^oistic hedonist cannot consistently be brave, 
except for the sake of his own future security. The method by 
which Epicurus reconciled interest with courage was to mini- 
mise the importance of whatever injuries could be inflicted by 
external circumstances ; just as in his theory of Temperance 
he had minimised the importance of bodily pleasures. How 
he disposed of death will best be seen in connexion with his 
physical philosophy. Fain he encountered by emphasising, or 
rather immensely ex^gerating, the mind's power of annulling 
external sensation by concentrating its whole attention on 
remembered or anticipated pleasures, or else on the certainty 
that present suffering must come to an end, and to a more 
speedy end in proportion to its greater severity. We are to 
hold a Are in our hand, partly by thinking of the frosty 
Caucasus, partly by the comforting reflection that the pain of 
a bum, being intense, will not be of long duration ; while, at 
worst, like the Stoics, we have the resource of suicide as a last 
refuge from intolerable suffering.* 

With the Epicurean theory of Justice, the distortion, 
already sufliciently obvious, is carried still further ; although 
we must frankly admit that it includes somen^fiu strikingly 
in advance of all that had hitherto been written on the subject. 
Justice, according to our philosopher, is neither an internal 
balance of the soul's faculties, nor a rule imposed by the will 


of the stronger, but a mutual agreement to abstain from 
aggressions, varying from time to time with the varying 
interests of society, and always determined by considerations 
of general utility.* This is excellent : we miss, indeed, the 
Stoic idea of a common humanity, embracing, underlying, and 
transcending all particular contracts ; but we have, in exchange, 
the idea of a general interest equivalent to the sum of private 
interests, together with the means necessary for their joint 
preservation; and we have also the form under which the- 
notion of justice originates, though not the measure of its 
ultimate expansion, which is regard for the general interest, 
even when we are not bound by any contract to observe it. 
But when we go on to ask why contracts should be adhered 
to, Epicurus has no reason to offer beyond dread of punish- 
ment. His words, as translated by Mr. Wallace, are: — 
* Injustice is not in itself a bad thing, but only in the fear 
arising from anxiety on the part of the wrong-doer that he 
will not always escape punishment.*^ This was evidently 
meant for a direct contradiction of Plato's assertion, that, 
apart from its penal consequences, injustice is a disease of the 
soul, involving more mischief to the perpetrator than to the 
victim. Mr. Wallace, however, takes a different view of his 
author's meaning. According to him. 

If we interpret this doctrine, after the example of some of the 
ancients, to mean that any wrong-doing would be innocent and good, 
supposing it escaped detection, we shall probably be misconstruing 
Epicurus. What he seems to allude to is rather the case of strictly 
legal enactments, where, previously to law, the action need not have 
been particularly moral or immoral ; where, in fact, the common 
agreement has established a rule which is not completely in harmony 
with the 'justice of nature.* In short, Epicurus is protesting against 
the conception of injustice, which makes it consist in disobedience to 
political and social rules, imposed and enforced by public and 
authoritative sanctions. He is protesting, in other words, against 
the claims of the State upon the citizens for their complete obedience ; 

> Diog., X., 150 ff. « Wallace, p. 162; Diog., X., 150. 


against the old ideas of die divine sancdty and majesty of law 
as law; against theories like that maintained by contemporaiies 
of Socrates, that there could be no such thing as an unjust law.' 

Epicurus was assuredly not a master of language, but had 
he meant all that is here put into his mouth, he would 
hardly have been at a loss forwords to say it. Remembering 
that the '^vplat, Bo^ai constituted a sort of creed drawn up by 
the master himself for his disciples to learn by heart,' and that 
the incriminated passage is one of the articles in that creed, 
we need only look at the context to make certain that it has 
been entirely misread by his apologist.' In the three pre- 
ceding articles, we are told that justice is by nature a contract 
for the prevention of aggressions, that it does not exist among 
animals which are unable, nor among tribes of men which are 
either unable or unwilling to enter into such an agreement, 
and — with reiterated emphasis — that, apart from contracts, it 
has no original existence (oiie ^v rl Kaff iavro SiKatotri^). 
There is nothing at all about a true as distinguished from a 
false justice ; there is no allusion whatever to the theories of 
any 'contemporaries of Socrates ; ' the polemic reference, if any, 
is to Plato, and to Plato alone. Then comes the declaration 
quoted above, to the effect that injustice is not an evil in itself, 
but only an evil through the dread of punishment which it 
produces. Now, by injustice, Epicurus must simply mean 
the opposite of what he defined justice to be in the preceding 
paragraph — that is, a breach of the agreement not to hurt one 
another (jt^ ffkavTeiv aW^Xovs). The authority of the State 
is evidently conceived, not as superseding, but as enforcing 
agreements. The succeeding article still further confirms the 
view rejected by Mr. Wallace. Epicurus tells us that no man 
who stealthily evades the contract to abstain from mutual 
agressions can be sure of escaping detection. This is 

' Efuureanitm, pp. 162-3. 

» Cicero, Dt Fin., II., viL, 20; De Nat. Dter., I., ivii., 45, ixi., 85. 

• \i'\<3g., X., 150-1. 


evidently added to show that, apart from any mystical 
sanctions, fear of punishment is quite enough to deter a 
prudent man from committing crimes. And we can see that 
no other deterrent was recognised by Lucretius, when, in 
evident reference to his master's words, he mentions the fears 
of those who offend — not against mere conventional rules, but 
against human rights in general — as the great safeguard of 

We may, indeed, fairly ask what guarantee against wrong- 
doing of any kind could be supplied by a system which made 
the supreme good of each individual consist in his immunity 
from pain and fear, except that very pain or fear which he 
was above all things to avoid ? The wise man might reason- 
ably give his assent to enactments intended for the common 
good of all men, including himself among the number ; but 
when his concrete interest as a private citizen came into 
collision with his abstract interests as a social unit, one does 
not see how the quarrel was to be decided on Epicurean 
principles, except by striking a balance between the pains 
respectively resulting from justice and injustice. Here, 
Epicurus, in his anxiety to show that hedonism, rightly 
understood, led to the same results as the accepted systems 
of morality, over-estimated the policy of honesty. There are 
cases in which the wrong-doer may count on immunity from 
danger with more confidence than when entering on such 
ordinary enterprises as a sea-voyage or a commercial specu- 
lation ; there are even cases where a single crime might free 
him from what else would be a lifelong dread. And, at 
worst, he can fall back on the Epicurean arguments proving 
that neither physical pain nor death is to be feared, while the 
threats of divine vengeance are a baseless dream.^ 

The radical selfishness of Epicureanism comes out still 
more distinctly in its attitude towards political activity. Not 
only does it systematically discourage mere personal ambition 

' v., 1145-59. * Cicero, De Fin,, II., xvii., 57. 


— the desire of possessing political power for the furtherance 
of one's own ends—but it passes a like condemnation on dis- 
interested efforts to improve the condition of the people by 
l^islation ; while the general rule laid down for the wise 
man in his capacity of citizen is passive obedience to the 
established authorities, to be departed from only when the 
exigencies of self-defence require it. On this Mr. Wallace 
observes that ' political life, which in all ages has been im- 
possible for those who had not wealth, and who were un- 
willing to mix themselves with vile and impure associates, 
was not to the mind of Epicurus." ' No authority is quoted 
to prove that the abstention recommended by Epicurus was 
dictated by purist sentiments of any kind ; nor can we readily 
admit that it is impossible to record a vote, to canvass at an 
election, or even to address a public meeting, without fulfilling 
one or other of the conditions specified by Mr. Wallace ; and 
we know by the example of Littr^ that it is possible for a poor 
man to take a rather prominent part in public life, without 
the slightest sacrifice of personal dignity.' It must also be 
remembered that Epicurus was not speaking for himself alone ; 
he was giving practical advice to all whom it might concern 
— advice of which he thought, aegue pauperibus prodesl, 
locupletibus aeque ; so that when Mr. Wallace adds that, 
' above all, it is not the business of a philosopher to become 
a political partisan, and spend his life in an atmosphere 
of avaricious and malignant passions,' * we must observe 
that Epicureanism was not designed to make philosophers, 
but perfect men. The real question is whether it would serve 
the public interest were all who endeavour to shape their 
lives by the precepts of philosophy to withdraw themselves 

' Op. cit., p, lfi3. 

• The lamenled Prof. T. H. Green may be mcmioned as another exampl* of 
a high-minded thinker who was also an ardent and active politician. With 
regaid to anliqiut;, tee the splendid roll of public-spirited philosophers enumeiated 
1)7 PlDtueb, AOv. C{^., xnxti. 

• Op.cU., p. 164- 


entirely from participation in the affairs of their country. 
And, having regard to the general character of the system 
now under consideration, we may not uncharitably surmise 
that the motive for abstention which it supplied was selfish 
love of ease far more than unwillingness to be mixed up with 
the dirty work of politics. 

Epicureanism allotted a far larger place to friendship than 
to all the other social virtues put together ; and the disciple 
was taught to look to it not only for the satisfaction of his 
altruistic impulses, but for the crowning happiness of his life. 
The egoistic basis of the system was, indeed, made sufficiently 
prominent even here ; utility and pleasure, which Aristotle 
had excluded from the notion of true friendship, being 
declared its proper ends. All the conditions of a disinterested 
attachment were, however, brought back by a circuitous 
process. It was argued that the full value of friendship could 
not be reaped except by those whose affection for each other 
went to the extent of complete self-devotion ; but the Epicu- 
reans were less successful in showing how this happy condition 
could be realised consistently with the study of his own 
interest by each individual. As a matter of fact, it was 
realised ; and the members of this school became remarkable, 
above all others, for the tenderness and fidelity of their 
personal attachments. But we may suspect that formal 
precepts had little to do with the result. Estrangement from 
the popular creed, when still uncommon, has always a 
tendency to draw the dissidents together ; ' and where other 
ties, whether religious, domestic, or patriotic, are neglected, 
the ordinary instincts of human nature are likely to show 
themselves with all the more energy in the only remaining 
form of union. Moreover, the cheerful, contented, abstemious, 
unambitious characters who would be the most readily 

* J. S. Mill observed, in a conversation with Mr. John Morley, reported by 
the latter, that ' in his youth mere negation of religion was a firm bond of union, 
social and otherwise, between men who agreed in nothing else.' — Fotinightly 
Review^ vol. XIII., p. 675. 


attracted to the Epicurean brotherhood supplied the very 
materials that most readily unite in placid and enduring 
attachments. A tolerably strict standard of orthodoxy 
provided against theoretical dissensions ; nor were the new 
converts likely to possess either daring or originality enough 
to excite controversies where they did not already exist. 


After eliminating all the sources of misery due to folly 
and vice, Epicurus had still to deal with what, in his opinion, 
were the most formidable obstacles to human happiness, 
dread of the divine anger and dread of death, either in itself, 
or as the entrance on another life. To meet these, he compiled, 
for we can hardly say constructed, an elaborate system of 
physical philosophy, having for its object to show that Nature 
is entirely governed by mechanical causes, and that the soul 
perishes with the body. We have already mentioned that 
for science as such and apart from its ethical applications he 
neither cared nor pretended to care in the least. It seems, 
therefore, rather surprising that he could not manage, like the 
Sceptics before him, to get rid of supernatural ism by a some- 
what more expeditious method. The explanation seems to 
be that to give some account of natural phenomena had 
become, in his time, a necessity for every one aspiring to 
found a philosophical system. A brilliant example had been 
set by Plato and Aristotle, of whom the former, too, had 
apparently yielded to the popular demand rather than followed 
the bent of his own genius, in turning aside from ethics to 
physics ; and Zeno had similarly included the whole of know- 
ledge in his teaching. The old Greek curiosity respecting the 
causes of things was still alive ; and a similar curiosity was 
doubtless awakening among those populations to whom Greek 
civilisation had been carried by colonisation, commerce, and 
conquest. Now, those scientific speculations are al^vays the 


most popular which can be shown to have some bearing on 
reh'gious belief, either in the way of confirmation or of opposi- 
tion, according as faith or doubt happens to be most in the 
ascendent. Fifty years ago, among ourselves, no work on 
natural philosophy could hope for a large circulation unless it 
was filled with teleological applications. At present, liberal 
opinions are gaining ground ; and those treatises are most 
eagerly studied which tend to prove that everything in Nature 
can be best explained through the agency of mechanical 
causation. At neither period is it the facts themselves which 
have excited most attention, but their possible bearing on our 
own interests. Among the contemporaries of Epicurus, the 
two currents of thought that in more recent times have enjoyed 
an alternate triumph, seem to have co-existed as forces of 
about equal strength. The old superstitions were rejected by 
all thinking men ; and the only question was by what new 
faith they should be replaced. Poets and philosophers had 
alike laboured to bring about a religious reformation by 
exhibiting the popular mythology in its grotesque deformity, 
and by constructing systems in which pure monotheism was 
more or less distinctly proclaimed. But it suited the purpose, 
perhaps it gratified the vanit>' of Epicurus to talk as if the 
work of deliverance still remained to be done, as if men were 
still groaning under the incubus of superstitions which he 
alone could teach them to shake off. He seems, indeed, to 
have confounded the old and the new faiths under a common 
opprobrium, and to have assumed that the popular religion 
was mainly supported by Stoic arguments, or that the Stoic 
optimism was not less productive of superstitious terrors than 
the gloomy polytheism which it was designed to supersede.* 

Again, while attacking the belief in human immortality, 
Epicurus seems to direct his blows against the metaphysical 
reasonings of Plato,* as well as against the indistinct forebod- 

' Cicero, Dt Nat, Dtor,^ L., 18-24. 
* Woltjer, Lucrtt, Pk,^ p. 74. 


ings of primitive imagination. The consequences of this two- 
edged polemic are very remarkable. In reading Lucretius, 
we are surprised at the total absence of criticisms like those 
brought to bear on Greek mythol<^[y with such formidable 
effect, first by Plato and, long afterwards, by Lucian. There 
is a much more modem tone about his invectives, and they 
seem aimed at an enemy familiar to ourselves. One would 
suppose that the advent of Catholicism had been revealed in a 
prophetic vision to the poet, and that this, rather than the 
religion of his own times, was the object of his wrath and 
dread ; or else that some child of the Renaissance was seek- 
ing for a freer utterance of his own revolt i^ainst all theolt^y, 
under the disguise of a dead language and of a warfare with 
long- discredited gods. For this reason, Christians have always 
regarded him, with perfect justice, as a dangerous enemy ; 
while rationalists of the fiercer type have accepted his 
splendid denunciations as the appropriate expression of their 
own most cherished feelings. 

The explanation of this anomaly is, we believe, to be 
found in the fact that Catholicism did, to a great extent, 
actually spring from a continuation of those widely different 
tendencies which Epicurus confounded in a common assault. 
It had an intellectual basis in the Platonic and Stoic philoso- 
phies, and a popular basis in the revival of those manifold 
superstitions which, underlying the brilliant civilisations of 
Greece and Rome, were always ready to break out with 
renewed violence when their restraining pressure was removed. 
The revival of which we speak was powerfully aided from 
without. The same movement that was carrying Hellenic 
culture into Asia was bringing Oriental delusions by a sort 
of back current into the Western woi;ld. Nor was this all. 
The relaxation of all political bonds, together with the indif- 
ference of the educated classes, besides allowing a rank 
undergrowth of popular beliefs to spring up unchecked, sur- 
rendered the regulation of those beliefs into the hands of a 


profession which it had hitherto been the policy of every 
ancient republic to keep under rigid restraint — the accredited 
or informal ministers of religion.* Now, the chief character- 
istic of a priestly order has always and everywhere been in- 
satiable avarice. When forbidden to acquire wealth in their 
individual capacity, they grasp at it all the more eagerly in 
their corporate capacity. And, as the Epicureans probably 
perceived, there is no engine which they can use so effectually 
for the gratification of this passion as the belief in a future 
life. What they have to tell about this is often described by 
themselves and their supporters as a message of joy to the 
weary and afflicted. But under their treatment it is very far 
from being a consolatory belief. Dark shades and lurid lights 
predominate considerably in their pictures of the world 
beyond the grave ; and here, as we shall presently show, they 
are aided by an irresistible instinct of human nature. On 
this subject, also, they can speak with unlimited confidence ; 
for, while their other statements about the supernatural are 
liable to be contradicted by experience, the abode of souls is 
a bourne from which no traveller returns to disprove the 
accuracy of their statements. 

That such a tendency was at work some time before 
the age of Epicurus is shown by the following passage from 
Plato's Republic :— 

Mendicant prophets go to rich men's doors and persuade them 
that they have a power committed to them of making atonement for 
their sins or those of their fathers by sacrifices or charms. . . . 
And they produce a host of books . . . according to which they 
perform their ritual, and persuade not only individuals but whole 
cities, that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacri- 
fices and amusements which fill a vacant hour,* and are equally at 

* * Das Staatsgesetz oder das dem Gesetz gleichkommende ^^terliche Herkom- 
ir en bildet einen Gegensatz gegen ein abgeschlossenes Priesterthum und dessen 
natiirltchen £influss.* Welcker, Gr. Gbtterlehrt^ II., p. 45. 'La religion 
romaine, comme toutes celles oil domine Tesprit laique, diminue le r6Ie du pr^tre. ' 
Gaston Boissier, La Religion Romaine^ I., p. 16. 

* This reminds one of the *p^lerinages,* which figure along with 'pigeon- 


the service of the living and the dead ; the latter sort they call 
mysteries, and they redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we 
neglect them no one knows what awaits us.' 

Let us now pass over fourteen centuries and see to what 
results the doctrine taught by Plato himself led when it had 
entered into an alliance with the superstitions which he 
denounced. Our illustration shall be taken from a sainted 
hero of the Catholic Church. In a sermon preached before 
Pope Nicholas II. at Arezzo, the famous Hildebrand, after- 
wards Gregory VII., relates the following story : — 

In one of the provinces of Germany there died, about ten years 
ago, a certain count, who had been rich and powerful, and, what is 
astonishing for one of that class, he was, according to the judgment 
of man, pure in faith and Innocent in his life. Some time afler his 
death, a holy man descended in spirit to hell, and beheld the count 
standing on the topmost rung of a ladder. He tells us that this 
ladder stood unconsumed amid the crackling flames around ; and 
that it had been placed there to receive the family of the aforesaid 
count There was, moreover, the black and frightful abyss out of 
which rose the fatal ladder. It was so ordered that the last comer 
took his stand at the top of the ladder, and when the rest of the 
family arrived he went down one step, and all below him did like- 

As the last of the same femily who died came and took his place, 
age after age, on this ladder, it followed inevitably that they all 
successively reached the depth of helL The holy man who beheld 
this thing, asked the reason of this terrible damnation, and especially 
how it was that the seigneur whom he had known and who had lived 
a life of justice and well-doing should be thus punished And he 
heard a voice saying, ' It is because of certain lands belonging to the 
church of Metz, which were taken from the blessed Stephen by one of 
this man's ancestors, from whom he was the tenth in descent, and for 

shooting' amons the atlractions oReied by French countty hotel* to idle 

' ^5>»*/iV, II., 364,0, ffjjowelt'slransl.. III., 234-5- Elsewhere Plalo pto- 
pOMtthal these ' bestial persons 'who persuade others that the gods can be indoced 
hj magical incantations to pardon crime, should be punished 1^ unprisonment for 
life(£<(, X., 909, A, f). 


this cause all these men have sinned by the same avarice and are 
subjected to the same punishment in eternal fire.* * 

In view of such facts as these, we cannot blame the Epicu- 
reans if they regarded the doctrine of future retribution as 
anything but a consolatory or ennobling belief, and if they 
deemed that to extirpate it was to cut out a mischievous 
delusion by the roots : — 

£t merito : nam si certam finem esse viderent 
Aerumnanim homines aliqua ratione valerent 
Rclligionibus, atque minis obsistere vatum : 
Nunc ratio nulla 'st restandi, nulla facultas, 
Aeternas quoniam poenas in morte timendunu' ' 

And it is no wonder that the words of their great poet 
should read like a prophetic exposure of the terrors with 
which the religious revival, based on a coalition of philosophy 
and superstition, was shortly to overspread the whole horizon 
of human life. 

So strong, however, was the theological reaction against 
Greek rationalism that Epicurus himself came under its 
influence. Instead of denying the existence of the gods 
altogether, or leaving it uncertain like Protagoras, he asserted 
it in the most emphatic manner. Their interference with 
Nature was all that he cared to dispute. The egoistic charac- 
ter of his whole system comes out once more in his conception 
of them as beings too much absorbed in their own placid 
enjoyments to be troubled with the work of creation and 
providence. He was, indeed, only repeating aloud what had 
long been whispered in the free-thinking circles of Athenian 
society. That the gods were indifferent to human interests 

» Villemain, Life of Gregory F//., Engl, transl., I., p. 305. As a further illus- 
tration of the same subject, it may be mentioned that there is a cemetery near 
Innsbruck (and probably many more like it throughout the Tyrol) freely adorned 
with rude representations of souls in purgatory, stretching out their hands for help 
from amid the flames. The help is of course to be obtained by purchase from the 

« Lucret., I., 108-12. 


was a heresy indignantly denounced by Aeschylus,' main* 
tained by Aristodftmuj^ the friend of Socrates, and singled 
out as a fit subject for punishment by Plato. Nor was the 
theology of Aristotle's Metaphysks practically distinguishable 
from such a doctrine. Although essential to the continued 
existence of the cosmos, considered as a system of movements, 
the Prime Mover communicates the required impulse by the 
mere fact of his existence, and apparently without any con- 
scibusness of the effect he is producing. Active beneficence 
had, in truth, even less to do with the ideal of Aristotle than 
with the ideal of Epicurus, and each philosopher constructed 
a god after his own image ; the one absorbed in perpetual 
thought, the other, or more properly the others, in perpetual 
enjoyment ; for the Epicurean deities were necessarily con- 
ceived as a plurality, that they might not be without the 
pleasure of friendly conversation. Nevertheless, the part 
assigned by Aristotle to his god permitted him to offer a 
much stronger proof of the divine existence and attributes 
than was possible to Epicurus, who had nothing better to 
adduce than the universal belief of mankind, — an argument 
obviously proving too much, since it told, if anything, more 
powerfully for the interference than for the bare reality of 
supernatural agents. 

Our philosopher appears to more advantage as a critic 
than as a religious dogmatist. He meets the Stoic belief in 
Providence by pointing out the undeniable prevalence of evils 
which omnipotent benevolence could not be supposed to 
tolerate ; the Stoic optimism, with its doctrine, still a popular 
one, that all things were created for the good of man, by a 
reference to the glaring defects which, on that hypothesis, 
would vitiate the arrangements of Nature ; the Stoic appeal 
to omens and prophecies by showing the purely accidental 
character of their fulfilment.' But he trusts most of all to a 
radically different explanation of the world, an explanation 
' AgamtnmeH, 369 (Ddndorf). * Z«lkr, pp. 43S-9. 



which everywhere substitutes mechanical causation for design. 
Only one among the older systems — the atomism of Demo- 
critus — had consistently carried out such a conception of 
Nature, and this, accordingly, Epicurus adopts in its main 


It is generally assumed by the German critics that the 
atomic theory was peculiarly fitted to serve as a basis for the 
individualistic ethics of Epicureanism. To this we can hardly 
agree. The insignificance and powerlessness of the atoms, 
except when aggregated together in enormous numbers, 
would seem to be naturally more favourable to a system 
where the community went for everything and the individual 
for nothing ; nor does the general acceptance of atomism by 
modern science seem to be accompanied by any relaxation 
of the social sentiment in its professors. Had the Stoics 
followed Democritus and Epicurus Heracleitus — at least a 
conceivable hypothesis — some equally cogent reason would 
doubtless have been forthcoming to indicate the appropriate- 
ness of their choice.^ As it is, we have no evidence that 
Epicurus Faw anything more in the atomic theory than a 
convenient explanation of the world on purely mechanical 

The division of matter into minute and indestructible 
particles served admirably to account for the gradual forma- 
tion and disappearance of bodies without necessitating the 
help of a creator. But the infinities assumed as a condition 
of atomism were of even greater importance. Where time 
and space are unlimited, the quantity of matter must be 
equally unlimited, otherwise, being composed of loose part- 
icles, it would long since have been dissipated and lost in the 

■ Prof. Sellar observes, as we think, with perfect truth, that * there is no 
necessary connexion between the atomic theory of philosophy and that view of the 
ends and objects of life which Lucretius derived from Epicurus.* — Roman Poets 
of the Republic^ p. 348, 2nd ed. 


surrounding void. Now, given infinite time and space, and 
infinite atoms capable of combining with one another in 
various ways, all possible combinations must already have 
been tried, not once or twice, but infinitely often. Of such 
combinations, that which best fulfils the conditions of me- 
chanical stability will last the longest, and, without being 
designed, will present all the characters of design. And this, 
according to Epicurus, is how the actual frame of things 
comes to be what it is. Nor was it only the world as a whole 
that he explained by the theory of a single happy accident 
occurring after a multitude of fortuitous experiments. The 
same process repeats itself on a smaller scale in the produc- 
tion of particular compounds. All sorts of living bodies were 
originally throw up from the earth's bosom, but many of them 
instantly perished, not being provided with the means of 
nutrition, propagation, or self-defence. In like manner we 
are enabled to recall a particular thought at pleasure, because 
innumerable images are continually passing through the mind, 
none of which comes into the foreground of consciousness 
until attention is fixed on it ; though how we come to dis- 
tinguish it from the rest is not explained. So also, only 
those societies survived and became civilised where con- 
tracts were faithfully observed. All kinds of wild beasts have 
at different times been employed in war, just as horses and 
elephants are now, but on trial were found unmanageable and 
given up.* 

It will be seen that what has been singled out as an antici- 
pation of the Darwinian theory was only one application of a 
very comprehensive method for eliminating design from the 
universe. But of what is most original and essential in 
Darwinism, that is, the modifiability of specific forms by the 
summing up of spontaneous variations in a given direction, 
the Epicureans had not the slightest suspicion. And wher- 
ever they or their master have, in other respects, made some 

> Lucrct., I., 1020 flF. ; V., 835 ff ; IV., 780 ff. j V., 1023 J V., 1307 ff. 

G 2 


approach to the truths of modern science, it may fairly be 
explained on their own principle as a single lucky guess out 
of many false guesses. 

The modem doctrine of evolution, while relying largely on 
the fertility of multiplied chances, is not obliged to assume 
such an enormous number of simultaneous coincidences as 
Epicurus. The ascription of certain definite attractions and 
repulsions to the ultimate particles of matter would alone re- 
strict their possible modes of aggregation within comparatively 
narrow limits. Then, again, the world seems to have been 
built up by successive stages, at each of which some new force 
or combination of forces came into play, a firm basis having 
been already secured for whatever variations they were cap- 
able of producing. Thus the solar system is a state of equili- 
brium resulting from the action of two very simple forces, 
gravitation and heat. On the surface of the earth, cohesion 
and chemical affinity have been superadded. When a fresh 
equilibrium had resulted from their joint energy, the more 
complex conditions of life found free scope for their exercise. 
The transformations of living species were similarly effected 
by variation on variation. And, finally, in one species, the 
satisfaction of its animal wants set free those more refined 
impulses by which, after many experiments, civilisation has 
been built up. Obviously the total sum of adaptations 
necessary to constitute our actual world will have the proba- 
bilities of its occurrence enormously increased if we suppose 
the more general conditions to be established prior to, and in 
complete independence of, the less general, instead of limiting 
ourselves, like the ancient atomists, to one vast simultaneous 
shuffle of all the material and dynamical elements involved. 

Returning to Epicurus, we have next to consider how he 
obtained the various motions required to bring his atoms into 
those infinite combinations of which our world is only the most 
recent. The conception of matter naturally endowed with 
capacities for moving in all directions indifferently was unknown 
to ancient physics, as was also that of mutual attraction and 


repulsion. Democritus supposed that the atoms all gravitated 
downward through infinite space, but with different velocities, 
so that the lighter were perpetually overtaken and driven up- 
wards by the heavier, the result of these collisions and pres- 
sures being a vortex whence the world as we see it has 
proceeded.* While the atomism of Democritus was, as a 
theory of matter, the greatest contribution ever made to 
physical science by pure speculation, as a theory of motion it 
was open to at least three insuperable objections. Passing 
over the difficulty of a perpetual movement through space 
in one direction only, there remained the self-contradictory 
assumption that an infinite number of atoms all moving 
together in that one direction could find any unoccupied 
space to fall into.* Secondly, astronomical discoveries, 
establishing as they did the sphericity of the earth, had for 
ever disproved the crude theory that unsupported bodies fall 
downward in parallel straight lines. Even granting that the 
astronomers, in the absence of complete empirical verification, 
could not prove their whole contention, they could at any rate 
prove enough of it to destroy the notion of parallel descent ; 
for the varying elevation of the pole-star demonstrated the 
curvature of the earth's surface so far as it was accessible to 
observation, thus showing that, within the limits of ex- 
perience, gravitation acted along convergent lines. Finally, 
Aristotle had pointed out that the observed differences in the 
velocity of falling bodies were due to the atmospheric resist- 
ance, and that, consequently, they would all move at the 
same rate in such an absolute vacuum as atomism assumed.' 
Of these objections Epicurus ignored the first two, except, 
apparently, to the extent of refusing to believe in the 
antipodes. The third he acknowledged, and set himself to 
evade it by a hypothesis striking at the root of all scientific 

* That Democritus attributed weight to his atoms has been proved, in opposi- 
tion ta Lewes and others, by Zeller, Ph, d, Gr., I., p. 713 (3rd ed.) 

« Woltjer, Lucr, Phil., p. 38. • Arist., Phys., IV., viii., 216, a, 20. 


reasoning. The atoms, he tells us, suffer a slight deflection 
from the line of perpendicular descent, sufficient to bring them 
into collision with one another ; and from this collision pro- 
ceeds the variety of movement necessary to throw them into 
all sorts of accidental combinations. Our own free will, says 
Lucretius, furnishes an example of such a deflection whenever 
we swerve aside from the direction in which an original im- 
pulse is carrying us.* That the irregularity thus introduced 
into Nature interfered with the law of universal causation was 
an additional recommendation of it in the eyes of Epicurus, 
who, as we have already mentioned, hated the physical 
necessity of the philosophers even more than he hated the 
watchful interfering providence of the theologians. But, 
apparently, neither he nor his disciples saw that in discard- 
ing the invariable sequence of phenomena, they annulled, to 
the same extent, the possibility of human foresight and adap* 
tation of means to ends. There was no reason why the 
deflection, having once occurred, should not be repeated 
infinitely often, each time producing effects of incalculable 
extent. And a further inconsequence of the system is that 
it afterwards accounts for human choice by a mechanism 
which has nothing to do with free-will.* 

The Epicurean cosmology need not delay us long. It is 
completely independent of the atomic theory, which had only 
been introduced to explain the indestructibility of matter, 
and, later on, the mechanism of sensation. In describing 
how the world was first formed, Epicurus falls back on the old 
Ionian meteorology. He assumes the existence of matter in 
different states of diffusion, and s^regates fluid from solid, 
light from heavy, hot from cold, by the familiar device of a 
rapid vortical movement* For the rest, as we have already 
noticed, Epicurus gives an impartial welcome to the most con- 
flicting theories of his predecessors, provided only that they 
dispense with the aid of supernatural intervention ; as will 

• II., 257 ff. ' Lucrct., IV., 875 flf. • Lucret., V., 437 ff. 


be seen by the following summary, which we quote from 
Zeller : — 

Possibly the world may move, and possibly it may be at rest. 
Possibly it may be round, or else it may be triangular, or have any 
other shape. Possibly the sim and the stars may be extinguished at 
setting, and be lighted afresh at their rising : it is, however, equally 
possible that they may only disappear under the earth and reappear 
again, or that their rising and setting is due to yet other causes. Pos- 
sibly the waxing and waning of the moon may be caused by the 
moon's revolving ; or it may be due to the atmospheric change, or to 
an actual increase or decrease in the moon's size, or to some other 
cause. Possibly the moon may shine witti borrowed light, or it may 
shine with its own, experience supplying us with instances of bodies 
which give their own light, and of others which have their light 
borrowed. From these and such like statements it appears that ques- 
tions of natural science in themselves have no value for Epicurus. 
Whilst granting that only one natural explanation of phenomena is 
generally possible, yet in any particular case it is perfectly indifferent 
which explanation is adopted.' 

This was the creed professed by 'the great scientific 
school of antiquity,' and this was its way of protesting 
' against the contempt of physics which prevailed * among the 
Stoics ! 

So far as he can be said to have studied science at all, the 
motive of Epicurus was hatred for religion far more than love 
for natural law. He seems, indeed, to have preserved that 
aversion for Nature which is so characteristic of the earlier 
Greek Humanists. He seems to have imagined that by re- 
fusing to tie himself down to any one explanation of external 
phenomena, he could diminish their hold over the mind 
of man. For when he departs from his usual attitude of 
suspense and reserve, it is to declare dogmatically that the 
heavenly bodies are no larger than they appear to our senses, 
and perhaps smaller than they sometimes appear.* The only 

' Zeller, Ph, d, Gr,^ III., a, pp. 397-S' Reichel's trans!., pp. 412-3 (isled.) 

■ Woltjer {Lucret, Ph,^ p. 126) charges Lucretius with having misunderstood 

his master on this point. As the sun and moon appear larger when near the 


arguments adduced on behalf of this outrageous assertion 
were that if their superficial extension was altered by trans- 
mission, their colour would be altered to a still greater degree ; 
and the alleged fact that flames look the same size at all dis- 
tances.* It is evident that neither Epicurus nor Lucretius, 
who, as usual, transcribes him with perfect good faith, could 
ever have looked at one lamp-flame through another, or they 
would have seen that the laws of linear perspective are not sus- 
pended in the case of self-luminous bodies — a fact which does 
not tell much for that accurate observation supposed to have 
been fostered by their philosophy.* The truth is, that Epicurus 
disliked the oppressive notion of a sun several times larger 
than the earth, and was determined not to tolerate it, be the 
consequences to fact and logic what they might. 


The Epicurean philosophy of external Nature was used as 
an instrument for destroying the uncomfortable belief in 
Divine Providence. The Epicurean philosophy of mind was 
used to destroy the still more uncomfortable belief in man's 
immortality. As opinions then stood, the task was a compara- 
tively easy one. In our discussion of Stoicism, we observed 
that the spiritualism of Plato and Aristotle was far before 
their age, and was not accepted or even understood by their 
countrymen for a long time to come. Moreover, Aristotle did 
not agree with his master in thinking that the personal 
eternity of the soul followed from its immateriality. The 
belief of the Stoics in a prolongation of individual existence 
until the destruction of all created things by fire, was, even 
in that very limited form, inconsistent with their avowed 
materialism, and had absolutely no influence on their practical 

horizon than at other times, Epicurus thought that we then see them either as they 
really are or a little larger. This, Lucretius, according to Woltjer, took to mean 
that their general ap]>arent size may be a little over or under their real size. 
' Zcllcr, y. 4i3. ' Sec, for instance, Woltjer, op. cit,^ p. 88. 


convictions. Thus Plato's arguments were alone worth con- 
sidering. For Epicurus, the whole question was virtually 
settled by the principle, which he held in common with the 
Stoics, that nothing exists but matter, its attributes, and its 
relations. He accepted, it is true, the duality of soul and 
body, agreeing, in this respect also, with the Stoics and the 
earlier physicists ; and the familiar antithesis of flesh and 
spirit is a survival of his favourite phraseology ; * but this very 
term ' flesh ' was employed to cover the assumption that the 
body to which he applied it differed not in substance but 
in composition from its animating principle. The latter, a 
rather complex aggregate, consists proximately of four dis- 
tinct elements, imagined, apparently, for the purpose of explain- 
ing its various functions, and, in the last analysis, of very flne 
and mobile atoms.' When so much had been granted, it 
naturally followed that the soul was only held together by 
the body, and was immediately dissolved on being separated 
from it — a conclusion still further strengthened by the mani- 
fest dependence of psychic on corporeal activities through- 
out the period of their joint existence. Thus all terrors 
arising from the apprehension of future torments were 
summarily dispelled. 

The simple dread of death, considered as a final annihila- 
tion of our existence, remained to be dealt with. There was 
no part of his philosophy on which Epicurus laid so much 
stress ; he regarded it as setting the seal on those convictions, 
a firm grasp of which was essential to the security of human 
happiness. Nothing else seemed difficult, if once the worst 
enemy of our tranquillity had been overcome. His argument 
is summed up in the concise formula : when we are, death is 
not ; when death is, we are not ; therefore death is nothing 
to us.' The pleasures of life will be no loss, for we shall 
not feel the want of them. The sorrow of our dearest friends 
will be indifferent to us in the absence of all consciousness 

• Zeller, p. 443, note 3. * Zcller, pp. 417-8. • Diog., X., 12$. 


whatever. To the consideration that, however calmly we 
may face our own annihilation, the loss of those whom we 
love remains as terrible as ever, Lucretius replies that we need 
not mourn for them, since they do not feel any pain at their 
own extinction.* 

There must, one would suppose, be some force in the 
Epicurean philosophy of death, for it has been endorsed by 
no less a thinker and observer than Shakspeare. To make 
the great dramatist responsible for every opinion uttered by 
one or other of his characters would, of course, be absurd ; but 
when we find personages so different in other respects as 
Claudio, Hamlet, and Macbeth, agreeing in the sentiment 
that, apart from the prospect of a future judgment, there is 
nothing to appal us in the thought of death, we cannot avoid 
the inference that he is here making them the mouthpiece of 
his own convictions, even, as in Hamlet's famous soliloquy, at 
the expense of every dramatic propriety. Nevertheless, the 
answer of humanity to such sophisms will always be that of 
Homer's Achilles, ' firi Si] fioi OdparJp ye irapavSa * — * Talk me 
not fair of death ! ' A very simple process of reasoning will 
make this clear. The love of life necessarily involves a constant 
use of precautions against its loss. The certainty of death 
means the certainty that these precautions shall one day prove 
unavailing ; the consciousness of its near approach means the 
consciousness that they have actually failed. In both cases 
the result must be a sense of baffled or arrested effort, more 
or less feeble when it is imagined, more or less acute when it 
it is realised. But this diversion of the conscious energies 
from their accustomed channel, this turning back of the 
feelings on themselves, constitutes the essence of all emotion ; 
and where the object of the arrested energies was to avert a 
danger, it constitutes the emotion of fear. Thus, by an in- 
evitable law, the love of life has for its reverse side the dread 
of death. Now the love of life is guaranteed by the survival 
of the fittest ; it must last as long as the human race, for 

' III., 922. 


without it the race could not last at all. If, as Epicurus 
urged, the supreme desirability of pleasure is proved by its 
being the universal object of pursuit among all species of 
animals/ the supreme hatefulness of death is proved by an 
analogous experience ; and we may be sure that, even if 
pessimism became the accepted faith, the darkened prospect 
would lead to no relaxation of our grasp on life. A similar 
mode of reasoning applies to the sorrow and anguish, mortis 
comites et funeris atri^ from which the benevolent Roman 
poet would fain relieve us. For, among a social species, the 
instinct for preserving others is second only to the instinct 
of self-preservation, and frequently rises superior to it. Ac- 
cordingly, the loss of those whom we love causes, and must 
always cause us, a double distress. There is, first, the simple 
pain due to the eternal loss of their society, a pain of which 
Lucretius takes no account. And, secondly, there is the 
arrest of all helpful activity on their behalf, the continual 
impulse to do something for them, coupled with the chilling 
consciousness that it is too late, that nothing more can be done. 
So strong, indeed, is this latter feeling that it often causes the 
loss of those whose existence was a burden to themselves and 
others, to be keenly felt, if only the survivors were accustomed, 
as a matter of duty, to care for them and to struggle against 
the disease from which they suffered. Philosophy may help to 
fill up the blanks thus created, by directing our thoughts to 
objects of perennial interest, and she may legitimately dis- 
courage the affectation or the fostering of affliction ; but the 
blanks themselves she cannot explain away, without forfeiting 
all claim on our allegiance as the ultimate and incorruptible 
arbitress of truth. 

We are now in a position to understand how far Epicurus 
was justified in regarding the expectation of immortality as a 
source of dread rather than of consolation. In this respect 
also, the survival of the fittest has determined that human 

* Cicero, De Fin., I., ix., 30, 


nature shall not look forward with satisfaction to the termina- 
tion of its earthly existence. Were any race of men once 
persuaded that death is the passage to a happier world, it would 
speedily be replaced by competitors holding a belief better 
adapted to the conditions of terrestrial duration. Hence, 
practically speaking, the effect of religious dogmas has been 
to make death rather more dreaded than it would have been 
without their aid ; and, as already observed, their natural 
tendency has been powerfully stimulated by the cupidity of 
their professional expositors. The hope of heaven, to exist at 
all, must be checked by a considerably stronger apprehension 
of hell. There is a saying in America that the immortality 
of the soul is too good to be true. We suspect that the im- 
mortality in which most religious Americans still believe 
hardly deserves such a compliment ; but it accurately ex- 
presses the incredulity with which a genuine message of 
salvation would be received by most men ; and this explains 
why Universalism, with the few who have accepted it, is but 
the transition stage to a total rejection of any life beyond the 
grave. No doubt, in the first flush of fanaticism, the assur- 
ance of an easy admission to paradise may do much to win 
acceptance for the religion which offers it ; but when such a 
religion ceases to make new conquests, its followers must 
either modify their convictions, or die out under the com- 
petition of others by whom mortal life is not held so cheap. 

We must add, that while Epicurus was right in regarding 
the beliefs entertained about a future life as a source of painful 
anxiety, he was only justified in this opinion by the deeper truth, 
which he ignored, that they are simply the natural dread of 
death under another form.* The most appalling pictures of 
damnation would, taken by themselves, probably add but 
little to human misery. The alarming effect even of earthly 
punishments is found to depend on their certainty much more 

* * Aeque cnitn liment ne apud inferos sint, quoin ne nusquam.*— Seneca, Epp,^ 
Ixxxii., 1 6. 


than on their severity; and the certainty of sufTering what 
nobody has ever experienced must be small indeed. Besides, 
the class most interested in enlarging on the dark side of 
immortality are also interested in showing that its dangers 
may be bought ofT at a comparatively trifling cost What 
Epicurus said about the inexorable fate of the physicists 
might here be turned against himself. He removed terrors 
which there was a possibility of exorcising, and substituted 
a prospect of annihilation whence there was no escape.' 

It is, after all, very questionable whether human happiness 
would be increased by suppressing the thought of death as 
something to be feared. George EHot, in her Legend of 
Juhal, certainly expresses the contrary opinion.* The finest 
edge of enjoyment would be taken off if we forgot its 
essentially transitory character. The free man may, in 
Spinoza's words, think of nothing less than of death ; but he 
cannot prevent the sunken shadow from throwing all his 
thoughts of life into higher and more luminous relief. The 
ideal enjoyment afforded by literature would lose much of its 
zest were we to discard all sympathy with the fears and sorrows 
on which our mortal condition has enabled it so largely to draw 
— the lacrimae rerum, which Lucretius himself has turned to 
such admirable account. And the whole treasure of happiness 
due to mutual affection must gain by our remembrance that 
the time granted for its exercise is always limited, and may 
at any moment be brought to an end — or rather, such an 

' Cf. Plutarch, Nm pusa suavHir vhn, cap. xxvii. 

* Among other feelings consequenl on the fiist experience of death among the 
potterily of Cain, the following are specified :— 

' It seemed the light was never loved before, 
Now each man said, " 'Twill go and come no mote." 
No budding branch, no pebble from the brook, 
No form, no shadow but new deamess look 
From the one thought that life mui* have an end ; 
And the last parting now began to send 
Diffusive dread through love and wedded bliss, 
Thrilling them into finer tenderness.' 


effect might be looked for were this remembrance more con- 
stantly present to our minds. 

Lucretius dwells much on the dread of death as a source 
of vice and crime. He tells us that men plunge into all sorts 
of mad distractions or unscrupulous schemes of avarice and 
ambition in their anxiety to escape either from its haunting^ 
presence, or from the poverty and disrepute which they have 
learned to associate with it.^ Critics are disposed to think 
that the poet, in his anxiety to make a point, is putting^ a 
wrong interpretation on the facts. Yet it should be remem- 
bered that Lucretius was a profound observer, and that his 
teaching, in this respect, may be heard repeated from London 
pulpits at the present day. The truth seems to be, not that 
he went too far, but that he did not go far enough. What he 
decries as a spur to vicious energy is, in reality, a spur to all 
energy. Every passion, good or bad, is compressed and 
intensified by the contracting limits of mortality ; and the 
thought of death impels men either to wring the last drop of 
enjoyment from their lives, or to take refuge from their perish- 
ing individualities in the relative endurance of collective 
enterprises and impersonal aims. 

Let none suppose that the foregoing remarks are meant 
cither to express any sympathy with a cowardly shrinking from 
death, or to intimate that the doctrine of evolution tends to 
reverse the noblest lessons of ancient wisdom. In holding 
that death is rightly regarded as an evil, and that it must 
always continue to be so regarded, wc do not imply that it is 
necessarily the greatest of all evils for any given individual. 
It is not, as Spinoza has shown, by arguing away our emotions, 
but by confronting them with still stronger emotions, that 
they are, if necessary, to be overcome.* The social feelings 
may be trusted to conquer the instinct of self-preservation, 
and, by a self-acting adjustment, to work with more intensity 
in proportion to the strength of its resistance. The dearer 

» III., 59 flF. * Ethic, Pars. IV., Prop. vii. 


our lives are to us, the greater will be the glory of renouncing 
them, that others may be better secured in the enjoyment of 
theirs. Aristotle is much truer, as well as more human, than 
Epicurus, when he observes that ' the more completely virtuous 
and happy a man is, the more will he be grieved to die ; for 
to such a one life is worth most, and he will consciously be 
renouncing the greatest goods, and that is grievous. Never- 
theless, he remains brave, nay, even the braver for that very 
reason, because he prefers the glory of a warrior to every 
other good.' > Nor need we fear that a race of cowards will 
be the fittest to survive, when we remember what an advantage 
that state has in the struggle for existence, the lives of whose 
citizens are most unrestrictedly held at its disposal. But 
their devotion would be without merit and without meaning, 
were not the loss of existence felt to be an evil, and its pro- 
loi^tion cherished as a gain. 


Next to its bearing on the question of immortality, the 
Epicurean psychology is most interesting as a contribution to 
the theory of cognition. Epicurus holds that all our know- 
ledge is derived from experience, and all our experience, 
directly or indirectly, from the presentations of sense. So 
far he says no more than would be admitted by the Stoics, 
by Aristotle, and indeed by every Greek philosopher except 
Plato. There is, therefore, no necessary connexion between 
his views in this respect and his theory of ethics, since others 
had combined the same views with a very different standard 
of action. It is in discussing the vexed question of what 
constitutes the ultimate criterion of truth that he shows to 
most disadvantage in comparison with the more intellectual 

' Ethic. Mc, III., nil., II 17, b, 10 ff. Sir Aleiander Grant, in his note cm 
the pasugc appositeif compares the character of Woidswonh's Happf Wairioi, 
wIh> is ' More brare for this that he has much 10 love.' 


schools. He seems to have considered that sensation supplies 
not only the matter but the form of knowledge ; or rather, 
he seems to have missed the distinction between matter and 
form altogether. What the senses tell us, he says, is always 
true, although we may draw erroneous inferences from their 
statements.^ But this only amounts to the identical proposi- 
tion that we feel what we feel ; for it cannot be pretended 
tliat the order of our sensations invariably corresponds to the 
actual order of things in. themselves. Even confining our- 
selves to individual sensations, or single groups of sensations, 
there are some that do not always correspond to the same 
objective reality, and others that do not correspond to any 
reality at all ; while, conversely, the same object produces a 
multitude of different sensations according to the subjective 
conditions under which it affects us. To escape from this 
difficulty, Epicurus has recourse to a singularly crude theory 
of perception, borrowed from Empedocles and the older 
atomists. What we are conscious of is, in each instance, not 
the object itself, but an image composed of fine atoms thrown 
off from the surfaces of bodies and brought into contact with 
the organs of sense. Our perception corresponds accurately 
to an external image, but the image itself is often very unlike 
the object whence it originally proceeded. Sometimes it 
suffers a considerable change in travelling through the atmo- 
sphere. For instance, when a square tower, seen at a great 
distance, produces the impression of roundness, this is because 
the sharp angles of its image have been rubbed off on the 
way to our eyes. Sometimes the image continues to wander 
about after its original has ceased to exist, and that is why 
the dead seem to revisit us in our dreams. And sometimes 
the images of different objects coalesce as they are floating 
about, thus producing the appearance of impossible monsters, 
such as centaurs and chimaeras.^ 

* For the authorities, sec Zeller, p. 38$. 
'^ Lucret., IV., 354, 728, 761. 


It was with the help of this theory that Epicurus ex- 
plained and defended the current belief in the existence of 
gods. The divine inhabitants of the intermundia, or empty 
spaces separating world from world, are, like all other beings, 
composed of atoms, and are continually throwing off fine 
images, some of which make their way unaltered to our earth 
and reveal themselves to the senses, particularly during sleep, 
when we are most alive to the subtlest impressions on our 
perceptive organs. With the usual irrationality of a theolo- 
gian, Epicurus remained blind to the fact that gods who were 
constantly throwing off even the very thinnest films could not 
possibly survive through all eternity. Neither did he explain 
how images larger than the pupil of the eye could pass 
through its aperture while preserving their original propor- 
tions unaltered. 

We have seen how Epicurus erected the senses into 
ultimate arbiters of truth. By so doing, however, he only 
pushed the old difficulty a step further back. Granting that 
our perceptions faithfully correspond to certain external 
images, how can we be sure that these images are themselves 
copies of a solid and permanent reality } And how are we 
to determine the validity of general notions representing 
not some single object but entire classes of objects ? The 
second question may be most conveniently answered first. 
Epicurus holds that perception is only a finer sort of sensa- 
tion. General notions are material images of a very delicate 
texture formed, apparently, on the principle of composition- 
photographs by the coalescence of many individual images 
thrown off from objects possessing a greater or less degree of 
resemblance to one another.* Thought is produced by the 
contact of such images with the soul, itself, it will be remem- 
bered, a material substance. 

The rules for distinguishing between truth and falsehood 

> Such at least seems to be the theory rather obscurely set forth in Diog^., 
X., 32. 



are given in the famous Epicurean Canon. On receiving an 
image into the mind, we associate it with similar images 
formerly impressed on us by some real object. If the asso- 
ciation or anticipation {irp6\rY^is) is confirmed or not con- 
tradicted by subsequent experience, it is true ; false, if 
contradicted or not confirmed.* The stress laid on absence 
of contradictory evidence illustrates the great part played by 
such notions as possibility, negation, and freedom in the 
Epicurean system. In ethics this class of conceptions is 
represented by painlessness, conceived first as the condition, 
and finally as the essence of happiness; in physics by the 
infinite void, the inane profundum of which Lucretius speaks 
with almost religious unction ; and in logic by the absence of 
contradiction considered as a proof of reality. Here, perhaps, 
we may detect the Parmenidean absolute under a new form ; 
only, by a curious reversal, what Parmenides himself strove 
altogether to expel from thought has become its supreme 
object and content* 

The Epicurean philosophy of life and mind is completed 
by a sketch of human progress from its earliest beginnings to 
the complete establishment of civilisation. Here our principal 
authority is Lucretius ; and no part of his great poem has 
attracted so much attention and admiration in recent times as 
that in which he so vividly places before us the condition of 
primitive men with all its miseries, and the slow steps whereby 
family life, civil society, religion, industry, and science arose 
out of the original chaos and war of all against each. But it 
seems likely that here, as elsewhere, Lucretius did no more 
than copy and colour the outlines already traced by his 
master's hand.* How far Epicurus himself is to be credited 
with this brilliant forecast of modern researches into the 
history of civilisation, is a more difficult question. When we 

» Diog., X., 33, Sextus Emp., Adv, Math., VII., 2ii_i6 ; Zeller, p. 391. 
* For additional authorities sec Zeller, pp. 385-95, and Wallace's Epicurean- 
ism, chap. X. 

■ See Woltjer, Lmct, Ph., p. 141 ff. 


consider that the most important parts of his philosophy were 
compiled from older systems, and that the additions made by 
himself do not indicate any great capacity for original re- 
search, we are forced to conclude that, here also, he is indebted 
to some authority whose name has not been preserved. The 
development of civilisation out of barbarism seems, indeed, 
to have been a standing doctrine of Greek Humanism, just as 
the opposite doctrine of d^eneracy was characteristic of the 
naturalistic school. It is implied in the discourse of Pro- 
tagoras reported by Plato, and also, although less fully, in 
the introduction to the History of Thucydides. Plato and 
Aristotle trace back the intellectual and social progress of 
mankind to very rude beginnings ; while both writers assume 
that it was effected without any supernatural aid — a point 
marked to the exclusive credit of Epicurus by M. Guyau.* 
The old notion of a golden age, accepted as it was by so 
powerful a school as Stoicism, must have been the chief 
obstacle to a belief in progress ; but the Prometheus of 
Aeschylus, with its vivid picture of the miseries suffered by 
primitive men through their ignorance of the useful arts, 
shows that a truer conception had already gained ground 
quite independently of philosophic theories. That the primi- 
tive state was one of lawless violence was declared by 
another dramatic poet^ Critias, who has also much to say 
about the civilising function of religion ; ^ and shortly before 
the time of Epicurus the same view was put forward by 
Euphorion, in a passage of which, as it will probably be new 
to many of our readers, we subjoin a translation : — 

There was a time when mortals lived like brutes 

In caves and imsunned hollows of the earth, 

For neither house nor city flanked with towers 

Had then been reared : no ploughshare cut the clod 

To make it yield a bounteous harvest, nor 

Were the vines ranked and trimmed with pruning-knives. 

But fruitless births the sterile earth did bear. 

* Morale (CEpicure^ p. 157. 

' In a fragment quoted by Sextus Empiricus, Adv, Maih.y IX., 54. 



Men on each other fed i^th mutual slaughter. 

For Law was feeble, Violence enthroned, 

And to the strong the weaker fell a prey. 

But soon as Time that bears and nurtures all 

Wrought out another change in human life, — 

Whether some rapt Promethean utterance, 

Or strong Necessity, or Nature's teaching 

Through long experience, their deliverance brought, — 

Holy D^m^ter's fruit it gave them ; the sweet spring 

Of Bacchus they discovered, and the earth, 

Unsown before, was ploughed with oxen ; cities then 

They g^rt with towers and sheltering houses raised, 

And turned their savage life to civil ways ; 

And after that Law bade entomb the dead 

And measure out to each his share of dust, 

Nor leave unburied and exposed to sight 

Ghastly reminders of their former feasts.^ 

The merit of having worked up these loose materials into 
a connected sketch was, no doubt, considerable ; but, accord- 
ing to Zeller, there is reason for attributing it to Theophrastus 
or even to Democritus rather than to Epicurus.^ On the 
other hand, the purely mechanical manner in which Lucretius 
supposes every invention to have been suggested by some 
accidental occurrence or natural phenomenon, is quite in the 
style of Epicurus, and reminds us of the method by which he 
is known to have explained every operation of the human 


We have already repeatedly alluded to the only man of 
genius whom Epicureanism ever counted among its disciples. 
It is time that we should determine with more precision the 
actual relation in which he stood to the master whom, with a 
touching survival of religious sentiment, he revered as a 
saviour and a god. 

Lucretius has been called Rome's only great speculative 
genius. This is, of course, absurd. A talent for lucid ex- 

* Fragmtnta Tragicorum^ Didot, p. 140. • Zeller, p. 416, note i. 

' Sec the whole concluding portion of Lucr., bk. V, 


position does not constitute speculative genius, especially 
when it is unaccompanied by any ability to criticise the 
opinions expounded. The author of the De Rerum Naturd 
probably had a lawyer's education. He certainly exhibits 
great forensic skill in speaking from his brief. But Cicero 
and Seneca showed the same skill on a much more extensive 
scale ; and the former in particular was immensely superior 
to Lucretius in knowledge and argumentative power. Besides, 
the poet, who was certainly not disposed to hide his light 
under a bushel, and who exalts his own artistic excellences in 
no measured terms, never professes to be anything but a 
humble interpreter of truths first revealed to his Greek in- 
structor's vivid intellect. It has, indeed, been claimed for 
Lucretius that he teaches a higher wisdom than his acknow-* 
ledged guide.' This assertion is, however, not borne out by a 
careful comparison between the two.* In both there is the 
same theory of the universe, of man, and of the relations con- 
necting them with one another. The idea of Nature in 
Lucretius shows no advance over the same idea in Epicurus. 
To each it expresses, not, as with the Stoics, a unifying power, 
a design by which all things work together for the best, but 
simply the conditions of a permanent mechanical aggregation. 
When Lucretius speaks of foedera Naturai^ he means, not 
what we understand by laws of nature, that is, uniformities of 
causation underlying all phenomenal differences, to under- 
stand which is an exaltation of human dignity through the 
added power of prevision and control which it bestows, but 
rather the limiting possibilities of existence, the barriers 
against which human hopes and aspirations dash themselves 
in vain — an objective logic which guards us against fallacies 
instead of enabling us to arrive at positive conclusions. We 
have here the pervadingly negative character of Epicureanism, 

> Chiefly by Ritter, Gtsch. d, Phil,^ IV., p. 94, on which see the clear and con- 
vincing reply of Zeller, op, cit,y p. 47. 

• For details we must refer to the masterly treatise of Dr. Woltjer, already 
cited more than once in the course of this chapter. 


though probably presented with something of Roman solem- 
nity and sternness. The idea of individuality, with which 
Lucretius has also been credited, occupies but a small place 
in his exposition, and seems to have interested him only 
as a particular aspect of the atomic theory. The ultimate 
particles of matter must be divided into unlike groups of 
units, for otherwise we could not explain the unlikenesses 
exhibited by sensible objects. This is neither the original 
Greek idea, that every man has his own life to lead, irrespect- 
ive of public opinion or arbitrary convention ; nor is it the 
modern delight in Nature's inexhaustible variety as opposed 
to the poverty of human invention, or to the restrictions of 
fashionable taste. Nor can we admit that Lucretius de- 
veloped Epicurean philosophy in the direction of increased 
attention to the external world. The poet was, no doubt, a 
consummate observer, and he used his observations with 
wonderful felicity for the elucidation and enforcement of his 
philosophical reasoning; but in this respect he has been 
equalled or surpassed by other poets who either knew nothing 
of systematic philosophy, or, like Dante, were educated in a 
system as unlike as possible to that of Epicurus. There is, 
therefore, every reason for assuming that he saw and described 
phenomena not by virtue of his scientific training, but by 
virtue of his artistic endowment. And the same may be said 
of the other points in which he is credited with improvements 
on his master's doctrine. There is, no doubt, a strong con- 
sciousness of unity, of individuality, and of law running 
through his poem. But it is under the form of intuitions or 
contemplations, not under the form of speculative ideas that 
they are to be found. And, as will be presently shown, it is 
not as attributes of Nature but as attributes of life that they 
present themselves to his imagination. 

In ethics, the dependence of Lucretius on his master is 
not less close than in physics. There is the same inconsistent 
presentation of pleasure conceived under its intensest aspect. 


and then of mere relief from pain, as the highest good ; ' the 
same dissuasion from sensuality, not as in itself degrading, 
but as involving disagreeable consequences ; * the same in- 
culcation of frugal and simple living as a source of happiness ; 
the same association of justice with the dread of detection 
and punishment ; ' the same preference — particularly sur- 
prising in a Roman— of quiet obedience to political power ; * 
finally, the same rejection, for the same reason, of divine 
providence and of human immortality, along with the same 
attempt to prove that death is a matter of indifference to us, 
enforced with greater passion and wealth of illustration, 
but with no real addition to the philosophy of the subject* 

Nevertheless, after all has been said, we are conscious of 
a great change in passing from the Greek moralist to the 
Roman poet. We seem to be breathing a new atmosphere, 
to find th6 old ideas informed with an unwonted life, to feel 
ourselves in the presence of one who has a power of stamping 
his convictions on us not ordinarily possessed by the mere 
imitative disciple. The explanation of this difference, we 
think, lies in the fact that Lucretius has so manipulated the 
Epicurean doctrines as to convert them from a system into a 
picture ; and that he has saturated this picture with an 
emotional tone entirely wanting to the spirit of Epicureanism 
as it was originally designed. It is with the latter element 
that we may most conveniently begin. 

• Cf. II., 18, with II., 172. 

• The single exception to this rule that can be quoted is, we believe, the 
argument against impassioned love derived from its enslaving influence {quod 
alterius sub nutu cUgitur attas^ V., 1 1 16). But to live under another's nod is a 
condition eminently unfavourable to the mental tranquillity which an Epicurean 
prized before all things ; nor, in any case, does it seem to have counted for so 
much with Lucretius as the ' damnation of expenses ' which was no less formidable 
a deterrent to him than to the ' unco gnid ' of Bums*s satire. 

• v., 1 153-4. * v., 1125. 

• Ziegler (Gesck, a. Etkik^ I., p. 203) quotes Lucret., III., 136, to prove that 
the poet recognised the existence of mental pleasures as such. But Lucretius only 
says that the mind has pleasures not derived from an immediate external stimulus. 
This would apply perfectly to the imagination of sensual pleasure. 


Attention has already been called to the fact that Epi- 
curus, although himself indifferent to physical science, was 
obliged, by the demands of the age, to give it a place, and a 
very large place, in his philosophy. Now it was to this very 
side of Epicureanism that the fresh intellect of Rome most 
eagerly attached itself It is a great mistake to suppose that 
the Romans, or rather the ancient Italians, were indifferent to 
speculations about the nature of things. No one has given 
more eloquent expression to the enthusiasm excited by such 
enquiries than Virgil. Seneca devoted a volume to physical 
questions, and regretted that worldly distractions should 
prevent them from being studied with the assiduity they 
deserved. The elder Pliny lost his life in observing the 
eruption of Vesuvius. It was probably the imperial despotism, 
with its repeated persecutions of the * Mathematicians,* which 
alone prevented Italy from entering on the great scientific 
career for which she was predestined in after ages. At any 
rate, a spirit of active curiosity was displaying itself during 
the last days of the republic, and we are told that nearly all 
the Roman Epicureans applied themselves particularly to the 
physical side of their master's doctrine.* Most of all was 
Lucretius distinguished by a veritable passion for science, 
which haunted him even in his dreams.^ Hence, while Epi- 
curus regarded the knowledge of Nature simply as a means 
for overthrowing religion, with his disciple the speculative 
interest seems to precede every other consideration, and 
religion is only introduced afterwards as an obstacle to be 
removed from the enquirer's path. How far his natural genius 
might have carried the poet in this direction, had he fallen 
into better hands, we cannot tell. As it was, the gift of what 
seemed a complete and infallible interpretation of physical 
phenomena relieved him from the necessity of independent 
investigation, and induced him to accept the most preposter- 
ous conclusions as demonstrated truths. But we can see how 

' Woltjcr, op, cit., p. 5. 2 IV., 966. 


he IS drawn by an elective affinity to that early Greek thought 
whence Epicurus derived whatever was of any real value in 
his philosophy. 

It has been doubted, we think with insufficient reason, 
that Lucretius was acquainted at firsthand with Empedocles.' 
But, by whatever channel it reached him, the enthusiasm of 
Empedocles and the Eleates lives in his verse no less truly 
than the inspiration of Aeolian music in the song of his 
younger contemporary, Catullus. The atomic theory, with 
its wonderful revelations of invisible activity and unbroken 
continuity underlying the abrupt revolutions of phenomenal 
existence, had been the direct product of those earliest 
struggles towards a deeper vision into the mysteries of cosmic 
life ; and so Lucretius was enabled through his grasp of the 
theory itself to recover the very spirit and passion from which 
it sprang.* 

But the enthusiasm for science, however noble in itself, 
would not alone have sufficed to mould the Epicurean philo- 
sophy into a true work of art. The De Rerum NaturA is the 
greatest of all didactic poems, because it is something more 
than didactic. Far more truly than any of its Latin suc- 
cessors, it may claim comparison with the epic and dramatic 
masterpieces of Greece and Christian Europe ; and that too 
not by virtue of any detached passages, however splendid, but 
by virtue of its composition as a whole. The explanation of 
this extraordinary success is to be sought in the circumstance 
that the central interest whence Lucretius works out in all 
directions is vital rather than merely scientific. The true 
heroine of his epic is not Nature but universal life — ^human 
life in the first instance, then the life of all the lower animals, 
and even of plants as well. Not only does he bring before us 
every stage of man's existence from its first to its last hour 

» Woltjcr, op. cit,, pp. 178 ff. 

' There is an unquestionable coincidence between Lucretius, II., 69 ff. and 
Plato, Legg.y 776 B, pointed out by Teichmiiller, GeschkhUiUr BegHffe^ p. 177. 
Both may have drawn from some older source. 


with a comprehensiveness, a fidelity, and a daring unparalleled 
in literature ; but he exhibits with equal power of portrayal 
the towered elephants carrying confusion into the ranks of 
war, or girdling their own native India with a rampart of ivory 
tusks ; the horse with an eagerness for the race that outruns 
even the impulse of his own swift limbs, or fiercely neighing 
with distended nostrils on the battlefield ; the dog snuffing 
an imaginary scent, or barking at strange faces in his dreams ; 
the cow sorrowing after her lost heifer; the placid and 
laborious ox ; the flock of pasturing sheep seen far off, like a 
white spot on some green hill; the tremulous kids and 
sportive lambs ; the new-fledged birds filling all the grove 
with their fresh songs ; the dove with her neck-feathers 
shifting from ruby-red to sky-blue and emerald-green ; the 
rookery clamouring for wind or rain ; the sea birds screaming 
over the salt waves in search of prey ; the snake sloughing its 
skin ; the scaly fishes cleaving their way through the yielding 
stream ; the bee winging its flight from flower to flower ; the 
gnat whose light touch on our faces passes unperceived ; the 
grass refreshed with dew ; the trees bursting into sudden life 
from the young earth, or growing, flourishing, and covering 
themselves with fruit, dependent, like animals, on heat and 
moisture for their increase, and glad like them : — all these 
helping to illustrate with unequalled variety, movement, and 
picturesqueness the central idea which Lucretius carries 
always in his mind. 

The keynote of the whole poem is struck in its opening 
lines. When Venus is addressed as Nature's sole guide and 
ruler, this, from the poet's own point of view, is not true of 
Nature as a whole, but it is eminently true of life, whether we 
identify Venus with the passion through which living things 
are continually regenerated, or with the pleasure which is 
their perpetual motive and their only good. And it is equally 
appropriate, equally characteristic of a consummate artist, that 
the interest of the work should culminate in a description of 

_ 't. - 


this same passion, no longer as the source of life, but as its 
last outcome and full flower, yet also, when pushed to excess, 
the illusion by which it is most utterly disappointed and un- 
done ; and that the whole should conclude with a description 
of death, not as exemplified in any individual tragedy, but in 
such havoc as was wrought by the famous plague at Athens 
on man and beast alike. Again, it is by the orderly sequence 
of vital phenomena that Lucretius proves his first great prin- 
ciple, the everlasting duration and changelessness of matter. 
If something can come out of nothing, he asks us, why is the 
production of all living things attached to certain conditions 
of place and season and parentage, according to their several 
kinds ? Or if a decrease in the total sum of existence be 
possible, whence comes the inexhaustible supply of materials 
needed for the continual regeneration, growth, and nourish- 
ment of animal life ? It is because our senses cannot detect 
the particles of matter by whose withdrawal visible objects 
gradually waste away that the existence of extremely minute 
atoms is assumed ; and, so far, there is also a reference to in- 
organic bodies ; but the porosity of matter is proved by the 
interstitial absorption of food and the searching penetration 
of cold ; while the necessity of a vacuum is established by the 
ability of fish to move through the opposing stream. The 
generic differences supposed to exist among the atoms are 
inferred from the distinctions separating not only one animal 
species from another, but each individual from all others of 
the same species. The deflection of the atoms from the line 
of perpendicular descent is established by the existence of 
human free-will. So also, the analysis which distinguishes 
three determinate elements in the composition of the soul 
finds its justification in the diverse characters of animals — the 
fierceness of the lion, the placidity of the ox, and the timor- 
ousness of the deer — qualities arising from the preponderance 
of a fiery, an aerial, and a windy ingredient in the animating 
principle of each respectively Finally, by another organic 


illustration, the atoms in general are spoken of as semina 
rerum — seeds of things. 

At the same time Lucretius is resolved that no false 
analogy shall obscure the distinction between life and the 
conditions of life. It is for attempting, as he supposes, 
to efface this distinction that he so sharply criticises the 
earlier Greek thinkers. He scoff's at Heracleitus for imagin- 
ing that all forms of existence can be deduced from the single 
element of fire. The idea of evolution and transformation 
seems, under some of its aspects, utterly alien to our poet. 
His intimacy with the world of living forms had accustomed 
him to view Nature as a vast assemblage of fixed types which 
might be broken up and reconstructed, but which by no possi- 
bility could piass into one another. Yet this rigid retention 
of characteristic diff*erences in form permits a certain play 
and variety of movement, an individual spontaneity for which 
no law can be prescribed. The foedera Natural, as Prof. 
Sellar aptly observes, are opposed to >ih& foedera fati} And 

* We think, however, that Prof. Sellar attributes more importance to this 
element in the Lucretian philosophy than it will bear. His words are : * The 
doctrine proclaimed by Lucretius was, that creation was no result of a capricious 
or benevolent exercise of power, but of certain processes extending through infinite 
time, by means of which the atoms have at length been able to combine and work 
together in accordance with their ultimate conditions. The conception of these 
ultimate conditions and of their relations to one another involves some more vital 
agency than that of blind chance or an iron fatalism. The foedera Naturai are 
opposed to the foedera fati. The idea of law in Nature as understood by Lucretius 
is not merely that of invariable sequence or concomitance of phenomena. It 
implies at least the further idea of a **secreta facultas ^ in the original elements.' 
(Roman Poets of the Republic^ p. 335, 2nd ed. ) The expression secreta facultas 
occurs, we believe, only once in the whole poem (I., 174), and is used on that 
single occasion without any reference to the atoms, which do not appear until a 
later stage of the exposition. Lucretius is proving that whatever begins to exist 
must have a cause, and in support of this principle he appeals to the fixed laws 
which govern the growth of plants. Each plant springs from a particular kind of 
seed, and so, he argues, each seed must have a distinct or specific virtue of its own, 
which virtue he expresses by the words secreta facultas. But, according to his 
subsequent teaching, this specific virtue depends on a particular combination of 
the atoms, not on any spontaneous power which they possess of grouping themselves 
together so as to form organic compounds. With regard to the properties of the 
atoms themselves, Lucretius enumerates them clearly enough. They are extension, 
figure, resistance, and motion ; the last mentioned being divided into downward 


this is just what might be expected from a philosophy based 
on the contemplation of life. For, while there is no capricious- 
ness at all about the structure of animals, there is apparently 
a great deal of capriciousness about their actions. On the 
other hand, the Stoics, who derived their physics in great 
part from Heracleitus, came nearer than Lucretius to the 
standpoint of modern science. With them, as with the most 
advanced thinkers now, it is the foedera Natural — the uni- 
formities of co-existence — which are liable to exception and 
modification, while ^^ foedera fati — the laws of causation — 
are necessary and absolute. 

In like manner, Lucretius rejects the theory that living 
bodies are made up of the four elements, much as he admires 

gravitation, lateral deflection, and the momenta produced by mutual impact. 
Here we have nothing more than the two elements of * iron fatalism ' and * blind 
chance ' which Prof. Sellar regards as insufficient to account for the Lucretian scheme 
of creation ; gravitation and mutual impact give the one, lateral deflection gives the 
other. Any faculty over and above these could only be conceived under the form 
of conscious impulse, or of mutual attractions and repulsions exercised by the atoms 
on one another. The first hypothesis is expressly rejected by the poet, who tells 
us (I., 1020) that the primordial elements are destitute of consciousness, and 
have fellen into their present places through the agency of purely mechanical 
causes. The second hypothesis is nowhere alluded to in the most distant manner, 
it is contrary to the whole spirit of Epicurean physics, it never occurred to a sii^Ie 
thinker of antiquity, and to have conceived it at that time would have needed more 
than the genius of a Newton. As a last escape it may be urged that Lucretius 
believed in *a sort of a something' which, like the fourth element in the soul, he 
was not prepared to define. But besides the utter want of evidence for such a 
supposition, what necessity would there have been for the infinite chances which 
he postulates in order to explain how the actual system of things came to be evolved, 
had the elements been originally endowed with the disposition to fall into such a 
system rather than into any other ? For Prof. Sellar's vital agency must mean this 
disposition if it means anything at all. 

While on this subject we must also express our surprise to find Prof. Sellar 
saying of Lucretius that * in'no ancient writer * is * the certainty and universality of 
law more emphatically and unmistakably expressed ' (p. 334). This would, we 
think, be much truer of the Stoics, who recognised in its absolute universality 
that law of causation on which all other laws depend, but which Lucretius ex- 
pressly tells us (IL, 255) is broken through by the clinamen, A more accurate 
statement of the case, we think, would be to say that the Epicurean poet believed 
unreservedly in uniformities of coexistence, but not, to the same extent, in uniform- 
ities of sequence ; while apart from these two classes neither he nor modem 
science knows of any laws at all. 


its author, Empedocles. It seemed to him a blind confusion 
of the inorganic with the organic, the complex harmonies of 
life needing a much more subtle explanation than was afforded 
by such a crude intermixture of warring principles. If the 
theory of Anaxagoras fares no better in his hands, it is for 
the converse reason. He looks on it as an attempt to carry 
back purely vital phenomena into the inorganic world, to read 
into the ultimate molecules of matter what no analysis can 
make them yield — that is, something with properties like 
those of the tissues out of which animal bodies are composed. 

Thus, while the atomic theory enables Lucretius to account 
for the dependent and perishable nature of life, the same 
theory enables him to bring out by contrast its positive and 
distinguishing characteristics. The bulk, the flexibility, the 
complexity, and the sensibility of animal bodies are opposed 
to the extreme minuteness, the absolute hardness, the sim- 
plicity, and the unconsciousness of the primordial substances 
which build them up. 

On passing from the ultimate elements of matter to those 
immense aggregates which surpass nrian in size and complexity 
as much as the atoms fall below him, but on whose energies 
his dependence is no less helpless and complete — the infinite 
worlds typified for us by this one system wherein we dwell, 
with its solid earthly nucleus surrounded by rolling orbs of 
light — Lucretius still carries with him the analogies of life ; 
but in proportion to the magnitude and remoteness of the objects 
examined, his grasp seems to grow less firm and his touch less 
sure. la marked contrast to Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, 
he argues passionately against the ascription of a beneficent 
purpose to the constitution of the world ; but his reasonings 
are based solely on its imperfect adaptation to the necessities 
of human existence. With equal vigour he maintains, appa- 
rently against Aristotle, that the present system has had a 
beginning ; against both Aristotle and Plato that, in common 
with all systems, it will have an end — ^a perfectly true con- 


elusion, but evidently based on nothing stronger than the 
analogies of vital phenomena. And everywhere the subject- 
ive standpoint, making man the universal measure, is equally 
marked. Because our knowledge of history does not go far 
back, we cannot be far removed from its absolute b^inning ; 
and the history of the human race must measure the dura- 
tion of the visible world. The earth is conceived as a mother 
bringing forth every species of living creature from her teem- 
ing bosom ; and not only that, but a nursing mother feeding 
her young offspring with abundant streams of milk — an un- 
expected adaptation from the myth of a golden age. If we 
no longer witness such wonderful displays of fertility, the 
same elastic method is invoked to explain their cessation. 
The world, like other animals, is growing old and effete. The 
exhaustion of Italian agriculture is adduced as a sig^ of the 
world's decrepitude with no less confidence than the freshness 
of Italian poetry as a sign of its youth. The vast process of 
cosmic change, with its infinite cycles of aggregation and 
dissolution, does but repeat on an overwhelming scale the 
familiar sequences of birth and death in animal species. Even 
the rising and setting of the heavenly bodies and the phases 
of the moon may, it is argued, result from a similar succession 
of perishing individuals, although we take them for different 
appearances of a single unalterable sphere.' 

A similar vein of thought runs through the moral and 
religious philosophy of Lucretius. If we look on him as a 
reformer, we shall say that his object was to free life from the 
delusions with which it had been disfigured by ignorance and 
passion. If we look on him as an artist, we shall say that he 
instinctively sought to represent life in the pure and perfect 
beauty of its naked form. If we look on him as a poet, we 
shall say that he exhibits all the objects of false belief no 
longer in the independence of their fancied reality, but in their 
place among other vital phenomena, and in due subordination 

» v., 695-73, 730-49. 


to the human consciousness whose power, even when it is 
bound by them, they reveal. But while the first alternative 
leaves him in the position of a mere imitator or expositor who 
brings home no lessons that Epicurus had not already enforced 
with far greater success, the other two, and above all the last, 
restore him to the position of an original genius, who, instead 
of deriving his intuitions from the Epicurean system, adopts 
just so much of that system as is necessary to give them 
coherence and shape. It may, no doubt, be urged, that were 
life reduced to the simple expression, the state of almost 
vegetative repose, demanded by Lucretius, denuded of love, 
of ambition, of artistic luxury, of that aspiration towards 
belief in and union with some central soul of things, which 
all religions, more or less distinctly embody, its value for 
imaginative purposes would be destroyed ; and that the 
deepest lesson taught by his poem would not be how to enjoy 
existence with the greatest intensity, but how to abandon it 
with the least regret. Now it is just here that the wonderful 
power of poetry comes in, and does for once, under the form 
of a general exposition, what it has to do again and again 
under the easier conditions of individual presentation. For 
poetry is essentially tragic, and almost always excites the 
activity of our imaginatioii, not by giving it the assured pos- 
session of realities, but by the strain resulting from their 
actual or their expected eclipse. If Homer and the Attic 
tragedians show us what is life, and what are the goods of 
life, it is not through experience of the things themselves, but 
through the form of the void and the outline of the shadow 
which their removal or obscuration has produced. So also in 
the universal tragedy of the Roman poet, where the actors are 
not persons, but ideas. Every belief is felt with more poignant 
intensity at the moment of its overthrow, and the world of 
illusion is compensated for intellectual extinction by imagin- 
ative persistence as a conscious creation, a memory, or a 
dream. There is no mythological picture so splendidly 
painted as those in which Lucretius has shown us Mavors 


pillowed on the lap of Venus, or led before us the Idaean 
mother in her triumphal car. No redeemer, credited with 
supernatural powers, has ever enjoyed such an apotheosis as 
that bestowed by his worshipper on the apostle of unbelief. 
Ncwhere have the terrible and mysterious suggestions of 
mortality been marshalled with such effect as in the argument 
showing that death no more admits of experience than of 
escape. What love-inspired poet has ever followed the storm 
and stress of passion with such tenderness of sympathy or 
such audacity of disclosure, as he to whom its objects were 
disrobed of their divinity, for whom its fancied satisfaction 
was but the kindling to insaner effort of a fatally unquench- 
able desire ? Instead of being ' compelled to teach a truth 
he would not learn,* Lucretius was enabled by the spirit of 
his own incomparable art to seize and fix for ever, in bold 
reversal of light and shade, those visions on which the killing 
light of truth had long before him already dawned. 

The De Rerum Naturd is the greatest of Roman poems, 
because it is just the one work where the abstract genius 
of Rome met with a subject combining an abstract form with 
the interest and inspiration of concrete reality ; where nega- 
tion works with a greater power than assertion ; where the 
satire is directed against follies more widespread and endur- 
ing than any others ; where the teaching in some most 
essential points can never be superseded ; and where de- 
pendence on a Greek model left the poet free to contribute 
from his own imagination those elements to which the poetic 
value of his work is entirely due. By a curious coincidence, 
the great poet of mediaeval Italy attained success by the 
employment of a somewhat similar method. Dante repre- 
sented, it is true, in their victorious combination, three in- 
fluences against which Lucretius waged an unrelenting warfare 
— religion, the idealising love of woman, and the spiritualistic 
philosophy of Greece. Nevertheless, they resemble each 
other in this important particular, that both have taken an 


abstract theory of the world as the mould into which the 
burning metal of their imaginative conceptions is poured. 
Dante, however, had a power of individual presentation which 
Lucretius either lacked or had no opportunity of exercising ; 
and therefore he approaches nearer to that supreme creative- 
ness which only two races, the Greek and the English, have 
hitherto displayed on a very extended scale. 


Returning once more to Epicurus, we have now to sum 
up the characteristic excellences and defects of his philosophy. 
The revival of the atomic theory showed unquestionable 
courage and insight Outside the school of Democritus, it 
was, so far as we know, accepted by no other thinker. Plato 
never mentions it. Aristotle examined and rejected it The 
opponents of Epicurus himself treated it as a self-evident 
absurdity.' Only Marcus Aurelius seems to have contem- 
plated the possibility of its truth.* But while to have main- 
tained the right theory in the face of such universal opposition 
was a proof of no common discernment, we must remember 
that appropriating the discoveries of others, even when those 
discoveries are in danger of being lost through neglect, is a 
very different thing from making discoveries for one's self. 
No portion of the glory due to Leucippus and Democritus 
should be diverted to their arrogant successor. And it must 
also be remembered that the Athenian philosopher, by his 
theory of deflection, not only spoiled the original hypothesis, 
but even made it a little ridiculous. 

The second service of Epicurus was entirely to banish 
the idea of supernatural interference from the study of natu- 
ral phenomena. This also was a difiicult enterprise in the 
face of that overwhelming theological reaction begun by 
Socrates, continued by Plato, and carried to grotesque con- 

> Cicero, De Nat, Deor,^ I., xxiv., 66. ' Comnu^ IX., 28. 


sequences by the Stoics ; but, here again, there can be no 
question of attributing any originality to the philosopher of 
the Garden. That there either were no gods at all, or that if 
there were they never meddled with the world, was a common 
enough opinion in Plato's time ; and even Aristotle's doctrine 
of a Prime Mover excludes the notion of creation, providence, 
and miracles altogether. On the other hand, the Epicurean 
theory of idle gods was irrational in itself, and kept the door 
open for a return of superstitious beliefs. 

The next and perhaps the most important point in favour 
of Epicureanism is its theory of pleasure as the end of action. 
Plato had left his idea of the good undefined ; Aristotle had 
defined his in such a manner as to shut out the vast majority 
of mankind from its pursuit ; the Stoics had revolted every 
instinct by altogether discarding pleasure as an end, and 
putting a purely formal and hollow perfection in its place. 
It must further be admitted that Epicurus, in tracing back 
justice to the two ideas of interest and contract, had hold of 
a true and fertile principle. Nevertheless, although ethics is 
his strongest ground, his usual ill-luck pursues him even here. 
It is where he is most original that he goes most astray. By 
reducing pleasure, as an end of action, to the mere removal of 
pain, he alters earlier systems of hedonism for the worse ; 
and plays the game of pessimism by making it appear that, 
on the whole, death must be preferable to life, since it is 
what life can never be — a state of absolute repose. And by 
making self-interest, in the sense of seeking nothing but one's 
own pleasure or the means to it, the only rule of action, he 
endangers the very foundations of society. At best, the self- 
ish system, as Coleridge has beautifully observed, ^stands 
in a similar relation to the law of conscience or universal 
selfless reason, as the dial to the sun which indicates its path 
by intercepting its radiance.' ' Nor is the indication so 
certain as Coleridge admitted. A time may come when 

I Coleridge's Friend^ Section II., Essay II., s%Lb in* 

I 2 


self sacrifice shall be unnecessary for the public welfare, but 
we are not within a measurable distance of it as yet. 

No word of commendation can be pronounced on the 
Epicurean psychology and logic. They are both bad in 
themselves, and inconsistent with the rest of the system. 
Were all knowledge derived from sense-impressions — espe- 
cially if those impressions were what Epicurus imagined them 
to be — the atomic theory could never have been disco- 
vered or even conceived, nor could an ideal of happiness 
have been thought out. In its theory of human progress, 
Epicureanism once more shows to advants^e ; although in 
denying all inventiveness to man, and making him the pas- 
sive recipient of external impressions, it differs widely from 
the modem school which it is commonly supposed to have 
anticipated. And we may reasonably suspect that, here as 
elsewhere, earlier systems embodied sounder views on the 
same subject 

The qualities which enabled Epicurus to compete suc- 
cessfully with much greater thinkers than himself as the 
founder of a lasting sect, were practical rather than theo- 
retical. Others before him had taught that happiness was 
the end of life ; none, like him, had cultivated the art of 
happiness, and pointed out the fittest methods for attaining it. 
The idea of such an art was a real and important addition 
to the resources of civilisation. No mistake is greater than 
to suppose that pleasure is lost by being made an object of 
pursuit. To single out the most agreeable course among 
many alternatives, and, when once found, steadily to pur- 
sue it, is an aptitude like any other, and is capable of being 
brought to a high degree of perfection by assiduous attention 
and self-discipline.* No doubt the capacity for enjpyment 

* ' In the higher ranks of French society there are men who merit to be called 
professors of the art of happiness ; who have anal3rsed its ingredients with careful 
fingers and scrutinising eyes ; who have consummated their experience of means 
and ends ; who, like able doctors, can apply an immediate remedy to the daily 
difficulties of home-life ; whose practice is worthy of their theory, and who prove it 


IS impaired by excessive self-consciousness, but the same 
is true of every other accomplishment during the earlier 
stages of its acquisition. It is only the beginner who is 
troubled by taking too much thought about his own profi- 
ciency ; when practice has become a second nature, the pro- 
fessor of hedonism reaps his harvest of delight without wasting 
a thought on his own efforts, or allowing the phantom of 
pleasure in the abstract to allure him away from its particular 
and present realisation. And, granting that happiness as 
such can be made an object of cultivation, Epicurus was per- 
fectly right in teaching that the removal of pain is its most 
essential condition, faulty as was (from a speculative point of 
view) his confusion of the condition with the thing itself. If 
the professed pleasure-seekers of modem society often fail tn 
the business of their lives, it is from neglecting this salutary 
principle, especially where it takes the form of attention to 
the requirements of health. In assigning a high importance 
to friendship, he was equally well inspired. Congenial society 
is not only the most satisfying of enjoyments in itself, but 
also that which can be most easily combined with every other 
enjoyment. It is also true, although a truth felt rather than 
perceived by our philosopher, that speculative agreement, 
especially when speculation takes the form of dissent from 
received opinions, greatly increases the affection of friends 
for one another. And as theology is the subject on which 
unforced agreement seems most difficult, to eliminate its 
influence altogether was a valuable though purely negative 
contribution to unanimity of thought and feeling in the 
hedonistic sect. 

An attempt has recently been made by M. Guyau to trace 
the influence of Epicurus on modem philosophy. We cannot 
but think the method of this able and lucid writer a thoroughly 

by maintaining in their wives* hearts and in their own a perennial never- weakening 
sentiment of gratitude and love.' {.French Ilonu Life, p. 324.) Although Mr. 
Marshall's observations are directly applicable to the happiness of married life only, 
they tend to prova that all happiness may be reduced to an art. 


mistaken one. Assuming the recognition of self-interest as 
the sole or paramount instinct in human nature, to be the 
essence of what Epicurus taught, M. Guyau, without more 
ado, sets down every modern thinker who agrees with him on 
this one point as his disciple, and then adds to the number 
all who hold that pleasure is the end of action ; thus making 
out a pretty long list of famous names among the more 
recent continuators of his tradition. A more extended study 
of ancient philosophy would have shown the French critic 
that moralists who, in other respects, were most opposed 
to Epicurus, agreed with him in holding that every man 
naturally and necessarily makes his own interest the supreme 
test of right conduct ; and that only with the definition of 
welfare did their divergence begin. On the other hand, the 
selfish systems of modem times differ entirely from Epicur- 
eanism in their conception of happiness. With Hobbes, for 
instance, whom M. Guyau classes as an Epicurean, the ideal 
is not painlessness but power ; the desires are, according to 
his view, naturally infinite, and are held in check, not by 
philosophical precepts but by mutual restraint ; while, in de- 
ducing the special virtues, his standard is not the good of each 
individual, but the good of the whole — in other words, he is, 
to that extent, a Stoic rather than an Epicurean. La Roche- 
foucauld, who is offered as another example of the same 
tendency, was not a moralist at all ; and as a psycholc^ist he 
differs essentially from Epicurus in regarding vanity as always 
and everj^vhere the gfreat motive to virtue. Had the Athenian 
sage believed this he would have despaired of making men 
happy ; for disregard of public opinion, within the limits of 
personal safety, was, with him, one of the first conditions of a 
tranquil existence. Nor would he have been less averse from 
the system of Helv^tius, another of his supposed disciples. 
The principal originality of Helv^tius was to insist that the 
passions, instead of being discouraged — as all previous moral- 
ists, Epicurus among the number, had advised — should be 


deliberately stimulated by the promise of unlimited indulgence 
to those who distinguished themselves by important public 
services. Of Spinoza we need say nothing, for M. Guyau 
admits that he was quite as much inspired by Stoic as by 
Epicurean ideas. At the same time, the combination of these 
two ethical systems would have been much better illustrated 
by modem English utilitarianism, which M. Guyau regards as 
a development of Epicureanism alone. The greatest happiness 
of the greatest number is not an individual or self-interested, 
but a universal end, having, as Mill has shown, for its ultimate 
sanction the love of humanity as a whole, which is an essen- 
tially Stoic sentiment. It may be added that utilitarian- 
ism has no sympathy with the particular theory of pleasure, 
whether sensual or negative, adopted by Epicurus. In giving 
a high, or even the highest place to intellectual enjoyments, 
it agrees with the estimate of Plato and Aristotle, to which he 
was so steadily opposed. And in duly appreciating the posi- 
tive side of all enjoyments, it returns to the earlier hedonism 
from which he stood so far apart 

The distinctive features of Epicureanism have, in truth, 
never been copied, nor are they ever likely to be copied, by 
any modern system. It arose, as we have seen, from a com- 
bination of circumstances which will hardly be repeated in the 
future history of thought As the heat and pressure of molten 
granite turn sandstone into slate, so also the mighty systems 
of Plato and Aristotle, coming into contact with the irreligious, 
sensual, empirical, and sceptical side of Attic thought, forced 
it to assume that sort of laminated texture which characterises 
the theoretical philosophy of Epicurus. And, at the very 
same moment, the disappearance of all patriotism and public 
spirit from Athenian life allowed the older elements of Athen- 
ian character, its amiable ^oism, its love of frugal gratifica- 
tions, its aversion from purely speculative interests, to create 
a new and looser bond of social union among those who were 
indifferent to the vulgar objects of ambition, but whom the 
austerer doctrines of Stoicism had failed to attract. 






The year 155 B.C. was signalised by an important event, 
if not in the history of ideas, at least in the history of 
their diffusion. This was the despatch of an embassy from 
the Athenian people to the Roman Senate, consisting of 
three philosophers, the heads of their respective schools — 
Carneades the Academician, Critolaus the Peripatetic, and. 
Diogenes the Stoic. Philosophic teaching, once proscribed at J 
Athens, had, at the time of which we are speaking, become! 
her chief distinction, and the most honourable profession pur4 
sued within her precincts. It was, then, as natural that an 
important mission should be confided to the most eminent 
representatives of the calling in question as that high eccle- 
siastics should be similarly employed by Rome in later ages, 
or that German university towns should send professors to 
represent their interests in the imperial Diet. But the same 
fate that befalls an established religion had befallen an estab- 
lished philosophy. An attempt to impose restrictions on 
the liberty of teaching had, indeed, been successfully resisted, 
and the experiment was never repeated.* Nevertheless, the 
teachers themselves lost as much in true dignity as they 
gained in affluence and popular estimation. In all probabi- 
lity, the threat of death would not have induced Socrates to 
undertake the task which was, apparently, accepted without 

' Wallace's Epicureanism^ p. 37. 


compulsion and as an honourable duty by his successors. 
The Athenians had made an unprovoked raid on the town of 
Oropus ; the affair had been referred to arbitration ; and the 
aggressors had been sentenced to pay a fine of 500 talents. 
It was to obtain a remission of this sentence that the three 
Scholarchs were sent on an embassy to the Roman Senate. 

If the nature of their errand was not precisely calculated 
to win respect for the profession of the Athenian envoys, the 
subsequent proceedings of one among their number proved 
still less likely to raise it in the estimation of those whose 
favour they sought to win. Hellenic culture was, at that 
time, rapidly gaining ground among the Roman aristocracy ; 
Carneades, who already enjoyed an immense reputation for 
eloquence and ingenuity among his own countrymen, used 
the opportunity offered by his temporary residence in the 
imperial city to deliver public lectures on morality ; and such 
was the eagerness to listen that for a time the young nobles 
could think and talk of nothing else. The subject chosen was 
justice. The first lecture recapitulated whatever had been 
said in praise of that virtue by Plato and Aristotle. But it 
was a principle of the sect to which Carneades belonged that 
every affirmative proposition, however strongly supported, 
might be denied with equal plausibility. Accordingly, his 
second discourse was entirely devoted to upsetting the con- 
clusions advocated in the first. Transporting the whole 
question, as would seem, from a private to a public point of 
view, he attempted to show, from the different standards 
prevailing in different countries, that there was no such thing 
as an immutable rule of right ; and also that the greatest and 
most successful States had profited most by unscrupulous 
aggressions on their weaker neighbours — his most telling 
illustrations being drawn from the history of the Romans 
themselves. Then, descending once more to private life, the 
sceptical lecturer expatiated on the frequency of those cases 
in which justice is opposed to self-interest, and the folly of 


sacrificing one*s own advantage to that of another. ' Suppose 
a good man has a runaway slave or an unhealthy house to sell, 
will he inform the buyer of their deficiencies, or will he conceal 
them ? In the one case he will be a fool, in the other case he 
will be unjust Again, justice forbids us to take away the life 
or property of another. But in a shipwreck, will not the just 
man try to save his life at another's expense by seizing the 
plank of which some weaker person than himself has got hold — 
especially if they are alone on the sea together ? If he is 
wise he will do so, for to act otherwise would be to sacrifice 
his life. So also, in flying before the enemy, will he not dis- 
possess a wounded comrade of his horse, in order to mount 
and escape on it himself? Here, again, justice is incompa- 
tible with self-preservation — that is to say, with wisdom ! ' * 

At the time when Cameades delivered his lectures, the 
morality of R ome resembled th i^, nf ^pnrtn rliirinr her great 
conflict with Athens, as characterised by one of the speakers 
In the Melian Dialogue. Scrupulously honourable in their 
dealings with one another, in their dealings with foreign 
nations her citizens notoriously identified justice with what 
was agreeable or advantageous to themselves. The argu- 
ments of the Academic philosopher must, therefore, have been 
doubly annoying to the leaders of the State, as a satire on its 
public policy and as a source of danger to the integ^ty of its 
private life. In this respect, old Cato was a type of the whole 
race. In all transactions with his fellow-citizens, and in every 
oflSce undertaken on behalf of the community, his honesty 
was such that it became proverbial. But his absolute dis-| 
regard of international justice has become equally proverbial 
through the famous advice, reiterated on every possible occa- 
sion, that an unoffending and unwarlike city should be de- 
stroyed, lest its existence should at some future time become 
a source of uneasiness to the mistress of the world. Perhaps 
it was a secret consciousness of his own inconsistency which 

' Cicero, Dt Rep.^ III., vL-xx. 


prevented him from directly proposing that Cameades should 
not be allowed to continue his lectures. At any rate, the ex- 
Censor contented himself with moving that the business on 
which the Athenian envoys had come should be at once con- 
cluded, that they might return to their classes at Athens, 
leaving the youth of Rome to seek instruction as before from 
the wise conversation and example of her public men.* We 
are not told whether his speech on this occasion wound up 
with the usual formula, caeterum^ Patres Conscrtpti^ sententia 
mea est Carthaginem esse delendam ; but as it is stated that 
from the year 175 to the end of his life, he never made a 
motion in the Senate that was not terminated by those words, 
we are entitled to assume that he did not omit them in the 
present instance. If so, the effect must have been singularly 
grotesque ; although, perhaps, less so than if attention had 
been drawn to the customary phrase by its unexpected 
absence. At any rate, Cameades had an opportunity of carry- 
ing back one more illustration of ethical inconsistency where- 
with to enliven his lectures on the * vanity of dogmatising ' 
and the absolute equilibrium of contradictory opinions. 

It has been mentioned that Carneades was the head of 
the Academic school. In that capacity, he was the lineal 
inheritor of Plato's teaching. Yet a public apology for in- 
justice, even when balanced by a previous panegyric on its 
opposite, might seem to be of all lessons the most alien from 
Platonism ; and in a State governed by Plato's own laws, it 
would certainly have been punishable with death. To explain 
this anomaly is to relate the history of Greek scepticism, 
which is what we shall now attempt to do. 


In modern parlance, the word scepticism is often used to 
denote absolute unbelief. This, however, is a misapplication ; 

^ Plutarch, CcUo Major^ xxii. IT. 


and, properly speaking, it should be reserved, as it was by the 
Greeks, for those cases in which belief is simply withheld, or 
in which, as its etymology implies, the mental state connoted is 
a desire to consider of the matter before coming to a decision. 
But, of course, there are occasions when, either from prudence 
or politeness, absolute rejection of a proposition is veiled under 
the appearance of simple indecision or of a demand for 
further evidence ; and at a time when to believe in certain 
theological dogmas was either dangerous or discreditable, the 
name sceptic may have been accepted on all hands as a con- 
venient euphemism in speaking about persons who did not 
doubt, but denied them altogether. Again, taken in its 
original sense, the name sceptic is applicable to two entirely 
different, or rather diametrically opposite classes. The true 
philosopher is more slow to believe than other men, because 
he is better acquainted than they are with the rules of 
evidence, and with the apparently strong claims on our 
belief often possessed by propositions known to be false. To 
that exte nt, all philo sophers are sceptics, and are rightly re- 
garded as such by the^ vulgar ; altEdugH their acceptante of 
many conclusions which the unlearned reject without exam- 
ination, has the contrary effect of giving them a reputation for 
extraordinary credulity or even insanity. And this leads us 
to another aspect of scepticism — an aspect under which, so 
far from being an element of philosophy, it is one of the most 
dangerous enemies that philosophy has to face. Instead of 
regarding the difficulties which beset the path of enquiry as a 
warning against premature conclusions, and a stimulus to 
\ more careful research, it is possible to make them a pretexj 
for abandoning enq uiry altog ether. And it is also possible to 
regardtiie divergent answers glveh by different thinkers to the 
same problem, not as materials for comparison, selection or 
combination, nor even as indications of the various directions 
in which a solution is not to be sought, but as a proof that 


the problem altogether passes the power of human reason to 

Were this intellectual despondency to issue in a perma- 
nent suspense of judgment, it would be bad enough ; but 
practically its consequences are of a much more mischievous 
character. The human mind is so constituted that it must 
either go forward or fall back ; in no case can it stand still. 
Accordingly, the lazy sceptic almost always ends by conform- 
ing to the established creeds and customs of his age or of the 
society in which he lives ; thus strengthening the hands of 
authority in its conflict with the more energetic or courageous 
enquirers, whose object is to discover, by the unaided efforts 
of reason, some new and positive principle either of action or of 
belief. And the guardians of orthodoxy are so well aware of 
the profit to be reaped from this alliance that, when debarred 
from putting down their opponents by law or by public 
opinion, they anxiously foster false scepticism where it is 
already rampant, and endeavour to create it where it does 
not exist Sometimes disinterested morality is the object of 
their attack, and at other times the foundations of inductive 
science. Their favourite formula is that whatever objections 
may be urged against their own doctrines, others equally 
strong may be urged against the results of free thought ; 
whereas the truth is that such objections, being applicable to 
all systems alike, exactly balance one another, leaving the 
special arguments against irrationalism to tell with as much 
force as before. And they also lay great stress on the internal 
dissensions of their assailants — dissensions which only bring 
out into more vivid relief the one point on which all are 
agreed, that, whatever else may be true, the traditional 
opinions are demonstrably false. 

As might be expected from the immense exuberance of 
their intellectual life, we find every kind of scepticism repre- 
sented among the Greeks ; and, as with their other philoso- 
phical tendencies, there is evidence of its existence previous to 


or independent of scientific speculation. Their very religion, 
though burdened with an enormous mass of fictitious legends, 
shows a certain unwillingness to transgress the more obvious 
laws of nature, not noticeable in the traditions of kindred or 
neighbouring races. Its tendency is rather to imagine super- 
natural causes for natural events, or to read a divine meaning 
mtoaccidental occurrences, than to introduce impossibilities into 
the ordinary course of history. And some of its most marvel- 
lous stories are told in such a manner that the incredulous satire 
with which they were originally received is, by a beautiful play 
of irony, worked into the very texture of the narrative itself. 
For example, the Greeks were especially disinclined to believe 
that one of the lower animals could speak with a human voice, 
or that a dead m^n could be brought back to life — contradicted 
as both suppositions were by the facts of universal experience. 
So when the horse Xanthus replies to his master's reproaches. 
Homer adds that his voice was arrested by the Erinyes — that 
js to say, by the laws of nature ; and we may suspect that no- 
thing more is intended by his speech than the interpretation 
which Achilles would spontaneously put on the mute and 
pathetic gaze of the faithful steed. And when, to illustrate 
the wondrous medical skill of Ascl^pius, it is related that at 
last he succeeded in restoring a dead man to life, the story 
adds that for this impious deed both the healer and his 
patient were immediately transfixed by a thunderbolt from 
heaven.* Another impossibility is to predict with any cer- 
tainty the future fate of individuals, and here also — as has 
been already observed in a different connexion * — the Greeks 
showed their extreme scepticism with regard to any alleged 
contravention of a natural law, under the transparent dis- 
guise of stories about persons whom ambiguous predictions 
had lured to their fall. 

It is even doubtful how far the Greek poets believed in 
the personality of their gods, or, what comes to the same thing, 

' Pindar, />M., III., 96. « Vol. I., p. 46. 


in their detachment from the natural objects in which a 
divine power was supposed to be embodied. Such a detach- 
ment is most completely realised when they are assembled in 
an Olympian council ; but, as Hegel has somewhere observed, 
Homer never brings his gods together in this manner without 
presenting them in a ridiculous light — ^that is to say, without 
hinting that their existence must not be taken quite in 
earnest. And the existence of disembodied spirits seems to 
be similarly conceived by the great epic master. The life 
of the souls in Hades is not a continuance but a memory 
and a reflection of their life on earth. The scornful reply of 
Achilles to the congratulations of Odysseus implies, as it were, 
the consciousness of his own nonentity. By no other device 
could the irony of the whole situation, the worthlessness 
of a merely subjective immortality, be made so poignantly 

The characters in Homer are marked by this increduloas 
disposition in direct proportion to their general wisdom. 
When Agamemnon relates his dream to the assembled chiefs, 
Nestor dryly observes that if anyone of less authority had 
told them such a story they would have immediately rejected 
it as untrue. Hector's outspoken contempt for augury is 
well known ; and his indifference to the dying words of 
Patroclus is equally characteristic. In the Odyssey ^ Alcinous 
pointedly distinguishes his guest from the common run of 
travellers, whose words deserve no credit. That Telemachus 
should tell who is his father, with the uncomplimentary 
reservation that he has only his mother's word for it, is 

* It is said that the same ironical attitude continues to characterise the Greeks 
of our time. Col. Leake (quoted by Welcker, Gr. GbtterL^ II., p. 127) informs us 
that travellers in Greece are continually entertained with local fables which are 
everywhere repeated, but believed by nobody, least of all by the inhab tants of the 
district where they first originated. And Welcker adds, from his own experience, 
that the young Greeks who act as guides in the religious houses related the mira- 
culous legends of the place with an enthusiasm and an eloquence which left him in 
doubt whether or not they themselves believed what they expected him to 


evidently meant as a proof of the young man's precocious 
shrewdness ; and it is with the utmost difficulty that Penelope 
herself is persuaded of her husband's identity. So in the 
Agamemnon of Aeschylus, nothing less than the report of an 
eye-witness will convince the Chorus of old men that Troy 
has really fallen.* Finally, to complete the list of examples 
afforded independently of philosophical reflection, Herodotus 
repeatedly expresses disbelief in the stories told him, or, 
what is more remarkable, holds his judgment in suspense 
with regard to their veracity. 

Scepticism; as a philosophical principle, is alien from early \^ 
Greek thought ; but it is pervaded by a negative tendency^ 
exhibited in four different directions, all converging towards 
the later attitude of suspensive doubt There are^shffcq^-criti- 
cisms on the popular mythology ; there are pr otests against 
the ascription of reality to sensible appearances ; there are 
co ntemptuous re ferences on the part of some philosophers 
to the opinions held by others ; and there are occasional 
lamentations over the difficulty of getting at any trutl 
at all The importance, however, of these last utterances 
has been considerably exaggerated both in ancient and 
modem times. For, in some instances, they are attributable 
solely to the distrust of sense-perception, and in others they 
seem to express nothing more than a passing mood against 
which we must set the dogmatic conclusions elsewhere enunci- 
ated with perfect confidence by the same thinkers.* At the same 
time, wc have to note, as an illustration of the standing con- 
nexion between theological belief and that kind of scepticism 
which is shown by distrust in man*s power of discovering th6^ 
truth for himself, that the strongest expressions of such a 
distrust are to be found in the two most religious of the pre- 
Socratic thinkers, Xenophanes and Empedocles. 

« 7/.. IT., 80; XII., 238; XVI., 859; Od., I., 215; XL, 363; XXIII., 
t66 ; Agamem., 477 ^« 

• Sextus Empirtcus, Adv. Math., VII., 89 ff ; Zeller, Ph. d, Gr., I., pp. 464, 
65a. 743. 828. (3rd ed.) 



A new period begins with the Greek Humanists. We use 
this term in preference to that of Sophists, because, as has 
been shown, in specially dealing with the subject, half the 
teachers known under the latter denomination made it 
their business to popularise physical science and to apply it 
to morality, while the other half struck out an entirely 
different line, and founded their educational system on the 
express rejection of such investigations ; their method being, 
in this respect, foreshadowed by the greatest poet of the age, 
who concentrates all his attention on the workings of the 
human mind, and followed by its greatest historian, with 
whom a similar study takes the place occupied by geography 
and natural history in the work of Herodotus. This absorp- 
tion in human interests was unfavourable alike to the objects 
and to the methods of previous enquiry : to the former, as a 
diversion from the new studies ; to the latter, as inconsistent 
with the flexibility and many-sidedness of conscious mind. 
Hence the true father of philosophical scepticism was Pro- 
tagoras. With him, for the first time, we find full expression 
given to the proper sceptical attitude, which is one of sus- 
pense and indifference as opposed to absolute denial. He 
does not undertake to say whether the gods exist or not. 
He regards the real essence of Nature as unknowable, on 
account of the relativity which characterises all sensible 
impressions. And wherever opinions are divided, he under- 
takes to provide equally strong arguments for both sides of 
the question. He also anticipates the two principal tenden- 
cies exhibited by all future scepticism in its relation to 
practice. One is its devotion to humanity, under the double 
form of exclusive attention to human interests, and great 
mildness in the treatment of human beings. The other is a 
disposition to take custom and public opinion, rather than any 
physical or metaphysical law, for the standard and sanction of 



morality. Such scepticism might for the moment be hostile 
to religion ; but a reconciliation was likely to be soon effected 
between them. 

The famous theses of Gorgias were quoted in a former 
chapter as an illustration of the tactics pursued by Greek 
Humanism in its controversy with physical science. They 
must be noticed again in the present connexion, on account of 
their bearing on the development of scepticism, and as having 
inaugurated a method of reasoning often employed in subse- 
quent attacks, directed, not against the whole of knowledge, 
but against particular parts of it. The scepticism of Pro- 
tagoras rested on the assumption that there is an external 
reality from the reaction of which with mind all our percep- 
tions proceed. Neither of these two factors can be known 
apart from the other, and as both are in a constant flux, our 
knowledge of the resulting compound at one time does not 
show what it has been or will be at another time. But 
Gorgias altogether denied the existence of any objective 
reality; and he attempted to disprove it by an analytical 
instead of a synthetic argument, laying down a series of 
disjunctive propositions, and upsetting the different alterna- 
tives in succession. Existence must be either something or 
nothing, or both together ; and if something, it must be either 
finite or infinite, or both, and either one or many, or both. 
His argument against an infinite existence is altogether 
futile ; but it serves to illustrate the undeveloped state of 
reflection at that period. The eternity of the world is con- 
founded with its unlimited extension in space: and this 
hypothesis, again, is met by the transparent quibble that the 
world, not being in any one place, must be nowhere or not 
at all. And the alternative that the world has not always 
existed is refuted by the unproved assumption, which, 
apparently, no Greek philosopher ever thought of disputing, 
that nothing can begin without being caused by something 
else. Still, however contemptible such reasonings may seem. 


it IS obvious that in them we have the first crude form of the 
famous antinomies by which Kant long afterwards sought to 
prove the impossibility of a world existing in space and time 
apart from a percipient subject, and which have since been 
used to establish in a more general way the unknowability of 
existence as such. It will also be observed that the sceptical 
arguments respectively derived from the relativity of thought 
and from the contradictions inherent in its ultimate products 
are run together by modem agnostics. But no reason that 
we can remember has ever been given to show that an idea 
is necessarily subjective because it is self-contradictory. 

The second thesis of Gorgias was that, even granting the 
world to exist, it could not possibly be known. Here the 
reasoning is unexpectedly weak. Because all thoughts do 
not represent facts, — as. for example, our ideas of impossible 
combinations, like chariots running over the sea, — it is assumed 
that none do. But the problem how to distinguish between 
true and false ideas was raised, and it was round this that the 
fiercest battle between dogmatists and sceptics subsequently 
raged. And in the complete convertibility of conscious- 
ness and reality postulated by Gorgias, we may find the 
suggestion of a point sometimes overlooked in the auto- 
matist controversy — namely, that the impossibility, if any, of 
our acting on the material world reciprocally involves the 
impossibility of its acting on us, in so far as we are conscious 
beings. If thought cannot be translated into movement, 
neither can movement be translated into thought. 

The third thesis maintains that, granting the world to 
exist and to be knowable, one man cannot communicate his 
knowledge to another ; for, the different classes of sensations 
being heterogeneous, a visual or tactual impression on our 
consciousness cannot be conveyed by an auditory impression 
on the consciousness of someone else. This difficulty has 
been completely overcome by the subsequent progress of 
thought We cannot, it is true, directly communicate more 

K 2 


than a few sensations to one another ; but by producing one 
vsre may call up others with which it has become associated 
through previous experience. And the great bulk of our 
knowledge has been analysed into relations of co-existence, 
succession, and resemblance, which are quite independent of 
the particular symbols employed to transmit them from one 
mind to another.* 

The scepticism of Aristippus and the Cyrenaics mediated 
between the views of Protagoras and those of Gorgias, while 
marking an advance on both. According to this school, we 
know nothing beyond our own feelings, and it must be left 
undecided whether they are caused by an external reality or 
not. Nor can the feelings of one individual justify us in 
reasoning to the existence of similar feelings in the mind of 
another individual." It might be objected that the arguments 
advanced in support of the latter assertion are suicidal, for 
they are derived from the abnormal states of consciousness 
accompanying particular diseases, or else from the diver- 
gences of taste exhibited by different individuals even when in 
good health,— an apparent admission that we are sufficiently 
well acquainted with the phenomena in question to institute 
a comparison between them, which, by hypothesis, is impos- 
sible. And this is, in fact, the method by which Mr. Herbert 
Spencer has endeavoured to upset the whole theory of sub- 
jective idealism, as involving at every step an assumption of 
the very realities that it professes to deny. But the Cyrenaic 
and the modern idealist have a perfect right to show that the 
assumptions of their adversaries are self-contradictory ; and 
the readiest way of so doing is to reason from them as if they 
were true. The real answer to that extreme form of idealism 
which denies the possibility of making known our feelings to 
each other is that, our bodies being similarly constructed and 
responding to similar impressions by similar manifestations, 

» For the theses of Gorgias sec Sextus Empiricus, Adv, Math,^ VII., 6$ ft 
« Sext. Emp., Adv, Math.^ VII., 170 ff. 


I have the same sort of warrant for assuming that your states 
of consciousness are like mine that I have for assuming you to 
exist at all. The inference must, of course, be surrounded 
by proper precautions, such as are seldom used by unscientific 
reasoners. We must make sure that the structure is the same 
and that the excitement is the same, or that their differences, 
if any, are insignificant, before we can attribute the same 
value to the same manifestations of feeling on the part of 
different persons ; but that this can be done, at least in the 
case of the elementary sensations, is shown by the easy 
detection of such anomalies as colour-blindness where they 

With Socrates and Plato, scepticism exhibits itself under 
two new aspects: as an accompaniment of religious beli ef, 
and as an elemen t of constructive t hought. T hus they repre- 
sent both the good and the bad side of this tendency : the 
aspect under which it is a help, and the aspect under which it 
is a hindrance to scientific investigation. With both phi- 
losophers, however, the restriction or negation of human 
knowledge was a consequence rather than a cause of their 
theological convictions ; nor do they seem to have appreciated 
its value as a weapon in the controversy with religious un- 
belief. When Socrates represented the irreconcilable diver- 
gence in the explanations of Nature offered by previous 
thinkers as a sufficient condemnation of their several preten- 
sions, he did not set this fact against the arguments by which 
a Xenophanes had similarly endeavoured to overthrow the 
popular mythology; but he looked on it as a fatal conse- 
quence of their insane presumption in meddling with the 
secrets of the gods. On one occasion only, when explaining 
to Euthyd^mus that the invisibility of the gods is no reason 
for doubting their existence, he argues, somewhat in Butler's 
style, that our own minds, whose existence we cannot doubt, 
are equally invisible.^ And the Platonic Socrates makes it 

* Xen., Mem,^ IV., Hi., 14. 


his business to demonstrate the universality of human ignor- 
ance, not as a caution against dogmatic unbelief, but as a 
glorification of the divine knowledge ; though how we come 
to know that there is any such knowledge he leaves utterly 

In Plato's Pannenides we have to note the germ of a new 
dialectic. There it is suggested that we may overcome the 
difficulties attending a particular theory — in this instance the 
theory of self-existing ideas — by considering how much 
greater are the difficulties which would ensue on its rejection. 
The arguments advanced by Zeno the Eleatic against the 
reality of motion are mentioned as a case in point ; and Plato 
proceeds to illustrate his proposed method by showing what 
consequences respectively follow if we first assume the exist- 
ence, and then the non-existence of the One ; but the whole 
analysis seems valueless for its immediate purpose, since 
the resulting impossibilities on either side are left exactly 
balanced ; and Plato does not, like some modern metaphy- 
sicians, call in our affections to decide the controversy. 

The method by which Plato eventually found his way 
out of the sceptical difficulty, was to transform it from a 
subjective law of thought into an objective law of things. 
Adopting the Heracleitean physics as a sufficient explanation 
of the material world, he conceived, at a comparatively early 
period of his mental evolution, that the fallaciousness of 
sense-impressions is due, not to the senses themselves, but to 
the instability of the phenomena with which they deal ; and 
afterwards, on discovering that the interpretation of ideal 
relations was subject to similar perplexities, he assumed that, 
in their case also, the contradiction arises from a combination 
of Being with not-Being determining whatever differences 
prevail among the ultimate elements of things. And, 
finally, like Empedocles, he solved the problem of cognition 
by establishing a parallel between the human soul and the 
universe as a whole ; the circles of the Same and the Other 


being united in the celestial orbits and also in the mechanism 
of the brain.> 

It was by an analogous, though, of course, far more 
complicated and ingenious adjustment, that Hegel sought to 
overcome the i^nosticism which Kant professed to have 
founded on a basis of irrefragable proof. With both philoso- 
phers, however, the sceptical principle was celebrating its 
supreme triumph at the moment of its fancied overthrow. 
The dogmatism of doubt could go no further than to resolve 
the whole chain of existence into a succession of mutually 
contradictory ideas. 

If the synthesis of affirmation and negation cannot profit- 
ably be used to explain the origin of things in themselves, it 
has a real and very important function when limited to the 
subjective sphere, to the philosophy of practice and of belief. 
It was so employed by Socrates, and, on a much greater 
scale, by Plato himself To consider every proposition from 
opposite points of view, and to challenge the claim of every 
existing custom on our respect, was a proceeding first insti- 
tuted by the master, and carried out by the disciple in a 
manner which has made his investigations a model for every 
future enquirer. Something of their spirit was inherited by 
Aristotle ; but, except in his lexical treatises, it was overborne 
by the demands of a pre-eminently dogmatic and systematising 
genius. In criticising the theories of his predecessors, he has 
abundantly Illustrated the power of dialectic, and he has 
enumerated its resources with conscientious completeness ; 
but he has not verified his own conclusions by subjecting 
them to this formidable testing apparatus. 

Meanwhile the scepticism of Protagoras had not been 
entirely absorbed into the systems of his rivals, but continued 
to exist as an independent tradition, or in association with a 
simpler philosophy. The famous school of Megara, about 
which, unfortunately, we have received very little direct 

' Timamt, 37, B, 43, D ff. 


information, was nominally a development of the Socratic 
teaching on its logical side, as the Cynic and Cyrenaic school* 
were on its ethical side, but like them also, it seems to have a 
more real connexion with the great impulse previously given 
to speculation by the Sophists. At any rate, we chiefly hear 
of the Megarians as having denied the possibility of defini- 
tion, to which Socrates attached so much importance, and as 
framing questions not susceptible of a categorical answer, — an 
evident satire on the Socratic method of eliciting the truth by 
cross-examination.* What they really derived from Socrates 
seems to have been his mental concentration and independ- 
ence of external circumstances. Here they closely resembled 
the Cynics, as also in their contempt for formal logic ; but 
while Antisthenes found a sanction for his indifference and 
impassivity in the order of nature, their chief representative^ 
Stilpo, achieved the same result by pushing the sceptical 
principle to consequences from which even the Cyrenaics 
would have shrunk. Denying the possibility of attaching a 
predicate to a subject, he seems, in like manner, to have 
isolated the mind from what are called its affections, or, at 
least, to have made this isolation his ideal of the good. Even 
the Stoics did not go to such a length ; and Seneca distin- 
guishes himself from the followers of Stilpo by saying, * Our 
sage feels trouble while he overcomes it, whereas theirs does 
not feel it at all.'* 


So far, the sceptical theory had been put forward after a 
somewhat fragmentary fashion, and in strict dependence on 
the previous development of dogmatic philosophy. With the 

' Examples of these questions are : * Have you lost your horns ? * and, * Did 
Electra know that Orestes was her brother ? * Stated in words, she knew that he 
was ; but she did not recognise him as her brother when he came to her in 

' Plutarch, Adv. Col., xxii.-xxiii. ; Seneca, Ep/>., ix. 


Humanists it had taken the form of an attack on physical 
science ; with the Megarians, of a criticism on the Socratic 
dialectic ; with both, it had been pushed to the length of an 
absolute negation, lexically not more defensible than the 
affirmations to which it was opposed. What remained was 
that, after being consistently formulated, its results should be 
exhibited in their systematic bearing on the practical interests 
of mankind. The twofold task was accomplished b y Pyrrho,__ 
whose name has accordingly continued to be associated, even 
in modem times, with the profession of universal doubt 
This remaikable man was a native of EUs, where a branch of 
the M^arian school had at one time established itself ; and 
it seems likely that the determining impulse of his life was, 
directly or indirectly, derived from Stilpo's teaching. A 
contemporary of Alexander the Great, he accompanied the 
Macedonian anny on its march to India, subsequently returning 
to his native city, where he died at an advanced age, about 
375 B.C. The absurd stories about his indifference to material 
obstacles when out walking have been already mentioned in 
a former chapter, and are sufficiently refuted by the circum- 
stances just related. The citizens of Elis are said to have 
shown their respect for the philosopher by exempting him 
from taxation, appointing him their chief priest — no inappro- 
"T^riate office for a sceptic of the true type — and honouring his 
memory with a statue, which was still pointed out to sight- 
seers in the time of Pausanias.' 

Pyrrho, who probably no more believed in books than in 
anything else, never committed his opinions to writing ; and 
what we know of them is derived from the reports of his 
disciples, which, again, are only preserved in a very incom- 
plete form by the compilers of the empire. According to 
these, Pyrrho b^an by declaring that the philosophic 
problem might be summed up in the three following ques- 
tions : ' What is the nature of things .' What should be our 

' Z«Uer. Fh. d. Gr., III., a, 481 ; Diog. L., IX., »l 


relation to them ? What is the practical consequence of this 
determination ? * Of its kind, this statement is probably the 
best ever framed, and might be accepted with equal readiness 
by every school of thought. But the scepticism of Pyrrho at 
once reveals itself in his answer to the first question. We know^i^ 
nothing about things in themselves. Every assertion made 
respecting them is liable to be contradicted, and neither of 
the two opposing propositions deserves more credence than 
the other. The considerations by which Pyrrho attempts to 
establish this proposition were probably suggested by the 
systems of Plato and Aristotle. The only possible avenues 
of communication with the external world are, he tells us, 
sense and reason. Of these the former was so universally 
discredited that he seems to have regarded any elaborate 
refutation of its claims as superfluous. What we perceive by 
our senses is the appearance, not the reality of things. This 
is exactly what the Cyrenaics had already maintained. The 
inadequacy of reason is proved by a more original method. 
Had men any settled principles of judgment, they would 
agree on questions of conduct, for it is with regard to these 
that they are best informed, whereas the great variety of laws 
and customs shows that the exact opposite is true. They are 
more hopelessly divided on points of morality than on any 
other.* It will be remembered that Pyrrho's fellow-towns- 
man, Hippias, had, about a hundred years earlier, founded 
his theory of Natural Law on the arbitrary and variable 
character of custom. The result of combining his principles 
with those professed by Protagoras and Gorgias was to 
establish complete moral scepticism ; but it would be a 
mistake to suppose that moral distinctions had no value for him 
personally, or that they were neglected in Kis public teaching. 
Timon, a celebrated disciple of Pyrrho, added another 
and, from the speculative point of view, a much more power- 
ful argument, which, however, may equally have been 

* Zeller, op, cil.y p. 484 ; Ritter and Preller, Hist, Ph,^ p. 336. 


borrowed from the master's lectures. Readers of the Pos- 
terior Analytics v/\\\ remember how strongly Aristotle dwells 
on the necessity of starting with first principles which are 
self-evidently true. The chain of demonstration must have 
something to hang on, it cannot be carried back ad infinitum. 
Now, Timon would not admit of such a thing as first prin- 
ciples. Every assumption, he says, must rest on some 
previous assumption, and as this process cannot be con- 
tinued for ever, there can be no demonstration at all. This 
became a very favourite weapon with the later Sceptics, and, 
still at the suggestion of Aristotle, they added the further 
'trope' of compelling their adversaries to choose between 
going back ad infinitum and reasoning in a circle — in other 
words, proving the premises by means of the conclusion. 
Modern science would not feel much appalled by the scepti- 
cal dilemma. Its actual first principles are only provisionally 
assumed as ultimate, and it is impossible for us to tell how 
much farther their analysis may be pursued; while, again, 
their validity is guaranteed by the circular process of showing 
that the consequences deduced from them agree with the 
facts of experience. But as against those modem philo- 
sophers who, in adherence to the Aristotelian tradition, still 
seek to base their systems on first principles independent of 
any individual experience, the sceptical argument is un- 
answerable, and has even been strengthened by the progress 
of knowledge. To this day, thinkers of different schools 
cannot agree about the foundations of belief, and what to one 
seems self-evidently true, is to another either conceivably or 
actually false. To Mr. Herbert Spencer the persistence of 
Force is a necessary truth ; to Prof. Stanley Jevons its creation 
perfectly possible contingency ; while to others, ^ain, 

he whole conception of force, as understood by Mr, Spencer, 
is so absolutely unmeaning that they would decline to enter- 

;ain any profwsition about the invariability of the objective 
reality which it is supposed to represent And when the 


d priori dogmatist affects to treat the negations of his oppo- 
nents as something that they do not think, but only think 
they think, they may, with perfect fairness, attribute his 
rejection of their beliefs — as, for example, free-will — to a simi- 
lar subjective illusion. Moreover, the pure experimentalists 
can point to a circumstance not foreseen by the ancient 
sceptics, which is that propositions once generally regarded 
as incontrovertible by thinking men, are now as generally 
abandoned by them. 

Having proved, to his satisfaction, that the nature of 
things is unknowable, Pyrrho proceeds to deal with the two 
remaining heads of the philosophic problem. To the question 
what should be our relation to a universe which we cannot 
reach, the answer is, naturally, one of total indifference. And 
the advantage to be derived from this attitude is, he tells us, 
that we shall secure the complete imperturbability wherein 
true happiness consists. The sceptical philosophy does not 
agree with Stilpo in denying the reality of actual and imme- 
diate annoyances, for it denies nothing ; but it professes to 
dispel that very large amount of unhappiness which arises 
from the pursuit of fancied goods and the expectation of 
future calamities. In respect to the latter, what Pyrrho 
sought was to arrive by the exercise of reasoning at the 
tranquillity which unreasoning animals naturally enjoy. 
Thus, we are told that, when out at sea in a storm, he called 
the attention of the terrified passengers to a little pig which was 
quietly feeding in spite of the danger, and taught them that 
the wise man should attain to a similar kind of composure. 

Various other anecdotes of more or less doubtful authen- 
ticity are related, showing that the philosopher could gene- 
rally, though not always, act up to his own ideal of indifference. 
He lived with his sister, who was a midwife by profession, 
and patiently submitted to the household drudgery which she 
unsparingly imposed on him. Once, however, she succeeded 
in goading him into a passion ; and on being rather inoppor- 


tunely reminded of his professed principles by a bystander, 
the sceptic tartly replied that a wretched woman like that 
was no fit subject for a display of philosophical indifference. 
On another occasion, when taunted for losing his self-posses- 
sion at the attack of a furious dog, he observed, with truth, 
that, after all, philosophers are human beings.' 

Thus we find Pyrrho competing with the dogmatists as 
practical moralist, and offering to secure the inward tran. 
quillity at which they too aimed by an easier method than 
theirs. The last eminent representative of the sceptical 
school, Sextus Empiricus, illustrates its pretensions in this 
respect by the well-known story of Apelles, who, after vainly 
endeavouring to paint the foam on a horse's mouth, took the 
sponge which he used to wipe his easel, and threw it at the 
picture in vexation. The mixture of colours thus accidentally 
applied produced the exact effect which he desired, but at 
which no calculation could arrive. In like manner, says Sextus, 
the confusion of universal doubt accidentally resulted in the 
imperturbability which accompanies suspense of judgment 
as surely as a body is followed by its shadow.' There was, 
however, no accident about the matter at all. The abandon- 
ment of those studies which related to the external world was 
a consequence of the ever-increasing attention paid to human 
interests, and that these could be best consulted by complete 
detachment from outward circumstances, was a conclusion 
inevitably suggested by the negative or antithetical moment 
of Greek thought Hence, while the individualistic and 
apathetic tendencies of the age were shared by every philo- 
sophical school, they had a closer Ic^cal connexion with the 
idealistic than with the naturalistic method ; and so it is among 
the successors of Protagoras that we find them developed 
with the greatest distinctness ; while their incorporation with 

' U\ x'^'"^^ ^'t J^xrx'fwi JicIivBi JMpwrsr. For this and the othei stories, 
lee Diog. L., IX., 66-8. 
' Pfrrh.Hyp., I., 28 ff. 



Stoicism imposed a self-contradictory strain on that system 
which it never succeeded in shaking off. Epicureanism 
occupied a position midway between the two extremes ; and 
from this point of view, we shall be better able to under- 
stand both its inherent weakness as compared with the other 
ancient philosophies, and the admiration which it has attracted 
from opposite quarters in recent years. To some it is most 
interesting as a revelation of law in Nature, to others as a 
message of deliverance to man — not merely a deliverance 
from ignorance and passion, such as its rivals had promised, 
but from all established systems, whether religious, political, 
or scientific. And unquestionably Epicurus did endeavour 
to combine both points of view in his theory of life. In 
seeking to base morality on a knowledge of natural law he 
resembles the Stoics. In his attacks on fatalism, in his 
refusal to be bound down by a rigorously scientific explana- 
tion of phenomena, in his failure to recognise the unity and 
power of Nature, and in his preference of sense to reason, he 
partially reproduces the negative side of Scepticism ; in his 
identification of happiness with the tranquil and impertur- 
bable self-possession of mind, in his mild humanism, and in 
his compliance with the established religion of the land, 
he entirely reproduces its positive ethical teaching. On the 
other hand, the two sides of his philosophy, so far from 
completing, interfere with and mar one another. Emancipa- 
tion from the outward world would have been far more 
effectually obtained by a total rejection of physical science 
than by the construction of a theory whose details were, on 
any scientific principles, demonstrably untrue. The appeal 
to natural instinct as an argument for hedonism would, con- 
sistently followed out, have led to one of two conclusions, 
either of which is incompatible with the principle that im- 
perturbability is the highest good. If natural instinct, as 
manifested by brutes, by children, and by savages, be the one 
sure guide of action, then Callicles was right, and the habitual 


indulgence of passion is wiser than its systematic restraint. 
But if Nature is to be studied on a more specific and dis- 
criminating plan, if there are human as distinguished from 
merely animal impulses, and if the higher development of 
these should be our rule of life, then Plato and Aristotle and 
the Stoics were right, and the rational faculties should be 
cultivated for their own sake, not because of the immunity 
from superstitious terrors which they secure. And we may 
add that the attendance on public worship practised by 
Epicurus agreed much better with the sceptical suspense of 
judgment touching divine providence than with its absolute 
n^ation, whether accompanied or not by a belief in gods 
who are indifferent to sacrifice and prayer. 

It was, no doubt, for these and similar reasons that all 
the most vigorous intellects of Hellas ranged themselves 
either on the Stoic or on the Sceptic side, leaving the half- 
hearted compromise of Epicurus to those who could not think 
out any one theory consistently, or who, like the Romans at first, 
were not acquainted with any system but his. Henceforth, 
during a period of some centuries, the whole philosophic move- 
ment is determined by the interaction of these two fundamental 
forces. The first effect of their conflict was to impose on 
Scepticism an important modification, illustrating its essen- 
tially par asitic character. We have seen it, as a general 
tendency of the Greek mind, clinging to the very texture of 
mythology, accompanying the earliest systematic compilation 
of facts, aiding the humanistic attacks on physical science, 
associated with the first great religious reaction, operating as 
the dialectic of dialectic itself, and finally assuming the form 
of a shadowy morality, in rivalry with and imitation of ethical 
systems based on a positive and substantial doctrine. We 
have now to trace its metamorphosis into a critical system 
extending its ramifications in parallelism with the immense dog- 
matic structure of Stoicism, and simultaneously endeavouring 
to reach the same practical results by a more elastic adaptation 


to the infirmities of human reason and the uncertainties of 
sensible experience. As such, we shall also have to study its 
influence over the most plastic of Roman intellects, the great 
orator in whose writings Greek philosophy was reclothed with 
something of its ancient charm, so that many who were 
debarred from admission to the groves and porticoes of 
Athens have caught an echo of the high debates which once 
stirred their recesses, as they trod the shady slopes of 
Tusculum under his visionary guidance, or followed his 
searching eyes over the blue waters to Pompeii, while he 
reasoned on mind and its object, on sense and knowledge, on 
doubt and certainty, with LucuUus and Hortensius, on the 
sunlight Baian shore. It is the history of the New Academy 
that we shall now proceed to trace. 


When we last had occasion to speak of the Platonic 
school, it was represented by Polemo, one of the teachers 
from whose lessons Zeno the Stoic seems to have compiled 
his system. Under his superintendence, Platonism had com- 
pletely abandoned the metaphysical traditions of its founder 
Physics and dialectics had already been absorbed by Aristo- 
telianism. Mathematics had passed into the hands of experts. 
Nothing remained but the theory of ethics ; and, as an ethical 
teacher, Polemo was only distinguished from the Cynics by 
the elegance and moderation of his tone. Even this narrow 
standing-ground became untenable when exposed to the 
formidable competition of Stoicism. The precept. Follow 
Nature, borrowed by the new philosophy from Polemo, 
acquired a far deeper significance than he could give it, when 
viewed in the light of an elaborate physical system showing 
what Nature was, and whither her guidance led. But stone 
after stone had been removed from the Platonic superstructure 
and built into the walls of other edifices, only to bring its 



original foundation the more prominently into sight. This 
was the initial doubt of Socrates, widened into the confession 
of universal ignorance attributed to him by Plato in the 
Apologia. Only by returning to the exclusively critical attitude 
with which its founder had begun could the Academy 
hope to exercise any influence on the subsequent course 
of Greek speculation. And it was also necessary that the 
agnostic standpoint should be taken much more in earnest 
by its new representatives than by Socrates or Plato. With 
them it had been merely the preparation for a dogmatism 
even more self-confident than that of the masters against 
whom they fought ; but if in their time such a change of 
front might seem compatible with the retention of their old 
strongholds, matters now stood on a widely different footing. 
Experience had shown that the purely critical position could 
not be abandoned without falling back on some one or other 
of the old philosophies, or advancing pretensions inconsistent 
with the dialectic which had been illustrated by their over- 
throw. The course marked out for Plato's successors by the 
necessities of thought might have been less evident had not 
Pyrrhonism suddenly revealed to them where their oppor- 
tunities lay, and at the same time, by its extinction as an 
independent school, allowed them to step into the vacant 

It was at this juncture that the voluntary withdrawal of 
an older fellow-pupil placed Arcesilaus at the head of the 
Academy. The date of his accession is not given, but we are 
told that he died 241 or 240 B.C. in the seventy-fifth year of 
his age. He must, therefore, have flourished a g eneration 
late r than Zeno and Epicu rus. Accomplished, witty, and 
generous, his life is described by some as considerably less 
austere than that of the excellent nonentities whom he 
succeeded. Yet its general goodness was testified to by no 
less an authority than his contemporary, the noble Stoic, 
Cleanthes. * Do not blame Arcesilaus,* exclaimed the latter 


to an unfriendly critic ; ' if he denies duty in his words, he 
affirms it in his deeds.* 'You don't flatter me/ observed 
Arcesilaus. ' It is flattering you,' rejoined Cleanthes, * to say 
that your actions belie your words/ * It might be inferred 
from this anecdote that the scepticism of the new teacher, 
like that of Carneades after him, was occasionally exercised 
on moral distinctions, which, as then defined and deduced, 
were assuredly open to ver>' serious criticism. Even so, in 
following the conventional standard of the age, he would 
have been acting in perfect consistency with the principles of 
his school But, as a matter of fact, his attacks seem to have 
been exclusively aimed at the Stoic criterion of certainty. 
We have touched on this difficult subject in a former chapter, 
but the present seems a more favourable opportunity for 
setting it forth in proper detail. . 

The Stoics held, as Mr. Herbert Spencer, who resemble^x 
them in so many respects, now holds, that all knowledge is 
ultimately produced by the action of the object on the 
subject. Being convinced, however, that each single percep- 
tion, as such, is fallible, they sought for the criterion of 
certainty in the repetition and combination of individual 
impressions ; and, again like Mr. Spencer, but also in com- 
plete accordance with their dynamic theory of Nature, they 
estimated the validity of a belief by the degree of tenacity 
with which it is held. The various stages of assurance were 
carefully distinguished and arranged in an ascending series. 
First came simple perception, then simple assent, thirdly, 
comprehension, and finally demonstrative science. These 
mental acts were respectively typified by extending the fore- 
finger, by bending it as in the gesture of beckoning, by 
clenching the fist, and by placing it, thus clenched, in the 
grasp of the other hand. From another point of view, they 
defined a true conviction as that which can only be produced 
by the action of a corresponding real object on the mind. 

» Diog. L., VII., 171. 


This theory was complicated still further by the Stoic inter- 
pretation of judgment as a voluntary act ; by the ethical 
significance which it consequently received ; and by the con- 
centration of all wisdom in the person of an ideal sage. The 
unreserved bestowal of belief is a practical postulate dictated 
by the necessities of life ; but only he who knows what those 
necessities are, in other words only the wise man, knows 
when the postulate is to be enforced. In short, the criterion 
of your being right is your conviction that you are right, and 
this conviction, if you really possess it, is a sufficient witness 
to its own veracity. Or again, it is the nature of man to act 
rightly, and he cannot do so unless he has right beliefs, 
confirmed and clinched by the consciousness that they are 

Arcesilaus left no writings, and his criticisms on the Stoic 
theory, as reported by Cicero and Sextus Empiricus, have a 
somewhat unsatisfactory appearance. By what we can make 
out, he seems to have insisted on the infallibility of the wise 
man to a much greater extent than the Stoics themselves, 
not allowing that there was any class of judgments in which 
he was liable to be mistaken. But just as the Stoics were 
obliged to accept suicide as an indispensable safeguard for 
the inviolability of their personal dignity and happiness, so 
also Arcesilaus had recourse to a kind of intellectual suicide 
for the purpose of securing immunity from error. The only 
way, according to him, in which the sage can make sure of 
never being mistaken is never to be certain about anything. 
For, granting that every mental representation is produced 
by a corresponding object in the external world, still different 
objects are connected by such a number of insensible grada- 
tions that the impressions produced by them are virtually 
indistinguishable from one another ; while a fertile source of 
illusions also exists in the diversity of impressions produced 
by the same object acting on different senses and at different 
times. Moreover, the Stoics themselves admitted that the 

L 2 


sage might form a mistaken bpinion ; it was only for his con- 
victions that they claimed unerring accuracy, each of the two 
— opinion and conviction — being the product of a distinct 
intellectual energy. Here again, Arcesilaus employed his 
method of infinitesimal transitions, refusing to admit that the 
various cognitive faculties could be separated by any hard 
and fast line ; especially as, according to the theory then held 
by all parties, and by none more strongly than the Stoics, 
intellectual conceptions are derived exclusively from the data 
of sense and imagination. We can see that the logic of Scep- 
ticism is, equally with that of the other Greek systems, deter- 
mined by the three fundamental moments of Greek thought. 
There is first the careful circumscription of certainty ; then 
there is the mediating process by which it is insensibly 
connected with error ; and, lastly, as a result of this process, 
there is the antithetical opposition of a negative to an 
affirmative proposition on every possible subject of mental 

To the objection that his suspensive attitude would 
render action impossible, Arcesilaus replied that any mental 
representation was sufficient to set the will in motion ; and 
that, in choosing between different courses, probability was the 
most rational means of determination. But the task of reducing 
probable evidence to a system was reserved for a still abler 
dialectician, who did not appear on the scene until a century 
after his time. Arcesilaus is commonly called the founder of 
the Middle, Q arneades^ he founder of the New Academy. 
The distinction is, however, purely nominal. Carneades 
founded nothing. His principles were identical with those of 
his predecessor ; and his claim to be considered the greatest 
of the Greek sceptics is due to his having given those prin- 
ciples a wider application and a more systematic development. 
The Stoics regarded it as a special dispensation of providence 

* Q\qxxo^ Acad,y II., xxiv., 77; Sext. Emp., Adv. Maih.^ VII., 150-7; 
Z€lleT| Ph, d, Cr.t 111., a, pp. 492 ff. 


that Chrysippus, the organising genius of their school, should 

have come between its two most formidable opponents, being 

thus placed in a position to answer the objections of the 

one and to refute by anticipation those of the other.* It 

might seem to less prejudiced observers that the thinker 

whose cause benefited most by this arrangement was 

Carneades, Parodying a well-known iambic, he used to 

say : 

Without Chrysippus I should not have beea' * 

And, in fact, it was by a close study of that writer's voluminous 
treatises that he was able to cover the immense extent of 
ground which Scepticism thenceforward disputed with the 
dogmatic schools. Nor were his attacks directed against 
Stoicism only, but against all other positive systems past and 
present as well. What he says about the supposed founda- 
tion of knowledge is even now an unanswerable objection to 
the transcendental realism of Mr Herbert Spencer. States of 
consciousness speak for themselves alone, they do not include 
the consciousness of an external cause.' But the grounds on 
which he rests his negation of all certainty are still superficial 
enough, being merely those sensible illusions which the 
modem science of observation has been able either to elimi- 
nate altogether or to restrict within narrow and definable 
limits. That phenomena, so far from being necessarily 
referred to a cause which is not phenomenal, cannot be 
thought of at all except in relation to one another, and that 
knowledge means nothing more than a consciousness of this 
relation, was hardly perceived before the time of Hume. 

Turning from sense to reason, Carneades attacks the 
syllogistic process on grounds already specified in connexion 

' Plutarch, De Comm. Not it. ^ i., 4 ; Zeller, op, cit.y p. 81 (where, however, the 
reference to Plutarch is wrongly given). 

* Et M^ yip ^v Xpvtnmros ovk hy ^y iyta. (Diog. I^, IV., 62.) The original 
line ran, ci i*.)) yhp ^y Xpvffimros ovk tw ^y trroa, 

» Sext. Emp., Attv. Math,, VII., 159-65. 


with the earlier Sceptics ; and also on the plea that to prove 
the possibility of syllogism is itself to syllogise, and thus>a\ 
involves either a petitio principii or a regress ad infinitum} f ] 
Such a method is, of course, suicidal, for it disproves the 
possibility of the alleged disproof, a consideration which the 
Stoics did not fail to urge, and which the later Sceptics could 
only meet by extending the rule of suspense to their own 
arguments against argument* Nevertheless the sceptical 
analysis detected some difficulties in the ordinary theory of 
logic, which have been revived in modern times, and have not 
yet received any satisfactory solution. Sextus Empiricus, 
probably copying an earlier authority, it may be Carneades . 
himself, observes that, as the major premise of every syllogism — T 
virtually contains the minor, it is either superfluous, or * 
assumes the proposition to be proved. Thus we argue that 
Socrates is an animal because he is a man, and all men are 
animals. But if we do not know this latter proposition to be 
true in the case of Socrates, we cannot be sure that it is true 
in any case ; while if we know it to be true in his case, we do 
not need to begin by stating it in general terms. And he 
also attempts to show the impossibility of a valid induction 
by the consideration, since so often urged, that to generalise 
from a limited number of instances to a whole class is unsafe, 
for some of the unknown instances may be contradictory, 
while the infinite, or at least indefinite multiplicity of indivi- 
duals precludes the possibility of their exhaustive enumera- 

When the Academicians pa<;<s frr^ pi the form to the 
matter of dogmatic philosophy, their criticisms acquire 
greater interest and greater weight. On this ground, their 
assaults are principally directed against the theolog y of 
their Stoic and Epicurean rivals. It is here in particular that 

* That Carneades was the first to start this difficulty cannot be directly proved, 
but is conjectured with great probability by Zeller \pp» cit.y p. 504). 
« Scxt. Pyrrh. Hyp,, II., 186. Adv, Afaih,, VIII., 463. 
» Pyrrh, Hyp,, II., 195, 204. 


Carneades reveals himself to us as the Hume of antiquity. 
Never has the case for agnosticism been more powerfully 
made out than by him or by the disciples whom he inspired. 
To the argument for the existence of supernatural beings de- 
rived from universal consent, he replies, first, that the opinion 
of the vulgar is worthless, and secondly, that men*s beliefs 
about the gods are hopelessly at variance with one another,! 
even the same divinity being made the subject of numberlessj 
discordant legends.* He reduces the polj^eistic deification 
of natural objects to an absurdity by forcing it back through 
a series of insensible gradations into absolute fetichism.* 
The personification of mental qualities is similarly treated, 
until an hypothesis is provided for every passing mood.' 
Then, turning to the more philosophical deism of the Stoics, 
he assails their theory of the divine benevolence with instanc 
after instance of the apparent malevolence and iniquity to be 
found in Nature ; vividly reminding one of the facts adduced 
by Mr. Herbert Spencer in confutation of the similar viewsH^ 
held by modem English theologians.^ As against the whole 
theory of final causes. C arneades argues after a method which, 
though logically sound, could not then present itself with the 
authority which advancing science has more recently shown 
it to possess. * What you Stoics,' he says, * explain as the 
result of conscious purpose, other philosophers, like Strato 
for instance, explain with equal plausibility as the result of 
natural causation. And such is our ignorance of the forces 
at work in Nature that even where no mechanical cause can 
be assigned, it would be presumptuous to maintain that none 
can exist.* The reign of law does not necessarily prove the 
presence of intelligence ; it is merely the evidence of a 
uniform movement quite consistent with all that we know 

' Cicero, De N^at, Deor.^ I., xxiii., 62 ; III., iv., 11 ; xvi., 42 ; xxi., 53. 

« Sext., Adv, Math., IX., 182-3. 

■ Cic, De Nat, Deor,, III., xviii,, 47. 

* Cic, Acad,, II., xxxviii., 120 ; Zeller, op, cit,, p. 506. 

» Cic, Acad,, ibid,^ 121 ; Zeller, op, cit,, p. 507. 



about the working of unconscious forces.* To contend, with 
Socrates, that the human mind must be derived from a 
Universal Mind pervading all Nature would logically involve 
the transfer of every human attribute to its original source.* 
And to say that the Supreme Being, because it surpasses 
man, must possess an intelligence like his, is no more rational y 
than to make the same assumption with regard to a great" ] 
city because it is superior to an ant.' ^ 

The materialism of his dogmatic contemporaries placed 
them at a terrible disadvantage when the sceptical successor 
of Plato went on to show that eternal duration is incompatible 
with whatever we know about the constitution of corporeal 
substance ; and this part of his argument applied as much to 
the Epicurean as to the Stoic religion.^ But even a spiritual- 
istic monotheism is not safe from his dissolving criticism. 
According to Carneades, a god without senses has no experi- 
ence of whatever pleasurable or painful feelings accompany 
sensation, and is therefore, to that extent, more ignorant than 
a man ; while to suppose that he experiences painful sensations 
is the same as making him obnoxious to the diminished 
vitality and eventual death with which they are naturally 
associated. And, generally speaking, all sensation involves a 
modification of the sentient subject by an external object, a 
condition necessarily implying the destructibility of the 
former by the latter.* So also, moral goodness is an essen- 
tially relative quality, inconceivable without the possibility of 
succumbing to temptation, which we cannot attribute to a 
perfect Being.® In a word, whatever belongs to conscious 
'life being relative and conditioned, personality is excluded 
from the absolute by its very definition. 

As to the proofs of divine agency derived from divination, v 
they are both irrational and weak. If all things are pre- 

• Cic, De Nat. Deor,^ III., x., 24. * ibiJ.^ III., xi., 27. 

' ibid.y ix., 21. * ibid.^ III., xii., 29 ; I., xxxix., 109. 

» Sext. Adv. Math., IX., 139-47. • ibU., '52-77. 


determined by God's providence, knowledge of the future is 
useless, and, therefore, cannot have been given to us. More- 
over, no confidence can be placed in the alleged fulfilments of 
prophecy ; probably most of them are fictitious and the 
remainder accidental. For the rest, good luck is distributed 
without regard to merit ; and the general corruption of man- 
kind shows that, from the Stoic point of view, human nature is 
a complete failure.* 

Well may M. Havet say of the Academicians : ' ce sont . 
eux et non les partisans d'Epicure qui sont les libres penseurs v/ 
de Tantiquit^ ou qui Tauraient voulu ^tre ; mais ils ne le 
pouvaient pas.* * They could not, for their principles were as 
inconsistent with an absolute negation as with an absolute 
affirmation ; while in practice their. rule was, as we have said, 
•4--T0nformity to the custom of the country ; the consequence 
of which was that Sceptics and Epicureans were equally 
assiduous in their attendance at public worship. It is, 
therefore, with perfect dramatic appropriateness that Cicercr"^ 
puts the arguments of Carneades into the mouth of Cotta, the 
Pontifex Maximus ; and, although himself an augur, takes 
the negative side in a discussion on divination with his^ 
brother Quintus. And our other great authority on the 
sceptical side, Sextus Empiricus, is not less emphatic than 
Cotta in protesting KliS llUV6Ubn to the traditional religion of 
the land.* 

We have seen with what freedom Carneades discussed the 
foundations of morality. It is now evident that in so doing 
he did not exceed the legitimate functions of criticism. No 
one at the present day looks on Prof. Bain and Mr. Henry 
Sidgwick as dangerous teachers because they have made it 
clear that to pursue the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number is not always the way to secure a maximum of 

' Cic, DeNat, Deor,^ III., vi. ; De Divin.^ II., fasst'm; DeNat, Deur,, III., 
xxvi. ff. 

* Le Chrisiianisme et ses Ori^iftes, II., p. 3. 
« Sext., P^^rrA. Hyp., III., 2. 


happiness for oneself. The really dangerous method, as we ^ 
now see, is to foster illusions in early life which subsequent^l 
experience must dispel. 

With the introduction of practical questions, we pass to the 
great positive achievement of Carneades, his theory of proba- 
ble evidence. Intended as an account of the process by which 
belief is adjusted to safe action rather than of the process by 
which it is brought into agreement with reality, his logic is a 
systematisation of the principles by which prudent men are 
unconsciously guided in common life. Carneades distingfuishes 
three degrees of p robability. The ]gjQ^g£jJs attached to simple (j 
perception. This arises when we receive the impression of 
an object without taking the attendant circumstances into 
account The jigxt-^tep is reached when our first impression /^^ 
is confirmed by the sirniTar impressions received from its 
attendant circumstances ; and when each of these, again, bears ^ 
the test of a similar examination our assurance is complete. 
The first belief is simply probable ; the s gcond. is probable 
and uncontradicted ; the third probable, uncontradicted, 
and methodically established! The example given by Sextus 
is that of a person who on seeing a coil of rope in a dark 
passage thinks that it may be a snake, and jumps over it, 
but on turning round and observing that it remains motionless 
feels inclined to form a different opinion. Remembering, 
however, that snakes are sometimes congealed by cold in 
winter, he touches the coil with his stick, and finally satisfies 
himself by means of this test that tlie image present to his 
mind does not really represent a snake. The circumstances 
to be examined before arriving at a definite judgment include 
such considerations as whether our senses are in a healthy 
condition, whether we are wide awake, whether the air is 
clear, whether the object is steady, and whether we have 
taken time enough to be sure that the conditions here specified 
are fulfilled. Each degree of probability is, again, divisible 
into several gradations according to the strength of the 


impressions received and the greater or less consilience of all 
the circumstances involved.* 

The Academic theory of probability bears some resem- 
blance to the Canonic of Epicurus, and may have been 
partially suggested by it. Both are distinguished from the 
Aristotelian and Stoic logic by the care with which they pro- yj 
vide for the absence of contradictory evidence. In this point, 
however, the superiority of Carneades to Epicurus is very 
marked. It is not enough for him that a present impression 
should suggest a belief not inconsistent with past experience ; 
in the true inductive spirit, he expressly searches for negative 
instances, and recommends the employment of experiment 
for this purpose. Still more philosophical is the careful and 
repeated analysis of attendant circumstances, a precaution 
not paralleled by anything in the slovenly method of his 
predecessor. Here the great value of scepticism as an element 
in mental training becomes at once apparent. The extreme 
fallibility of the intellectus sidi permissus had to be established 
before precautions could be adopted for its restraint. But the 
evidence accepted in proof of this fallibility has been very 
different at different times, and has itself given rise to more 
than one fallacious interpretation. With us it is, for the most 
part, furnished by experience. The circumstance that many 
demonstrable errors were formerly received as truths is quite 
sufficient to put us on our guard against untested opinions. 
With Bacon, it was not the erroneousness of previous systems, 
but their barrenness and immobility, which led him to question 
the soundness of their logic ; and his doubts were confirmed 
by an analysis of the disturbing influences under which men's 
judgments are formed. The ancient Sceptics were governed 
entirely by d priori considerations. Finding themselves con- 
fronted by an immense mass of contradictory opinions, they 
argued that some of these must be false as all could not 
possibly be true. And an analysis of the human faculties 

» Sext., Adz\ Alaih,, VII., 166-89. 


led them, equally on ^/rfi?r/ grounds, to the conclusion that 
these irreconcilable divergences were but the result and the 
reproduction of an interminable conflict carried on within the 
mind itself. They could not foresee how much time would 
do towards reducing the disagreement of educated opinion 
within a narrower compass. They did not know what the 
experience of experience itself would teach. And their 
criticisms on the logic and metaphysics of their opponents 
were rendered inconclusive, as against all certainty, by the 
extent to which they shared that logic and metaphysics 
themselves. Carneades, at least, seems to assnn ]^ thmyg hnnt- 
that ^ ■f siiioton ee io mfttcj^ ^; that there is a sharp distinction 
between subject and object in knowledge, and that there is 
an equally sharp distinction between sensation and reasoning 
in the processes by which knowledge is obtained. In like 
manner, his ethical scepticism all turns on the axiom, also 
shared by him with the Stoics, that for a man to be actuated^ 
by any motive but his own interest is mere folly. 

Mod ern agno sticism occupies the same position with . 
regard to the present foundation and possible future extensioiK^ 
of human knowledge as was occupied by the ancient Sceptics 
with regard to the possibility of all knowledge Its conclu- 
sions also are based on a very insufficient experience of what 
can be effected by experience, and on an analysis of cognition 
largely adopted from the system which it seeks to overthrow. 
Like Scepticism also, when logically thought out, it tends to 
issue in a self-contradiction, at one time affirming the con- 
sciousness of what is, by definition, beyond consciousness ;^ 
and at another time dogmatically determining the points on 
which we must remain for ever ignorant. It may be that 
some problems, as stated by modern thinkers, are insoluble ; 
but perhaps we may find our way out of them by transforming-^ 
the question to be solved. I 

If, in the domain of pure speculation, contemporary 
agnosticism exaggerates the existing divergences, in ethics 


its whole effort is, contrariwise, to reduce and reconcile them. 
Such was also the tendency of Carneades. He declared that, 
in their controversy about the highest good, the difference^ 
between the Stoics and the Peripatetics was purely verbal. 
Both held that we are naturally framed for the pursuit of 
certain objects, and that virtuous living is the only means by 
which they can be attained. But while the disciples of 
Aristotle held that the satisfaction of our natural impulse 
remains from first to last the only end, the disciples of Zeno 
insisted that at some point — not, as would seem very particu- 
larly specified — virtuous conduct, which was originally the 
means towards this satisfaction, becomes substituted for it as 
the supreme and ultimate good.* That the point at issue was 
more important than it seemed is evident from its reproduc- 
tion under another form in modern ethical philosophy. For, 
among ourselves, the controversy between utilitarianism and 
what, for want of a better name, we must call intuitionism, is 
gradually narrowing itself to the question whether the pursuit 
of another's good has or has not a higher value than the 
quantity of pleasure which accrues to him from it, plus the 
effects of a good example and the benefits that society at 
large is likely to gain from the strength which exercise gives 
to the altruistic dispositions of one of its members. Those 
who attribute an absolute value to altruism, as such, connect 
this value in some way or other with the spiritual welfare of 
the agent ; and they hold that without such a gain to himself 
he would gradually fall back on a life of calculating selfishness 
or of unregulated impulse. Here we have the return from a 
social to an individual morality. The Stoics, conversely, were 
feeling their way from the good of the individual to that of the 
community ; and they could only bridge the chasm by con- 
verting what had originally been a means towards self-preser- 
vation into an end in itself. Thfc Carneades could not see. 
Convinced that happiness was both necessary and attainable, 

* Cic, De Fin,f III., xii., 41 ; Zeller, o^, cit., p. 519. 


but convinced also that the systems which had hitherto offered 
it as their reward were logically untenable, he wished to place 
morality on the broad basis of what was held in common by 
all schools, and this seemed to be the rule of obedience to 
Nature's dictates, — a rule which had also the great merit of 
bidding men do in the name of philosophy what they already 
felt inclined to do without any philosophy at all. We are told, 
indeed, that he would not commit himself to any particular 
system of ethics ; the inference, however, is not that he ignored 
the necessity of a moral law, but that he wished to extricate 
it from a compromising alliance with untenable speculative 
dogmas. Nevertheless his acceptance of Nature as a real 
entity was a survival of metaphysics ; and his morality was, 
so far as it went, an incipient return to the traditions of the 
Old Academy. 


We have now reached a point where Greek philosophy 
seems to have swung back into the position which it occupied 
three hundred years before, towards the close of the Pelopon- 
nesian War. The ground is again divided between natural- ^ 
\ ists and humanists, the one school offering an encyclopaediC^lY 
training in physical science and exact philology, the other \ 
literary, sceptical, and limiting its attention to the more 
immediate interests of life ; but both agreeing in the supreme 
importance of conduct, and differing chiefly as to whether its 
basis should or should not be sought in a knowledge of the 
external world. Materialism is again in the ascendant, to 
this extent at least, that no other theory is contemplated byny^ 
the students of physical science ; while the promise of a 
spiritualistic creed is to be found, if at all, in the school whose 
scepticism throws it back on the subjective sphere, the in- ^/ 
visible and impalpable world of mind. The attitude of phi- . 
losophy towards religion has, indeed, undergone a marked^ 
change; for the Stoic naturalists count themselves among the 


most strenuous supporters of beliefs and practices which 
their Sophistic predecessors had contemned, while the 
humanist criticism is cautiously guarded by at least an 
external conformity to established usage ; but the Platonic 
doctrine of immortality has disappeared with the dogmatic 
spiritualism on which it rested ; and faith in superior beings 
tends to dissociate itself from morality, or to become identi- 
fied with a simple belief in the fixity of natural law. 

Whenever naturalism and scepticism have thus stood 
opposed, the result has been their transformation or absorp- 
tion into a new philosophy, combining the systematic fo rmaU 
ism of the one with the intrQjspe^ctive idealism ofjthe^ other. 
In Qreedti slich a revolution had already been effected once 
before by Plato ; and a restoration of his system seemed the 
most obvious solution that could offer itself on the present 
occasion. Such was, in fact, the solution eventually adopted ; 
what we have to explain is why its adoption was delayed so 
long. For this various reasons may be offered. To begin 
with, the speculative languor of the age was unfavourable to 
the rise of a new school. Greece was almost depopulated b] 
the demands of foreign service ; and at Alexandria, v/here a 
new centre of Hellenism had been created, its best e nergies^ 
were ^j;^*fnr^'^^ ^Y thfi c ultivatio n of positive science. It was, 
no doubt, in great part owing to the dearth of ability that 
ideas which, at an earlier period, would have been immediately 
taken up and developed, were allowed to remain stationary 
for a hundred years — the interval separating a Carneades 
from an Arcesilaus. The regular organisation of philosophi- 
cal teach ing wa s another hindrance to progress. A certain 
amount of property was annexed to the headships of the 
different schools, and served as an endowment, not of research/ 
but of rn^fpnfpH a^<;^^^iPQrpq|rf> in fhfi receive d traditions .' 
Moreover, the jealousy with which the professors of rival 
doctrines would naturally regard one another, was likely to 
prevent their mutual approximation from going beyond 


certain not very close limits, and might even lead to a still 
severer definition of the characteristic tenets which still kept 
them apart. Another and deeper disturbing force lay in the 
dissensions which, at a very early stage of its development, 
had split the spiritualistic philosophy into two opposing v 
tendencies respectively represented by Plato and Aristotle.^ 
Any thinker who wandered away from the principles either 
of Stoicism or of Scepticism was more likely to find himself 
bewildered by the conflicting claims of these two illustrious 
masters, than to discern the common ground on which they 
stood, or to bring them within the grasp of a single reconcil- 
ing system. Finally, an enormous perturbation in the normaft" \-*^ 
course of speculation was produced by the entrance of RonSe ^^ 
on the philosophical scene. But before estimating the influ- 
ence of this new force, we must follow events to the point 
at which it first becomes of calculable importance. / i 

We have seen how Carneades, alike in his theory of prob 
bility and in his ethical eclecticism, had departed from the 
extreme sceptical standpoint. His successor, Clitomachus, 
was content with committing the doctrines of the master to 
writing. A further step was taken by the next Scholarch, 
Philo, who is known as the Larissaean, in order to distingfuish 
him from his more celebrated namesake, the Alexandrian Jew. 
This philosopher asserted that the negations of the New 
Academy were not to be taken as a profession of absolute ^ 
scepticism, but merely as a criticism on the untenable preten- 
sions of the Stoa. His own position was that, as a matter of 
fact, we have some certain knowledge of the external world, j^ 
buTthat no logical account can be given of the process by 
'hich it is obtained — we can only say that such an assurance 
las been naturally stamped on our minds.* This is the theory 
'of intuitions or innate ideas, still held by many persons ; and, 
as such, it marks a return to pure Platonism, having been 
evidently suggested by the semi- mythological fancies of the 

' According to Zeller*s interpretation of Cicero, Acad,^ II., xi., 34. 





Meno and the Phacdrus, With Philo as with those S cotch 
professors who long afterwards took up substantially the 
same position, the leading motive was a practical one, the 
necessity of placing morality on some stronger ground than 
that of mere probability. Neither he nor his imitators saw 
that if ethical principles are self-evident, they need no objec- 
tive support ; if they are derivative and contingent, they can- j^ 
not impart to metaphysics a certainty which they do nolo 
independently possess. The return to the old Academic 
standpoint was completed by a much more vigorous thinker 
than Philo, his pupil, opponent, and eventual successor, 
Antiochus. So far from attempting any compromise with the 
Sceptics, this philosopher openly declared that they had led 
the school away from its true traditions ; and claimed for his 
own teaching the merit of reproducing the original doctrine of 
Plato.' In reality, he was, as Zeller has shown, a n eclectic* 
It is by arguments borrowed from Stoicism that he 
vindicates the certainty of human knowledge. Pushing the 
practical postulate to its logical conclusion, he maintains, not 
only that we are in possession of the tiuth, but also— what 
Philo had denied — that true beliefs bear on their face the 
evidence by which they are distinguished from illusions. 
Admitting that the senses are liable to error, he asserts the 
possibility of rectifying their mistakes, and of reasoning from 
a subjective impression to its objective cause. The Sceptical 
negation of truth he meets with the familiar argument that it 
is suicidal, for to be convinced that there can be no conviction 
is a contradiction in terms ; while to argue that truth is in- 
distinguishable from falsehood implies an illogical confidence 
in the validity of logical processes; besides involving the 
assumption that there are false appearances and that they are 
known to us as such, which would be impossible unless we 
were in a position to compare them with the corresponding 

* Zeller, cp, ct^., p. 602. • i-W</., p. 603. 



truths.* For his own part, Antiochus adopted without alter- 
ation the empirical theory of Chrysippus, according to which 
knowledge is elaborated by reflection out of the materials 
supplied by sense. His physics were also those of Stoicism 
with a slight Peripatetic admixture, but without any modifi- 
cation of their purely materialistic character. In ethics he 
remained truer to the Academic tradition, refusing to follow 
the Stoics in their absolute isolation of virtue from vice, and 
of happiness from external circumstances, involving as it did 
the equality of all transgressions and the worthlessness of 
worldly goods. But the disciples of the Porch had made 
such large concessions to common sense by their theories of 
preference and of progress, that even here there was very 
little left to disting^uish his teaching from theirs.' 

Meanwhile a series of Stoic thinkers had also been feeling / 
their way towards a rnmpmmisft lyith Plato and Aristotle, 
which, so far as it went, was a step in the direction of spiritual- 
ism. We have seen, in a former chapter, how one of the 
great distinguishing marks of Stoicism, as compared with the 
systems immediately preceding it, was the substitution of a 
pervading monism for their antithesis between God and the 
world, between heaven and earth, between reason and sense. 
It will be remembered also that this monistic creed was 
associated with a return to the Heracleitean theory that the 
world is periodically destroyed by fire. Now, with reference 
to three out of these four points, Bo^thus. a Stoic contem-^ 
porary of Cameades, returned to the Aristotelian doctrine. 
While still holding to the materialism of his own school, 
including a belief in the corporeal nature of the divinity, he 
separated God from the world, and represented him as govern- 
ing its movements from without ; the world itself he main- 
tained to be eternal ; and in the mind of man he recognised 
reason or nous as an independent source of conviction. In 

» For the authorities see Zeller, op, ciL^ pp. 599-601. 
• Zeller, op. n/., pp. 603-8. 


his cosmology, Bo^thus was followed by. a more celebrated 
master, Panagtiw^r who also adopted the Aristotelian ration-^ 
alism so far as to deny the continued existence of the soul 
after death, and to repudiate the belief in divination which 
Stoicism had borrowed from popular superstition ; while in 
psydiology he partially restored the distinction between lift 
and mind which had been obliterated by his predecessors.* 
The dualistic theory of mind was carried still further by 
Posidonius, the most eminent Stoic of the first century B.C. 
This very learned and accomplished master, while returning 
in other points to a stricter orthodoxy, was led to admit the 1 
Platonic distinction between reason and passion, and to makeTv 
it the basis of his ethical system.* But the Platonising 
tendencies of Posidonius had no more power than those of 
Antiochus to effect a true spiritualistic revival, since neither 
they nor any of their contemporaries had any genius for 
metaphysical speculation ; while the increased attention paid 
to Aristotle did not extend to the fundamental principles of 
his system, which, even within the Peripatetic school, were so 
misconceived as to be interpreted in a thoroughly material- 
istic sense.' 

A distinct parallelism may be traced in the lines of evolu- 
tion along which we have accompanied our two opposing 
schools. While the Academicians were coming over to the 
Stoic theory of cognition, the Stoics themselves were moving 
in the same general direction, and seeking for an external 
reality more in consonance with their notions of certainty 
than the philosophy of their first teachers could supply. For, 
as orig ipally, constitut ed, SfnirUm in cluded a la igeglfim^"^ ^^, 
scepticism, which must often have laid its advocates open to 
the charge of inconsistency from those who accepted the same 
principle in a more undiluted form. The Heracleitean flux 
adopted by Zeno as the physical basis of his system, was 

» Zeller, op, cit,^ pp. 554, 561 fF. 
* Zeller, op, riV., p. 575. » Zeller, op, ciL, p. 621. 

M 2 



much better suited to a sceptical than to a dogmatic philo- 
sophy, as the use to which it was put by Protagoras and Plato 
sufficiently proved ; and this was probably the reason why 
Bo^thus and Panaetius partially discarded it in favour of a 
more stable cosmology. The dialectical studies of the school 
also tended to suggest more difficulties than they could re- 
move. The comprehensive systematisation of Chrysippus, 
like that of Plato and Aristotle, had for its object the illustra- ^^ 
tion of each topic from every point of view, and especially 
from the negative as well as from the positive side. The 
consequence was that his indefatigable erudition had col- 
lected a great number of logical puzzles which he had either 
neglected or found himself unable to solve. There would, 
therefore, be a growing inclination to substitute a literary 
and rhetorical for a logical training : and as we shall presently 
see, there was an extraneous influence acting in the same 
direction. Finally, the rigour of Stoic morality had been 
strained to such a pitch that its professors were driven tol 
admit the complete ideality of virtue. Their sage h ad never 
shown himself on earth, at least within the historical period ; 
and the whole world of human interests being, from the 
rational point of view, either a delusion or a failure, stood in 
permanent contradiction to their optimistic theory of Nature. 
The Sceptics were quite aware of this practical approximation 
to their own views, and sometimes took advantage of it to 
turn the tables on their opponents with telling effect. Thus, 
on the occasion of that philosophical embassy with an account 
of which the present chapter began, when a noble Roman 
playfully observed to Cameades, ' You must think that I am 
not a Praetor as I am not a sage, and that Rome is neither a 
city nor a state,* the great Sceptic replied, turning to his 
colleague Diogenes, 'That is what my Stoic friend here 
would say.* ' And Plutarch, in two sharp attacks on the 
Stoics, written from the Academic point of view, and probably 

* CiCt, Acad,^ II., xlv. 


compiled from documents of a much earlier period,* charges 
them with outraging common sense by their wholesale practi-^x^ 
cal negations, to at least as great an extent as the Sceptics 
outraged it by their suspense of judgment. How the ethical 
system of Stoicism was modified so as to meet these criticisms 
has been related in a former chapter ; and we have just seen 
how Posidonius, by his partial return to the Platonic psy- 
chology, with its division between reason and impulse, con- 
tributed to a still further change in the same conciliatory 


We have now reached a point in history where the Greek 
intellect seems to be struck y^it b^ paH-iq] pnrnl3"''*''j"""^"t*'nMinc 
f or a cent un" 3nr1 i> li llf T^-T^'np that period, its activity — 
what there is of it — is shown only in criticism and erudition. 
There is learning, there is research, there is acuteness, there is 
even good taste, but originality and eloquence are extinct Is 
it a coincidence, or is it something more, that this interval of 
sterility should occur simultaneously with the most splendid 
period of Latin literature, and that the new birth of Greek 
culture should be followed by the decrepitude and death of 
the Latin muse t It is certain that in modem Europe, 
possessing as it does so many independent sources of vitality, 
the flowering-times of different countries rarely coincide ; 
England and Spain, from the middle of the sixteenth to the 
middle of the seventeenth century, being the only instances 
that we can recall of two countries almost simultaneously 
reaching the highest point of their literary development. 
Possibly, during the great age of Latin literature, all the most 
aspiring Greeks found employment as tutors in Roman 
families ; while the reading public of the West were too much 
absorbed by the masterpieces composed in their own language, 

* The treatises entitled De Stokorum RepugnantiA and De CommmUbus^^ 
NdUiis. y^ 


or too elated with the consciousness of a new superiority, to 
encourage the rivalry of those from whom they had wrested 
not only poetical independence, but also, what till then had 
never been disputed with the Greeks, supreme dominion in 
the world of mind. It is, at any rate, significant that while 
Greek was the favourite language of Roman lovers in the 
time of Lucretius and again in the time of Juvenal, there are 
no allusions to its having been employed by them during the 
intermediate period.^ Be this as it may , ^^-^ti fb** ^""^l ^f thr 
R epublic to the time of Traja n, philosophy, like poetry and 
eloquence — or at least all philosophy that was positive and 
practical — ^became domiciled in Rome, and received the stamp 
of the Roman character. How Stoicism was affected by the 
change has been pointed out in a former chapter. What we 
have now to study is chiefly the reaction of Rome on the 
Greek mind, and its bearing on the subsequent development 
of thought 

This reaction had begun to make itself felt long before the 
birth of a philosophical literature in the Latin language. It 
may be traced to the time when the lecture-halls at Athens 
were first visited by Roman students, and Greek professors 
first received on terms of intimate companionship into the 
houses of Roman nobles. In each instance, but more 
especially in the latter, not only would the pupil imbibe new 
ideas from the master, but the master would suit his teaching 
to the tastes and capacities of the pupil. The result would 
be an intellectual condition somewhat resembling that which 
attended the popularisation of philosophy in Athens during 
the latter half of the fifth century B.C. ; and all the more so 
as speculation had already spontaneously reverted to the 
Sophistic standpoint The parallel will be still more complete 
if we take the word Sophist in its original and comprehensive 
sense. We may then say that while Carneades, with his 
entrancing eloquence and his readiness to argue both sides 

» Lucret., IV., 1154-64; Juvcn., VI., 186-95. 




of 3 question, was the Protagoras of the new movement ; 
Panaetius, the dignified rationalist and honoured friend of 
Laelius and the younger Scipio, its Prodicus ; and PosJdonius, 
the astronomer and encyclopaedic scholar, its Hippias, 
Phaednis the Epicurean was its Anaxagoras or Democritus. 

The Epicure an philosophy was, in fact, the fi"*" tn fpiin n 
footing in Rome ; and it thereby acquired a position of com- 
parative equality with the other schools, to which it was not 
really entitled, but which it has ever since succeeded in main- 
taining. The new doctrine fell like a spark on a mass of— 
combustible material. The Romans were full of curiosity 
about Nature and her workings; full of contempt for the 
degradir^ Etruscan superstitions which hampered them at 
every turn, and the falsity of which was provii^ too much even 
for the official gravity of their state-appointed interpreters ; full 
of impatience at the Greek mythology which was beginning 
to substitute itself for the severe abstractions of their own more 
spiritual faith ; ' full of loathing for the Asiatic orgies which 
were being introduced into the highest society of their own dty. 
. Epicureanism offered them a complete and easily intelli- 
1 gible theory of the world, which at the same time came as a 
I deliverance from supernatural terrors. The consequence was 
that its different parts were thrown out of perspective, and , 

their relative importance almost reversed. Originally framed y . 
as an ethical system with certain physical and theological im- 
plications, it was interpreted by Lucretius, dnd apparently alsi 
by his Roman predecessors,' as a scientific and anti-religiou; 
system, with certain references to conduct neither very^ 
prominently brought forward nor very distinctly conceived. 

■ Varro observes Ihal for 170 jtazs the ancieni Romans worshipped their gods 
without images ; ' qnod si adhac,' inquit, ' mansissel caitin* EKi observMCntur.' 
And in the same passage, speaking erf' my ihology, he says, ' hoc omnia Diis 
attiibuantnr quae noil modo in bominem, icd etiam in conlemtis^mam haminem 
cadere possunt.' Auguslin., Dt Cioit. Dei, IV., iii., and xxii., quoted by Zeller, 
cp. cil., p. 674. 

■ Ritlei and Prellei, Iliil. Phil., p. 4x6 ; Woltjer, Lutrdii Fhilaitphia, p. 5, 




And we know from the contents of the papyrus rolls dis- 
covered at Herculaneum, that those who studied the sys- 
tem in its original sources paid particular attention to the 
voluminous physical treatises of Epicurus, as well as to the 
theological works of his successors. Nor was this change of ^ 
front limited to Epicureanism, if, as we may suspect, the 
rationalistic direction taken by Panaetius was due, at least 
in part, to a similar demand on the side of his Roman 

But what had happened once before when philosophy was 
taken up by men of the world, repeated itself on this occasion. 
Attention was diverted from speculative to ethical problems, 
or at least to issues lying on the borderland between specula- 
tion and practice, such as those relating to the criterion of 
truth and the nature of the highest good. On neither of 
these topics had Epicureanism a consistent answer to give, 
especially when subjected to the cross-examination of rival 
schools eager to secure Roman favour for their own doctrines. 
Stated under any form, the Epicurean morality could not 
long satisfy the conquerors of the world. To some of them 
it would seem a shameful dereliction of duty, to others an 
irksome restraint on self-indulgence, while all would be 
alienated by its declared contempt for the general interests of 
culture and ambition. Add to this that the slightest acquaint- 
ance with astronomy, as it was then taught in Hellenic 
countries, would be fatal to a belief in the Epicurean physics, 
and we shall understand that the cause for which Lucretius 
contended was already lost before his great poem saw the 

The requ^ements which Epicu reanism failed to meet, were, 
to a great extcntT satisried by Stoicism . This philosophy had, 
from a comparatively early period, won the favour of a select 
class, but had been temporarily overshadowed by the popular- 
ity of its hedonistic and anti-religious rival, when a knowledge 
of the Greek systems first became diffused through Italy. 


The uncouth language of the early Stoics and the apparently 
unpractical character of their theories doubtless exercised a 
repellent effect on many who were not out of sympathy with 
their general spirit. These difficulties were overcome first by 
Panaetius, and then, to a still greater extent, by Fosidonius, 
the eldercohtemporary and friend of Pompeius and Cicero, who 
was remarkable not only for his enormous learning but also for 
his oratorical talent.' It seems probable that the lessons of 
this distinguished man marked the b^inning of that religious 
reaction which eventually carried all before it We have 
already seen how he abandoned the rationalisticdirection struck \ 
out by his predecessor, Panaetius ; and his return to the old 1 
Stoic orthodoxy may very well have responded to a revival of I 
religious feeling among the educated Roman public, who by / 
this time must have discovered that there were other ways 
of escaping from superstition besides a complete rejection of 
the supernatural. 

The triumph of Stoicism was, however, retarded by the 
combined influence of t he Academic and Peripatetic schools. >» 
Both claimed the theory of a morality founded on natural law 
as a doctrine of their own, borrowed from them without 
acknowledgment by the Porch, and restated under an offen- 
sively paradoxical form. To a Roman, the Academy would 
offer the further attraction of complete immunity from the 
bond^e of a speculative system, freedom of enquiry limited 
only by the exigencies of practical life, and a conveniently 
elastic interpretation of the extent to which popular faiths 
might be accepted as true. If absolute suspense of judg- 
ment jarred on his moral convictions, it was ready with 
accommodations and concessions. We have seen how the J 

scepticism of Camead es was first modified by Philo, and then ^^ 
openly renounced by Philo's successor, Antiochns. Roman 

' The servieei of Posidonini seem lo have been overlooked by M. Gaston 
Boisaier when he implies in his work on Roman Religion (vol. ii., p. 13) that 
Fabianus, a Roman dcclaimer under Augustus, was (he iim to give an eloquent 
nipicMiou lo Stoicism. 


influence may have been at work with both ; for Philo 
spent some time in the capital of the empire, whither he 
was driven by the events of the first Mithridatic War ; 
while Antiochus was the friend of Lucullus and the teacher o 



The greatest of Roman orators and writers was also the 
first Roman that held o pinions of his own in philosophy. 
How much original thought occurs in nis voluminous con- 
tributions to the literature of the subject is more than we can 
determine, the Greek authorities on which he drew being 
known almost exclusively through the references to them 
contained in his disquisitions. But, judging from the evidence 
before us, carefully sifted as it has been by German scholars, 
we should feel disposed to assign him a foremost rank among 
the thinkers of an age certainly not distinguished eitlier for 
fertility or for depth of thought It seems clear that he gave 
a l yew basis to the eclectic ten dencies of his contemporaries, 
and that this basis was subsequently accepted by other philo- 
sophers whose speculative capacity has never been questioned. 
Cicero describes himself as an adherent of the New Academy, 
and expressly claims to have reasserted its principles after they 
had fallen into neglect among the Greeks, more particularly as 
against his own old master Antiochus, whose Stoicising theory 
of cognition he agrees with ^Jule^n repudiating.* Like Philo 
also, he bases certainty on the twofold ground of a . moral 
necessity for acting on our beliefs,' and the existence of moral 
intuitions, or natural tendencies to believe in the mind itself; ^ 
or, perhaps, more properly speaking, on the single ground of 
a moral sense. This, as already stated, was unquestionably 
a reproduction of the Platonic ideas under their subjective 
aspect But in his general views about the nature and limits 

* Zeller, op, at,, pp. S97-S. ' Acad., II., xxii., 69. 

» ibU,, xxxi., 99. * De FiH„^ V., xxi., 59. 


of human knowledge, Cicero leaves the Academy behind 
him, and g oes back to Socrates. Perhaps no two men of 
great genius could be more unlike than these two, — for us the 
most living figures in ancient history if not in all history, — the 
Roman being as much a type of time-servingness and vacilla- 
tion as the Athenian was of consistency and resolute independ- 
ence. Yet, in its [mere external results, the philosophy of 
Socrates is perhaps more faithfully reproduced by Cicero than 
by any subsequent enquirer ; and the differences between them 
are easily accounted for by the long interval separating their 
ages from one another. Each set out with the same eager desire I 
to collect knowledge f rom eveip y q|]art^M-^arti sought above 
all things for that kind of knowledge which seemed to be of 
the greatest practical importance ; and each was led to 
believe that this did not include speculations relating to the 
physical world ; one great motive to the partial scepticism 
professed by both being the irreconcilable disagreement of 
those who had attempted an explanation of its mysteries. 
The deeper ground of man's ignorance in this respect was 
stated somewhat differently by each ; or perhaps we should say 
that the same reason is expressed in a mythical form by the 
one and in a scientific form by the other. Socrates held that 
the nature of things is a secret which the gods have reserved 
for themselves ; while, in Cicero's opinion, the heavens are so 
remote, the interior of the earth so dark, the mechanism of 
our own bodies so complicated and subtle, as to be placed 
beyond the reach of fruitful observation.* Nor did this 
deprivation seem any great hardship to either, since, as 
citizens of great and free states, both were pre-eminently 
interested in the study of social life ; and it is characteristic 
of their common tendency that both should have been not 
only great talkers and observers but also great readers of 
ancient literature.^ 

' Mad.f II., xxxix. 

' For Aie literary studies of Socrates, see Xenoph., A/em,, I., vi., 14; those 
of Cicero are too manifest to need any special reference. 


With regard to ethics, there is, of course, a great difference 
between the innovating, creative genius of the Greek and the 
receptive but timid inteUigence of the Roman. Yet the 
uncertainty which , in the one case, was due to the absence of 
any fixed system, is equally present in the other, owing to the 
embarrassment of having s o many syst ems among which to 
choose. Three ethical motives were constantly present to 
the thoughts of Socrates : the utUitji^ofjvyiufi; from a material l 
point of view, to the individual ; its g^^]^ necessity ; and its | 
connexion with the dual constituti^nlof man as a being com- 

posed of two el ements whereot^e one is infinit ely superior 
to the other ; but he nevep/^s able, or never attempted to 
co-ordinate them unde/a single principle. His successors 
tried to discover sudf a principle in the t^i^aj^f HBtural ^'^^\ 
but could neithpf establish nor apply it^ in a satisfactory 
manner. Cicero reproduces the Socratic elements, sometimes 
in their orirfnal dispersion and confusion, sometimes with the 
additional ^omplication an d porpte x l l v t ni r oduced by the 
idea thcough which it had been hoped to systematise and 
recondle them. To him, indeed, tbaL idea woiT even more 
impoKant than to the Greek Qi£u:alisfc&4- for he looked on 
Nature as the common ground where philosophy and untrained 
experience might meet for mutual confirmation and support.* 
We have seen how he adopted the theory — as yet not very \ 
clearly formulated — of a moral sense, or general faculty of 
intuition, from Philo. To study and obey the dictates of this 
faculty, as distinguished from the depraving influence of 
custom, was his method of arriving at truth and right. But 
if, when properly consulted, it always gave the same response, 
a similar unanimity might be expected in the doctrines of the 
various philosophical schools ; and the adhesion of Academi- 
cians, Peripatetics, and Stoics to the precept. Follow Nature, 
seemed to demonstrate that such an agreement actually 
existed. Hence Cicero over and over again labours»to prove 

> Sec the passages quoted by Zeller, <y>. r//., pp. 659-60. 



that t heir disp ni-^g y^^r^ mprpW vprhal^ and that Stoicism in 
particular had borrowed its ethics wholesale from his own 
favourite sect Yet from time to time their discrepancies 
would force themselves on his notice ; and by none have the 
differences separating Stoicism from its rivals been stated with' 
more clearness, concision, and point.* These relate to the 
absolute self-sufficingness of virtue, its unity, and the incom- 
patibility of emotion with its exercise. But Cicero seems to 
have regarded the theory of preference and rejection as a 
concession to common sense amounting to a surrender of 
whatever was parodoxical and exclusive in the Stoic stand- 
point* And with respect to the question round which con-j 
troversy raged most fiercely, namely, whether virtue was th 
sole or merely the chief condition of happiness, Cicero, as 
man of the world, considered that it was practically of n 
consequence which side prevailed.' It would be unfair to 
blame him for not seeing, what the stricter school felt ratherj 
than saw, that the happiness associated with goodness was 
not of an individual but of a social character, and therefore 
could not properly be compared with objects^ 
individual desire, such as health, wealth, friends, and worl 

But even taken in its mildest form, there were difficulties 
about Greek idealism which still remained unsolved. They 
may be summed up in one word, the n ecessity of subordinat- 
ing all perso nal an^ p^cyci-r^ti^f^ -^^llYge f^ ^ ^*g^^r liw, 

wEa tever the dicta tes of that l aw may be^^ ^Of such self- 
suppression few men were less capable than Cicero. Whether 
virtue meant the extirpation or merely the moderation of 
desire and emotion, it was equally impossible to one of w 
Macaulay has said, with not more severity than truth, that 
his whole soul was under the dominion of a girlish vanity 
and a craven fear.* Such weak and well-intentioned natures 

> Acad., I., X. « De Fin., IV., viii. » De OfiT,, III., iU., n. 

* The ];>assage occurs near the beginning of his Essay on Bacon. 


almost always take refuge from their sorrows and self- 
reproaches in religion ; and probably the religious sentiment 
was more nighly developed in Cicero than in any o the? 
thinker oi the age. H ere also a parallel with Socrates 
nUturally suggests itself. The relation between the two 
amounts to more than a mere analogy ; for not only was the 
intellectual condition of old Athens repeating itself in Rome, 
but the religious opinions of all cultivated Romans who still 
retained their belief in a providential God, were, to an even 
greater extent than their ethics, derived through Stoicism 
from the great founder of rational theology. Cicero, like 

providence, and an informing spirit : — identical in his nature 
with the soul of man, and having man for his peculiar care. 
With regard to the evidence of his existence, the teleological 
argument derived from the structure of organised beings is 
common to both ; the argument from universal belief, doubt- 
less a powerful motive with Socrates, is more distinctly put 
forward by Cicero; and while both regard the heavenly 
luminaries as manifest embodiments of the divine essence, 
Cicero is led by the traditions of Plato, Aristotle, and the 
Stoics, to present the regularity of their movements as the 
most convincing revelation of a superhuman intelligence, and 
to identify the outermost starry sphere with the highest God 
of all.' TrifMnaf^iy ^<^<^r^r-iof^H ii^ifTi this view is his belief in 

the immortality of the soul, which he supposes will return 
aftei^ death 16 the ei6fhdl and unchangeable sphere whence it 
originally proceeded.' But his familiarity with the sceptical 
ailments of Cameades prevented Cicero from putting forward 
his theological beliefs with the same confidence as Socrates ; 
while, at the same time. It enabled liliii lu lake upii much more 
decided attitude ofligstility-tOWa'iBs the popular superstitions 
from which ne^vas anxious, so far as possible, to purify true 

• See the Sonwium Scifnoms, De ReJ^b,^ VL, xvii. • ibid., xxvi. 




religion.' To sum up : Cicero, like Kant, seems to have bee 
chiefly impressed by two phenomena, the starry heavens 
without and the moral law within ; each in its own way 
giving him the idea of unchanging and everlasting con- 
tinuance, and both testifying to the existence of a power by 
which all things are regulated for the best. But the material- 
ism of his age naturally prevented him from regarding the 
external order as a mere reflex or lower manifestation of the 
inward law by which all spirits feel themselves to be members 
of the same intelligible community. 

We have illustrated the position of Cicero by reference to 
the master who, more than any other Greek philosopher, 
seems to have satisfied his ideal of perfect wisdom. We must 
now observe that nothing is better calculated to show how 
inadequate was the view once universally taken of Socrates, 
and still, perhaps, taken by all who are not scholars, than 
that it should be applicable in so many points to Cicero as 
well. For, while the influence of the one on human thought \ 
was the greatest ever exercised by a single individual, the 
influence of the other was limited to the acceleration of a 
movement already in full activity, and moreover tending on 
the whole in a retrograde direction. The immeasurable 
superiority of the Athenian lies in his dialectical method. It 
was not by a mere^limination of dinerences tnat ne Hoped to 
establish a general agreement, but by reasoning down from 

CO oe the result ot 



admitted principles, which were themse] 
scientific induction brought to bear on a comprehensive and 
ever-widening area of experience. Hence his scepticism, 
which was directed against authority, tended as much to 
stimulate enquiry as that of the Roman declaimer, which was 
directed against reason, tended to deaden or to depress \\.y^^y\ 
Hence, also, the political philosophy of Socrates was as 
revolutionary as that of his imitator was conservative. Both 
were, in a certain sense, aristocrats ; but while the aristocracy 

* Dt Dhnn.^ II., Ixxii., 148 ; Zeller, op. cit.^ p. 667. 



of the elegant rhetorician meant a clique of indolent and 
incagaljp nobks, that of the sturdy crattsman nAeant aHband 
of hig hly-tra ined specialists maintained in power by the 
choice, the confidence, and the willing obedience of an intelli- 
gent people. And while the religion of Cicero was a blind 
reliance on providence supplemented by priestcraft in this 
world, wirh the hope. If things came to th^ W6t^l, of a safe 

retreat from trouble in the next ; the religion of Socrates was 
an a ctive co^^ pprafinn with thp universal mind, an attempt to 
make reason and the w HI <^f r^nH pr^^ai'l nn (-^ \\ with the 
hope, if"tlliii*e was any future state, of carrying on in it the 
intellectual warfare which alone had made life worth living 
here. No less a contrast could be expected between the 
orator who turned to philosophy only for the occupation of 
a leisure hour, or for relief from the pangs of disappointed 
ambition, and the thinker who gave her his whole existence 
as the elect apostle and martyr of her creed. 


We have seen what was the guiding principle of Cicero's 
philosophical method. By interrogating all the systems of 
his time, he hoped to elicit their points of agfreement, and to 
utilise the result for the practical purposes of life. As 
actually applied, the effect of this method was not to reconcile 
the current theories with one* another, nor yet to lay the 
foundation of a more comprehensive philosophy, but to 
throw back thought on an order of ideas which, from their 
great popularity, had been incorporated with every system in 
turn, and, for that very reason, seemed to embody the precise 
points on which all were agreed. These were the idea of 

Y/( Nature, the idea of mind q\ rfP"^^"! ^"^ thfi «^pa^2Jl"^^^'^J 
We have frequently come across them in the course of the 
present work. Here it will suffice to recall the fact that they 
had been first raised to distinct consciousness when the 


results of early Greek thought were brought into contact 
with the experiences of Greek life, and more especially of 
Athenian life, in the age of Pericles. As originally under- 
stood, they gave rise to many c omplication s and cross divisions, I 
arising from what was considered to be their mutual incom- I 
patibility or equivalence. Thus Nature was openly rejected I / \/^ 
by the sceptical Sophists, ignored by Socrates, and, during a ^ 
long period of his career, treated with very little respect by 
Plato ; reason, in its more elaborate forms, was slighted by 
the Cynics, and employed for its own destruction by the 
Megarians, in both cases as an enemy to utility ; while to 
Aristotle the pure exercise of reason was the highest utility of 
any, and Nature only a lower manifestation of the same ideal- 
ising process. At a later period, we find Nature :^cc&^te A as a / 1 
watchword by Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics alike, although, ^^^ 
of course, each attached a widely different meaning to the 
term ; the suj)rem acy of reason^ without whose aid, indeed, Q^- 
their controversies could not have been carried on, is recog- 
nised with similar unanimity ; and each sect lays exclusive /^ 
stress on t he connex i on of it§. RriodplfiSJylthbnman happiness, 
thus making utility the foremost consideration in philosophy. 
Consequently, to whatever system a Roman turned, he would 
recognise the t}u££L great regulative conceptions of Greek 
thought, although frequently enveloped in a network of fine- 
spun distinctions and inferences which to him' must have 
seemed neither natural nor reasonable nor useful. On the 
other hand, apart from such subtleties, he could readily 
translate all three into terms which seemed to show that, 
so far from being divided by any essential incompatibility, y 
they did but represent different aspects of a single harmo- 
nious ideal. Nature meant simplicity, orderliness, universality, 
and the spontaneous consentience of unsophisticated minds. 
Re ason meant human dignity, especially as manifested in 
the conquest of fear and of desire. And wh atever w 
ral and reasonable seemed to s atisf y the requirements of 



utility as well. It might seem also that these very principles 
were embodied in the facts of old Roman life and of Rome's 
imperial destiny. The only question was which school of Greek 
philosophy gave them their clearest and completest interpre- 
tation. Lucretius would have said that it was the system of 
Epicurus ; but such a misconception was only rendered pos- 
sible by the poet's s eclus ion from imp erial igte rests^ and, 
apparently, by his unacquaintance witlTthe more refined forms 

of Hellenic thought. Rome could nnl- find in ppirnrpa niRm 

ihe comprehensiveness, the cohesion, and the power which 
marked her own character, and which she only required to 
have expressed under a speculative form. Then came Cicero, 
with his modernised rhetorical version of what he conceived*!^ 
to be the Socratic philosophy. His teaching was far better 
suited than that of his great contemporary to the tastes of 
his countrymen, and probably contributed in no small degree 
to the subsequent discredit of Epicureanism ; yet, by a strange 
irony, it told, to the same extent, in favour of a philosophjrV\ 
from which Cicero himself was probably even more averse 
than from the morality of the Garden. In his hands, the 
' Academic criticism had simply the effect of dissolving away 
• those elements which distinguished Stoicism from Cynicism ; 
while his eclecticism brought into view certain principles 
more characteristic of the Cynics than of any other sect. The 
Nature to <irhose guidance he constantly appeals was, pro- 
perly speaking, not a Socratic but a Sophistic or Cynic idea ;' 
and when the Stoics appropriated it, they were only reclaim- 
ing an ancestral possession. The exclusion of theoretical vu^ 
studies and dialectical subtleties from philosophy was alsc> 
Cynic ; the Stoic theology when purified, as Cicero desired 
that it should be purified, from its superstitious ingre* '^ 
dients, was no other than the natu ralistic monotheis m of"^ 
Antisthenes ; and the Stoic morality without its paradoxes—/- 
was little more than an ennobled Cynicism. The curve 
described by thought was determined by forces of almost 



mechanical simplicity. The Greek Eclectics, seeking a middle 
term between the Academy and the Porch, had fallen back 
on Plato; Cicero, pursuing the same direction, receded to ^ 
Socrates ; but the continued attraction of Stoicism drew him 
to a point where the two were linked together by thei 
historical intermediary, the Cynic school. And, by a singular 
coincidence, the primal forms of Roman life, half godlike and 
half brutal, were found, better than anything in Hellenic 
experience, to realise the ideal of a sect which had taken . 

Heracles for its patron saint. Had Diogenes searched the^ j 
Roman Forum, he would have met with a man at everj^^^v*^ 

Meanwhile the morality of Stoi cism had enlisted a force 
of incalculable importance on its behalf. This was the 
and death of the younger Cato. However narrow his intellect, 
however impracticable his principles, however hopeless his 
resistance to the course of history, C ato ha d merits which 
in t he eyes of his co untrymen placed him even higher than 

Caesar ; and this impression was probably strengthened by 

the extraordinary want of tact which the great conqueror 

showed when he insulted the memory of his noblest foe. 

Pure in an age of corruption, disinterested in an age of greed, 

devotedly patriotic in an age of selfish ambition, faithful unto 

death in an age of shameless tergiversation, and withal of 

singularly mild and gentle character, Cato lived and died for / 

the law of conscience, proving by his example that if a revival 

of old Roman virtue were still pfTi ^iMr , finly thrniifh Jjiri r 

les sons of GreflTpnilosoph y could ihis miracle be wrought. ^ \yJ^ 

And it was equally clear tliat Rome could only accept 
philosophy under a form harmonising with her ancient tra- 
ditions, and embodying doctrines like those which the mar- 
tyred saint of her republican liberties had professed. 

The Roman reformers were satisfied to call themselves 
Stoics ; and, in reviewing the Stoic system, we saw to what an 
extent they welcomed and developed some of its fundamental 

N 2 


thoughts. But we have now to add that the current which 
bore them on had its source deeper down than the elabo- 
rate combinations of Zeno and Chrysippus, and entered into 
the composition of every other system that acted on the 
Roman intellect simultaneously with theirs. Thus whatever 
forces co-operated with Stoicism had the effect not of compli- 
cating but of simplifying its tendencies, by bringing into 
exclusive prominence the original impulse whence they 
sprang, which was the idea of Natural Law. Hence th 
form ultimately assumed by Roman thought was a philosoph 
of Nature, sometimes appearing more under a Stoic, an 
sometimes more under a Cynic guise. Everything in Roman 
poetry that is not copied from Greek models or inspired by 
Italian passion — in other words, its didactic, descriptive, and 
satiric elements — may be traced to this philosophy. Doubtless 
the inculcation of useful arts, the delight in beautiful scenery, 
the praises of rustic simplicity, the fierce protests against vice 
under all its forms, and the celebration of an imperial destiny, 
which form the staple of Rome's national literature, spring 
from her own deepest life ; but the quickening power of 
Greek thought was needed to develope them into articulate 

There is, indeed, nothing more nobly characteristic of the 
Hellenic spirit, especially as organised by Socrates, than its 
capacity not only for communicating, but for awakening ideas ; 
thus enabling all the nations among which it spread to 
realise the whole potential treasure of theoretical and practical 
energy with which they were endowed. And, from this point 
of view, we may say that what seems most distinctively proper 
to Rome — the triumphant consciousness of herself as a worl 
conquering and world-ruling power — came to her from Greece, 
and under the form of a Greek idea, the idea of providential 
destiny. It was to make his countrymen understand the 
fateful character and inevitable march of her empire that 
Polybius composed his great history ; it was also by a Greek 

er a 


that the most successful of her early national epics was sung ; 
and when at last her language was wrought into an adequate 
instrument of literary expression — thanks also to Greek rhe- 
torical teaching, — and the culture of her children had advanced 
so far that they could venture to compete with the Greeks 
on their own ground, it was still only under forms suggested 
by Stoicism that Virgil could rewrite the story of his country's 
dedication to her predestined task. 

That WfrgW was acquainted with this philosophy and had 

accepted someof its principal conclusions is evident from a . y 
famous passage in the Sixth Aeneid,^ setting forth the theory 
of a universal and all-penetrating soul composed of fiery 
matter, whence the particular souls of men and animals are 
derived, by a process likened to the scattering and germi- . 
nation of seeds ; from another equally famous passage in y 
the Fourth Eclogue? describing the periodical recurrence of 
events in the same order as before ; and also, although to a 
less extent, from his acceptance of the Stoic astronomy in the 
Georgics ; ' a circumstance which, by the way, renders it most 
unlikely that he looked up to Lucretius as an authority in 
physical science.* But even apart from this collateral evi- 
dence, one can see that the Aeneid is a Stoic poem. It is 
filled with the ideas of mutation and vicissitude overruled by 
a divinely appointed order ; of the prophetic intimations by 
which that order is revealed ; of the obedience to reason by 
which passion is subdued ; and of the faith in divine goodness 
by which suffering is made easy to be borne. And there are 
also gleams of that universal humanity familiar to Stoicism, 
which read to some like an anticipation of the Christian or the 
mjdern spirit, but which really resemble them only as earlier 
manifestations of the same great philosophical movement. 

» 1. 724 flf. « 1. 5-7, and 34-36. » I., 231-51. 

* The veqr passage {Georg.^ II., 475-92) which is supposed to refer to 
Lucretius contains a line {frigidus obstUerit circum praecordia sanguis) embodying 
the Stoic theory that the soul has its seat in the heart, and is nourished by a warm 
exhalation from the blood. See Zeller, Ph. d, Gr,, III., a, p. 197. 


This analogy with subsequent developments is aided, so 
far as it goes, by the admixture of a certain Platonic element 
with Virgil's Stoicism, shown chiefly by the references to an 
^l^tenatal existence of the soul, introduced for the purpose of 
\ bringing Rome's future heroes on the scene. This, however, 
is the last example of an attempt on the part of a Roman 
writer to combine Plato's teaching with Stoicism.* At a time 
when the Romans were more conscious of their literary 
dependence on Greece than was the case after the Augustan 
age had reached its zenith, they were probably drawn by the 
beauty of its literary form to study a system which could 
otherwise interest them but little. Thus, not only is Cicero 
full of admiration for Plato — as, indeed, might be expected 
with so highly cultivated a disciple of the Academy — but 
Cato, according to the well-known story, spent his last hours . 
reading and re-reading the Phaedo \ and his nephew Brutuynf 
also occupied an intermediate position between the Old 
Academy and the Porch. The Roman love of simplification 
and archaism induced subsequent thinkers either to let 
Platonism drop altogether, or to study those elements in 
which it differed from the pure naturalistic doctrine under 
their Pythagorean form. It may even be doubted whether 
Virgil's psychology is not derived from Pythagoras rather than 
from Plato ; Ovid, so far as he philosophises at all, is unques- 
tionably a follower of the former ; * and in the moral teaching 
of the Sextii, who flourished under Augustus, Pythagorean 
Iprinciples are blended with Stoicism.' It is another mani- 
festation of the same effort to grasp every Greek doctrine by 
its roots, that Horace should proclaim himself the disciple of 
^nstippus rather than of Epicurus.* Even he, however, feels 

* Zeller does indeed caU Seneca and Marcus Aurelius ' Platonising Stoics ' 
{Ph. d, Gr,f III., b, p. 236, 3rd. ed.) ; but the evidence adduced hardly seems to 
justify the epithet. 

« Metamorph,, XV., 60. • ZcUer, Ph, d, Gr., III., a, p. 681. 

* Epp,^ I., i., 18. 


himself drawn with advancing years towards the nobler {a,ithr 
which was now carrying all before it* 

With Seneca and his contemporaries, Stoicism has shaken 
itself free from alien ingredients, and has become the accepted^ 
creed of the whole republican opposition, being especially 
pronounced in the writings of the two young poets, Persiu s 
and Lucan. But in proportion as naturalistic philosophy 
assumed the form of a protest against vice, luxury, inhumanity, 
despotism, and degradation, or of an exhortation to welcome 
death as a deliverance from those evils, in the same propor- 
T-tion did it tend to fall back into simple Cynicism ; and on 
' this side also it found a ready response, not only in the heroic 
fortitude, but also in the brutal coarseness and scurrility 
the Roman character. Hence the Satires of the last great 
Roman poet,J«venal, are an even more distinct expression of"^^ 
Cyair^fian the epic of Virgil had been of Stoic sentiment. 
Along with whatever was good and wholesome in Cynicism 
there is the shameless indecency of the Cynics, and their 
unquestioning acceptance of mendicancy and prostitution as 
convenient helps to leading a natural and easily contented 
life. And it may be noticed that the free-thinking tendencies 
which distinguished the Cynics from the Stoics are also dis- 
played in Juvenal's occasional denunciations of superstition. 

)ic I 


Thus the final effect of its communion with the Roman 
mind was not so much to develope Greek philosophy any 
further, or to reconcile its warring sects with one another, as 
to aid in their decomposition by throwing them back on the 

* M. Gaston Boissier {Religion Romairu^ I., p. 206), on the strength of a passage 
in one of Horace's Satires (II., iii., \\\ where the poet speaks of carrjring Plato 
about with him on his travels, infers that the study of the Dialogues had a good 
deal to do with his conversion. It is, however, more than probable that the Plato 
mentioned is not the philosopher, but the comic poet, for we find that his com' 
panions in Horace's trunk were Menander, Eupolis, and Archilochus. 



earlier forms whence they had sprung. Accordingly we find 
that the philosophic activity of Hellas immediately before and 
after the Christian era — so far as there was any at all — con- 
sisted in a revival of the Pythagorean and Cynic school 
accompanied by a corresponding resuscitation of primitive 
Scepticism. This l ast takes the shape of a very distinct pro- 
test against the fashionablejiatikc^lism of the age, just as the 
scepticism of Protagoras and Gprgias — if our view be correct 
— had once been called forth py the naturalism of Prodicus 
and Hippias. The principal redresentative, if not the founder, 
of Neo-Scepticism was Aenes iq^mus, who taught in Alexan- 
dria, when we are not informed, but probably after the middle 
of the first century A.D. * An avowed disciple of Pyrrho, his 
object was to reassert the sceptical principle in its original 
purity, especially as against the Academicians, whom he 
charged with having first perverted and then completely 
abandoned it* Aene sid^mus would hear nothing of proba- /-J. 
bilities nor of moral certainties. He also claimed to dis- 
tinguish himself from the Academicians by refusing to assert 
even so much as that nothing can be asserted ; but it appears 
that, in this point, he had been fully anticipated by Arcesilaus 
and Carneades.' For the rest, his own Scepticism recalls the 
method of Gorgias and Protagoras much more distinctly than 
the method of the New Academy — a fresh illustration of the 
archaic and revivalist tendencies displayed by philosophy at 

> Zeller is inclined to place Aenesid^mus a hundred years earlier than the date 
here assigned to him [Ph. d, Gr., III., b, p. 9) ; but two pieces of evidence which 
he himself quotes seem to militate strongly against this view. One is a statement 
of Aristocles the Peripatetic, who flourished 160-190 A.D., that Scepticism had 
been revived not long before his time (^x^^* **^ ^P^^'f aptid Euseb., /V. Ev.y 
XIV., xviii., 22 ; Zeller, op. cii,^ p. 9) ; the other is Seneca's question, Quis est 
qui iradat praecepta Pyrrhonis? {Nat. Quaest.^ VII., xxxii. 2; Zeller, p. 11). 
On the other hand, Epict^tus, lecturing towards the end of the first century, 
alludes to Scepticism as something then living and active. The natural inference 
is that Aenesidemus flourished before his time and after Seneca, that is about the 
period nientioncd in the text ; and we cannot make out that there are any satisfac- 
tory data pointing to a different conclusion. 

« Zeller, III., b, p. 18. 

' Zeller, III., a, pp. 495 and 514 ; Cic, Acad.^ I., xii., 45 ; ibid.^ 11., ix., 28. 


this period. In other words, it is not against the reasoning 
processes that his criticisms are directed, but against the 
theory of causation on the objective side, and against the 
credibility of our immediate perceptions on the subjective 
side.* But, in both directions, he has worked out the difficul- 
ties of the old Sophists with a minuteness and a precision un- 
known to them ; and some of his points have been found worth 
repeating in a different connexion by modern critics. Thus, 
in analysing the theory of causation, he draws attention to the 
plurality of causes as an obstacle to connecting any given 
consequent with one antecedent more than with another; 
to the illegitimate assumption that the laws inferred from 
experience hold good under unknown conditions ; to the 
arbitrary assumption of hypothetical causes not evinced by 
experience ; and to the absurdity of introducing a new diffi- 
culty for the purpose of explaining an old one.^ With regard 
to causation itself, Aenesiddmus seems to have resolved it 
into action and^r eaeritTir. thus eliminating the condition of 

* With all deference to so great a scholar as 2^11er, it seems to us that he has 
misinterpreted a passage in which Sextus Empiricus observes that a particular 
argument of his own against the possibility of reaching truth either by sense or by 
reason, is virtually (SufcI/mi) contained in the difficulties raised by Aenesidemus 
{Adv, Math.^ VIII., 40). 2^11er [op, cit.y III., b, p. 20, note 5) translates Swcf^ci, 
* dem Sinne nach,' * in substance,' a meaning which it will hardly bear. What A 
S ^extu s says is that the untnistworthiness of reason follows on the untrustworthines*^ ' 
of sense, for the notions supplied by the latter must either be common to all the 
senses — which is impossible, owing to their specialised character — or limited to 
some, and therefore equally liable with them to dispute and contradiction. More- 
over, he argues, rational notions (t& yorn^) cannot all be true* as they conflict both 
with each other and with sensation. And the reference to Aenesidemus means 
simply that this kind of argument amounts to a further extension of his attack on 
the credibility of the senses ; it does not imply that Aenesidemus had ever 
attacked reason himself. The whole passage is quite in the usual style of exhaus- 
tive alternation followed by Sextus, and its extreme awkwardness seems to show 
that he is forcing his arguments into parallelism with those of his predecessor. It 
is possible also that the different members of the argument have been transposed ;- 
for the part connecting reason with sense (44) ought logically to stand last, and 
that relating to the discrepancy of different notions with one another (45-7), 
second. Cf. Adv. Maih.^ VII., 350, where Aenesidemus is said to have identified 
the understanding with the senses, quite in the style of Protagoras and quite unlike 
the New Academy. 

« Sext. Emp., Pyrrh. Hyp., I., iSoff. 


antecedence and consequence, without which it becomes 

The Alexandrian Sceptic's general arguments against the . 
possibility of knowledge resolve themselves into a criticism of I 
what Sir W. Hamilton called Natural Realism, somewhatr^i^VJL 
complicated and confused by a simultaneous attack on the [ / ' 
theory of natural morality conceived as something eternal 
and immutable. They are summed up in the famous ten 
Tropes. Of these the first_Uu£e-are founded on the conflict- 
ing sensations produced by the same object when acting on 
different animals — as is inferred from the marked contrast 
presented by their several varieties of origin and structure, — 
on different men, and on the different senses of the same 
individual. The follrtl»7^ which has evidently an ethical bear- 
ing, enlarges on the changes in men's views caused by mental 
and bodily changes, according to their health, age, disposition, 
and so forth. The next ;&3:fiJ^ropes relate to circumstances 
connected with the objects themselves : their distance and 
position as r^ards the spectator, the disturbance produced in 
their proper action by external influences such as air and 
light, together with the various membranes and humours 
composing the organs of sense through which they are appre- 
hended ; their quantitative variation, involving as it does oppo- 
site effects on the senses, or as with medicines, on the health ; 
the law of relativity, according to which many things are only 
known when taken in company with others, such as double 
and half, right and left, whole and part ; comparative fre- 
quency or rarity of occurrence, as with comets, which, while 
really of much less importance than the sun, excite much more 
interest from their being so seldom seen. Finall y, the tenth 
Trope is purely ethical, and infers the non-existence of a fixed 
moral standard from the divergent and even opposite customs 
prevailing among different nations.* 

> Ath: Math., IX., 228. 

* The ten Tropes were evidently suggested by the ten Categories of Aristotle. 
The five grounded on diflferences of disposition, place, quantity, relation, and 



In his attacks on the prevalent theories of ethics, Aene- 
sid^mus again reminds us both of Protagoras and of modern 
agnosticism. According to him, the general disagreement of 
mankind proves, among other things, that there is no definable 
highest good — it is neither virtue, nor pleasure, nor knowledge.* 
In the absence of any dogmatic teaching on the subject at the 
time when he lived, Protagoras could not give an opinion 
with regard to the summum bonum ; but Plato's famous 
dialogue represents him as one who, from his point of view, 
would be unwilling to admit the possibility of introducing 
fixed principles into conduct ; and in like manner, Mr. 
Herbert Spencer, while accepting the hedonistic principle, 
gives it such an extremely general signification that he is 
thrown back on the sceptical principle of leaving everyone 
free to follow his own inclinations, provided that, in so doing, 
he does not interfere with the liberty of others. 

The parallel between Aenesid^mus and Protagoras would 
become still more complete were it true that the Alex- 
andrian philosopher also sought to base his Scepticism on the 
Heracleitean theory of Nature, aiding that contradictory 
assertions are necessitated by the presence of contradictory 
properties in every object. 

That Aenesidfimus held this view is stated as a fact by 
Sextus, whose testimony is here corroborated by Tertul- 
lian, or rather by Tertullian's informant, Soranus. We find, 
however, that Zeller, who formerly accepted the statement 
in question as true, has latterly seen reason to reject it. 

habits, show at once by their names that they are derived from icci<r0ai, tov, 
iroc6v, irp6s ri, and Ix^'''* '^^^ Trope of comparative frequency would be suggested 
by v6rt ; the disturbing influence of bodies on one another combines wouip and 
vd^rx^tt^i the conflict of the special senses belongs, although somewhat more 
remotely, to irotSp; and, in order to make up the number ten, ohala, which 
answers to the percipient in general, had to be divided into tlie two Tropes 
taken respectively from the differences among animals and among men, — an 
arrangement that would occur all the more readily as o^la included the two 
notions of Genus and Species, of which the one answers, in this instance, to 
animals, and the other to men. 
» Zeller, III. , b, p. 23. 



Aenesidfimus cannot, he thinks, have been guilty of so great 
an inconsistency as to base his Scepticism on the dogmatic 
physics of Heracleitus. And he explains the agreement of 
the ancient authorities by supposing that the original work of 
Aenesid^mus contained a critical account of the Heracleitean 
theory, that this was misinterpreted into an expression of his 
adhesion to it by Soranus, and that the blunder was adopted 
at second-hand by both Sextus and Tertullian.* 

It is, at any rate, certain that the successors of Aenesi- 
d^mus adhered to the standpoint of Pyrrho. One of them, 
Agrippa, both simplified and strengthened the arguments 
of the school by reducing the ten Tropes to five. JThe earlier 
objections to human certainty were summed up under two 
heads : the irreconcilable conflict of opinions on all sub- 
jects ; and the essential relativity of consciousness, in which 
the percipient and the perceived are so intimately united 
that what things in themselves are cannot possibly be dis- 
covered. The other three Tropes relate to the baseless- 
ness of reasoning. They were evidently suggested by 
Aristotle's remarks on the subject The process of proof 
cannot be carried backwards ad infinitum^ nor can it legiti- 
mately revolve in a circle. Thus much had already been 
admitted, or rather insisted on by the great founder of logic. 
But the Sceptics could not agree to Aristotle's contention, 
that demonstration may be based on first principles of self- 
evident certainty. They here fell back on their main argu- 
ment, that the absence of general agreement on every point is 
fatal to the existence of such pretended axioms. A still 
further simplification was effected by the reduction of the 
five Tropes to t^a-=:::that all reasoning rests on intuition, and 
that men s intuitions are irreconcilably at variance with one 
another.^ As against true science, the sceptical Tropes are] 
powerless, for the validity of its principles has nothing to d( 

' Zeller, op. cit. pp. 29-37. 

■ Sext. Emp., Pyrrh. Hyp.^ I., 164 and 178 ; 2^1Ier, op, cii,^ pp. 37 and }^^. 


with their general acceptance. They are laid before the 
learner for his instruction, and if he chooses to regard them as 
either false or doubtful, the misfortune will be his and not 
theirs. But as against all attempts to constrain belief by an 
appeal to authority, the Tropes still remain invincible:^ > 
Whether the testimony invoked be that of ancient traditions 
or of a supposed inward witness, there is always the same 
fatal objection that other traditions and other inward witnesses 
tell quite a different stor>'. The task of deciding between 
them must, after all, be handed over to an impersonal reason. 
In other words, each individual must judge for himself and at 
his own risk, just as he does in questions of physical science. 

We have already observed that Scepticism among the 
ancients was often cultivated in connexion with some positive 
doctrine which it indirectly served to recommend. In the 
case of its last supporters, this was the study of medicine on an 
empirical as opposed to a deductive method. The Sceptical 
contention is that we cannot go beyond appearances ; the 
empirical contention is, that all knowledge comes to us from 
experience, and that this only shows us how phenomena are 
related to one another, not how they are related to their 
underlying causes, whether efficient or final. These allied 
points of view have been brought into still more intimate 
association by modern thought, which, as will be shown in the 
concluding chapter, has sprung from a modified form of the 
ancient Scepticism, powerfully aided by a simultaneous de- 
velopment of physical science. At the same time, the new 
school have succeeded in shaking off the narrowness and 
timidity of their predecessors, who were still so far under the 
influence of the old dogmatists as to believe that there was an 
inherent opposition between observation and reasoning in the 
methods of discovery, between facts and explanations in the 
truths of science, and between antecedence and causation in 
the realities of Nature. In this respect, astronomy has done 
more for the right adjustment of our conceptions than any 


Other branch of knowledge ; and it is remarkable that Sextus 
Empiricus, the last eminent representative of ancient Scepti- 
cism, and the only one (unless Cicero is to be called a Sceptic) 
whose writings are still extant, should expressly except 
astronomy from the destructive criticism to which he subjects 
the whole range of studies included in what we should call 
the university curriculum of his time.* We need not enter 
into an analysis of the ponderous compilation referred to ; 
for nearly every point of interest which it comprises has 
already been touched on in the course of our investigation ; 
and Sextus differs only from his predecessors by adding the 
arguments of the New Academy to those of Protagoras 
and Pyrrho, thus completing the Sceptical cycle. It will 
be enough to notice the singular circumstance that so 
copious and careful an enumeration of the grounds which it 
was possible to urge against dogmatism— including, as we have 
seen, many still employed for the same or other purposes, 
— should have omitted the two most powerful solvents of 
any. These were left for the exquisite critical acumen of 
Hume to discover. They relate to the conception of causa- . 
tion, and to the conception of our own personality as an mdi- ' 
visible, continuously existing subsJ^Ace, being attempts to 
show that both involve assumptions of an illegitimate charac- 
ter. Sextus comes up to the very verge of Hume's objection Jk 
to the former when he observes that causation implies relation; 
which can only exist in thought ; * but he does not ask how 
we come to think such a relation, still less does he connect it 
with the perception of phenomenal antecedence ; and his 
attacks on the various mental faculties assumed by psycholo- 
gists pass over the fundamental postulate of personal identity, 
thus leaving Descartes what seemed a safe foundation whereon 
to rebuild the edifice of metaphysical philosophy. 

» Adv, Math,, v., I. « ibid,, IX., 208, 



The effect aimed at by ancient Scepticism under its last 
form was to throw back reflection on its original starting- 
point Life was once more handed over to the guidance of 
sense, ap petite, cu stom, a nd ajt^ We may call this residuum ^/l 
the philosophy of the dinner-beU. That institution implies 
the feeling^oTTiunger, thedirecting sensation of sound, the f / "Wt* *^ 
habit of eating together at a fixed time, and the art of 
determining time by observing the celestial revolutions. Even 
so limited a view contains indefinite possibilities of expansion. 
It involves the three fu ndamental relations that other philoso- 
phies have for their object to work out with greater distinct- 
ness and in fuller detail : the r elatio n between feeling and 
action, binding together past, present, and future in the con- 
sciousness of personal identity ; the rel ation of ourselves to a 
collective society of similarly constituted beings, our inter- 
course with whom is subject from the very first to laws of 
morality and of logic ; and, finally, the rplaH^n jp ^ViuJi we 
stand, both singly and combined, to that universal order by 
which all alike are enveloped and borne along, with its 
suggestions of a still larger logic and an auguster morality 
springing from the essential dependence of our individual and 
social selves on an even deeper identity than that which they 
immediately reveal. We have already had occasion to observe 
how the noble teaching of Plato and the Stoics resumes itself 
in a confession of this threefold synthesis ; and we now see 
how, putting them at their very lowest, nothing less than 
this will content the claims of thought. Thus, in less time 
than it took Berkeley to pass from tar-water to the Trinity, 
we have led our Sceptics from their philosophy of the dinner- 
bell to a philosophy which the Catholic symbols, with their 
mythologising tendencies, can but imperfectly represent. 
And to' carry them with us thus far, nothing more than one 

^ These are the four principles enumerated by Sextus, Pyrrh, Hyp., I., 24. 


of their own favourite methods is needed. Wherever they 
attempt to arrest the progress of enquiry and generalisation, 
we can show them that no real line of demarcation exists. 
Let them once admit the idea of a relation connecting the 
elements of consciousness, and it will carry them over every 
limit except that which is reached when the universe becomes 
conscious of itself Let them deny the idea of a relation, and 
we may safely leave them to the endless task of analysing 
consciousness into elements which are feelings and nothing 
more. The magician in the story got rid of a too importunate 
familiar by setting him to spin ropes of sand. The spirit of 
Scepticism is exorcised by setting it to divide the strands of 
reason into breadthless lines and unextended points. 

What influence Scepticism exercised on the subsequent 
course of Greek thought is difficult to determine. If we are 
to believe Diogenes Laertius, who flourished in the second / 
quarter of the third century A.D., every school except Epicu- 
reanism had at that time sunk into utter neglect ; ^ and it is 
natural to connect this catastrophe with the activity of the 
Sceptics, and especially of Sextus Empiricus, whose critical . 
compilation had appeared not long before. Such a conclusion / 
would be supported by the circumstance that Lucian, writing^ 
more than fifty years earlier, directs his attacks on contempo- 
rary philosophy chiefly from the Sceptical standpoint ; his 
Hermotimus in particular being a popularised version of the 
chief difficulties raised from that quarter. Still it remains to 
be shown why the criticism of the Greek Humanists, of Pyrrho, 
and of the New Academy should have produced so much 
more powerful an effect under their revived form than when 
they were first promulgated ; and it may be "asked whether 
the decline of philosophy should not rather be attributed . 
to the general barbarisation of the Roman empire at that ^ I 

We have also to consider in what relation the new 

* Diog. L., X., 9. 


Scepticism stood to the new Platonism by which, in common 
with every other school, it was eventually either displaced or 
absorbed. The answer usually given to this question is 
that the one was a reaction from the other. It is said that 
philosophy, in despair of being able to discover truth by 
reason, took refuge in the doctrine that it could be attained 
by supernatural revelation ; and that this doctrine is the cha- 
racteristic mark distinguishing the system of Plotinus from 
its predecessors. That a belief in the possibility of receiving 
divine communications was widely diffused during the last 
centuries of polytheism is, no doubt, established, but that it 
ever formed more than an adjunct to Neo-Platonism seems 
questionable ; and there is no evidence that we are aware of 
to show that it was occasioned by a reaction from Scepticism. 
As a defence against the arguments of Pyrrho and his suc- 
cessors, it would, in truth, have been quite unavailing ; for 
whatever objections applied to men's natural perceptions, 
would have applied with still greater force to the alleged 
supernatural revelation. Moreover, the mystical element of 
Neo-Platonism " appears only in its consummation — in the 
ultimate union of the individual soul with the absolute One ; 
the rest of the system being reasoned out in accordance with 
the ordinary laws of logic, and in apparent disregard of the 
Sceptical attacks on their validity. 

The truth is that critics seem to have been misled by a 
superficial analogy between the spiritualistic revival accom- 
plished by Plotinus, and the Romantic revival which marked 
the beginning of the present century. The two movements 
have, no doubt, several traits in common ; but there is this 
great difference between them, that the latter was, what the 
former was not, a reaction against individualism, agnosticism, 
and religious unbelief. The right analogy will be found not 
by looking forward but by looking back. It will then be 
seen that the Neo-Platonists were what their traditional name 
implies, disciples of Plato, and not only of Plato but of 



Aristotle as well. They stood in the same relation to the 
systems which they opposed as that in which the two great 
founders of spiritualism had stood to the naturalistic and 
humanist schools of their time — of course with whatever 
modifications of a common standpoint were necessitated by 
the substitution of a declining for a progressive civilisation. 
Like Plato also, they were profoundly influenced by the 
Pythagorean philosophy, with its curious combination of mys- 
tical asceticism and niathematics. And, to complete the 
analogy, they too found themselves in presence of a powerful 
religious reaction, against the excesses of which, like him, 
they at first protested, although with less than his authority, 
and only, like him, to be at last carried away by its resistless 
torrent. It is to the study of this religious movement that we 
must now address ourselves, before entering on an examina- 
tion of the latest form assumed by Greek philosophy among 
the Greeks themselves. 

Note, — It does not enter into the plan of this work to study the educational 
and social aspects of Greek philosophy under the Roman Empire. Those who 
wish for information on the subject should consult Capes's Stoicism^ Martha's 
Moralistes sous V Empire Romain^ Renan*s Marc-Aurile^ chap, iii., Aubertin's 
Sonique et Saint Paul, Havet*s Christianisme et scs Origines, Vol. II ., Gaston 
Boxssie.x's Religion Romaine^ "Dxiviy^s Histoire Romaine, chap. Ixi., Friedlander*s 
Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte RonCs^ Vol. III., chap. v. (5th ed.), and 
Bruno Bauer's Christus und die Cdsaren.. 



The result of recent enquiries into the state of civilisation 
under the Roman Empire during the first two centuries of its 
existence, has been to surest conclusions in many respects 
at variance with those formerly entertained. Instead of the 
intellectual stagnation, the moral turpitude, and the religious 
indifference which were once supposed to have been the most 
marked characteristics of that period, modem scholars discern 
symptoms of active and fruitful thought, of purity and dis- 
interestedness both in public and private life, b pt above all of 
a relig ious feeling which erred far more on the side of excess 
'than on the side of defect. This change of view may be 
traced to various causes. A new class of investigators have 
made ancient history an object of special study. Fresh evi- 
dence has been brought to light, and a more discriminating 
as well as a more extended use has been made of the sources 
already available. And, perhaps, even greater importance is 
attributable to the principle now so generally accepted, that 
historical phenomena, like all other phenomena, are essentially 
continuous in their movement The old theories assumed 
that the substitution of Christian for what is called Pagan 

■ The malerials and, to a certain extent, the ideas of this chapter are chiefly 
derived from Zellcr's Fkihsepha dir Gritcken, Vol. III., Dnniy'a Hhteirt da 
Ktimmtit, Vol, V., Gaston Boissier's Sdigion Romaine, and aboce all from Fried- 
Under*! DarittUungm am der Siifengiuhichte Sam't, Part III., chaptcis iv. 


civilisation was accompanied by a sudden break in men's 
habits and ideas. But the whole spirit of modern philosophy 
has prepared us to believe that such a break is not likely to 
have ever occurred. And a new survey of the period in 
question is leading us to the conviction that, as a matter of 
fact, it did not occur. 

For a long time the history of the Roman Empire was 
written by the descendants of its most deadly enemies — by 
Christian ecclesiastics or by scholars trained under their 
influence, and by the inheritors of the northern races who 
overran and destroyed it. The natural tendency of both 
classes was to paint the vices of the old society in the most 
glaring colours, that by so doing they might exhibit the 
virtues of its conquerors and the necessity of their mission 
in stronger relief. In this respect, their task was greatly 
facilitated by the character of the authorities from whom their 
information was principally derived. Horace and Petronius, 
Seneca and Juvenal, Tacitus and Suetonius, furnished them 
with pictures of depravity which it was impossible to ex- 
aggerate, which had even to be toned down before they could 
be reproduced in a modern language. No allowance was 
made for the influence of a rhetorical training in fostering the 
cultivation of effect at the expense of truth, . nor for the 
influence of aristocratic prejudice in securing a ready ac- 
ceptance for whatever tended to the discredit of a monarchi- 
cal government It was also forgotten that the court and 
society of Rome could give no idea of the life led in the rest 
of Italy and in the provinces. Moreover, the contrast con- 
tinually instituted or implied by these historians was not 
between the ancient civilisation and the state of things which 
immediately succeeded it, nor yet between the society of a great 
capital as it was then, and as it was in the historian's own time. 
The points selected for contrast were what was won 
Paganism and what is best in Christia nity. The one was 
judged from the standpoint of courtiers and men of the world, 


embittered by disappointment and familiar with every form 
of depravity, the other was judged from the standpoint of 
experience acquired in a college quadrangle, a country 
parsonage, or a cathedral close. The modem writer knew little 
enough even about his own country, he knew next to nothing 
about what morality was in the Middle Ages, and nothing at 
11 about what it still continues to be in modern Italy. 

Even the very imperfect means of information supplied by 
the literature of the empire were not utilised to the fullest 
extent. It was naturally the writers of most brilliant genius 
who received most attention, and these, as it happened, were 
the most prejudiced against their contemporaries. Their 
observations, too, were put on record under the form of 
sweeping generalisations ; while the facts from which a 
different conclusion might be gathered lay scattered through 
the pages of more obscure authorities, needing to be carefully 
sifted out and brought together by those who wished to arrive 
at a more impartial view of the age to which they relate. 

Another noteworthy circumstance is that the last centuries 
of Paganism were on the whole marked by a steady literary 
decline. To a literary man, this meant that civilisation as a 
whole was retrograding, that it was an effete organism which 
could only be regenerated by the infusion of new life from 
without ; while, conversely, the fresh literary productivity of 
mediaeval and modem Europe was credited to the complete 
renovation which Christianity and the Barbarians were 
supposed to have wrought. A closer study of Roman law 
has done much to correct this superficial impression. It has 
revealed the existence, in at least one most important 
domain, of a vast intellectual and moral advance continued 
down to the death of Marcus Aurelius. And the retrograde 
movement which set in with Commodus may be fairly attri- 
buted to the increased militarism necessitated by the en- 
croachments of barbarism, and more directly to the infusion 
of barbarian elements into the territory of the empire, rather 


than to any spontaneous decay of Roman civilisation. The 
subsequent resuscitation of art and letters is another testimony 
to the permanent value and vitality of ancient culture. It 
was in those provinces which had remained least affected by 
the northern invasion, such as Venetia and Tuscany, that the 
free activity of the human intellect was first or most fruit- 
fully resumed, and it was from the irradiation of still un-\^ 
conquered Byzantium that the light which re-awakened them 
was derived. 

Another science which has only been cultivated on a large 
scale within comparatively recent years has confirmed the 
views suggested by jurisprudence. An enormous mass of 
inscriptions has been brought to light, deciphered, collated, 
and made available by transcription for the purposes of 
sedentary scholars. With the help of these records, fragment- 
ary though they be, we have obtained an insight into the 
sentiments, beliefs, and social institutions of Pagan antiquity 
as it was just before the conversion of the Roman world to 
Christianity, such as literature alone could not supply. 
Literature and history, too, have told a somewhat different 
story when read over again in the light of these new dis- 
coveries. Finally, the whole mine of materials, new and old, 
has been worked by a class of enquirers who bring to their 
task qualities nearly unknown among the scholars of a former 
generation. These men are familiar with an immense range 
of studies lying outside their special subject, but often capable 
of affording it unexpected illustrations ; they are free from 
theological prejudices; they are sometimes versed in the 
practical conduct of state affairs ; and habits of wide social 
intercourse have emancipated them from the narrowing 
associations incident to a learned profession. 

Perhaps no subject has gained so much from the appli- 
cation of the new historical method as that which we have 
now to study in its connexion with the progress of Greek 
philosophy. This is the religion of the Roman empire. On 


former occasions, we have had to observe how fruitful was the 
interaction between faith and reason in the early stages of 
Greek thought. We have now to show how the same process 
was continued on a greater scale during its later development 
and diffusion. The conditions and results of this conflict 
have sometimes been gravely misconceived. We have said 
that in more than one direction important advances were 
made under the empire. In the direction of pure rationalism, 
however, there was no advance at all, but, on the contrary, a 
continual loss of the ground formerly won. The polytheism 
which Christianity displaced turns out to have been far more 
vigorous and fertile than was once supposed, and in particular 
to have been supported by a much stronger body not only of 
popular sentiment, but, what at first seems very surprising, of 
educated conviction. We were formerly taught to believe 
that the faith of Homer and Aeschylus, of Pythagoras and 
Pheidias, was in the last stage of decrepitude when its destined 
successor appeared, that it had long been abandoned by the 
philosophers, and was giving place in the minds of the vulgar 
to more exciting forms of superstition newly imported from 
the East The undue preponderance given to purely literary/ 
sources of information is largely responsible for an opinion 
which now appears to have been mistaken. Among the 
great Roman writers, Lucretius proclaims himself a mortal 
enemy to religion ; Ennius and Horace are disbelievers in 
providence ; the attitude of Juvenal towards the gods and 
towards a future life is at least ambiguous, and that of Tacitus 
undecided ; Cicero attacks the current superstitions with a 
vigour which has diverted attention from the essentially 
religious character of his convictions ; Lucian, by far the most 
popular Greek writer of the empire, is notorious for his 
hostility to every form of theology. Among less known 
authors, the elder Pliny passionately denounces the belief in 
a divine guidance of life and in the immortality of the soul,^ 

* Friedlandcr, Romische Sitten^eschichte, III., pp. 483, 681. 


Taken alone, these instances would tend to prove that 
sceptical ideas were very widely diffused through Roman 
society, both before and after the establishment of the empire. 
Side by side, however, with the authorities just cited there are 
others breathing a very different spirit ; and what we have 
especially to notice is that with the progress of time the latter 
party are continually gaining in weight and numbers. And 
this, as we shall now proceed to show, is precisely what might 
have been expected from the altered circumstances which 
ensued when the civilised world was subjected to a single 
city, and that city herself to a single chief. 


In the world of thought no less than in the world of action, 
the boundless license which characterised the last days of 
Roman republicanism was followed by a period of tranquillity 
and restraint. Augustus endeavoured to associate his system 
of imperialism with a revival of relipous authority. J v his 
orders a great number of ruinous temples were restored, and 
the old ceremonies were celebrated once more with all their 
former pomp. His efforts in this direction were ably 
seconded by the greatest poet and the greatest historian of 
the age. Both Virgil and Livy were animated by a warm 
religious feeling, associated, at least in the case of the latter, 
with a credulity which knew no bounds. With both, religion 
took an antiquarian form. They were convinced that Rome 
had grown great through faith in the gods, that she had a 
divine mandate to conquer the world, and that this super- 
natural mission might be most clearly perceived in the circum- 
stances of her first origin.* It is also characteristic that both 
should have been provincials, educated in the traditions of a 

* As a striking instance of the solidarity which now connects all forms of 
irrationalism, it may be mentioned that Livy's fables are accepted, in avowed 
defiance of modern criticism, by the clericalising English students of archaeology**^ 
in Rome. 



reverent conservatism, and sympathising chiefly with those 
elements in the constitution of Rome which brought her 
nearest to primitive Italian habits and ideas. Now it was 
not merely the policy, it was the inevitable consequence of 
imperialism to favour the provinces * at the expense of the 
capital, by depriving the urban population and the senatorial 
aristocracy of the political preponderance which they had 
formerly enjoyed. Here, as in most other instances, what we 
call a reaction did not mean a change in the opinions or 
sentiments of any particular persons or classes, but the advent 
of a new class whose ways of thinking now determined the 
general tone of the public mind. 

One symptom of this reaction was the fashionable archaism 
of the Augustan age, the tendency to despise whatever was 
new in literature, and to exalt whatever was old. It is well 
known how feelingly Horace complains of a movement which 
was used to damage his own reputation as a poet ; ^ but what 
seems to have escaped observation is, that this protest against 
the literary archaism of his contemporaries is only one symp- 
tom of a much profounder division between his philosophy—^ 
and theirs. He was just as good a patriot as they were, but 
his sympathies were with the Hellenising a ristocra cy_to which 
Lucretius and Cicero had belonged, not with the narrow- 
mi nded conservatism of t he middle classes and the country^ 
people. He was a man of progress and free-thought, who 
accepted the empire for what it might be worth, a Roman 
Prosper Merimie or Sainte-Beuve, whose preference of order 
to anarchy did not involve any respect for superstitious beliefs 
simply because they were supported by authority. And this 
healthy common sense is so much a part of his character, that 
he sometimes gives his mistresses the benefit of it, warning 
^^r-Leuconoe against the Babylonian soothsayers, and telling 

' Using the word in its modem rather than in its ancient sense, so as to include 
the whole empire outside the city of Rome. 
• Epp.^ II., i., 20 ff. 


Phidyle that the gods should be approached not only with^ 
sacrifices but with clean hands.* Yet so strong was the 
spirit of the age, that the sceptical poet occasionally feels v 
himself obliged to second or to applaud the work of restora-/ 
tion undertaken by Augustus, and to augur from it, with/ 
more or less sincerity, a reformation in private life ^ And 
even the frivolous Ovid may be supposed to have had the 
same object in view when composing his Fasti, 

The religious revival initiated by Augustus for his own 
purposes was soon absorbed and lost in a much wider move- 
ment, following independent lines and determined by forces 
whose existence neither he nor any of his contemporaries 
could suspect. Even for his own purposes, something more 
was needed than a mere return to the past The old Roman 
faith and worship were too dry and meagre to satisfy the 
cravings of the Romans themselves in the altered conditions 
created for them by the possession of a world-wide empire ; 
still less could they furnish a meeting-ground for all the popu- 
lations which that empire was rapidly fusing into a single 
mass. But what was wanted might be trusted to evolve itself 
without any assistance from without, once free scope was 
given to the religious instincts of mankind. These had long 
been kept in abeyance by the creeds which they had originally 
called into existence, and by the rigid political organisation 
of the ancient city-state. Local patriotism was adverse to the 
introduction of new beliefs either from within or from with- 
out. Once the general interests of a community had been 
placed under the guardianship of certain deities with definite 
names and jurisdictions, it was understood that they would 
feel offended at the prospect of seeing their privileges invaded 
by a rival power ; and were that rival the patron of another 
community, his introduction might seem like a surrender of 
national independence at the feet of an alien conqueror. So, 

I Carm,, I., xi., and III., xxiil. 

' Carm,^ III., vi., and the Carmen Seculars, 


also, no very active proselytism was likely to be carried on 
when the adherents of each particular religion believed that 
its adoption by an alien community would enable strangers 
and possible enemies to secure a share of the favour which 
had hitherto been reserved for themselves exclusively. And 
to allure away the gods of a hostile town by the promise of a 
new establishment was, in fact, one of the stratagems com- 
monly employed by the general of the besieging army.* 

If the Roman conquest did not altogether put an end to 
these sentiments, it considerably mitigated their intensity. 
The imperial city was too strong to feel endangered by the 
introduction of alien deities within its precincts. The subject 
states were relieved from anxiety with regard to a political 
independence which they had irrecoverably lost. Moreover, 
since the conquests of Alexander, vast aggregations of human 
beings had come into existence, to which the ancient exclu- 
siveness was unknown, because they never had been cities at 
all in the ancient sense of the word. Such were Alexandria 
and Antioch, and these speedily became centres of religious 
syncretjs pa. Rome herself, in becoming the capital of an 
immense empire, acquired the same cosmopolitan character. 
Her population consisted for the most part of emancipated 
slaves, and of adventurers from all parts of the world, many 
of whom had brought their national faiths with them, while 
all were ready to embrace any new faith which had supe- 
rior attractions to offer. Another important agent in the 
diffusion and propagation of new religions was the army 
The legions constituted a sort of migratory city, recruited 
from all parts of the empire, and moving over its whole 
extent. The dangers of a military life combined with its 
authoritative ideas are highly favourable to devotion ; and the 
soldiers could readily adopt new modes for the expression of 
this feeling both from each other and from the inhabitants ot 
the countries where they were stationed, and would in turn 

• Boissier, Religion Roniainey I., p. 336. 


become missionaries for their dissemination over the most 
distant regions. That such was actually the case is proved 
by numerous religious inscriptions found in the neighbourhood 
of Roman camps.* 

After considering by what agencies the seeds of religious 
belief were carried from place to place, we have to examine, 
what was even more important, the quality of the soil on 
which they fell. And here, to continue the metaphor, we 
shall find that the Roman plough had not only broken 
through the crust of particularist prejudice, but had turned up 
new social strata eminently fitted to receive and nourish the 
germs scattered over their surface by every breeze and every 
bird of passage, or planted and watered by a spiritual 
sower's hand. Along with the positive check of an established 
worship, the negative check of dissolving criticism had, to a 
great extent, disappeared with the destruction of the regime 
which had been most favourable to its exercise during the 
early stages of progress. The old city aristocracies were 
not merely opposed on patriotic grounds to free-trade in 
religion, but, as the most educated and independent class in 
the community, they were the first to shake off supernatural 
beliefs of every kind. We have grown so accustomed to see- 
ing those beliefs upheld by the partisans of political privilege 
and attacked in the name of democratic principles, that we 
are apt to forget how very modem is the association of free- 
thought with the supremacy of numbers. It only dates from 
the French Revolution, and even now it is far from obtaining 
everywhere. Athens was the most perfectly organised 
democracy of antiquity, and in the course of this work we 
have repeatedly had occasion to observe how strong was the 
spirit of religious bigotry among the Athenian people. If wc/ 
want rationalistic opinions we must go to the great nobles 
and their friends, to a Pericles, a Critias, or a Protagorasl 
There must also have been perfect intellectual liberty among 

■ Friedlander, III., p. 510. 


the Roman nobles who took up Hellenic culture with such 
eagerness towards the middle of the second century RC, and 
among those who, at a later period, listened with equanimity 
or approval to Caesar's profession of Epicureanism in a 
crowded senatorial debate. It was as much in order that the 
De Rerum Naturd should have been written by a member of 
this class as that the Aeneid should proceed from the pen of 
a modest provincial farmer. In positive knowledge, Virgil 
greatly excelled Lucretius, but his beliefs were inevitably 
determined by the traditions of his ignorant neighbours. 
When civil war, proscription, delation, and, perhaps more than 
any other cause, their own delirious extravagance, had wrought 
the ruin of the Roman aristocracy, their places were taken by 
respectable provincials who brought with them the convictions 
without the geniusof the Mantuan poet ; and thenceforward the 
tide of religious reaction never ceased rising until the Crusades, 
which were its supreme expression, unexpectedly brought 
about a first revival of Hellenic culture. On that occasion, 
also, the first symptoms of revolt manifested themselves 
among the nobles; taking the form of Gnosticism in the 
brilliant courts of Languedoc, and, at a later period, of 
Epicureanism in the Ghibelline circles of Florentine society ; 
while, conversely, when the Ciompi or poorer artisans of 
Florence rose in revolt against the rich traders, one of the 
first demands made by the successful insurgents was, that a 
preaching friar should be sent to give them religious instruc- 
tion. At a still later period, the same opposition of intellectual 
interests continues to be defined by the same social divisions. 
Two distinct currents of thought co-operated to bring about 
the Protestant Reformation. One, which was religious and 
reactionary, proceeded from the people. The other, which was 
secularising, scholarly, and scientific, represented the tenden- 
cies of the upper classes and of those who looked to them for 
encouragement and support. Throughout the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries, many noble names are to be found 


among the champions of reason ; and while speculative 
liberty is associated with the ascendency of the aristocratic 
party, superstition and intolerance are associated with the 
triumph of the people, whether under the form of a democracy 
or of a levelling despotism. So, also, the great emancipating 
movement of the eighteenth century was fostered by the 
descendants of the Crusaders, and, until after the Revolution, 
met with no response among the bourgeoisie or the people ; 
indeed the reaction in favour of supernaturalism was begun 
by a child of the people, Rousseau. All this, as we have 
already observed, has been reversed in more recent times ; 
but the facts quoted are enough to prove how natural it was 
that in the ancient world decay of class privileges should be 
equivalent to a strengthening of the influences which made 
for supernaturalism and against enlightened criticism. 


After the revolution which destroyed the political power of 
the old aristocracy, there came a further revolution the effect 
of which was to diminish largely its social predominance. We 
learn from the bitter sarcasms of Horace and Juvenal that 
under the empire wealth took the place of birth, if not, as 
those satirists pretend, of merit, as a passport to distinction 
and respect Merely to possess a certain amount of money 
procured admission to the equestrian and senatorial orders ; 
while a smaller pecuniary qualification entitled any Roman 
citizen to rank among the Honestiores as opposed to the 
Humiliores^ the latter only being liable, if found guilty of 
certain offences, to the more atrocious forms of capital punish- 
ment, such as death by the wild beasts or by fire.* Even a 
reputation for learning was supposed to be a marketable 
commodity ; and when supreme power was held by a philoso- 

* See the note on Honestiores and Humiliores appended to the fifth volume of 
Duruy's Histoire des Romains, 


pher, the vulgar rich could still hope to attract his favourable 
notice by filling their houses with books.^ We also know 
from Juvenal, what indeed the analogy of modern times would 
readily suggest, that large fortunes were often rapidly made, 
and made by the cultivation of very sordid artSw Thus 
members of the most ignorant and superstitious classes were 
constantly rising to positions where they could set the tone of 
public opinion, or at least help to determine its direction. 

The military organisation of the empire had the further 
effect of giving a high social status to retired centurions — men 
probably recruited from the most barbarous provincial popula- 
tions, and certainly more remarkable for their huge size than 
for their mental gifts.^ When one of these heroes heard a 
philosopher state that nothing can be made out of nothing, he 
would ask with a horse-laugh whether that was any reason 
for going without one's dinner.* On the other hand, when it 
came to be a question of supernatural agency, a man of this 
type would astonish the Jews themselves by his credulity. 
Imbued with the idea of personal authority, he readily fancied 
that anyone standing high in the favour of God could cure 
diseases from a distance by simply giving them the word of 
command to depart.* 

A much more important factor in the social movement 
than those already mentioned was the ever-increasing influence 
of women. This probably stood at the lowest point to which 
it has ever fallen, during the classic age of Greek life and 
thought. In the history of Thucydides, so far as it forms a 
connected series of events, four times only during a period of 
nearly seventy years does a woman cross the scene. In each 
instance her apparition only lasts for a moment. In three of 
the four instances she is a queen or a princess, and belongs 
either to the half-barbarous kingdoms of northern Hellas or to 
wholly barbarous Thrace. In the one remaining instance — 

' Ludan, Adversus Indocium. « Juvenal, io//., XVI., 14. 

• Persius, Sati,, III., 77. ; cf. V., 189. * Matth., viU., 9; Luke, vii., 8. 


that of the woman who helps some of the trapped Thebans 
to make their escape from Plataea — while her deed of mercy- 
will live for ever, her name is for ever lost.* But no sooner 
did philosophy abandon physics for ethics and religion than 
the importance of those subjects to women was perceived, first 
by Socrates, and after him by Xenophon and Plato. Women 
are said to have attended Plato's lectures disguised as men. 
Women formed part of the circle which gathered round 
Epicurus in his suburban retreat Others aspired not only to 
learn but to teach. Ar6t6, the daughter of Aristippus, handed 
on the Cyrenaic doctrine to her son, the younger Aristippus. 
Hipparchia, the wife of Crates the Cynic, earned a place 
among the representatives of his school. But all these were 
exceptions ; some of them belonged to the class of Hetaerae ; 
and philosophy, although it might address itself to them, 
remained unaffected by their influence. The case was widely 
different in Rome, where women were far more highly honoured 
than in Greece ; ^ and even if the prominent part assigned to 
them in the legendary history of the city be a proof, among 
others, of its untrustworthiness, still that such stories should be 
thought worth inventing and preserving is an indirect proof 
of the extent to which feminine influence prevailed. With the 
loss of political liberty, their importance, as always happens 
at such a conjuncture, was considerably increased. Under a 
personal government there is far more scope for intrigue than 
where law is king ; and as intriguers women are at least the 

' Thucydidcs, II., iv. The other women alluded to are, the wife of Adm^tus, 
who tells Themistocles how he is to proceed in order to conciliate her husband 
(I., cxxxvi.); Stratonice, the sister whom Perdiccas gives in marriage to Seuthes 
(II., ci.); and Brauro, the Edonian queen who murders her husband Pittacus 
(IV., cvii.). The wife and daughter of Hippias the Peisistratid and the sister of 
Ilarmodius are mentioned in bk. VI., Iv. ff, but they take us back to an earlier 
period of Greek history than that of which Thucydides treats consecutively ; while 
the names of Helen and Procne, which also occur, belong, of course, to a much 
remoter past (I., ix., and II., xxix.) 

' It has even been maintained that the condition of the Roman matron was 
superior to that of the modem Frenchwoman. (Duruy, Histoire des RomainSfW,^ 
p. 41.) 


equals of men. Moreover, they profited fully by the levelling 
tendencies of the age. One great service of the imperial 
jurisconsults was to remove some of the disabilities under 
which women formerly suffered. According to the old law, 
they were placed under male guardianship through their 
whole life, but this restraint was first reduced to a legal fiction 
by compelling the guardian to do what they wished, and at 
last it was entirely abolished4 Their powers both of inherit- 
ance and bequest were extended ; they frequently possessed 
immense wealth ; and their wealth was sometimes expended 
for purposes of public munificence. Their social freedom 
seems to have been unlimited, and they formed combinations 
among themselves which probably served to increase their 
general influence.' 

All these circumstances taken together would permit the 
Roman women to have opinions of their own if they liked, 
and would ensure a respectful hearing for whatever they had 
to say ; while the men who had opinions to propagate would, 
for the same reason, be deeply interested in securing their 
adhesion. On the other hand, they received a good literary 
education, being sent apparently to the same schools as their 
brothers, and there made acquainted with, at least, the Latin 
poets.^ Thus they would possess the degree of culture 
necessary for readily receiving and transmitting new impres- 
sions. And we know, as a matter of fact, that many Roman 
ladies entered eagerly into the literary movement of the age, 
sharing the studies of their husbands, discoursing on questions 
of grammar, freely expressing their opinion on the relative 
merits of different poets, and even attempting authorship 
on their own account.* Philosophy, as it was then taught, 
attracted a considerable share of their attention ; and some 
g^eat ladies were constantly attended by a Stoic professor, to 
whose lectures they listened seemingly with more patience 

, * Boissier, Religion Rmnaint^ II. p. 200. ' Boissier, op, cit.^ II., pp. 214 AT. 
' Friedlandcr, Romischi Sittengeschichte, I., pp. 441 ff. 



than profit* One of their favourite studies was Plato's 
Republic^ according to Epictdtus, because it advocated a com- 
munity of wives ; * or, as we may more charitably suggest, 
because it admitted women to an equality with men. But 
there is no evidence to prove that their inquisitiveness ever 
went to the length of questioning the foundations of religious 
faith ; and we may fairly reckon their increasing influence 
among the forces which were tending to bring about an over- 
whelming religious revival among the educated classes. 

In this connexion, some importance must also be attri- 
buted to the more indirect influence exercised by children. 
These did not form a particularly numerous class in the upper 
ranks of Roman society ; but, to judge by what we see in 
modem France, the fewer there were of them the more atten- 
tion were they likely to receive ; and their interests, which 
like those of the other defenceless classes had been depressed 
or neglected under the aristocratic regime, were favoured by 
the reforming and levelling movement of the empire. One of 
Juvenal's most popular satires is entirely devoted to the 
question of their education ; and, in reference to this, the point 
of view most prominently put forward is the importance of 
the examples which are offered to them by their parents. 
Juvenal, himself a free-thinker, is exceedingly anxious that 
they should not be indoctrinated with superstitious opinions ; 
but we may be sure that a different order of considerations 
would equally induce others to give their children a careful 
religious training, and to keep them at a distance from 
sceptical influences; while the spontaneous tendency of 
children to believe in the supernatural would render it easier 
to give them moral instruction under a religious form. 

To complete our enumeration of the forces by which a 
new public opinion was being created, we must mention the 
slaves. Though still liable to be treated with great barbarity, 

' Lucian, De Mercede Conductis^ xxvi. ; Friedlander, I., p. 447. 
• Ep»ct., Fragm., 53 Dubner. 



the condition of this class was considerably ameliorated under 
the empire. Their lives and, in the case of women, their 
chastity, were protected by law ; they were allowed by custom 
to accumulate property ; they had always the hope of liberty 
before their eyes, for emancipations were frequent and were 
encouraged by the new legislation ; they often lived on terms 
of the closest intimacy with their masters, and were some- 
times educated enough to converse with them on subjects of 
general interest Now a servile condition is more favourable 
than any other to religious ideas. It inculcates habits of 
unquestioning submission to authority ; and by the miseries 
with which it is attended immensely enhances the value of 
consolatory beliefs, whether they take the form of faith in 
divine protection during this life, or of a compensation for its 
afflictions in the next Moreover, a great majority of the 
Ronian slaves came from those Eastern countries which were 
the native land of superstition, and thus served as missionaries 
of Oriental cults and creeds in the West, besides furnishing 
apt disciples to the teachers who came from Asia with the 
express object of securing converts to their religion in Rome. 
The part played by slaves in the diffusion of Christianity is 
well known ; what we have to observe at present is that their 
influence must equally have told in favour of every other 
supernaturalist belief, and, to the same extent, against the 
rationalism of writers like Horace and Lucian. 

Thus Roman civilisation, even when considered on its 
liberal, progressive, democratic side, seems to have necessarily 
favoured the growth and spread of superstition, because the 
new social strata which it turned up were le5S 6n flieir guard 
against unwarranted beliefs than the old governing aristocra- i 
cies with their mingled conservatism and culture. But this 
was not all ; and on viewing the empire from another side 
we shall find that under it all classes alike were exposed to 
conditions eminently inconsistent with that individual inde- 
pendence and capacity for forming a private judgment which 

p 2 


had so honourably distinguished at least one class under r 
the republican regime. If imperialism was in one sense a 
levelling and democratic system, in another sense it was 
intensely aristocratic, or rather timocratic. Superiorities of 
birth, race, age, and sex were everywhere tending to disappear, 
only that they might be replaced by the more ignoble 
superiorities of brute-force, of court-favour, and of wealth. 
The Palace set an example of caprice on the one side and of 
servility on the other which was faithfully followed through 
all grades of Roman society, less from a spirit of imitation 
than because circumstances were at work which made every 
rich man or woman the centre of a petty court consisting of 
voluntary dependents whose obsequiousness was rewarded by 
daily doles of food and money, by the occasional gift of a 
toga or even of a small farm, or by the hope of a handsome 
legacy. Before daybreak the doors of a wealthy house were 
surrounded by a motley crowd, including not only famished 
clients but praetors, tribunes, opulent freedmen, and even 
ladies in their litters ; all come nominally for the purpose of 
paying their respects to the master, but in reality to receive 
a snvall present of money. At a later hour, when the great 
man went abroad, he was attended by a troop of poor 
hangers-on, who, after trudging about for hours in his train and 
accompanying him home in the afternoon, often missed the 
place at his table which their assiduities were intended to secure. 
Even when it came, the invitation brought small comfort, 
as only the poorest food and the worst wine were set before 
the client, while he had the additional vexation of seeing his 
patron feasting on the choicest dishes and the most delicious 
vintages ; and this was also the lot of the domestic philo- 
sopher whom some rich men regarded as an indispensable 
member of their retinue.* Of course those who wished for a 
larger.share of the patron's favours could only hope to win it 
by unstinted tokens of admiration, deference, or assent ; and 

* Juvenal, V., and Luciah, Dt Mercede Conductis, 


probably many besides the master of thirty legions in the 
well-known story were invariably allowed to be right by the 
scholars with whom they condescended to dispute. 

Besides the attentions lavished on every wealthy in- 
dividual, those who had no children were especially courted, 
and that too by others who were as well off as themselves 
with the object of being remembered in their wills. So 
advantageous a position, indeed, did these orbi^ as they were 
called, occupy, that among the higher classes there was 
extreme unwillingness to marry ; although, as an encourage- 
ment to population, the father of three children enjoyed several 
substantial privileges. This circumstance, again, by prevent- 
ing the perpetuation of wealthy families, and allowing their 
property to pass into the hands of degraded fortune-hunters, 
rendered impossible the consolidation of a new aristocracy 
which might have reorganised the traditions of liberal culture, 
and formed an effectual barrier against the downward pressure 
of despotism on the one side and the inroads of popular 
superstition on the other. 

As a last illustration of the extent to which authority and 
subordination were pushed in Roman society, it may be 
mentioned that the better class of slaves were permitted to 
keep slaves for their own service. But whether the institution 
of slavery as a whole should be reckoned among the con- 
ditions favourable to authoritative beliefs is doubtful, as it 
was an element common to every period of antiquity. Per- 
haps, however paradoxical such an assertion may seem, the 
very frequency of emancipation gave increased strength to 
the feeling of dependence on an overruling personal power. 
A freedman could not forget that the most important event 
in his life was due, not to any natural law, but to the will or 
the caprice of a master ; and this reflection must have con- 
firmed his faith in the divine beings of whom he and his 
master were fellow-slaves. 



We have now to show what new beliefs gained most 
ground, and what old beliefs were most successfully revived, 
through the combination of favourable conditions, an analysis 
of which has been attempted in the preceding pages. Among 
the host of creeds which at this period competed with one 
another for the favour of the rich or for the suffrages of the 
poor, there were some that possessed a marked advantage 
over their rivals in the struggle for existence. The worship 
of Nature considered as imaging the vicissitudes of human 
life, could not fail to be the most popular of any. All who 
desired a bond of sympathy uniting them with their fellow- 
subjects over the whole empire, and even with the tribes 
beyond its frontiers, might meet on this most universal ground. 
All who wished to combine excitement with devotion were 
attracted by the dramatic representation of birth and death, of 
bereavement and sorrow and searching, of purification through 
suffering, and triumphant reunion with the lost objects of 
affection in this or in another world. Inquisitive or inno- 
vating minds were gratified by admission to secrets a know- 
ledge of which was believed to possess inestimable value. 
And the most conservative could see in such celebrations an 
acknowledgment, under other forms, of some divinity which 
had always been reverenced in their own home, perhaps even 
the more authentic reproduction of adventures already related 
to them as dim and uncertain traditions of the past More 
than one such cultus, representing under the traits of personal 
love and loss and recovery, the death of vegetation in winter 
and its return to life in spring, was introduced from the 
East, and obtained a wide popularity through the empire. 
Long before the close of the republic, the worship of Cybele 
was established in Rome with the sanction of the Senate. 
Other Asiatic deities of a much less respectable character, 
Astarte and the so-called Syrian goddess, though not officially 


recognised, enjoyed a celebrity extending to the remotest 
comers of the western world.* Still greater and more universal 
was the veneration bestowed o n Isis aniL ^>^<'"»l>^' From the 
prince to the peasant, from the philosopher to the ignorant 
girl, all classes united in doing homage to their power. Their 
mysteries were celebrated in the mountain valleys of the 
Tyrol, and probably created as much excitement among the 
people of that neighbourhood as the Ammergau passion-play 
does at present.* An inscription has been discovered describing 
in minute detail an offering made to Isis by a Spanish matron 
in honour of her little daughter. It was a silver statue richly 
ornamented with precious stones, resembling, as our authority 
observes, what would now be presented to the Madonna,* who Ly 
indeed is probably no more than a Christian adaptation of 
the Egyptian goddess. And Plutarch, or another learned and 
ingenious writer whose work has come down to us under his 
name, devotes a long treatise to Isis and Osiris, in which the 
mythical history of the goddess is as thickly covered with 
allegorical interpretations as the statue dedicated to her by the 
Spanish lady was with emeralds and pearls. 

Another form of naturalistic religion, fitted for universal 
acceptance by its appeals to common experience, was the 
worship of the Sun. It was probably as such that Mithras, 
a Syro-Persian deity, obtained a success throughout the Roman 
empire which at one time seemed to balance the rising 
fortunes of Christianity. Adoration of the heavenly bodies 
was, indeed, very common during this period, and was probably 
connected with the extreme prevalence of astrological super- 
stition. It would also harmonise perfectly with tlie still sur- 
viving Olympian religion of the old Hellenic aristocracy, and 
would profit by the support which philosophy since the time 
of Socrates had extended to this form of supematuralist belief. 
But, perhaps, for that very reason the classes which had now 

' Friedlander, III., p. 502. 
' Friedlander, ibid. • Boissier, op. cit.^ I., p. 362. 


become the ultimate arbiters of opinion, felt less sympathy 
with Mithras-worship and other kindred cults than with the 
Egyptian mysteries. These had a more recognisable bearii^ 
on their own daily life, and, like the Chthonian religions of 
old Greece, they included a reference to the immortality of 
the soul. Moreover, the climate of Europe, especially of 
western Europe, does not permit the sun to become an object 
of such excessive adoration as in southern Asia. Mithras- 
worship, then, is an example of the expansive force exhibited 
by Oriental ideas rather than of a faith which really satisfied 
the wants of the Roman world. 

A far higher place must be assigned to Jj^ liiiil Tlfciong 
the competitors for the allegiance of Europe. The cosmo- 
politan importance at one time assumed by this religion 
has been considerably obscured, owing to the subsequent 
devolution of its part to Christianity. It is, however, by no 
means impossible that, but for the diversion created by the 
Gospel, and the disastrous consequences of their revolt against 
Rome, the Jews might have won the world to a purified form 
of their own monotheism. A few significant circumstances 
are recorded showing how much influence they had acquired, 
even in Rome, before the first preaching of Christianity. The 
first of these is to be found in Cicero's defence of Flaccus. 
The latter was accused of appropriating part of the annual 
contributions sent to the temple at Jerusalem ; and, in dealing 
with this charge, Cicero speaks of the Jews, who were naturally 
prejudiced against his client, as a powerful faction the hostility 
of which he is anxious not to provoke.* Some twenty years 
letter, a great advance has been made. Not only must the 
material interests of the Jews be respected, but a certain con- 
formity to their religious prescriptions is considered a mark 
of good breeding. In one of his most amusing satires, Horace 
tells us how, being anxious to shake off a bore, he appeals 
for help to his friend Aristius Fuscus, and reminds him of 

' Ilavet, Le Christianisme et ses On^incs^ II., p. 150. 


some private business which they had to discuss together. 
Fuscus sees his object, and being mischievously determined 
to defeat it, answers: 'Yes, I remember perfectly, but 
we must wait for some better opportunity; this is the 
thirtieth Sabbath, do you wish to insult the circumcised 
Jews ? ' 'I have no scruples on that point,' replies the im- 
patient poet 'But I have,' rejoins Fuscus, — *a little weak- 
minded, one of the many, you know— excuse me, another 
time.' * Nor were the Jews content with the countenance thus 
freely accorded them. The same poet elsewhere intimates 
that whenever they found themselves in a majority, they took 
advantage of their superior strength to make proselytes by 
force.^ And they pursued the good work to such purpose 
that a couple of generations later we find Seneca^ bitterly 
complaining that the vanquished had given laws to the victors, 
and that the customs of this abominable race were established ^ 
over the whole earth.* Evidence to the same effect is given 
by Philo Judaeus and Josephus, who inform us that the 
Jewish laws and customs were admired, imitated, and obeyed 
over the whole earth.^ Such assertions might be suspected of 
exaggeration, were they not, to a certain extent, confirmed by 
the references already quoted, to which others of the same kind 
may be added from later writers showing that it was a common 
practice among the Romans to abstain from work on the 
Sabbath, and even to celebrate it by praying, fasting, and 
lighting lamps, to visit the synagogues, to study the law of 
Moses, and to pay the yearly contribution of two drachmas 
to the temple at Jerusalem.* 

Then as now, Judaism seems to have had a much greater 
attraction for women than for men ; and this may be accounted 

» Hor., Satt,^ I., ix., 67-72. * Ibid,^ I., iv., 142. 

■ Opera^ ed. Tauchnitz, V., p. 209. 

* Philo, VitaMos, p. 136, M. ; Joseph., Contr, Ap,^ II., xxxix. ; Friedlandcr, 
III., p. 583. 

» Ovid., Ars Am.^ I., 415 ; Rem. Am,^ 219; Pers., V., 179; Juv., XIV., 
97 ; Friedlander, loc, cit. 


for not only by the greater credulity of the female sex, which 
would equally predispose them in favour of every other new 
religion, but also by their natural sympathy with the domestic 
virtues which are such an amiable and interesting feature in 
the Jewish character. Josephus tells us that towards the begin- 
ning of Nero's reign nearly all the women of Damascus were 
attached to Judaism ; * and he also mentions that Poppaea, the 
mistress and afterwards the wife of Nero, used her powerful 
influence for the protection of his compatriots, though whether 
she actually became a proselyte, as some have supposed, is 
doubtful,* According to Ovid, the synagogues were much 
visited by Roman women, among others, apparently, by those 
of easy virtue, for he alludes to them as resorts which the man 
of pleasure in search of a conquest will find it advantageous 
to frequent.* 

The monotheism of the Jehovist religion would seem to 
have marked it out as the natural faith of a universal empire. 
Yet, strange to say, it was not by this element of Judaism 
that proselytes were most attracted. Our authorities are 
unanimous in speaking of the sabbath-observance as the most 
distinguishing trait of the Jews themselves, and the point in 
which they were most scrupulously imitated by their adherents ; 
while the duty of contributing to the maintenance of the 
temple apparently stood next in popular estimation. But if 
this be true, it follows that the liberation of the spiritual- 
istic element in Judaism from its ceremonial husk was a less 
essential condition to the success of Christianity than some 
have supposed. What the world objected to in Judaism was 
not its concrete, historical, practical side, but its exclusiveness, 
and the hatred for other nations which it was supposed to 
breed. What the new converts wished was to take the place of 
the Jews, to supersede them in the divine favour, not to im- 
prove on their law. It was useless to tell them that they were 
under no obligation to observe the sabbath, when the institu- 

' Havet, II., p. 328. * Friedlander, I., p. 451. • Ars Am., I., 76. 


tion of a day of rest was precisely what most fascinated them 
in the history of God's relations with his chosen people. And 
it was equally useless to tell them that the hour had come 
when the Father should not be worshipped any more at 
Jerusalem but everywhere in spirit and in truth, when Jerusa- 
lem had become irrevocably associated in their minds with the 
establishment of a divine kingdom on this earth. Thus, while 
the religion of the Middle Ages reached its intensest ex- 
pression in armed pilgrimages to Palestine, the religion of 
modem Puritanism has embodied itself by preference in the 
observance of what it still delights to call the sabbath. 

It must not be supposed that the influx of Asiatic religions 
into Europe was attended by any loss of faith in the old gods 
of Greece and Italy, or by any neglect of their worship. The 
researches of Friedlander have proved the absolute erroneous- 
ness of such an idea, widely entertained as it has been. 
Innumerable monuments are in existence testifying to the 
continued authority of the Olympian divinities, and particu- 
larly of Jupiter, over the whole extent of the Roman empire. 
Ample endowments were still devoted to the maintenance of 
their service ; their temples still smoked with sacrifices ; their 
litanies were still repeated as a duty which it would have been 
scandalous to neglect ; in all hours of public and private 
danger their help was still implored, and acknowledged by 
the dedication of votive offerings when the danger was over- 
come ; it was still believed, as in the days of Homer, that they 
occasionally manifested themselves on earth, signalising their 
presence by works of superhuman power.* Nor was there 
anything anomalous in this peaceable co-existence of the old 
with the new faiths. So far back as we can trace the records 
both of Greek and Roman polytheism, they are remarkable 
for their receptive and assimilative capacity. Apollo and 
Artemis were imported into Greece from Lycia, Heracles and 
Aphrodite from Phoenicia, Dionysus and Ares probably from 

« Friedlander, III., pp. 518, 539 ff, 553 ff. 


Thrace. Roman religion under its oldest form included both 
a Latin or Sabine and an Etruscan element ; at a subsequent 
period it became Hellenised without losing anything of its 
grave^and decorous character. In Greece, the elastic system 
of divine relationships was stretched a little further so as to 
make room for the new comers. The same system, when 
introduced into Roman mythology, served to connect and 
enliven what previously had been so many rigid and isolated 
abstractions. With both, the supreme religious conception 
continued to be what it had been with their Aryan ancestors, 
that of a heavenly Father Jove ; and the fashionable deities of 
the empire were received into the pantheon of Homer and 
Hesiod as recovered or adopted children of the same Olym- 
pian sire. The danger to Hellenistic polytheism was not 
from another form of the same type, but from a faith which 
should refuse to amalgamate with it on any terms ; and in 
the environment created by Roman imperialism with its uni- 
fying and cosmopolitan character, such a faith, if it existed 
anywhere, could not fail in the long-run to supersede and 
extinguish its more tolerant rivals. But the immediate effect 
produced by giving free play to men's religious instincts was 
not the concentration of their belief on a single object, or on 
new to the exclusion of old objects, but an extraordinary 
abundance and complexity of supernaturalism under all its 
forms. This general tendency, again, admits of being de- 
composed into two distinct currents, according as it was 
determined by the introduction of alien superstitions from 
without, or by the development of native and popular super- 
stition from within. But, in each case, the retrogressive 
movement resulted from the same political revolution. At 
once critical and conservative, the city-aristocracies prevented 
the perennial germs of religious life from multiplying to any 
serious extent within the limits of their jurisdiction, no less 
vigilantly than they prohibited the importation of its com- 
pleted products from abroad. We have now to study the 


behaviour of these germs when the restraint to which they 
had formerly been subjected was lightened or withdrawn. 


The old religions of Greece and Italy were essentially 
oracular. While inculcating the existence of supernatural 
beings, and prescribing the modes according to which such 
beings were to be worshipped, they paid most attention to the 
interpretation of the signs by which either future events in 
general, or the consequences of particular actions, were sup- 
posed to be divinely revealed. Of these intimations, some 
were given to the whole world, so that he who ran might 
read, others were reserved for certain favoured localities, and 
only communicated through the appointed ministers of the 
god. The Delphic oracle in particular enjoyed an enormous 
reputation both among Greeks and barbarians for guidance 
afforded under the latter conditions ; and during a considerable 
period it may even be said to have directed the course of 
Hellenic civilisation. It was also under this form that super- 
natural religion suffered most injury from the great intellectual 
movement which followed the Persian wars. Men who had 
learned to study the constant sequences of Nature for them- 
selves, and to shape their conduct according to fixed prin- 
ciples of prudence or of justice, either thought it irreverent to 
trouble the god about questions on which they were compe- 
tent to form an opinion for themselves, or did not choose to 
place a well-considered scheme at the mercy of his possibly 
interested responses. That such a revolution occurred about 
the middle of the fifth century B.C., seems proved by the great 
change of tone in reference to this subject which one per- 
ceives on passing from Aeschylus to Sophocles. That any- 
one should question the veracity of an oracle is a supposi- 
tion which never crosses the mind of the elder dramatist A 
knowledge of augury counts among the greatest benefits 


conferred by Prometheus on mankind, and the Titan brings 
Zeus himself to terms by his acquaintance with the secrets of 
destiny. Sophocles, on the other hand, evidently has to deal 
with a sceptical generation, despising prophecies and needing 
to be warned of the fearful consequences brought about by 
neglecting their injunctions. 

Probably few contributed so much to the change as 
Socrates, notwithstanding his general piety and the credulity 
which he exhibited on this particular point. For his ethical 
and dialectical training, combined with that careful study of 
facts which he so earnestly recommended, went very far to- 
wards making a consultation of the oracle superfluous ; and 
he did actually impress on his auditors the duty of dispensing 
with Its assistance in all cases except those where a know- 
ledge of the future was necessary and could not be otherwise 
obtained.* Even so superstitious a believer as Xenophon 
improved on his master's lessons in this respect, and instead 
of asking the Pythia whether he should take service with the 
younger Cyrus — as Socrates had advised — simply asked to 
what god he should sacrifice before starting on the expedition. 
Towards the beginning of our era, as is well known, the Greek 
oracles had fallen into complete neglect and silence. 

But all this time the popular belief in omens had con- 
tinued unaffected, and had apparently even increased. The 
peculiar Greek feeling known as Deisidaimonia is first satir- 
ised by Theophrastus, who defines it as cowardice with regard 
to the gods, and gives several amusing instances of the anxiety 
occasioned by its presence — all connected with the inter- 
pretation of omens — such as Aristophanes could hardly have 
failed to notice had they been usual in his time. Nor were 
such fancies confined to the ignorant classes. Although the 
Stoics cannot be accused of Deisidaimonia, they gave their 
powerful sanction to the belief in divination, as has been 
already mentioned in our account of their philosophy. It 

* Xenophon, Mem,, I., i., 9. 


would seem that whatever authority the great oracular centres 
had lost was simply handed over to lower and more popular 
forms of the same superstition. 

In Rome, as well as in Greece, n^ionalism l ook the form of 
disbelief in divingtiott- Here at least the Epicurean, the 
Academician, and, among the Stoics, the disciple of Panae- 
tius, were all agreed. But as the sceptical movement began 
at a much later period in Rome than in the country where it 
first originated, so also did the supematuralist rieaction come 
later, the age of Augustus in the one corresponding very 
nearly with the age of Alexander in the other. Virgil and 
Livy are remarkable for their faith in omens ; and although 
the latter complains of the general incredulity with which 
narratives of such events were received, his statements are to 
be taken rather as an index of what people thought in the age 
immediately preceding his own, than as an accurate descrip- 
tion of contemporary opinion. Certainly nothing could be 
farther from the truth than to say that signs and prodigies 
were disregarded by the Romans under the empire. Even 
the cool and cautious Tacitus feels himself obliged to relate 
sundry marvellous incidents which seemed to accompany or 
to prefigure great historical catastrophes; and the more 
credulous Suetonius has transcribed an immense number of 
such incidents from the pages of older chroniclers, besides in- 
forming us of the extreme attention paid even to trifling 
omens by Augustus.* 

Meanwhile the recognised methods for looking into futu- 
rity continued to* enjoy their old popularity, and that which 
relied on indications afforded by the entrails of sacrifices 
was practised with unabated confidence down to the time 
of Julian.^ Even faith in natural law, where it existed, 
accommodated itself to the prevalent superstition by taking 
the form of astrology ; and it is well known what reliance 
the emperor Tiberius, for his time a singulariy enlightened 

» Friedlander, III., p. 523. « ibid,, pp. 524 ff. 


man, placed on predictions derived from observation of the 
starry heavens. 

Subsequently, with the revival of Hellenism, the Greek 
oracles broke silence, and regained even more than their 
ancient reputation, as the increased facilities for locomotion 
now rendered them accessible from the remotest regions.* 
Sometimes the miraculous character of their responses resulted 
in the conversion of hardened infidels. In this connexion, 
the following anecdote is related by Plutarch. A certain 
governor of Cilicia entertained serious doubts about the gods, 
and was still further confirmed in his impiety by the Epicu- 
reans who surrounded him. This man, for the purpose oi 
throwing discredit on the famous oracle of Mopsus, sent a 
freedman to consult it, bearing a sealed letter containing a 
question with whose purport neither he nor any one else 
except the sender was acquainted. On arriving at the oracle, 
the messenger was admitted to pass a night within the 
temple, which was the method of consultation usually 
practised there. In his sleep a beautiful figure appeared to 
him, and after uttering the words ' a black one,' immediately 
vanished. On hearing this answer the governor fell on his 
knees in consternation, and, opening the sealed tablet, showed 
his friends the question which it contained, 'Shall I sacrifice 
a white or a black bull to thee } ' The Epicureans were 
confounded ; while the governor offered up the prescribed 
sacrifice, and became thenceforward a constant adorer of 

Nothing, as Friedlander observes, shows so well what 
intense credulity prevailed at this time, with reference to 
phenomena of a marvellous description, as the success ob- 
tained by a celebrated impostor, Alexander of Abonuteichus, 
whose adventurous career may still be studied in one of 
Lucian's liveliest pieces. Here it will be enough to mention 

> Friedlander, III., pp. 527 ff. 

* Plutarch, De Defect. OracuL, cap. xlv., p. 434. 


that Alexander was a clever charlatan of imposing figure, 
winning manners, and boundless effrontery, who established 
himself in Abonuteichus, a small town in Paphlagonia, on the 
southern shore of the Black Sea, where he made a trade of 
giving oracles in the name of Ascl^pius. The god of healing 
was represented for the occasion by a large tame serpent 
fitted with a human head made of painted canvas and worked 
by horsehair strings. Sometimes the oracular responses were 
delivered by the mouth of the god himself. This was managed 
with the help of a confederate who spoke through a tube 
connected with the false head. Such direct communications 
were, however, only granted as an exceptional favour and for 
a high price. In most instances the answer was given in 
writing, and the fee charged for it only amounted to a shilling 
of our money. Alexander had originally fixed on Abonu- 
teichus, which was his native place and therefore well known 
to him, as the seat of his operations, on account of the 
extraordinary superstition of its inhabitants ; but the people 
of the adjacent provinces soon showed themselves to be no- 
wise behind his fellow-townsmen in their credulity. The 
fame of the new oracle spread over all Asia Minor and 
Thrace ; and visitors thronged to it in such numbers as some- 
times to produce a scarcity of provisions. The prophet's 
gross receipts rose to an average of 3,000/. a year, and the 
office of interpreting his more ambiguous responses became 
so lucrative that the two exeg^tes employed for this purpose 
paid each a talent a year (240/.) for the privilege of exercis- 
ing it. 

It was from the Epicureans, of whom we are told that 
there were a considerable number in these parts, that the 
most serious opposition to the impostor proceeded ; but he 
contrived to silence their criticisms by denouncing them to 
the fanatical multitude as 'atheists and Christians.* To- 
wards Epicurus himself Alexander nourished an undying ha- 
tred ; and when the oracle was consulted with regard to that 




philosopher's fate, it made answer that he was 'bound in 
leaden chains and seated in a morass.' The Kvpuu So^ai^ or 
summary of the Epicurean creed, he publicly burned and 
threw its ashes into the sea ; and one unfortunate town which 
contained a large school of Epicureans he punished by refus- 
ing its inhabitants access to the oracle. On the other hand, 
according to Lucian, he was on the best of terms with the 
disciples of Plato, Chrysippus, and Pythagoras.* 

At last tidings of the oracle made their way to Italy and 
Rome, where they created intense excitement, particularly 
among the leading men of the state. One of these, Rutilianus, 
a man of consular dignity and well known for his abject 
superstition, threw himself head-foremost into the fashionable 
delusion. He sent off messenger after messenger in hot haste 
to the shrine of Ascl^pius ; and the wily Paphlagonian easily 
contrived that the reports which they carried back should 
still further inflame the curiosity and wonder of his noble 
devotee. But, in truth, no great refinement of imposture was 
needed to complete the capture of such a willing dupe. One 
of his questions was, what teacher should he employ to direct 
the studies of his son ? Pythagoras and Homer were recom- 
mended in the oracular response. A few days afterwards, 
the boy died, much to the discomfiture of Alexander, whose 
enemies took the opportunity of triumphing over what seemed 
an irretrievable mistake. But Rutilianus himself came to the 
rescue. The oracle, he said, clearly foreshadowed his son's 
death, by naming teachers who could only be found in the 
world below. Finally, on being consulted with regard to 
the choice of a wife, the oracle promptly recommended the 
daughter of Alexander and the Moon ; for the prophet pro- 
fessed to have enjoyed the favours of that goddess in the 
same circumstances as Endymion. Rutilianus, who was at 
this time sixty years old, at once complied with the divine 

> Lucian, AUxander^ 25, 47. 


injunction, and celebrated his marriage by sacrificing whole 
hecatombs to his celestial mother-in-law. 

With so powerful a protector, Alexander might safely bid 
his enemies defiance. The governor of Bithynia had to en- 
treat Lucian, whose life had been threatened by the impostor, 
to keep out of harm's way. * Should anything happen to 
you/ he said, 'I could not afford to offend Rutilianus 
by bringing his father-in-law to justice.* Even the best and 
wisest man then living yielded to the prevalent delusion. 
Marcus Aurelius, who was at that time fighting with the 
Marcomanni, was induced to act on an oracle from Abonu- 
teichus, promising that if two lions were thrown into the 
Danube a great victory would be the result The animals 
made their way safely to the opposite bank ; but were beaten 
to death with clubs by the barbarians, who mistook them for 
some outlandish kind of wolf or dog ; and the imperial army 
was shortly afterwards defeated with a loss of 20,000 men.* 
Alexander helped himself out of the difficulty with the stale 
excuse that he had only foretold a victory, without saying 
which side should win. He was not more successful in deter- 
mining the duration of his own life, which came to an end before 
he had completed seventy years, instead of lasting, as he had 
prophesied, for a hundred and fifty. This miscalculation, how- 
ever, seems not to have impaired his reputation, for even 
after his death it was believed that a statue of him in the 
market-place of Parium in Mysia had the power of giving 


Another wide-spread superstition was the belief in pro- 
phetic or premonitory dreams. This was shared by some 
even among those who rejected supernatural religion, — a 
phenomenon not unparalleled at the present day. Thus the 

' According to FriedIander(III., p. 531), this happened between 167 and 169. 
Friedlandcr, p. 532. 



elder Pliny tells us how a soldier of the Praetorian Guard in 
Rome was cured of hydrophobia by a remedy revealed in a 
dream to his mother in Spain, and communicated by her to 
him. The letter describing it was written without any 
knowledge of his mishap, and arrived just in time to save his 
life.' And Pliny was himself induced by a dream to under- 
take the hist9ry of the Roman campaigns in Germany.' 
Religious believers naturally put at least equal confidence in 
what they imagined to be revelations of the divine will. 
Galen, the great physician, often allowed himself to be guided 
by dreams in the treatment of his patients, and had every 
reason to congratulate himself on the result. The younger 
Pliny, Suetonius, Dion Cassius, and the emperors Augustus 
and Marcus Aurelius, were all influenced in a similar manner ; 
and among these Dion, who stands last in point of time, 
shows by his repeated allusions to the subject that super- 
stition, so far from diminishing, was continually on the 

It was natural that the best methods of interpreting so 
useful a source of information should be greatly sought 
after, and that they should be systematised in treatises ex- 
pressly devoted to the subject. One such work, the Oneiro- 
critica of Artemid6rus, is still extant It was composed 
towards the end of the second century, as its author tells us, 
at the direct and repeated command of Apollo. According 
to Artemid6rus, the general belief in prophecy and in the 
existence of providence must stand or fall with the belief in 
prophetic dreams. He looked on the compilation of his work 
as the fulfilment of a religious mission, and his whole life was 
devoted to collecting the materials for it His good faith is, 
we are told, beyond question, his industry is enormous, and he 
even exercises considerable discrimination in selecting and 
elucidating the phenomena which are represented to us as 

» Friedlander, III., p. 533. « Ibid,^ p. 534. 

■ For details see Friedlander, loc, cU, 


manifestations of a supernatural interest in human affairs. 
Thus his beliefs may be taken as a fair gauge of the extent 
to which educated opinion had at that time become infected 
with vulgar superstition.* 

Dreams, like oracles, were occasionally employed for the 
conversion of infidels. An incident of the kind is related by 
Aelian, a writer who flourished early in the third century, and 
who is remarkable, even in that age, for his bigoted ortho- 
doxy. A certain man named Euphronius, he tells us, whose 
delight was to study the blasphemous nonsense of Epicurus, 
fell very ill of consumption, and sought in vain for help from 
the skill of the physicians. He was already at death's door, 
when, as a last resource, his friends placed him in the temple 
of Ascl^pius. There he dreamed that a priest came to him 
and said, * This man's only chance of salvation is to burn the 
impious books of Epicurus, knead the ashes up with wax, and 
use the mixture as a poultice for his chest and stomach.' On 
awakening, he followed the divine prescription, was restored 
to health, and became a model of piety for the rest of his life. 
The same author gives us a striking instance of prayer 
answered, also redounding to the credit of Ascl^pius, the 
object of whose favour is, however, on this occasion not a 
human being but a fighting-cock. The scene is laid at 
Tanagra, where the bird in question, having had his foot hurt, 
and evidently acting under the influence of divine inspiration, 
joins a choir who are singing the praises of Ascl^pius, con- 
tributing his share to the sacred concert, and, to the best of his 
ability, keeping time with the other performers. * This he 
did, standing on one leg and stretching out the other, as if to 
show its pitiable condition. So he sang to his saviour, as far 
as the strength of his voice would permit, and prayed that he 
might recover the use of his limb.' The petition is granted, 

' Friedlander, pp. 535 ff. This form of superstition still flourishes in great 
force among at least the lower class of Italians at the present day ; and the con- 
tinual stimulation afforded to it by the public lottery is not the least mischievous 
consequence of that infamous institution. 


whereupon our hero claps his wings and struts about * with 
outstretched neck and nodding crest like a proud warrior, 
thus proclaiming the power of providence over irrational 
animals.' ' 

Aelian mentions other remarkable examples of the piety 
displayed by brutes. * Elephants worship the sun, stretching 
out their trunks to it like hands when it rises while men doubt 
the existence of the gods, or at least their care for us.' * There 
is an island in the Black Sea, sacred to Heracles, where 
the mice touch nothing that belongs to the god. When the 
grapes which are intended to be used for his sacrifices begin 
to ripen, they quit the island in order to escape the tempta- 
tion of nibbling at them, coming back when the vintage is 
over. Hippo, Diagoras, Herostratus, and other enemies of 
the gods would, no doubt, spare these grapes just as little as 
anything else that was consecrated to their use.' * 

It is, perhaps, characteristic of the times that Aelian's 
stories should redound more especially to the credit of 
Ascl^pius and Heracles, who were not gods of the first order, 
but demi-gods or deified mortals. Their worship, like that 
of the Nature-powers connected with earth rather than with 
heaven, belongs particularly to the popular religion, and 
seems to have been repressed or restrained in societies 
organised on aristocratic principles. And as more immediate 
products of the forces by which supernaturalist beliefs are 
created and maintained, such divinities would profit by the 
free scope now given to popular predilections. In their case 
also, as with the earth-goddesses D^m^t^r and Isis, a more 
immediate and affectionate relation might be established 
between the believer and the object of his worship than 
had been possible in reference to the chief Olympian gods. 
Heracles had lived the life of a man, his activity had been 
almost uniformly beneficent, and so he was universally 
invoked, as a helper and healer, in the sick-chamber no less 

> Aelian, Fragm,^ 98 ; Friedlander, p. 494. * Friedlander, l^, cit. 


than on the storm-tost ship.* AsclSpius was still more 
obviously the natural refuge of those who were afflicted with 
any bodily disease, and, in a time of profound peace, this was 
of all calamities the most likely to turn men's thoughts 
towards a supernatural protector. Hence we find that where, 
apart from Christianity, the religious enthusiasm of the 
second century reaches its intensest expression, which is in the 
writings of the celebrated rhetor Aristeides, Ascl^pius comes 
in for the laigest share of devotional feeling. During an 
illness which continued through thirteen years, Aristeides 
sought day and night for help and inspiration from the god. 
It came at last in the usual form of a prescription communi- 
cated through a dream. Both on this and on other occasions, 
the excitement of an overwrought imagination combined with 
an exorbitant vanity made the sophist believe himself to be 
preferred above all other men as an object of the divine 
favour. At one time he would see himself admitted in his 
dreams to an exchange of compliments with Ascl^pius ; at 
other times he would convert the most ordinary incidents 
into signs of supernatural protection. Thus his foster-sister 
having died on the day of his own recovery from a dangerous 
epidemic, it was revealed to him in a dream that her life had 
been accepted as a ransom for his. We are told that the 
monks of the Middle Ages could not refrain from expressing 
their indignant contempt for the insane credulity of Aristeides, 
in marginal notes on his orations; but the last-mentioned 
incident, at least, is closely paralleled by the well-known 
story that a devout lady was once permitted to redeem the 
life of Pius IX. by the sacrifice of her own.* 

Besides this increasing reverence paid to the deified 
mortals of ancient mythology, the custom of bestowing 
divine honours on illustrious men after or even before their 
death, found new scope for its exercise under the empire 

* Friedlander, p. 549. 

' For the whol^ subject of Aristeides see Friedlander, pp. 496 ff. 


Among the manifestations of this tendency, the apotheosis of 
the emperors themselves, of course, ranks first. We are 
accustomed to think of it as part of the machinery of des 
potism, surrounded by official ceremonies and enforced by 
cruel punishments ; but, in fact, it first originated in a spon- 
taneous movement of popular feeling ; and in the case of 
Marcus Aurelius at least, it was maintained for a whole centuryJ 
if not longer, by the mere force of public opinion. And man)! 
prophecies (which, as usual, came true) were made on the 
strength of revelations received from him in dreams.' But a 
much stronger proof of the prevalent tendency is furnished 
by the apotheosis of Antinous. In its origin this may be 
attributed to the caprice of a voluptuous despot ; but its per- 
petuation long after the motives of flattery or of fear had 
ceased to act, shows that the worship of a beautiful youth, who 
was believed to have given his life for another, satisfied a 
deep-seated craving of the age. It is possible that, in this 
and other instances, the deified mortal may have passed for 
the representative or incarnation of some god who was already 
believed to have led an earthly existence, and might there- 
fore readily revisit the scene of his former activity. Thus 
Antinous constantly appears with the attributes of Dionysus ; 
and Apollonius of Tyana, the celebrated Pythagorean prophet 
of the first century, was worshipped at Ephesus in the time 
of Lactantius under the name of Heracles Alexicacus, that 
is, Heracles the defender from evil.'* 

* ' £t paxum sane fiiit quod illi honores divinos, omnis aetas, omnis sexus, 
onmis condicio ac dignitas dedit, nisi quod etiain sacril^us judicatus est qui ejus 
imaginem in suo domo non habuit qui per fortunam vel potuit habere vel debuit. 
Denique hodieque in multis domibus M. Aurelii statuae consistunt inter deos 
penates. Nee defuerunt homines qui somniis eum multa praedixisse augurantes 
fiitura et vera concinnerunf.'— Ft/n M, Antonini Phii., cap. xviii. 

^ Friedlander, p. 513. 



We now pass to a form of supematuralisni more charac- 
teristic than any other of the direction which men's thoughts 
were taking under the Roman empire, and more or less pro- 
foundl}- connected with all the other religious manifestations 
which have hitherto engaged our attention. This is the 
doctrine of immortality, a doctrine far more generally 
accepted in the first centuries of the Christian era, but quite 
apart from Christian influence, than is supposed by most 
persons. Here our most trustworthy information is derived 
from the epigraphic monuments. But for them, we might 
have continued to believe that public opinion on this subject 
was faithfully reflected by a few sceptical writers, who were, 
in truth, speaking only for themselves and for the numerically 
insignificant class to which they belonged. Not that the 
inscriptions all point one way and the books another way. 
On the contrary, there are epitaphs most distinctly repudiat- 
ing the notion of a life beyond the grave, just as there are 
expressions let fall by men of learning which show that they 
accepted it as true. As much might be expected from the 
divisions then prevailing in the speculative world. Of all 
philosophical systems, Epicureanism was, at this time, the most 
widely diffused : its adherents rejected the belief in another 
world as a mischievous delusion ; and many of them seem to 
have carefully provided that their convictions should be 
recorded on their tombs. The monument of one such philo- 
sopher, dedicated to eternal sleep, is still extant ; others are 
dedicated to safe repose ; others, again, speak of the opposite 
belief as a vain imagination. A favourite epitaph with 
persons of this school runs as follows : — * I was nothing and 
became, I was and am no more, so much is true. To speak 
otherwise is to lie, for I shall be no more.'* Sometimes, 

' Friedlander, III., p. 683. Cp. ClifTord's epitaph : * I was nothing and was 
conceived ; I loved and did a little work ; I am notliinp^ and grieve not.* 


from the depths of their unconsciousness, the dead are made to 
express indifference to the loss of existence. Sometimes, in 
what was popularly believed to be the spirit of Epicureanism, 
but was, in reality, most alien to it, they exhort the passer-by 
to indulge his appetites freely, since death is the end of all. 

It must further be noted that disbelief in a future life, as a 
philosophical principle, was not confined to the Epicureans, 
All philosophers except the Platonists and Pythagoreans 
were materialists ; and no logical thinker who had once 
applied his mind to the subject could accept such an absurdity 
as the everlasting duration of a complex corporeal substance, 
whether consisting of gaseous or of fiery matter. A majority 
of the Stoics allowed the soul to continue its individual 
existence until, in common with the whole world, it should be 
reabsorbed into the elemental fire ; but others looked forward 
to a more speedy extinction, without ceasing on that account 
to consider themselves orthodox members of the school. Of 
these the most remarkable instance is Marcus Aurelius. The 
great emperor was not blind to what seemed the enormous 
injustice of death, and did not quite see his way to reconciling 
it with the Stoic belief in a beneficent providence ; but the 
difficulty of finding room for so many ghosts, and perhaps 
also the Heracleitean dogma of perpetual transformation, led 
him to renounce whatever hope he may at one time have 
cherished of entering on a new existence in some better 
world.* A similar consequence was involved in the principles 
of the Peripatetic philosophy ; and Alexander of Aphrodisias, 
the famous Aristotelian commentator, who flourished about 
200 A.D., aflSrms the perishable nature of the soul on his own 
account, and, with perfect justice, attributes the same belief to 
Aristotle himself.* 

Among the scientific and literary men who were not 
pledged to any particular school, we find the elder Pliny 
rejecting the belief in immortality, not only as irrational but 

' Conim.y IV., 21 ; XII., $, 26. * ZcUer, /%. d. Gr,, III., a, p. 798. 



as the reverse of consolatory. It robs us, he declares, of 
Nature's most especial boon, which is death, and doubles the 
pangs of dissolution by the prospect of continued existence 
elsewhere.* Quintilian leaves the question undecided ; * 
Tacitus expresses himself doubtfully;^ and Galen, whose 
great physiological knowledge enabled him to see how 
fallacious were Plato's arguments, while his philosophical 
training equally separated him from the materialists, also 
refuses to pronounce in favour of either side.'* What Juvenal 
thought is uncertain ; but, from his general tone, we may con- 
jecture that he leant to the negative side.* 

Against these we have to set the confident expressions of 
belief in a future life employed by all the Platonists and 
Pythagoreans, and by some of the Stoic school. But their 
doctrines on the subject will be most advantageously ex- 
plained when we come to deal with the religious philosophy 
of the age as a whole. What we have now to examine is the 
general condition of popular belief as evinced by the character 
of the funereal monuments erected in the time of the empire. 
Our authorities are agreed in stating that the majority of 
these bear witness to a wide-spread and ever-growing faith in 
immortality, sometimes conveyed under the form of inscrip- 
tions, sometimes under that of figured reliefs, sometimes more 
natvely signified by articles placed in the tomb for use in 
another world. * I am waiting for my husband,* is the in- 
scription placed over his dead wife by one who was, like her, 
an enfranchised slave. Elsewhere a widow * commends her 
departed husband to the gods of the underworld, and prays 
that they will allow his spirit to revisit her in the hours of 
the night.' ^ * In death thou art not dead,* are the words 
deciphered on one mouldering stone. ' No,* says a father to 
a son whom he had lost in Numidia, 'thou hast not gone 

» Quoted by Friedlander, pp. 681 f. « Ibid., p. 688. « Ibid. 

♦ iSeller, op. cii., p. 828. • See in particular, Satt.^ II., 149. 

• Friedlander, I., p. 465 f. 


down to the abode of the Manes but risen to the stars of 
heaven.' At Doxato, near Philippi in Macedonia, * a mother 
has graven on the tomb of her child : " We are crushed by a 
cruel blow, but thou hast renewed thy being and art dwelling 
in the Elysian fields." ' * This conception of the future world 
as a heavenly and happy abode where human souls are 
received into the society of the gods, recurs with especial 
frequency in the Greek epitaphs, but is also met with in 
Latin-speaking countries. And, considering how great a part 
the worship of departed spirits plays in all primitive religions, 
just such a tendency might be expected to show itself at such 
a time, if, as we have contended, the conditions of society 
under the empire were calculated to set free the original 
forces by which popular faith is created. It seems, therefore, 
rather arbitrary to assume, as Friedlander does,^ that the 
movement in question was entirely due to Platonic influence, 
— especially considering that there are distinct traces of it to 
be found in Pindar; — although at the same time we may 
grant that it was powerfully fostered by Plato's teaching, 
and received a fresh impulse from the reconstitution of his 
philosophy in the third century of our era. 

Side by side, however, with these exalted aspirations, the 
old popular belief in a subterranean abode of souls survived 
under its very crudest forms ; and here also modem explora- 
tions have brought to light very surprising evidence of the 
strength with which the grotesque idea of Charon the Stygian 
ferryman still kept its hold on the imagination of uneducated 
people. Originally peculiar to Greece, where it still exists 
under a slightly altered form, this superstition penetrated 
into the West at a comparatively early period. Thus in the 
tombs of Campania alone many hundred skeletons have been 
found with bronze coins in their mouths, placed there to pay 
their passage across the Styx ; and explorations at Praeneste 
show that this custom reaches back to the middle of the 

' Duruy, Hist, d, Kom.^ V., p. 463. « III., p. 692. 


fourth century B.C. We also learn from Lucian that, in his 
time, the old animistic beliefs were entertained to the extent 
of burning or burying the clothes, ornaments, and other appur- 
tenances of deceased persons along with their bodies, under 
the idea that the owners required them for use in the other 
world ; and it is to such deposits that our museums of classical 
antiquity owe the greater part of their contents.* 

When the belief in a future life assumes the form last 
mentioned, it is, as we have said, simply a survival of the 
most primitive animism, not testifying to any religious reaction 
at the time when it can be proved to have flourished. It is 
introduced in the present connexion merely to show what 
ideas were current among those classes to whose opinions 
Roman civilisation was gradually giving irresistible weight. 
How the minds of the richer and more educated classes were 
affected by this underlying stratum, is shown by the nature of 
the figured representations with which their last abodes were 
ornamented. Everyone has been made tolerably familiar 
with these through the sculptured sarcophagi preserved in 
our museums ; but, from their symbolical character, the signifi- 
cance of the reliefs with which they are decorated is not 
obvious at first sight ; and some of the mythical adventures 
thus embodied may have been wrought without any reference 
to the destination of the dark and narrow chamber which they 
enclosed, or may even have been intended to divert the 
imagination from sad thoughts by the luxuriance of rushing 
life and joy and victory which they displayed ; but after 
making every possible deduction on this score, there remain 
many others offering a deeper source of consolation to the 
bereaved survivor by the pictured promise of future reunion 
with those whom he had loved and lost. One favourite 
subject is the visit of Diana to the sleeping Endymion, by 
which is clearly foreshadowed an awakening to divine felicity 
from the sleep of death. The rape of Proserpine, followed by 

* Friedlander, III., p. 701.. 


her restoration to the upper world, conveys a similar intention ; 
as also does the fate of Adonis, since he too was believed to 
have risen from the dead. The marriage of Bacchus and 
Ariadne unquestionably symbolises the exchange of an 
earthly for a heavenly life ; and the scenes of Bacchic revelry 
with which the interior of some tombs is decorated, were, to 
the imagination of those who designed them, no unbecoming 
image of the joys awaiting a blessed soul in its celestial 
abode. An inscription of which we have already quoted the 
opening words expresses in terms that hope of companionship 
with the joyous band of Dionysus at which the plastic repre- 
sentations can but mutely hint * Now in a flowery meadow,' 
says the mourning mother of Doxato to her child, *the 
priestess marked with a sacred seal is enrolling thee in the 
troop of Bacchus, where the Naiads that bear the sacred 
baskets claim thee as their fellow to lead the solemn pro- 
cession by the light of torches.' At the same time, a tenderer 
or graver note is often struck. The stories of Adm^tus and 
Alcestis, of Protesilaus and Laodameia, point to a renewal of 
conjugal love beyond the grave. What were formerly 
supposed to be scenes representing the eternal farewell of 
husband and wife are, in the opinion of modern archaeologists, 
pictures of their restoration to each other's arms. Rising 
higher still, Achilles among the daughters of Lycom^des 
probably typifies the liberation of an immortal spirit from the 
seductions of sense. The labours of Heracles recall his 
apotheosis, and seem to show that a life of noble effort shall 
be rewarded hereafter. The battle of the Amazons is an 
allegory of strife with and triumph over the temptations of 
earthly delight. Another often-recurring theme, the hunting 
of the Calydonian boar, may mean the souFs victory over 
death ; but this explanation is offered only as a conjecture of 
the present writer's. 

A remarkable circumstance connected with the evidence 
afforded by the figured monuments is its progressive cha- 


racter. According to M. Ravaisson, * As time goes on, the 
indications of belief in a future life, instead of becoming 
fainter, grow clearer and more distinct. More and more 
exalted ideas are formed of the soul's destiny, and ever in- 
creasing honours are paid to the dead. Moreover, these ideas 
and practices are extended so as to cover a greater number of 
individuals. At first it would seem that the only persons 
whose fate excites any interest are kings and heroes, the 
children or the descendants of the gods ; in the course of time 
many others, and at last all, or nearly all, are admitted to a 
share in the same regard. The ancient principle that happi- 
ness is reserved for those who resemble the gods remains un- 
changed ; but the notion of what constitutes resemblance to 
the gods, or in other words perfection, gradually becomes so 
modified, that all men may aspire to reach it. ' * 

We are here in presence of a phenomenon like that to 
which attention was invited in an early chapter of this work.* 
The belief in immortality, entertained undera gloomy and re- 
pulsive form by the uneducated, is taken up by the higher 
classes, brought into contact with their more generous ideas, 
broadened, deepened, purified, and finally made the basis of a 
new religion. Nevertheless, in the present instance at least, 
all was not clear gain ; and the faith which smiles on us from 
storied sarcophagus and mural relief, or pleads for our 
sympathy in epitaphs more enduring than the hope which 

1 A mesure que le temps s*avance les traits par lesquels se produit la croyance 
k une autre vie, d'abord vagues et confus, loin de s'eflfacer, se prononcent et se 
pr^cisent. On se fait de la destin^e des fimes des idees de plus en plus hautes ; on 
rend aux morts des honneurs de plus en plus grands. £n outre, ces id^, ces 
pratiques s*^tendent de plus en plus au grand nombre. Au commencement il 
semble qu*on ne s*inqui^te que du sort des rois et des h^ros, enfants ou descendants 
directs des dieux ; avec le temps beaucoup d'autres ont part aux m6mes preoccupa- 
tions, puis tous ou presque tous. La f^licite est r^servee 4 qui ressemble aux dieux ; 
c'est une maxime antique qui subsiste immuable. Avec le temps on se fait de la 
ressemblance avec les dieux ou, ce qui revient au meme, de la perfection, des id^es 
qui permettent a tous d*y pr^tendre.' Ravaisson, Le Alonumetit de Myrrhine etles 
bas-reliefs Junerairesy 1876, quoted by Duruy, op. cit., p. 463. 

« See Vol. I., p. 68. 


they enshrine, had also its grotesque and hideouis side, for an 
expression of which we must turn to literature again. 

Once credited with a continued existence, the departed 
spirit would not remain in the Hades or the Elysium provided 
for it by the justice or the piety of the survivor, but persisted 
in returning to this world and manifesting a most uncomfort- 
able interest in its affairs ; or, even if willing to remain at rest, 
it was liable to be dragged back by incantations, and com- 
pelled to reveal the secrets of futurity at the bidding of an 
unprincipled magician. What science and good feeling com- 
bined have proved unable to keep down among ourselves, 
naturally raged with unmitigated virulence at a time when 
the primitive barbarism and superstition were only covered 
over by a crust of culture which at many points was growing 
thinner every day. Among Latin writers, the younger Pliny, 
Suetonius, and Apuleius, among Greek writers, Plutarch, 
Pausanias, Maximus Tyrius, Philostratus, and Dion Cassius, 
afford unequivocal evidence of their belief and the belief of 
their contemporaries in ghostly apparitions ; and Lucian, 
while rejecting ghost-stories on his own account, speaks as if 
they were implicitly accepted even in philosophical circles.* 
Still more abundant is the evidence proving the frequency of 
attempts made to evoke spirits by means of magical incanta- 
tions. Horace's Canidia boasts that she can raise the dead 
even after their bodies have been burned.* Lucan describes 
the process of conjuring up a ghost at length ; and it is 
thought that he inserted the whole scene in his poem as a satire 
on the emperor Nero, who is known to have been addicted 
to such practices, as were also his successors, Didius Julianus, 
Caracalla, and Elagabalus. And that the same art was culti- 
vated by private persons is clear from the allusions made to 
it by Quintilian, Apuleius, TertuUian, and Helioddrus.^ 

' For references see Friedlander, III., pp. 706 ff. 

* E/HHi.y xvii., 79. ' Friedlander, pp. 710 f. 



We have now to consider how the philosophy of the empire 
was affected by the atmosphere of supematurah'sm which sur- 
rounded it on every side. Of the Epicureans it need only be 
said that they were true to their trust, and upheld the prin- 
ciples of their founder so long as the sect itself continued to 
exist. But we may reckon it as a first consequence of the 
religious reaction, that, after Lucretius, Epicureanism failed t 
secure the adhesion of a single eminent man, and that, even 
as a popular philosophy, it suffered by the competition of 
other systems, among which Stoicism long maintained the 
foremost place. We showed in a former chapter how strong 
a religious colouring was given to their teaching by the earlier 
Stoics, especially Cleanthes. It would appear, however, that 
Panaetius discarded many of the superstitions accepted by his 
predecessors, possibly as a concession to that revived Scepti- 
cism which was so vigorously advocated just before his time ; 
and it was under the form imposed on it by this philosopher 
that Stoicism first gained acceptance in Roman society ; if 
indeed the rationalism of Panaetius was not itself partly 
determined by his intercourse with such liberal minds as 
Laelius and the younger Scipio. But Posidonius, his suc- 
cessor, already marks the beginning of a reactionary move- 
ment ; and, in Virgil, Stoical opinions are closely associated 
with an unquestioning acceptance of the ancient Roman faith. 
The attitude of Seneca is much more independent ; he is full of 
contempt for popular superstition, and his god is not ver y 
distinguishab le from the order of ^Nature. Yet his tendency 
towards clothmg philosophical instruction in religious terms 
deserves notice, as a symptom of the superior facility with 
which such terms lent themselves to didactic purposes. 
Acceptance of the universal order became more intelligible 
under the name of obedience to a divine decree ; the unity 
of the human race and the obligations resulting therefrom 



impressed themselves more deeply on the imaginations of those 
who heard that men are all members of one body ; the supre- 
macy of reason over appetite became more assured when its 
dictates were interpreted as the voice of a god within the soul.* 
The religious tendency of Seneca's philosophy appears 
rather in his psychology than in his metaphysics, in the stress 
which he lays on human immortality rather than in his discus- 
sions on creation and divine providence. His statements on 
this subject are not, indeed, very consistent, death being some- 
times spoken of as the end of consciousness, and at other 
times as the beginning of a new life, the * birthday of eternity/ 
to quote a phrase afterwards adopted by Christian preachers. 
Nor can we be absolutely certain that the promised eternity 
is not merely another way of expressing the soul's absorption 
into and identification with the fiery element whence it was 
originally derived. This, however, is an ambiguity to be met 
with in other doctrines of a spiritual existence after death, 
nor is it entirely absent from the language even of Christian 
theologians. What deserves attention is that, whether the 
future life spoken of by Seneca be taken in a literal or in a 
figurative sense, it is equally intended to lead our thoughts 
away from the world of sensible experience to a more ideal 
order of things-; and, to that extent, it falls in with the more 
general religious movement of the age. Whether Zeller is, 
for that reason, justified in speaking of him as a Platonising 

Stoic seems more questionable ; for the Stoics always agree< 
witll Plar6 ln4iolding that the soul is distinct from and 
superior to the body, and that it is consubsjtantial with the 
animating principle of Nature. The same circumstances 
which were elsewhere leading to a revival of Platonism, equally- 
tended to develope this side of Stoicism, but it seems needless 
to seek for a closer connexion between the two phenomena.* 

' Sen., Epp.^ xvi., 5 ; xcv., 52 ; xli., I and 2. 

' Perhaps, however, Zeller's contention amounts to no more than that Seneca 
follows Posidonius in his adoption of the Platonic distinction between reason and 
passion, which were identified by the older Stoics. But the object of the latter 


On passing from Seneca to Epict6tus, we find that the 
religious element has received a considerable accession of 
strength, so considerable, indeed, that the simple progress 
of time will not altogether account for it. Something is due 
to the superior devoutness of the Eastern mind — Epict^tus 
was a Phrygian, — and still more to the difference in station 
between the two philosophers. As a noble, Seneca be- 
longed to the class which was naturally most inclined to 
adopt an independent attitude towards the popular beliefs ; 
as a slave, EpictStus belonged to the class which was natu- 
rally most amenable to their authority. It was, however, no 
accident that philosophy should, at a distance of only a gene- 
ration, be represented by two such widely contrasted indivi- 
duals ; for the whole tendency of Roman civilisation was, as 
we have seen, to bring the Oriental element and the servile 
element of society into ever-increasing prominence. Nothing! 
proves the ascendency of religious considerations in the mind| 
of Epictfitus more strongly than his aversion from the physi- 
cal enquiries which were eagerly prosecuted by Seneca. 
Nature interests him solely as a manifestation of divine 
wisdom and goodness. As a consequence of this intensified 
religious feeling, the Stoic theory of natural law is transformed, 
with Epictfitus, into an expression of filial submission to the 
divine will, while the Stoic teleology becomes an enumera- 
tion of the blessings showered by providence on man. In tlie 
latter respect, his standpoint approaches very near to that of 
Socrates, who, although a free-bom Athenian citizen, belonged, 
like him, to the poorer classes, and sympathised deeply with 
their feeling of dependence on supernatural protection, — a 
remark which also applies to the humble day-labourer 

was apparently to save the personality of man, which seemed to be threatened by 
Plato's tripartite division of mind ; and as Seneca achieves the same result by 
including the passions in the ^c/aovuc^v ' the difference between them and him is 
after all little more than verbal. For the general attitude of Seneca towaj 
religion see Gaston Boissier, Religion Romaine^ II., pp. 63-92. 

' Epp,, xcii., I., (Zeller, by mistake refers to Epp.^ xciv., in Ph, d. Gr.y III., a, 
p. 711.) 

R 2 


Cleanthes. Epict^tus also shares the idea, characteristic ot 
the Platonic rather than of the Xenophontic Socrates, 
that the philosopher is entrusted with a mission from God, 
without which it would be perilous for him to undertake the 
office of a teacher, and which, in the discharge of that office, 
he should keep constantly before his eyes. But the dialecti- 
cal element, which with Socrates had furnished so strong a 
counterpoise to the authoritative and traditional side of his 
philosophy, is almost entirely wanting in the discourses of 
his imitator, and the little of it which he admits is valued 
only as a means of silencing the Sceptics. On the other 
hand, the weakness and insignificance of human nature, con- 
sidered on the individual side, are abundantly illustrated, and 
contemptuous diminutives are habitually used in speaking 
of its component parts.* It would seem that the attitude 
of prostration before an overwhelming external authority 
prevented Epict^tus from looking very favourably on the 
doctrine of individual immortality ; and even if he accepted 
that doctrine, which seems in the highest degree improbable, 
it held a much less important place in his thoughts than in 
those of Cicero and Seneca. It would seem, also, that the Stoic 
materialism was betraying its fundamental incompatibility 
with a hope originally borrowed from the idealism of 
Plato. Nor was this renunciation inconsistent with the ethi- 
cal dualism which drew a sharp line of distinction between 
flesh and spirit in the constitution of man, for the supe- 
riority of the spirit arose from its identity with the divine 
substance into which it was destined to be reabsorbed after 

If, in the philosophy of Epict^tus, physics and morality 
become entirely identified with religion, religion, on the other 
hand, remains entirely natural and moral. It is an offering 

' As if'vx^iov, ffvfidrtoy, wofutlZtoy, 

' Epict., Fragm,t 175; Diss,, I., xvi., 1-8; II., xvi , 42; III., xxH , 2 
xxiv., 91-94. Zeller, III., a, p. 743. 


not of prayer but of praise, a service less of ceremonies and 
sacrifices than of virtuous deeds, a study of conscience rather 
than of prophecy, a faith not so much in supernatural portents 
as in providential law.* But in arriving at Marcus Aurelius, 
we have overstepped the line which divides rational religion 
from superstition. Instances of the good emperor's astonish- 
ing credulity have already been given and need not be 
repeated. They are enough to show that his lavish expendi- 
ture on public worship was dictated by something more than 
a regard for established customs. We know, indeed, that the 
hecatombs with which his victories were celebrated gave 
occasion to profane merriment even in the society of that 
period. On one occasion, a petition was passed from hand to 
hand, purporting to be addressed to the emperor by the 
white oxen, and deprecating his success on the ground that if 
he won they were lost* Yet the same Marcus Aurelius, in 
speaking of his predecessor Antoninus, expressly specifies 
piety without superstition as one of the traits in his character 
which were most deserving of imitation.' And, undoubtedly, 
the mental condition of those who were continually in an agony 
of fear lest they should incur the divine displeasure by some 
purely arbitrary act or omission, or who supposed that the gods 
might be bribed into furthering their iniquitous enterprises, 
was beyond all comparison further removed from true wisdom 
than the condition of those who believed themselves to be 
favoured by particular manifestations of the divine beneficence, 
perhaps as a recompense for their earnest attempts to lead a 
just and holy life. We may conclude, then, that philosophy, 
while injuriously affected by the supernaturalist movement, 
still protected its disciples against the more virulent forms 
of superstition, and by entering into combination with the 
popular belief, raised it to a higher level of feeling and of 
thought. It was not, however, by Stoicism t hat the final 
reconciliation of ancient religion with philosophy could be 

> Zeller, p. 745. » Friedlander, III., p. 493. » Comm,^ VI., 3a 



accomplished, but by certain older forms of speculation which 
we now proceed to study. 

In the preceding chapter we attempted to show that the 
tendency of Roman thought, when brought into contact with 
the Greek systems, was to resolve them into their component 
elements, or to throw them back on their historical antecedents. 
As a result of this dissolving process, the Stoicism of the 
second century split up into a number of more or less con- 
flicting principles, each of which received exclusive prominence 
according to the changeful mood of the thinker who resorted 
to philosophy for consolation or for help. Stoicism had origin- ^ 
ally embraced the dynamism of Heracleitus, the teleology of 
Socrates, the physical morality of Prodicus and his Cynic 
successors, the systematising dialectic of Aristotle, the 
psychism of Plato and the Pythagoreans, and, to a certain 
extent, the superstitions of popular mytholog}^ With Epic- 
t^tus, we find the Cynic and the Socratic elements most 
clearly developed, with Marcus Aurelius, the Socratic and th 
Heracleitean, the latter being especially strong in the medita- 
tions written shortly before his death. In the eastern pro- 
vinces of the empire. Cynicism was preached as an inde- 
pendent system of morality, and obtained great success by 
its popular and propagandist character. Dion Chrysostom, a 
much-admired lecturer of the second century, speaks with 
enthusiasm of its most famous representative Diogenes, and 
recounts, with evident gusto, some of the most shameless 
actions attributed, perhaps falsely, to that eccentric philo- 
sopher.* And the popular rhetorician Maximus Tyrius, ^^ 
although a professed Platonist, places the Cynic life abover >\ 
every other.* But the traditions of Cynicism were thoroughly 
opposed to the prevalent polytheism ; and its whole atti- 
tude was calculated to repel rather than to attract minds 
penetrated with the enthusiastic spirit of the age. To all 
such the Neo-Pythagorean doctrine came as a welcome 

» Oratt^ VI., p. 203. » Diss,, II., xxxvi. 



After its temporary adoption by the Academy, Pythago- 
reanism had ceased to exist as an independent system, but 
continued to lead a sort of underground life in connexio 
with the Orphic and Dionysiac mysteries. When or where it 
reappeared under a philosophical form cannot be certainly 
determined. Zeller fixes on the beginning of the first cen- 
tury B.C. as the most probable date, and on Alexandria as 
the most probable scene of its renewed speculative activity.* 
Some fifty years later, we find Pythagorean teachers in 
Rome, and traces of their influence are plainly discernible 
in the Augustan literature. Under its earliest form, the new 
system was an attempt to combine mathematical mysticism 
with principles borrowed from the Stoic and other philo- 
sophies ; or perhaps it was simply a return to the poetical 
syncretism of Empedocles. Although composed of fire and 
air, the soul is declared to be immortal ; and lessons of holi- 
ness are accompanied by an elaborate code of rules for 
ceremonial purification. The elder S exti]^ from whom 
Seneca derived much of his ethical enthusiasm, probably 
belonged to this school. He taught a morality apparently h 
identical with that of Stoicism in every point except thcf]! 
inculcation of abstinence from animal food.* To this might 
be added the practice of nightly self-confession — an ex- 
amination from the moral point of view of how one's whole 
day has been spent, — were we certain that the Stoics did not 
originate it for themselves.* 

The alliance between Neo-Pythagoreanism and Stoicism 
did not last long. Their fundamental principles were too 
radically opposed to admit of any reconciliation, except what 
could be effected by the absorption of both into a more 
comprehensive system. And Roman Stoicism, at least, was I 
too practical, too scientific, too sane, to assimilate what must I 
have seemed a curious amalgam of mathematical jugglery I 
and dreamy asceticism ; while the reputation of belonging to I 

« Pk. d. Gr,, III., b, pp. 88 flf. » Seneca, Epp., Ixiv., 2 ; cviii., 17. 

* Seneca, Delrdy III., xxxvi., i. 


what passed for a secret society would be regarded with 
particular dread in the vicinity of the imperial court, — it was, 
in fact, for this particular reason that the elder Seneca per- 
suaded his 3on to renounce the vegetarian diet which Sotion 
had induced him to adopt, — and the suspicious hostility of the 
public authorities may have had something to do with the 
speedy disappearance of Neo-Pythagoreanism from Rome.* 
On the other hand, so coarsely materialistic and utilitarian a 
doctrine as that of the Porch, must have been equally re- 
pulsive to the spiritualism which, while it discerned a deep 
kinship permeating all forms of animal existence, saw in the 
outward conditions of that existence only the prison or the 
tomb where a heaven-born exile lay immured in expiation 
of the guilt that had driven him from his former and well- 
nigh forgotten abode. Hence, after Seneca, we find the two 
schools pursuing divergent directions, the naturalism of the 
one becoming more and more contrasted with the spiritualism 
of the other. It has been mentioned how emphatically 
Marcus Aurelius rejected the doctrine of a future life, which, 
perhaps, had been brought under his notice as a tenet of the 
Neo- Pythagoreans. The latter, on their side, abandoned the 
Stoic cosmology for the more congenial metaphysics of Plato, 
which they enriched with some elements from Aristotle's 
system, but without in the least acknowledging their obliga- 
tions to those two illustrious masters. On the contrary, they 
professed to derive their hidden wisdom from certain alleged 
writings of Pythagoras and his earlier disciples, which, with 
the disregard for veracity not uncommon among mystics, 
they did not scruple to forge wholesale. As a consequence 
of their unfortunate activity, literature was encumbered with 
a mass of worthless productions, of which many fragments 
still survive, mixed, perhaps, with some genuine relics of old 
Italiote speculation, the extrication of which is, however, a 
task of almost insuperable difficulty. 

' Seneca, ^//., cviii., 22. 


It is only as a religious philosophy that Neo-Fyth^orean- 
ism can interest us here. Considered in this light, the prin- 
ciples of its adherents may be summed up under two heads. 
First, they taught the separate existence of spirit as opposed 
to matter. Unlilce the Stoics, they distinguished between God 
and Nature, although the y were not agre ed as \n whe^^pr their 
Supreme Being transcended the world or was immanen t in it. 
'1 his, however, did "(lot liiierftre wifH tJTeir fundamental con- 
tention, for either alternative is consistent with his absolute 
immateriality. In liVi* m^nngr^ tti^ v,^ e|pij| \^ ahsolntelv 
independent of t he body which it animates ; it hasejiialfijiand 
will contfnue to exist for ever. The whole object of ethics, 
or rather oTTeligion, is to enforce and illustrate this inde- 
pendence, to prevent the soul from becoming attached to its 
prison-house by indulgence in sensual pleasures, to guard its 
habitation against defiling contact with the more offensive 
forms of material impurity. Hence their recommendation of 
abstinence from wine, from animal food, and from marriage, 
their provisions for personal cleanliness, their use of linen 
instead of woollen garments, under the idea that a vegetable 
is purer than an animal tissue. The second article of the 
Pythagorean creed is that spirit, being superior to matter, has 
the power of interfering with and controlling its movements, 
that, being above space and time, it can be made manifest 
without any regard to the conditions which they ordinarily 
impose. To what an extent this belief was carried, is shown 
by the stories told of Pythagoras, the supposed founder of 
the school, and ApoUonius of Tyana, its still greater repre- 
sentative in the first century of our era. Both were credited 
with an extraordinary power of working miracles and of pre- 
dicting future events ; but, contrary to the usual custom of 
mytholc^ers, a larger measure of this power was ascribed to 
the one who lived in a more advanced stage of civilisation, 
and the composition of whose biography was separated by a 


comparatively short interval from the events which it professes 
to relate/ 


The most important result of the old Pythagorean teaching 
was, that it contributed a large element — somewhat too large, 
indeed, — to Plato's philosophy. Neo-Pythagoreanism bears 
precisely the same relation to that revived Platonism which 
was the last outcome of ancient thought. It will be remem- 
bered that the great controversy between Stoicism and 
Scepticism, which for centuries divided the schools of Athens, 
and was passed on by them to Cicero and his contemporaries, 
seemed tending towards a reconciliation based on a return to 
the founder of the Academy, when, from whatever cause, 
Greek speculation came to a halt, which continued until the 
last third of the first century after Christ. At that epoch, we 
find a great revival of philosophical interest, and this revival 
seems to have been maintained for at least a hundred years, 
that is to say, through the whole of what is called the age 
of the Antonines. In the struggle for existence among the 
rival sects which ensued, Platonism started with all the ad- 
vantages that a great inheritance and a great name could 
bestow. At the commencement of this period, we find the 
Academy once more professing to hold the doctrines of its 
founder in their original purity and completeness. Evidently 
the sober common-sense view of Antiochus had been dis- 
carded, and Plato's own writings were taken as an authoritative 
standard of truth. A series of industrious commentators 
undertook the task of elucidating their contents. Nor was it 
only in the schools that their influence was felt. The beauty 
of their style must have strongly recommended the Dialogues 
to the attention of literary men. Plutarch, the most consider- 
able Greek writer of his time, was a declared Platonist So 

* For a detailed account of the Neo-Pythagorean school, see Zeller, op, cit. , 
III., b, pp. 79-158, from which the above summary is entirely derived. 


also was the brilliant African novelist, Apuleius, who flourished 
under Marcus Aurelius. Celsus, the celebrated anti-Christian 
controversialist, and Maximus, the Tyrian rhetorician, professed 
the same allegiance ; and the illustrious physiologist Galen 
shows traces of Platonic influence. Platonism, as first consti- 
tuted, had been an eminently religious philosophy, and its 
natural tendencies were still further strefigthened at the period 
of its revival by the great religious reaction which we have 
been studying in the present chapter; while, conversely, in the 
struggle for supremacy among rival systems, its affinities with 
the spirit of the age gave it an immense advantage over the 
sceptical and materialistic philosophies, which brought it into 
still closer sympathy with the currents of popular opinion. 
And its partisans were drawn even further in the same direc- 
tion by the influence of Neo-Pythagoreanism, representing, as 
this did, one among the three or four leading principles which 
Plato had attempted to combine. 

The chief theological doctrines held in common by the 
two schools, were the immortality of the soul and the existence 
of daemons. These were supposed to form a class of spiritual 
beings, intermediate between gods and men, and sharing to 
some extent in the nature of both. According to Plutarch, 
though very long-lived, they are not immortal; and he 
quotes the famous story about the death of Pan in proof of 
his assertion ; > but, in this respect, his opinion is not shared 
by Maximus Tyrius, who expressly declares them to be im- 
mortal ; and, indeed, one hardly sees how the contrary could 
have been maintained consistently with Platonic principles ; 
for, if the human soul never dies, much less can spirits of a 
higher rank be doomed to extinction. As a class, the 
daemons are morally imperfect beings, subject to human 
passions, and capable of wrong-doing. Like men also, they 
are divided into good and bad. The former kind perform 
providential and retributive offices on behalf of the higher 

' De Defect, Orac^ xvii., p. 419. * Diss,^ I., xv., 2. 


gods, inspiring oracles, punishing crime, and succouring dis- 
tress. Those who permit themselves to be influenced by- 
improper motives in the discharge of their appointed functions, 
are degraded to the condition of human beings. The bad 
and morose sort are propitiated by a gloomy and self-tor- 
menting worship.* By means of the imperfect character thus 
ascribed to the daemons, a way was found for reconciling 
the purified theology of Platonism with the old Greek 
religion. To each of the higher deities there is attached, we 
are told, a daemon who bears his name and is frequently 
confounded with him. The immoral or unworthy actions 
narrated of the old gods were, in reality, the work of their 
inferior namesakes. This theory was adopted by the Fathers 
of the Church, with the difference, however, that they altogether 
suppressed the higher class of Platonic powers, and identified 
the daemons with the fallen angels of their own mythology. 
This is the reason why a word which was not originally used 
in a bad sense has come to be synonymous with devil. 

It was in p erfect agc pr^anr^ with th p Spirit of Greek 
philosophy, and more particularly of Platonism, that a con- 
jcting link should be interposed between earth and heaven, 
theliumAtt Ulld the diViiie, especially when, as at this time, 
the supreme creator had come to be isolated in solitary- 
splendour from the rest of existence ; but it would be a mis- 
take to suppose that the daemons were invented for the pur- 
pose to which they were applied. We find them mentioned 
by Hesiod ; ^ and they probably represent an even older 
phase of religious thought than the Olympian gods, being, in 
fact, a survival of that primitive psychism which peopled the"^ 
whole universe with life and animation. This becomes still 
clearer when we consider that they are described, both under 
their earliest and their latest Greek form, as being, in part at 
least, human souls raised after death to a higher sphere of 

* Plutarch, De Is. et Osir,y xxv. and xx\n ; De Fac, in Orbe Lun., xxx. 

» Op, et /?., 12a 


activity. Among these, Maximus Tyrius includes the demi- 
gods of mythology, such as Ascl^pius and Heracles, who, 
as we have seen, were objects of particular veneration under 
the empire.* Thus daemon-worship combined three different 
elements or aspects of the supematuralist movement : — the 
free play given to popular imagination by the decay or de- 
struction of the aristocratic organisation of society and religion, 
the increasing tendency to look for a perpetuation and eleva- 
tion of human existence, and the convergence of philosophical 
speculation with popular faith. 

Daemonism, however, does not fill a very great place in 
the creed of Plutarch ; and a comparison of him with his 
successors shows that the saner traditions of Greek thought 
only gradually gave way to the rising flood of ignorance and 
unreason. It is true that, as a moralist, the philosopher of 
Chaeronea considered religion of inestimable importance to 
human virtue and human happiness ; while, as a historian, he 
accepted stories of supernatural occurrences with a credulity 
recalling that of Livy and falling little short of Dion Cassius. 
Nor did his own Platonistic monotheism prevent him from 
extendmg a very generous intellectual toleration to the 
different forms of polytheism which he found everywhere pre- 
vailing.^ In this respect, he and probably all the philosophers 
of that and the succeeding age, the Epicureans, the Sceptics, 
and some of the Cynics alone excepted, offer a striking con- 
tradiction to one of Gibbon's most celebrated epigrams. To 
them the popular religions were not equally false but equally 
true, and, to a certain extent, equally useful. Where Plutarch 
drew the line was at what he called Deisidaimonia, the 
frightful mental malady which, as already mentioned, began to 
afflict Greece soon after the conquests of Alexander. It is 
generally translated superstition, but has a much narrower 
meaning. It expresses the beliefs and feelings of one who lives 
in perpetual dread of provoking supernatural vengeance, not 

* Diss,, I, XV., 7. * Zeller, III., b, pp. 189 ff. 


by wrongful behaviour towards his fellow-men, nor even by 
intentional disrespect towards a higher power, but by the 
neglect of certain ceremonial observances ; and who is con- 
stantly on the look-out for heaven-sent prognostications of 
calamities, which, when they come, will apparently be inflicted 
from sheer ill-will, Plutarch has devoted one of his most 
famous essays to the castigation of this weakness. He 
deliberately prefers atheism to it, showing by an elaborate 
comparison of instances that the former — with which, however, 
he has no sympathy at all — is much less injurious to human 
happiness, and involves much less real impiety, than such a 
constant attribution of meaningless malice to the gods. One 
example of Deisidaimonia adduced by Plutarch is Sabba- 
tarianism, especially when carried, as it had recently been by 
the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem, to the point of entirely 
suspending military operations on the day of rest* That the 
belief in daemons, some of whom passed for being malevolent 
powers, might yield a fruitful crop of new superstitions, does 
not seem to have occurred to Plutarch ; still less that the 
doctrine of future torments of which, following Plato's 
example, he was a firm upholder, might prove a terror to 
others besides offenders against the moral law, — especially 
when manipulated by a class whose interest it was to 
stimulate the feeling in question to the utmost possible 

When we pass from Plutarch to Maximus Tyrius and Apu- 
leius, the darkness grows perceptibly thicker, and is no longer 
broken by the lucida tela diet with which the Theban thinker 
had combated at least one class of mistaken beliefs. These 
writers are so occupied with developing the positive aspects 
of supematuralism — daemonology, divination, and thauma- 
tui^ — that they can find no place for a protest against its 
extravagances and perversions ; nor is their mysticism 
balanced by those extensive applications of philosophy to 

» De SuferstiL^ viii., p. 169. 


real life, whether under the form of biography or of discourses 
on practical morality, which enabled Plutarch's mind to pre- 
serve an attitude of comparative sobriety and calmness. 
Hence while Maximus is absolutely forgotten, and Apuleius 
remembered only as an amusing story-teller, Plutarch has 
been perhaps the most successful interpreter between Greek 
humanity and modern thought. His popularity is now 
rapidly declining, but the influence exercised by his writings 
on characters differing so much from one another and from 
his own as those of Montaigne, Rousseau, and Wordsworth, 
suffices to prove, if any proof be needed, how deep and wide 
were the sympathies which they once evoked. 

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 I sis an d 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_thfi._.other hand^ addresses her, or 
makes his hero address her, in the following enthusiastic 
language : — 

Holy everlasting Saviour of the human race ! Bounteous nurse of 
mortals ! Tender mother of the afflicted ! Not for a day or night 
nor even for one little moment dost thou relax thy care for men, 
driving away the storms of life and stretching forth to them the 
right hand of deliverance, wherewith thou dost unravel even the 
tangled threads of fate, soothe the storms of fortime, and restrain 
the hurtful courses of the stars. The gods above adore thee, the 
gods below respect ; thou dost cause the heavens to roll, the sun to 
shine ; the world thou rulest, and treadest Tartarus under foot To 
thee the stars reply, for thee the seasons come again ; in thee the 
deities rejoice, and thee the elements obey. At thy nod the breezes 
blow, the clouds drop fatness, the seeds germinate and seedlings 
spring. But my wit is small to celebrate thy praises, my fortune 


poor to pay thee sacrifices, the abundance of my voice does not 
suffice to tell what I think of thy majesty, nor would a thousand 
tongues nor an unwearied and everlasting flow of speech. There- 
fore what alone religion joined to poverty can achieve, I will provide : 
an image of thy divine countenance and most holy godhead, guarded 
for perpetual contemplation within the recesses of my heart* 

Doubtless the cool intellect of a Greek and the fervid 
temperament of an African would always have expressed 
themselves in widely different accents. What we have to 
note is that the one was now taking the place of the other 
because the atmosphere had been heated up to a point as 
favourable to passion as it was fatal to thought 

After Apuleius, Platonism, outside the lecture rooms of 
Athens, becomes identified with Pythagoreanism, and both 
with dogmatic theology. In this direction, philosophy was 
feeling its way towards a reconciliation with two great 
Oriental religions, Hebrew monotheism and Medo-Persian 
dualism. The first advances had come from religion. Aris- 
tobulus, an Alexandrian Jew (B.C. i6o), was apparently the 
first to detect an analogy between the later speculations of 
Plato and his own hereditary faith. Both taught that the 
world Had been created by a single supreme God. Both 
were penetrated with the purest ethical ideas. Both associated 
sensuality and idolatry in the same vehement denunciations. 
The conclusion was obvious. What had been supematurally 
revealed to the chosen people could not have been discovered 
elsewhere by a simple exercise of human reason. Plato must 
have borrowed his wisdom from Moses.' At a later period, 
the celebrated Philo, following up the clue thus furnished, 
proceeded to evolve the whole of Greek philosophy from the 
Pentateuch. An elaborate system ")f il^^y-'rin^ fnttr rr^^tn 
tion, borrowed from t he StoJ CfTv^fts the instrument with which 
he effected his enterprise. The result was what might have 
been foreseen — a complete Hellenisation of Hebrew religion. 

' Mctamorph.^ XI., xxv. * Zellcr, III,, b, pp. 257 ff. 


Circumscription, antithesis, and mediation were, as we know, 
the chief moments of Greek thought. Philo rearranged his 
monotheistic system according to the scheme which they 
supplied. He first determined the divine unity with such 
logical precision as to place God out of relation to the world. 
Then, in the true Greek spirit, he placed at the other end of 
his metaphysical scale matter — the shifting, formless, shadowy 
residuum left behind when every ideal element has been 
thought away from the world. So conceived, matter became, 
what it had been to Plato, the principle of all evrl, and there- 
fore something with which God could not possibly be brought 
into contact. Accordingly, the process of creation is made 
intelligible by the interposition of a connecting link in the 
shape of certain hypostasised divine attributes or forces, repre- 
sented as at the same time belonging to and distinct from the 
divine personality. Of these the most important are the 
goodness to which the world owes its origin, and the power 
by which it is governed. Both are united in the Logos or 
W2H Thil ^''^t i^^^T " which^ bv the way, was derived not 
frnm Plafr> |^^|{- ^rry^ iht S^QJ^g — g^ His up i n itselt' the totaTity 
of mediatorial functions by which God and the world are put 
into communication with one another. In like manner, Plato 
had interposed a universal soul between his Ideas and the 
world of sensible appearances, and had pointed to an arrange- 
ment of the Ideas themselves by which we could ascend in 
thought to a contemplation of the absolute good. There 
seems, however, to be a difference between the original 
Hellenic conception and the same conception as adapted to 
Oriental ways of thinking. With Plato, as with every other 
Greek philosopher, a mediator is introduced not for the 
purpose of representing the supreme ideal to us nor of trans- 
mitting our aspirations to it, but of guiding and facilitating 
our approach to it, of helping us to a perfect apprehension 
and realisation of its meaning. With Philo, on the contrary, 
the relation of the Logos to God is much the same as that of 


I I /^ 


Is, Grand Vizier to an Oriental Sultan. And, from this point of 
W^ view, it is very significant that he should compare it to the 
/ high-priest who lays the prayers of the people before the 
eternal throne, especially when we couple this with his 
declaration that the Logos is the God of us imperfect beings, 
the first God being reserved for the contemplation of those 
•who are wise and perfect.* 

Such a system was likely to result, and before long actually 
.did result, in the realisation of the Logos on earth, in the 
creation of an inspired and infallible Church, mediating 
between God and man; while it gave increased authority and 
•expansive power to another superstition which already existed 
in Philo's time, and of which his Logos doctrine was perhaps 
only the metaphysical sublimation, — the superstition that the 
divine Word has been given to mankind under the form of an 
infallible book. From another point of view, we may discern 
a certain connexion between the idea that God would be 
defiled by any immediate contact with the material world, 
and the Sabbatarianism which was so rife among Gentiles as 
well ^s among Jews at that period. For such a theory of the 
divine character readily associates itself with the notion that 
holiness excludes not only material industry but any interest 
the scope of which is limited to our present life. 

That Philo's interpretation of Platonism ultimately reacted 
on Greek thought seems certain, but at what date his in- 
fluence began to tell, and how far it reached, must remain 
undecided. Plutarch speaks of God*s purity and of his tran- 
scendent elevation above the universe in language closely re- 
sembling that of the Alexandrian Jew, with whose opinions 
he may have been indirectly acquainted.' We have already 
seen how the daemons were employed to fill up the interval 
thus created, and what serious concessions to popular super- 
stition the belief in their activity involved. Still Plutarch 

* For references, see Ritter and Prcller, Hut, PAi/,, pp. 467-73. 
' For references, see Zeller, III., b, pp. 148 f. 


does not go so far as to say that the world was not created 
by God. This step was taken by Numenius, a philosopher 
who flourished about the middle of the second century, and 
who represents the complete identification of Platonism with 
Pythagorean ism, already mentioned as characteristic of the 
period following that date. Numenius is acquainted with 
Philo's speculations, and accepts his derivation of Platonism 
from the Pentateuch. * What,' he asks, * is Plato but a Moses 
writing in the Attic dialect ? ' * He also accepts the theory 
that the world was created by a single intermediate agent, 
whom, however, he credits with a much more distinct and 
independent personality than Philo could see his way to 
admitting. And he regards the human soul as a fallen spirit 
whose life on earth is the consequence of its own sinful 
desires. From such fancies there was but a single step to 
the more thorough-going dualism which looks on the material 
world as entirely evil, and as the creation of a blind or 
malevolent power. This step had already been taken by 
Gnosticism. The system so called summed up in itself, 
more completely, perhaps, than any other, all the con- 
vergent or conflicting ideas of the age. Greek mythology 
and Greek philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Chris- 
tianity each contributed an element to the fantastic and 
complicated scheme propounded by its last great represen- 
tative, Valentinus. This teacher pitches his conception of the 
supreme God even higher than Philo, and places him, like 
Plato's absolute Good, outside the sphere of being. From 
him — or it— -as from a bottomless gulf proceed avast series of 
emanations ending in the Demiurgus or creator of the visible 
world, whose action is described, in language vividly recalling 
the speculations of certain modern metaphysicians, as an 
enormous blunder. For, according to Gnosticism, the world 
is not merely infected with evil by participation in a material 
principle, it is evil altogether, and a special intervention of 

* Suidas, quoted by Ritter and PrcUcr, p. 485. 

s 2 


the higher powers is needed in order to undo the work of its 
delirious author.* Here we have a particular side of Plato's 
philosophy exaggerated and distorted by contact with 
Zoroastrian dualism. In the Statesman there is a mythical 
description of two alternate cycles, in one of which the world 
is governed by a wise providence, while in the other things 
are abandoned to themselves, and move in a direction the 
reverse of that originally imposed on them. It is in the 
latter cycle that Plato supposes us to be moving at present* 
Again, after having been long content to explain the origin of 
evil by the resistance of inert matter to the informing power of 
ideal goodness, Plato goes a step further in his latest work, 
the LawSy and hazards the hypothesis of an evil soul actively 
counterworking the beneficent designs of God.' And we find 
the same idea subsequently taken up by Plutarch, who sees 
in it the most efficient means for exonerating God from all 
share in the responsibility for physical disorder and moral 
wrong.* But both master and disciple restricted the infiuence 
of their supposed evil soul within very narrow limits, and 
they would have repudiated with horror such a notion as that 
the whole visible world is a product of folly or of sin. 

Gnostic pessimism marks the extreme point of aberra- 
tion to which Greek thought was drawn by the attraction of 
Oriental superstition. How it was rescued from destruction 
by a new systematisation of its ancient methods and results 
will be explained in another chapter. 

* Vachcrot, Histoire de VEcoU (TAlexandrU^ pp. 214-17 ; Zeller, III., b, 
pp. 387 if. The original authority is Irenaeus. 

« Politicus, p. 270 if. 

» Lfgg,, X., pp. 896, D ff, 898, C, 904, A. 

* De Isid. et Osir., xlv. f. ; Ve Vir. Moral, ^ ill. ; De Anim. Procr,^ v., 5. 
Plutarch supposes that the irrational soul in man is derived from the evil world- 
soul which he regards rather as senseless than as Satanic. It would thus very 
closely resemble the delirious Demiurgus of Valentinus and the * absolut^tumme * 
of Eduard v. Hartmann. 



In conclusion, a few words may profitably be devoted 
to the question whether the rationalistic movement of our 
own age is likely to be followed by such another super- 
naturalist reaction as that which made itself so powerfully 
felt during the first centuries of Roman imperialism. There 
is, no doubt, a certain superficial resemblance between the 
world of the Caesars and the world in which we live. Every* /j 
where we see aristocracies giving way to more centralised and ' 
equitable forms of government, the authority of which is 
sometimes concentrated in the hands of a single absolute 
ruler. Not only are the interests and wishes of the poorer ^A 
and less educated classes consulted with increasing anxiety, 
but the welfare of women is engrossing the attention of 
modern legislators to an even greater extent than was the 
case with the imperial jurists. Facilities for travelling, joined /^^ 
to the far-reaching combinations of modem statesmanship 
and modern strategy, are every day bringing Europe into 
closer contact with the religious life of Asia. The decay of \i\ 
traditional and organised theology is permitting certain forms ^^ 
of spontaneous and unorganised superstition to develope 
themselves once more, as witness the wide diffusion of 
..f'-spiritism, which is probably akin to the demonology and 
witchcraft of earlier ages, and would, no doubt, be similarly 
persecuted by the priests, — who, as it is, attribute spiritualistic 
manifestations to diabolical agency, — had they sufficient power 
for the purpose. Lastly, corresponding to the syncretism of / £? 
the Roman empire, we may observe a certain mixture and 
combination of religious principles, Catholic ideas being 
avowedly adopted by even the most latitudinarian Protest- 
ants, and Protestant influences entering into Catholicism, 
much more imperceptibly it is true, but probably to an equal 
extent, . 

The analogy between modern Europe and the Roman 


empire is, however, as we have already hinted, merely super- 
ficial. It has been shown in the course of our analysis that 
to ensure the triumph of superstition in the old world some- 
thing more was necessary than the destruction of aristocratic 
government Every feeling of liberty — except the liberty to^^ 
die — and almost every feeling of self-respect had to be/ 
crushed out by the establishment of an authoritative hier-/ 
archy extending from the Emperor down to the meanest 
slaves, before the voice of Hellenic reason could be hushed. 
But among ourselves it is rather of the opposite fault— of too 
Igreat independence and individualism — that complaints are 
heard. If we occasionally see a hereditary monarch or a 
popular minister invested with despotic power, this phenome- 
non is probably due to the circumstances of a revolutionai 
period, and will in course of time become more and more 
exceptional. Flatterers, parasites, and will- hunters are not 
an increasing but a diminishing class. Modern officers, as a ^^ 
body, show none of tliat contempt for reasoning and amen- 
ability to superstition which characterised the Roman cen- 
turions ; in France, military men are even distinguished for 
their deadly hatred of priests. And, what is more important 
than any other element in our comparison, the reserves which 
modern civilisation is bringing to the front are of a widely^— y 
different intellectual stature and equipment from their 
predecessors under Augustus and the Antonines. Since the 
reorganisation of industry by science, millions of working-men 
have received an education which prepares them to under- \i y^ 
stand the universality of law much better than the literary 
education given to their social superiors, which, indeed, bears 
a remarkable resemblance to the rhetorical and sophistical 
training enjoyed by the contemporaries of Maximus Tyrius 
and Apuleius. If as much cannot be said of the middle 
classes, they are at any rate far more enlightened than Roman 
provincials, and are likely to improve still further with the 
spread of education— ^another peculiarly modern phenomenon. 


On this point we have, indeed, something better to argue 
from than d priori probabilities. We see before our eyes the 
rationalistic movement advancing pari passu with the demo- 
cratic movement, and, in some countries, overtly aided by it. 
To say that this alliance has been provoked by an accidental 
and temporary association of monarchy and aristocracy with 

/ / Church establishments, is a superficial explanation. The paid 

^ adv ocat es of delusion know well where their interest lies. 

They have learned by experience, that democracy means the 
education of the people, and that the education of the people 
I means the loss of their own prestige. And they know also: 
that, in many cases, the people are already sufficiently edu- 
cated to use political power, once they have obtained it, for 
the summary destruction of organised and endowed super- V^ 
stition. What has been said of popular influence applies 
equally to the influence of women. When they were either 
not educated at all or only received a literary education^ 
every improvement in their position was simply so muchr'xt^ 
ground gained for superstition. The prospect is very differ- 
ent now. Women are beginning to receive a training like 
that of men, or rather a training superior to what all but a 
very few men have hitherto enjoyed. And the result is that, 
wherever this experiment has been tried, they have flung 
aside traditional beliefs once supposed to be a necessity of 
their nature even more decisively and disdainfully than have 
the professors by whom they are taught. 

Once more, there was a cause of intellectual degeneration 
at work in the ancient world, which for us has almost ceased 
to exist. This was the flood of barbarism which envelope< 
and corrupted, long before it overwhelmed, the Hellenised 
civilisation of Rome. But if the danger of such an inundation 
is for ever removed, are we equally secure against the contagion 
of that intellectual miasma which broods over the multitu- 
dinous barbarian populations among whom we in turn are 
settling as conquerors and colonists ? Anyone choosing to. 




maintain die negative might point to the example of a famo us 
naturalist who, besides contributing largely to the advance- 
ment of his own special science, is also distinguished for high 
general culture, but whom long residence in the East Indies 
has fitted to be the dupe of impostures which it is a disgrace 
even for men and women of fashion to accept. Experience, 
however, teaches us that, so far at least, there is little danger 
to be dreaded from this quarter. Instead of being prone to 
superstition, Anglo-Indian society is described as prevailingly 
sceptical or even agnostic ; and, in fact, the study of theology 
in its lowest forms is apt to start a train of reflection not 
entirely conducive to veneration for its more modem develop- 
ments. For the rest, European enlightenment seems likely to 
spread faster and farther among the conquered, than Oriental 
darkness among the conquering race. 

So far, we have only considered belief in its relation to the 
re-distribution of political, social, and national forces. But 
behind .all such forces there is a deeper and more perennial 
cause of intellectual revolution at work. There is now in the 
world an organised and ever-growing mass of scientific truth 
at least a thousand times greater and a thousand times more 
diffused than the amount of positive knowledge possessed by 
mankind in the age of the Antonines. What those truths can 
do in the future may be inferred from what they have already 
done in the past. Even the elementary science of Alexandria, 
though it could not cope with the supernaturalist reaction of 
the empire, proved strong enough, some centuries later, to 
check the flood of Mahometan fanaticism, and for a time to 
lead captivity captive in the very strongholds of militant 
theological belief. When, long afterwards, Jesuitism and /T) 
Puritanism between them threatened to reconquer all that the \ 
humanism of the Renaissance had won from superstition, 
when all Europe from end to end was red with the blood or 
blackened with the death-fires of heretics and witches, science, 
which had meanwhile been silently layin the foundations of 



a new kingdom, had but to appear before the eyes of men, 
and they left the powers of darkness to follow where she led. 
When the follies and excesses of the Revolution provoked 
another intellectual reaction, her authority reduced it to a 
mere mimicry and shadow of the terrible revenges by which 
analogous epochs in the past history of opinion had been 
signalised. And this was at a time when the materials of 
reaction existed in abundance, because the rationalistic move- 
ment of the eighteenth century had left the middle and lower 
classes untouched. At the present moment, Catholicism has 
no allies but a dispirited, half-sceptical aristocracy ; and any 
appeal to other quarters would show that her former reserves 
have irrevocably passed over to the foe. What is more, she 
has unconsciously been playing the game of rationalism for 
fifteen centuries. By waging a me rciless warfare on every 
o ther form o L superstiti on, she has done her best to_d.rx up .the 
^^f^rc?^ ftf r^lig^'^US ^^li^f ThnQP> whom she calls heathens 
and pagans lived in an atmosphere of supernaturalism which 
rendered them far less apt pupils of philosophy than her own 
children are to-day. It was harder to renounce what she 
took away than it will be to renounce what she has left, when 
the truths of science are seen by all, as they are now seen by a 
few, to involve the admission that there is no object for our 
devotion but the welfare of sentient beings like ourselves ; that 
there are no changes in Nature for which natural forces will 
not account ; and that the unity of all existence has, for us, no 
individualisation beyond the finite and perishable conscious* 
ness of man. 





Among the most interesting of Plutarch's religious writ- 
ings is one entitled On the Delays in the Divine Vengeance. 
As might be expected from the name, it deals with a 
problem closely akin to that which ages before had been 
made the subject of such sublime imagery and such incon- 
clusive reasoning by the author of the Book of Job. What 
troubled the Hebrew poet was the apparently undeserved 
suffering of the just. What the Greek moralist feels himself 
called on to explain is the apparent prosperity and impunity 
of the wicked. He will not for a moment admit that crime 
remains unavengeful ; his object is to show why the retribu- 
tion does not follow directly on the deed. And, in order to 
account for this, he adduces a number of very ingenious 
reasons. By acting deliberately rather than in blind anger, 
the gods wish to read us a useful lesson in patience and 
forbearance. Sometimes their object is to give the sinner an 
opportunity for repentance and amendment ; or else they 
may be holding him in reserve for the performance of some 
beneficial work. At other times, their justice is delayed only 
that it may be manifested by some signal and striking form of 
retribution. In many cases, the final stroke has been pre- 
ceded by long years of secret torment ; and even where no 
suffering seems to be inflicted, the pangs of remorse may 
furnish a sufficient expiation. Or again, vengeance may be 
reserved for a future generation. Some persons hold that to 


visit the sins of the fathers on the children is unjust, but in 
this they are profoundly mistaken. Members of the same 
family and citizens of the same state are connected as parts 
of one organic whole ; sharing in the benefits which accrue 
from the good deeds of their predecessors, it is right that 
they should also share in the responsibility for their crimes. 
Moreover, the posterity of the wicked inherit a sinful dis- 
position which, as the gods can clearly foresee, would betray 
itself in overt acts were they not cut off in their youth. And 
it is equally an error to suppose that the original wrong- 
doers remain unaffected by the retribution which befalls their 
descendants. On the contrary, they witness it from the next 
world, where it adds poignancy to their remorse, and entails 
on them fresh penalties over and above those which they have 
already been doomed to suffer. 

Thus with Plutarch, as with his master Plato, a future 
world is the grand court of appeal from the anomalies and 
inequalities of this world ; and, following the example of the 
Gorgias and the Republic^ he reserves to the last a terrible 
picture of the torments held in store for those who have not 
expiated their transgressions on earth, describing them as 
they are supposed to have been witnessed by a human soul 
temporarily separated from the body for the purpose of view- 
ing and reporting on this final manifestation of divine justice. 
It would appear, however, from the narrative in question that 
future punishments are not eternal. After a more or less 
protracted period of expiation, the immortal soul is restored 
to the upper world, under whatever embodiment seems most 
appropriate to its former career. Among those whose turn 
has arrived for entering on a new existence at the moment 
when Plutarch's visitor makes his descent to hell, is the soul 
of Nero. The wicked Emperor has just been condemned to 
assume the form of a viper, when a great light shines forth, 
and from the midst of the light a voice is heard crying : ' Let 
him reappear under the guise of a song-bird haunting the 


neighbourhood of marshes and meres; for he has already 
paid the penalty of his guilt, and the gods owe him some 
kindness for having liberated Greece, the best and most 
beloved by them of all the nations that he ruled.' 

It would seem from this singular and touching expression 
of gratitude that the deathless idealism of Hellas found in 
Nero's gift of a nominal liberty ample compensation for the 
very real and precious works of art of which she was despoiled 
on the occasion of his visit to her shores. At first sight, that 
visit looks like nothing better than a display of triumphant 
buffoonery on the one side and of servile adulation on the 
other. But, in reality, it was a turning-point in the history of 
civilisation, the awakening to new glories of a race in whom 
life had become, to all outward appearance, extinct For 
more than a whole century the seat of intellectual supremacy 
had been established in Rome ; and during the same period 
Rome herself had turned to the West rather than to the East 
for renovation and support. Caesar's conquests were like the 
revelation of a new world ; and three times over, when the 
two halves of the divided empire came into collision, the 
champion who commanded the resources of that world had 
won. Henceforth it was to her western provinces and to her 
western frontiers that Rome looked for danger, for aggrandise- 
ment, or for renown. In Horace's time, men asked each other 
what the warlike Cantabrians were planning ; and the personal 
presence of Augustus himself was needed before those unruly 
Iberians could be subdued. His adopted sons earned their 
first laurels at the expense of Alpine mountaineers. His 
later years are filled with German campaigns ; and the great 
disaster of Varus must have riveted attention more closely 
than any victory to what was passing between the Rhine and 
the Elbe. Under Claudius, the conquest of Britain opened a 
new source of interest in the West, and, like Germany before, 
supplied a new title of triumph to the imperial family. U«if^ 
the literary talent in Rome, the two Senecas, Lucan, and at a 


later period Martial and Quintilian, came from Spai»r^s also 
did Trajan, whose youth fall in this period. 

With Nero*s visit to Greece in 66 the reaction begins. 
When, a few years later, the empire was disputed between 
a general from Gaul and a general from Syria, it was the 
candidate of the Eastern legions who prevailed ; the revolt of 
Judaea drew attention to Eastern affairs ; and the great 
campaigfns of Trajan must have definitely turned the tide of 
public interest in that direction, notwithstanding the far- 
sighted protest of Tacitus. On more peaceful ground, 
Hadrian's Asiatic tours and his protracted residence in 
Athens completed the work inaugurated by Nero. In his 
reign, the intellectual centre of gravity is definitely transferred 
to Greece ; and Roman literature, after its last blaze 
splendour under Trajan, becomes extinct, or survives only 
in forms borrowed from the sophistical rhetoric of the East. 

Plutarch, who was twenty-one when Nero declared his 
country free, was the first leader in the great Hellenist 
revival, without, at the same time, entiiely belonging to it 
He cared more for the matter than for the form of antiquity, 
for the great deeds and greater thoughts of the past than for 
the words in which they were related and explained. Hence, 
by the awkwardness and heaviness of his style, he is more 
akin to the writers of the Alexandrian period than to his 
immediate successors. On the one side, he opens the era of ^ 
classical idealism ; on the other, he closes that of encyclo- |^ 
paedic erudition. The next generation bore much the same ' 
relation to Plutarch that the first Sophists bore to Hecataeus 
and Herodotus. Addressing themselves to popular audiences, 
they were obliged to study perspicuity and elegance of ex- 
pression, at the risk, it is true, of verbosity and platitude. 
Such men were Dion Chrysostom, Her6des Atticus, Maxi- 
mus Tyrius, and Aristeides. But the old models were 
imitated with more success by writers who lived more en- 
tirely in the past. Arrian reproduced the graceful simplicity 


of Xenophon in h's narrative of the campaigns of Alexander 
and his reports of the lectures of Epict^tus. Lucian com- 
posed dialogues ranking with the greatest masterpieces of 
lighter Attic literature. The felicity of his style and his 
complete emancipation from superstition may probably be 
traced to the same source — a diligent study of the ancient 
classics. It is certain that neither as a writer nor as a critic 
does he represent the average educated taste of his own 
times. So far from giving polytheism its deathblow, as he 
was formerly imagined to have done, he only protested un- 
availingly against its restoration. 

Not only oratory and literature, but philosophy and science 
were cultivated with renewed vigour. The line between 
philosophy and sophisticism was not, indeed, very distinctly 
drawn. Epict^tus severely censures the moral teachers of his 
time for ornamenting their lectures with claptrap rhetoric 
about the battle of Thermopylae or flowery descriptions of 
Pan and the Nymphs.* And the professed declaimers similarly 
drew on a store of philosophical commonplaces. This sort of 
popular treatment led to the cultivation of ethics and theology 
in preference to logic and metaphysics, and to an eclectic 
blending of the chief systems with one another. A severer 
method was inculcated in the schools of Athens, especially 
after the endowment of their professors by Marcus Aurelius ; 
but, in practice, this came to mean what it means in modern \ \ 
universities, the substitution of philology for independentrT^ 
enquiry. The question was not so much what is true as wha^— -j^ 
did Plato or Aristotle really think. Alexandrian science ^ 
showed something of the same learned and traditional cha- 
racter in the works of Ptolemy ; but the great name of Galen 
marks a real progress in physiology, as well as a return to the 
principles of Hippocrates. 

Thus, so far as was possible in such altered circumstances, 
did the Renaissance of the second century reproduce the 

* Diss.i III., xxiii. 


intellectual environment from which Plato's philosophy had 
sprung. In literature, there was the same attention to words 
rather than to things ; sometimes taking the form of exact 
scholarship, after the manner of Prodicus ; sometimes of loose 
and superficial declamation, after the manner of Gorgias. 
There was the naturalism of Hippias, elaborated into a system 
by the Stoics, and practised as a life by the new Cynics. 
There was the hedonism of Aristippus, inculcated under a 
diluted form by the Epicureans. There was the old Ionian 
materialism, professed by Stoics and Epicureans alike. There 
was the scepticism of Protagoras, revived by Aenesid^mus— -\^ 
and his followers. There was the mathematical mysticism of 
the Pythagoreans, flourishing in Egypt instead of in southern 
Italy. There was the purer geometry of the Alexandrian 
Museum, corresponding to the school of Cyr^nd. On all 
sides, there was a mass of vague moral preaching, without any 
attempt to exhibit the moral truths which we empirically 
know as part of a comprehensive metaphysical philosophy. 
And, lastly, there was an immense undefined religious move- 
ment, ranging from theologies which taught the spirituality of 
God and of the human soul, down to the most irrational and 
abject superstition. We saw in the last chapter how, corre- 
sponding to this environment, there was a revived Platonism, 
that Platonism was in fact the fashionable philosophy of that 
age, just as it afterwards became the fashionable philosophy 
of another Renaissance thirteen centuries later. But it was a 

r Platonism with the backbone of the system taken out. Plato's 
thoughts all centred in a carefully considered scheme for the 
moral and political regeneration of society. Now, with the 
destruction of Greek independence, and the absorption every- 
where of free city-states into a vast military empire, it might 
seem as if the realisation of such a scheme had become 
altogether impracticable. The Republic was, indeed, at that 
moment realising itself under a form adapted to the altered 
exigencies of the time ; but no Platonist could as yet recognise 



in the Christian Church even an approximate fulfilment of his 
master's dream. Failing any practical issue, there remained 
the speculative side of Plato's teaching. His writings did not 
embody a complete system, but they offered the materials 
whence a system could be framed. Here the choice lay 
between two possible lines of construction ; and each had, in 
fact, been already attempted by his own immediate disciples. 
One was the Pythagorean method of the Old Academy, what 
■^Aristotle contemptuously called the conversion of philosophy 
into mathematics. We saw in the last chapter how the revived 
Platonism of the first and second centuries entered once more 
on the same perilous path, a path which led farther and 
farther away from the true principles of Greek thought, and 
of Plato himself when his intellect stood at its highest point of 
splendour. Neo-Pythagorean mysticism meant an unrecon- 
ciled dualism of spirit and matter ; and as the ultimate con- 
sequence of that dualism, it meant the substitution of magical 
incantations and ceremonial observances for the study of 
reason and virtue. Moreover, it readily allied itself with 
Oriental beliefs, which meant a negation of natural law that— |- 
the Greeks could hardly tolerate, and, under the form of Gnostic 
pessimism, a belief in the inherent depravity of Nature that-^ 
they could not tolerate at all. 

The other alternative was to combine the dialectical ideal- 
ism of Plato with the cosmology of early Greek thought, 
interpreting the two worlds of spirit and Nature as gradations 
of a single series and manifestations of a single principle. 
This was what Aristotle had attempted to do, but had not done 
so thoroughly as to satisfy the moral wants of his own age, or 
the religious wants of the age when a revived Platonism was 
seeking to organise itself into a system which should be the re- 
conciliation of reason and faith. Yet the better sort of Plato- 
nists felt that this work could not be accomplished without the 
assistance of Aristotle, whose essential agreement with their 
master, as against Stoicism, they fully recognised. Their 


mistake was to assume that this agreement extended to every 
point of his teaching. Taken in this sense, their attempted 
harmonies were speedily demolished by scholars whose pro- 
fessional familiarity with the original sources showed them 
how strongly Aristotle himself had insisted on the differences 
which separated him from the Academy and its founder.^ To 
identify the two great spiritualist philosophers being impos- 
sible, it remained to show how they could be combined. The 
solution of such a problem demanded more genius than was 
likely to be developed in the schools of Athens. An intenser 
intellectual life prevailed in Alexandria, where the materials 
of erudition were more abundantly supplied, and where contact 
with the Oriental religions gave Hellenism a fullerconsciousness 
of its distinction from and superiority to every other form of 
speculative activity. And here, accordingly, the fundamental 
idea of Neo-Platonism was conceived. 


Plotinus is not only the greatest and most celebrated of the 
Neo-Platonists, he is also the first respecting whose opinions 
we have any authentic information, and therefore the one who 
for all practical purposes must be regarded as the founder of 
the school. What we know about his life is derived from a 
biography written by his disciple Porphyry. This is a rather 
foolish performance ; but it possesses considerable interest, 
both on account of the information which it was intended to 
supply, and also as affording indirect evidence of the height 
to which superstition had risen during the third century of our 
era. Plotinus gave his friends to understand that he was born 
>i>in Egypt about 205 A.D. ; but so reluctant Vas he to mention 
any circumstance connected with his physical existence, that 
his race and parentage always remained a mystery. He 
showed somewhat more communicativeness in speaking of his 

• Zeller, Ph, d, Gr,, III., a, pp. 807 ff. 



mental history, and used to relate in after-life that at the age 
of twenty-eight he had felt strongly attracted to the study of 
philosophy, but remained utterly dissatisfied with what the 
most famous teachers of Alexandria had to tell him on the 
subject. At last he found in Ammonius Saccas the ideal 
sage for whom he had been seeking, and continued to attend 
his lectures for eleven years. At the end of that period, he 
joined an eastern expedition under the Emperor Gordian, for 
the purpose of making himself acquainted with the wisdom of 
the Persians and Indians, concerning which his curiosity 
seems to have been excited by Ammonius. But his hopes of 
further enlightenment in that quarter were not fulfilled. The 
campaign terminated disastrously ; the emperor himself fell 
t the head of his troops in Mesopotamia, and Plotinus had 
great difficulty in escaping with his life to Antioch. Soon 
afterwards he settled in Rome, and remained there until near 
the end of his life, when ill-health obliged him to retire to a 
country seat in Campania, the property of a deceased friend, 
Zfithus. Here the philosopher died, in the sixty-sixth year of 
his age. 

Plotinus seems to have begun his career as a public 
teacher soon after taking up his residence in Rome. His 
lectures at first assumed the form of conversations with his 
private friends. Apparently by way of reviving the traditions 
of Socrates and Plato, he encouraged them to take an active 
part in the discussion : but either he did not possess the 
authority of his great exemplars, or the rules of Greek dialogue 
were not very strictly observed in Rome ; for we learn from 
the report of an eye-witness that interruptions were far too 
frequent, and that a vast amount of nonsense was talked.* 
Afterwards a more regular system of lecturing was established, 
and papers were read aloud by those who had any observations 
to offer, as in our own philosophical societies. 

The new teacher gathered round him a distinguished 

* Porpb., Vita Pht,^ cap. ui. 


society, comprising not only professional philosophers, but also 
physicians, rhetors, senators, and statesmen. Among the last- 
mentioned class, Rogatianus, who filled the office of praetor, 
showed the sincerity of his conversion by renouncing the 
dignities of his position, surrendering his worldly possessions, 
limiting himself to the barest necessaries of life, and allowing 
himself to be dependent even for these on the hospitality of 
his friends. Thanks to this asceticism, he recovered the use 
of his hands and feet, which had before been completely 
crippled with gout.* 

The fascination exercised by Plotinus was not only 
intellectual. Tut gersoixal. Singularly affable, obliging, and 
patient, he was always ready to answer the questions of his 
friends, even laying aside his work in order to discuss the 
difficulties which they brought to him for solution. His / 
lectures were given in Greek ; and although this always re- 
mained to him a foreign language, the pronunciation and 
grammar of which he never completely mastered, his expres- 1 
sions frequently won admiration by their felicity and force ; ' 
and the effect of his eloquence was still further heightened by 
the glowing enthusiasm which irradiated his whole counte- 
nance, naturally a very pleasing one, during the delivery of 
the more impressive passages.* 

As might be expected, the circle of admirers which sur- 
rounded Plotinus included several women, beginning with his 
hostess Gemina and her daughter. He also stood high in the 
favour of the Emperor Galienus and his consort Salonina ; so 
much so, indeed, that they were nearly persuaded to let him 
try the experiment of restoring a ruined city in Campania, 
and governing it according to Plato's laws.' Porphyry attri- 
butes the failure of this project to the envy of the courtiers ; 

' Ibid,^ cap. vii. ' Ibid,^ cap. xiii. 

' Not, as is commonly stated, on the model of Plato's Republic, which would 
have been a far more difficult enterprise, and one little in accordance with the 
practical good sense shown on other occasions by Plotinus. 

T 2 


Hegel, with probably quite as much reason, to the sound 
judgment of the imperial ministers.^ 

Our philosopher had, however, abundant opportunity for 
showing on a more modest scale that lie was not destitute of 
I practical ability. So high did his character stand, that many 
.-Jv-persons of distinction, when they felt their end approaching, 
' brought their children to him to be taken care of, and 
entrusted their property to his keeping. As a result of the 
confidence thus reposed in him, his house was always filled 
with young people of both sexes, to whose education and 
material interests he paid the most scrupulous attention, ob- 
serving that as long as his wards did not make a profession 
of philosophy, their estates and incomes ought to be preserved 
unimpaired. It is also mentioned that, although frequently 
chosen to arbitrate in disputes, he never made a single enemy 
among the Roman citizens — a piece of good fortune which is 
more than one could safely promise to anyone similarly cir- 
cumstanced in an Italian city at the present day.^ 

Plotinus possessed a remarkable power of reading the 
characters and even the thoughts of those about him. It is 
said, probably with some exaggeration, that he predicted the 
future fate of all the boys placed under his care. Thus he 
foretold that a certain Polemo, in whom he took particular 
interest, would devote himself to love and die young ; which 
proved only too true, and may well have been anticipated by 
a good observer without the exercise of any supernatural 
prescience. As another instance of his penetration, we are 
told that a valuable necklace having been stolen from a 
widow named Chione, who lived in his house with her family, 
the slaves were all led into the presence of Plotinus that 
he might single out the thief. After a careful scrutiny, the 
philosopher put his finger on the guilty individual. The man 
at first protested his innocence, but was soon induced by 

' Porph., Vita^ cap. xii. ; Hegel, Gesch. d. Ph.^ III., p. 34. 
• Porph., Vita, cap. ix. 


an application of the whip to confess, and, what was a much 
more valuable verification of his accuser's insight, to restore 
the missing article. Porphyry himself could testify from 
personal experience to his friend's remarkable power of 
penetration. Being once about to commit suicide, Plotinus 
divined his intention, and told him that it proceeded, not from 
a rational resolution, but from a fit of the blues, as a remedy 
for which he prescribed change of scene, and this did in fact 
have the desired effect.^ 

Previous to his forty-ni nth year, Plotinus wrote nothing. 
All that age he began to compose short essays on subjects 
which suggested themselves in the course of his oral teaching. 
During the next ten years, he produced twenty-one such 

* Ihid.y xi. Leopard! has taken the incident referred to as the subject of one of 
his dialogues ; Plotinus, the great champion of optimism, being chosen, with bitter 
irony, to represent the Italian poet's own pessimistic views of life. The difficulty 
was to show how the Neo-Platonist philosopher could, consistently with the 
principles thus fathered on him, still continue to dissuade his pupil from commit- 
ting suicide. Leopardi voluntarily faces the argununtum ad hominem by which 
common sense has in all ages summarily disposed of pessimism : Then why don*t 
you kill yourself? ' (* Your philosophy or your life,* so to speak.) The answer is 
singularly lame. Porphyry is to think of the distress which hb death would cause 
to his friends. He might have replied that if the general misery were so great as 
Plotinus had maintained, a little more or less affliction would not make any ap- 
preciable difference ; that, considering the profound selfishness of mankind, an 
accepted article of faith with pessimism, his friends would in all probability easily 
resign themselves to his loss ; that, at any rate, the suffering inflicted on them 
would be a mere trifle compared to what he would himself be getting rid of ; and 
that, if the worst came to the worst, they had but to follow his example and ease 
themselves of all their troubles at a single stroke. A sincere pessimist would 
probably say : < I do not kill myself because I am afraid : and my very fear of 
death is a conclusive argument in favour of my creed. Nothing proves the deep- 
rooted necessity of pain more strongly than that we should refuse to profit by &o 
obvious a means of escaping from it as that oflered by suicide. * Of course where 
pessimism is associated with a belief in metempsychosis, as amoog the Buddhists, 
there is the best of reasons for not seeking a violent death, namely, that it would 
in all probability transfer the suicide to another and inferior grade of existence ; 
whereas, by using the opportunities of self-mortification which this world offers, 
he might succeed in extinguishing the vital principle for good and all. And 
Schopenhauer does, in fact, adopt the belief in metempsychosis just so far as 
is necessary to exclude the desirability of suicide from his philosophy. But the 
truth is, that while Asiatic pessimism is the logical consequence of a false metaphy- 
sical system, the analogous systems of European pessimists are simply an excuse 
for not pushing their disgust with life to its only rational issue. 


papers, some of them only a page or two in length. At the 
end of that period, he made the acquaintance of his future 
editor and biographer, Porphyry, a young student of Semitic^ 
extraction, whose original name was Malchus. The two soon 
became fast friends ; and whatever speculative differences at 
first divided them were quickly removed by an amicable 
controversy between Porphyry and another disciple named 
Amelius, which resulted in the unreserved adhesion of 
the former to the doctrine of their common master.* The 
literary activity of Plotinus seems to have been powerfully 
stimulated by association with the more methodical mind of 
Porphyry. During the five years * of their personal intercourse 
he produced nineteen essays, amounting altogether to three 
times the bulk of the former series. Eight shorter pieces 
followed during the period of failing health which preceded 
his death. Porphyry being at that time absent in Sicily, 
whither he had retired when suffering from the fit of depres- 
sion already mentioned. 

Porphyry observes that the first series of essays show the 
immaturity of youth — a period which he extends to what is 
generally considered the sufficiently ripe age of fifty-nine ; — 
the second series the full-grown power of manhood ; and the 
last the weakness of declining years. The truth is that his 
method of criticism, at least in this instance, was to judge of 
compositions as if their merit depended on their length, and 
perhaps also with reference to the circumstance whether their 
subject had or had not been previously talked over with 
himself. In point of fact, the earlier pieces include some of 
the very best things that Plotinus ever wrote ; and, taking 
them in the order of their composition, they form a connected 

* Porph., VitOy cap. xviii. 

• Porphyry says six, but there must be a mistake somewhere, as Plotinus was 
fifty-nine when their friendship began, and died in his sixty-sixth year ; while 
Porphyry's departure for Sicily took place two years l)efore that event, leaving, at 
most, five years during which their personal intercourse can have lasted, if the other 
dates are to be trusted. 


exposition of Neo-Platonic principles, to which nothing of 
importance was ever added. This we shall attempt to show 
in the most effectual manner possible by basing our own 
account of Neo-Platonism on an analysis of their contents ; 
and we strongly recommend them to the attention of all 
Greek scholars who wish to make themselves acquainted with 
Plotinus at first hand, but have not leisure to wade through 
the whole of his works. It may also be mentioned that the 
last series of essays are distinguished by the popular character 
of their subjects rather than by any evidence of failing powers, 
one of them, that on Providence,* being remarkable for the 
vigour and eloquence of its style. 

By cutting up some of the longer essays into parts, Por- 
phyry succeeded, much to his delight, in bringing the whole 
number up to fifty-four, which is a product of the two perfect 
numbers six and nine. He then divided them into six 
volumes, each containing nine books — the famous Enneads of 
Plotinus. His principle of arrangement was to bring together 
the books in which similar subjects were discussed, placing 
the easier disquisitions first. This disposition has been 
adhered to by subsequent editors, with the single exception 
of Kirchhoff, who has printed the works of Plotinus according 
to the order in which they were written.* Porphyry's scrupu- 
lous information has saved modem scholars an incalculable 
amount of trouble, but has not, apparently, earned all the 
gratitude it deserved, to judge by Zeller's intimation that the 
chronological order of the separate pieces cannot even now be 
precisely determined.' Unfortunately, what could have been 
of priceless value in the case of Plato and Aristotle, is of 
comparatively small value in the case of Plotinus. His 

> Enn,^ III., ii. and iii. 

' Plotini Opera recognovit Adolphus Kirchhoff, Lipsiae, 1856, in Teubner*s 
series of Greek and Latin authors. II. F. Miiller, the latest editor of Plotinus, 
has returned to the original arrangement by Enneads. His edition is accompanied 
by a very useful German translation, only half of which, however, has as yet 
appeared. (Berlin, 1878.) 

» Zeller, Ph, d, Gr,^ III., b, p. 472. (Third edition.) 



^stem must have been fully formed when he began to write, 
and the dates in our possession give no clue to the manner in 
which its leading principles were evolved.^ 

Such, so far as they can be ascertained, are the most 
important facts in the life of Plotinus. Interwoven with these, 
we find some legendary details which vividly illustrate the 
superstition and credulity of the age. It is evident from hi^ 
childish talk about the numbers s ix and nin e that Porphyry 
was imbued with Pythagorean ideas. Accordingly, his whole 
account of Plotinus is dominated by the wish to represent-K 
that philosopher under the guise of a Pythagorean saint, i 
We have already alluded to the manner in which he exalts 
his hero's remarkable sagacity into a power of supernatural 
prescience and divination. He also tells us, with the most 
unsuspecting good faith, how a certain Alexandrian philoso- 
pher whose jealousy had been excited by the success of his 
illustrious countryman, endeavoured to draw down the malig- 
nant influences of the stars on the head of Plotinus, but was 
obliged to desist on finding that the attack recoiled on him- 
self.^ On another occasion, an Egyptian priest, by way of 
exhibiting his skill in magic, offered to conjure up the daemon 
or guardian spirit of Plotinus. The latter readily consented, 
and the Temple of Isis was chosen for the scene of the opera- 
tions, as, according to the Egyptian, no other spot sufficiently 
pure for the purpose could be found in Rome. The incanta- 
tions were duly pronounced, when, much to the admiration of 
those present, a god made his appearance instead of the 
expected daemon. By what particular marks the divinity of 
the apparition was determined, Porphyry omits to mention. 
The philosopher was congratulated by his countryman on the 
possession of such a distinguished patron, but the celestial 
visitor vanished before any questions could be put to him. 
This mishap was attributed to a friend * who, either from envy 
or fear, choked the birds which had been given him to hold,* 

' Poqih., r/A;, iv. ff., xxiv. ff. * Ibid.y cap. x. 


and which seem to have played a very important part in the 
incantation, though what it was, we do not find more particu- 
larly specified.* 

Another distinguished compliment was paid to Plotinus 
after his death by no less an authority than the Pythian 
Apollo, who at this period had fully recovered the use of his 
voice. On being consulted respecting the fate of the philoso- 
pher's soul, the god replied by a flood of bombastic twaddle, 
in which the glorified spirit of Plotinus is described as released 
from the chain of human necessity and the surging uproar of 
the body, swimming stoutly to the storm-beaten shore, and 
mounting the heaven-illumined path, not unknown to him 
even in life, that leads to the blissful abodes of the im- 

In view of such tendencies, one hardly knows how much 
confidence is to be placed in Porphyry's well-known picture 
of his master as one who lived so entirely for spiritual in- 
terests that he seemed ashamed of having a body at all. We 
are told that, as a consequence of this feeling, he avoided the 
subject of his past life, refused to let his portrait be painted, 
neglected the care of his health, and rigorously abstained from 
animal food, even when it was prescribed for him under the 
form of medicine.^ All this may be true, but it is not very 
consistent with the special doctrines of Plotinus as recorded 
in his writings, nor should it be allov/ed to influence our 
interpretation of them. In his personal character and con- 
duct he may have allowed himself to be carried away by the 
prevalent asceticism and superstition of the age ; in his 
philosophy he is guided by the healthier traditions of Plato 
and Aristotle, and stands in declared opposition to the mysti- 
cism which was a negation of Nature and of life. 

How far Plotinus was indebted to Ammonius Sacciis for 
his speculative ideas is another question with respect to 
which the Pythagoreanising tendencies of his biographer may 

' Ibid. * Ibid.y cap. xxii. * Ibid,y capp. i. and ii. 


possibly have contributed to the diffusion of a serious mis- 
conception. What Porphyry tells us is this. Before leaving 
Alexandria, Plotinus had bound himself by a mutual agree- 
ment with two of his fellow-pupils, Herennius and Origines 
(not the Christian Father, but a pagan philosopher of the same 
age and name), to keep secret what they had learned by 
listening to the lectures of Ammonius. Herennius, however, 
soon broke the compact, and Origines followed his example. 
Plotinus then considered that the engagement was at an end, 
and used the results of his studies under Ammonius as the 
basis of his conversational lectures in Rome, the substance of 
which, we are left to suppose, was subsequently embodied in 
his published writings. But, as Zeller has pointed out, this 
whole story bears a suspicious resemblance to what is related 
of the early Pythagorean school. There also the doctrines 
of the master were regarded by his disciples as a mystery 
which they pledged themselves to keep secret, and were only 
divulged through the infidelity of one among their number, 
Philolaus. And the same critic proves by a careful examina- 
tion of what are known to have been the opinions of Origines 
and Longinus, both fellow-pupils of Plotinus, that they 
differed from him on some points of essential importance to 
his system. We cannot, therefore, suppose that these points 
were included in the teaching of their common master, 
Ammonius.* But if this be so, it follows that Plotinus was 
the real founder of the Neo-Platonic school ; and, in all cases, 
his writings remain the great source whence our knowledge of 
its first principles is derived. 


In point of style, Plotinus is much the most difficult ofV 
the ancient philosophers, and, in this respect, is only surpassed 
by a very few of the modems. Even Longinus, who was one 
of the most intelligent critics then living, and who, besides, 

* Zeller, op, ri/., pp. 451 ff. 


had been educated in the same school with our philosopher, 
could not make head or tail of his books when copies of 
them were sent to him by Porphyry, and supposed, after the 
manner of philologists, that the text must be corrupt, much 
to the disgust of Porphyry, who assures us that its accuracy 
was unimpeachable.* Probably politeness prevented Longinus 
from saying, what he must have seen at a glance, that Plotinus 
was a total stranger to the art of literary composition. We 
are told that he wrote as fast as if he were copying from a 
book ; but he had never mastered even the elements of the 
Greek language ; and the weakness of his eyesight prevented 
him from reading over what he had written. The mistakes in 
spelling and grammar Porphyry corrected, but it is evident 
that he has made no alterations in the general style of the 
Enneads\ and this is nearly as bad as bad can be — dis- 
^ — jointed, elliptical, redundant, and awkward. Chapter follows 
chapter and paragraph succeeds to paragraph without any 
fixed principle of arrangement ; the connexion of the 
sentences is by no means clear ; some sentences are almost 
unintelligible from their extreme brevity, others from their 
inordinate length and complexity. The unpractised hand of 
a foreigner constantly reveals itself in the choice and collo- 
cation of words and grammatical inflections. Predicates and 
subjects are huddled together without any regard to the 
harmonies of number and gender, so that even if false 
concords do not occur, we are continually annoyed by the 
suggestion of their presence.* 

But even the most perfect mastery of Greek would not 

* Porph., Vita, cap. xx, 

' A single example will make our meaning clear. Plotinus is trying to prove 
that there can be no Form without Matter. He first argues that if the notes 
of a concept can be separated from one another, this proves the presence of 
Matter, since divisibility is an affection belonging only to it. He then goes on 
to say, c2 8i iroAA^ %v iifiipurrSv iffTi, r^ iroXAA iv iv\ 6irra iv ffXj; iirri r^ M airrii 
fiop^ abrov 6^x0. {£nn., II., iv., 4; Kirchhoff, I., p. 113, 1. 7.) The 
meaning is, that if the notes are inseparable, the unity in which they inhere is 
related to them as Matter to Form. 


have made Plotinus a successful writer. We are told that 
before taking up the pen he had thoroughly thought out his 
whole subject ; but this is not the impression produced by a 
perusal of the Enneads, On the contrary, he seems to be 
thinking as he goes along, and to be continually beset by 
difficulties which he has not foreseen. The frequent and 
disorderly interruptions by which his lectures were at one 
time disturbed seem to have made their way into his solitary 
meditations, breaking or tangling the thread of systematic 
exposition at every turn. Irrelevant questions are constantly 
intruding themselves, to be met by equally irrelevant answers. 
The first mode of expressing an idea is frequently withdrawn, 
and another put in its place, which is, in most cases, the less 
intelligible of the two ; while, as a general rule, when we want 
to know what a thing is, Plotinus informs us with indefatigable 
prolixity what it is not. 

Nevertheless, by dint of pertinacious repetition, the 
founder of Neo-Platonism has succeeded in making the 
main outlines, and to a great extent the details, of his 
system so perfectly clear that probably no philosophy is 
now better understood than his. In this respect, Plotinus 
offers a remarkable contrast to the t wo prea t thinkers from 
whom his ideas are principally derived. While Plato and 
Aristotle construct each particular sentence with masterly 
clearness, the general drift of their speculations is by no"T 
means easy to ascertain ; and, even now, critics take 
diametrically opposite views of the interpretation which is 
to be put on their teaching with regard to several most 
important points. The expositors of Neo-Platonism, on the 
contrary, show a rare unanimity in their accounts of its 
constitutive principles. What they differ about is its origin-Y 
and its historical significance. And these are points on 
which we too shall have to enter, since all the ancient 
systems are interesting to us chiefly as historical pheno- 
mena, and Neo-Platonism more so than any other. Plotinus 


effected a vast revolution in speculative opinion, but he 
effected it by seizing on the thoughts of others rather than 
by any new thoughts or even new developments or appli- 
cations of his own. 

Whether Plotinus was or was not the disciple of 
Ammonius, it is beyond all doubt that he considered himself 
the disciple of Plato. There are more than a hundred 
references to that philosopher in the Enneads^ against less 
than thirty refereiv^es to all the other ancient thinkers put 
together ; * and, what is more remarkable, in only about half 
of them is he mentioned by name. The reader is expected 
to know thatJjife' always means Plato. And it is an article 
of faith with Plotinus that his master cannot be mistaken ; 
when the words of oracular wisdom seem to contradict one 
another, there must be some way of harmonising them. 
When they contradict what he teaches himself, the difficulty 
must be removed by skilful interpretation ; or, better still, it 
must be discreetly igrnored.* On the other hand, when a 
principle is palpably borrowed from Aristotle, not only is its 
derivation unacknowleifiged, but we are given to understand 
by implication that it belongs to the system which Aristotle 
was at most pains to cohtrovert.' 

But numerous as are the obligations, whether real or 
imaginary, of the Alexandrian to the Athenian teacher, 
they range over a compfiratively limited field. What most 
interests a modern stud^pnt in Platonism — its critical pre- 
paration, its conversational dialectic, its personal episodes, 
its moral enthusiasm, it^ political superstructure — had ap- 
parently no interest foij Plotinus as a writer. He goes 
straight to the metaphysica l core of the system, and oc- 
cupies himself with.>re-thinking it in its minutest details. 
Now this was just the part which had either not been 

* See the index to KirchhofTs edition. 

* For references see Kirchner, Die Philosophie des Plotin^ p. 185 ; Steinhart, 
MeUUmata Plotiniana^ pp. 9-23 ; Zeller, Ph, d. Gr.y HI., b, pp. 430 f. 

* Steinhart, op, cit,^ pp. 30 ff. ; Kirchner, op. cit.^ pp. 186 flf. 



discussed at all, or had been very insufficiently discussed by 
his predecessors. It would seem that the revival of Platonic 
studies had followed an order somewhat similar to the order 
in which Plato's own ideas were evolved. The scepticism of 
the Apologia had been taken up and worked out to its last 
consequences by the New Academy. The theory of intuitive 
knowledge, the ethical antithesis between reason and passion, 
and the doctrine of immortality under its more popular form, 
had been resumed by the Greek and Roman Eclectics. 
Plutarch busied himself with the erotic philosophy of the 
Phaedrus and the Symposium^ as also did his successor, 
Maximus Tyrius. In addition to this, he and the other 
Platonists of the second century paid great attention to the 
theology adumbrated in those dialogues, and in the earlier 
books of the Republic. But meanwhile Neo-Pythagoreanism 
had intervened to break the normal line of development, and, 
under its influence, Plutarch passed at once to the mathe- 
matical puzzles of the Timaeus. With Plato himself the 
next step had been to found a state for the application of 
his new principles ; and such was the logic of his system, 
that the whole stress of adverse circumstances could not 
prevent the realisation of a similar scheme from being 
mooted in the third century ; while, as we have seen, some- 
thing more remotely analogous to it was at that very time 
being carried out by the Christian Church. Plato's own 
disappointed hopes had found relief in the profoundest 
metaphysical speculations; and now the time has come 
when his labours in this direction were to engage the 
attention hitherto absorbed by the more popular or literary 
aspects of his teaching. 

Now it was by this side of Platonism that Aristotle also 
had been most deeply fascinated. While constantly criticising 
the ideal theory, he had, in truth, accepted it under a modified 
form. His universal classification is derived from the dialectic^ 
method. His psychology and theology are constructed on 


the spiritualistic basis of the Academy, and out of materials 
which the founder of the Academy had supplied. It was 
therefore natural that Plotinus should avail himself largely 
of the Stagirite's help in endeavouring to reproduce what a 
tradition of six centuries had obscured or confused. To 
reconcile the two Attic masters was, as we know, a common 
school exercise. Learned commentators had, indeed, placed 
their disagreement beyond all dispute. But there remained 
the simpler course of bringing their common standpoint 
into greater prominence, and combining their theories where 
this seemed possible without too openly renouncing the 
respect due to what almost all considered the superior 
authority of Plato. To which of the two masters Neo- 
Platonism really owed most is a question that must be 
postponed until we have made ourselves acquainted with 
the outlines of the system as they appear in the works of 


It has been already mentioned how large a place was 
given to erotic questions by the literary Platonists of the 
second century. Even in the school of Plotinus, Platonic 
love continued to be discussed, sometimes with a freedom 
which pained and disgusted the master beyond measure.* 
His first essay was apparently suggested by a question put 
to him in the course of some such debate.* The subject is 
beauty. In his treatment of it, we find our philosopher at 
once rising superior to the indecorous frivolities of his 
predecessors. Physical beauty he declares to be the ideal 
element in objects, that which they have received from the 
creative soul, and which the perceptive soul recognises as 
akin to her own essence. Love is nothing but the excitement 
and joy occasioned by this discovery. But to understand 
the truer and higher forms of beauty, we must turn away 

' Porph., r/Za, cap. xy. ' Enn.^ I., vi. 


from sensible perceptions, and study it as manifested in wise 
institutions, virtuous habits, and scientific theories. The 
passionate enthusiasm excited by the contemplation of such 
qualities as magnanimity, or justice, or wisdom, or valour can 
only be explained by assuming that they reveal our inmost 
nature, showing us what we were destined for, what we 
originally were, and what we have ceased to be. For we 
need only enumerate the vices which make a soul hideous — 
injustice, sensuality, cowardice, and the like — to perceive that 
they are foreign to her real nature, and are imposed on her 
by contamination with the principle of all evil, which is 
matter. To be brave means not to dread death, because 
death is the separation of the soul from the body. Mag- 
nanimity means the neglect of earthly interests. Wisdom 
means the elevation of our thoughts to a higher world. The 
soul that virtue has thus released becomes pure reason, and 
reason is just what constitutes her intrinsic beauty. It is 
also what alone really exists ; without it all the rest of 
Nature is nothing. Thus foul is opposed to fair, as evil to 
good and false to true. Once more, as the soul is beautiful 
by participation in reason, so reason in its turn depends on a 
still higher principle, the absolute good to which all things 
aspire, and from which they are derived — the one source of 
life, of reason, and of existence. Behind all other loves is 
the longing for this ultimate good ; and in proportion to its 
superiority over their objects is the intensity of the passion 
which it inspires, the happiness which its attainment and 
fruition must bestow. He who would behold this supreme 
beauty must not seek for it in the fair forms of the external 
world, for these are but the images and shadows of its glory. 
It can only be, seen with the inward eye, only found in the 
recesses of our own soul. To comprehend the good we must 
be good ourselves ; or, what is the same thing, we must be 
ourselves and nothing else. In this process of abstraction, 
we first arrive at pure reason, and then we say that the ideas 


of reason are what constitutes beauty. But beyond reason is 
that highest good of which beauty is merely the outward 
vesture, the source and principle from which beauty springs. 

It is evident that what Plotinus says about beauty and 
love was suggested by the well-known passages on the same 
subject in the Pfiaedrus and the Symposium, His analysis of 
aesthetic emotion has, however, a much more abstract and 
metaphysical character than that of his great model. The 
whole fiction of an ante-natal existence is quietly let drop. 
What the sight of sensible beauty awakens in a philosophic 
soul is not the memory of an ideal beauty beheld in some 
other world, but the consciousness of its own idealising 
activity, the dominion which it exercises over unformed and 
fluctuating matter. And, in all probability, Plato meant no 
more than this — in fact he hints as much elsewhere,' — but he 
was not able or did not choose to express himself with such 
unmistakable clearness. 

Again, this preference for mythological imagery on the 
part of the more original and poetical thinker seems to be 
closely connected with a more vivid interest in the practical 
duties of life. With Plotinus, the primal beauty or supreme 
good is something that can be isolated from all other beauty 
and goodness, something to be perceived and enjoyed in 
absolute seclusion from one's fellow-men. God is, indeed, 
described as the source and cause of all other good. But 
neither here nor elsewhere is there a hint that we should 
strive to resemble him by becoming, in our turn, the cause of 
good to others. Platonic love, on the contrary, first finds its 
reality and truth in unremitting efforts for the enlightenment 
and elevation of others, being related to the transmission of 
spiritual life just as the love inspired by visible beauty is 
related to the perpetuation and physical ennoblement of the 

This preference of pure abstrart speculation^tQ beneficent 

* MenOf 86, A. Compare Vol. I., p. 212. 


action may be traced to the influence of Aristotle. Some of 
the most enthusiastic expressions used by Plotinus in speak- 
ing of his supreme principle seem to have been suggested by 
the Metaphysics and the last book of the Nicomac/tean Ethics, 
The self- thinking thought of the Stagirite does not, indeed, 
take the highest rank with him. But it is retained in his 
system, and is only relegated to a secondary place because, 
for reasons which we shall explain hereafter, it does not 
fulfil eq^ially well with Plato's Idea of Good, the condition 
of absolute and indivisible unity, without which a first prin- 
ciple could not be conceived by any Greek philosopher. But 
this apparent return to the standpoint of the Republic really_A 
involves a still wider departure from its animating spirit In 
other words, Plotinus differs from Aristotle as Aristotle him- 
self had differed from Plato ; he shares the same speculative 
tendency, and carries it to a greater extreme. 

We have also to note that Plotinus arrives at his Absolute 
by a method apparently very different from that pursued by 
either of his teachers. Plato's primal beauty is, on the face 
of it, an abstraction and generalisation from all the scattered^ ^ 
and imperfect manifestations of beauty to be met with in our 
objective experience. And Aristotle is led to his conception 
of an eternal immaterial thought by two lines of analysis, 
both starting from the phenomena of external Nature. The 
problem of his Physics is to account for the perpetuity oP^\ 
motion. The problem of his Metaphysics is to explain tht 
transformation of potential into actual existence. Plotinus, 
on the other hand, is always bidding us lo ok within. What 
we admire in the objective world is but a reflex of ourselves. 
Jtf ind is the sole reality ; and to grasp this reality under its 
highest form, we must become like it. Thus the more we 
isolate our own personality and self-identity from the other 
interests and experiences of life, the more nearly do we 
approach to consciousness of and coalescence with the supreme 
identity wherein all things have their source. 


But on looking at the matter a little more closely, we shall 
find that Plotinus only set in a clearer light what had all 
along been the leading motive of his predecessors. We have 
already observed that Plato's whole mythological machinery 
is only a fanciful way of expressing that independent ex- 
perience which the mind derives from the study of its owirY 
spontaneous activity. And the process of generalisation 
described in the Symposium is really limited to moral pheno- 
mena. Plato's standpoint is less individualistic than that of 
Plotinus in so far as it involves a continual reference to the 
beliefs, experiences, and wants of other men ; but it is equally 
subjective, in the sense of interpreting all Nature by the 
analogies of human life. There are even occasions when his 
spiritualism goes the leng^ of inculcating complete with- 
drawal from the world of commA life into an ideal sphere, 
when he seems to identify evil with matter, when he reduces 
all virtue to contempt for the interests of the body, in lan- 
guage which his Alexandrian successor could adopt without 
any modification of its obvious meaning.' 

So also with Aristotle. As a naturalist, he is, indeed, 
purely objective ; but when he offers a general explanation 
of the world, the subjective element introduced by Protagoras 
and Socrates at once reappears. Simple absolute self-con- 
sciousness is for him the highest good, the animating principle 
of Nature, the most complete reality, and the only one that ! 
would remain, were the element of nonentity to disappear from 
this world. The utter misconception of dynamic phenomena 
which marks his physics and astronomy can only be accounted 
for by his desire to give life the priority over mechanical 
motion, and reason the priority over life. Thus his meta- 
, physical method is essentially identical with the introspective 
ethod recommended by Plotinus, and, if fully worked out, 
might have led to the same results. 

We cannot, then, agree with Zeller, when he groups the 

» The<ut^tu5y 176, A. Phafdo, 67, B ff. 

u 2 



Neo-Platonists together with the other post- Aristotelian 
schools, on the ground that they are all alike distinguished 
from Plato and Aristotle by the exclusive attention which 
they pay to subjective and practical, as opposed to scientific-^ 
and theoretical interests. It seems to us that such distinc- 
tions are out of relation to the historical order in which the 
different systems of Greek philosophy were evolved. It is 
\not in the substance of their teaching, but in their diminished 

- -TODwer of original speculation, that the thinkers who came 
' 'after Aristotle offer the strongest contrast to their predecessors. 
In so far as they are exclusively practical and subjective, they 
follow the Humanists and Socrates. In so far as they com- 
bine Socratic tendencies with physical studies, they imitate 
the method of Plato and Aristotle. Their cosmopolitan 

*^^V^aturalism is inherited from the Cynics in the first instance, 
more remotely from the physiocratic Sophists, and, perhaps, 
in the last resort, from Heracleitus. Their religion is trace- 
able either to Pythagoras, to Socrates, or to Plato. Their 
scepticism is only a little more developed than that of 
Protagoras and the Cyrenaics. But if we seek for some one 
principle held in common by all these later schools, and held 
by none of the earlier schools, we shall seek for it in vain. 
The imitative systems are separated from one another by the 
same fundamental differences as those which divide the 
original systems. Now, in both periods, the deepest of all 
differences is that which divides the spiritualists from the 
materialists. In both periods, also, it is materialism that 
comes first. And in both, the transition from one doctrine to 
the other is marked by the exclusive prominence given to 
subjective, practical, sceptical, or theological interests in 
philosophy ; by the enthusiastic culture of rhetoric in general 
education ; and by a strong religious reaction in the upper 
ranks of society. 

Thus we can quite agree with Zeller when he observes * 

» op. cit., p. 427. 


that Nco-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, 

rafter being cut off from physical laws, was seeking a basis in 
religious or metaphysical ideas. Now, as before, the study of 

4^oughts 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 
JUsuperficial area of civilisation, as the difference between the 
Enneads and the Dialogius would alone suffice to prove. But 
this does not alter the fact that the general direction of their 
movement proceeds in parallel lines. 

In saying that the post- Aristotelian philosophers were not 
original thinkers, we must guard against the supposition that 
they contributed nothing of value to thought. On the con- 
trary, while not putting forward any new theories, they 
generalised some of the principles borrowed from their 
predecessors, worked out others in minute detail, and stated 
the arguments on both sides of every controverted point with 
superior dialectic precision. Thus, while materialism had 
been assumed as self-evident ly true by the pre-Socratic 

Vschools, it was maintained by the Stoics and Epicureans on 
what seemed to be grounds of experience and reason. And, 
similarly, we find that Plotinus, having arrived at the con- 
sciousness that spiritualism is the common ground on which 


Plato and Aristotle stand, the connecting trait which most 
completely distinguishes them from their successors, proceeds 
in his second essay ^ to argue the case against materialism 
more powerfully than it had ever been argued before, and 
with nearly as much effect as it has ever been argued since. 


Our personality, says the Alexandrian philosopher, cannot 
be a property of the body, for this is composed of parts, and 
is in a state of perpetual flux. A man's self, then, is his 

TSDul ; and the soul cannot be material, for the ultimate 
elements of matter are inanimate, and it is inconceivable 
that animation and reason should result from the aggregation 
of particles which, taken singly, are destitute of both ; while, 
even were it possible, their disposition in a certain order 
would argue the presence of an intelligence controlling them 
from without. The Stoics themselves admit the force of 
these considerations, when they attribute reason to the fiery 
element or vital breath by which, according to them, all 
things are shaped. They do, indeed, talk about a certain 
elementary disposition as the principle of animation, but this 
disposition is either identical with the matter possessing it, in 
which case the difficulties already mentioned recur, or distinct 
from it, in which case the animating principle still remains to 
be accounted for. 

Again, to suppose that the soul shares in the changes of 
the body is incompatible with the self-identity which memory 
reveals. To suppose that it is an extended substance is in- 
compatible with its simultaneous presence, as an indivisible 
whole, at every point to which its activity reaches ; as well 
as with the circumstance that all our sensations, though 
received through different organs, are referred to a common 
centre of consciousness. If the sensorium is a fluid body it 
will have no more power of retaining impressions than water; 

* Enn,^ IV., vii. 


while, if it is a solid, new impressions will either not 
be received at all, or only when the old impressions are 

Passing from sensation to thought, it is admitted that 
Y^tbstract conceptions are incorporeal : how, then, can they be 
received and entertained by a corporeal substance ? Or 
what possible connexion can there be between different 
arrangements of material particles and such notions as 
temperance and justice ? This is already a sufficiently near 
approach to the language of modem philosophy. In another 
essay, which according to the original arrangement stands 
third, and must have been composed immediately after that 
whence the foregoing arguments are transcribed, there is 
more than an approach, there is complete coincidence.* To 
deduce mind from atoms is, says Plotinus, if we may so 
speak, still more impossible than to deduce it from the 
elementary bodies. Granting that the atoms have a natural 
movement downwards, granting that they suffer a lateral 
deflection and so impinge on one another, still this could do no 
more than produce a disturbance in the bodies against which 
they strike. But to what atomic movement can one attribute 
psychic energies and affections ? What sort of collision in 
the vertical line of descent, or in the oblique line of deflec- 
tion, or in any direction you please, will account for the 
appearance of a particular kind of reasoning or mental impulse 
or thought, or how can it account for the existence of such 
processes at all ? Here, of course, Plotinus is alluding to the 
Epicureans ; but it is with the Stoic and other schools that 
he is principally concerned, and we return to his attack on 
their psychology. 

The activities of the soul are thought, sensation, reasoning, 
desire, attention, and so forth : the activities of body are heat, 
cold, impact, and gravitation ; if to these we add the charac- 
teristics of mind, the latter will have no special properties by 

» Enn,<i III., i., 3. 


which it can be known. And even in body we distinguish 
between quantity and quality ; the former, at most, being 
corporeal, and the latter not corporeal at all. Here Plotinus 
just touches the idealistic method of modern spiritualism, but 
fails to follow it any further. He seems to have adopted 
Aristotle's natural realism as a sufficient theory of external 
perception, and to have remained uninfluenced by Plato's 
distrust of sensible appearances. 

After disposing of the Stoi€— materialism, according to 
which the soul, though distinct from the body, is, equally 
with it, an extended and resisting substance, our philosopher 
proceeds to discuss the theories which make it a property or 
function of the body. The Pythagorean notion of the soul 
as a harmony of the body is met by a reproduction of the 
well-known arguments used against it in Plato's Phaedo. 
Then comes the Aristotelian doctrine that the soul is the 
entgleehy-*— that is to say, the realised purpose and perfection — 
of the physical organism to which it belongs. This is an 
idea which Aristotle himself had failed to make very clear, 
and the inadequacy of which he had virtually acknowledged 
by ascribing a different origin to reason, although this is 
counted as one of the psychic faculties. Plotinus, at any 
rate, could not appreciate an explanation which, whatever 
else it implied, certainly involved a considerable departure 
from his own dualistic interpretation of the difference 
between spirit and matter. He could not enter into 
Aristotle's view of the one as a lower and less concentrated 
form of the other. The same arguments which had already 
been employed against Stoicism are now turned against the 
Peripatetic psychology. The soul as a principle, not only of 
! memory and desire, but even of nutrition, is declared to be 
/ independent of and separable from the body. And, finally, 
/ as a result of the whole controversy, its immortality is 
affirmed. But how far this immortality involves the belief 
in a prolongation of personal existence after death, is a point 


which still remains uncertain. We shall return to the ques- 
tion in dealing with the religious opinions of Plotinus. 

Closely connected with the materialism of the Stoics, 
and equally adverse to the principles of Plato and Aristotle, 
was their fat^iism. In opposition to this, Plotinus proceeds 
to develop the spiritualistic doctrine of^JJceejyill.* In the 
previous discussion, we had to notice how closely his argu- 
ments resemble those employed by more modern con- 
troversialists. We have here to point out no less wide a 
difference between the two. Instead of presenting free-will 
as a fact of consciousness which is itself irreconcilable with 
the dependence of mental on material changes, our philosopher, 
conversely, infers that the soul must be free both from the 
conditions of mechanical causation and from the general 
interdependence of natural forces, because it is an individual 
substance.* In truth, the phenomena of volition were handled 
by the ancient philosophers with a vagueness and a feebleness 
offering the most singular contrast to their powerful and 
discriminating grasp of other psychological problems. Of 
Tntcessarianism, in the modern sense, they had no idea. 
Aristotle failed to see that, quite apart from external 
restraints, our choice may conceivably be determined with 
the utmost rigour by an internal motive ; nor could he 
understand that the circumstances which make a man 
responsible for his actions do not amount to a release of his 
conduct from the law of universal causation. In this respect, 
Plato saw somewhat deeper than his disciple, but created 

* £nn,f III., i. 

' *AAA& yiip Bft KoX %Kaarov %Kcurrov cTvai koX irpd^tu rifitrtpas iral Btayoias 
^irdpxfty* ni'» i*> 4» Kirchh., I., p. 38, 1. 22. So utterly incapable is M. 
Vacherot of placing himself at this point of view, that he actually reads into the 
words quoted an argument in favour of free-will based on the testimony of con- 
sciousness. His version runs as follows : — * Nous savons et nous croyons fermement 
par le sentiment de ce qui se passe en nous que les individus (les ames) vivent, 
agissent, pensent, d'une vie, d^une action, d^une pens^e qui leur est propre. * — 
Histoire Critique de Vkcole (TAiexandrie^ I., p. 514. So far as our knowledge 
goes, such an appeal to consciousness is not to be found in any ancient writer. 


fresh confusion by identifying freedom with the supremacy of 
reason over irrational desire.* Plotinus generally adopts the 
Platonist point of view. According to this, the soul is free — V- 
when she is extricated from the bonds of matter, and deter- 
mined solely by the conditions of her spiritual existence. 
Thus virtue is not so much free as identical with freedom ; 
while, contrariwise, vice means enslavement to the affections 
of the body, and therefore comes under the domain of 
material causation.* Yet, again, in criticising the fatalistic 
theories which represent human actions as entirely pre- 
determined by divine providence, he protests against the 
ascription of so much that is evil to so good a source, and 
insists that at least the bad actions of men are due to their 
own free choice.' 

In vindicating human freedom, Plotinus had to encounter 
a difficulty exceedingly characteristic of his age. This was 
y^ the astrological superstition that everything depended on the 
\ stars, and that the future fate of every person might be pre- 
dicted by observing their movements and configurations at 
the time of his birth. Philosophers found it much easier to 
demolish the pretensions of astrology by an abstract demon- 
stration of their absurdity, than to get rid of the supposed 
facts which were currently quoted in their favour. That for- 
tunes could be foretold on the strength of astronomical calcu- 
lations with as much certainty as eclipses, seems to have been 
an accepted article of belief in the time of Plotinus, and one 
which he does not venture to dispute. He is therefore 
obliged to satisfy himself with maintaining that the stars 
do not cause, but merely foreshow the future, in the same 
manner as the flight of birds, to the prophetic virtue of which 

' See Legg.y 86 1, A fT. for an attempt to prove that men may properly be 
punished for actions committed through ignorance of their real good. This 
passage is one of the grounds used by Teichmiiller, in his Literarische Fehden^ to 
establish the rather paradoxical thesis that Aristotle published his Ethics before 
Plalo*s death. 

■ III., i., 10. ■ Cap. 4, sub Jin, 


he also attaches implicit credence. All parts of Nature are 
connected by such an intimate sympathy, that each serves as 
a clue to the rest ; and, on this principle, the stars may be 
regarded as the letters of a scripture in which the secrets of 
futurity are revealed.* 

How much originality there may be in the anti-material- 
istic arguments of Plotinus we cannot tell. He certainly 
marks a great advance on Plato and Aristotle, approximating, . 
in this respect, much more closely than they do to the moderfT^ 
standpoint The indivisibility and permanence of mind had, 
no doubt, been strongly insisted on by those teachers, in con- 
trast with the extended and fluctuating nature of body. But 
they did not, like him, deduce these characteristics from a 
direct analysis of consciousness as such. Plato inferred the 
simplicity and self-identity of mind from the simplicity and 
self-identity of the ideas which it contemplates. Aristotle 
went a step further, or perhaps only expressed the same 
meaning more clearly, when he associated immateriality with 
the identity of subject and object in thought* Moreover, 
both Plato and Aristotle seem to have rested the whole 
spiritualistic case on objective rather than on subjective con- 
siderations ; although, as we have seen, the subjective interest 
was what dominated all the while in their thoughts. Starting 
with the analogy of a living body, Plato argues, both in the 
Phaedrus and in the LawSy that soul must everywhere be the 
first cause of motion, and therefore must exist prior to body.* 
The elaborate scientific analysis of Aristotle's Physics leads 
up to a similar conclusion ; and the ontological analysis of the 
Metaphysics starts with the distinction between Form and 
Matter in bodies, to end with the question of their relative 
priority, and of the objective machinery by which they are 
united. Plotinus, too, sometimes refers to mind as the source 

' Capp. 6 and 7. Cp. Enn,^ II., iii. ; Zeller, op, cit,, pp. 567 ff ; Kirchnery 
Fh,d, Plot,, p. 195. 

« Plato, Phaedo, 79, A ff. ; Aristot., De An., III., iv., sudjln. 
' Phaedr.,, 245, C ; Legg.^ 892, A. 



of physical order ; but this is rather in deference to his autho- 
rities than because the necessity ofsuch an explanation seemed 
to him, as it did to them, the deepest ground of a spiritualistic 
philosophy. On the other hand, his psychological arguments 
for the immateriality of the soul are drawn from a wider area 
of experience than theirs, feeling being taken into account no 
less than thought ; instead of restricting himself to one par- 
ticular kind of cognition for evidence of spiritual power, he 
looks for it in every manifestation of living personality. 

In criticising the Stoic system as a whole, the New 
Academy and the later Sceptics had incidentally dwelt on 
sundry absurdities which followed from the materialistic inter- 
pretation of knowledge ; and Plotinus evidently derived some 
of his most forcible objections from their writings ; but no 
previous philosopher that we know of had set forth the whole 
case for spiritualism and against materialism with such telling 
effect. And what is, perhaps, more important than any 
originality in detail, is the profound insight shown in choosing 
this whole question of spiritualism versus materialism for the 
ground whereon the combined forces of Plato and Aristotle 
were to fight their first battle against the naturalistic system 
which had triumphed over them five centuries before. It was 
on dialectical and ethical grounds that the controversy be- 
tween Porch and Academy, on ethical and religious grounds 
that the controversy between Epicureanism and all other 
schools of philosophy, had hitherto been conducted. Cicero 
and Plutarch never allude to their opponents as materialists. 
Only once, in his polemic against Colotes, does Plutarch 
observe that neither a soul nor anything else could be made 
out of atoms, but this is because they are discrete, not because 
they are extended.* For the rest, his method is to trip up 
his opponents by pointing out their inconsistencies, rather than 
to cut the ground from under their feet by proving that their 
theory of the universe is wrong. 

* Aih, CoL^ ix., 3. 


Under such guidance as this. Platonism had made but 
little way. We saw, in the concluding sections of the last 
chapter and in the opening section of the present chapter, 
that it profited by the religious and literary revival of the 
second century, just as it was to profit long afterwards by the 
greater revival of the fifteenth century, so much so as to become 
the fashionable philosophy of the age. Yet, even in that 
period of its renewed splendour, the noblest of contemporary 
thinkers was not a Platonist but a Stoic ; and although it 
would be unfair to measure the moral distance between the 
Porch and the Academy by the interval which separates an 
Aurelius from an Apuleius, still it would seem as if naturalism 
continued to be the chosen creed of strenuous and dutiful 
endeavour, while spiritualism was drifting into an alliance 
with hysterical and sensuous superstition. If we may judge 
by the points which Sextus Empiricus selects for controversial 
treatment, Stoicism was still the reigning system in his tim^^ 
that is to say, about the beginning of the third century ; and 
if, a generation later, it had sunk into neglect, every rival 
school, except that of Epicurus, was in exactly the same con- 
dition. Thus the only advance made was to substitute one / 
form of materialism for another^juntil Neo-Platonism came / 
and putait"e nd - to thci r^aTsputes by destroying the common 
foundation on which they stood ; while, at the same time, ijt 
supplied a completely organised doctrine round which the 
nobler elements of the Hellenic revival could rally for a last 
stand against the foes that were threatening it from every 


We have seen how Plotinus establishes the spiritualistic 
basis of his philosophy. We have now to see how he works 
out from it in all directions, developing the results of his pre- 
vious enquiries into a complete metaphysical system. It will 
have been observed that the whole method of reasoning by 




which materialism was overthrown, rested on the antithesis 
between the unity of consciousness and the divisibility of cor- 
poreal substance. Very much the same method was after- 
wards employed by Cartesianism to demonstrate the same 
conclusion. But with Descartes and his followers, the oppo- 
sition between soul and body was absolute, the former 
being defined as pure thought, the latter as pure extension. 
Hence the extreme difficulty which they experienced in 
accounting for the evident connexion between the two. The 
spiritualism of Plotinus did not involve any such impassable 
chasm between consciousness and its object. According to 
him, although the soul is contained in or depends on an abso- 
lutely self-identical unity, she is not herself that unity, but in 
some degree shares the characters of divisibility and exten- 
sion.* If we conceive all existence as bounded at either ex- 
tremity by two principles, the one extended and the other in- 
extended, then soul will still stand midway between them ; 
not divided in herself, but divided in respect to the bodies 
which she animates. Plotinus holds that such an assumption 
is necessitated by the facts of sensation. A feeling of pain, 
for example, is located in a particular point of the body, and 
is, at the same time, apprehended as my feeling, not as some 
one else's. A similar synthesis obtains through the whole of 
Nature. The visible universe consists of many heterogeneous 
parts, held together by a single animating principle. And 
we can trace the same qualities and figures through a multi- 
tude of concrete individuals, their essential unity remaining 
unbroken, notwithstanding the dispersion of the objects in 
which they inhere. 

Here Plotinus avowedly follows the teaching of Plato, who, 
in the Timaeus^ describes Being or Substance as composed by 
mingling the indivisible and unchanging with the divisible 
and corporeal principle.* And, although there is no express 
reference, we know that in placing soul between the two, he 

• Enn.^ IV., ii., I. « Enn.^ IV., u., sub fin. ; TVw., 35, A. 


was equally following Plato. It is otherwise in the next essay, 
which undertakes to give a more explicit analysis of psychical 
phenomena.* The soul, we are told, consists, like external 
objects, of two elements related to one another as Form and 
Matter. These are reason and sense. The office of the 
former is, primarily, to enlighten and control the latter. Plato 
had already pointed to such a distinction ; but Aristotle was 
the first to work it out clearly, and to make it the hinge of 
his whole system. It is, accordingly, under the guidance of 
Aristotle that Plotinus proceeds in what he has next to say. 
Just as there is a soul of the world corresponding to our soul, 
so also, he argues, there must be a universal objective Reason 
outside and above the world. In speaking of this Reason, we 
shall, for clearness* sake, in general call it by its Greek name, 
Nous. Nous, according to Aristotle, is the faculty by which 
we apprehend abstract ideas ; it is self-thinking thought ; and, 
as such, it is the prime mover of Nature. Plotinus adopts the 
first two positions unreservedly, and the third to a certain 
extent ; while he brings all three into combination with the 
Platonic theory of ideas. It had always been an insuperable 
difficulty in the way of Plato's teaching that it necessitated, 
or seemed to necessitate, the unintelligible notion of ideas 
existing without any mind to think them. For a disciple of 
Aristotle, the difficulty ceases to exist if the archetypal 
essences assumed by Plato are conceived as residing in an 
eternal Nous. But, on the other hand, how are we to recon- 
cile such an accommodation with Aristotle's principle, that 
the Supreme Intelligence can think nothing but itself? 
Simply by generalising from the same master's doctrine that 
the human Nous is identical with the ideas which it contem- 
plates. Thought and its object are everywhere one. Thus, 
according to Plotinus, the absolute Nous embraces the totality 
of archetypes or forms which we see reflected and embodied 
in the material universe. In thinking them, it thinks itself, 

' Enn., v., ix. 


not passing from one to the other as in discursive reasoning, 
nor bringing them into existence by the act of thought, but 
apprehending them as simultaneously present realities. 

To explain how the Nous could be identical with a 
number of distinct ideas was a difficult problem. We shall 
have to show at a more advanced stage of our exposition 
how Plotinus endeavoured to solve it with the help of Plato's 
Sophist, In the essay where his theory is first put forward, 
he cuts the knot by asserting that each idea virtually 
contains every other, while each in its actual and separate 
existence is, so to speak, an independent Nous. But corre- 
lation is not identity ; and to say that each idea thinks itself 
IS not to explain how the same subject can think, and in 
thinking be identical with all. The personal identity of the 
thinking subject still stands in unreconciled opposition to 
the multitude of thoughts which it entertains, whether suc- 
cessively or in a single intuition. Of two things one : either 
the unity of the Nous or the diversity of its ideas must be 
sacrificed. Plotinus evades the alternative by a kind of three- 
card trick. Sometimes his ideal unity is to be found under 
the notion of convergence to a common centre, sometimes 
under the notion of participation in a common property, 
sometimes under the notion of mutual equivalence. 

The confusion was partly inherited from Aristotle. When 
discussing the psychology of that philosopher, we showed that 
his active Nous is no other than the idea of which we are at 
any moment actually conscious. Our own reason is the 
passive Nous, whose identity is lost in the multiplicity of 
objects with which it becomes identified in turn. But 
Aristotle was careful not to let the personality of God, 
or the supreme Nous, be endangered by resolving it jnto 
the totality of substantial forms which constitute Nature. 
God is self-conscious in the strictest sense. He thinks 
nothing but himself. Again, the subjective starting-point of 


Plotinus may have affected his conception of the universal 
Nous. A single individual may isolate himself from his 
fellows in so far as he is a sentient being ; he cannot do so 
in so far as he is a rational being. His reason always 
addresses itself to the reason of some one else — a fact 
nowhere brought out so clearly as in the dialectic philosophy 
of Socrates and Plato. Then, when an agreement has been 
established, their minds, before so sharply divided, seem to 
be, after all, only different personifications of the same 
universal spirit. Hence reason, no less than its objects, 
comes to be conceived as both many and one. And this 
synthesis of contradictories meets us in modem German as 
well as in ancient Greek philosophy. 

After his preliminary analysis of Nous, we find Plotinus 
working out in two directions from the conception so 
obtained.' He begins by explaining in what relation the 
human soul stands to the universal reason. To him, 
personally, it seemed as if the world of thought into which 
he penetrated by reflecting on his own inmost essence, was 
so much the real home of his soul that her presence in a 
bodily habitation presented itself as a difficulty requiring to 
be cleared up. In this connexion, he refers to the opinions 
of the Pythagoreans, who looked on our earthly life as an 
unmixed evil, a punishment for some sin committed in a 
former stage of existence. Their views seem to have been 
partly shared by Plato. Sometimes he calls the body a prison 
and a tomb into which the soul has fallen from her original 
abode. Yet, in his Timaeiis, he glorifies the visible world, and 
tells us that the universal soul was divinely appointed to give 
it life and reason ; while our individual souls have also their 
part to play in perfecting the same providential scheme. 

It is to the second theory that Plotinus evidently leans. 
However closely his life may have been conformed to the 
Pythagorean model — a point with respect to which we have 

* Enn.^ IV., viii. 


nothing better than the very prejudiced statements of 
Porphyry to rely on — there is no trace of Pythagorean 
asceticism in his writings. Hereafter we shall see how 
hostile he was to Gnostic pessimism. In the preceding 
essay, he had already specified admiration for physical 
beauty as a first and necessary step in the souPs ascent to a 
contemplation of spiritual realities ; ' and now it is under the 
guidance of Plato's later speculations that he proceeds to 
account for her descent from that higher world to the 
restraints of matter and of sense. 

With regard to the universal soul of Nature, there is, 
indeed, no difficulty at all. In giving a sensible realisation 
to the noetic ideas, she suffers no degradation or pollution by 
contact with the lower elements of matter. Enthroned on 
the outer verge of the cosmos, she governs the whole course 
of Nature by a simple exercise of volition, and in the enjoy- 
ment of a felicity which remains undisturbed by passion or 
desire. But just as we have seen the supreme Nous resolving 
itself into a multitude of individual intelligences, so also does 
the cosmic soul produce many lesser or partial souls of which 
our own is one. Now these derivative souls cannot all be 
equal, for that would be to defeat the purpose of creation, 
which is to realise all the possibilities of creation from the 
highest to the lowest Thus each has an office corresponding 
to her place in the scale of perfection.^ We may say of the 
human soul that she stoops to conquer. Her mission is to 
cope with the more recalcitrant forms of matter. It is to the 
struggle with their impurities that the troubles and passions 
of our life are due. By yielding to earthly temptations, we 
suffer a second fall, and one much more real than the first ; 
by overcoming them, as is perfectly in our power to do, wc 
give scope and exercise to faculties which would otherwise 

' Enn.f v., ix., 2. 

' Readers of Pope's Essay on Afan will recognise this argument. It was, in 
fact, borrowed from Plolinus by Leibnitz, and handed on through Bolingbroke to 
Pope. There is uo better introduction to Neo-Platonisui than this l)cautiful poem. 


have remained dormant and unknown. Moreover, our soul 
retains the privilege of returning to her former abode, 
enriched by the experience acquired in this world, and with 
that clearer perception of good which the knowledge of its 
opposite alone can supply. Nay, paradoxical as the assertion 
may seem, she has not entirely descended to earth, but 
remains in partial communication with the noetic world by 
virtue of her reasoning faculty; that is to say, when its 
intuitions are not darkened and disturbed by the triumph of 
sensuous impressions over the lower soul. On this and on 
many other occasions, Plotinus betrays a glimmering con- 
sciousness that his philosophy is purely subjective, and that 
its attempted transcendentalism is, in truth, a projection of 
psychological distinctions into the external world. Starting 
with the familiar division of human nature into body, soul, and 
spirit (or reason), he endeavours to find an objective counter- 
part for each. Body is represented by the material universe, 
soul by the animating principle of Nature, reason by the extra- 
mundane Nous. Under these three heads is comprised the 
totality of real existence ; but existence itself has to be 
accounted for by a principle lying above and beyond it, 
which has still to be obtained by an effort of abstraction 
from the data that self-consciousness supplies.* 

In his very first essay, Plotinus had hinted at a principle 
higher and more primordial than the absolute Nous, some- 
thing with which the soul is connected by the mediation of 
Nous, just as she herself mediates between Nous and the 
material world. The notion of such a supreme principle was 
derived from Plato. In the sixth and seventh books of the 
RepubliCy we are told that at the summit of the dialectic 
series stands an idea to grasp which is the ultimate object of 

* Kirchner, Ph. d. PloL^ p. 35. The triad of body, soul, and spirit is still to 
be met with in modem popular philosophy ; hut, contrary to the Greek order of 
priority, there is a noticeable tendency to rank soul, as the seat of emotion, higher 
than spirit or pure reason, particularly among persons whose opinions receive little 
countenance from the last -mentioned faculty. 

X 2 


all reasoning. Plato calls this the Idea of Good, and describes 
it as holding a place in the intellectual world analogous to 
that held by the sun in the physical world. For, just as the 
sun brings all visible things into being, and also gives the 
light by which they are seen, so also the Good is not only 
that by which the objects of knowledge are known, but also 
that whence their existence is derived, while at the same time 
itself transcending existence in dignity and power.* 

In a former part of this work ^ we found reason to believe 
that Plato's supreme good is no other than the Idea of Same- 
ness which occurs in the Sophist and in the Timaeus^ where 
it is correlated with the Idea of Difference ; and we also 
concluded that the divine creator of the last-named dialogue 
is intended to represent it under a more concrete and popular 
form.' We may, perhaps, also discover it in the Limit of the 
PhiUbus ; and if we are to believe what Aristotle tells us 
about the later teaching of Plato, it seems to have finally 
coalcscied with the Pythagorean One, which combines with 
the unlimited Dyad to form first number, and then everything 
else, just as the Same combines with the Different to form 
existence in the Timaeus^ 

For the Platonic Idea of Good, Aristotle had substituted 
his own conception of self-thinking thought, as the absolute 
on which all Nature hangs : and we have seen how Plotinus 
follows him to the extent of admitting that this visible 
universe is under the immediate control of an incorporeal 
Reason, which also serves as a receptacle for the Platonic 
Ideas. But what satisfied Aristotle does not fully satisfy 
him. The first principle must be one, and Nous fails to 
answer the conditions of absolute unity, Even self-thinking 
thought involves the elementary dualism of object and 
subject Again, as Plotinus somewhat inconsistently argues. 
Nous, being knowledge, must cognise something simpler than 

» Rep.^ VI., 508, C ff.; VII,, 517, C. ■ Ibid,, p. 235. 

' Vul. I., p. 229. * Aristot., Afetaph., I., vi. 


itself.' Or, perhaps, what he means is that in Nous, which is 
its product, the first principle becomes self-conscious. Con- 
sciousness means a check on the outflow of energy due to the 
restraining action of the One, a return to and reflection on 
itself of the creative power.* 

If the necessity of the One is proved by the inward 
differentiation of what seemed most simple, it it also proved 
by the integration of what seems most divided. In his next 
essay, our philosopher wanders off from the investigation of 
what he has just begun, by abruptly starting the question 
whether all souls are one.' This question is, however, most 
intimately connected with his main theme. He answers it in 
the affirmative. Strictly personal as our feelings seem, we 
are, in reality, one with each other, through our joint partici- 
pation in the world-soul. Love and sympathy among 
human beings are solely due to this connexion. Plotinus 
mentions, as another evidence of its reality, the secret affinities 
called into play even at a great distance by magical spells* — 
an allusion very characteristic of his age.* What prevents 
us from more fully perceiving the unity of all souls is the 
separateness of the bodies with which they are associated. 
Matter is the principle of individuation. But even within the 
soul there is a division between the rational and the irrational 
part, concentration being the characteristic of the one and 
dispersion of the other. The latter is fitted by its divided 
nature for presiding over the bodily functions of sensation 
and nutrition ; and with the dissolution of the body it returns 
to the unity of the higher soul. There are two ways in which 
we can account for this pervading unity. It is either as 
products or as portions of the universal soul that all particular 
souls are one. Plotinus combines both explanations. The 
world-soul first gives birth to an image of itself, and then this 

' Enn.^ v., iv., 2 ; Kirchh., I., p. 72, 1. 8. 

* This is the method of Fichte*s IVissenschaftslehre, which seems to show that 
Fichte was acquainted with Neo-PIatonism, probably at secondhand. 

* Ettn,^ IV., ix. * Ibid,.i 3; Kirchh., I., p. 75, 1. 24. 


is subdivided into as many partial souls as there are bodies 
requiring animation. 

On extending our survey still wider, we find that the ex- 
istence of a thing everywhere depends on its unity.* All 
bodies perish by dissolution, and dissolution means the loss of 
unity. Health, beauty, and virtue are merely so many dif- 
ferent kinds of harmony and unison. Shall we then say that 
soul, as the great unifying power in Nature, is the One of 
which we are in search } Not so ; for preceding investiga- 
tions have taught us that soul is only an agent for transmit- 
ting ideas received from a higher power; and the psychic 
faculties themselves are held together by a unifying principle 
for which we have to account. Neither is the whole sum of 
existence the One, for its very name implies a plurality of 
parts. And the claims of the Nous to that distinction have 
been already disproved. In short, nothing that exists can 
be the One, for, as we have seen, unity is the cause of 
existence and must therefore precede it. 

* Wliat then,' asks Plotinus, * is the One ? No easy question to 
answer for us whose knowledge is based on ideas, and who can 
hardly tell what ideas are, or what is existence itself. The farther 
the soul advances in this formless region, where there is nothing for 
her to grasp, nothing whose impress she can receive, the more does 
her footing fail her, the more helpless and desolate does she feel. 
Oftentimes she wearies of such searching and is glad to leave it all 
and to descend into the world of sense until she finds rest on the 
solid earth, as the eyes are relieved in turning from small objects to 
large. For she does not know that to be one herself is to have 
gained the object of her search, for then she is no other than that 
which she knows. Nevertheless it is only by this method that we 
can master the philosophy of the One. Since, then, what we seek is 
one, and since we are considering the first principle of all things and 
the Good, he who enters on this quest must not place himself afar 
from the things that are first by descending to the things that are 
last, but he must leave the objects of sense, and, freed fi*om all evil, 
ascend to the first principle of his own nature, that by becoming one, 

* Enn.^ VI., ix., I. 


instead of many, he may behold the beginning and the One. There- 
fore he must become Reason, trusting his soul to Reason for guidance 
and support, that she may wakefuUy receive what it sees, and with 
this he must behold the One, not admitting any element of sense, but 
gazing on the purest with pure Reason and with that which in Reason 
is first. Should he who addresses himself to this enterprise imagine 
that the object of his vision possesses magnitude or form or bulk, 
then Reason is not his guide, for such perceptions do not belong to 
its nature but to sense and to the opinion which follows on sense. 
No ; we must only pledge Reason to perform what it can do. 
Reason sees what precedes, or what contains, or what is derived 
from itself. Pure are the things in it, purer still those which precede, 
or rather, that which precedes it This is neither reason nor any- 
thing that is ; for whatever is has the form of existence, whereas this 
has none, not even an ideal form. For the One, whose nature is to 
generate all things, cannot be any of those things itself. Therefore 
it is neither substance, nor quality, nor reason, nor soul ; neither 
moving nor at rest, not in place, not in time, but unique of its kind, 
or rather kindless, being before all kind, before motion and before 
rest, for these belong to being, and are that to which its multiplicity 
is due. Why, then, if it does not move, is it not at rest ? Because 
while one or both of these must be attributed to being, the very act 
of attribution involves a distinction between subject and predicate, 
which is impossible in the case of what is absolutely simple.' ' 

The One cannot, properly speaking, be an object of know- 
ledge, but is apprehended by something higher than know- 
ledge. This IS why Plato calls it ineffable and indescribable. 
What we can describe is the way to the view, not the view itself. 
The soul which has never been irradiated with the light of 
that supreme splendour, nor filled with the passionate joy of 
a lover finding rest in the contemplation of his beloved, can- 
not be given that experience in words. But the beatific 
vision is open to alL He from whom it is hidden has only 
himself to blame. Let him break away from the restraints of 
sense and place himself under the guidance of philosophy, 
that philosophy which leads from matter to spirit, from soul 
to Nous, from Nous to the One. 

* Efm., VI., ix., 3 ; Kirchh., I., pp. 81 ff. 


Plotintis himself, we are told, readied the climax of com- 
plete unification several times in his life. Porphyry only once, 
in the sixty-e^th year of his age. Probably the condition 
so denominated was a species of h\-pnotic trance. Its im- 
portance in the Neo-PIatonic system has been considerably 
exaggerated, and on the strength of this single point some 
critics have summarily disposed of Plotinus and his whole 
school as unreasoning mystics. Mysticism is a vague word 
capable of very various applications. In the present instance, 
we presume that it is used to express a belief in the existence 
of some method for the discovery of truth apart from tradition, 
observation, and reasoning. And, taken in this sense, the 
Neo -Platonic method of arriving at a full apprehension of the 
One would be considered an extreme instance of mysticism. 
We must bear in mind, however, that Plotinus arrives at an 
intellectual conception of absolute unity by the most strictly 
logical process. It makes no difference that his reasoning is 
unsound, for the same criticism applies to other philosophers 
who have never been accused of mysticism. It may be said 
that after leading us up to a certain point, reason is replaced 
by intuition. Rather, what the ultimate intuition does is not 
to take the place of logic, but to substitute a living realisation 
for an abstract and negative conception. Moreover, the 
intuition is won not by forsaking logic, but by straining its 
resources to the very utmost. Again, one great characteristic 
of mysticism, as ordinarily understood, is to deny the truth of 
common observation and reasoning. Now Plotinus never 
goes this length. As we have already remarked, he does not 
even share Plato's distrust of sensible impressions, but rather 
follows the example of Aristotle in recognising their validity 
within a certain sphere. Nor does he mention having 
received any revelations of divine truth during his intercourse 
with the absolute One. This alone marks an immense differ- 
ence between his ecstasies — if such they can be called — and 


those of the Christian mystics with whom he is associated by 
M. Barthdemy Saint-Hilaire.* 

It may be said that the One is itself a mystical concep- 
tion, involving a reversal of all our ordinary beliefs. The 
universe is a vast multiplicity of objects, held together, if you 
will, by some secret bond of union possibly related to the per- 
sonal unity of consciousness, but still neither lost nor confused 
in its identity. Precisely ; but Plotinus himself fully admits 
as much. His One is the cause of existence, not existence 
itself. He knows just as well as we do, that the abstract idea 
of unity has no reality apart from the mind. But if so, why 
should he associate it, in the true mystical style, with the 
transports of amorous passion ? The question is pertinent, 
but it might be addressed to other Greek systems as well. 
We must remember that Plotinus is only commenting and 
enlarging on Plato. In the Republic also, the Idea of Good 
is described as transcending the existence and the knowledge 
which it produces,^ and in the Symposium^ the absolute self 
beautiful, which seems to be the Good under another name, is 
spoken of in terms not less passionately enthusiastic than any 
applied by Plotinus to the vision of the One.' Doubtless the 
practical sense of the great Attic master did not desert him 
even here : the object of all thought, in its widest sweep and 
in its highest flight, is to find room for every possible ex- 
pansion of knowledge, for every possible elevation of life. 
Plotinus was a stranger to such broad views ; but in departing 
from Plato, as usual he follows Aristotle. The absolute self- 
thinking thought of the Stagirite is, when we examine it 
closely, only one degree less chimerical than the Neo- Platonic 
unification. For it means consciousness of self without the 

> In the introductory essay prefixed to his work De PEcoU ctAlexandrie, 
' oCfrw 8^ KoKmv iifiAf>or4p€oy 6yrofy, yv^attHs re ical iXfiBtlas^ &Wo icaX Kd^Xioy 
fri ro6rvy. — Rgp. , 508, £. od«r odtrias Bvros rov iuyaBov, &\X* In hritctum rris ovalas 
irptafitiff, KoX Bvydfiti 6x€p4xoyros. — Idid,, 509, B. The first of these passages is 
bracketed by Sta Ibaum, but not the second. 
■ Symp.f 211, E f. 



correlative consciousness of a not-self, and as such, according 
to Aristotle, it affords an eternal felicity equal or superior to 
the best and happiest moments of our sensitive human life. 
What Plotinus does is to isolate personal identity from reason 
and, as such, to make it at once the cause and the supreme 
ideal of existence. This involves two errors : first a false 
abstraction of one subjective phenomenon from the sum total 
of conscious life ; and, secondly, an illegitimate generalisa- 
tion of this abstraction into an objective law of things. But 
in both errors, Aristotle had preceded him, by dissociating 
reason from all other mental functions, and by then attribut- 
ing the whole cosmic movement to the love which this isolated 
faculty of reason, in its absolute self-existence, for ever 
inspires. And he also set the example of associating happi- 
ness, which is an emotional state, with an intellectual abstrac- 
tion from which emotion is necessarily excluded. 

Again, the Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics all pass for 
being absolute rationalists. Yet their common ideal of 
impassive self-possession, when worked out to its logical con- 
sequences, becomes nearly indistinguishable from the self- 
simplification of Plotinus. All alike exhibit the Greek 
tendency towards endless abstraction — what we have called 
the analytical moment of Greek thought, working together 
with the moments of antithesis and circumscription. The 
sceptical isolation of man from Nature, the Epicurean isola- 
tion of the individual from the community, the Stoic isolation 
of will from feeling, reached their highest and most abstract 
expression in the Neo-Platonic isolation of pure self-identity 
from all other modes of consciousness and existence combined. 

In estimating the intellectual character of Plotinus, we 
must also remember that the theory of the absolute One 
occupies a relatively small place in his speculations ; while, at 
a rough computation, the purely mystical portions of his 
writings — by which we understand those in which allusion is 
made to personal and incommunicable experiences of his own 


— do not amount to more than one per cent, of the whole. If 
these have attracted more attention than all the rest put 
together, the reason probably is that they offer an agreeable 
relief to the arid scholasticism which fills so much of the 
Enneads^ and that they are the only very original contribution 
made by Plotinus to Greek literature. But the significance 
of a writer must not always be measured by his most original 
passages, and this is eminently true of our philosopher. His 
great merit was to make the spiritualism of Plato and 
Aristotle more intelligible and interesting than it had been 
before, and to furnish reason with a rallying-point when it 
was threatened with utter destruction by the religious revival 
of the empire. 


So far our investigation has been analytical. We have seen 
Plotinus acquire, one after another, the elements out of which 
his system has still to be constructed. The first step was to 
separate spirit from matter. They are respectively distin- 
guished as principles of union and of division. The bodies 
given to us in experience are a combination of the two, a 
dispersion of form over an infinitely extended, infinitely 
divisible, infinitely changeful substratum. Our own souls, 
which at first seemed so absolutely self-identical, present, 
on examination, a similarly composite character. A fresh 
analysis results in the separation of Nous or Reason from the 
lower functions of conscious life. And we infer by analogy 
that the soul in Nature bears the same relation to a tran- 
scendent objective Nous. Nous is essentially pure self-con- 
sciousness, and from this self-consciousness the world of 
Ideas is developed. Properly speaking. Ideas are the sole 
reality : sensible forms are an image of them impressed on 
matter through the agency of the world-souL But Nous, or 
the totality of Ideas, though high, is not the highest. All 
that has hitherto occupied us, Nature, Soul, and Reason, is 


pervaded by a fundamental unity, without which nothing 
could exist. But Soul is not herself this unity, nor is 
Reason. Self-consciousness, even in its purest expression, 
involves a duality of object and subject. The notion of 
Being is distinct from the notion of oneness. The principle 
represented by the latter, as the cause of all things, must 
itself transcend existence, At the same time, it is revealed 
to us by the fact of our own personal identity. To be united 
with oneself is to be united with the One. 

Thus we haye, in all, five gradations: the One, Nous, 
Soul, the sensible world, and, lastly, unformed Matter. 
Taken together, the first three constitute a triad of spiritual 
principles, and, as such, are associated in a single group by 
Plotinus.* Sometimes they are spoken of as the Alexandrian 
Trinity. But the implied comparison with the Trinity of 
Catholicism is misleading. With Neo-Platonism, the su- 
preme unity is, properly speaking, alone God and alone One. 
Nous is vastly inferior to the first principle, and Soul, again, 
to Nous. Possibly the second and third principles are per- 
sonal ; the first most certainly is not, since self-consciousness 
is expressly denied to it by Plotinus. Nor is it likely that 
the idea of a supernatural triad was suggested to Neo- 
Platonism by Christianity. Each of the three principles may 
be traced to its source in Greek philosophy. This has been 
already shown in the case of the One and of the Nous. 
The universal soul is to be found in Plato's Timaeus \ it is 
analogous, at least in its lower, divided part, to Aristotle's 
Nature ; and it is nearly identical with the informing spirit 
of Stoicism.s As to the number three, it was held in high 
esteem long before the Christian era, and was likely to be 
independently employed for the construction of different 
systems at a time when belief in the magical virtue of 
particular numbers was more widely diffused than at any 
former period of civilised history. 

' Enn,^ v., i. 


From another point of view, as we have already observed 
with Kirchner, the fundamental triad assumed by Plotinus is 
body, soul, and spirit. Under their objective aspect of tlie 
sensible universe, the world-soul, and the Nous, these three 
principles constitute the sum of all reality. Take away 
plurality from Nous and there remains the One. Take away 
soul from body and there remains unformed matter. These 
are the two transcendent principles 'between which the others 
extend, and by whose combination in various proportions 
they are explained. It is true that Plotinus himself does 
not allude to the possibility of such an analysis, but it ex- 
hibits, better than any other, the natural order of his dialectic. 

Plotinus passes by an almost insensible transition from 
the more elementary and analytical to the more constructive 
portion of his philosophy. This naturally falls into two great 
divisions, the one speculative and the other practical. It has 
to be shown by what necessity and in what order the great 
cosmic principles are evolved from their supreme source ; and 
it has also to be shown in what way this knowledge is con- 
nected with the supreme interests of the human soul. The 
moral aspect of Neo-Platonism is not at first very clearly 
distinguished from its metaphysical aspect ; and both find 
their most general solution in the same line of thought that 
has led us up to a contemplation of the ultimate One. For 
the successive gradations of our ascent represent, in an in- 
verted order, the steps of creative energy by which all things 
are evolved from their primal source ; while they directly 
correspond to the process of purification through which every 
soul must pass in returning from the exile of her separate 
and material existence to the happiness of identification with 
God. And here we at once come on the fundamental contra- 
diction of the system. What we were so carefully taught to 
consider as one and nothing more, must now be conceived as 
the first cause and the supreme good. Plotinus does, indeed, 
try to evade the difficulty by saying that his absolute is only 


a cause in relation to other things, that it is not so much good 
as the giver of good, that it is only one in the sense of not 
being many.* But after making these reservations, he con- 
tinues to use the old terms as confidently as if they stood for 
the ideas usually associated with them. His fundamental 
error was to identify three distinct methods of connecting 
phenomena, in thought, with each other or with ourselves. 
We may view things in relation to their generating ante- 
cedents, in relation to other things with which they are 
associated by resemblance or juxtaposition, or in relation to 
the satisfaction of our own wants. These three modes of 
reference correspond to Aristotle's efficient, formal, and final 
causes ; but the word causation should be applied only to 
the first. Whether their unfortunate confusion both by 
Aristotle and by his successors was in any appreciable 
degree due to their having been associated by him under a 
common denomination, may reasonably be doubted. It is 
rather more probable that the same name was given to these 
different conceptions in consequence of their having first 
become partially identified in thought. Social arrangements, 
which have a great deal to do with primitive speculation, 
would naturally lead to such an identification. The king or 
other chief magistrate stands at the head of the social hier- 
archy and forms the bond of union among its members ; he is 
the source of all authority ; and his position, or, failing that, his 
favour, is regarded as the supreme good. Religion extends 
the same combination of attributes to her chief God ; and 
philosophy, following on the lines of religion, employs it to 
unify the methods of science and morality. 

All existence, according to Plotinus, proceeds from the 
One, which he also calls God. But God does not create the 
world by a conscious exercise of power ; for, as we have seen, 
every form of consciousness is excluded from his definition. 

' Enn.^ VI., ix., 3, sub Jin. ; ibuL^ 6, p. 764, E. (Kirchh., I., p. 87, 1. 16) ; 
Vi////., v., v., 6, p. 525, D. (Kirchh., II., p. 24, 1. 24). 


Neither does it proceed from him by emanation, for this 
would imply a diminution of his substance.' It is produced 
by an overflow of his infinite power.' Our philosopher tries 
to explain and defend this rather unintelligible mode of 
derivation by the analogy of physical substances and their 
actions. Light is constantly coming from the sun without 
any loss to the luminary itself And all things are, in like 
manner, constantly communicating their proper virtue to 
others while remaining unaltered themselves. Here we have 
a good example of the close connexion between science and 
abstract speculation. People often talk as if metaphysics 
was something beyond the reach of verification. But some 
metaphysical theories admit, at any rate, of disproof, in so far 
as they are founded on false physical theories. Had Plotinus 
known that neither the sun nor anything else in Nature can 
produce force out of nothing, he would, very probably, have 
hesitated to credit the One with such a power. 

In reasoning up from the world to its first cause, we were 
given to understand that the two were related to one another 
as contradictory opposites. The multiple must proceed from 
the simple, and existence from that which does not exist. 
But the analogies of material production now suggest a 
somewhat different view. What every power calls into 
existence is an image of itself, but the effect is never more 
than a weakened and imperfect copy of its original. Thus 
the universe appears as a series of diminishing energies 
descending in a graduated scale from the highest to the 
lowest Here, again, bad science makes bad philosophy. 
Effects are never inferior to their causes, but always exactly 
equal, the effect being nothing else than the cause in another 
place or under another form. This would be obvious enough, 
did not superficial observation habitually confound the real 

' Enn,^ VT., ix., 9, sitb m, 

« /did., v., ii., I, p. 494, A. (Kirchh., I., p. 109, 1. 7). 

• Idul, v., i., 5, p. 4S7, C. (Kirchh., I., p. loi, 1. 32). 


cause with the sum of its concomitants. What we are accus- 
tomed to think of as a single cause is, in truth, a whole bundle 
of causes, which do not always converge to a single point, and 
each of which, taken singly, is, of course, inferior to the whole 
sum taken together. Thus when we say that the sun heats 
the earth, this is only a conventional way of speaking. What 
really does the work is a relatively infinitesimal part of the 
solar heat separately transmitted to us through space. Once 
neglect this truth, and there is no reason why effects should 
not exceed as well as fall short of their causes in any assign- 
able proportion. Such an illusion is, in fact, produced when 
different energies converge to a point Here it is the con- 
sequent and not the antecedent which is confounded with 
the sum of its concomitants, as when an explosion is said to 
be the effect of a spark. 

Of course we are speaking of causation as exercised under 
the conditions of time, space, matter, and motion. It is then 
identical with the transmission of energy and obeys the laws 
of energy. And to talk about causation under any other 
conditions than these is utter nonsense. But Plotinus and 
other philosophers exclude the most essential of the con- 
ditions specified from their enquiries into the ultimate origin 
of things. We are expressly informed that the genesis of 
Nous from the One, and of Soul from Nous, must not be 
conceived as taking place in time but in eternity.* Unfor- 
tunately those who make such reservations are not consistent. 
They continue to talk about power, causation, priority, and 
so forth, as if these conceptions were separable from time. 
Hence they have to choose between making statements 
which are absolutely unintelligible and making statements 
which are absolutely untrue. 

Perhaps the processes of logic and mathematics may be 
adduced as an exception. It may be contended that the 
genus is prior to the species, the premise to the conclusion, 

> Enn,^ v., i., 6, p. 487, B. (Kircbh., I., p. loi, 1. ai). 


the unit to the multiple, the line to the figure, in reason 
though not in time. And Plotinus avails himself to the 
fullest extent of mathematical and logical analogies in his 
transcendental constructions. His One is the starting-point 
of numeration, the centre of a circle, the identity involved in 
difference; and under each relation it claims an absolute 
priority, of which causal power is only the most general 
expression. We have already seen how a multitude of 
archetypal Ideas spring from the supreme Nous as from their 
fountain-head. Their production is explained, on the lines of 
Plato's Sophist, as a process of dialectical derivation. By 
logically analysing the conception of self-consciousness, we 
obtain, first of all. Nous itself, or Reason, as the subject, and 
Existence as the object of thought Subject and object, 
considered as the same with one another, give us Identity: 
considered as distinct, they give us Difference. The passage 
from one to the other gives Motion ; the limitation of thought 
to itself gives Rest. The plurality of determinations so 
obtained gives number and quantity, their specific difference 
gives quality, and from these principles everything else is 
derived.* It might seem as if, here at least, we had some- 
thing which could be called a process of eternal generation — 
a causal order independent of time. But, in reality, the 
assumed sequence exists only in our minds, and there it 
takes place under the form of time, not less inevitably than 
do the external re-arrangements of matter and motion. Thus 
in logic and mathematics, such terms as priority, antecedence, 
and evolution can only be used to signify the order in which 
our knowledge is acquired ; they do not answer to causal 
relations existing among things in themselves. And apart 
from these two orders— the objective order of dynamical 
production in space and time, and the subjective order of 
intelligibility in thought — there is no kind of succession that 
we can conceive. Eternal relations, if they exist at all, must 

> Enn,^ v., i., 4, p. 485, £ (Kirchh., I., pp. 99 f.). 


be relations of co-existence, of resemblance, or of difference, 
continued through infinite time. Wherever there is ante- 
cedence, the consequent can only have existed for a finite 

Some may think that we have pushed this point at un- 
necessary length. But the Neo-Platonic method is not quite 
so obsolete as they, perhaps, suppose. Whenever we repeat 
the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, we are expressing our 
religious belief in the language of the Alexandrian schools, 
thus pledging ourselves to metaphysical dogmas which we can 
neither explain nor defend. Such terms as sonship and pro- 
cession have no meaning except when applied to relations 
conceived under the form of time ; and to predicate eternity 
of them is to reduce them to so much unintelligible jargon. 

An energy continually advancing through successive gra- 
dations, and diminishing as it advances — such, as we have 
seen, is the conception of existence offered by Plotinus. We 
have seen, also, how to explain the genesis of one principle 
from another without the aid of supernatural volition or 
of mechanical causation, he is compelled to press into the 
service every sort of relationship by which two objects can be 
connected, and to invest it with a dynamical significance 
which only the phenomena of matter and motion can possess. 
But what he chiefly relies on for guidance in this tortuous 
labyrinth of timeless evolution, is the old Greek principle that 
contraries are generated from one another. And with him, as 
with the earlier thinkers, all contraries reduce themselves, in 
the last analysis, to the four great antitheses of the One and 
tJie Many, Being and not-Being, the Same and the Other, 
Rest and Motion. It matters nothing that he should have 
followed Plato to the extent of co-ordinating five of these terms 
as supreme archetypal Ideas, immediately resulting from the 
self-consciousness of Nous, and themselves producing all other 
forms of existence. They are used, quite independently of 
that derivation, to explain the connexion of the various 


creative principles with one another. Nous is deduced from 
its first cause as Being from not-Being, as the Many from the 
One, as Difference from Identity, and as Motion from Rest.* 
To explain the generation of Soul from Nous is a more 
difficult problem. The One had originally been defined 
as the antithetical cause of Nous, and therefore the latter 
could easily be accounted for by simply reversing the analyti- 
cal process ; whereas Nous had not been defined as the cause 
of Soul, but as the model whence her creative Ideas are 
derived. Soul, in fact, is not opposed to anything ; she is the 
connecting link between sense and spirit. In this strait, 
Plotinus seems to think that the antithesis between Rest and 
Motion IS the best fitted to express the nature of her descent 
from the higher principle ; and on one occasion he illustrates 
the relation of his three divine substances to one another by 
the famous figure of a central point representing the One, a 
fixed circle round that point representing the Nous, and 
outside that, again, a revolving circle representing the Soul.' 
Still, the different parts of the system are very awkwardly 
pieced together at this juncture ; for the creative energy of the 
Nous has already been invoked to account for the Ideas or 
partial intelligences into which it spontaneously divides ; and 
one does not understand how it can be simultaneously applied 
to the production of something that is not an Idea at all. 

Fresh difficulties arise in explaining the activity which 
the Soul, in her turn, exerts. As originally conceived, her 
function was sufficiently clear. Mediating between two worlds, 
she transforms the lower one into a likeness of the higher, 
stamping on material objects a visible image of the eternal 
Ideas revealed to her by a contemplation of the Nous. And, 
as a further elaboration of this scheme, we were told that 
the primary soul generates an inferior soul, which, again, 
subdivides itself into the multitude of partial souls required 

' Enn,^ v., ii., i, p. 494, A ; VI., ix., 2, p. 759, A ; II., iv., 5, p. 162, A. 
* Enn,^ IV., iv., 16, p. 409, C (Kirchh., I., p. 283, 1. 31). 

Y 2 


for the animation of different bodily organisms. But now 
that our philosopher has entered on a synthetic construction 
of the elements furnished by his preliminary analysis, he finds 
himself confronted by an entirely new problem. For his 
implied principle is that each hypostasis must generate the 
grade which comes next after it in the descending series of 
manifestations, until the possibilities of existence have been 
exhausted. But in developing and applying the noetic Ideas, 
the Soul, apparently, finds a pre-existing Matter ready to 
hand. Thus she has to deal with something lower than 
herself, which she did not create, and which is not created by 
the Forms combined with it in sensible experience. We hear 
of a descent from thought to feeling, and from feeling to simple 
vitality,* but in each instance the depth of the Soul's fall is 
measured by the extent to which she penetrates into the 
recesses of a substance not clearly related to her nor to 
anything above her. 

Plotinus is driven by this perplexity to reconsider the 
whole theory of Matter.' He takes Aristotle's doctrine as 
the groundwork of his investigation. According to this, all 
existence is divided into Matter and Form. What we know of 
things — in other words, the sum of their differential charac- 
teristics — is their Form. Take away this, and the unknow- 
able residuum is their Matter. Again, Matter is the vague 
indeterminate something out of which particular Forms are 
developed. The two are related as Possibility to Actuality, as 
the more generic to the more specific substance through every 
grade of classification and composition. Thus there are two 
Matters, the one sensible and the other intelligible. The 
former constitutes the common substratum of bodies, the other 
the common element of ideas.' The general distinction 
between Matter and Form was originally suggested to Aris- 
totle by Plato's remarks on the same subject ; but he differs 

' Enn., v., ii., 2. * Enn,^ II., iv. 

■ Aristot, Afetaph.f VII., x., sub Jin, 


from his master in two important particulars. Plato, in his 
TimaeuSy seems to identify Matter with space.* So far, it is a 
much more positive conception than the vXtj of the Metaphysics, 
On the other hand, he constantly opposes it to reality as 
something non-existent ; and he at least implies that it is op- 
posed to absolute good as a principle of absolute evil.* Thus 
while the Aristotelian world is formed by the development of 
Power into Actuality, the Platonic world is composed by the 
union of Being and not-Being, of the Same and the Different, 
of the One and the Many, of the Limit and the Unlimited, of 
Good and Evil, in varying proportions with each other. 

Plotinus, as we have said, starts with the Aristotelian 
account of Matter ; but by a process of dialectical manipu- 
lation, he gradually brings it into almost complete agreement 
with Plato's conception ; thus, as usual, mediating between and 
combining the views of his two great authorities. In the first 
place, he takes advantage of Aristotle's distinction between 
intelligible and sensible Matter, to strip the latter of that 
positive and vital significance with which it had been clothed 
in the Peripatetic system. In the world of Ideas, there is an 
element common to all specific forms, a fundamental unity in 
which they meet and inhere, which may without impropriety 
be called their Matter. But this Matter is an eternal and 
divine substance, inseparably united with the fixed forms 
which it supports, and, therefore, something which, equally with 
them, receives light and life and thought from the central 
source of being. It is otherwise with sensible Matter, the 
common substance of the corporeal elements. This is, to use 
the energetic expression of our philosopher, a decorated corpse.' 
It does not remain constantly combined with any form, but is 
for ever passing from one to another, without manifesting a 
particular preference for any. As such, it is the absolute 
negation of Form, and can only be conceived, if at all, by 

» Tim,, 48, E, ff. « Ibid., 47, E. 

* Enn,, II., iv., 5, p. 161, E (Kirchh., I., p. 114, 1. i). 


thinking away every sensible quality. Neither has it any 
quantity, for quantity means magnitude, and magnitude 
implies definite figure. Aristotle opposed to each particular 
form a corresponding privation, and placed Matter midway 
between them. Plotinus, on the other hand, identifies Matter 
with the general privation of all forms. It is at this point 
that he begins to work his way back to the Platonic notion of 
Matter as simple extension. There must, after all, be some- 
thing about Matter which enables it to receive every kind of 
quality and figure, — it must have some sort of mass or bulk, 
not, indeed, in any definite sense, but with an equal capacity 
for expansion and for contraction. Now, says Plotinus, the 
very indeterminateness of Matter is precisely the capacity for 
extension in all directions that we require. * Having no 
principle of stability, but being borne towards every form, and 
easily led about in all directions, it acquires the nature of a 
mass.' * 

Henceforth, whatever our philosopher says about Matter 
will apply to extension and to extension alone. It cannot be 
apprehended by sight, nor by hearing, nor by smell, nor by 
taste, for it is neither colour, nor sound, nor odour, nor juice. 
Neither can it be touched, for it is not a body, but it becomes 
corporeal on being blended with sensible qualities. And, in a 
later essay, he describes it as receiving all things and letting 
them depart again without retaining the slightest trace of their 
presence.* Why then, it may be asked, if Plotinus meant 
extension, could he not say so at once, and save us all this 
trouble in hunting out his meaning } There were very good 
reasons why he should not. In the first place, he wished to 
express himself, so far as possible, in Aristotelian phraseology, 
and this was incompatible with the reduction of Matter to 
extension. In the next place, the idea of an infinite void had 
been already appropriated by the Epicureans, to whose system 
he was bitterly opposed. And, finally, the extension of ordinary 

' -£■««., II., iv., II, sub fin. • Enn.y III., vi., 14 f. 


experience had not the absolute generality which was needed 
in order to bring Matter into relation with that ultimate 
abstraction whence, like everything else, it has now to be 

As a result of the preceding analysis, Plotinus at last 
identifies Matter with the Infinite — not an infinite something, 
but the Infinite pure and simple, apart from any subject of 
which it can be predicated. We started with what seemed a 
broad distinction between intelligible and sensible Matter. 
That distinction now disappears in a new and more compre- 
hensive conception ; and, at the same time, Plotinus begins to 
see his way towards a restatement of his whole system in 
clearer terms. * The Infinite is generated from the infinity or 
power or eternity of the One ; not that there is infinity in the 
One, but that it is created by the One.' * With the first 
outrush of energy from the primal fount of things, Matter 
begins to exist. But no sooner do movement and difference 
start into life, than they are restrained and bent back by the 
presence of the One ; and this reflection of power or being on 
itself constitutes the supreme self-consciousness of Nous.* 
Whether the subsequent creation of Soul involves a fresh 
production of energy, or whether a portion of the original 
stream, which was called into existence by the One, escapes 
from the restraining self-consciousness of Nous and continues 
its onward flow — this Plotinus does not say. What he does say 
is that Soul stands to Nous in the relation of Matter to Form, 
and is raised to perfection by gazing back on the Ideas 
contained in Nous, just as Nous itself had been perfected by 
returning to the One.' But while the two higher principles 
remain stationary, the Soul, besides giving birth to a fresh 
stream of energy, turns towards her own creation and away 
from the fountain of her life. And, apparently, it is only by 

» Enn,y II., iv., 15, p. 169, A (Kirchh., I., p. 124, 1. 17). 

* IbitL, 5, p. 162, A (Kirchh., I., p. 114, 1. 12). 

■ /HiLt III., ix., 3, p. 358, A (Kirchh., I. p. 128, 1. 22). 


this condescension on her part that the visible world could have 
been formed.* We can explain this by supposing that as the 
stream of Matter departs more and more from the One, its 
power of self-reflection continually diminishes, and at length 
ceases altogether. It is thus that the substratum of sensible 
objects must, as we have seen, be conceived under the aspect 
of a passive recipient for the forms imposed on it by the Soul ; 
and just as those forms are a mere image of the noetic Ideas, 
so also, Plotinus tells us, is their Matter an image of the 
intelligible Matter which exists in the Nous itself; only the 
image realises the conception of a material principle more 
completely than the archetype, because of its more negative 
and indeterminate nature, a diminution of good being equiva- 
lent to an increase of evil.* 

Still Plotinus gives no clear answer to the question whence 
comes this last and lowest Matter. He will not say that it is 
an emanation from the Soul, nor yet will he say that it is a 
formless residue of the element out of which she was shaped 
by a return to the Nous. In truth, he could not make up his 
mind as to whether the Matter of sensible objects was created 
at all. He oscillates between unwillingness to admit that 
absolute evil can come from good, and unwillingness to 
admit that the two are co-ordinate principles of existence. 
And, as usual, where ideas fail him, he helps himself out of 
the difficulty with metaphors. The Soul must advance, and 
in order to advance she must make a place for herself, and 
that there may be a place there must be body. Or, again, 
while remaining fixed in herself, she sends out a great light, 
and by the light she sees that there is darkness beyond its 
extreme verge, and moulds its formless substance into 

* Enn,^ III., iy., i, 

• Enn,, II., iv., 1$, p. 169, B (Kirchh., I., p. 124, 1. 22). 

■ Enn,t IV., iii., 9, p. 379, A (Kirchh., I., p. 244, 1. 17). In one of his 
latest essays (£"«»., I., viii., 7) Plotinus for a moment accepts the Platonic theory 
that evil must necessarily coexist with good as its correlative opposite, but quickly 


The ambiguities and uncertainties which Plotinus exhibits 
in theorising on the origin of Matter, are due not only to the 
conflicting influences of Plato and Aristotle, but also to an- 
other influence quite distinct from theirs. This is the Stoic 
cosmology. While utterly repudiating the materialism of 
the Stoics, Plotinus evidently felt attracted by their severe 
monism, and by the consistent manner in which they derived 
every form of existence from the divine substance. They too 
recognised a distinction between Form and Matter, the active 
and the passive principle in Nature, but they supposed that the 
one, besides being penetrated and moulded by the other, had 
also been originally produced by it. Such a theory was well 
suited to the energetic and practical character of Stoic 
morality, with its aversion from mere contemplation, its 
immediate bearing on the concrete interests of life. Man 
was conceived as an intelligent force, having for his proper 
function to bring order out of chaos, ' to make reason and 
the will of God prevail,' and this ideal appeared to be 
reflected in the dynamic constitution of Nature. With 
Plotinus, on the other hand, as with Aristotle, theory and 
not practice was the end of life, or rather, as he himself 
expressed it, practice was an inferior kind of theorising, an 
endeavour to set before oneself in outward form what should 
properly be sought in the noetic world where subject and 
object are one.* Accordingly, while accepting the Stoic 
monism, he strove to bring it into close agreement with 
Aristotle's cosmology, by substituting contemplation for will 
as the creative principle in all existence, no less than as the 
ideal of happiness for man. 

We have seen how, in accordance with this view, each 
principle is perfected by looking back on its source.* ' Thus 

retunis to the alternative theory that evil results from the gradual diminution and 
extinction of good (cp. Zeller, Ph, d, Gr,^ III., b, p. 549). 

* Enn,, III., viii., 4 and 8. 

' Our GVfXi word ' paragon * is a curious record of the theory in question. It is 
derived from the Greek participial substantive 6 irapJayay^ the producer. Now, 


the activity of the world-soul, so far as it is exercised for the 
benefit of what comes after and falls beneath her, is an 
anomaly only to be accounted for by her inferior place in 
the system of graduated descent; or else by the utter 
impotence of Matter, which is incapable of raising itself 
into Form by a spontaneous act of reflection, and can only 
passively receive the images transmitted to it from above, 
without being able to retain even these for any time. Nay, 
here also, what looks like creative energy admits of being 
assimilated more or less closely to an exercise of idealising 
thought. It is really for her own sake that the Soul fills what 
lies beyond her with life and light, not, like Plato's Soul, from 
pure disinterested joy in the communication and diffusion of 
good. It is because she recoils with horror from darkness 
and nonentity that she shapes the formless substance into a 
residence for herself, on the model of the imperial palace 
whence she came. Thus the functions of sensation, nutrition, 
and reproduction are to be regarded as so many modes of 
contemplation. In the first, the Soul dwells on the material 
images which already exist ; in the second and third, she 
strives to perpetuate and multiply them still further. And 
the danger is that she may become so enthralled by her own 
creation as to forget the divine original after which it is 
formed.' Should she yield to the snare, successive trans- 
migrations will sink her lower and lower into the depths of 
animalism and material darkness. To avoid this d^radation, 
to energise with the better part of our nature, is to be good. 
And with the distinction between good and evil, we pass from 
the metaphysical to the ethical portion of the system. 

according to Nco-Platonism, in the hierarchic series of existences, the product 
always strives, or should strive, to model itself on the producer, hence wapdyww 
came to be used in the double sense of a cause and an exemplar. As such, it is 
one of the technical terms employed throughout the InstUtUiona Theological of 
Proclus. But, in time, the second or derivative meaning became so much the 
more important as to gain exclusive possession of the word on its adoption into 
modern languages. 
' A///I., III., IV., 2. 



All virtue, with Plotinus, rests on the superiority of the 
soul to the body. So far, he follows the common doctrine of 
Plato and Aristotle. But in working out the distinction, he is 
influenced by the individualising and theoretic philosophy of 
the latter rather than by the social and practical philosophy 
of the former. Or, again, we may say that with him the 
intellectualism of Aristotle is heightened and warmed by the 
religious aspirations of Plato, strengthened and purified by 
the Stoic passionlessness, the Stoic independence of 'external 
goods. In his ethical system, the virtues are arranged in an 
ascending scale. Each grade reproduces the old quadripartite 
division into Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice, but 
in each their respective significance receives a new interpre- 
tation. As civic virtues, they continue to bear the meaning 
assigned to them in Plato's Republic, Wisdom belongs to 
reason. Courage to passionate spirit, Temperance to desire, 
while Justice implies the fulfilment of its appropriate function 
by each.* But all this only amounts to the restriction of what 
would otherwise be unregulated impulse, the imposition of 
Form on Matter, the supremacy of the soul over the body ; 
whereas what we want is to get rid of matter altogether. 
Here also, Plato sets us on the right track when he calls the 
virtues purifications. From this point of view, for the soul 
to energise alone without any interference, is Wisdom ; not to 
be moved by the passions of the body is Temperance ; not to 
dread separation from the body is Courage ; and to obey the 
guidance of reason is Justice.* Such a disposition of the 
soul is what Plato means by flying from the world and be- 
coming like God. Is this enough ? No, it is not We have, 
so far, been dealing only with the negative conditions of good, 
not with good itself. The essential thing is not purification, 
but what remains behind when the work of purification is 

* Enn.^ I., ii., I. • Ibid,y 3. 


accomplished. So we come to the third and highest grade of 
virtue, the truly divine life, which is a complete conversion to 
reason. Our philosopher endeavours to fit this also into the 
framework of the cardinal virtues, but not without imposing 
a serious strain on the ordinary meaning of words. Of Wis- 
dom nothing need be said, for it is the same as rationality. 
Justice is the self-possession of mind. Temperance the inward 
direction towards reason. Courage the impassivity arising 
from resemblance to that which is by nature impassive.* 

Plotinus is careful to make us understand that his morality 
has neither an ascetic nor a suicidal tendency. Pleasures are 
to be tolerated under the form, of a necessary relief and re- 
laxation ; pains are to be removed, but if incurable, they are 
to be patiently borne ; anger is, if possible, to be suppressed, 
and, at any rate, not allowed to exceed the limits of an 
involuntary movement ; fear will not be felt except as a 
salutary warning. The bodily appetites will be restricted to 
natural wants, and will not be felt by the soul, except, per- 
haps, as a transient excitement of the imagination.* What- 
ever abstinences our philosopher may have practised on his 
own account, we find no trace of a tendency towards self- 
mortification in his writings, nothing that is not consistent 
with the healthiest traditions of Greek spiritualism as originally 
constituted by the great Athenian school. 

While not absolutely condemning suicide, Plotinus re- 
stricts the right of leaving this world within much narrower 
limits than were assigned to it by the Stoics. In violently 
separating herself from the body, the soul, he tells us, is acting 
under the influence of some evil passion, and he intimates 
that the mischievous effects of this passion will prolong 
themselves into the new life on which she is destined to enter.' 
Translated into more abstract language, his meaning probably 
is that the feelings which ordinarily prompt to suicide, are 
such as would not exist in a well-regulated mind. It is 

' Enn.y I., ii., 6, sub fin^ * Ibid,^ 5. ■ Ibid,^ ix. 


remarkable that Schopenhauer, whose views of life were, on 
other points, the very reverse of those held by Plotinus, 
should have used very much the same argument against self- 
destruction. According to his theory, the will to life, which 
it should be our principal business to conquer, asserts itself 
strongly in the wish to escape from suffering, and only delays 
the final moment of peaceful extinction by rushing from one 
phase of existence to another. And in order to prove the 
possibility of such a revival, Schopenhauer was obliged to 
graft on his philosophy a theory of metempsychosis, which, 
but for this necessity, would certainly never have found a 
place in it at all. In this, as in many other instances, an 
ethical doctrine is apparently deduced from a metaphysical 
doctrine which has, in reality, been manufactured for its 
support All systems do but present under different formulas 
a common fund of social sentiment. A constantly growing 
body of public opinion teaches us that we do not belong to 
ourselves, but to those about us, and that, in ordinary circum- 
stances, it is no less weak and selfish to run away from life 
than to run away from death. 

Plotinus follows up his essay on the Virtues by an essay 
on Dialectic* As a method for attaining perfection, he places 
dialectic above ethics ; and, granting that the apprehension of 
abstract ideas ranks higher than the performance of social 
duties, he is quite consistent in so doing. Not much, however, 
can be made of his few remarks on the subject They seem 
to be partly meant for a protest against the Stoic idea that 
logic is an instrument for acquiring truth rather than truth 
itself, and also against the Stoic use or abuse of the syllogistic 
method. In modem phraseology, Plotinus seems to view 
dialectic as the immanent and eternal process of life itself, 
rather than as a collection of rules for drawing correct infer- 
ences from true propositions, or from propositions assumed to 
be true. We have seen how he regarded existence- in the 

* Enn.f I., iii. 


highest sense as identical with the self-thinking of the abso- 
lute Nous, and how he attempted to evolve the whole series 
of archetypal Ideas contained therein from the simple fact of 
self-consciousness. Thus he would naturally identify dialectic 
with the subjective reproduction of this objective evolution ; 
and here he would always have before his eyes the splendid 
programme sketched in Plato's Republic} His preference of 
intuitive to discursive reasoning has been quoted by Ritter as 
a symptom of mysticism. But here, as in so many instances, 
he follows Aristotle, who also held that simple abstraction 
is a higher operation, and represents a higher order of real 
existence than complex ratiocination.* 

The ultimate stage of perfection is, of course, the identi- 
fication of subject and object, the ascent from the Nous to 
the One. But, on this point, Plotinus never added anything 
essential to what has already been quoted from the analytical 
portion of his enquiry, and the essay containing that passage 
is accordingly placed last in Porphyry's arrangement of his 

Our account of Neo-Platonism has, with the exception of 
a few illustrations, been derived exclusively from the earlier 
essays of Plotinus. His subsequent writings are exceedingly 
obscure and tedious, and they add little by way either of 
development or defence to the outlines which he had sketched 
with a master's hand. Whatever materials they may supply 
for a better appreciation, whether of his philosophy or of his 
general character as a thinker, will most profitably find their 
place in the final survey of both which we shall now attempt 
to give. 


Every great system of philosophy may be considered 
from four distinct points of view. We may ask what is its 
value as a theory of the world and of human life, measured 

' Rep.^t VI., $11. ' Sec the conclusion of the Posterior Analytics, 


either by the number of new truths which it contains, or by 
the stimulus to new thought which it affords. Or we may 
consider it from the aesthetic side, as a monumental struc- 
ture interesting us not by its utility, but by its beauty and 
grandeur. Under this aspect, a system may be admirable 
for its completeness, coherence, and symmetry, or for the 
great intellectual qualities exhibited by its architect, although 
it may be open to fatal objections as a habitation for human 
beings, and may fail to reproduce the plan on which we now 
know that the universe is built. Or, again, our interest in the 
work may be purely historical and psychological ; we may 
look on it as the product of a particular age and a particular 
mind, as summing up for us under their most abstract form 
the ideas and aspirations which at any given moment had 
gained possession of educated opinion. Or, finally, we may 
study it as a link in the evolution of thought, as a result of 
earlier tendencies, and an antecedent of later developments. 
We propose to make a few remarks on the philosophy of 
Plotinus, or, what is the same thing, on Neo-Platonism in 
general, from each of these four points of view. 

In absolute value, Neo-Platonism stands lowest as well as 
last among the ancient schools of thought. No reader who 
has followed us thus far will need to be reminded how many 
valuable ideas were first brought to light, or reinforced with 
new arguments and illustrations by the early Greek thinkers, 
by the Sophists and Socrates, by Plato and Aristotle, by the 
Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics, and by the moralists of the 
Roman empire. On every subject of speculation that can be 
started, we continue to ask, like Plotinus himself, what the 
* blessed ancients ' had to say about it ; * not, of course, 
because they lived a long time ago, but because they came 
first, because they said what they had to say with the unique 
charm of original discovery, because they were in more direct 
contact than we are, not, indeed, with the facts, but with the 

* Enn,^ III., vii., I, p. 325, C (Kirchh., II., p. 282, I. 13). 


phenomena of- Nature and life and thought. It is true that 
we have nothing more to learn from them, for whatever was 
sound in their teaching has been entirely absorbed into 
modem thought, and combined with ideas of which they did 
not dream. But until we come to Hume and his successors, 
there is nothing in philosophical literature that can be 
compared to their writings for emancipating and stimulating 
power; and, perhaps, when the thinkers of the last and 
present centuries have become as obsolete as Bacon and 
Descartes are now, those writings will continue to be studied 
with unabating zeal. Neo-Platonism, on the other hand, is 
dead, and every attempt made to galvanise it into new life 
has proved a disastrous failure. The world, that is to say 
the world of culture, will not read Plotinus and his successors, 
will not even read the books that are written about them by 
scholars of brilliant literary ability like MM. Vacherot and 
Jules Simon in France, Steinhart and Kirchner in Germany.* 
We have not far to seek for the cause of this fatal con- 
demnation. Neo-Platonism is nothing if not a system, and 
as a system it is false, and not only false but out of relation 
to every accepted belief. In combining the dialectic of Plato 
with the metaphysics of Aristotle and the physics of Stoicism, 
Plotinus has contrived to rob each of whatever plausibility 
it once possessed. The Platonic doctrine of Ideas was an 
attempt to express something very real and important, the 
distinction between laws and facts in Nature, between 
general principles and particular observations in science, 
between ethical standards and everyday practice in life. 
The eternal Nous of Aristotle represented the upward 
struggle of Nature through mechanical, chemical, and vital 

* Zeller's last volume, giving a full account of the Neo-PIatonic school, has 
recently reached a third edition, but it belongs to a connected work, and contains, 
in addition, a mass of information possessing special interest for theologians. It 
has not, however, been translated into English, nor apparently is there any 
intention of translating it. Our own literature on the subject is represented by a 
worthless book of Kingsley's, entitled Alexandria and her Schools, and a novel 
by a lady, called the Wards of Plotinus, 


movements to self-conscious thought. The world-soul of 
Stoicism represented a return to monism, a protest against 
the unphilosophical antithesis between God and the world, 
spirit and matter, necessity and free-will. Plotinus attempts 
to rationalise the Ideas by shutting them up in the Aristo- 
telian Nous, with the effect of severing them still more 
hopelessly from the real world, and, at the same time, 
making their subjective origin still more flagrantly apparent 
than before. And along with the Stoic conception of a 
world-soul, he preserves all those superstitious fancies about 
secret spiritual sympathies and aflinities connecting the 
different parts of Nature with one another which the con- 
ception of a transcendent Nous, as originally understood by 
Aristotle, had at least the merit of excluding. Finally, by a 
tremendous wrench of abstraction, the unity of existence is 
torn away from existence itself, and the most relative of all 
conceptions is put out of relation to the thought which, in 
the very same breath, it is declared to condition, and to the 
things which it is declared to create. 

Again, on the practical side, by combining Plato with 
Aristotle and both with Stoicism, Plotinus contrives to 
eliminate what is most valuable in each. If, in the Republic^ 
the Good was placed above all existence, this was only that we 
might transform existence into its image. If Aristotle placed 
the theoretical above the ethical virtues, he assigned no limits 
but those of observation and reasoning to the energising of 
theoretic power. If the Stoics rested morality on the 
absolute isolation of the human will, they deduced from this 
principle not only the inwardness of virtue, but also the 
individualisation of duty, the obligation of beneficence, and 
the forgiveness of sin. But with Plotinus, Reason has no 
true object of contemplation outside its own abstract ideas, 
and the self-realisation of Stoicism means a barren conscious- 
ness of personal identity, from which every variety of interest 
and sympathy is excluded : it is not an expansion of our own 

VOL. !!• z 


soul into coincidence with the absolute All, but a concentra- 
tion of both into a single point, a flight of the alone to the 
alone ; * and only in this utter solitude does he suppose that 
the Platonic Good is finally and wholly possessed. 

Nor, with a single exception, is the fundamental untruth 
of the system redeemed by any just and original observations 
on points of detail such as lie so thickly scattered over the 
pages of other metaphysicians, both in ancient and modem 
literature. The single exception is the refutation of 
materialism to which attention has been already directed. 
Apart from this, the Enneads do not contain one single 
felicitous or suggestive idea, nothing that can enlarge the 
horizon of our thoughts, nothing that can exalt the purpose 
of our lives. 

If, however, we pass to the second point of view, and judge 
Neo-Platonism according to the requirements, not of truth or of 
usefulness, but of beauty, our first verdict of utter condem- 
nation will be succeeded by a much more favourable opinion. 
Plotinus has used the materials inherited from his predecessors 
with unquestionable boldness and skill ; and the constructive 
power exhibited in the general plan of his vast system is fully 
equalled by the close reasoning with which every detail is 
elaborated and fitted into its proper place. Nothing can be 
imagined more imposing than this wondrous procession of 
forms defiling from the unknown to the unknown — from the 
self-developing consciousness of Reason as it breaks and 
flames and multiplies into a whole universe of being and life 
and thought, ever returning, by the very law of their produc- 
tion, to the source whence they have sprung— onward and 
outward on the wings of the cosmic Soul, through this visible 
world, where they reappear as images of intellectual beauty 
in the eternal revolutions of the starry spheres above, in the 
everlasting reproduction of organic species below, in the love- 
liest thoughts and actions of the loveliest human souls — till 

* Enn,y VI., ix., sub Jin, 


the utmost limits of their propagation and dispersion have 
been reached, till the last faint rays of existence die out in 
the dark and void region that extends to infinity beyond. 
Nothing in the realm of abstractions can be more moving 
than this Odyssey of the human soul, wakened by visions of 
earthly loveliness to a consciousness of her true destiny, a 
remembrance of her lost and forgotten home ; then abandon- 
ing these for the possession of a more spiritual beauty, as- 
cending by the steps of dialectic to a contemplation of the 
archetypal Ideas that lie folded and mutually interpenetrated 
in the bosom of the eternal Reason where thought and being 
are but the double aspect of a single absolute reality ; seeking 
farther and higher, beyond the limits of existence itself, for a 
still purer unity, and finding in the awful solitude of that 
supreme elevation that the central source of all things does 
not lie without but within, that only in returning to self- 
identity does she return to the One ; or, again, descending 
to the last confines of light and life that she may prolong 
their radiation into the formless depths of matter, projecting 
on its dcarkness an image of the glory whose remembrance 
still attends her in her fall 

Still more impressive, if we consider the writings of 
Plotinus on their personal side, and as a revelation of their 
author's mind, is the high and sustained purity, the absolute 
detachment and disinterestedness by which they are charac- 
terised throughout No trace of angry passion, no dallying 
with images of evil, interferes to mar their exalted spirituality 
from first to last While the western world was passing 
through a period of horror and degradation such as had 
never been known before, the philosopher took refuge in an 
ideal sphere, and looked down on it all with no more dis- 
turbance to his serenity than if he had been the spectator of a 
mimic performance on the stage.* This, indeed, is one of 

» Enn,, III., ii., 15, p. 266, E (Kirchh., II., p. 336, 1. 31). M. Renan talks 
of the period from 235 to 284 as ' cet enfer d'un demi-si^Ie oil sombre toute 

z a 


the reasons why the Enneads are so much less interesting, 
from a literary point of view, than the works of the Roman 
Stoics. It is not only that we fail to find in them any 
allusions even of the faintest kind to contemporary events or 
to contemporary life and manners, such as abound in Seneca 
and Epict^tus, but there is not the slightest reference to the 
existence of such a thing as the Roman empire at all. One or 
two political illustrations occur, but they are drawn from old 
Greek city life, and were probably suggested by Plato or 
Aristotle.* But this tremendous blank is so perfectly in keep- 
ing with the whole spirit of Neo-Platonism as to heighten 
instead of lowering its aesthetic effect In studying the 
philosophy of the preceding centuries, to whatever school it 
may belong, we have the image of death always before our 
eyes ; and to fortify us against its terrors, we are continually 
called upon to remember the vanity of life. This is the pro- 
test of thought against the world, just as in Lucian and Sex- 
tus we hear the protest of the world against thought. At 
last the whole bitter strife comes to an end, the vision of 
sense passes away, 

And leaves us with Plotinus and pure souls. 

Here we need no deliverance from troubles and indignities 
which are not felt ; nor do we need to be prepared for death, 
knowing that we can never die. The world will no longer look 
askance at us, for we have ceased to concern ourselves about 
its reformation. No scepticism can shake our convictions, 
for we have discovered the secret of all knowledge through 
the consciousness of that which is eternal in ourselves. Thus 
the world of outward experience has dropped out of our 
thoughts, because thought has orbed into a world of its own. 

philosophie, toute civilite, toute ddicatesse * {Marc-AuriU, p. 498). As, how- 
ever, this epoch produced Neo-Platonism, the expression ' toute philosophic * is 
lather misplaced. 

' Ehh.j IV., iv., 17, p. 410, B. (Kirchh., I., p. 285, 1. i). 



In the foregoing remarks we have already passed from the 
purely aesthetic to the historical or psychological view of 
Neo-Platonism — that is, the view which considers a philosophy 
in reference to the circumstances of its origin. Every specu- 
lative system reflects, more or less fully, the spirit of the age 
in which it was born ; and the absence of all allusion to con- 
temporary events does not prove that the system of Plotinus 
was an exception to this rule. It only proves that the 
tendency of the age was to carry away men's thoughts from 
practical to theoretical interests. We have already character- 
ised the first centuries of Roman imperialism as a period of 
ever-increasing religious reaction ; and in this reaction we 
attempted to distinguish between the development of super- 
naturalist beliefs which were native to Greece and Italy, and 
the importation of beliefs which had originated in the East 
We saw also how philosophy shared in the general tendency, 
how it became theological and spiritualistic instead of ethical 
and naturalistic, how its professors were converted from 
opponents into upholders of the popular belief. Now, accord- 
ing to some critics, Neo-Platonism marks another stage in the 
gradual substitution of faith for reason, of authority for inde- 
pendent thought ; the only question being whether we should 
interpret it as a product of Oriental mysticism, or as a simple 
sequence of the same movement which had previously led 
from Cicero to Seneca, from Seneca to Epict^tus, from 
Epict6tus to Marcus Aurelius. 

Of these views, the first is taken by Ritter, and adopted 
with some modifications by M. Vacherot in his Histoire de 
tEcole (T Alexandrie, It is also unreservedly accepted by 
Donaldson in his continuation of Miiller's History of Greek 
Literature, and is probably held at this moment by most 
Englishmen who take any interest in the subject at all. The 
second view — according to which Neo-Platonism is, at least in 


its main features, a characteristic although degenerate product 
of Greek thought — is that maintained by Zeller. As against 
the Orient lising theory, it seems to us that Zeller has 
thoroughly proved his case.* It may be doubted whether 
there is a single idea in Flotinus which can be shown to have 
its exact counterpart in any of the Hindoo or other Asiatic 
systems whence he is supposed to have drawn ; and, as our 
own analysis has abundantly shown, he says nothing that 
cannot be derived, either directly or by a simple and easy 
process of evolution, from Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. 
On the other hand, has not Zeller gone much too far in treat- 
ing NeaPlatonism as a product of the great religious reaction 
which unquestionably preceded and accompanied its appear- 
ance ? Has he not altogether underrated its importance as a 
purely speculative system, an effort towards the attainment of 
absolute truth by the simple exercise of human reason } It 
seems to us that he has, and we shall offer some grounds foar 
venturing to differ from his opinion. 

To appreciate the labours of Plotinus, we must, first of all, 
compare his whole philosophic method with that of his prede- 
cessors. Now, Zeller himself has shown quite clearly that in 
reach of thought, in power of synthesis, in accuracy of reason- 
ing, not one of these can be compared to the founder of Neo- 
Platonism for a single moment' We may go still further 
and declare with confidence that no philosopher of equal 
speculative genius had appeared in Hellas since Chrysippus, 
or, very possibly, since Aristotle, The only ground for 
disputing his claims to take rank with the great masters of 
Hellenic thought seems to be that his system culminates on 
the objective side in something which lies beyond existence, 
and on the subjective side in a mystical ecstasy which is the 
negation of reason. We have shown, however, that if the 
One is represented as transcending reality, so also is the Idea 
of Good which corresponds to it in Plato's scheme ; and that 

» /%. d. Gr., III., b, pp. 69 ff, 419 ff. « op, cU., pp. 419 ff. 


the One is reached if not grasped by a process of reasoning 
which, although unsound, still offers itself as reasoning alone, 
and moves in complete independence of any revelation or 
intuition such as those to which the genuine systems of mys- 
ticism so freely resort 

It cannot be too often repeated that the One in no way 
conflicts with the world of real existence, but, on the con- 
trary, creates and completes it. Now, within that world, 
with which alone reason is properly concerned, Flotinus 
never betrays any want of confidence in its power to discover 
truth ; nor, contrary to what Zeller assumes, does he seem 
to have been in the least affected by the efforts of the later 
Sceptics to invalidate its pretensions in this respect* Their 
criticism was, in fact, chiefly directed against Stoicism, and 
did not touch the spiritualistic position at all. That there 
can be no certain knowledge afforded by sensation, or, 
speaking more generally, by the action of an outward object 
on an inward subject, Plotinus himself fully admits or rather 
contends.' But while distrusting the ability of external per- 
ception, taken alone, to establish the exis tence of an exte rnal 
object by which it is cause d, he expressly claims §q gl> a p ower 
for reason or understanding.' For him, as for Aristotle, and 
probably for Plato also, the mind is one with its real object ; 
in every act of cognition the idea becomes conscious of itself. 
We do not say that Scepticism is powerless against such a* 
theory as this, but, in point of fact, it was a theory which the 
ancient Sceptics had not attacked, and their arguments no 
more led Flotinus to despair of reason, than the similar 
arguments of Protagoras and Gorgias had led Plato and 
Aristotle to despair of it six centuries before. If Sextus 
and his school contributed anything to the great philo- 
sophical revolution of the succeeding age, it was by so 

' Zeller, p. 447. 

* Enn,j v., v., p. 520, A. (Kirchh., II., p. 18, 1. 3). This is the only 
passage in the Enneads where the Sceptics seem to be alluded to. 
» Lac. cit. 


weakening the materialistic systems as to render them less 
capable of opposing the spiritualistic revival when it came. 

Unquestionably Plotinus was influenced by the super- % ^ 
naturalistic movement of his age, but only as Plato had been r 
influenced by the similar reaction of his time ; and just as the 
Athenian philosopher had protested against the superstitions 
which he saw gaining ground, so also did the Alexandrian 
philosopher protest, with far less vigour it is true, but still to 
some extent, against the worse extravagances universally 
entertained by his contemporaries. Among these, to judge 
by numerous allusions in his writings, astjiglogyk and 
magic held the foremost place. That there was something 
m both, he did not venture to deny, but he constantly 
endeavours to extenuate their practical significance and to 
give a more philosophical interpretation to the alleged pheno- 
mena on which they were based. Towards the old 
polytheism, his attitude, without being hostile, is perfectljr^ 
independent. We can see this even in his life, notwithstand- 
ing the religious colouring thrown over it by Porphyry. When 
invited by his disciple Amelius to join in the public worship 
of the gods, he proudly answered, ' It is their business to come*^\ 
to me, not mine to go to them.** In allegorising the old 
myths, he handles them with as much freedom as Bacon, and 
evidently with no more belief in their historical character.^ ^' 
In giving the name of God to his supreme principle, he is 
careful to exclude nearly every attribute associated with 
divinity even in the purest forms of contemporary theology. 
Personality, intelligence, will, and even existence, are expressly 
denied to the One. Although the first cause and highest 
good of all things, it is so not in a religious but in an abstract, 
metaphysical sense. The Nous with its ideal offspring and 
the world-soul are also spoken of as gods ; but their per- 
sonality, if they have any, is of the most shadowy description, 
and there is no reason for thinking that Plotinus ever wor- 

• rV/fl, X., sub fin. 

' for iipecimcns of his treatment, sec Zcller, pp. 622 ff. 


shipped them himself or intended them to be worshipped by 
his disciples. Like Aristotle, he attributes animation and 
divinity to the heavenly bodies, but with such careful pro- 
visions against an ant hropomorphic conception of tReif natUf6, { 
XhsX not much devotlonaT leeling is tilcely'toTiave mingled 
with the contemplation of their splendour. Finally, we 
arrive at the daemons, those intermediate spirits which play 
so great a part in the religion of Plutarch and the other 
Platonists of the second century. With regard to these, 
Plotinus repeats many of the current opinions as if he shared \ 
them ; but his adhesion is of an extremely tepid character ; 
and it may be doubted whether the daemons meant much . 
more for him than for Plato.* 

The immortality of the soul is a subject on which idealistic 
philosophers habitually express themselves in terms of appa- y^^ 
rently studied ambiguity, and this is especially true of Plotinus. 
Here, as elsewhere, he repeats the opinions and arguments of 
Plato, but with certain developments which make his adhesion 
to the popular belief in a personal duration after death con- 
siderably more doubtful than was that of his master. One 
great difficulty in the way of Plato's doctrine, as commonly 
understood, is that it attributes a permanence to individuals, 
which, on the principles of his system, should belong only to 
general ideas. Now, at first sight, Plotinus seems to evade 
this difficulty by admitting everlasting ideas of individuals no 
less than of generic types.* A closer examinati9n, however, 
shows that this view is even more unfavourable than Plato's 
to the hope of personal immortality. For either our real self 
is independent of our empirical consciousness, which is just 
what we wish to have preserved, or, as seems more probable, 
the eternal existence which it enjoys is of an altogether ideal 
character, like that which Spinoza also attributed to the 

* For the theology of Plotinus see Zeller, pp. 619 fT, and for the daemons, 
p. 570. In our opinion, Zeller attributes a much stronger religious faith to 
Plotinus than can be proved from the passages to which he refers. 

* Enn,f v., vii. 


human soul, and which, in his philosophy, certainly had 
nothing to do with a prolongation of individual conscious- 
ness beyond the grave. As Madame de Stael observes of a 
similar view held at one time by Schelling, * cette immortalit^- 
\k ressemble terriblement k la mort' And when, in addition 
to his own theory of individual ideas, we find Plotinus adopt- 
ing the theory of the Stoics, that the whole course of mun- 
dane affairs periodically returns to its starting-point and is 
repeated in the same order as before,* we cannot help conclud- 
ing that human immortality in the popular sense must have 
seemed as impossible to him as it did to them. We must, 
therefore, suppose that the doctrine of metempsychosis and 
future retributions which he unquestionably professes, applies 
only to certain determinate cycles of psychic life ; or that 
it was to him, what it had probably been to Plato, only a 
figurative way of expressing the essential unity of all souls, 
and the transcendent character of ethical distinctions.' 

In this connexion we may deal with the question whether 
the philosophy of Plotinus is properly described as a panthe- 
istic system. Plotinus was certainly not a pantheist in the 
same sense as Spinoza and Hegel. With him, the One and the 
All are not identical ; although impersonal and unconscious, 
his supreme principle is not immanent in the universe, but 
transcends and creates it : the totality of things are depend- 
ent on it, but it is independent of them. Even were we to 
assume that the One is only ideally distinct from the existence 
which it causes, still the Nous would remain separate from 
the world-soul, the higher Soul from Nature, and, within the 
sphere of Nature herself, Matter would continue to be per- 
petually breaking away from Form, free-will would be left in 
unreconciled hostility to fate. Once, and once only, if we 
remember rightly, does our philosopher rise to the modem 
conception of the universe as an absolute whole whose parts 

» Enn,^ v., vii., i, p. 539, B. (Kirchh.» I., p. 145, 1. 23). 
' For references, see Zeller, pp. 588 flF. 


are not caused but constituted by their fundamental unity, 
and are not really separated from one another in Nature, but 
only ideally distinguished in our thoughts. And he adds that 
we cannot keep up this effort of abstraction for long at a 
time ; things escape from us, and return to their original 
unity.* With Plotinus himself, however, the contrary was 
true : what he could not keep up was his grasp on the 
synthetic unity of things. And he himself supplies us with a 
ready explanation why it should be so, when he points to the 
dividing tendency of thought as opposed to the uniting 
tendency of Nature. What he and the other Hellenic thinkers 
wanted above all, was to make the world clear to themselves 
and to their pupils, and this they accomplished by their method 
of serial classification, by bringing into play what we have 
often spoken of as the moments of antithesis, mediation, and 
circumscription. Stoicism also had just touched the pantheistic 
idea, only to let it go again. After being nominally identified 
with the world, the Stoic God was represented as a designing 
intelligence, like the Socratic God — an idea wholly alien from 
real pantheism. 

If Plotinus rose above the vulgar superstitions of the West, 
while, at the same time, using their language for the easier 
expression of his philosophical ideas, there was one more 
refined superstition of mixed Greek and Oriental origin 
which he denounced with the most uncompromising vigour. 
This was Gnosticism, as taught by Valentinus and his school. 
Towards the close of our last chapter, we gave some account 
of the theory in question. It was principally as enemies of 
the world and maligners of its perfection that the Gnostics 
made themselves offensive to the founder of Neo-Platonism, 
To him, the antithesis of good and evil was represented, not 
by the opposition of spirit and Nature, but by the opposition 
between his ideal principle through all degrees of its perfec- 
tion, and unformed Matter. Like Plato, he looked on the 

> ^nn., VJ., ii„ 3, p. 598, A. (Kirchh,, IL, p. 227). 


existing world as a consummate work of art, an embodiment 
of the archetypal Ideas, a visible presentation of reason. But 
in the course of his attack on the Gnostics,* other points of 
great interest are raised, showing how profoundly his philo- 
sophy differed from theirs, how entirely he takes his stand on 
the fixed principles of Hellenic thought. Thus he particularly 
reproaches his opponents for their systematic disparagement 
of Plato, to whom, after all, they owe whatever is true and 
valuable in their metaphysics.* He ridicules their belief in 
demoniacal possession, with its wholly gratuitous and clumsy 
employment of supernatural agencies to account for what can 
be sufficiently explained by the operation of natural causes ' 
And, more than anything else, he severely censures their 
detachment of religion from morality. On this last point, 
some of his remarks are so striking and pertinent that they 
deserve to be quoted. 

Above all, he exclaims, we must not fail to notice what effect this 
doctrine has on the minds of those whom they have persuaded to 
despise the world and all that it contains. Of the two chief methods 
for attaining the supreme good, one has sensual pleasure for its end, the 
other virtue, the effort after which begins and ends with God. Epi- 
curus, by his denial of providence, leaves us no choice but to pursue 
the former. But this doctrine [Gnosticism], involving as it does a 
still more insolent denial of divine order and human law, laughs to 
scorn what has always been the accepted ideal of conduct, and, in its 
rage against beauty, abolishes temperance and justice — the justice 
that is associated with natural feeling and perpetuated by discipline 
and reason — along with every other ennobling virtue. So, in the 
absence of true morality, they are given over to pleasure and utility 
and selfish isolation from other men — unless, indeed, their nature is 
better than their principles. They have an ideal that nothing here 
below can satisfy, and so they put off the effort for its attainment to 
a future life, whereas they should begin at once, and prove that they 
are of divine race by fulfilling the duties of their present state. For 
virtue is the condition of every higher aspiration, and only to those 
who disdain sensual enjoyment is it given to understand the divine. 
How far our opponents are from realising this is proved by their 

' Enn., II., ix. * Ibid,^ cap. 6, • Ibid,^ 14. 


total neglect of ethical science. They neither know what virtue is, 
nor how many virtues there are, nor what ancient philosophy has to 
teach us on the subject, nor what are the methods of moral training, 
nor how the soul is to be tended and cleansed. They tell us to look 
to God ; but merely saying this is useless unless they can tell us 
what the manner of the looking is to be. For it might be asked, 
what is to prevent us from looking to God, while at the same time 
freely indulging our sensual appetites and angry passions. Virtue 
perfected, enlightened, and rooted in the soul, will reveal God to us, 
but without it he will remain an empty name.* 

Even M. Vacherot, with all his anxiety to discover an 
Oriental origin for Neo-Platonism, cannot help seeing that 
this attack on the Gnostics was inspired by an indignant 
reaction of Greek philosophy against the inroads of Oriental 
superstition, and that the same character belongs more or 
less to the whole system of its author. But, so far as we are 
aware, Kirchner is the only critic who has fully worked out 
this idea, and exhibited the philosophy of Plotinus in its true 
character as a part of the great classical revival, which after 
producing the literature of the second century reached its 
consummation in a return to the idealism of Plato and 

Neo-Platonism may itself furnish us with no inapt image 
of the age in which it arose. Like the unformed Matter 
about which we have been hearing so much, the conscious- 
ness of that period was in itself dark, indeterminate and 
unsteady, uncreative, unspontaneous, unoriginating, but with 
a receptive capacity which enabled it to seize, reflect, and 
transmit the power of living Reason, the splendour of eternal 


In fixing the relation of Plotinus to his own age, we have 
gone far towards fixing his relation to all ages, the place which 

* Enn.t 11., ix.f 15. 

« Kirchner, Die PA. d, PloL, pp. 1-24, 175-208. Cp. Steiiihart, Meletemaia 
Ploiiniana^ p. 4. 


he occupies in the development of philosophy as a connected 
whole. We have seen that as an attempt to discover the 
truth of things, his speculations are worthless and worse than 
worthless, since their method no less than their teaching is 
false. Nevertheless, Wisdom is justified of all her children. 
Without adding anything to the sum of positive knowledge, 
Flotinus produced an effect on men's thoughts not unworthy 
of the great intellect and pure life which he devoted to the 
service of philosophy. No other thinker has ever accom- 
plished a revolution so immediate, so comprehensive, and of 
such prolonged duration. He was the creator of Neo-Plato- 
nism, and Neo-Platonism simply annihilated every school of 
philosophy to which it was opposed. For thirteen centuries 
or more, the three great systems which had so long divided 
the suffrages of educated minds — Stoicism, Epicureanism, 
and Scepticism— ceased to exist, and were allowed to lapse 
into such complete oblivion that only a few fragments of the 
works in which they were originally embodied have been 
preserved. And Plotinus was enabled to do this by the 
profound insight which led him to strike less at any particular 
doctrine held by his opponents than at the common founda- 
tion on which they all stood, the materialism openly professed 
by the Stoics and Epicureans, and assumed by the Sceptics 
as the necessary presupposition of every dogmatic philosophy. 
It is true that the principle which he opposed to theirs was not 
of his own origination, although he stated it more powerfully 
than it had ever been stated before. But to have, revived the 
spiritualism of Plato and Aristotle in such a way as to win 
for it universal acceptance, was precisely his greatest merit. 
It is also the only one that he would have claimed for himself. 
As we have already mentioned, he professed to be nothing 
more than the disciple of Plato. And although Aristotelian 
ideas abound in his writings, still not only are they over- 
balanced by the Platonic element, but Plotinus might justly 
have contended that they also belong, in a sense, to Plato, 


having been originally acquired by a simple development 
from his teaching. 

We have said that the founder of Neo-Platonism contrived 
to blend the systems of his two great authorities in such a 
manner as to eliminate much of the relative truth which is 
contained in each of them taken by itself It has been re- 
served for modern thought to accomplish the profounder 
synthesis which has eliminated their errors in combining 
their truths. Yet, perhaps, no other system would have 
satisfied the want of the time so well as that constructed by 
Plotinus out of the materials at his disposal. Such as it was, 
that system held its ground as the reigning philosophy until 
all independent thinking was suppressed by Justinian, some- 
what more than two and a half centuries after its author's 
death. Even then it did not become extinct, but reappeared 
in Christian literature, in the writing^ attributed to Dionysius 
the Areopagite, and again in the daring speculations of 
Erigena, the father of mediaeval philosophy, to pass under 
more diluted forms into the teaching of the later Schoolmen, 
until the time arrived for its renewed study in the original 
sources as an element of the Platonic revival in the fifteenth 
century. All this popularity proves, as we say, that Plotinus 
suited his own age and other ages which reproduced the same 
general intellectual tendencies. But the important thing was 
that he made Plato and Aristotle more interesting, and thus 
led men to study their writings more eagerly than before. 
The true reign of those philosophers does not begin until we 
reach the Middle Ages, and the commanding position which 
they then enjoyed was due, in great measure, to the revolution 
effected by Plotinus. 

But when Neo-Platonism, as a literature and a system, 
had given way to the original authorities from which it was 
derived, its influence did not, on that account, cease to be 
felt. In particular, Plotinus gave currency to a certain inter^ 
pretation of Plato's teaching which has been universally 


accepted until a comparatively recent period, perhaps one 
may say until the time of Schleierniacher. We have seen 
how many elements of Platonism he left out of sight ; and, 
thanks to his example, followed as it naturally was by 
Catholic theologians, the world was content to leave them 
out of sight as well. The charming disciple of Socrates 
whom we all know and love — ^the literary and dramatic 
artist, the brilliant parodist, the sceptical railleur from the 
shafts of whose irony even his own theories are not safe, the 
penetrating observer of human life, the far-seeing critic and 
reformer of social institutions — is a discovery of modern 
scholarship. Not as such did the master of idealism appear 
to Marsilio Ficino and Michael Angelo, to Lady Jane Grey 
and Cudworth and Henry More, to Berkeley and Hume and 
Thomas Taylor, to all the great English poets from Spenser 
to Shelley ; not as such does he now appear to popular 
imagination ; but as a mystical enthusiast, a dreamer of 
dreams which, whether they be realised or not in some far- 
off sphere, are, at any rate,, out of relation to the world of 
sensuous experience and everyday life. So absolute, indeed, 
is the reaction from this view that we are in danger of rushing 
to the contrary extreme, of forgetting what elements of truth 
the Plotinian interpretation contained, and substituting for it 
an interpretation still more one-sided, still more inadequate 
to express the scope and splendour of Plato's thoughts. 
Plato believed in truth and right and purity, believed in 
them still more profoundly than Plotinus ; and his was a more 
effectual faith precisely because he did not share the sterile 
optimism of his Alexandrian disciple, but worked and watched 
for the realisation of what, as yet, had never been realised.* 

* Two other popular misconceptions may be traced back, in part at least, to the 
exclusively transcendental interpretation of Plato *s philosophy. By drawing away 
attention from the Socratic dialogues, it broke the connexion between Socrates 
and his chief disciple, thus leaving the former to be estimated exclusively from Xeno- 
phon's view of his character as a moral and religious teacher. True, Xenophon 
himself supplies us with the data which prove that Socrates was, above all things, 


Finally, by the form which he gave to Platonism, Plotinus 
has had a large share in determining the direction of modern 
metaphysics. Although, as we have seen, not, properly 
speaking, a pantheist himself, he showed how the ideal 
theory could be transformed into a pantheistic system, and 
pantheism it immediately became when the peculiar limita- 
tions and subtleties of Greek thought had ceased to dominate 
over the western mind, and when the restraints of Catholic 
orthodoxy had been removed or relaxed. The stream of 
tendency in this direction runs all tlirough the Middle Ages, 
and acquires new volume and momentum at the Renaissance, 
until, by a process which will be analysed in the next chapter, 
it reaches its supreme expansion in the philosophy of Spinoza. 
Then, after a long pause, it is taken up by Kant's successors, 
and combined with the subjective idealism of modern psy- 
chology, finally passing, through the intervention of Victor 
Cousin and Sir William Hamilton, into the philosophy of 
Mr. Herbert Spencer. 

The last-named thinker would, no doubt, repudiate the 
title of pantheist ; and it is certain that, under his treatment, 
pantheism has reverted, by a curious sort of atavism, to some- 
thing much more nearly resembling the original doctrine of 
the Neo- Platonic school. Mr. Spencer tells us that the world 
is the manifestation of an unknowable Power. Plotinus said 
nearly the same, although not in such absolutely self-contradic- 
tory terms.* Mr. Spencer constantly assumes, by speaking of 

a dialectician, but only in the reflex light of Plato's subsequent developments can 
their real significance be perceived. On the other hand, the attempt to combine 
Aristotle with Plato led to a serious misunderstanding of the actual relatit n 
between the two. When the whole ideal element of his philosophy had been 
drawn off and employed to heighten still further the transcendentalism of his 
master's teaching, the Stagirite came t*> be judged entirely by the residual elements, 
by the logical, physical, and critical portions of his system. On the strength of 
these, he was represented as the type of whatever is most opposed to Plato, and, 
in particular, of a practical, prosaic turn of mind, which was quite alien from his 
true character. 

rfifun-i rp od<rl^ (£nn., VI., ix., 5, p. 763, B.) Hoy rh Bttov adrh fihr d-i, 


it in the singular number, that the creative Power of which we 
know nothing is one ; having, apparently, convinced himself oi 
its unity by two methods of reasoning. First, he identifies 
the transcendent cause of phenomena with the absolute, which 
is involved in our consciousness of relation ; leaving it to be 
inferred that as relativity implies plurality, absoluteness must 
imply unity. And, secondly, from the mutual convertibility 
of the physical forces, he infers the unity of that which under- 
lies force. Plotinus also arrives at the same result by two 
lines of argument, one d posteriori^ ^Xi^ derived from the unity 
pervading all Nature ; the other d priori, and derived from 
the fancied dependence of the Many on the One. Even in 
his use of the predicate Unknowable without a subject, Mr. 
Spencer has been anticipated by Damascius, one of the last 
Neo-Platonists, who speaks of the supreme principle as to 
a^vdncrrov} And the same philosopher anticipates the late 
Father Dalgairns in suggesting the very pertinent question, 
how, if we know nothing about the Unknowable, we know 
that it is unknowable. 

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,'-* Matter is a 
direct product of the One, whose infinite power it reflects. 

t\\¥ iir(po6<rio¥ ^¥»<riu lipprir6v itm koI iyrturrov iraat ro7s 9€vr4pois' ivh Sc r&v 
fAfr*x^*^^f' ^V^'''^^ ^^^^ *"^ 7v«<rT(Jv. (Proclus, Itutitutionis ThtologUiie^ cxxiii.), 
cp. Proclus, ihid.^ clxii. 

' De Princip.^ ii., quoted by Rittcr and Preller, p. 536 f. 

• fnst. Thfol.y Ixxii., cp. Zeller, p. 80S, where it is denied, wrongly, as we 
think, that Plotinus held the same view. 


All existence is formed by the union, in varying proportions, 
of these two principles. Above all, both arc 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. 

Here we imagine an impatient reader exclaiming, ' How 
can Mr. Herbert Spencer, who knows, if possible, even less of 
Greek philosophy than of his own Unknowable, have derived 
that principle from the Greeks t * Well, we have already 
traced the genealogy by which the two systems of agnosticism 
are connected. And some additional light will be thrown on 
the question if we consider that the form of Neo-Platonism 
was largely determined by the manner in which Plotinus 
brought the spiritualistic conceptualism of Plato and Aristotle 
into contact with the dynamic materialism of the Stoics ; 
and that the form of Mr. Spencer's philosophy has been 
similarly determined by bringing the ideali^^m of modern 
German thought into contact with the mechanical evolution- 
ism of modern science. Thus, under the influence of old 
associations, has pantlieism been metamorphosed into a crude 
agnosticism, which faithfully reproduces the likeness of its 
original ancestors, the Plotinian Matter and the Plotinian 

The history of Neo-Platonism, subsequently to the death 
of Plotinus, decomposes itself into several distinct tendencies, 
pursuing more or less divergent lines of direction. First of 
all, it was drawn into the supernaturalist movement against 
which it had originally been, in part at least, a reaction and a 
protest. One sees from the life of its founder how far his two 
favourite disciples, Amelius and Porphyry-, were from sharing 

* The following sketch is based on the accounts given of the period to which 
t relates in the works of ZcUer and Vacherot. 

A A 2 


his superiority to the superstitions of the age. Both had 
been educated under Pythagorean influences, which were 
fostered rather than repressed by the new philosophy. With 
Porphyry, theoretical interests are, to a great extent, super- 
seded by practical interests ; and, in practice, the religious 
and ascetic predominates over the purely ethical element. 
Still, however great may have been his aberrations, they never 
went beyond the limits of Hellenic tradition. Although of 
Syrian extraction, his attitude towards Oriental superstition 
was one of uncompromising hostiHty ; and in writing against 
Christianity, his criticism of the Old Testament seems to have 
closely resembled that of modern rationalism. But with 
Porphyry's disciple, lamblichus, every restraint is thrown 
aside, the wildest Oriental fancies are accepted as articles of 
belief, and the most senseless devotional practices are incul- 
cated as means towards the attainment of a truly spiritual 

Besides the general religious movement which had long 
been in action, and was daily gaining strength from the in- 
creasing barbarisation of the empire, there was, at this juncture, 
a particular cause tending to bring Greek philosophy into 
close alliance with the mythology which it had formerly 
rejected and denounced. This was the rapid rise and spread 
of Christianity. St Augustine has said that of all heathen 
philosophers none came nearer to the Christian faith than 
the Neo-Platonists.' Nevertheless, it was in them that the 
old religion found its only apologists and the new religion its 
most active assailants. We have already alluded to the 
elaborate polemic of Porphyry. Half a century later, the 
same principles could boast of a still more illustrious 
champion. The emperor Julian was imbued with the doc- 
trines of Neo-Platonism, and was won back to the ancient 
faith by the teaching of its professors. 

What seems to us the reactionary attitude of the spiritu- 

* De Civit. Dei, VIII., v., quoted by Kirchner, p. 208. 


alist school was dictated by the circumstances of its origin. 
A product of the great classical revival, its cause was neces- 
sarily linked with the civilisation of ancient Greece, and of 
that civilisation the worship of the old gods seemed to form 
an integral element. One need only think of the Italian 
Renaissance, with its predilection for the old mythology, to 
understand how much stronger and more passionate this feel- 
ing must have been among those to whom Greek literature 
still spoke in a living language, whose eyes, wherever they 
turned, still rested on the monuments, unrivalled, undese- 
crated, unfallen, unfaded, of Greek religious art. Nor was 
polytheism what some have imagined it to have been at this 
period, merely a tradition, an association, a dream, drawing 
shadowy sustenance from the human works and human 
thoughts which it had once inspired. To Plotinus and 
Proclus, as formerly to Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, the 
luminaries of day and night blazed down from henven as 
animated and immortal witnesses of its truth. It was not 
simply that the heavens declared the glory of God ; to the 
pious beholder, they were visibly inhabited by glorious gods, 
and their constellated fires were, as Plotinus said, a scripture 
in which the secrets of destiny might be read. The same 
philosopher scornfully asks the Gnostics, who, in this repect, 
were indistinguishable from the Christians, whether they were 
so infatuated as to call the worst men their brothers, while 
refusing that title to the sun ; and at a much later period, not- 
withstanding the heavy penalties attached to it, the worship of 
the heavenly bodies continued to be practised by the pro- 
foundest thinkers and scholars of the Neo-Platonic school.* 
Moreover, polytheism, by the very weakness and unfixity of 
its dogmas, gave a much wider scope to independent specu- 
lation than could be permitted within the limits of the 

* Ehh,, II., ix., 18, p. 217, C ; for Syrianus and Proclus, see Zeller, p. 738. 
The Emperor Constantine is said to have remained a sun-worshipper all his life 
(Vacherot, II., p. 153) ; and even Philo Judaeus speaks of the stars as visible 
gods (Zeller, p. 393). 


Catholic Church, just because Catholicism itself constituted a 
philosophical system in which all the great problems of exist- 
ence were provided with definite and authoritative solutions. 

The final defeat of polytheism proved, in some respects, 
an advantage to Neo-Platonism, by compelling it to exchange 
theological controversy for studies which could be prose- 
cuted, at least for a time, without giving umbrage to the 
dominant religion. At Alexandria the new spiritualism was 
associated, on genuinely Platonic principles, with the teaching 
of geometry by the noble and ill-fated Hypatia. In all the 
Neo-Platonic schools, whether at Rome, at Alexandria, at 
Constantinople, or at Athens, the writings of Plato and 
Aristotle were attentively studied, and made the subject of 
numerous commentaries, many of which are still extant. 
This return to the two great masters of idealism was, as we 
have already said, the most valuable result of the meta- 
physical revival, and probably contributed more than any 
other cause to the preservation of their works amidst the 
general wreck of ancient philosophical literature. Finally, 
efforts were made to present the doctrine o\ Plotinus under a 
more popular or a more scientific form, and to develope it 
into systematic completeness. 

Driven by Christian intolerance from every other centre 
of civilisation, Greek philosophy found a last refuge in Athens, 
where it continued to be taught through the whole of the fifth 
century and the first quarter of the sixth. During that period, 
all the tendencies already indicated as characteristic of Neo- 
Platonism exhibited themselves once more, and contributed 
in about equal degrees to the versatile activity of its last 
original representative, Proclus (410-485). This remarkable 
man offers one of the most melancholy examples of wasted 
power to be found in the history of thought. Endowed with 
an enormous faculty for acquiring knowledge, a rare subtlety 
in the analysis of ideas, and an unsurpassed genius for their 
systematic arrangement, he might, under more favourable 


auspices, have been the Laplace or Cuvier of his age. As 
it was, his immense energies were devoted to the task of 
bringing a series of lifeless abstractions into harmony with a 
series of equally lifeless superstitions. A commentator both 
on Euclid and on Plato, he aspired to present transcendental 
dialectic under the form of mathematical demonstration. In 
his Institutes of Theology^ he offers proofs equally elaborate 
and futile of much that had been taken for granted in the 
philosophy of Plotinus. Again, where there seems to be a 
gap in the system of his master, he fills it up by inserting 
new figments of his own. Thus, between the super-essential 
One and the absolute Nous, he interposes a series of henads 
or unities, answering to the multiplicity of intelligences or 
self-conscious Ideas which Plotinus had placed within the 
supreme Reason, or to the partial souls which he had placed 
after the world-soul. In this manner, Proclus, following the 
usual method of Greek thought, supplies a transition from 
the creative One to the Being which had hitherto been 
regarded as its immediate product ; while, at the same time, 
providing a counterpart to the many lesser gods with which 
polytheism had surrounded its supreme divinity. Finally, as 
Plotinus had arranged all things on the threefold scheme of 
a first principle, a departure from that principle, and a subse- 
quent reunion with it, Proclus divides the whole scries of 
created substances into a succession of triads, each repro- 
ducing, on a small scale, the fundamental system of an origin, 
a departure, and a return. And he even multiplies the triads 
still further by decomposing each separate moment into a 
secondary process of the same description. For example, 
Intelligence as a whole is divided into Being, Life, and 
Thought, and the first of these, again, into the Limit, the 
Unlimited, and the absolute Existence {p\faia)y which is the 
synthesis of both. The Hegelian system is, as is well known, 
constructed on a similar plan ; but while with Hegel the 
logical evolution is a progress from lower to higher and 


richer life, with Proclus, as with the whole Neo-Platonic 
school, and, indeed, with almost every school of Greek 
thought, each step forward is also a step downward, involv- 
ing a proportionate loss of reality and power. 

Thus Proclus was to Plotinus what Plotinus himself had 
been to Plato and Aristotle : that is to say, he stood one 
degree further removed from the actual truth of things and 
from the spontaneity of original reflection. And what we 
have said about the philosophic position of the master may 
be applied, with some modification, to the claims of his most 
eminent disciple. From a scientific point of view, the system 
of Proclus is a mere mass of wearisome rubbish ; from an 
aesthetic point of view it merits our admiration as the most 
comprehensive, the most coherent, and the most symmetrical 
work of the kind that antiquity has to show. It would seem 
that just as the architectural skill of the Romans survived all 
tlieir other great gifts, and even continued to improve until 
the very last — the so-called temple of Minerva Mcdica being 
the most technically perfect of all their monuments — so also 
did the Greek power of concatenating ideas go on developing 
itself as long as Greece was permitted to have any ideas of 
her own. 

The time arrived when this last liberty was to be taken 
away. In the year 529, JustirJan issued his famous decree 
prohibiting the public teaching of philosophy in Athens, and 
confiscating the endowments devoted to the maintenance of 
its professors. It is probable that this measure formed part 
of a comprehensive scheme for completing the extirpation of 
paganism throughout the empire. For some two centuries 
past, the triumph of Christianity had been secured by an 
unsparing exercise of the imperial authority, as the triumph 
of Catholicism over heresy was next to be secured with the aid 
of the Prankish sword. A few years afterwards, the principal 
representatives of the Neo-Platonic school, including the 
Damascius of whom we have already spoken, and Simplicius, 


the famous Aristotelian commentator, repaired to the court 
of Khosru Nuschirvan, the King of Persia, with the intention 
of settling in his country for the rest of their lives. They 
were soon heartily sick of their adopted home. Khosru was 
unquestionably an enlightened monarch, greatly interested in 
Hellenic culture, and sincerely desirous of diffusing it among 
his people. It is also certain that Agathias, our only authority 
on this subject, was violently prejudiced against him. But it 
may very well be, as stated by that historian,' that Khosru 
by no means came up to the exaggerated expectations formed 
of him by the exiled professors. He had been described to 
them as the ideal of a Platonic ruler, and, like inexperienced 
bookmen, they accepted the report in good faith. They found 
that he cared a great deal more for scientific questions about 
the cause of the tides and the modifications superinduced on 
plants and animals by transference to a new environment, 
than about the metaphysics of the One.* Moreover, the 
immorality of Oriental society and the corruption of Oriental 
government were something for which they were totally un- 
prepared. Better, they thought, to die at once, so that it 
were but on Roman soil, than to live on any conditions in 
such a country as Persia. Khosru was most unwilling to 
lose his guests, but on f nding that they were determined to 
leave him, he permitted them to depart, and even made it a 
matter of express stipulation with the imperial government 
that they should be allowed to live in their old homes without 
suffering any molestation on account of their religious 

Siniplicius continued to write commentaries on Aristotle 

» Quoted by Ritter and Preller, p. 539. 

* Compare the report of Agathias with the series of questions put to Priscian, 
quoted in the Dissertation by M. Quicherat, prefixed to Diibner*s edition of 
Priscian's Solutumes (printed after Plotinus in Didot's edition, pp. 549 ff ) . 

' M. Vacherot says (II., p. 400), without giving any authority for his state- 
me' t, that the Neo-Platonists were driven from Persia by the persecution of the 
Magi ; and that they returned home * furtivement,' which is certainly incorrect 
They returned openly, under the protection of a treaty between Persia and Rome. 


after his return, and was even succeeded by a younger 
generation of Platonic expositors ; but before the end of the 
sixth century paganism was extinct, and Neo-Platonism, as a 
separate school of philosophy, shared its fate. It will be the 
object of our next and concluding chapter to show that the 
disappearance of the old religion and the old methods of 
teaching did not involve any real break in the continuity of 
thought, and that modern speculation has been, through the 
greater part of its history, a reproduction of Greek ideas in 
new combinations and under altered names. 





Adequately to exhibit the relation of Greek philosophy to 
modern thought would require a volume. The object of the 
present discussion is merely to show in what ways that rela- 
tion has been most clearly manifested, and what assistance 
it may afford us in solving some important problems con- 
nected with the development of metaphysical and moral 

Historians often speak as if philosophy took an entirely 
fresh start at different epochs of its existence. One such 
break is variously associated with Descartes, or Bacon, or some 
one of their Italian predecessors. In like manner, the intro- 
duction of Christianity, coupled with the closing of the 
Athenian schools by Justinian, is considered, as once was the 
suppression of the West-Roman Caesarate by Odoacer, to 
mark the beginning of a new regime. But there can be no 
more a real break in the continuity of intellectual than in the 
continuity of political history, beyond what sleep or inactivity 
may simulate in the life of the organic aggregate no less than 
in the life of the organic individual. In each instance, the 
thread is taken up where it was dropped. If the rest of the 
world has been advancing meanwhile, new tendencies will 
come into play, but only by first attaching themselves to 
older lines of movement. Sometimes, again, what seems to 
be a revolution is, in truth, the revival or liberation of an 
earlier movement, through the decay or destruction of beliefs 


which have hitherto checked its growth. Thus the systems of 
Plato and Aristotle, after carrying all before them for a brief 
period, were found unsuitable, from their vast comprehension 
aiid high spirituality, to the undeveloped consciousness of 
their age, and were replaced by popularised versions of the 
sceptical or naturalistic philosophies which they had endeav- 
oured to suppress. And when these were at length left 
behind by the forward movement of the human mind, specu- 
lative reformers spontaneously reverted to the two great 
Socratic thinkers for a better solution of the problems in 
debate. After many abortive efforts, a teacher appeared 
possessing sufficient genius to fuse their principles into a 
seemingly coherent and comprehensive whole. By combin- 
ing the Platonic and Aristotelian spiritualism with a dynamic 
ele nient borrowed fro m Stoicism, Plotinus did for an age of 
intellectual decadence what his models had done in vain for 
an age of intellectual growth. The relation in which he stood 
to Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Scepticism, reproduced the 
relation in which they stood to the various physical and 
sophistic schools of their time ; but the silent experience of 
six centuries won for him a much more enduring success. 

Neo-Platonism was the form under which Greek philo- 
sophy passed into Christian teaching ; and the transition was 
effected with less difficulty because Christianity had already 
absorbed some of its most essential elements from the original 
system of Plato himself. Meanwhile the revival of spiritualism 
had given an immense impulse to the study of the classic 
writings whence it was drawn ; and the more they were 
studied the more prominently did their antagonism on certain 
important questions come into view. Hence, no sooner did 
the two systems between which Plotinus had established a 
provisional compromise come out victorious from their struggle 
with materialism, than they began to separate and draw off 
into opposing camps. The principal subject of dispute was 
the form under which ideas exist. The conflicting theories of 


Realism and Nominalism are already set forth with perfect 
clearness by Porphyry. in his introduction to the Organon ; 
and his statement of the case, as Victor Cousin has pointed 
out, gave the signal for a controversy forming the central 
interest of Scholasticism during the entire period of its 

Now, it is a remarkable fact, and one as yet not sufficiently 
attended to, that a metaphysical issue first raised between the 
Platonists and Aristotle, and regarded, at least by the latter, 
as of supreme importance for philosophy, should have been 
totally neglected at a time when abundant documents on both 
sides were open to consultation, and taken up with passionate 
eagerness at a time when not more than one or two dialogues 
of Plato and two or three tracts of Aristotle continued to be 
read in the western world. Various explanations of this 
singular anomaly may be offered. It may be said, for 
instance, that after every moral and religious question on 
which the schools of Athens were divided had been closed by 
the authoritative ruling of Catholicism, nothing remained to 
quarrel over but points too remote or too obscure for the 
Church to interfere in their decision ; and that these were 
accordingly seized upon as the only field where human intelli- 
gence could exercise itself with any approach to freedom. 
The truth, however, seems to be that to take any interest in 
the controversy between Realism and Nominalism, it was first 
necessary that European thought as a whole should rise to a 
level with the common standpoint of their first supporters. 
This revolution was effected by the general adoption of a 
monotheistic faith. 

Moreover, the Platonic ideas were something more than 
figments of an imaginative dialectic. They were now begin- 
ning to appear in their true light, and as what Plato had 
always understood them to be — no mere abstractions from 
experience, but spiritual forces by which sensuous reality was 
to be reconstituted and reformed. The Church herself seemed 


something more than a collection of individuals holding 
common convictions and obeying a common discipline ; she 
was, like Plato's own Republic, the visible embodiment of an 
archetype laid up in Heaven.* And the Church's teaching 
seemed also to assume the independent reality of abstract 
ideas. Does not the Trinity involve belief in a God distinct 
from any of the Divine Persons taken alone } Do not the 
Fall, the Incarnation, and the Atonement become more 
intelligible if we imagine an ideal humanity sinning with the 
first Adam and purified by becoming united with the second 
Adam } Such, at least, seems to have been the dimly con- 
ceived metaphysics of St. Paul, whatever may now be the 
official doctrine of Rome. It was, therefore, in order that, 
during the first half of the Middle Ages, from Charlemagne 
to the Crusades, Realism should have been the prevailing 
doctrine ; the more so because Plato's Tiniaeus, which was 
studied in the schools through that entire period, furnishes its 
readers with a complete theory of the universe ; while only 
the formal side of Aristotle's philosophy is represented by 
such of his logical treatises as were then known to western 

Yet Realism concealed a danger to orthodoxy which was 
not long in making itself felt. Just as the substantiality of 
individuals disappeared in that of their containing species, so 
also did every subordinate species tend * to vanish in the 
summiim genus of absolute Being. Now such a conclusion 
was nothing less than full-blown pantheism ; and pantheism 
was, in fact, the system of the first great Schoolman, John 
Scotus Erigena; while other Realists were only prevented 
from reaching the same goal by the restraint either of Christian 
faith or of ecclesiastical authority. But if they failed to draw 
the logical consequences of their premises, it was drawn for 
them by others ; and Abelard did not fail to twit his opponents 
with the formidable heresy implied in their realistic prin- 

' Repub,^ IX., sub Jin, 


ciples.* As yet, however, the weight of authority inclined 
towards Plato's side ; and the persecution suffered by Ab^lard 
himself, as compared with the very mild treatment accorded 
to his contemporary, Gilbert de la Porrde, when each was 
arraigned on a charge of heresy, shows that while the Nomi- 
nalism of the one was an aggravation, the Realism of the other 
was an extenuation of his offence.^ 

So matters stood when the introduction of Aristotle's 
entire system into western Europe brought about a revolution 
comparable to that effected two centuries later by the com- 
plete recovery of ancient literature. It was through Latin 
translations from the Arabic, accompanied by Arabic com- 
mentaries, that the Peripatetic philosophy was first levealed 
in its entirety ; and even Albertus Magnus, living in the 
thirteenth century, seems to have derived his knowledge of 
the subject from these exclusively. But a few years after 
the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1 204, the 
Greek manuscripts of Aristotle were brought to Paris ; and, 
towards the middle of the century, a new Latin version was 
made from these under the supervision of St. Thomas 
Aquinas.' The triumph of Aristotle was now, at least for a 
time, secured. For, while in the first period of the Middle 
Ages we find only a single great name, that of Abdlard, 
among the Nominalists, against a strong array of Realists, in 
the second period the proportions are reversed, and Realism 
has only a single worthy champion. Duns Scotus, to pit 
against Albertus, Aquinas, and William of Ockham, each of 
them representing one of the principal European nations.* 
The human intellect, hitherto confined within the narrow 
bounds of logic, now ranged over physics, metaphysics, psy- 
chology, and ethics ; and although all these subjects were 

* Haur^au, Histoire de la Philosopkie Scolastique^ I., p. 372. 
' For Gilbert de la Porree see Haureau, I., chap, xviii. 

* Jourdain, Recherches cniiquts sur Us TraJtutions la tines (VAristote. 

* The term Nominalist is here used in the wide sense given to it by Ilaurcau. 
See the last chapter of his \%ork on the Scholastic Philosophy. 


studied only at second-hand, and with very limited oppor- 
tunities for criticism, still the benefit received must have been 
immense. The priceless service of the later Schoolmen is to 
have appropriated and successfully upheld, against Platonism 
on the one hand and theological mysticism on the other, a 
philosophy which, however superficial, took in the whole 
range of natural phenomena, derived all knowledge from 
external observation, and set an example of admirable pre- 
cision in the systematic exposition of its results. If no posi- 
tive addition was made to that vast storehouse of facts and 
ideas, the blame does not lie with Aristotle's method, but 
with the forcible suppression of free mental activity by the 
Church, or its diversion to more profitable fields by the study 
of Roman jurisprudence. Even as it was, Aristotle contri- 
buted largely to the downfall of ecclesiastical authority in two 
ways : directly by accustoming men to use their reason, and 
indirectly by throwing back mysticism on its proper office — 
the restoration of a purely personal religion. 

But before the dissolving action of Nominalism had be- 
come fully manifest, its ascendency was once more challenged ; 
and this time, also, the philosophical impulse came from Con- 
stantinople. Greek scholars, seeking help in the West, brought 
with them to Florence the complete works of Plato ; and these 
were shortly made accessible to a wider public through the 
Latin translation of Ficino. Their influence seems at first 
to have told in favour of mysticism, for this was the con- 
temporary tendency to which they could be most readily 
affiliated ; and, besides, in swinging back from Aristotle's 
philosophy to the rival form of spiritualism, men's minds 
naturally reverted, in the first instance, to what had once 
linked them together — the system of Plotinus. Thus 
Platonism was studied through an Alexandrian medium, 
and as the Alexandrians had looked at it, that is to say, 
chiefly under its theological and metaphysical aspects. As 
such, it became the accepted philosophy of the Renaissance ; 


and much of what we most admire in the literature — at least 
the English literature — of that period, is directly traceable to 
Platonic influence. That the Utopia of Sir Thomas More 
was inspired by the Republic and the Critias is, of course, 
obvious ; and the great part played by the ideal theory in 
Spenser's Faery Queen, though less evident, is still sufficiently 
clear. As Mr. Green observes in his History of the English 
People (II„ p. 413), 'Spenser borrows, in fact, the delicate 
and refined forms of the Platonic philosophy to express his 
own moral enthusiasm. . . . Justice, Temperance, Truth are 
no mere names to him, but real existences to which his whole 
nature clings with a rapturous affection.' Now it deserves 
observation, as illustrating a great revolution in European 
thought, that the relation of Plato to the epic of the English 
Renaissance is precisely paralleled by the relation of Aristotle 
to the epic of mediaeval Italy. Dante borrows more than his 
cosmography from the Stagirite. The successive circles of 
Hell, the spirals of Purgatory, and the spheres of Paradise, 
are a framework in which the characters of the poem are 
exhibited, not as individual actors whom we trace through a 
life's history, but as types of a class and representatives of a 
single mental quality, whether vicious or virtuous. In other 
words, the historical arrangement of all previous poems is 
abandoned in favour of a logical arrangement For the 
order of contiguity in time is substituted the order of resem- 
blance and difference in idea. How thoroughly Aristotelian, 
indeed, were the lines within which mediaeval imagination 
moved is proved by the possibility of tracing them in a work 
utterly different from Dante's — the Decameron of Boccaccio. 
The tales constituting this collection are so arranged that 
each day illustrates some one special class of adventures ; 
only, to make good Aristotle's principle that earthly affairs 
are not subject to invariable rules, a single departure from 
the prescribed subject is allowed in each decade ; while 



during one entire day the story-tellers are left free to choose 
a subject at their own discretion. 

Now what distinguishes Spenser from Dante is that, while 
he also disposes his inventions according to an extremely 
artificial and abstract schematism, with him, as with Plato, 
abstractions acquire a separate individual existence, being, in 
fact, embodied as so many persons ; while Dante, following 
Aristotle, never separates his from the concrete data of 
experience. And it may be noted that, in this respect at 
least, English literature has not deserted the philosophy 
which presided over its second birth. It has ever since been 
more prone to realise abstractions than any other literature, 
whether under the form of allegories, parables, or mere casual 
illustrations drawn from material objects. Even at this day, 
English writers crowd their pages with dazzling metaphors, 
which to Continental readers must have sometimes a rather 
barbaric effect. 

Another and profounder characteristic of Plato, as dis- 
tinguished from Aristotle, is his thoroughgoing opposition of 
reality to appearance ; his distrust of sensuous perception, 
imagination, and opinion ; his continual appeal to a hidden 
world of absolute truth and justice. We find this profounder 
principle also grasped and applied to poetical purposes in 
our Elizabethan literature, not only by Spenser, but by a 
still greater master — Shakespeare. It is by no means un- 
likely that Shakespeare may have looked into a translation 
of the Dialogues ; at any rate, the intellectual atmosphere he 
breathed was so saturated with their spirit that he could 
easily absorb enough of it to inspire him with the theory of 
existence which alone gives consistency to his dramatic work 
from first to last. For the essence of his comedies is that 
they represent the ordinary world of sensible experience as a 
scene of bewilderment and delusion, where there is nothing 
fixed, nothing satisfying, nothing true ; as something which, 
because of its very unreality, is best represented by the drama. 


but a drama that is not without mysterious intimations of a 
reality behind the veil. In them we have the 

Fallings from us, vanishings, 
Blank misgivings of a creature 
Moving about in worlds not realised ; 

while in his tragedies we have the realisation of those worlds 
— the workings of an eternal justice which alone remains 
faithful to one purpose through the infinite flux of passion 
and of sense. 

Besides the revival of Platonism, three causes had con- 
spired to overthrow the supremacy of Aristotle. The lite- 
rary Renaissance with its adoration for beauty of form was 
alienated by the barbarous dialect of Scholasticism ; the mys- 
tical theology of Luther saw in it an ally both of ecclesiastical 
authority and of human reason ; and the new spirit of passion- 
ate revolt against all tradition attacked the accepted philo- 
sophy in common with every other branch of the official uni- 
versity curriculum. Before long, however, a reaction set in. 
The innovators discredited themselves by an extravagance, an 
ignorance, a credulity, and an intolerance worse than any- 
thing in the teaching which they decried. No sooner was 
the Reformation organised as a positive doctrine than it fell 
back for support on the only model of systematic thinking at 
that time to be found. The Humanists were conciliated by 
having the original text of Aristotle placed before them ; and 
they readily believed, what was not true, that it contained a 
wisdom which had eluded mediaeval research. But the great 
scientific movement of the sixteenth century contributed, 
more than any other impulse, to bring about an Aristotelian 
reaction. After winning immortal triumphs in every branch 
of art and literature, the Italian intellect threw itself with 
equal vigour into the investigation of physical phenomena. 
Here Plato could give little help, whereas Aristotle supplied 
a methodised description of the whole field to be explored, 
and contributions of extraordinary value towards the under- 

B B 2 


standing of some, at least, among its infinite details. And 
we may measure the renewed popularity of his system not 
only by the fact that Cesalpino, the greatest naturalist of the 
age, professed himself its adherent, but also by the bitterness 
of the criticisms directed against it, and the involuntary 
homage offered by rival systems which were little more than 
meagre excerpts from the Peripatetic ontology and logic. 


Of all testimonies to the restored supremacy of Aristo- 
telianism, there is none so remarkable as that afforded by the 
thinker who, more than any other, has enjoyed the credit of 
its overthrow. To call Francis Bacon an Aristotelian will 
seem to most readers a paradox. Such an appellation 
would, however, be much nearer the truth than were the 
titles formerly bestowed on the author of the Novutn 
Organunt. The notion, indeed, that he was in any sense the 
father of modern science is rapidly disappearing from the 
creed of educated persons. Its long continuance was due to 
a coalition of literary men who knew nothing about physics 
and of physicists who knew nothing about philosophy or its 
history. It is certain that the great discoveries made both 
before and during Bacon's lifetime were the starting-point of 
all future progress in the same direction. It is equally certain 
that Bacon himself had either not heard of those discoveries 
or that he persistently rejected them. But it might still be 
contended that he divined and formulated the only method 
by which these and all other great additions to human know- 
ledge have been made, had not the delusion been dispelled by 
recent investigations, more especially those of his own editors, 
Messrs. Ellis and Spedding. Mr. Spedding has shown that 
Bacon's method never was applied to physical science at all. 
Mr. Ellis has shown that it was incapable of application, being 
founded on a complete misconception of the problem to be 
solved. The facts could in truth, hardly have been other 


than what they are. Had Bacon succeeded in laying down 
the lines of future investigation, it would have been a telling 
argument against his own implied belief that all knowledge is 
derived from experience. For, granting the validity of that 
belief, a true theory of discovery can only be reached by an 
induction from the observed facts of scientific practice, and 
such facts did not, at that time, exist in sufficient numbers to 
warrant an induction. It would have been still more extra- 
ordinary had he furnished a clue to the labyrinth of Nature 
without ever having explored its mazes on his own account. 
Even as it is, from Bacon's own point of view the contradiction 
remains. If ever any system was constructed i priori the 
Instauratio Magna was. But there is really no such thing as 
d priori speculation. Apart from observation, the keenest 
and boldest intellect can do no more than rearrange the 
materials supplied by tradition, or give a higher generalisation 
to the principles of other philosophers. This was precisely 
what Bacon did. The wealth of aphoristic wisdom and in- 
genious illustration scattered through his writings belongs 
entirely to himself; but his dream of using science as an 
instrument for acquiring unlimited power over Nature is 
inherited from the astrologers, alchemists, and magicians of 
the Middle Ages ; and his philosophical system, with which 
alone we are here concerned, is partly a modification, partly 
an extension, of Aristotle's. An examination of its leading 
features will at once make this clear. 

Bacon begins by demanding that throughout the whole 
range of experience new facts should be collected on the 
largest scale, in order to supply materials for scientific 
generalisation. There can be no doubt that he is here 
guided by the example of Aristotle, and of Aristotle alone. 
Such a storehouse of materials is still extant in the History 
of Animals f which evidently suggested the use of the word 
' History ' in this sense to Bacon, and which, by the way, is 
immensely superior to anything that he ever attempted in 


the same line. The facts on which Aristotle's Politics is 
based were contained in another vast descriptive work of the 
same kind, now unhappily lost. Even the Stagirite's more 
systematic treatises comprise a multitude of observations, 
catalogued according to a certain order, but not reduced to 
scientific principles. What Bacon did was to carry out, or 
to bid others carry out, the plan so suggested in every 
department of enquiry. But if we ask by what method 
he was guided in his survey of the whole field to be ex- 
plored, how he came by a complete enumeration of the 
sciences, arranged according to their logical order, — the 
answer is still that he borrowed it from the Peripatetic en- 

One need only compare the catalogue of particular 
histories subjoined to the Parasceve^ with a table of Aris- 
totle's works, to understand how closely Bacon follows in the 
footsteps of his predecessor. We do, indeed, find sundry 
subjects enumerated on which the elder student had not 
touched ; but they are only such as would naturally suggest 
themselves to a man of comprehensive intelligence, coming 
nearly two thousand years after his original ; while they are 
mostly of no philosophical value whatever. Bacon's merit 
was to bring the distinction between the descriptive sciences 
and the theoretical sciences into clearer consciousness, and to 
give a view of the former corresponding in completeness to 
that already obtained of the latter. 

The methodical distinction between the materials for 
generalisation and generalisation itself, is derived from the 
metaphysical distinction between Matter and Form in 
Nature,' This distinction is the next great feature of 
Bacon's philosophy, and it is taken, still more obviously 
than the first, from Aristotle, the most manifest blots of the 
original being faithfully reproduced in the copy. The Forms 

* Works I., p. 405 in Ellis and Speddingfs edition. 

• ' Historia naturalis .... materia pi ima philosophiae.* De Aug., II., iii. 


of simple substances were, according to the Stagirite, their 
sensible qualities. The Forms of aggregates were the whole 
complex of their differential characteristics. And although 
the formal cause or idea of a thing was carefully discriminated 
from its efficient and final causes, it was found impossible, in 
practice, to keep the three from running into one. Again, 
the distinction between single concepts and the judgments 
created by putting two concepts together, although clearly 
conveyed by the logical distinction between terms and pro- 
positions, was no sooner perceived than lost sight of, thanks 
to the unfortunate theory of essential predication. For it 
was thought that the import of universal propositions con- 
sisted either in stating the total concept to which a given 
mark belonged, or in annexing a new mark to a given con- 
cept. Hence, in Aristotle's system, the study of natural 
law means nothing but the definition and classification of 
natural types ; and, in harmony with this idea, the whole 
universe is conceived as an arrangement of concentric 
spheres, each receiving its impulse from that immediately 
above it Precisely the same confusion of Form, Cause, and 
Law reigns throughout Bacon's theory of Nature. We do, 
indeed, find mention made of axiontata or general propositions 
to a greater extent than in the Organon^ but they are never 
clearly distinguished from Forms, nor Forms from functions.* 
And although efficient and material causes are assigned to 
physics, while formal and final causes are reserved for meta- 
physics — an apparent recognition of the wide difference 
between the forces which bring a thing into existence and 
the actual conditions of its stability, — this arrangement is a 
departure from the letter rather than from the spirit of 
Aristotle's philosophy. For the efficient causes of the De 

* The 'notions and conceptions* of the Advancement of Learning (Works ^ 
III., p. 356) is rendered by * axiomata * in the De Augmentis (I., p. 567), where 
in both instances the question is entirely about Forms. Cp. § 8 of Prof. Fowler's 
Introduction to the Novum Organum, 


Augmentis answer roughly to the various kinds of motion 
discussed in the Physics and in the treatise On Generation 
and Corruption ; while its Forms are, as we have seen, 
identified with natural causes or laws in the most general 

According to Bacon, the object of science is to analyse the 
complex of Forms making up an individual aggregate into 
its separate constituents ; the object of art, to superinduce one 
or more such Forms on a given material. Hence his manner 
of regarding them differs in one important respect from Aris- 
totle's. The Greek naturalist was, before all things, a biolo- 
gist. His interest lay with the distinguishing characteristics 
of animal species. These are easily discovered by the un- 
assisted eye ; but while they are comparatively superficial, 
they are also comparatively unalterable. The English ex- 
perimenter, being primarily concerned with inorganic bodies, 
whose properties he desired to utilise for industrial purposes, 
was led to consider the attributes of an object as at once 
penetrating its inmost texture, and yet capable of being 
separated from it, like heat and colour for instance. But, 
like every other thinker of the age, if he escapes from the 
control of Aristotle it is only to fall under the dominion of 
another Greek master — in this instance, Democritus. Bacon 
had a great admiration for the Atomists, and although his 
inveterate Peripatetic proclivities prevented him from embrac- 
ing their theory as a whole, he went along with it so far as 
to admit the dependence of the secondary on the primary 
qualities of matter ; and on the strength of this he concluded 
that the way to alter the properties of an object was to alter 
the arrangement of its component particles. 

The next step was to create a method for determining the 
particular configuration on which any given property of matter 
depends. If such a problem could be solved at all, it would 
be by some new system of practical analysis. Bacon did not 
see this because he was a Schoolman, emancipated, indeed. 


from ecclesiastical authority, but retaining a blind faith in the 
power of logic. Aristotle's Organon had been the great store- 
house of aids to verbal disputation ; it should now be turned 
into an instrument for the more successful prosecution of 
physical researches. What definitions were to the one, that 
Forms should be to the other ; and both were to be deter- 
mined by much the same process. Now Aristotle himself 
had emphatically declared that the concepts out of which 
propositions are constructed were discoverable by induction 
and by induction alone. With him, induction meant com- 
paring a number of instances, and abstracting the one circum- 
stance, if any, in which they agreed. When the object is to 
establish a proposition inductively, he has recourse to a 
method of elimination, and bids us search for instances 
which, diflfering in everything else, agree in the association 
of two particular marks." In the Topics he goes still further 
and supplies us with a variety of tests for ascertaining the 
relation between a given predicate and a given subject 
Among these. Mill's Methods of Difference, Residues, and 
Concomitant Variations are very clearly stated.^ But he 
does not call such modes of reasoning Induction. So far as 
he has any general name for them at all, it is Dialectic, that 
is. Syllogism of which the premises are not absolutely certain ; 
and, as a matter of nomenclature, he seems to be right There 
is, undoubtedly, a process by which we arrive at general con- 
clusions from the comparison of particular instances ; but this 
process in its purity is nothing more nor less than induction 
by simple enumeration. All other reasoning requires the aid 
of universal propositions, and is therefore, to that extent, 
deductive. The methods of elimination or, as they are now 
called, of experiment, involve at every step the assumption of 

* Analyt. Prior. ^ II., xxx. 

' Prof. Bain, after mentioning that the second book of the Topics * sets forth 
in a crude condition the principal canons of inductive logic,* goes on to say that 
* these statements cannot be called germs for they never germinated * (Grote's 
Minor IVorkSy p. 14). May they not have germinated in the Novum Organum ? 


general principles duly specified in the chapter of Mill's Logic 
where they are analysed. And wherever we can rise imme- 
diately from a single instance to a general law, it is because 
the examination of that single instance has been preceded by 
a chain of deductive reasoning. 

The confusion of Induction, properly so called, and Elimi- 
nation under a single name, is largely due to the bad example 
set by Bacon. He found it stated in the Analytics that all 
concepts and general propositions are established either by 
syllogism or by induction ; and he found some very useful 
rules laid down in the Topics^ not answering to what he 
understood by the former method ; he therefore summarily 
dubbed them with the name of Induction, which they have 
kept ever since, to the incalculable confusion of thought. 

In working out his theory of logic, the point on which 
Bacon lays most stress is the use of negative instances. He 
seems to think that their application to reasoning is an 
original discovery of his own. But, on examination, no more 
seems to be meant by it than that, before accepting any 
particular theory, we should consider what other explanations 
of the same fact might conceivably be offered. In other 
words, we should follow the example already set by Aristotle 
and nearly every other Greek philosopher after Socrates. 
But this is not induction ; it is reasoning down from a dis- 
junctive proposition, generally assumed without any close 
scrutiny, with the help of sundry conditional propositions, 
until we reach our conclusion by a sort of exhaustive process. 
Either this, that, or the other is the explanation of something. 
But if it were either that or the other, so and so would follow, 
which is impossible ; therefore it must be this. No other 
logic is possible in the infancy of enquiry ; but one great 
advantage of experiment and mathematical analysis is to 
relieve us from the necessity of employing it. 

The value of experimentation as such had, however, 
scarcely dawned on Bacon. His famous Prerogative In- 


stances are, in the main, a guide to simple observation, sup- 
plemented rather than replaced by direct interference with 
the phenomena under examination, comparable to that 
moderate use of the rack which he would have countenanced 
in criminal procedure. There was, perhaps, a deeper meaning 
in Harvey's remark that Bacon wrote about Nature like a 
Lord Chancellor than the great physiologist himself suspected, . 
To Bacon the statesman, science was something to be largely 
endowed out of the public treasury in the sure hope that it 
would far more than repay the expenditure incurred, by 
inventions of priceless advantage to human life. To Bacon 
the lawyer, Nature was a person in possession of important 
secrets to be wrested from her by employing every artifice of 
the spy, the detective, the cross-examiner, and the inquisitorial 
judge ; to Bacon the courtier, she was a sovereign whose policy 
might be discovered, and, if need be, controlled, by paying 
judicious attention to her humours and caprices. And, for 
this very reason, he would feel drawn by a secret affinity to 
the Aristotelian dialectic, derived as it was through Socrates 
and Plato from the practice of the Athenian law-courts and 
the debates of the Athenian assembly. No doubt the Topics 
was intended primarily for a manual of debate rather than of 
scientific enquiry ; and the English Chancellor showed true 
philosophic genius in his attempt to utilise it for the latter 
purpose. Nevertheless the adaptation proved a mistake. It 
was not without good grounds that the Socratic dialectic had 
been reserved exclusively by its great founder, and almost 
exclusively by his successors, for those human interests from 
the discussion of which it was first derived. And the dis- 
coverers, who in Bacon's own lifetime were laying the 
foundations of physical science, employed a method totally 
different from his, because they started with a totally different 
conception of the universe. To them it was not a living whole, 
a Form of Forms, but a sum of forces to be analysed, isolated, 
and recombined, in fact or in idea, with a sublime disregard 


for the conditions under which they were presented to ordinary 
experience. That very extension of human power anticipated 
by Bacon came in a manner of which he had never dreamed. 
It was gained by studying, not the Forms to which he at- 
tached so much importance, but the modes of motion which 
he had relegated to a subordinate place in his classification of 
natural causes.^ 

It has been said that, whatever may be the value of his 
logic, Bacon recalled men from the construction of baseless 
theories to the study of facts. But, here also, he merely 
echoes Aristotle, who said the same thing long before him, 
with much greater terseness, and with the superior authority of 
one who teaches by example as well as by precept ; while the 

* Descartes showed a much deeper insight into the scientific conditions of 
industrial progress than Bacon. His words are, * On peut trouver une philosophic 
pratique par laquelle connoissant la force et les actions du feu, de Teau, de Pair, 
des astres, des cieux, et de tous les autres corps qui nous environnent, aussi 
distinctement que nous connoissons les divers mestiers de nos artisans, nous les 
pourrions employer en meme fa9on k tous les usages auxquels ils sont propres, et 
ainsi nous rendre comme maistres et possesseurs de la Nature. ' Discours de la 
Mithode, Sixi^me Partie. This passage has been recently quoted by Dr. Bridges 
(*Comte*s Definition of Life,* Fortnightly Review for June 1881, p. 684) to 
illustrate what seems a very questionable position. He says that the Copemican 
^tronomy, by revealing the infinitude of the universe, made men despair of 
comprehending nature in her totality, and thus threw them back on enquiries of 
more directly human interest and practical applicability ; particularly specif)ang 
* the lofty utilitarianism of the Novum Organum and of the Discours de la M^ihode, * 
as *one of the first concomitants* *of this intellectual revolution.' There seems 
to be a double misconception here : for, in the first place, Bacon could hardly 
have been influenced by a theory which he persistently rejected ; and, in the 
next place, neither Bacon nor Descartes showed a trace of the positivist tendency 
to despair of attaining absolute and universal knowledge. Both of them expected 
to discover the inmost essences of things ; and neither of them imagined that a 
diflerent set of conditions might come into play outside the boundaries of the 
visible universe. In fact they believed themselves to be enlarging instead of 
restricting the field of mental vision ; and it was firom this very enlargement that 
they anticipated the most momentous practical results. It was with Locke, as 
we shall see hereafter, that the sceptical or agnostic movement began. In this 
same article. Dr. Bridges repeats, probably on Comte*s authority, the incredible 
statement that * Thales taught the Egyptian priests those two or three elementary 
truths as to the laws of triangles, which enabled them to tell the height of the 
pyramid by measuring its shadow.* Comte's ignorance or carelessness in relating 
this story as a well-attested fact was long ago noticed with astonishment by Grole. 
{Life of George GrotCy p. 204.) 


merit of reviving Aristotle's advice when it had fallen into 
oblivion belongs to another Bacon, the author of the Opus 
Majus \ the merit of acting on it, to the savants of the 
Renaissance, to such men as Vesalius, Cesalpino, and Tycho 

But, towards the close of the sixteenth century, the time 
for amassing observations was past, no further progress being 
possible until the observations already recorded were inter- 
preted aright. The just instinct of science perceived this ; 
and for nearly a century after Cesalpino no addition of any 
magnitude was made to what Bacon called ' History,* while 
men's conceptions of natural law were undergoing a radical 
transformation.- To choose such a time for developing the 
Aristotelian philosophy was peculiarly unfortunate ; for that 
philosophy had become, both on its good and on its bad side, 
an obstacle to progress, by encouraging studies which were not 
wanted, and by fostering a spirit of opposition to the Coper- 
nican astronomy. 

The mere fact that Aristotle himself had pronounced in 
favour of the geocentric system did not count for much. The 
misfortune was that he had constructed an entire physical 
philosophy in harmony with it ; that he had linked this to 
his metaphysics ; and that the sensible experience on whose 
authority he laid so much stress, seemed to testify in its 
behalf. The consequence was that those thinkers who, with- 
out being professed Aristotelian partisans, still remained pro- 
foundly affected by the Peripatetic spirit, could not see their 
way to accepting a theory with which all the hopes of intel- 
lectual progress were bound up. These considerations will 
enable us to understand the attitude of Bacon towards the 
new astronomy ; while, conversely, his position in this respect 
will serve to confirm the view of his character set forth in 

* Whewell notices this * Stationary Interval * (History of the Inductive Sciences ^ 
Bk. XVI., chapter iii., sect. 3), but without determining either its just limits ur 
its real cause. 


the preceding pages. The theory, shared by him with Aris- 
totle, that Nature is throughout composed of Form and 
Matter reached its climax in the supposition that the great 
elementary bodies are massed together in a series of concentric 
spheres disposed according to some principle of graduation, 
symmetry, or contrast ; and this seemed incompatible with 
any but a geocentric arrangement. It is true that Bacon 
quarrelled with the particular system maintained by Aristotle, 
and, under the guidance of Telesio, fell back on a much cruder 
form of cosmography ; but his mind still remained dominated 
by the fancied necessity of conceiving the universe under the 
form of a stratified sphere ; and those who persist in looking 
on him as the apostle of experience will be surprised to find 
that he treated the subject entirely from an i priori point of 
view. The truth is that Bacon exemplified, in his own intel- 
lectual character, every one of the fundamental fallacies which 
he has so picturesquely described. The unwillingness to 
analyse sensible appearances into their ideal elements was his 
Idol of the Tribe ; the thirst for material utilities was his Idol 
of the Den : the uncritical acceptance of Aristotle's meta- 
physics, his Idol of the Theatre ; and the undefined notions 
associated with induction, his Idol of the Market. 


We may consider it a fortunate circumstance that the 
philosophy of Form, — that is to say, of description, defini- 
tion, classification, and sensuous perception, as distinguished 
from mathematical analysis and deductive reasoning, — was 
associated with a demonstrably false cosmology, as it thus 
became much more thoroughly discredited than would other- 
wise have been possible. At this juncture, the first to perceive 
and point out how profoundly an acceptance of the Coper- 
nican theory must affect men's beliefs about Nature and the 
whole universe, was Giordano Bruno ; and this alone would 
entitle him to a great place in the history of philosophy. The 


conception of a single finite world surrounded by a series of 
eternal and unchangeable crystal spheres must, he said, be 
exchanged for the conception of infinite worlds dispersed 
through illimitable space. Once grant that the earth has a 
double movement round its own axis and round the sun, and 
Aristotle's whole system of finite existence collapses at once, 
leaving the ground clear for an entirely different order of 
ideas.* But, in this respect, whatever was established by the 
new science had already been divined by a still older philo- 
sophy than Aristotle's, as Bruno himself gladly ackowledged,* 
and the immediate effect of his reasoning was to revive the 
Atomic theory. The assumption of infinite space, formerly 
considered an insuperable objection to that theory, now 
became one of its chief recommendations ; the arguments of 
Lucretius regained their full force, while his fallacies were let 
drop ; Atomism seemed not only possible but necessary ; and 
the materialism once associated with it was equally revived. 
But Aristotelianism, as we have seen, was not alone in the 
field, and on the first symptoms of a successful revolt, its old 
rival stood in readiness to seize the vacant throne. The ques- 
tion was how far its claim would be supported, and how far 
disputed by the new invaders. It might be supposed that 
the older forms of Greek philosophy, thus restored to light 
after an eclipse of more than a thousand years, would be no 
less hostile to the poetic Platonism than to the scientific 
Aristotelianism of the Renaissance. Such, however, was not 
the case ; and we have to show how an alliance was established 
between these apparently opposite lines of thought, event- 
ually giving birth to the highest speculation of the following 

Bruno himself acted as a mediator between the two philo- 

^ Compreso che sari il moto di quest* astro mondano in cui siamo .... 
s' apriri la porta de 1' intelligenza de li principj veri di cose naturali. De Plnfinito 
Universo e Mondi, p. 51, Wagner*s Ed. 

' ' Sono amputate radici che germogliano, son cose antiche che rivegnono. 
Ibid.^ p.* 82. 


Sophies. His sympathies with Platonism were strongly pro- 
nounced, he looked with admiration on its mediaeval 
supporters, especially David of Dinan ; and regretted the time 
when Oxford was a focus of realistic teaching, instead of being 
what he found her, devoted to the pedantic humanism of the 
Renaissance.* He fully accepted the pantheistic conclusions 
towards which Platonism always tended ; but in proclaiming 
an absolute principle whence all specific differences are 
evolved, he is careful to show that, v\rhile it is neither Form nor 
Matter in the ordinary sense, it may be called Matter in the 
more refined signification attached to that term by Plotinus 
and, indeed, by Aristotle himself. There is a common sub- 
stance underlying all abstract essences, just as there is a com- 
mon substance left behind when the sensible qualities of 
different bodies are stripped off ; and both are, at bottom, the 
same. Thus monism became the banner round which the 
older forms of Greek speculation rallied in their assault on 
Aristotle's philosophy, though what monism implied was as 
yet very imperfectly understood. 

Meanwhile a new and powerful agency was about to inter- 
pose with decisive effect in the doubtful struggle. This was 
the study of mathematics. Revived by the Arabians and never 
wholly neglected during the Middle Ages, it had profited by 
the general movement of the Renaissance, and was finally 
applied to the cosmical problem by Galileo. In this con- 
nexion, two points of profound philosophical interest must be 
noted. The first is that, even in its fall, the Aristotelian 
influence survived, to some extent, both for good and for evil. 
To Aristotle belongs the merit of having been the first to base 
astronomy on physics. He maintains the earth's immobility 
on experimental no less than on speculative grounds. A 
stone thrown straight up in the air returns to its starting-point 
instead of falling to the west of it ; and the absence of stellar 

* Principio Causa et Uno^ p. 225. For David of Dinan, whose opinions are 
known only through the reports of Albcrlus and Aquinas, see Haureau, II., iv. 


parallax seems to show that there is no change in our position 
relatively to the heavenly bodies. After satisfying himself, 
on empirical considerations, that the popular astronomy is 
true, he proceeds to show that it must be true, by considera- 
tions on the nature of matter and motion, which, although 
mistaken, are conceived in a genuinely scientific spirit. Now 
Galileo saw that, to establish the Copernican system, he must 
first grapple with the Peripatetic physics, and replace it by a 
new dynamical theory. This, which he could hardly have 
effected by the ordinary mathematical methods, he did by 
borrowing the anal)rtical method of Atomism and applying it 
to the measurement of motion. The law of falling bodies was 
ascertained by resolving their descent into a series of moments, 
and determining its rate of velocity at successive intervals ; 
and curvilinear motions were similarly resolved into the com- 
bination of an impulsive with an accelerating force, a method 
diametrically opposed to that of Bacon, who would not even 
accept the rough analysis of the apparent celestial motions 
proposed by Greek astronomers. 

It seems strange that Galileo, having gone so far, did not 
go a step further, and perceive that the planetary orbits, being 
curvilinear, must result from the combination of a centripetal 
with a tangential force. But the truth is that he never seems 
to have grasped his own law of inertia in its full generality. 
He understood that the planets could not have been set in 
motion without a rectilinear impulse ; but his idea was that 
this impulse continued only so long as was necessary in order 
to give them their present velocity, instead of acting on them 
for ever as a tangential force. The explanation of this strange 
inconsequence must be sought in a survival of Aristotelian 
conceptions, in the persistent belief that rectilinear motion was 
necessarily limited and temporary, while circular motion 
was natural, perfect, and eternal.' Now such conceptions as 

* Galileo's words are : — * II moto circuUre e natnrale del tutto e delle parti 
mentre sono in ottima disposizione.' Dialoghi sui Massimi Sistcmi, Opertt VoL 
I., p. 265 ; see also p. 38. 



Nature, perfection, and eternity always rebel against an 
analysis of the phenomena wherein they are supposed to 
reside. The same prejudice will explain why Galileo should 
have so persistently ignored Kepler's Laws, for we can hardly 
imagine that they were not brought under his notice. 

The philosophical affinities of the new science were not 
exhausted by the atomistic analysis of Democritus and the 
regulative method of Aristotle. Platonism could hardly fail to 
benefit by the great impulse given to mathematical studies in 
the latter half of the sixteenth century. The passionate love 
of its founder for geometry must have recommended him as 
much to the most advanced minds of the period as his religious 
mysticism had recommended him to the theologians of the 
earlier Renaissance. And the increasing ascendency of the 
heliocentric astronomy, with its splendid defiance of sense and 
opinion, was indirectly a triumph for the philosophy which, 
more than any other, had asserted the claims of pure reason 
against both. We see this distinctly in Galileo, In express 
adhesion to Platonism, he throws his teaching into a conversa- 
tional form, endeavouring to extract the truth from his oppo- 
nents rather than convey it into their minds from without ; 
and the theory of reminiscence as the source of demonstrative 
knowledge seems to meet with his approval.^ He is always 
ready with proofs drawn from observation and experiment ; 
but nothing can be more in Plato's spirit, nothing more unlike 
Aristotle and Bacon, than his encomium on the sublime genius 
of Aristarchus and Copernicus for having maintained a rational 
hypothesis against what seemed to be the evidence of their 
senses.' And he elsewhere observes how much less would 
have been the glory of Copernicus had he known the experi- 
mental verification of his theory.^ 

* Dialoghif p. 21 1. 

• *Non posso trovar termine all* ammirazione mia come abbia possuto in 
Aristarco e nel Copcrnico far laragione tanta violcnza al scnso che contro a queslo 
ella si sia fatta padrona della loro credulity.' DicUoghi^ p. 358. 

■ Ibid., p. 37a 


The Platonic influence told even more efficaciously on 
Galileo's still greater contemporary, Kepler. With him as 
with the author of the Republic^ mysticism took the direction 
of seeking everywhere for evidence of mathematical propor- 
tions. With what brilliant success the search was attended, 
it is needless to relate. What interests us here is the fact, 
vouched for by Arago, that the German astronomer was 
guided by an idea of Plato's, that the world must have been 
created on geometrical principles.' Had Bacon known any- 
thing about the work on which his adventurous contemporary 
was engaged, we may be sure that it would have afforded him 
another illustration for his Id61a, the only difficulty being 
whether it should be referred to the illusions of the Tribe, the 
Den, or the Theatre. 

Meanwhile Atomism continued to exercise a powerful 
influence on the method even more than on the doctrines of 
science. The analytical mode of treatment, applied by 
Galileo to dynamics, was applied, with equal success, by other 
mathematicians, to the study of discrete and continuous 
quantity. It is to the division of numbers and figures into 
infinitesimal parts — a direct contravention of Aristotle's teach- 
ing — that we owe logarithms, algebraic geometry, and the 
differential calculus. Thus was established a connexion 
between spiritualism and materialism, the philosophy of Plato 
and the philosophy of Democritus. Out of these elements, 
together with what still survived of Aristotelianism, was con- 
structed the system of Descartes. 


To understand Descartes aright, we must provisionally 
disregard the account given in his work on Method of the 
process by which he arrived at a new theory of the world ; 
for, in truth, there was nothing new about it except the pro- 

* * Kepler ^tait persuade de Fexistence de ces lois en suivant cette pensee de 

Platon : que Dieu, en errant le monde, avait dd faire de la geomctrie.* Arago, 

iEuvres III., p. 212. 

c c 2 


portion in which fragments taken from older systems were 
selected and recombined. As we have already noticed, there 
is no such thing as spinning philosophies out of one's own 
head ; and, in the case of Descartes, even the belief that he 
was so doing came to him from Plato ; for, along with 
Aristotle's dogmatic errors, his sound teaching with regard to 
the derivation of knowledge had fallen into oblivion. The 
initial doubt of the Discmrse on Method and the Meditations 
is also Platonic ; only it is manifested under an individual 
and subjective, instead of a universal and objective form. 
But to find the real starting-point of Descartes* enquiries we 
must look for it in his mathematical studies. A geometrician 
naturally conceives the visible world under the aspect of 
figured extension ; and if he thinks the figures away, nothing 
will remain but extension as the ultimate material out of 
which all determinate bodies are shaped. Such was the result 
reached by Plato in his Timaeus, He identified matter with 
space, viewing this as the receptacle for his eternal and self- 
existent Ideas, or rather the plastic medium on which their 
images are impressed. The simplest spatial elements are 
triangles ; accordingly it is with these that he constructs his 
solid bodies. The theory of triangular elements was probably 
suggested by Atomism ; it is, in fact, a compromise between 
the purely mathematical and the materialistic methods. Like 
all Plato's fancies, this theory of matter was attacked with 
5Uch convincing arguments by Aristotle that, so long as his 
l^ysics remained in the ascendent, it did not find a single 
jk\ipi>ortcr ; although, as we saw in the last chapter, Plotinus 
very ncariy worked his way back to it from the Peripatetic 
^^^nition. Even now, at the moment of Aristotle's fall, it 
might have failed to attract attention, had not the conditions 
culler which it first arose been almost exactly repeated. Geo- 
ttHrical demonstration had again become the type of all 
^i^MiiAS » ^^^ ^*^ again a sceptical spirit abroad, forcing 
1^ fill back on the most elementary and universal con- 


deptidns; an atomistic materialism again threatened to claim 
at least the whole field of physical enquiry for its own. That 
Descartes followed the Timaeus in identifying matter with 
extension cannot be doubted ; especially when we see that he 
adopts Plato's analysis of body into elementary triangles ; but 
the theory agreed so well with his intellectual predispositions 
that he may easily have imagined it to be a necessary deduc- 
tion from his own d priori ideas. Moreover, after the first 
two steps, he parts company with Plato, and gives himself up, 
so far as his rejection of a vacuum will permit, to the mechani- 
cal physics of Democritus. Much praise has recently been 
bestowed on his attempt to interpret all physical phenomena 
in terms of matter and motion, and to deduce them from the 
unaided operation of natural causes ; but this is no more than 
had been done by the early Greek thinkers, from whom, we may 
observe, his hypothesis of an initial vortex was also derived. 
His cosmogony is better than theirs, only in so far as it is 
adapted to scientific discoveries in astronomy and physiology 
not made by Descartes himself ; for where his conjectures go 
beyond these they are entirely at fault 

Descartes' theory of the universe included, however, some- 
thing more than extension (or matter) and motion. This was 
Thought If we ask whence came the notion of Thought, our 
philosopher will answer that it was obtained by looking into 
himself. It was, in reality, obtained by looking into Aristotle, 
or into some text-book reproducing his metaphysics. But 
the Platonic element in his system enabled Descartes to isolate 
Thought much more completely than it had been isolated by 
Aristotle. To understand this, we must turn once more to 
the Timaeus. Plato made up his universe from space and 
Ideas. But the Ideas were too vague or too unintelligible for 
scientific purposes. Even mediaeval Realists were content to 
replace them by Aristotle's much clearer doctrine of Forms, 
On the other hand, Aristotle's First Matter was anything but 
a satisfactory conception. It was a mere abstraction; the 


unknowable residuum left behind when bodies were stripped, 
in imagination, of all their sensible and cogitable qualities. In 
other words, there was no Matter actually existing without 
Form ; whereas Form was never so truly itself, never so abso- 
lutely existent, as when completely separated from Matter : it 
then became simple self-consciousness, as in God, or in the 
reasonable part of the human soul. The revolution wrought 
by substituting space for Aristotle's First Matter will now 
become apparent Corporeal substance could at once be con- 
ceived as existing without the co-operation of Form ; and at 
the same stroke, Form, liberated from its material bonds, 
sprang back into the subjective sphere, to live henceforward 
only as pure self-conscious thought. 

This absolute separation of Form and Matter, under their 
new names of Thought and Extension, once grasped, various 
principles of Cartesianism will follow from it by logical 
necessity. First comes the exclusion of final causes from 
philosophy, or rather from Nature. There was not, as with Epi- 
curus, any anti-theological feeling concerned in their rejection. 
With Aristotle, against whom Descartes is always protesting, 
the final cause was not a mark of designing intelligence 
imposed on Matter from without ; it was only a particular 
aspect of Form, the realisation of what Matter was always 
striving after by virtue of its inherent potentiality. When 
Form was conceived only as pure thought, there could be no 
question of such a process ; the most highly organised bodies 
being only modes of figured extension. The revival of 
Atomism had, no doubt, a great deal to do with the pre- 
ference for a mechanical interpretation of life. Aristotle had 
himself shown with masterly clearness the difference between 
his view of Nature and that taken by Democritus ; thus indi- 
cating beforehand the direction in which an alternative to his 
own teaching might be sought ; and Bacon had, in fact, 
already referred with approval to the example set by Demo- 
critus in dealing with teleological enquiries. 


Nevertheless Bacon's own attitude towards final causes 
differs essentially from Descartes'. The French mathema- 
tician, had he spoken his whole mind, would probably have 
denied their existence altogether. The English reformer 
fully admits their reality, as, with his Aristotelian theory of 
Forms, he could hardly avoid doing ; and we find that he 
actually associates the study of final with that of formal 
causes, assigning both to metaphysics as its peculiar province. 
This being so, his comparative neglect of the former is most 
easily explained by the famous comparison of teleological 
enquiries to vestal virgins, dedicated to the service of God 
and bearing no offspring ; for Mr. Ellis has made it perfectly 
clear that the barrenness alluded to is not scientific but 
industrial. Our knowledge is extended when we trace the 
workings of a divine purpose in Nature ; but this is not a 
kind of knowledge which bears fruit in useful mechanical 
inventions.' Bacon probably felt that men would not be 
very forward to improve on Nature if they believed in the 
perfection of her works and in their beneficent adaptation to 
our wants. The teleological spirit was as strong with him 
as with Aristotle, but it took a different direction. Instead of 
studying the adaptation of means to ends where it already 
existed, he wished men to create it for themselves. But the 
utilitarian tendency, which predominated with Bacon, was 
quite exceptional with Descartes. Speaking generally, he 
desired knowledge for its own sake, not as an instrument for 
the gratification of other wants ; and this intellectual dis- 
interestedness was, perhaps, another aspect of the severance 
effected between thought and matter. 

The celebrated Cartesian paradox, that animals are un- 
conscious automata, is another consequence of the same 
principle. In Aristotle's philosophy, the doctrine of poten- 
tiality developing itself into act through a series of ascending 
manifestations, supplied a link connecting the highest rational 

> DeAug,^ III., V. Works^ I., p. 571. 


with the lowest vegetal life. The identification of Form with 
pure thought put an end to the conception of any such inter- 
mediate gradations. Brutes must either have a mind like 
ours or none at all. The former alternative was not even 
taken into consideration ; probably, among other reasons, 
because it was not easily reconcilable with Christianity ; so 
that nothing remained but to deny sensibility where thought 
was believed not to exist. 

Finally, in man himself, thought is not distinguished from 
feeling ; it is, in fact, the essence of mind, just as extension is 
the essence of body ; and all spiritual phenomena are modes 
of thought in the same sense that all physical phenomena are 
modes of space. It was, then, rather a happy chance than 
genuine physiological insight which led Descartes to make 
brain the organ of feeling no less than of intellection ; a view, 
as Prof. Huxley has observed, much in advance of that 
held by Bichat a hundred and fifty years laten For whoever 
deduced all the mental manifestations from a common essence 
was bound in consistency to locate them in the same bodily 
organ ; what the metaphysician had joined the physiologist 
could not possibly put asunder. 

We are now in a position to understand the full force of 
Descartes' Cogito ergo sum. It expresses the substantiality 
of self-conscious Form, the equal claim of thought with 
extension to be recognised as an element of the universe. 
This recognition of self-consciousness as the surest reality 
was, indeed, far from being new. The Greek Sceptics had 
never gone to the length of doubting their own personal 
existence. On the contrary, they professed a sort of sub* 
jective idealism. Refusing to go beyond their own conscious- 
ness, they found in its undisturbed self-possession the only- 
absolute satisfaction that life could afford. But knowledge 
and reality had become so intimately associated with some- 
thing independent of mind, and mind itself with a mere 
reflection of reality, that the denial of an external world 


seemed to the vulgar a denial of existence itself. And 
although Aristotle had found the highest, if not the sole 
absolute actuality in self-thinking thought, he projected it to 
such a distance from human personality that its bearing on 
the sceptical controversy had passed unperceived. Descartes 
began his demonstration at the point where all the ancient 
systems had converged, but failed to discover in what direc- 
tion the conditions of the problem required that they should 
be prolonged. No mistake can be greater than to regard 
him as the precursor of German philqsophy. The latter 
originated quite independently of his teaching, though not 
perhaps of his example, in the combination of a much pro- 
founder scepticism with a much wider knowledge of dogmatic 
metaphysics. His method is the very reverse of true idealism. 
The Cogito ergo sum is not a taking up of existence into thought,, 
but rather a conversion of thought into one particular type of 
existence. Now, as we have seen, all other existence was 
conceived as extension, and however carefully thought might 
be distinguished from this as absolutely indivisible, it was 
speedily reduced to the same general pattern of inclusion, 
limitation, and expansion. Whereas Kant, Fichte, and 
Hegel afterwards dwelt on the form of thought, Descartes 
attended only to its content, or to that in which it was con- 
tained. In other words, he began by considering not how he 
thought but what he thought and w/ience it came — his ideas 
and their supposed derivation from a higher sphere. Take, 
for example, his two great methods for proving the existence 
of God. We have in our minds the idea of a perfect being — 
at least Descartes professed to have such an idea in his mind, 
— and we, as imperfect beings, could not have originated it 
for ourselves. It must, therefore, have been placed there by 
a perfect being acting on us from without It is here taken 
for granted that the mechanical equivalence between mate- 
rial effects and their causes must obtain in a world where 
spatial relations, and therefore measurement, are presumably 


unknown. And, secondly, existence, as a perfection, is in- 
volved in the idea of a perfect being ; therefore such a being 
can only be conceived as existing. Here there seems to be 
a confused notion that because the properties of a geometrical 
figure can be deduced from its definition, therefore the exist- 
ence of something more than a simple idea can be deduced 
from the definition of that idea itself. But besides the 
mathematical influence, there was evidently a Platonic in- 
fluence at work ; and one is reminded of Plato's argument 
that the soul cannot die because it participates in the idea of 
life. Such fallacies were impossible so long as Aristotle's 
logic continued to be carefully studied, and they gradually 
disappeared with its revival. Meanwhile the cat was away, 
and the mice used their opportunity. 

That the absolute disjunction of thought from matter 
involved the impossibility of their interaction, was a conse- 
quence not drawn by Descartes himself, but by his immediate 
followers. Here also, Greek philosophy played its part in 
hastening the development of modern ideas. The fall of 
Aristotle had incidentally the effect of reviving not only the 
systems which preceded, but also those which followed his. 
Chief among these were Stoicism and Epicureanism. DiflTer- 
ing widely in most other respects, they agreed in teaching* 
that body is acted on by body alone. The Cartesians 
accepted this principle to the fullest extent so far as human 
perceptions and volitions were concerned; and to a great 
extent in dealing with the problems of physical science. But 
instead of arguing from the laws of mechanical causation to 
the materiality of mind, they argued from its immateriality to 
the total absence of communication between consciousness and 
motion. There was, however, one thinker of that age who went 
all lengths with the later Greek materialists. This was Thomas 
Hobbes, the founder of modem ethics, the first Englishman to 
grasp and develope still further Galileo's method of mathemati*^ 
cal deduction and mechanical analysis. 



The author of the Leviathan has sometimes been repre- 
sented as one who carried the Baconian method into politics, 
and prepared the way for its more thorough application to 
psychology by Locke. But this view, which regards the 
three great leaders of English philosophy in the seventeenth 
century as successive links in a connected series, is a mis- 
apprehension of history, which could only have arisen through 
leaving out of account the contemporary development of 
Continental speculation, and through the inveterate habit of 
looking on the modern disthiction between empiricism and 
transcendentalism as a fundamental antithesis dividing the 
philosophers of every epoch into two opposing schools. The 
truth is that, if the three writers just mentioned agjree in 
deriving knowledge solely from experience, they agree in 
nothing else ; and that their unanimity on this one point 
does not amount to much, will be evident if we consider 
what each understood by the notion in question. 

With Bacon, experience was the negation of mere au- 
thority, whether taking the form of natural prejudice, of 
individual prepossession, of hollow phrases, or of established 
systems. The question how we come by that knowledge 
which all agree to be the most certain, is left untouched in 
his logic ; either of the current answers would have suited 
his system equally well ; nor is there any reason for believing 
that he would have sided with Mill rather than with Kant 
respecting the origin of mathematical axioms. With Locke, 
experience meant the analysis of notions and judgments into 
the simple data of sense and self-consdousness ; and the 
experientialists of the present day are beyond all doubt his 
disciples ; but the parentage of his philosophy, so far as 
it is simply a denial of innate ideas, must be sought, not 
in the Novum Organum^ nor in any other modem work, but 
in the old Organan of Aristotle, or in the comments of the 


Schoolmen who followed Aristotle in protesting against the 
Platonism of their time, just as Locke protested against the 
Platonism of Descartes and Malebranche. 

The experience of Hobbes differs both in origin and 
application from either of these. With him, sensible im- 
pressions are not a court of appeal against traditional judg- 
ments, nor yet are they the ultimate elements into which all 
ideas may be analysed ; they are the channels through which 
pulsating movements are conveyed into the mind ; and these 
movements, again, represent the action of mechanical forces 
or the will of a paramount authority. And he holds this 
doctrine, partly as a logical consequence of his materialism, 
partly as a safeguard against the theological pretensions 
which, in his opinion, are a constant threat to social order. 
The authority of the political sovereign is menaced on the 
one hand by Papal infallibility, and on the other by rebellious 
subjects putting forward a claim to supernatural inspiration. 
To the Pope, Hobbes says: *You are violating the law of 
Nature by professing to derive from God what is really given 
only by the consent of men, and can only be given by them 
to their temporal head, — the right to impose a particular 
religion.' To the Puritan, he says : * Your inward illumina* 
tion is a superstitious dream, and you have no right to use it 
as a pretext for breaking the king's peace. Religion has 
really nothing to do with the supernatural ; it is only a 
particular way of inculcating obedience to the natural con- 
ditions of social union.' 

Again, Hobbes differs wholly from Bacon in the deductive 
character of his method. His logic is the old syllogistic 
system reorganised on the model of mathematical analysis* 
Like all the great thinkers of his time, he was a geometrician 
and a mechanical physicist, reasoning from general to par- 
ticular propositions and descending from causes to effects.* 

* This is well brought out in a remarkable series of articles on the Philosophy 
of Hobbes recently published by Tonnies in the VUrUljahrsschrift fur wtsseH^ 
schaftliche Philosophic, 


His famous theory of a social contract is a rational construc- 
tion, not a historical narrative. But though a mathematician, 
he shows no traces of Platonic influence. He is, therefore, all 
the more governed by Atomist and Stoic modes of thought. 
He treats human nature, single and associated, as Galileo 
and Descartes had treated motion and space. Like them, 
too, he finds himself in constant antagonism to Aristotle. 
The description of man as a social animal is disdainfully 
rejected, and the political union resolved into an equilibrium 
of many opposing wills maintained by violent pressure from 
without. In ethics, no less than in physics, we find attractive 
forces replaced by mechanical impacts. 

While the analysis of Hobbes goes much deeper than 
Aristotle's, the grasp of his reconstructive synthesis is wider 
and stronger in at least an equal proportion. Recognising 
the good of the whole as the supreme rule of conduct,' he 
gives a new interpretation to the particular virtues, and dis- 
poses of the theory which made them a mean between two 
extremes no less effectually than his contemporaries had 
disposed of the same theory in its application to the element- 
ary constitution of matter. And just as they were aided in 
their revolt against Aristotle by the revival of other Greek 
systems, so also was he. The identification of justice with 
public interest, though commonly attributed to Epicurus 
alone, was, like materialism, an idea shared by him with 
Stoicism, and was probably impressed on modem thought 
by the weight of their united authority. And when we find 
the philosopher of Malmesbury making public happiness 
consist in order and tranquillity, we cannot but think that 
this was a generalisation from the Stoic and Epicurean con- 
ceptions of individual happiness ; for it reproduces, under a 
social form, the same ideal of passionless repose. 

On the other hand, this substitution of the social for 
the personal integer involves a corresponding change in the 

' Leviathan, chap, xv., sub fin. 


valuation of individual happiness. What the passions had 
been to later Greek philosophy, that the individual soul 
became to Hobbes, something essentially infinite and insa- 
tiable, whose desires grow as they are gratified, whose happi- 
ness, if such it can be called, is not a condition of stable 
repose but of perpetual movement and unrest* Here, again, 
the analogy between physics and ethics obtains. In both, 
there was an original opposition between the idea of a limit 
and the idea of infinite expansion. Just as, among the 
earlier Greek thinkers, there was a physical philosophy of 
the infinite or, as its impugners called it, the indefinite, so 
also there was, corresponding to it, a philosophy of the 
infinite or indefinite in ethics, represented, not indeed by 
professional moralists, but by rhetoricians and men of the 
world. Their ideal was not the contented man, but the 
popular orator or the despot who revels in the consciousness 
of power — the ability to satisfy his desires, whatever they 
may be. And the extreme consequence of this principle is 
drawn by Plato's Callicles when he declares that true happi- 
ness consists in nursing one's desires up to the highest point 
at which they can be freely indulged ; while his ideal of 
character is the superior individual who sets at naught 
whatever restraints have been devised by a weak and timid 
majority to protect themselves against him. 

The Greek love of balanced antithesis and circumscribing 
form triumphed over the infinite in both fields. While the 
two great masters of idealism imprisoned the formless and 
turbulent terrestrial elements within a uniform and eternal 
sphere of crystal, they imposed a similar restraint on the 
desires and emotions, confining them within a barrier of 
reason which, when once erected, could never be broken 
through. And although the ground won in physics was lost 
again for a time through a revival of old theories, this was 
because true Hellenism found its only congenial sphere in 

' Laiathdfif chap, xi., snh m. 


ethics, and there the philosophy of the finite continued to 
reign supreme. If the successors of Aristotle fell back on 
cosmologies of ampler scope than his, they retained his 
limiting method in their speculations on man. 

With Christianity, there came a certain inversion of parts. 
The external universe again became subjected to narrow 
limitations, and ih& flamtnantia moenia mundi beyond which 
Epicurus had dared to penetrate, were raised up once more 
and guarded by new terrors as an impassable barrier to 
thought But infinity took refuge within the soul ; and, 
while in this life a sterner self-control than even that of 
Stoicism was enjoined, perspectives of illimitable delight in 
another life were disclosed. Finally, at the Renaissance, 
every barrier was simultaneously overthrown, and the ac- 
cumulated energies of western civilisation expatiated over a 
field which, if it was vast in reality, was absolutely unbounded 
in imagination. Great as were the achievements of that age, 
its dreams were greater still ; and what most excites our 
wonder in the works of its heroes is but the fragment of an 
unfinished whole. The ideal of life set up by Aristotle was, 
like his conception of the world, contradicted in every par- 
ticular ; and the relative positions assigned by him to act and 
power were precisely reversed. It has been shown how 
Shakespeare reflected the Platonism of his contemporaries : 
he reflected also the fierce outburst of their ambition ; and 
in describing what they would dare, to possess solely 
sovereign sway and masterdom, or wear without corrival all 
the dignities of honour, he borrowed almost the very words 
used by Euripides to express the feelings encouraged by 
some teachers of his time. The same spirit is exhibited a 
generation later in the dramas of Calderon and Comeille, 
before their thoughts were forced into a different channel by 
the stress of the Catholic reaction ; while its last and highest 
manifestation is the sentiment of Milton's ruined archangel, 
that to reign in hell is better than to serve in heaven. Thus, 


when Hobbes reduces all the passions to modes of the funda- 
mental desire for power/ he does but give the scientific theory 
of that which stands proclaimed in more thrilling accents by 
the noblest poetry of his age. 

Where no danger could deter from the pursuit of power, 
no balancing of pain with pleasure availed to quench the 
ardour of desire. With full knowledge that violent delights 
have violent ends and in their triumph die, the fateful con- 
dition was accepted Not only did Giordano Bruno, in 
conscious parallelism with his theory of matter, declare that 
without mutation, variety, and vicissitude nothing would be 
agreeable, nothing good, nothing delightful, that enjoyment 
consists solely in transition and movement, and that all 
pleasure lies midway between the painful longing of fresh 
appetite and the sadness of its satiation and extinction ; ^ but 
the sedater wisdom of Bacon, in touching on the controversy 
between Callicles and Socrates, seems to incline towards the 
side of the former ; and, in all cases, warns men not to make 
too much of the inconveniences attendent on pleasure, but * so 
to procure serenity as they destroy not magnanimity.*' 

These, then, were the principal elements of the philo- 
sophical Renaissance. First, there was a certain survival of 
Aristotelianism as a method of comprehensive and logical 
arrangement. Then there was the new Platonism, bringing 
along with it a revival of either Alexandrian or mediaeval 
pantheism, and closely associated with geometrical studies. 
Thirdly, there was the old Greek Atomism, as originally set 
forth by Democritus or as rc-edited by Epicurus, traditionally 
unfavourable to theology, potent alike for decomposition 
and reconstruction, confirmed by the new astronomy, and 
lending its method to the reformation of mathematics ; next 
the later Greek ethical systems ; and finally the formless 
idea of infinite power which all Greek systems had, as such, 

• LtvicUhan^ chap. vi. ■ Spcucio delta Bestia Trionfante^ sub in, 

• Advancement of Lfoming, Ellis and Spedding, III., p. 428. 


conspired to suppress, but which, nevertheless, had played a 
great part in the earlier stages of Greek speculation both 
physical and moral. 

On these foundations the lofty edifice of Spinozism was 
reared ; out of these materials its composite structure was 
built ; and without a previous study of them it cannot be 


Whether Spinoza ever read Plato is doubtful. One 
hardly sees why he should have neglected a writer whose 
works were easily accessible, and at that time very popular 
with thinking minds. But whether he was acquainted with 
the Dialogues at first hand or not, Plato will help us to under- 
stand Spinoza, for it was through the door of geometry that he 
entered philosophy, and under the guidance of one who was 
saturated with the Platonic spirit ; so far as Christianity 
influenced him, it was through elements derived from Plato ; 
and his metaphysical method was one which, more than any 
other, would have been welcomed with delight by the author 
of the Meno and the Republic^ as an attempt to realise his own 
dialectical ideal. For Spinozism is, on the face of it, an appli- 
cation of geometrical reasoning to philosophy, and especially 
to ethics. It is also an attempt to prove transcendentally 
what geometricians only assume — the necessity of space. 
Now, Plato looked on geometrical demonstration as the great 
type of certainty, the scientific completion of what Socrates 
had begun by his interrogative method, the one means of 
carrying irrefragable conviction into every department of 
knowledge, and more particularly into the study of our highest 
good. On the other hand, he saw that geometricians assume 
what itself requires to be demonstrated ; and he confidently 
expected that the deficiency would be supplied by his own 
projected method of transcendent dialectics. Such at least 
seems to be the drift of the following passage : 



When I speak of the division of the intellectual, you win also 
understand me to speak of that knowledge which reason herself 
attains by the power of dialectic, using the hypotheses not as first 
principles, but only as hypotheses — that b to say as steps and points 
of departure into a region which is above hypotheses, in order 
that she may soar beyond them to the first principle of the whole; 
and clinging to this and then to that which depends on this, by suc- 
cessive steps she descends again without the aid oX. any sensible object, 
beginning and ending in ideas.' 

The problem, then, which Spinoza set himself was, first, to 
account for the fundamental assumptions of all science, and 
more particularly of geometry, by deducing them from a single 
self-evident principle ; and then to use that principle for the 
solution of whatever problems seemed to stand most in need 
of its application. And, as usually happens in such adven- 
turous enterprises, the supposed answer of pure reason was 
obtained by combining or expanding conceptions borrowed 
without criticism from pre-existing systems of philosophy. 

Descartes had already accomplished a great simplification 
of the speculative problem by summing up all existence under 
the two heads of extension and thought It remained to 
account for these, and to reduce them to a single idea. As 
we have seen, they were derived from Greek philosophy, and 
the bond which was to unite them must be sought for in the 
same direction. It will be remembered that the systems of 
Plato and Aristotle were bounded at either extremity by a 
determinate and by an indeterminate principle. With the one, 
existence ranged between the Idea of Good at the upi>er end 
of the scale and empty space at the lower ; with the other, 
between absolute Thought and First Matter. It was by 
combining the two definite terms, space and thought, that 
Descartes had constructed his system ; and after subtracting 
these the two indefinite terms remained. In one respect they 
were even more opposed to each other than were the terms 
with which they had been respectively associated. The Idea 

» Republic, VI., 511, Jowetl*s Trans. III., p. 398. 


of Good represented unity, identity, and constancy, as against 
plurality, difference, and change ; while Aristotle's Matter 
was, by its very definition, multiform, fluctuating, and indeter- 
minate. Nevertheless, there were equally important analogies 
traceable between them. No very clear account could be 
given of either, and both were customarily described by nega- 
tives. If Matter fell short of complete existence, the Good 
transcended all existence. If the one was a universal capacity 
for assuming Forms, the other was the source whence all 
Forms proceeded. When the distinctive characteristics of an 
individual were thought away, the question might well be 
mooted into which principle it would return. The ambiguous 
use of the word Power contributed still further to their iden- 
tification, for it was not less applicable to the receptive than 
to the productive faculty. Now we have just seen into what 
importance the idea of Power suddenly sprang at the Renais- 
sance : with Bruno it was the only abiding reality of Nature ; 
with Hobbes it was the only object of human desire. 

Another term occupying a very large place in Aristotle's 
philosophy was well adapted to mediate between and eventu- 
ally to unite the two speculative extremes. This was Sub- 
stance ; in logic the subject of predication, in metaphysics 
the substratum of qualities, the oxxrla or Being of the Ten 
Cathodes. Now First Matter might fairly claim the position 
of a universal subject or substance, since it was invested with 
every sensible quality in turn, and even, as the common 
element of all Forms, with every thinkable quality as well. 
Aristotle himself had finally pronounced for the individual 
compound of Form and Matter as the true substance. Yet 
he also speaks as if the essential definition of a thing consti- 
tuted the thing itself ; in which case Form alone could be the 
true subject; and a similar claim might be put forward on 
behalf of the Plotinian One.* 

» Plotinus himself expresses a doubt as to whether the One is, properly 
speaking, all things or not {Ehh., V., ii., sud in.) ; but in his essay cm Substance 

D D 2 


Such were the ^J/r/^ri elements which a historical synthesis 
had prepared to satisfy the want of a metaphysical Absolute. 
Let us now see what result would follow when the newly- 
recovered idea of space was subjected to a metaphysical 
analysis. Extension is both one and infinite. No particular 
area can be conceived apart from the whole which both con- 
tains and explains it. Again, extension is absolutely homo- 
geneous ; to whatever distance we may travel in imagination 
there will still be the same repetition of similar parts. But 
space, with the Cartesians, nreant more than a simple juxta- 
position of parts ; having been made the essence of matter, it 
was invested with mechanical as well as with geometrical 
properties. The bodies into which it resolved itself were con- 
ceived as moving, and as communicating their movement to 
one another through an unbroken chain of causation in which 
each constituted a single link, determining and determined by 
the rest ; so that, here also, each part was explained by 
reference to an infinite whole, reproducing its essence, while 
exempt from the condition of circumscribed existence. We 
can understand, then, that when the necessity of accounting 
for extension itself once became felt, the natural solution 
would be to conceive it as holding the same relation to some 
greater whole which its own subdivisions held to their sum 
total ; in other words it should be at once a part, an emana- 
tion, and an image of the ultimate reality. This is, in fact, 
very nearly the relation which Matter holds to the One in the 
Neo-Platonic system. And we know that with Plotinus 
Matter is almost the same as infinite Extension. 

Corresponding to the universal space which contains all 
particular spaces, there was, in the Neo-Platonic system, a 

universal Thought which contained all particular thoughts, 

the Nous about which we heard so much in studying Plotinus. 

and Quality, he defines qualities as energies of the substance to which they belong 
(Enrt., II., vi. 3). Now all things are, according to his philosophy, energies of 
the One. There would, therefore, be no difficulty in considering it as their 


Such a conception is utterly strange to the modern mind, but 
it was fariiiliar enough to Spinoza ; and we can see how it 
would be suggested by the common forms of reasoning. The 
tendency of syllogism is either to subsume lower under higher 
notions until a summum genus is reached, or to resolve all 
subjects into a single predicate, or to connect all predicates 
with a single subject. The analogies of space, too, would tell 
in the same direction, bringing nearer the idea of a vast 
thought-sea in which all particular thoughts, or what to a 
Cartesian meant the same thing, all particular minds, were 
contained. And Neo-Platonism showed how this universal 
Mind or Thought could, like the space which it so much re- 
sembled, be interpreted as the product of a still higher prin- 
ciple. To complete the parallelism, it remained to show that 
Thought, which before had seemed essentially finite, is, on 
the contrary, co-infinite with Extension. How this was done 
will appear a little further on. 

Spinoza gathered up all the threads of speculation thus 
made ready for his grasp, when he defined God as a substance 
consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses his 
infinite and eternal essence ; subsequently adding that the 
essence here spoken of is Power, and that two of the infinite 
attributes are Extension and Thought, whereof the particular 
things known to us are modes. Platonism had decomposed 
the world into two ideal principles, and had re-created it by 
combining them over again in various proportions, but they 
were not entirely reabsorbed and worked up into the concrete 
reality which resulted from their union ; they were, so to 
speak, knotted together, but the ends continued to hang loose. 
Above and below the finite sphere of existence there remained 
as an unemployed surplus the infinite causal energy of the One 
and the infinite passive potentiality of Matter. Spinoza com- 
bined and identified the two opposing elements in the notion 
of a single substance as infinite in actuality as they had been 
in power. He thus gave its highest metaphysical expression 


to that common tendency which we traced through the pro- 
spects opened out by the Copernican astronomy, the revival 
of Atomism, the dynamical psychology of Hobbes, and the 
illimitable passion of the Renaissance, while, at the same time, 
preserving the unity of Plato's idealism, and even making it 
more concentrated than before. 

It has been shown how universal space and universal 
thought at once contain and explain each particular space 
and each particular concept. In like manner, the infinite 
substance contains and explains space and thought themselves. 
Contains them, yes, as attributes ; but explains them, how ? 
As two among an infinity of attributes. In other words, if we 
ask why there should be such an existence as space, the 
answer is because existence, being infinite, must necessarily 
include every conceivable thing. The argument is strikingly 
like a principle of the Epicurean philosophy, and may well 
have been suggested by it. According to Lucretius, the 
appearance of design in our world need not be attributed to 
creative intelligence, because infinite atoms moving in infinite 
manners through infinite time, must at length arrive, after a 
comprehensive series of experiments, at the present frame of 
things ; * and the same principle is invoked on a smaller scale 
to account for the origin of organised beings, of memory, and 
of civil society.^ In both systems, infinite space is the root- 
conception ; but what Lucretius had legitimately used to ex- 
plain becoming, Spinoza illegitimately applies to the elucida- 
tion of being. At one stroke all empirical knowledge is 
placed on an 4 priori foundation. By assuming unlimited 
credit at the bank of the universe we entitle ourselves to draw 
a cheque for any particular amount. Thus the idea of infinite 
attributes is no mere collateral speculation, but forms an 

1 ._ 

— Quia multimodis, multis, mutata, per omne 
Ex infinilo vexantur percita plagis, 
Omne genus motus, et coetus expcriundo, 
Tandem deveniunt in taleis disposituras, 
Qualibus haec rebus consistit summa creata. (I., 1023-7.) 

' v., 853; IV., 78o-8co;_V., 1025. 


essential element of Spinozism. The known varieties of 
existence are, so to speak, surrounded, supported, and fixed 
in their places by the endless multitude of the unknown. 
And this conception of being as absolutely infinite, is another 
proof of Spinoza's Platonic tendencies, for it involves the 
realisation of an abstract idea, that is to say, of Being, which 
the philosopher treats as something more comprehensive than 
the facts of consciousness whence it is derived. 

Or, again, we may say that two principles, — theNominalistic 
as well as the Realistic, — are here at work. By virtue of the 
one, Spinoza makes Being something beyond and above the 
facts of experience. By virtue of the other he reinvests it 
with concrete reality, but a reality altogether transcending our 
powers of imagination. Very much, also, that Plotinus says 
about his One might be applied to Spinoza's Substance, but 
with a new and positive meaning. The First Cause is above 
existence, but only existence as restricted within the very 
narrow limits of our experience, and only as infinite reality 
transcends the parts which it includes. 

It is well known that Spinoza draws a sharp line of 
demarcation between the two attributes of Extension and 
Thought, which, with him, correspond to what are usually 
called body and mind. Neither attribute can act on the 
other. Mind receives no impressions from body, nor does 
body receive any impulses from mind. This proposition 
follows by rigorous logical necessity from the Platonic prin- 
ciple that mind is independent of body, combined with the 
Stoic principle that nothing but body can act on body, 
generalised into the wider principle that interaction implies 
homogeneity of nature. According to some critics, Spinoza's 
teaching on this point constitutes a fatal flaw in his philosophy. 
How, it is asked, can we know that there is any such thing as 
body (or extension) if body cannot be perceived, — for per- 
ceived it certainly cannot be without acting on our minds ? 
The idea of infinite substance suggests a way out erf" the 


difficulty. ' I find in myself,' Spinoza might say, ' the idea 
of extension. In fact, my mind is nothing but the idea of ex- 
tension, or the idea of that idea, and so on through as many 
self-reflections as you please. At the same time, mind, or 
thought, is not itself extended. Descartes and the Platonists 
before him have proved thus much. Consequently I can con- 
ceive extension as existing independently of myself, and, more 
generally, of all thought. But how can I be sure that it 
actually does so exist } In this wise. An examination of 
thought leads me to the notion of something in which it resides 
— a substance whose attribute it is. But having once con- 
ceived such a substance, I cannot limit it to a single attribute, 
nor to two, nor to any finite number. Limitation implies a 
boundary, and there can be no boundary assigned to existence, 
for existence by its very definition includes everything that is. 
Accordingly, whatever can be conceived, in other words 
whatever can be thought without involving a contradiction, — 
an important reservation which I beg you to observe, — must 
necessarily exist. Now extension involves no contradiction, 
therefore it exists, — exists, that is to say, as an attribute of the 
infinite substance. And, by parity of reasoning, there must 
be an idea of extension ; for this also can exist without 
involving a contradiction, as the simplest introspection suffices 
to show. You ask me why then I do not believe in gorgons 
and chimaeras. I answer that since, in point of fact, they do 
not exist, I presume that their notion involves a contradiction, 
although my knowledge of natural law is not sufficiently 
extended to show me where the contradiction lies. But per- 
haps science will some day be able to point out in every 
instance of a non-existing thing, where the contradiction lies, 
no less surely than it can now be pointed out in the case of 
impossible geometrical figures.* In short, while other people 
travel straight from their sensations to an external world, 
Spinoza travels round to it by the idea of an infinite substance.* 

' Just the same remark applies to the monads of Leibnitz. Each monad 


The relation of Spinoza's Substance to its attributes is 
ambiguous. It is at once their cause, their totality, and their 
unity. The highly elastic and indefinite term Power helped 
these various aspects to play into and replace one another 
according to the requirements of the system. It is associated 
with the subjective possibility of multiplying imaginary exist- 
ences to any amount ; with the causal energy in which exist- 
ence originates; and with the expansiveness characteristic 
alike of Extension and of Thought. For the two known 
attributes of the universal substance are not simply related to 
it as co-predicates of a common subject ; they severally 
express its essential Power, and are, to that extent, identical 
with one another. But when we ask. How do they express 
Power } the same ambiguity recurs. Substance is revealed 
through its attributes, as a cause through its effects ; as an 
aggregate through its constituents ; and as an abstract notion 
through its concrete embodiments. Thus Extension and 
Thought are identical through their very differences, since 
these illustrate the versatility of their common source, and at 
the same time jointly contribute to the realisation of its 
perfection. But, for all practical purposes, Spinoza deals only 
with the parallelism and resemblance of the attributes. We 
have to see how he establishes it, and how far he was helped in 
so doing by the traditions of Greek philosophy. 


It has been already shown how Extension, having become 
identified with matter, took on its mechanical qualities, and 
was conceived as a connected series of causes or modes of 
motion. The parallel found by Spinoza for this series in 
Thought is the chain of reasons and consequents forming a 

reflects all the others, and infers that its reflections represent a reality from the 
inflnite creative power of God. Descartes* appeal to the divine veracity represents 
the same method in a less developed stage. The root-idea here is to be sought for, 
not in Greek thought but in the Christian doctrine of a supematund refdatioiu 


demonstrative argument ; and here he is obviously following 
Aristotle, who although ostensibly distinguishing between 
formal and efficient causes, hopelessly confounds them in the 
second book of his Posterior Analytics} We are said to 
understand a thing when we bring it under a general rule, and 
also when we discover the mechanical agency which produces 
it. For instance, we may know that a particular man will die, 
either from the fact that all men are mortal, or from the fact 
that he has received a fatal wound. The general rule, how- 
ever, is not the cause of what will happen, but only the cause 
of our knowing that it will happen ; and knowledge of the 
rule by no means carries with it a knowledge of the efficient 
cause; as we see in the case of gravitation and other natural 
forces whose modus operaiidi is still a complete mystery. 
What deceived Aristotle was partly his false analysis of the 
syllogism, which he interpreted as the connexion of two terms 
by the interposition of a middle answering to the causal nexus 
of two phenomena ; and partly his conception of the universe 
as a series of concentric spheres, through which movement is 
transmitted from without, thus combining the two ideas of 
notional comprehension and mechanical causation. 

Be this as it may, Spinoza takes up the Aristotelian 
identification of logical with dynamical connexion, and gives 
it the widest possible development. For the Stagirite would 
not, at any rate, have dreamed of attributing any but a sub- 
jective existence to the demonstrative series, nor of extending 
it beyond the limits of our actual knowledge. Spinoza, on 
the other hand, assumes that the whole infinite chain of 
material causes is represented by a corresponding chain of 
eternal ideas ; and this chain he calls the infinite intellect of 
God.* Here, besides the necessities of systematisation, the 

* The formal cause of a thing is its species, the concept under which it is 
immediately subsumed ; the efficient cause is what brings it into existence. Thus 
the formal cause of a man is humanity, the efficient cause, his father. 

' Eth,^ I., prop. xvi. ; II., prop. iii. ; prop. v. ; prop, xviii., schol. ; prop, 
xxviii. ; prop, xl., schol. ii. ; V., prop, xxix., schol. ; prop, xl., schol. (The 
passage last referred to is the clearest and most decisive.) 


influence of mediaeval realism is plainly evident. For, when 
the absolute self-existence of Plato's Ideas had been sur- 
rendered in deference to Aristotle's criticism, a home was still 
found for them by Plotinus in the eternal Nous, and by the 
Christian Schoolmen in the mind of God ; nor did such a 
belief present any difficulties so long as the divine personality 
was respected. The pantheism of Spinoza, however, was 
absolute, and excluded the notion of any but a finite sub- 
jectivity. Thus the infinite intellect of God is an unsupported 
chain of ideas recalling the theory at one time imagined by 
Plato.^ Or its existence may be merely what Aristotle would 
have called potential ; in other words, Spinoza may mean 
that reasons will go on evolving themselves so long as we 
choose to study the dialectic of existence, always in strict 
parallelism with the natural series of material movements 
constituting the external universe ; and just as this is deter- 
mined through all its parts by the totality of extension, or of 
all matter (whether moving or motionless) taken together, so 
also at the summit of the logical series stands the idea of 
God, from whose definition the demonstration of every lesser 
idea necessarily follows. It is true that in a chain of con- 
nected energies the antecedent, as such, must be always pre- 
cisely equal to the consequent ; but, apparently, this difficulty 
did not present itself to Spinoza, nor need we be surprised at 
this ; for Kant, coming a century later, was still so imbued 
with Aristotelian traditions as, similarly, to derive the category 
of Cause and Effect from the relation between Reason and 
Consequent in hypothetical propositions.^ 

Meanwhile the parallelism between Thought and Exten- 
sion was not exhausted by the identification just analysed. 
Extension was not only a series of movements; it still 
remained an expression for co-existence and adjacency. 

' See the passage from the Republic quoted above. 

* The tendency of logicians is now, contrariwise, to force reasoning into 
parallelism with mathematical physics by interpreting the proposition as an 
equation between subject and predicate. 


Spinoza, therefore, felt himself obliged to supply Thought 
with a correspondingly continuous quality. It is here that 
his chief originality lies, here that he has been most closely 
followed by the philosophy of our own time. Mind, he 
declares, is an attribute everywhere accompanying matter, 
co-extensive and co-infinite with space. Our own animation 
is the sum or the resultant of an animation clinging to every 
particle that enters into the composition of our bodies. When 
our thoughts are affected by an external impulse, to suppose 
that this impulse proceeds from anything material is a delu- 
sion ; it is produced by the mind belonging to the body which 
acts on our body ; although in what sense this process is to 
be understood remains a mystery. Spinoza has clearly ex- 
plained the doctrine of animal automatism, and shown it to 
be perfectly conceivable ; * but he has entirely omitted to 
explain how the parallel influence of one thought (or feeling) 
on another is to be understood ; for although this too is spoken 
of as a causal relation, it seems to be quite different from the 
logical concatenation described as the infinite intellect of 
God ; and to suppose that idea follows from idea like move- 
ment from movement would amount to a complete materiali- 
sation of mind ; while our philosopher would certainly have 
repudiated Mr. Shadworth Hodgson's theory, that states of 
consciousness arc only connected through their extended 
substratum, as the segments of a mosaic picture are held 
together by the underlying surface of masonry. Nor can we 
admit that Spinoza entertained the theory, now so popular, 
according to which extension and consciousness are merely 
different aspects of a single reality. For this would imply 
that the substance which they manifest had an existence of 
its own apart from its attributes ; whereas Spinoza makes it 
consist of the attributes, that is to say, identifies it with their 
totality. We are forced, then, to conclude that the proposition 
declaring thought and extension to be the same thing* has no 

* III., prop, ii., schol. * II., vii., schol. 


Other meaning than that they are connected by the double 
analogy which we have endeavoured to explain. 

The analogy between Thought and Extension under the 
two aspects of necessary connexion and mere contingent 
relation in co-existence or succession, was, in truth, more 
interesting to its author as a basis for his ethical than as a 
development of his metaphysical speculations. The two 
orders of relations represent, in their distinction, the opposi- 
tion of science to opinion or imagination, the opposition of 
dutiful conviction to blind or selfish impulse. Spinoza 
borrows from the Stoics their identification of volition with 
belief ; but in working out the consequences of this principle 
it is of Plato rather than of the Stoics that he reminds us. 
The passions are in his system what sense, imagination, and 
opinion were in that of the Athenian idealist ; and his ethics 
may almost be called the metaphysics of the Republic turned 
outside in. Joy, grief and desire are more or less imperfect 
perceptions of reality — a reality not belonging to the external 
world but to the conscious subject itself.* When Spinoza 
traces them to a consciousness or expectation of raised or 
lowered power, we recognise the influence of Hobbes ; but 
when, here as elsewhere, he identifies power with existence, 
we detect a return to Greek forms of thought. The great 
conflict between illusion and reality is fought out once more ; 
only, this time, it is about our own essence that we are first 
deceived and then enlightened. If the nature and origin of 
outward things are half revealed, half concealed by sense and 
imagination, our emotions are in like manner the obscuring 
and distorting medium through which we apprehend our 
inmost selves, and whatever adds to or takes away from the 
plenitude of our existence ; and what science is to the one, 
morality and religion are to the other. 

It is remarkable that while Spinoza was giving a 
new application to the Platonic method, another Cartesian, 

* III., ix. and xi. 


Malebranche, was working it out more strictly on the old lines 
of speculative research. The Recherche de la V&it^ of this 
unjustly neglected thinker is a methodical account of the 
various subjective obstacles which impede our apprehension 
of things as they really exist, and of the means by which it 
may be facilitated. Here also, attention is concentrated on 
the subjective side of philosophy ; and if the mental processes 
selected for study are of theoretical rather than practical 
interest, we may probably attribute this to the circumstance 
that every ethical question was already decided for Male- 
branche by the Church whose orders he had assumed. 

But it was not merely in the writings of professed philoso- 
phers that the new aspect of Platonism found expression. 
All great art embodies in one form or another the leading 
conceptions of its age ; and the latter half of the seventeenth 
century found such a manifestation in the comedies of Moliire. 
If these works stand at the head of French literature, they owe 
their position not more to their author's brilliant wit than to 
his profound philosophy of life ; or rather, we should say that 
with him wit and philosophy are one. The comic power of 
Shakespeare was shown by resolving the outward appearances 
of this world into a series of dissolving illusions. Like Spinoza 
and Malebranche, Moliere turns the illusion in, showing what 
perverted opinions men form of themselves and others, through 
misconceptions and passions either of spontaneous growth or 
sedulously fostered by designing hands. Society, with him, 

seems almost entirely made up of pretenders and their dupes, 


both characters being not unfrequently combined in the same 
person, who is made a victim through his desire to pass for 
what he is not and cannot be. And this is what essentially 
distinguishes the art of Moliere from the New Comedy of 
Athens, which he, like other moderns, had at first felt inclined 
to imitate until the success of the Pr^cieuses Ridicules showed 
him where his true opportunities lay. For the New Comedy 
was Aristotelian where it was not simply humanist ; that is 


to say, it was an exhibition of types like those sketched by 
Aristotle's disciple, Theophrastus, and already prefigured in 
the master's own Ethics, These were the perennial forms in 
a world of infinite and perishing individual existences, not 
concealed behind phenomena, but incorporated in them and 
constituting their essential truth. The Old Comedy is 
something different again ; it is pre-philosophic, and may 
be characterised as an attempt to describe great political 
interests and tendencies through the medium of myths and 
fables and familiar domesticities, just as the old theories of 
Nature, the old lessons of practical wisdom, and the first 
great national chronicles had been thrown into the same 
homely form.^ 

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 un- 
natural. Spinoza more wisely sees in them assertions, how- 
ever 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 an- 
other 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 be 

* Greek tragedy is just the reverse — an expansion of the old patriarchal 
relations into a mould fitted to receive the highest thought and feeling of a 
civilised age. 


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 dis- 
proportionate 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 com- 
parison, 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. 


So far Spinoza, following the example of Stoicism, has 
only studied the means by which reason conquers passion. 
He now proceeds to show, in the spirit of Plato or of Platonic 
Christianity, how immensely superior to the pleasures of sense 
and opinion are those afforded by true religion — by the love 
of God and the possession of eternal life. But, here also, as 
in the Grreek system, logic does duty for emotion. The love 
of God means no more than viewing ourselves as filling a 
place in the infinite framework of existence, and as deter- 
mined to be what we are by the totality of forces composing 
it. And eternal life is merely the adjustment of our thoughts 
to the logical order by which all modes of existence are de- 
ducible from the idea of infinite power. 

Thus, while Spinoza draws to a head all the tendencies 
inherited from Greek philosophy, borrowing from the early 
physicists their necessarianism ; from the Atomists, their 
exclusion of final causes, their denial of the supernatural, 
and their infinite worlds ; from the Athenian school, their 
distinction between mind and body and between reason and 
sense ; from Aristotle, his parallelism between causation and 
syllogism ; from the Epicureans, their vindication of pleasure ; 
and from the Stoics, their identification of belief with action, 
their conquest of passion and their devotion to humanity ;- - 
it is to the dominant Platonism of the seventeenth century 
that his system owes its foundation, its development, and its 
crown ; for he begins by realising the abstract conception of 
being, and infers its absolute infinity from the misleading 
analc^ry of space, which is not an abstraction at all ; deduces 
his conclusions according to the geometrical method recom- 
mended by Plato; and ends, like Plato, by translating 
dialectic formulas into the emotional language of religious 

' For the whole subject of Spinoza's mathematical method, tee Windelband's 
paper on Spinoza in the VUrtdjahrsschriftfur rvissemchaftiiche Philosophies 1877. 
Some points in the last paragraph were suggested by Mr. Pollock's Spinoza (pp. 
255, 264). 




From this grand synthesis, however, a single element was 
omitted ; and, like the uninvited guest of fairy tradition, it 
proved strong enough singly to destroy what had been con- 
structed by the united efforts of all the rest. This was the 
sceptical principle, the critical analysis of ideas, first exercised 
by Protagoras, made a new starting-point by Socrates, carried 
to perfection by Plato, supplementing experience with Aris- 
totle, and finally proclaimed in its purity as the sole function 
of philosophy by an entire school of Greek thought 

Notwithstanding the sterility commonly associated with 
mere negation, it was this which, of all the later Greek schools, 
possessed the greatest powers of growth. Besides passing 
through more than one stage of development on its own 
account. Scepticism imposed serious modifications on Stoicism, 
gave birth to Eclecticism, and contributed to the establish- 
ment of Neo-Platonism. The explanation is not far to seek. 
The more highly organised a system is, the more resistance 
does it offer to change, the more does its transmission tend to 
assume a rigidly scholastic form. To such dogmatism the 
Sceptics were, on principle, opposed ; and by keeping the 
problems of philosophy open, they facilitated the task of all 
who had a new solution to offer ; while mind and its activities 
being, to some extent, safe from the universal doubt, the 
sceptical principle spontaneously threw back thought on a 
subjective instead of an objective synthesis of knowledge — 
in other word?, on that psychological idealism the pregnancy 
and comprehensiveness of which are every day becoming more 
clearly recognised. And we shall now see how the same 
fertilising power of criticism has been manifested in modern 
times as well. 

The sceptical philosophy, already advocated in the Middle 
Ages by John of Salisbury, was, like every other form of 
ancient thought, revived at the Renaissance, but only under 


the very superficial form which infers from the coexistence of 
many divergent opinions that none of them can be true. 
Even so, however, it led Montaign e to sounder notions of 
toleration and humanity than were entertained by any of his 
contemporaries. With Bacon, and still more with Descartes, 
it also appears as the necessary preparation for a remodelling 
of all belief; but the great dogmatic systems still exercised 
such a potent influence on both those thinkers that their pro- 
fessed demand for a new method merely leads up to an altered 
^ statement of the old unproved assumptions. 

Meanwhile the old principle of universal doubt could no 1/7 
longer be maintained in presence of the certainties already ' 
won by modem science. Man, in the time of Newton, had, 
as Pope tersely puts it, * too much knowledge for the sceptic 
side.* The problem was not how to establish the reality, 
but how to ascertain the origin and possible extent of that — ^ 
knowledge. The first to perceive this, the first to evolve 
criticism out of scepticism, and therefore the real founder of 
modern philosophy, was Locke. Nevertheless, even with him, 
the advantage of studying the more recent in close connexion 
with the earlier developments of thought does not cease ; it 
only enters on a new phase. If he cannot, like his pre- 
decessors, be directly affiliated to one or more of the Greek 
schools, his position can be illustrated by a parallel derived 
from the history of those schools. What Arcesilaus and 
Carneades had been to Socrates and his successors, that 
Locke was, in a large measure, to Bacon and the Cartesians. 
He went back to the initial doubt which with them had been 
overborne by the dogmatic reaction, and insisted on making 
it a reality. The spirit of the Apologia is absent from Plato's 
later dialogues, only to reappear with even more than its 
original power in the teaching of the New Academy. And, 
in like manner, Descartes' introspective method, with its 
demand for clear ideas, becomes, in the Essay concerning 
Human Understanding, an irresistible solvent for the 

1: R 2 


psychology and physics of its first propounder. The doctrine 
of innate ideas, the doctrine that extension is the essence of 
matter, the doctrine that thought is the essence of mind, the 
more general doctrine, held also by Bacon, that things have 
a discoverable essence whence all their properties may be 
deduced by a process analogous to mathematical reasoning, — 
all collapsed when brought to the test of definite and concrete 

We have here, indeed, something comparable not only to 
the scepticism of the New Academy, but also to the Aristo- 
telian criticism of Plato's metaphysics ; and, at first sight, it 
might seem as if the Peripatetic philosophy was destined once 
more to regain the position taken from it by the resuscitation 
of its ancient foe. But Locke was not inclined to substitute 
one form of scholasticism for another. By applying the 
analytical method of Atomism to knowledge itself, he created 
a weapon equally fatal to the two competing systems. Under 
his dissection, the concrete individual substance of the one 
vanished no less completely than the universal ideas of the 
other. Nothing remained but a bundle of qualities held to-^ 
gether by a subjective bond. ^ 

Similarly, in political science, the analytical method of 
assuming civil government to result from a c oncurr ence of 
individual wills, which with Hobbes had served only to destroy 
ecclesiastical authority, while leaving intact and even strength- 
ening the authority of secular rulers, was reinterpreted by 
Locke as a negation of all absolutism whatever. 

It is interesting to observe how, here also, the positive 
science of the age had a large share in determining its philo- 
sophic character. Founded on the discovery of the earth's 
true shape, Aristotle's metaphysics had been overthrown by 
the discovery of the earth's motion. And now the claims of 
Cartesianism to have furnished an exact knowledge of matter 
and a definition of it whence all the facts of observation could 
be deduced d priori, were summarily refuted by the discovery-^ 


of universal gravitation. The Cartesians complained that 
Newton was bringing back the occult qualities of the School- 
men ; but the tendency of bodies to move towards one another 
proved as certain as it was inexplicably mysterious. For a 
time, the study of c auses was sup erseded by the jstud^-Of 
laws ; and the new method of physical science moved in per- 
fect harmony with the of T.oHfp One most 
important consequence of ihis revolution was to place the new 
Critical philosophy on a footing quite different from that Y/^ 
occupied by the ancient sceptics. Both restricted certain 
knowledge to our own states of consciousness ; but it now 
appeared that this might be done without impeaching the 
value of accepted scientific conclusions, which was more than 
the Academic philosophy would have admitted. In other 
words, granting that we were limited to phenomena, it was 
shown that science consisted in ascertaining the relations of 
these phenomena to one another, instead of to a problematiC'-H^ 
reality lying behind them ; while, that such relations existed 
and were, in fact, part of the phenomena themselves, was what 
no sceptic could easily deny. 

Nevertheless, in each case, subjective idealism had the 
effect of concentrating speculation, properly so called, on 
ethi cal an ^ p*'?^*^'^^! intf*'^*'*^*' Locke struck the keynote of 
eigfiteenth century philosophy when he pronounced morality 
to be * the proper science and business of mankind in general. 
And no sooner had morality come to the front than the 
significance of ancient thought again made itself apparent 
Whether through conscious imitation, or because the same 
causes brought about the same effects, ethical enquiries moved 
along the lines originally laid down in the schools of Athens. 
When rules of conduct were not directly referred to a divine 
revelation, they were based either on a supposed law of 
Nature, or on the necessities of human happiness, or on some 
combination of the two. Nothing is more characteristic of 

' Essay ^ Bk. iv., ch. 12. 

lity j/ 


the eighteenth century than its worship of Nature. Even 
the theology of the age is deeply coloured by it ; and with 
the majority of those who rejected theology it became a new 
religion. But this sentiment is demonstrably of Greek originr 
and found its most elaborate, though not its most absolute, 
expression in Stoicism. The -^tf^irs. had inherited it from 
the Cynics, who held the faith in greater purity ; and these, 
again, so far as we can judge, from a certain Sophistic school, 
some fragments of whose teaching have been preserved by 
Xenophon and Plato ; while the first who gave wide currency 
to this famous abstraction was, in all probability, Heracleitus. 
To the S toics , however, is due that intimate association of 
naturalism with teleology which meets us again in the phi- 
losophy of the last century, and even now wherever the doc- 
trine of evolution has not been thoroughly accepted. It was 
assumed, in the teeth of all evidence, that Nature bears the 
marks of a uniformly beneficent design, that evil is exclusively 
of human origin, and that even human nature is essentially 
good when unspoiled by artificial restrictions. 

Yet if teleology was, in some respects, a falling-off from 
the rigid mechanicism first taught by the pre Socratic schools » 
and then again by the Cartesian school, in at least one respecti^ 
it marked a comparative progress. For the first attempts 
made both by ancient and modern philosophy to explain vitah^ 
phenomena on purely mechanical principles were altogether 
premature ; and the immense extension of biological know- 
ledge which took place subsequently to both, could not but \^ 
bring about an irresistible movement in the opposite directionr"^^ 
The first to revive tdfiologyjvas Leibniz, who furnished a 
transition from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century by 
his monadology. In this, Atomism is combined with Aristo-/]] 
telian ideas, just as it had previously been combined witly'' 
Platonic ideas by Descartes. The movement of the atoms is 
explained by their aspiration after a more perfect state instead 
of by mechanical pressure. But while Leibniz still relies on 


the ontological argument of Descartes to prove the existence 
of God, this was soon abandoned, along with the cosmological 
argument, for the argument from design, which was also that 
used by the Stoics ; while in ethics the fitness of things was 
substituted for the more mechanical law of self-preservation, 
as the rule of conduct ; and the subjection of all impulse to 
reason was replaced by the milder principle of a control exer- 
cised by the benevolent over the malevolent instincts. This 
was a very distinct departure from the Stoic method, yet those 
who made it were more faithful to teleology than Stoicism 
had been ; for to condemn human feeling altogether was 
implidtly to condemn the work of Nature or of God. 

The other great ethical method of the eighteenth century, 
its hedonism, was closely connected with the sceptical move- 
ment in speculative philosophy, and, like that, received an 
entirely new sig^hificance by becoming associated with the 
idea of law. Those who isolate man from the universe are 
necessarily led to seek in his interests as such the sole regu- 
lator of his actions, and their sole sanction in the opinion of 
his fellows, Protagoras went already so far, notwithstanding 
his unwillingness to recognise pleasure as the supreme end ; 
and in the system of his true successor, Aristippus, the most 
extreme hedonism goes hand in hand with the most extreme 
idealism ; while with Epicurus, again, both are tempered by 
the influence of naturalism, imposing on him its conceptions 
of objective law alike in science and in practice. Still his 
system leaned heavily to the side of self-gratification pure 
and simple ; and it was reserved for modern thought to 
establish a complete equilibrium between the two competing 
tendencies of Greek ethics. This has been effected in Utili- 
tarianism ; and those critics are entirely mistaken who, like 
M. Guyau, regard that system as a mere reproduction of 
Epicureanism. It might with full as much reason be called 
v^^^ modem version of Stoicism. The idea of humanity is 
essentially Stoic ; to work for the good of humanity was a 


Stoic precept; and to sacrifice one's own pleasure for that 
higher good is a virtue which would have satisfied the most 
rigorous demands of a Cleanthes, an Epictfitus, or an 

Utilitarianism agrees with the ancient hedonism in holding 
pleasure to be the sole good and pain the sole evil. Its ad- 
herents also, for the most part, admit that the desire of the 
one and the dread of the other are the sole motives to 
action ; but, while making the end absolutely universal 
and impersonal, they make the motive into a momentary 
impulse, without any necessary relation to the future 
happiness of the agent himself. The good man does his 
duty because doing it gives him pleasure, or because 
the failure to do it would give him pain, at the moment ; 
although he knows that a contrary course would save him 
from greater pain or win him greater pleasure hereafter. No 
accurate thinker would call this acting from a selfish or in- 
terested motive; nor does it agree with the teaching of 
Epicurus. Were all sensitive beings to be united in a single 
organism, then, on utilitarian principles, self-interest, inter- 
preted in the sense of seeking its own preservation and 
pleasure, would be the only law that the individualised 
aggregate could rationally obey. But tlie good of each 
part would be rigorously subordinated to the good of the 
whole ; and utilitarian morality desires that we should act 
as if this hypothesis were realised, at least in reference to our 
own particular interests. Now, the idea of humanity as 
forming such a consolidated whole is not Epicurean. It 
belongs to the philosophy which always reprobated pleasure, 
precisely because its pursuit is associated with the derelic- 
tion of public duty and with bitter rivalry for the possession 
of what, by its very nature, exists only in limited quantities, 
while the demand for it is unlimited or, at any rate, far 
exceeds the supply. According to the Stoics, there was 
only one way in which the individual could study his private 



interest without abandoning his position as a social being, 
and this was to find it exclusively in the practice of virtue.' 
But virtue and public interest remained mere forms scantily 
supplemented by appeals to the traditional morality, until the 
idea of generalised happiness, of pleasure diffused through 
the whole community, came to fill them with substance and 

It has also to be observed that the idea of utility as a test 
of moral goodness is quite distinct from hedonism. Plato 
proclaims, in the most unequivocal terms, that actions must 
be estimated by their consequences instead of by the feelings 
of sympathy or antipathy which they excite; yet no one 
could object more strongly to making pleasure the end of 
action. Thus, three distinct doctrines seem to converge in 
modern English ethics, of which all are traceable to Greek 
philosophy, but only one to Epicureanism in particular, and 
not ultimately to that but to the older systems whence it 

And here we unexpectedly find ourselves confronted by 
a new relation between ancient and modem thought. Each 
acts as a powerful precipitant on the other, dissolving what 
might otherwise have passed for inseparable associations, and 
combining elements which a less complete experience might 
have led us to regard as necessarily incompatible with one 
another. The instance just analysed is highly significant ; 
nor does it stand alone. Modem spiritualists often talk as if 
morality was impossible apart from their peculiar metaphysics. 
But the Stoics, confessedly the purest moralists of antiquity^ 
^were uncompromising materialists ; while the spiritualist 
Aristotle taught what is not easily distinguishable from a 
very refined sort of ^oism. Again, the doctrine of free-will 
is now commonly connected with a belief in the separability 
of consciousness from matter, and, like that, is declared to be 
an indispensable condition of morality. Among the Greeks^ 

* See the references to Epict^tus, supra^ p. 21. 



however, it was held by the materialist Epicureans more dis- 
tinctly than by any other school ; while the Stoics did not 
find necessarianism inconsistent with self-sacrificing virtue. 
The partial derivation of knowledge from an activity in our 
own minds is another supposed concomitant of spiritualism ; 
although Aristotle traces every idea to an external source, 
while at the same time holding some cognitions to be 
necessarily true— a theory repudiated by modem experien- 
tialists. To Plato, the spirituality of the soul seemed to 
involve its pre-existence no less than its immortality, a con- 
sequence not accepted by his modem imitators. Teleology 
is now commonly opposed to pantheism ; the two were closely 
combined in Stoicism ; while Aristotle, although he believed 
in a personal God, attributed the marks of design in Nature 
to purely unconscious agencies. 


The naturali sin and utilitarianism of the eighteenth cen 


tury are the last conceptions directly inherited from ancient^ 
philosophy by modem thought. Henceforward, whatever 
light the study of the former can throw on the vicissitudes 
of the latter is due either to their partial parallelism, or to 
an influence becoming every day fainter and more difiicult to 
trace amid the multitude of factors involved. The progress 
of analytical criticism was continually deflected or arrested 
by the still powerful resistance of scholasticism, just as the 
sceptical tendencies of the New Academy had been before, 
though happily with less permanent success ; and as, in 
antiquity, this had happened within no less than without the 
critical school, so also do we find Locke clinging to thd^ 
theology of Descartes ; Berkeley lapsing into PlatonisntT-V 
^AfHume playing fast and loose with his own principles ; and 
Kant leaving it doubtful to which side he belongs, so evenly 
are the two opposing tendencies balanced in his mind, so 


dexterously does he adapt the new criticism to the frame- 
work of scholastic logic and metaphysics. 

Meanwhile the strength of the analytical method was 
doubled by its extension to the phenomena of growth and 
} change ; for, as applied to these, it became the ' famous 
• theory of Development ^or^ volution. No idea belongs so 
completely to modern philosophy; for even the ancient 
thinkers who threw their cosmology into a historical form 
had n ever a tjeroj><-p-r^ ^^ ^xp!?L" thf pr^g^nf by the past. If 
anything, they explained the past by the present, assuming a 
rough analogy to exist between the formation of the universe 
as a whole and the genesis of those natural or artificial bodies 
which were continually growing or being built up before their 
eyes. Their cosmology was, in fact, nothing but the old 
mythology stripped of its personal or conscious element ; 
and, like it, was a hypothesis unsupported by any external 
evidence ; — a criticism not inconsistent with the admission 
that to eliminate the supernatural element from speculation 
was, even in the absence of any solid addition to human 
knowledge, an achievement of . inestimable value. The pr^ 
evolutionary method is also an elimination of the super- \ 
natural, but it is a great deal more. By tracing the history * 
of compound structures to their first origin, and noting the 
successive increments to which their gradual growth is due, 
it reveals, as no statical analysis ever could, the actual order 
of synthesis, and the meaning of the separate constituents by 
whose joint action their movements are determined ; while, 
conversely, their dissolution supplies us with a number of 
ready-made experiments in which the influence of each 
particular factor in the sum total may be detected by 
watching the changes that ensue on its removal. In a word, 
the method of evolution is tlie atomistic method, extended 
from matter to motion, and viewed under the form of succes- 
sion instead of under the form of co-existence. 

As a universal philosophy, the theory of Development, 


like every other modem idea, has only been permitted to 
manifest itself in combination with different forms of the old 
scholasticism. The whole speculative movement of our century 
is made up of such hybri d systems ; and tfiree^ in particular, 
still divide the suffrages of many thinking men who have not 
been able entirely to shake off the influence of reactionary 
ideas. These are the systems of Hegel, of Comte, and of 
Mr. Herbert Spencer. In each, the l og^ic and metaph ysics 
inherited from Greek thought are variously compounded 
with the new science. And each, for that very reason, serves 
to facilitate the transition from one to the other; a part 
analogous to that played among the Greeks themselves hyA\ 
the vast constructions of Plato and Aristotle, or, in an age of 
less productivity, by the Stoic and Alexandrian philosophies. 
The influence of Aristotle has, indeed, continued to make 
itself felt not only through the teaching of his modem imi- 
tators, but more directly as a living tradition in literature, or 
through the renewed study of his writings at first hand. Even 
in the pure sciences, it survived until a comparatively recent 
period, and, so far as the French intellect goes, it is not yet 
entirely extinct. From Ab61ard on, Paris was the head- 
quarters of that soberer scholasticism which took its cue from 
the Peripatetic logic ; and the resulting direction of thought, 
deeply impressed as it became on the French character and 
the French language, was interrupted rather than permanently 
altered by the Cartesian revolution, and, with the fall of Car- 
esianism, gradually recovered its old predominance. The 
Aristotelian philosophy is remarkable above all others for 
clear definitions, full descriptions, comprehensive classifications, 
lucid reasoning, encyclopaedic science, and disinterested love 
\ of knowledge ; along with a certain incapacity for ethical 
\ speculation,* strong conservative leanings, and a general 
(tendency towards the rigid demarcation rather than the fruit- 
ful commingling of ideas. And it will probably be admitted 

' What Aristotle has written on the subject is not ethics but natural history. 




that these are also tr; ^it<5 charact^^ ris*''^ ^^ Fr^nrfi ffiinlfing as 

opposed to English or German thinking. For instance, widely 
different as is the M^canique Giles te from the astronomy of 
Aristotle's treatise On the Heavens^ both agree in being 
attempts to prove the eternal stability of the celestial system.* 
The destructive deluges by which Aristotle supposes civilisa- 
tion to be periodically interrupted, reappear on a larger scale 
in the theory of catastrophes still held by French geologists. 
Another Aristotelian dogma, the fixity of organic species, 
though vigorously assailed by eminent French naturalists, has, 
on the whole, triumphed over the opposite doctrine of trans- 
formism in France, and now impedes the acceptance of 
Darwin's teaching even in circles where theological preposses- 
sions are extinct The accepted class ifications in bo tany and 
zoology are the work of Frenchmen following in the footsteps 
of Aristotle, whose genius for metho dical arrangement was 
signally exemplified in at least one of these departments ; the 
division of animals into vertebrate and invertebrate being 
originally due to him. Bicl^^t^ distinction between the ani- 
mal and the v^etable functions recalls Aristotle's distinction 
between the sensitive and nutritive souls ; while his method 
of studying the tissues before the organs is prefigured in the 
treatise on the Parts of Animals, For a long time, the ruling--^ 
of Aristotle's Poetics was undisputed in French criticism ; 
and if anything could disentitle Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois 
to the proud motto, Prolemsine matre creatanty it would be its j. 
close relationship to the Politics of the same universal master. ' 
Finally, if it be granted that the enthusiasm for knowledge, 
irrespective of its utilitarian applications, exists to a greater 
degree among the educated classes of France than in any 
other modern society, we may plausibly attribute this honour- 
able characteristic to the fostering influence of one who has 

* ' Ne remarque-t-on comment chaque recherche analytique de Laplace a 
fait ressortir dans notre globe et dans Tunivers des conditions d'ordre et de 
dur^?' — Arago, (Euvrts, III., p. 496. 


proclaimed more eloquently than any other philosopher that 
theoretical activity is the highest good of human life, the ideal 
of all Nature, and the sole beatitude of God. 

It remains to add a few words on the p>osition which 
ancient and modem philosophy respectively occupy towards 
theology. Here their relation is one of contrast rather than 
of resemblance. The Greek thinkers start at an immense 
distance from religious belief, and their first allusions to it 
are marked by a scornful denial of its validity. Gradually, 
with the transition from physical to ethical enquiries, an 
approximation between the two is brought about, though not 
without occasional returns to their former attitude of hostility. 
Finally, in presence of a common danger they become inter- 
woven and almost identified with one another ; while the new 
religion against which they make common cause, itself pre- 
sents the same spectacle of metaphysical and moral ideas^ 
entering into combination with the spontaneous products of 
popular mythology. And be it observed that throughout the 
whole of this process action and reaction were equal and con- 
trary. The decline and corruption of philosophy was the ^ 
price paid for the elevation and purification of religionr 
While the one was constantly sinking, the other was con- 
stantly rising, until they converged on the plane of dogmatic 
theology. By the very circumstances of the case, an opposite 
course has been imposed on the development of modem 
philosophy. Starting from an intimate union with religion, 
it slowly disengages itself from the compromising alliance ; 
and, although, here also, the normal course of ideas has been 
interrupted by frequent reactions, the general movement of 
European thought has been no less decidedly towards a com-\ 
plete emancipation from the popular beliefs than the move- 
ment of Greek thought had been towards their conciliation 
and support. 

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