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Full text of "Western Philosophy"

BY BBRTRAND RU8SBLL 



INTRODUCTION TO MATHEMATICAL PHILOSOPHY 

THE ANALYSIS OF MIND 

OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE EXTERNAL WORLD 

AN OUTLINE OP PHILOSOPHY 

THE PHILOSOPHY OF LEIBNIZ 

AN INQUIRY INTO MEANING AND TRUTH 

POWER 

IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 
THE CONQUEST OF HAPPINESS 

SCEPTICAL ESSAYS 

THE SCIENTIFIC OUTLOOK 

MYSTICISM AND LOGIC 

MARRIAGE AND MORALS 

EDUCATION AND THE SOCIAL OKDLK 

ON EDUCATION 

FREEDOM AND ORGANIZATION, l8l4~I<M4 
PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTION 

ROADS TO FREEDOM 
JUSTICE IN WAR-FIMi: 

FREE THOUGHT AND OFFICIAL PROPAGANDA 
THE PROBLEM OF CHINA 

With Scott NcarinK 

BOLSHEVISM AND THE Wt*T 

With Dora Russell 

THE PROSPECTS Ol- INDUSTRIAL CIVILIZATION 



BERTRAND RUSSELL 

HISTORY OF 

WESTERN 
PHILOSOPHY 

and its Connection with Political 

and Social Circumstances from 

the Earliest Times to 

the Present Dav 



GEORGE ALLEN AND UNWIN LTD 



FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1446 
SFCOND IMPRESSION 1947 

All rights resented 



1'RINTI.D IV URI-AT BKMAIS 
iff n-/'</tnf Imprint Type 

\\\ UN WIN bHOJHfcHS J, M m U 



PREFACE 

A FEW words of apology and explanation are called for if 
this book is to escape even more severe censure than it 
doubtless deserves. 

Apology is due to the specialists on various schools and indi- 
vidual philosophers. With the possible exception of Leibniz, 
every philosopher of whom I treat is better known to some others 
than to me. If, however, books covering a Wide field are to be 
written at all, it is inevitable, since we are not immortal, that those 
who write such books should spend less time on any one part 
than can be spent by a man who concentrates on a single author 
or a brief period. Some, whose scholarly austerity is unbending, 
will conclude that books covering a wide field should not be 
written at all, or, if written, should consist of monographs by a 
multitude of authors. There is, however, something lost when 
many authors co-operate. If there is any unity in the movement 
of history, if there is any intimate relation between what goes 
before and what comes later, it is necessary, for setting this forth, 
that earlier and later periods should be synthesized in a single 
mind. The student of Rousseau may have difficulty in doing 
justice to his connection with the Sparta of Plato and Plutarch; 
the historian of Sparta may not be prophetically conscious of 
Hobbcs and Fichte and Lenin. To bring out such relations is 
one of the purposes of this book, and it is a purpose which only 
a wide survey can fulfil. 

There are many histories of philosophy, but none of them, so 
far as I know, has quite the purpose that I have set myself. Philo- 
sophers are both effects and causes: effects of their social cir- 
cumstances and of the politics and institutions of their time; 
causes (if they are fortunate) of beliefs which mould the politics 
and institutions of later ages. In most histories of philosophy, 
each philosopher appears as in a vacuum; his opinions are set 
forth unrelated except, at most, to those of earlier philosophers. 
I have tried, on the contrary, to exhibit each philosopher, as far 
as truth permits, as an outcome of his milieu, a man in whom 
were crystallized and concentrated thoughts and feelings which, 
in a vague ahd diffused form, were common to the community 
of which he was a part. 

5 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

This has required the insertion of certain chapters of purely 
social history. No one can understand the Stoics and Epicureans 
without some knowledge of the Hellenistic age, or the scholastics 
without a modicum of understanding of the growth of the Church 
from the fifth to 'the thirteenth centuries. I have therefore set 
forth briefly those parts of the main historical outlines that seemed 
to me to have had most influence on philosophical thought, and 
I have done this with most fulness where the history may be 
expected to be unfamiliar to some readers for example, in regard 
to the early Middle Ages. But in these historical chapters I have 
rigidly excluded whatever seemed to have little or no bearing on 
contemporary or subsequent philosophy. 

The problem of selection, in such a book as the present, is 
very difficult. Without detail, a book becomes jejune and un- 
interesting; with detail, it is in danger of becoming intolerably 
lengthy. I have sought a compromise, by treating only those 
philosophers who seem to me to have considerable importance, 
and mentioning, in connection with them, such details as, even 
if not of fundamental importance, have value on account of some 
iDustrative or vivifying quality. 

Philosophy, from the earliest times, has been not merely an 
affair of the schools, or of disputation between a handful of 
learned men. It has been an integral part of the life of the com- 
munity, and as such I have tried to consider it. If there is any 
merit in this book, it is from this point of view that it is derived. 

This book owes its existence to Dr. Albert C. Barnes, having 
been originally designed and partly delivered as lectures at the 
Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania. 

As in most of my work during the years since 1932, I have 
been greatly assisted in research and in many other ways by my 
wife, Patricia Russell. 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER 



1 

II 
III 

IV 

V 

VI 

VII 

VIII 

IX 

X 



XI 

XII 

XIII 

XIV 

XV 

XVI 

XVII 

XVIII 

XIX 

XX 

XXI 

XXII 

XXIII 

XXIV 



XXV 
XXVI 

XXVII 

txvm 

XXIX 
XXX 



Introduction 

BOOK ONE 

ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY 

Part i 
The Pre-Socratics 

The Rise of Greek Civilization 

The Milesian School 

Pythagoras 

Heraclitus 

Pannenides 

Empedocles 

Athens in Relation to Culture 

Anaxagoras 

The Atornists 

Protagoras 

Part 2 

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle 
Socrates 

The Influence of Sparta 
The Sources of Plato's Opinions 
Plato's Utopia 
The Theory of Ideas 
Plato's Theory of Immortality 
Plato's Cosmogony 
Knowledge and Perception in Plato 
Aristotle's Metaphysics 
Aristotle's Ethics 
Aristotle's Politics 
Aristotle's Logic 
Aristotle's Physics 
Early Greek Mathematics and Astronomy 

Part 3 
Ancient Philosophy after Aristotle 

The Hellenistic World 

Cynics and Sceptics 

The Epicureans 

Stoitism 

The Roman Empire in Relation to Culture 

Plotinua 



PAGE 
10 



21 

8 

57 
6? 
72 

77 
81 

84 
94 



i oz 



129 
141 

'54 

165 

171 
182 

'95 
207 
218 
226 
231 



241 
252 
263 

*75 
294 
308 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

CHAPTER PAGE 

BOOK TWO 

CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHY 

Introduction 322 
Part i 

The Fathers 

I The Religious Development of the Jews 328 

II Christianity During the First Four Centuries 344 

III Three Doctors of the Church 354 

IV St. Augustine's Philosophy and Theology 372 
V The Fifth and Sixth Centuries ' 386 

VI St. Benedict and Gregory the Great 395 

Part 2 
The Schoolmen 

VII The Papacy in the Dark Apes 408 

VIII John the Scot 421 

IX Ecclesiastical Reform in the Eleventh Ccntuiv 428 

X Mohammedan Culture and Philosophy 440 

XI The Twelfth Century ' 450 

XII The Thirteenth Century 4^3 

XIII St. Thomas Aquinas 474 

XIV Franciscan Schoolmen 48'* 
XV The Eclipse of the Papacy 499 



BOOK TIIRFh 

MODERN PHILOSOPHY 

Part i 
/'Vow the Renaissance tu Hume 

I General Characteristics 51 1 

11 The Italian Renaissance ^i(> 

III Machiavelli 525 

IV Erasmus and More 533 
V The Reformation and Counter-Reformation 544 

VI The Rise of Science 547 

VII Francis Bacon 563 

VIII Hobbca's Leviathan 568 

IX Descartes 580 

X Spinoza 592 

XI Leibniz 604 

b 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGB 

XII Philosophical Liberalism 620 

XIII Locke's Theory of Knowledge 628 

XIV Locke's Political Philosophy 642 
XV Locke's Influence 666 

XVI Berkeley 673 

XVII Hume 685 

Part 2 
From Rousseau to the Present Day 

XVIII The Romantic Movement 701 

XIX Rousseau 711 

XX Kant 728 

XXI Currents of Thought in the Nineteenth Century 746 

XXII Hegel 757 

XXIII Byron 774 

XXIV Schopenhauer 781 
XXV Nietzsche 788 

XXVI The Utilitarians 801 

XXVII Karl Marx 810 

XXVIII Bergson 819 

XXIX William James 839 

XXX JohnDewey 847 

XXXI The Philosophy of Logical Analysis 857 



INTRODUCTION 

E I \HE conceptions of life and the world which we call 

I "philosophical" are a product of two factors: one, inherited 

JL religious and ethical conceptions; the other, the sort of 

investigation which may be called "scientific," using this word in 

its broadest sense. Individual philosophers have differed widely 

in regard to the proportions in which these two factors entered 

into their systems, but it is the presence of both, in some degree, 

that characterizes philosophy. 

"Philosophy" is a word which has been used in many ways, 
some wider, some narrower. I propose to use it in a very wide 
sense, which I will now try to explain. 

Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something inter- 
mediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists 
of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so 
far, been unascertainable ; but like science, it appeals to human 
reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that 
of revelation. All definite knowledge so I should contend 
belongs to science ; all dogma as to what surpasses definite know- 
ledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there 
is a No Man's Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No 
Man's Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most 
interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, 
and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem so con- 
vincing as they did in former centuries. Is the world divided into 
mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind and what is matter? Is 
mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers ? 
Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards 
some goal ? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in 
them only because of our innate love of order ? Is man what he 
seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water 
impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet ? Or is he 
what he appears to Hamlet ? Is he perhaps both at once ? Is there 
a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all 
ways of living merely futile? If there is a way of living that is 
noble, in what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must 
the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valuc'd, or is it worth 
seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving toward? death ? 

10 



INTRODUCTION 

Is there such a thing as wisdom, or is what seems such merely 
the ultimate refinement of folly? To such questions no answer 
can be found in the laboratory. Theologies have professed to give 
answers, all too definite; but their very definiteness causes modern 
minds to view them with suspicion. The studying of these 
questions, if not the answering of them, is the business of 
philosophy. 

Why, then, you may ask, waste time on such insoluble problems ? 
To this one may answer as a historian, or as an individual facing 
the terror of cosmic loneliness. 

The answer of the historian, in so far as I am capable of giving 
it, will appear in the course of this work. Ever since men became 
capable of free speculation, their actions, in innumerable impor- 
tant respects, have depended upon their theories as to the world 
and human life, as to what is good and what is evil. This is as 
true in the present day as at any former time. To understand an 
age or a nation, we must understand its philosophy, and to under- 
stand its philosophy we must ourselves be in some degree philo- 
sophers. There is here a reciprocal causation: the circumstances 
of men's lives do much to determine their philosophy, but, con- 
versely, their philosophy does much to determine their circum- 
stances. This interaction throughout the centuries will be the 
topic of the following pages. 

There is also, however, a more personal answer. Science tells 
us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we 
forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many 
things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, 
induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact 
we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent 
insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of 
vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish 
to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not 
good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to 
persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to 
them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without 
being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that 
philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it. 

Philosophy^ as distinct from theology, began in Greece in the 
sixth century B.C. After running its course in antiquity, it was 
again submerged by theology as Christianity rose and Rome fell. 

xx 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Its second great period, from the eleventh to the fourteenth cen- 
turies, was dominated by the Catholic Church, except for a few 
great rebels, such as the Emperor Frederick II (1195-1250). This 
period was brought to an end by the confusions that culminated 
in the Reformation. The third period, from the seventeenth 
century to the present day, is dominated, more than either of its 
predecessors, by science; traditional religious beliefs remain 
important, but are felt to need justification, and are modified 
wherever science seems to make this imperative. Few of the 
philosophers of this period are orthodox from a Catholic stand- 
point, and the secular State is more important in their speculations 
than the Church. 

Social cohesion and individual liberty, like religion and science, 
are in a state of conflict or uneasy compromise throughout the 
whole period. In Greece, social cohesion was secured by loyalty 
to the City State; even Aristotle, though in his time Alexander 
was making the City State obsolete, could see no merit in any 
other kind of polity. The degree to which the individual's liberty 
was curtailed by his duty to the City varied widely. In Sparta he 
had as little liberty as in modern Germany or Russia; in Athens, 
in spite of occasional persecutions, citizens had, in the best period, 
a very extraordinary freedom from restrictions imposed by the 
State. Greek thought down to Aristotle is dominated by religious 
and patriotic devotion to the City ; its ethical systems arc adapted 
to the lives of citizens and have a large political element. When 
the Greeks became subject, first to the Macedonians, and then to 
the Romans, the conceptions appropriate to their days of inde- 
pendence were no longer applicable. This produced, on the one 
hand, a loss of vigour through the breach with tradition, and, on 
the other hand, a more individual and less social ethic. The 
Stoics thought of the virtuous life as a relation of the soul to 
God, rather than as a relation of the citizen to the State. They 
thus prepared the way for Christianity, which, like Stoicism, was 
originally unpolitical, since, during its first three centuries, its 
adherents were devoid of influence on government. Social cohesion, 
during the six and a half centuries from Alexander to Constantine, 
was secured, not by philosophy and not by ancient loyalties, but 
by force, first that of armies and then that of civil administration. 
Roman armies, Roman roads, Roman law, and ifoman officials 
first created and then preserved a powerful centralized. State. 

12 



INTRODUCTION 

Nothing was attributable to Roman philosophy, since there was 
none. 

During this long period, the Greek ideas inherited from the age 
of freedom underwent a gradual process of transformation. Some 
of the old ideas, notably those which we should regard as speci- 
fically religious, gained in relative importance; others, more 
rationalistic, were discarded because they no longer suited the 
spirit of the age. In this way the later pagans trimmed the Greek 
tradition until it became suitable for incorporation in Christian 
doctrine. 

Christianity popularized an important opinion, already implicit 
in the teaching of the Stoics, but foreign to the general spirit of 
antiquity I mean, the opinion that a man's duty to God is more 
imperative than his duty to the State. 1 This opinion that "we 
ought to obey God rather than Man/' as Socrates and the Apostles 
said survived the conversion of Constantine, because the early 
Christian emperors were Arians or inclined to Arianism. When 
the emperors became orthodox, it fell into abeyance. In the 
Byzantine Empire it remained latent, as also in the subsequent 
Russian Empire, which derived its Christianity from Constan- 
tinople. 2 But in the West, where the Catholic emperors were 
almost immediately replaced (except in parts of Gaul) by heretical 
barbarian conquerors, the superiority of religious to political 
allegiance survived, and to some extent still survives. 

The barbarian invasion put an end, for six centuries, to the 
civilization of western Europe. It lingered in Ireland until the 
Danes destroyed it in the ninth century; before its extinction 
there it produced one notable figure, Scotus Erigena. In the 
Eastern Empire, Greek civilization, in a desiccated form, survived, 
as in a museum, till the fall of Constantinople in 1453, but nothing 
of importance to the world came out of Constantinople except an 
artistic tradition and Justinian's Codes of Roman law. 

During the period of darkness, from the end of the fifth century 
to the middle of the eleventh, the western Roman world under- 
went some very interesting changes. The conflict between duty to 

1 This opinion was not unknown in earlier times: it is stated, for 
example, in the Antigone of Sophocles. But before the Stoics those who 
held it were fei%. 

* That is why the modem Russian does not think that we ought to 
obey dialectical materialism rather than Stalin. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

God and duty to the State, which Christianity had introduced, 
took the form of a conflict between Church and king. The eccle- 
siastical jurisdiction of the Pope extended over Italy, France, and 
Spain, Great Britain and Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, and 
Poland. At first, outside Italy and southern France, his control 
over bishops and abbots was very slight, but from the time of 
Gregory VII (late eleventh century) it became real and effective. 
From that time on, the clergy, throughout western Europe, 
formed a single organization directed from Rome, seeking power 
intelligently and relentlessly, and usually victorious, until after the 
year 1300, in their conflicts with secular rulers. The conflict 
between Church and State was not only a conflict between clergy 
and laity ; it was also a renewal of the conflict between the Mediter- 
ranean world and the northern barbarians. The unity of the 
Church echoed the unity of the Roman Empire ; its liturgy was 
Latin, and its dominant men were mostly Italian, Spanish, or 
southern French. Their education, when education revived, was 
classical; their conceptions of law and government would have 
been more intelligible to Marcus Aurelius than they were to 
contemporary monarchs. The Church represented at once 
continuity with the past and what was most civilized in the 
present. 

The secular power, on the contrary, was in the hands of kings 
and barons of Teutonic descent, who endeavoured to preserve 
what they could of the institutions that they had brought out of 
the forests of Germany. Absolute power was alien to those institu- 
tions, and so was what appeared to these vigorous conquerors as 
a dull and spiritless legality. The king had to share his power 
with the feudal aristocracy, but all alike expected to be allowed 
occasional outbursts of passion in the form of war, murder, pillage, 
or rape. Monarchs might repent, for they were sincerely pious, 
and, after all, repentance was itself a form of passion. But the 
Church could never produce in them the quiet regularity of good 
behaviour which a'modern employer demands, and usually obtains, 
of his employees. What was the use of conquering the world if 
they could not drink and murder and love as the spirit moved 
them? And why should they, with their armies of proud knights, 
submit to the orders of bookish men, vowed to celibacy and 
destitute of armed force? In spite of ecclesiastic^ disapproval, 
they preserved the duel and trial by battle, and they developed 



INTRODUCTION 

tournaments and courtly love. Occasionally, in a fit of rage, they 
would even murder eminent churchmen. 

All the armed force was on the side of the kings, and yet the 
Church was victorious. The Church won, partly because it had 
almost a monopoly of education, partly because the kings were 
perpetually at war with each other, but mainly because, with very 
few exceptions, rulers and people alike profoundly believed that 
the Church possessed the power of the keys. The Church could 
decide whether a king should spend eternity in heaven or in hell ; 
the Church could absolve subjects from the duty of allegiance, 
and so stimulate rebellion. The Church, moreover, represented 
order in place of anarchy, and consequently won the support of 
the rising mercantile class. In Italy, especially, this last con- 
sideration was decisive. 

The Teutonic attempt to preserve at least a partial independence 
of the Church expressed itself not only in politics, but also in 
art, romance, chivalry, and war. It expressed itself very little in 
the intellectual world, because education was almost wholly con- 
fined to the clergy. The explicit philosophy of the Middle Ages 
is not an accurate mirror of the times, but only of what was 
thought by one party. Among ecclesiastics, however especially 
among the Franciscan friars a certain number, for various 
reasons, were at variance with the Pope. In Italy, moreover, 
culture spread to the laity some centuries sooner than it did 
north of the Alps. Frederick II, who tried to found a new religion, 
represents the extreme of anti-papal culture; Thomas Aquinas, 
who was born in the kingdom of Naples where Frederick II was 
supreme, remains to this day the classic exponent of papal philo- 
sophy. Dante, some fifty years later, achieved a synthesis, and 
gave the only balanced exposition of the complete medieval world 
of ideas. 

After Dante, both for political and for intellectual reasons, the 
medieval philosophical synthesis broke down. It had, while it 
lasted, a quality of tidiness and miniature completeness; whatever 
the system took account of was placed with precision with relation 
to the other contents of its very finite cosmos. But the Great 
Schism, die conciliar movement, and the Renaissance papacy led 
up to the Reformation, which destroyed the unity of Christendom 
and the scholastic theory of government that centred round the 

Pope. In the Renaissance period new knowledge, both of antiquity 



15 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

and of the earth's surface, made men tired of systems, which were 
felt to be mental prisons. The Copernican astronomy assigned to 
the earth and to man a humbler position than they had enjoyed 
in the Ptolemaic theory. Pleasure in new facts took the place, 
among intelligent men, of pleasure in reasoning, analysing, and 
systematizing. Although in art the Renaissance is still orderly, in 
thought it prefers a large and fruitful disorder. In this respect, 
Montaigne is the most typical exponent of the age. 

In the theory of politics, as in everything except art, there was 
a collapse of order. The Middle Ages, though turbulent in prac- 
tice, were dominated in thought by a passion for legality and by 
a very precise theory of political power. All power is ultimately 
from God ; He has delegated power to the Pope in sacred things 
and to the Emperor in secular matters. But Pope and Emperor 
alike lost their importance during the fifteenth century. The Pope 
became merely one of the Italian princes, engaged in the incredibly 
complicated and unscrupulous game of Italian power politics. 
The new national monarchies in France, Spain, and England had, 
in their own territories, a power with which neither Pope nor 
Emperor could interfere. The national State, largely owing to 
gunpowder, acquired an influence over men's thoughts and feelings 
which it had not had before, and which progressively destroyed 
what remained of the Roman belief in the unity of civilization. 

This political disorder found expression in Machiavelli's Prince. 
In the absence of any guiding principle, politics becomes a naked 
struggle for power; The Prince gives shrewd advice as to how to 
play this game successfully. What had happened in die great age 
of Greece happened again in Renaissance Italy: traditional moral 
restraints disappeared, because they were seen to be associated 
with superstition; the liberation from fetters made individuals 
energetic and creative, producing a rare florescence of genius ; but 
the anarchy and treachery which inevitably resulted from the 
decay of morals made Italians collectively impotent, and they fell, 
like the Greeks, under the domination of nations less civilized 
than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion. 

The result, however, was less disastrous than in the case of 
Greece, because the newly powerful nations, with the exception 
of Spain, showed themselves as capable of great achievement as 
the Italians had been. 

From the sixteenth century onward, the history of European 

,6 



INTRODUCTION 

thought is dominated by the Reformation. The Reformation was 
a complex many-sided movement, and owed its success to a 
variety of causes. In the main, it was a revolt of the northern 
nations against the renewed dominion of Rome. Religion was the 
force that had subdued the North, but religion in Italy had 
decayed: the papacy remained as an institution, and extracted a 
huge tribute from Germany and England, but these nations, 
which were still pious, could feel no reverence for the Borgias and 
Medicis, who professed to save souls from purgatory in return for 
cash which they squandered on luxury and immorality. National 
motives, economic motives, and moral motives all combined to 
strengthen the revolt against Rome. Moreover the Princes soon 
perceived that, if the Church in their territories became merely 
national, they would be able to dominate it, and would thus 
become much more powerful at home than they had been while 
sharing dominion with the Pope. For all these reasons, Luther's 
theological innovations were welcomed by rulers and peoples alike 
throughout the greater part of northern Europe. 

The Catholic Church was derived from three sources. Its sacred 
history was Jewish, its theology was Greek, its government and 
canon law were, at least indirectly, Roman. The Reformation 
rejected the Roman elements, softened the Greek elements, and 
greatly strengthened the Judaic elements. It thus co-operated with 
the nationalist forces which were undoing the work of social 
cohesion which had been effected first by the Roman Empire and 
then by the Roman Church. In Catholic doctrine, divine revelation 
did not end with the scriptures, but continued from age to age 
through the medium of the Church, to which, therefore, it was 
the duty of the individual to submit his private opinions. Pro- 
testants, on the contrary, rejected the Church as a vehicle of 
revelation ; truth was to be sought only in the Bible, which each 
man could interpret for himself. If men differed in their interpre- 
tation, there was no divinely appointed authority to decide the 
dispute. In practice, the State claimed the right that had formerly 
belonged to the Church, but this was a usurpation. In Protestant 
theory, there should be no earthly intermediary between the soul 
and God. 

The effects of this change were momentous. Truth was no 
longer to be ascertained by consulting authority, but by inward 

meditation, There was a tendency, quickly developed, towards 



7 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

anarchism in politics, and, in religion, towards mysticism, which 
had always fitted with difficulty into the framework of Catholic 
orthodoxy. There came to be not one Protestantism, but a multi- 
tude of sects ; not one philosophy opposed to scholasticism, but as 
many as there were philosophers ; not, as in the thirteenth century, 
one Emperor opposed to the Pope, but a large number of heretical 
kings. The result, in thought as in literature, was a continually 
deepening subjectivism, operating at first as a wholesome liberation 
from spiritual slavery, but advancing steadily towards a personal 
isolation inimical to social sanity. 

Modern philosophy begins with Descartes, whose fundamental 
certainty is the existence of himself and his thoughts, from which 
the external world is to be inferred. This was only the first stage 
in a development, through Berkeley and Kant, to Fichte, for whom 
everything is only an rruiii..*!. :> oft!:? * so. This was insanity, and, 
from this extreme, philosophy has been attempting, ever since, to 
escape into the world of everyday common sense. 

With subjectivism in philosophy, anarchism in politics goes 
hand in hand. Already during Luther's lifetime, unwelcome and 
unacknowledged disciples had developed the doctrine of Ana- 
baptism, which, for a time, dominated the city of Miinster. The 
Anabaptists repudiated all law, since they held that the good man 
will be guided at every moment by the Holy Spirit, who cannot 
be bound by formulas. From this premiss they arrive at com- 
munism and sexual promiscuity ; they were therefore exterminated 
after a heroic resistance. But their doctrine, in softened forms, 
spread to Holland, England and America; historically, it is the 
source of Quakerism. A fiercer form of anarchism, no longer con- 
nected with religion, arose in the nineteenth century. In Russia, 
in Spain, and to a lesser degree in Italy, it had considerable 
success, and to this day it remains a bugbear of the American 
immigration authorities. This modern form, though anti-religious, 
has still much of the spirit of early Protestantism ; it differs mainly 
in directing against secular governments the hostility that Luther 
directed against popes. 

Subjectivity, once let loose, could not be confined within limits 
until it had run its course. In morals, the Protestant emphasis on 
the individual conscience was essentially anarchic. Habit and 
custom were so strong that, except in occasional outbreaks such 
as that of Mtinstcr, the disciples of individualism in ethics con- 

18 



INTRODUCTION 

tinued to act in a manner which was conventionally virtuous. But 
this was a precarious equilibrium. The eighteenth-century cult of 
"sensibility" began to break it down: an act was admired, not for 
its good consequences, or for its conformity to a moral code, but 
for die emotion that inspired it. Out of this attitude developed the 
cult of the hero, as it is expressed by Carlyle and Nietzsche, and 
the Byronic cult of violent passion of no matter what kind. 

The romantic movement, in art, in literature, and in politics, is 
hound up with this subjective way of judging men, not as members 
of a community, but as aesthetically delightful objects of con- 
templation. Tigers are more beautiful than sheep, but we prefer 
them behind bars. The typical romantic removes the bars and 
enjoys the magnificent leaps with which the tiger annihilates the 
sheep. He exhorts men to imagine themselves tigers, and when he 
succeeds the results are not wholly pleasant. 

Against the more insane forms of subjectivism in modern times 
there have been various reactions. First, a half-way compromise 
philosophy, the doctrine of liberalism, which attempted to assign 
the respective spheres of government and the individual. This 
begins, in its modern form, with Locke, who is as much opposed 
to "enthusiasm" the individualism of the Anabaptists as to 
absolute authority and blind subservience to tradition. A more 
thoroughgoing revolt leads to the doctrine of State worship, 
which assigns to the State the position that Catholicism gave 
to the Church, or even, sometimes, to God. Hobbes, Rousseau, 
and Hegel represent different phases of this theory, and their 
doctrines are embodied practically in Cromwell, Napoleon, and 
modern Germany. Communism, in theory, is far removed from 
such philosophies, but is driven, in practice, to a type of com- 
munity very similar to that which results from State worship. 

Throughout this long development, from 600 B.C. to the present 
day, philosophers have been divided into those who wished to 
tighten social bonds and those who wished to relax them. With 
this difference others have been associated. The disciplinarians 
have advocated some system of dogma, either old or new, and 
have therefore been compelled to be, in a greater or less degree, 
hostile to science, since their dogmas could not be proved empiri- 
cally. They have almost invariably taught that happiness is not 
the good, but that "nobility" or "heroism" is to be preferred. 
'1 'hey .have had a sympathy with the irrational parts of human 

19 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

nature, since they have felt reason to be inimical to social cohesion. 
The libertarians, on the other hand, with the exception of the 
extreme anarchists, have tended to be scientific, utilitarian, 
rationalistic, hostile to violent passion, and enemies of all the 
more profound forms of religion. This conflict existed in Greece 
before the rise of what we recognize as philosophy, and is already 
quite explicit in the earliest Greek thought. In changing forms, 
it has persisted down to the present day, and no doubt will persist 
for many ages to come. 

It is clear that each party to this dispute as to all that persist 
through long periods of time is partly right and partly wrong. 
Social cohesion is a necessity, and mankind has never yet succeeded 
in enforcing cohesion by merely rational arguments. Every com- 
munity is exposed to two opposite dangers; ossification through 
too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand; 
on the other hand, dissolution, or subjection to foreign conquest, 
through the growth of an individualism and personal independence 
that makes co-operation impossible. In general, important civili- 
zations start with a rigid and superstitious system, gradually 
relaxed, and leading, at a certain stage, to a period of brilliant 
genius, while the good of the old tradition remains and the evil 
inherent in its dissolution has not yet developed. But as the evil 
unfolds, it leads to anarchy, thence, inevitably, to a new tyranny, 
producing a new synthesis secured by a new system of dogma. 
The doctrine of liberalism is an attempt to escape from this 
endless oscillation. The essence of liberalism is an attempt to 
secure a social order not based on irrational dogma, and insuring 
stability without involving more restraints than are necessary 
for the preservation of the community. Whether this attempt 
can succeed only the future can determine. 



20 



Book One ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY 

Part i. The Pre-Socratics 

Chapter I 
THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

IN all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account 
for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece. Much of what 
makes civilization had already existed for thousands of years in 
Egypt and in Mesopotamia, and had spread thence to neighbouring 
countries. But certain elements had been lacking until the Greeks 
supplied them. What they achieved in art and literature is familiar 
to even-body, but what they did in the purely intellectual realm 
is even more exceptional. They invented mathematics 1 and 
science and philosophy ; they first wrote history fcsx opposed to 
mere annals; they speculated freely about the nature of the world 
and the ends of life, without being bound in the fetters of any 
inherited orthodoxy. What occurred was so astonishing that, until 
very recent times, men were content to gape and talk mystically 
about the Greek genius. It is possible, however, to understand 
the development of Greece in scientific terms, and it is well worth 
while to do so. 

Philosophy begins with Thalcs, who, fortunately, can be dated 
by the fact that he predicted an eclipse which, according to the 
astronomers, occurred in the year 585 B.C. Philosophy and science 
which were not originally separate were therefore born 
together at the beginning of the sixth century. What had been 
happening in Greece and neighbouring countries before this 
lime? Any answer must be in part conjectural, but archaeology, 
during the present century, has given us much more knowledge 
than was possessed by our grandfathers. 

1 Arithmetic* and some geometry existed among die Egyptians and 
Babylonians, but mainly in the form of rules of thumb. Dqductive 
reasoning from general premisses was a Greek innovation. 

21 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The art of writing was invented in Egypt about the year 
4000 B.C., and in Mesopotamia not much later. In each country 
writing began with pictures of the objects intended. These 
pictures quickly became conventionalized, so that words were 
represented by ideograms, as they still are in China. In the course 
of thousands of years, this cumbrous system developed into 
alphabetic writing. 

The early development of civilization in Egypt and Meso- 
potamia was due to the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, 
which made agriculture very easy and very productive. The 
civilization was in many ways similar to that which the Spaniards 
found in Mexico and Peru. There was a divine king, with despotic 
powers; in Egypt, he owned all the land. There was a polytheistic 
religion, with a supreme god to whom the king had a specially 
intimate relation. There was a military aristocracy, and also a 
priestly aristocracy. The latter was often able to encroach on the 
royal power, if the king was weak or if he was engaged in a 
difficult war. The cultivators of the soil were serfs, belonging 
to the king, the aristocracy, or the priesthood. 

There was a considerable difference between Egyptian and 
Babylonian theology. The Egyptians were preoccupied with 
death, and believed that the souls of the dead descend into the 
underworld, where they are judged by Osiris according to the 
manner of their life on earth. They thought that the soul would 
ultimately return to the body; this led to mummification and 
to the construction of splendid tomks. The pyramids were built 
by various kings at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. and 
the beginning of the third. After this time, Egyptian civilization 
became more and more stereotyped, and religious conservatism 
made progress impossible. About 1800 B.C. Epypt was conquered 
by Semites named Hyksos, who ruled the country for about 
two centuries. They left no permanent mark on Epypt, but their 
presence there must have helped to spread Egyptian civilization 
in Syria ami Palestine. 

Babylonia had a more warlike development than Egypt. At 
first, the ruling race were not Semites, but "Sumcrtans," whose 
origin is unknown. They invented cuneiform writing, which the 
conquering Semites took over from them. There was a period 
when there ucrc various independent cities whicfi fought with 
each other, but in the end Babylon became supreme and <*ntab* 



THE RISE OP GREEK CIVILIZATION 

lished an empire. The gods of other cities became subordinate, 
and Marduk, the god of Babylon, acquired a position like that 
later held by Zeus in the Greek pantheon. The same sort of 
thing had happened in Egypt, but at a much earlier time. 

The religions of Egypt and Babylonia, like other ancient 
religions, were originally fertility cults. The earth was female, 
the sun male. The bull was usually regarded as an embodiment 
of male fertility, and bull-gods were common. In Babylon, 
Ishtar, the earth-goddess, was supreme among female divinities. 
Throughout western Asia, the Great Mother was worshipped 
under various names. When Greek colonists in Asia Mjnor 
found temples to her, they named her Artemis and took over 
the existing cult. This is the origin of "Diana of the Ephesians." 1 
Christianity transformed her into the Virgin Mary, and it was a 
Council at Ephesus that legitimated the title "Mother of God" 
as applied to Our Lady. 

Where a religion was bound up with the government of an 
empire, political motives did much to transform its primitive 
features. A god or goddess became associated with the State, and 
had to give, not only an abundant harvest, but victory in war. 
A rich priestly caste elaborated the ritual and the theology, and 
fitted together into a pantheon the several divinities of the com- 
ponent parts of the empire. 

Through association with government, the gods also became 
associated with morality. Lawgivers received their codes from a 
god; thus a breach of the law became an impiety. The oldest 
legal code still known is that of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, 
about 2100 B.C. ; this code was asserted by the king to have been 
delivered to him by Marduk. The connection between religion 
and morality became continually closer throughout ancient times. 

Babylonian religion, unlike that of Egypt, was more concerned 
with prosperity in this world than with happiness in the next. 
Magic, divination, and astrology, though not peculiar to Baby- 
lonia, were more developed there than elsewhere, and it was 
chiefly through Babylon that they acquired their hold on later 
antiquity. From Babylon come some things that belong to science: 
the division of the day into twenty-four hours, and of the circle 

1 Diana wa* the I*atin equivalent of Artemis. It is Artemis who is 
mentioned in the Greek Testament where^our translation speaks of 
Diana* 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

into 360 degrees ; also the discovery of a cycle in eclipses, which 
enabled lunar eclipses to be predicted with certainty, and solar 
eclipses with some probability. This Babylonian knowledge, as 
we shall see, was acquired by Thales. 

The civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were agricultural, 
and those of surrounding nations, at first, were pastoral. A new 
element came with the development of commerce, which was at 
first almost entirely maritime. Weapons, until about 1000 B.C., 
were made of bronze, and nations which did not have the neces- 
sary metals on their own territory were obliged to obtain them 
by trade or piracy. Piracy was a temporary expedient, and where 
social and political conditions were fairly stable, commerce was 
found to be more profitable. In commerce, the island of Crete 
seems to have been the pioneer. For about eleven centuries, say 
from 2500 B.C. to 1400 B.C., an artistically advanced culture, 
called the Minoan, existed in Crete. What survives of Cretan 
art gives an impression of cheerfulness and almost decadent 
luxury, very different from the terrifying gloom of Egyptian 
temples. 

Of this important civilization almost nothing was known until 
the excavations of Sir Arthur Evans and others. It was a maritime 
civilization, in close touch with Egypt (except during the time of 
the Hyksos). From Egyptian pictures it is evident that the very 
considerable commerce between Egypt and Crete was carried 
on by Cretan sailors; this commerce reached its maximum 
about 1500 B.C. The Cretan religion appears to have had some 
affinities with the religions of Syria and Asia Minor, but in art 
there was more affinity with Egypt, though Cretan art was very 
original and amazingly full of life. The centre of the Cretan 
civilization was the so-called "palace of Minos"at Knossos,of which 
memories lingered in the traditions of classical Greece. The palaces 
of Crete were very magnificent, but were destroyed about the 
end of the fourteenth century B.C., probably by invaders from 
Greece. The chronology of Cretan history is derived from Egyp- 
tian objects found in Crete, and Cretan objects found in 
Egypt ; throughout, our knowledge is dependent on archaeological 
evidence. 

The Cretans worshipped a goddess, or perhaps several goddesses. 
The most indubitable goddess was the "Mistress of Animals," 
who was a huntress, and probably the source of the classical 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

Artemis. 1 She apparently was also a mother; the only male deity, 
apart from the "Master of Animals," is her young son. There is 
some evidence of belief in an after life, in which, as in Egyptian 
belief, deeds on earth receive reward or retribution. But on the 
whole the Cretans appear, from their art, to have been cheerful 
people, not much oppressed by gloomy superstitions. They were 
fond of bull-fights, at which female as well as male toreadors 
performed amazing acrobatic feats. Sir Arthur Evans thinks that 
the bull-fights were religious celebrations, and that the performers 
belonged to the highest nobility, but this view is not generally 
accepted. The surviving pictures are full of movement and realism. 

The Cretans had a linear script, but it has not been deciphered. 
At home they were peaceful, and their cities were un walled; 
no doubt they were defended by sea power. 

Before the destruction of the Minoan culture, it spread, about 
1600 B.C., to the mainland of Greece, where it survived, through 
gradual stages of modification, until about 900 B.C. This mainland 
civilization is called the Mycenaean; it is known through the 
tombs of kings, and also through fortresses on hill-tops, which 
show more fear of war than had existed in Crete. Both tombs 
and fortresses remained to impress the imagination of classical 
Greece. The older art products in the palaces are either actually 
of Cretan workmanship, or closely akin to those of Crete. The 
Mycenaean civilization, seen through a haze of legend, is that 
which is depicted in Homer. 

There is much uncertainty concerning the Mycenaeans. Did 
they owe their civilization to being conquered by the Cretans? 
Did they speak Greek, or were they an earlier indigenous race? 
No certain answer to these questions is possible, but there is 
evidence which makes it probable that they were conquerors 
who spoke Greek, and that at least the aristocracy consisted of 
fair-haired invaders from the North, who brought the Greek 
language with them. 8 The Greeks came to Greece in three 
successive waves, first the lonians, then the Achaeans, and last 
the Dorians. The lonians appear, though conquerors, to have 

1 She has a male twin or consort, the "Master of Animals/' but he is 
less prominent. It was at a later date that Artemis was identified with the 
Great Mother %f Asia Minor. 

1 See The Minoan- Mycenaean Religion and Its Survival in Greek 
Religion, by Martin P. Nilsson, p. 1 1 M. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

adopted the Cretan civilization pretty completely, as, later, the 
Romans adopted the civilization of Greece. But the lonians were 
disturbed, and largely dispossessed, by their successors, the 
Achaeans. The Achaeans are known, from the Hittite tablets 
found at Boghaz-Keui, to have had a large organized empire 
in the fourteenth century B.C. The Mycenaean civilization, 
which had been weakened by the warfare of the lonians and 
Achaeans, was practically destroyed by the Dorians, the last 
Greek invaders. Whereas previous invaders had largely adopted 
the Minoan religion, the Dorians retained the original Indo- 
European religion of their ancestors. The religion of Mycenaean 
times, however, lingered on, especially in the lower classes, and 
the religion of classical Greece was a blend of the two. In fact 
some of the classical goddesses were of Mycenaean origin. 

Although the above account seems probable, it must be re- 
membered that we do not know whether the Mycenaeans were 
Greeks or not. What we do know is that their civilization decayed, 
that about the time when it ended iron superseded bronze, 
and that for some time sea supremacy passed to the Phoenicians. 

Both during the later part of the Mycenaean age and after its 
end, some of the invaders settled down and became agriculturists, 
while some pushed on, first into the islands and Asia Minor, 
then into Sicily and southern Italy, where they founded cities 
that lived by maritime commerce. It was in these maritime cities 
that the Greeks first made qualitatively new contributions to 
civilization ; the supremacy of Athens came later, and was equally 
associated, when it came, with naval power. 

The mainland of Greece is mountainous and largely infertile. 
There are, however, many fertile valleys, with easy accx*ss to the 
sea, but cut off by the mountains from easy land communication 
with each other. In these valleys little separate communities grew 
up, living by agriculture, and centring round a town, generally 
close to the sea. In such circumstances it was natural that, as 
soon as the population of any community grew too great for its 
internal resources, those who could not live on the land should 
take to seafaring. The cities of the mainland founded colonies, 
often in places where it was much easier to find subsistence than 
it had been at home. Thus in the earliest historical period the 
Greeks of Asia Minor, Sicily, and Italy were much richer than 
those of the Greek mainland. 

36 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

The social system was very different in different parts of 
Greece. In Sparta, a small aristocracy subsisted on the labour of 
oppressed serfs of a different race; in the poorer agricultural 
regions, the population consisted mainly of fanners cultivating 
their own land with the help of their families. But where commerce 
and industry flourished, the free citizens grew rich by the em- 
ployment of slaves male in the mines, female in the textile 
industry. These slaves were, in Ionia, of the surrounding bar- 
barian population, and were, as a rule, first acquired in war. 
With increasing wealth went increasing isolation of respectable 
women, who in later times had little part in the civilized aspects 
of Greek life except in Sparta and Lesbos. 

There was a very general development, first from monarchy 
to aristocracy, then to an alternation of tyranny and democracy. 
The kings were not absolute, like those of Egypt and Babylonia; 
they were advised by a Council of Elders, and could not transgress 
custom with impunity. "Tyranny" did not mean necessarily 
bad government, but only the rule of a man whose claim to 
power was not hereditary. "Democracy" meant government 
by all the citizens, among whom slaves and women were not 
included. The early tyrants, like the Medici, acquired their 
power through being the richest members of their respective 
plutocracies. Often the source of their wealth was the ownership 
of gold and silver mines, made the more profitable by the new 
institution of coinage, which came from the kingdom of Lydia, 
adjacent to Ionia. 1 Coinage seems to have been invented shortly 
before 700 B.C. 

One of the most important results, to the Greeks, of commerce 
or piracy at first the two are scarcely distinct was the acqui- 
sition of the art of writing. Although writing had existed for 
thousands of years in Egypt and Babylonia, and the Minonn 
Cretans had a script (which has not been deciphered), there is 
no conclusive evidence that the Greeks acquired alphabetic 
writing until about the tenth century B.C. They learnt the art 
from the Phoenicians, who, like the other inhabitants of Syria, 
were exposed to both Egyptian and Babylonian influences, and 
who held the supremacy in maritime commerce until the rise 
of the Greek cities of Ionia, Italy, and Sicily. In the fourteenth 
century, writirffc to Ikhnaton (the heretic king of Egypt), Syrians 
1 Sec P. N. Ure, The Origin of Tyranny. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

still used the Babylonian cuneiform; but Hiram of Tyre (969- 
936) used the Phoenician alphabet, which probably developed out 
of the Egyptian script. The Egyptians used, at first, a pure picture 
writing; gradually the pictures, much conventionalized, came to 
represent syllables (the first syllables of the names of the things 
pictured), and at last single letters, on the principle of "A was 
an Archer who shot at a frog." 1 This last step, which was not 
taken with any completeness by the Egyptians themselves, but 
by the Phoenicians, gave the alphabet with all its advantages. 
The Greeks, borrowing from the Phoenicians, altered the alphabet 
to suit their language, and made the important innovation of 
adding vowels instead of having only consonants. There can be 
no doubt that the acquisition of this convenient method of 
writing greatly hastened the rise of Greek civilization. 

The first notable product of the Hellenic civilization was 
Homer. Even-thing about Homer is conjectural, but there is a 
widely held opinion that he was a series of poets rather than an 
individual. According to those who hold this opinion, the Iliad 
and the Odyssey between them took about two hundred years 
to complete, some say from 750 lo 550 B.r., 2 while others hold 
that "Homer" was nearly complete at the end of the eighth 
century. 3 The Homeric poems, in their present form, were 
brought to Athens by Peisistratus, who reigned (with inter- 
missions) from 560 to 527 B.C. From his time onward, the Athe- 
nian youth learnt Homer by heart, and this was the most important 
part of their education. In some parts of Greece, notably in Sparta, 
Homer had not the same prestige until a later date. 

The Homeric poems, like the courtly romances of the later 
Middle Ages, represent the point of view of a civilized aristocracy, 
which ignores as plebeian various superstitions that arc still 
rampant among the populace. In much later times, many of these 
superstitions rose again to the light of day. Guided by anthropology, 
many modern writers have come to the conclusion that Homer, 
so far from being primitive, was an expurgator, a kind of eighteenth 
century rationalizer of ancient myths, holding up an upper-class 

1 For instance, "Gimel," the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 
means "camel," and the iign for it is a conventionalized picture of a 
camel. 

1 Beloch, Gruchischf Ge$chithte t chap. xii. 

Kottovtieflf, History of the Ancient World, Vol. I. p. 390.. 



THE RISK OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

ideal of urbane enlightenment. The Olympian gods, who represent 
religion in Homer, were not the only objects of worship among the 
Greeks, either in his time or later. There were other darker and 
more savage elements in popular religion, which were kept at 
bay by the Greek intellect at its best, but lay in wait to pounce 
in moments of weakness or terror. In the time of decadence, 
beliefs which Homer had discarded proved to have persisted, 
half buried, throughout the classical period. This fact explains 
many things that would otherwise seem inconsistent and sur- 
prising. 

Primitive religion, everywhere, was tribal rather than personal. 
Certain rites were performed, which were intended, by sympa- 
thetic magic, to further the interests of the tribe, especially in 
respect of fertility, vegetable, animal, and human. The winter 
solstice was a time when the sun had to be encouraged not to 
k r o on diminishing in strength; spring and harvest also called 
for appropriate ceremonies. These were often such as to generate 
a great collective excitement, in which individuals lost their 
sense of separatcness and felt themselves at one with the whole 
tribe. All over the world, at a certain stage of religious evolution, 
sacred animals and human beings were ceremonially killed and 
eaten. In different regions, this stage occurred at very different 
dates. Human sacrifice usually lasted longer than the sacrificial 
eating of human victims; in Greece it was not yet extinct at the 
beginning of historical times. Fertility rites without such cruel 
aspects were common throughout Greece; the Eleusinian mys- 
teries, in particular, were essentially agricultural in their symbolism. 

It must he admitted that religion, in Homer, is not very religious. 
The gods are completely human, differing from men only in 
being immortal and possessed of superhuman powers. Morally, 
there is nothing to be said for them, and it is difficult to see how 
they can have inspired much awe. In some passages, supposed 
to be late, they are treated with Voltairean irreverence. Such 
genuine religious feeling as is to be found in Homer is less con- 
cerned with the gods of Olympus than with more shadowy 
beings such as Fate or Necessity or Destiny, to whom even Zeus 
is subject. Fate exercised a great influence on all Greek thought, 
and perhaps was one of the sources from which science derived 
the belief in natural law. 

1 lomeric gods were the gods of a conquering aristocracy, 

29 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

not the useful fertility gods of those who actually tilled the soil. 
As Gilbert Murray says r 1 

"The gods of most nations claim to have created the world. 
The Olympians make no such claim. The most they ever did was 
to conquer it. ... And when they have conquered their kingdoms, 
what do they do? Do they attend to the government? Do they 
promote agriculture? Do they practise trades and industries? 
Not a bit of it. Why should they do any honest work? They 
find it easier to live on the revenues and blast with thunderbolts 
the people who do not pay. They are conquering chieftains, 
royal buccaneers. They fight, and feast, and play, and make 
music; they drink deep, and roar with laughter at the lame smith 
who waits on them. They are never afraid, except of their own 
king. They never tell lies, except in love and war." 

Homer's human heroes, equally, are not very well behaved. 
The leading family is the House of Pelops, but it did not succeed 
in setting a pattern of happy family life. 

"Tantalos, the Asiatic founder of the dynasty, began its career 
by a direct offence airainst the gods; some said, by trying to 
cheat them into eating human flesh, that of his o\vn son Pelops. 
Pelops, having been miraculously restored to life, offended in 
his turn. He won his famous chariot-race against Oinomans, 
king of Pisa, by the connivance of the latter's charioteer, Myrtibs, 
and then got rid of his confederate, whom he had promised to 
reward, by flinging him into the sea. The curse descended to 
his sons, Atreus and Thyestes, in the form of what the Greeks 
called ate, a strong if not actually irresistible impulse to crime. 
Thyestes corrupted his brother's wife and thereby managed 
to steal the Muck* of the family, the famous golden-fleeced ram. 
Atreus in turn secured his brother's banishment, and recalling 
him under pretext of a reconciliation, feasted him on the flesh 
of his own children. The curse was now inherited by Atreus' 
son Agamemnon, who offended Artemis by killing a sacred stag, 
sacrificed his own daughter Iphigcnia to appease the goddess 
and obtain a safe passage to Troy for his fleet, and was in turn 
murdered by his faithless wife Klytaimnestra and her paramour 
Aigisthos, a surviving son of Thyestes. Orestes, Agamemnon's son, 
in turn avenged his father by killing his mother and Aigisthos. " 8 

1 Fh f Stages of Greek Religion, p. 67. 

1 Primitive Culture in Greece, IJ. J. Rose, 1925, p. 193. 

3 



THE RISE OP GREEK CIVILIZATION 

Homer as a finished achievement was a product of Ionia, i.e. of 
a part of Hellenic Asia Minor and the adjacent islands. Some time 
during the sixth century at latest, the Homeric poems became 
fixed in their present form. It was also during this century that 
Greek science and philosophy and mathematics began. At the 
same time events of fundamental importance were happening 
in other parts of the world. Confucius, Buddha, and Zoroaster, 
if they existed, probably belong to the same century. 1 In the 
middle of the century the Persian Empire was established by 
Cyrus; towards its close the Greek cities of Ionia, to which the 
Persians had allowed a limited autonomy, made a fruitless rebel- 
lion, which was put down by Darius, and their best men became 
exiles. Several of the philosophers of this period were refugees, 
who wandered from city to city in the still unenslaved parts of 
the Hellenic world, spreading the civilization that, until then, 
had been mainly confined to Ionia. They were kindly treated 
in their wanderings. Xcnophanes, who flourished in the later 
part of the sixth century, and who was one of the refugees, says: 
"This is the sort of thing we should say by the fireside in the 
winter-time, as we lie on soft couches, after a good meal, drinking 
sweet wine and crunching chickpeas: 'Of what country are you, 
and how old are you, good Sir? And how old were you when the 
Mcde appeared? 1 " The rest of Greece succeeded in preserving 
its independence at the battles of Salamis and Plataea, after 
which Ionia was liberated for a time.* 

Greece \vas divided into a large number of small independent 
states, each consisting of a city with some agricultural territory 
surrounding it. The level of civilization was very different in 
different parts of the Greek world, and only a minority of cities 
contributed to the total of Hellenic achievement. Sparta, of which 
I shall have much to say later, was important in a military sense, 
but not culturally. Corinth was rich and prosperous, a great 
commercial centre, but not prolific in great men. 

Then there were purely agricultural rural communities, such 

1 Zoroaster's date, however, is very conjectural. Some place it as early 
as looo u.c. See Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. IV, p. 207. 

1 As a result of the defeat of Athens by Sparta, the Persians regained 
the whole coast of Asia Minor, to which their right was acknowledged in 
the Peace oi Antalcidas (387-6 B.C.). About fifty years later, they were 
ncorportteti in Alexander's empire. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

as the proverbial Arcadia, which townsmen imagined to be 
idyllic, but which really was full of ancient barbaric horrors. 

The inhabitants worshipped Hermes and Pan, and had a 
multitude of fertility cults, in which, often, a mere square pillar 
did duty in place of a statue of the god. The goat was the symbol 
of fertility, because the peasants were too poor to possess bulls. 
When food was scarce, the statue of Pan was beaten. (Similar 
things are still done in remote Chinese villages.) There was a clan 
of supposed were-wolves, associated, probably, with human 
sacrifice and cannibalism. It was thought that whoever tasted the 
flesh of a sacrificed human victim became a were-wolf. There 
was a cave sacred to Zeus Lykaios (the wolf- Zeus); in this cave 
no one had a shadow, and whoever entered it died within a year. 
AH this superstition was still flourishing in classical times. 1 

Pan, whose original name (some say) was "Paon", meaning the 
feeder or shepherd, acquired his better-known title, interpreted 
as meaning the All-God, when his worship was adopted by 
Athens in the fifth century, after the Persian war.- 

There was, however, in ancient Greece, much that we can feel 
to have been religion as we understand the term. This was con- 
nected, not with the Olympians, but with Dionysus, or Bacchus, 
whom we think of most naturally as the somewhat disreputable- 
god of wine and drunkenness. The way in which, out of his 
worship, there arose a profound mysticism, which greatly influ- 
enced many of the philosophers, and even had a part in shaping 
Christian theology, is very remarkable, and must be understood 
by anyone who wishes to study the development of (ireck 
thought. 

Dionysus, or Bacchus, was originally a Thracian god. The 
Thracians were very much less civilized than the Greeks, who 
regarded them as barbarians. Like all primitive agriculturists, 
they had fertility cults, and a god who promoted fertility. Mis 
name was Bacchus. It was never quite clear whether Bacchus 
had the shape of a man or of a bull. When they discovered how 
to make beer, they thought intoxication divine, and gave honour 
to Bacchus. When, later, they came to know the vine and to learn 
to drink wine, they thought even better of him. His functions in 
promoting fertility in general became somewhat subordinate 

1 ROM, Primitive Greece, p. 65 (I. 

1 J. . Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p. 651 

3* 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

to his functions in relation to the grape and the divine madness 
produced by wine. 

At what date his worship migrated from Thrace to Greece is 
not known, but it seems to have been just before the beginning 
of historical times. The cult of Bacchus was met with hostility 
by the orthodox, but nevertheless it established itself. It con- 
tained many barbaric elements, such as tearing wild animals 
to pieces and eating the whole of them raw. It had a curious 
element of feminism. Respectable matrons and maids, in large 
companies, would spend whole nights on the bare hills in dances 
which stimulated ecstasy, and in an intoxication perhaps partly 
alcoholic, but mainly mystical. Husbands found the practice an- 
noying, but did not dare to oppose religion. Both the beauty and 
the savagery of the cult are set forth in the Bacchae of Euripides. 

The success of Dionysus in Greece is not surprising. Like all 
communities that have been civilized quickly, the Greeks, or at 
least a certain proportion of them, developed a love of the primi- 
tive, and a hankering after a more instinctive and passionate 
way of life than that sanctioned by current morals. To the man 
or woman who, by compulsion, is more civilized in behaviour 
than in feeling, rationality is irksome and virtue is felt as a burden 
and a slavery. This leads to a reaction in thought, in feeling, and 
in conduit. It is the reaction in thought that will specially concern 
us, but something must first be said about the reaction in feeling 
and conduct. 

The civilized man is distinguished from the savage mainly by 
prudence^ or, to use a slightly wider term, forethought. He is 
willing to endure present pains for the sake of future pleasures, 
even if the future pleasures are rather distant. This habit began to 
be important with the rise of agriculture; no animal and no 
savage would work in the spring in order to have food next 
winter, except for a few purely instinctive forms of action, such 
as bees making honey or squirrels burying nuts. In these cases, 
there is no forethought ; there is a direct impulse to an act which, 
to the human spectator, is obviously going to prove useful later 
on. True forethought only arises when a man does something 
towards which no impulse urges him, because his reason tells 
him that he will profit by it at some future date. Hunting requires 
no forethought* because it is pleasurable ; but tilling the soil is 
labour, and cannot be done from spontaneous impulse. 

tf mary o/ Wnt** PAtfe***? 33 B 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Civilization checks impulse not only through forethought, 
which is a self-administered check, but also through law, custom, 
and religion. This check it inherits from barbarism, but it makes 
it less instinctive and more systematic. Certain acts are labelled 
criminal, and are punished ; certain others, though not punished 
by law, are labelled wicked, and expose those who arc guilty of 
them to social disapproval. The institution of private property 
brings with it the subjection of women, and usually the creation 
of a slave class. On the one hand the purposes of the community 
are enforced upon the individual, and, on the other hand the 
individual, having acquired the habit of viewing his life as a 
whole, increasingly sacrifices his present to his future. 

It is evident that this process can be carried too far, as it is, for 
instance, by the miser. But without going to such extremes 
prudence may easily involve the loss of some of the best things 
in life. The worshipper of Dionysus reacts against prudence. In 
intoxication, physical or spiritual, he recovers an intensity of 
feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full 
of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated 
from the prison of every-day preoccupations. The Bacchic 
ritual produce^ what was called "enthusiasm," which means, 
etymologically, having the god enter into the worshipper, who 
believed that he became one wilh the god. Much of what is 
greatest in human achievement involves some element of intoxi- 
cation, 1 some sweeping away of prudence by pasbion. Without 
the Bacchic element, life would be uninteresting; with it, it is 
dangerous. Prudence versus passion is a conflict that runs through 
history. It is not a conflict in which we ought to side wholly 
with either party. 

In the sphere of thought, sober civilization is roughly synony- 
mous with science. But science, unadulterated, is not satisfying; 
men need also passion and art and religion. Science may set 
limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination. 
Among Greek philosophers, as among those of later times, there 
were those who were primarily scientific and those who were 
primarily religious; the latter owed much, directly or indirectly, 
to the religion of Bacchus. This applies especially to Plato, and 
through him to those later developments which were ultimately 
embodied in Christian theology, 

1 I mean mental intoxication, not intoxication by ilcohof. 

34 



THE RISE OP GREEK CIVILIZATION 

The worship of Dionysus in its original form was savage, and 
in many ways repulsive. It was not in this form that it influenced 
the philosophers, but in the spiritualized form attributed to 
Orpheus, which was ascetic, and substituted mental for physical 
intoxication. 

. Orpheus is a dim but interesting figure. Some hold that he was 
an actual man, others that he was a god or an imaginary hero. 
Traditionally, he came from Thrace, like Bacchus, but it seems 
more probable that he (or the movement associated with his name) 
came from Crete. It is certain that Orphic doctrines contain 
much that seems to have its first source in Egypt, and it was 
chiefly through Crete that Egypt influenced Greece. Orpheus is 
said to have been a reformer who was torn to pieces by frenzied 
Maenads actuated by Bacchic orthodoxy. His addiction u> music 
is not so prominent in the older forms of the legend as it became 
later. Primarily he was a priest and a philosopher. 

Whatever may have been the teaching of Orpheus (if he existed), 
the teaching of the Orphics is well known. They believed in the 
transmigration of souls; they taught that the soul hereafter 
might achieve eternal bliss or suffer eternal or temporary torment 
according to its way of life here on earth. They aimed at becoming 
"pure," partly by ceremonies of purification, partly by avoiding 
certain kinds of contamination. The most orthodox among them 
abstained from animal food, except on ritual occasions when 
they ate it sacramentally. Man, they held, is partly of earth, 
partly of heaven; by a pure life the heavenly part is increased 
and the earthly part diminished. In the end a man may become 
one with Bacchus, and is called "a Bacchus." There was an 
elaborate theology, according to which Bacchus was twice born, 
once of his mother Semele, and once from the thigh of his father 
Zeus. 

There are many forms of the Dionysus myth. In one of them, 
Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Persephone; while still a boy, 
he is torn to pieces by Titans, who eat his flesh, all but the heart. 
Some say that the heart was given by Zeus to Semele, others 
that Zeus swallowed it ; in either case, it gave rise to the second 
birth of Dionysus. The tearing of a wild animal and the de- 
vouring of its raw flesh by Bacchae was supposed to re-enact 
the tearing and "eating of Dionysus by the Titans, and the animal, 
in some* sense, was an incarnation of the god. The Titans were 

35 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

earth-born, but after eating the god they had a spark of divinity. 
So man is partly of earth, partly divine, and Bacchic rites sought 
to make him more nearly completely divine. 

Euripides puts a confession into the mouth of an Orphic priest, 
which is instructive: 1 

Lord of Europa's Tyrian line, 

Zeus-born, who holdest at thy feet 
The hundred citadels of Crete, 

I seek to Thee from that dim shrine, 

Roofed by the Quick and Carven Beam, 
By Chalyb steel and wild bull's blood. 
In flawless joints of Cypress wood 

Made steadfast. There is one pure stream 

My days have run. The servant I, 
Initiate, of Idaean Jove; 2 
Where midnight Zapreus 3 roves, I rove; 

I have endured his thunder-cry ; 

Fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts ; 

Held the Great Mother's mountain flume, 
I am set free and named by name 

A Bacchos of the Mailed Priests. 

Robed in pure white I have borne me clean 
From man's vile birth and coffined clay, 
And exiled from my lip alway 

Touch of all meat where Life hath been. 

Orphic tablets have been found in tombs, giving instructions to 
the soul of the dead person as to how to find his way in the 
next world, and whal to say in order to prove himself worthy of 
salvation. They are broken and incomplete; the most nearly 
complete (the Petelia tablet) is as follows : 

Thou shah find on the left of the House of Hades a Well-spring, 
And by the side thereof standing a white cypress. 
To this well-spring approach not near. 

1 The verse translations in thtt chapter arc by Prufcttur Gilbert 
Murray. 

* Mystically identified with DionyHu*. 
1 One of the many name* of I )ionysm. 

36 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

But thou shalt find another by the Lake of Memory, 

Cold water flowing forth, and there are Guardians before it, 

Say: "I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven; 

But my race is of Heaven (alone). This ye know yourselves. 

And lo, I am parched with thirst and I perish. Give me quickly 

The cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory." 

And of themselves they will give thee to drink from the holy 

well-spring, 
And thereafter among the other heroes thou shalt have lordship. . . . 

Another tablet says: "Hail, Thou who hast suffered the suffer- 
ing . . . Thou art become (Sod from Man." And yet in another: 
"Happy and Blessed One, thou shalt be God instead of mortal/' 

The well-spring of which the soul is not to drink is Lethe, which 
brings forgetfulness; the other well-spring is Mnemosyne, re- 
membrance. The soul in the next world, if it is to achieve salva- 
tion, is not to forget, but, on the contrary, to acquire a memory 
surpassing what is natural. 

The Orphics were an ascetic sect; wine, to them, was only a 
symbol, as, later, in the Christian sacrament. The intoxication that 
they sought was that of "enthusiasm," of union with the god. They 
bt-lieved themselves, in this way, to acquire mystic knowledge not 
obtainable by ordinary means. This mystical element entered into 
Greek philosophy with Pythagoras, who was a reformer of Orphism 
as Orpheus was a reformer of the religion of Dionysus. From 
Pythagoras Orphic elements entered into the philosophy of Plato, 
and from Plato into most later philosophy that was in any degree 
religious. 

Certain definitely Bacchic elements survived wherever Orphism 
had influence. One of these was ferrriism, of which there was 
much in Pythagoras, and which, in Plato, went so far as to claim 
complete political equality for women. "Women as a sex," says 
Pythagoras, "are more naturally akin to piety." Another Bacchic 
element was respect for violent emotion. Greek tragedy grew out 
of the rites of Dionysus. Euripides, especially, honoured the two 
chief gods of Orphism, Dionysus and Eros. He has no respect for 
the coldly self-righteous well-behaved man, who, in his tragedies, 
is apt to be driven mad or otherwise brought to grief by the gods 
in resentment of his blasphemy. 

The conventional tradition concerning the Greeks is that they 
exhibited an admirable serenity, which enabled them to contem- 

37 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

plate passion from without, perceiving whatever beauty it exhibited 
but themselves calm and Olympian. This is a very one-sided view. 
It is true, perhaps, of Homer, Sophocles, and Aristotle, but it is 
emphatically not true of those Greeks who were touched, directly 
or indirectly, by Bacchic or Orphic influences. At Eleusis, where 
the Eleusinian mysteries formed the most sacred part of Athenian 
State religion, a hymn was sung, saying: 

With Thy wine-cup waving high, 
With Thy maddening revelry, 
To Eleusis' flowery vale, 
Comest Thou Bacchus, Paean, hail! 

In the Bacchae of Euripides, the chorus of Maenads displays a 
combination of poetry and savagery which is the very reverse of 
serene. They celebrate the delight in tearing a wild animal limb 
from limb, and eating it raw then and there: 

O glad, glad on the Mountains 
To swoon in the race outworn. 
When the holy fawn-skin clings 

And all else sweeps away, 
To the joy of the quick red fountains, 
The blood of the hill-goat torn, 
The glory of wild-beast ravenin^s 

Where the hill-top catches the day, 
To the Phrygian, Lydian mountains 
*Tis Hromios leads the way. 

(Bromtos was another of the many names of Dionysus.) The dance 
of the Maenads on the mountain side was not only fierce; it was 
an escape from the burdens and cares of civilization into the world 
of non-human beauty and the freedom of wind and stars. In a les< 
frenzied mood they sing: 

Will they ever come to me, ever a^ain, 

The long, long dances, 
On through the dark till the dim stars wane ? 
Shall I feel the dew on my throat, and the stream 
Of wind in my hair? Shall our white feet j^lcam 

In the dim expanses? 
O feet of the fawn to the greenwood fled, 

Alone in the grass and the loveliness ; 
I^eap of the hunted, no more in dread, 

Beyond the snares and the deadly press. 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

Yet a voice still in the distance sounds, 
A voice and a fear and a haste of hounds, 
O wildly labouring, fiercely fleet, 

Onward yet by river and glen 
Is it joy or terror, ye storm-swift feet ? 

To the dear lone lands untroubled of men, 
Where no voice sounds, and amid the shadowy green 
The little things of the woodland live unseen. 

Before repeating that the Greeks were "serene," try to imagine 
the matrons of Philadelphia behaving in this manner, even in a 
play by Eugene O'Neill. 

The Orphic is no more "serene" than the unreformed wor- 
shipper of Dionysus. To the Orphic, life in this world is pain and 
weariness. We are bound to a wheel which turns through endless 
cycles of birth and death; our true life is the stars, but we are 
tied to earth. Only by purification and renunciation and an ascetic 
life can we escape from the wheel and attain at last to the ecstasy 
of union with God. This is not the view of men to whom life is 
easy and pleasant. It is more like the Negro spiritual: 



I'm tfoing to tell God all of my troubles 
When I get home. 

Not all of the Greeks, but a large proportion of them, were 
passionate, unhappy, at war with themselves, driven along one 
road by the intellect and along another by the passions, with the 
imagination to conceive heaven and the wilful self-assertion that 
creates hell. They had a maxim "nothing too much," but they 
were in fact excessive in everything in pure thought, in poetry, 
in religion, and in sin. It was the combination of passion and 
intellect that made them great, while they were great. Neither 
alone would have transformed the world for all future time as 
they transformed it. Their prototype in mythology is not 
Olympian Zeus, but Prometheus, who brought fire from heaven 
and was rewarded with eternal torment. 

If taken as characterizing the Greeks as a whole, however, what 
has just been said would be as one-sided as the view that the 
Greeks were characterized by "serenity." There were, in fact, two 
tendencies in Greece, one passionate, religious, mystical, other- 
worldly, the other cheerful, empirical, rationalistic, and interested 
in acquiring knowledge of a diversity of facts. Herodotus represents 

39 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHTCAL THOUGHT 

still used the Babylonian cuneiform; but Hiram of Tyre (969- 
936) used the Phoenician alphabet, which probably developed out 
of the Egyptian script. The Egyptians used, at first, a pure picture 
writing; gradually the pictures, much conventionalized, came to 
represent syllables (the first syllables of the names of the things 
pictured), and at last single letters, on the principle of "A was 
an Archer who shot at a frog." 1 This last step, which was not 
taken with any completeness by the Egyptians themselves, but 
by the Phoenicians, gave the alphabet with all its advantages. 
The Greeks, borrowing from the Phoenicians, altered the alphabet 
to suit their language, and made the important innovation of 
adding vowels instead of having only consonants. There can be 
no doubt that the acquisition of this convenient method of 
writing greatly hastened the rise of Greek civilization. 

The first notable product of the Hellenic civilization was 
Homer. Everything about Homer is conjectural, but there is a 
widely held opinion that he was a series of poets rather than an 
individual. According to those who hold this opinion, the Iliad 
and the Odyssey between them took about two hundred years 
to complete, some say from 750 to 550 B.C., 2 while others hold 
that "Homer 11 was nearly complete at the end of the eighth 
century. 3 The Homeric poems, in their present form, were 
brought to Athens by Peisistratus, who reigned (with inter- 
missions) from 560 to 527 B.C. From his time onward, the Athe- 
- nian youth learnt Homer by heart, and this was the most important 
part of their education. In some parts of Greece, notably in Sparta, 
Homer had not the same prestige until a later date. 

The Homeric poems, like the courtly romances of the later 
Middle Ages, represent the point of view of a civilized aristocracy, 
which ignores as plebeian various superstitions that arc still 
rampant among the populace. In much later times, many of these 
superstitions rose again to the light of day. Guided by anthropology, 
many modern writers have come to the conclusion that Homer, 
so far from being primitive, was an cxpurgator, a kind of eighteenth 
century rationalizer of ancient myths, holding up an upper-class 

1 For instance, "Gimel," the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 
means "camel/* and the sign for it is a conventionalized picture of a 
camel. 

1 Oeloch, Grieclwcht Gttchichte, chap. xti. 

* Rostovtseff, Hittury of tht Ancient World, Vol. I, p. 399. 

28 



THF RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

ideal of urbane enlightenment. The Olympian gods, who represent 
religion in I tamer, were not the only objects of worship among the 
Greeks, either in his time or later. There were other darker and 
more savage elements in popular religion, which were kept at 
bay by the Greek intellect at its best, but lay in wait to pounce 
in moments of weakness or terror. In the time of decadence, 
beliefs which Homer had discarded proved to have persisted, 
half buried, throughout the classical period. This fact explains 
many things that would otherwise seem inconsistent and sur- 
prising. 

Primitive religion, everywhere, was tribal rather than personal. 
Certain rites were performed, which were intended, by sympa- 
thetic magic, to further the interests of the tribe, especially in 
respect of fertility, vegetable, animal, and human. The winter 
solstice was a time when the sun had to be encouraged not to 
go on diminishing in strength; spring and harvest also called 
for appropriate ceremonies. These were often such as to generate 
a great collective excitement, in which individuals lost their 
sense of separateness and felt themselves at one with the whole 
tribe. All over the world, at a certain stage of religious evolution, 
sacred animals and human beings were ceremonially killed and 
eaten. In different regions, this stage occurred at very different 
dates. Human sacrifice usually lasted longer than the sacrificial 
eating of human victims; in Greece it was not yet extinct at the 
beginning of historical times. Fertility rites without such cruel 
aspects \\ere common throughout Greece; the Eleusinian mys- 
teries, in particular, were essentially agricultural in their symbolism. 

It must be admitted that religion, in Homer, is not very religious. 
The gods are completely human, differing from men only in 
being immortal and possessed of superhuman powers. Morally, 
there is nothing to be said for them, and it is difficult to see how 
they can have inspired much awe. In some passages, supposed 
to be late, they are treated with Voltairean irreverence. Such 
genuine religious feeling as is to be found in Homer is less con- 
cerned with the gods of Olympus than with more shadow)' 
beings such as Fate or Necessity or Destiny, to whom even Zeus 
is subject. Fate exercised a great influence on all Greek thought, 
and perhaps was one of the sources from which science derived 
the belief in nUtural law. 

The Homeric gods were the gods of a conquering aristocracy, 

29 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

not the useful fertility gods of those who actually tilled the soil. 
As Gilbert Murray says: 1 

"The gods of most nations claim to have created the world. 
The Olympians make no such claim. The most they ever did was 
to conquer it. ... And when they have conquered their kingdoms, 
what do they do? Do they attend to the government? Do they 
promote agriculture? Do they practise trades and industries? 
Not a bit of it. Why should they do any honest work? They 
find it easier to live on the revenues and blast with thunderbolts 
the people who do not pay. They are conquering chieftains, 
royal buccaneers. They fight, and feast, and play, and make 
music; they drink deep, and roar with laughter at the lame smith 
who waits on them. They are never afraid, except of their own 
king. They never tell lies, except in love and war." 

Homer's human heroes, equally, are not very well behaved. 
The leading family is the House of Pelops, but it did not succeed 
in setting a pattern of happy family life. 

"Tantalos, the Asiatic founder of the dynasty, began its career 
by a direct offence against the gods; some said, by trying to 
cheat them into eating human flesh, that of his own son Pelops. 
Pelops, having been miraculously restored to life, offended in 
his turn. He won his famous chariot-race against Oinomao*, 
kinp of Pisa, by the connivance of the latter 's charioteer, Myrtilos. 
and then got rid of his confederate, whom he had promised to 
reward, by flinging him into the .sea. The curse descended to 
his sons, Atreus and Thyestes, in the form of what the Greeks 
called ate, a strong if not actually irresistible impulse to crime. 
Thyestes corrupted his brother's wife and thereby managed 
to steal the 'luck* of the family, the famous golden-fleeced ram. 
Atreus in turn secured his brother's banishment, and recalling 
him under pretext of a reconciliation, feasted him on the flesh 
of his own children. The curse was now inherited by Atreus' 
son Agamemnon, who offended Artemis by killing a sacred stag, 
sacrificed his own daughter Iphigcnia to appease the goddess 
and obtain a safe passage to Troy for his fleet, and was in turn 
murdered by his faithless wife Klytairnnestra and her paramour 
Aigisthos, a surviving son of Thyestes. Orestes, Agamemnon's son, 
in turn avenped his father by killing his mother and Aigistlios."* 

1 Fn c Stages of Greek Rtligitm t p. 67. 

* Primitive Culture in Greece, II. J. Rose, 1925, p. 

3 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

Homer as a finished achievement was a product of Ionia, i.e. of 
a part of Hellenic Asia Minor and the adjacent islands. Some time 
during the sixth century at latest, the Homeric poems became 
fixed in their present form. It was also during this century that 
Greek science and philosophy and mathematics began. At the 
same time events of fundamental importance were happening 
in other parts of the world. Confucius, Buddha, and Zoroaster, 
if they existed, probably belong to the same century. 1 In the 
middle of the century the Persian Empire was established by 
Cyrus ; towards its close the Greek cities of Ionia, to which the 
Persians had allowed a limited autonomy, made a fruitless rebel- 
lion, which was put down by Darius, and their best men became 
exiles. Several of the philosophers of this period were refugees, 
who wandered from city to city in the still unenslaved parts of 
the Hellenic world, spreading the civilization that, until then, 
had been mainly contincd to Ionia. They were kindly treated 
in their wanderings. Xenophanes, who flourished in the later 
part of the sixth century, and who was one of the refugees, says: 
"This is the sort of thing we should say by the fireside in the 
winter-time, as we lie on soft couches, after a good meal, drinking 
sweet wine and crunching chickpeas: 'Of what country are you, 
and how old are you, good Sir? And how old were you when the 
Mede appeared? 1 " The re*t of Greece succeeded in preserving 
its independence at the battles of Salamis and Plataea, after 
which Ionia was liberated for a time. 1 

Greece was divided into a large number of small independent 
states, each consisting of a city with some agricultural territory 
surrounding it. The level of civilization was very different in 
different parts of the Greek world, and only a minority of cities 
contributed to the total of Hellenic achievement. Sparta, of which 
1 shall have much to say later, was important in a military sense, 
but not culturally. Corinth was rich and prosperous, a great 
commercial centre, but not prolific in great men. 

Then there were purely agricultural rural communities, such 

1 Zoroaster's date, however, is very conjectural. Seine place it as early 
at> 1000 B.C. Sec Cambridge Anritnt History, Vol. IV, p, 207. 

1 As a result of the defeat of Athens by Sparta, the Persians regained 
the whole coast of Asia Minor, to which their right was acknowledged in 
the Peace of Antukidas (387-6 ii.c.). About fifty years later, they were 
incorporated in Alexander's empire. 

3' 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

as the proverbial Arcadia, which townsmen imagined to be 
idyllic, but which really was full of ancient barbaric horrors. 

The inhabitants worshipped Hermes and Pan, and had a 
multitude of fertility cults, in which, often, a mere square pillar 
did duty in place of a statue of the god. The goat was the symbol 
of fertility, because the peasants were too poor to possess bulls. 
When food was scarce, the statue of Pan was beaten. (Similar 
things are still done in remote Chinese villages.) There was a clan 
of supposed were-wolves, associated, probably, with human 
sacrifice and cannibalism. It was thought that whoever tasted the 
flesh of a sacrificed human victim became a were-wolf. There 
was a cave sacred to Zeus Lykaios (the wolf- Zeus); in this cave 
no one had a shadow, and whoever entered it died within a year. 
All this superstition was still flourishing in classical times. 1 

Pan, whose original name (some say) was "Paon", meaning the 
feeder or shepherd, acquired his better-known title, interpreted 
as meaning the All-God, when his worship was adopted by 
Athens in the fifth century, after the Persian war. 2 

There was, however, in ancient Greece, much that we can feel 
to have been religion as we understand the term. This was con- 
nected, not with the Olympians, but with Dionysus, or Bacchus, 
whom we think of most naturally as the somewhat disreputable- 
god of wine and drunkenness. The way in which, out of his 
worship, there arose a profound mysticism, which greatly influ- 
enced many of the philosophers, and even had a part in shaping 
Christian theology, is very remarkable, and must be understood 
by anyone who wishes to study the development of Greek 
thought. 

Dionysus, or Bacchus, was originally a Thracian god. The 
Thracians were very much less civilized than the G reeks, who 
regarded them as barbarians. Like all primitive agriculturists, 
they had fertility cults, and a god who promoted fertility. His 
name was Bacchus. It was never quite clear whether Bacchus 
had the shape of a man or of a bull. When they discovered how 
to make beer, they thought intoxication divine, and gave honour 
to Bacchus. When, later, they came to know the vine and to learn 
to drink wine, they thought even better of him* His functions in 
promoting fertility in general became somewhat subordinate 

1 Rose, Primitive Greece, p. 65 II. 

1 J. . Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Helicon* p. 651 

3* 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

to his functions in relation to the grape and the divine madness 
produced by wine. 

At what date his worship migrated from Thrace to Greece is 
not known, but it seems to have been just before the beginning 
of historical times. The cult of Bacchus was met with hostility 
by the orthodox, but nevertheless it established itself. It con- 
tained many barbaric elements, such as tearing wild animals 
to pieces and eating the whole of them raw. It had a curious 
clement of feminism. Respectable matrons and maids, in large 
companies, would spend whole nights on the bare hills in dances 
which stimulated ecstasy, and in an intoxication perhaps partly 
alcoholic, but mainly mystical. Husbands found the practice an- 
noying, but did not dare to oppose religion. Both the beauty and 
the savagery of the cult are set forth in the Bacchae of Euripides. 

The success of Dionysus in Greece is not surprising. Like all 
communities that have been civilized quickly, the Greeks, or at 
least a certain proportion of them, developed a love of the primi- 
tive, and a hankering after a more instinctive and passionate 
way of life than that sanctioned by current morals. To the man 
or woman who, by compulsion, is more civilized in behaviour 
than in feeling, rationality is irksome and virtue is felt as a burden 
and a slavery. This leads to a reaction in thought, in feeling, and 
in conduct. Jt is the reaction in thought that will specially concern 
us, but something must first be said about the reaction in feeling 
and conduct. 

The civilized man is distinguished from the savage mainly by 
prudence, or, to use a slightly wider term, forethought. He is 
willing to endure present pains for the sake of future pleasures, 
even if the future pleasures are rather distant. This habit began to 
be important with the rise of agriculture; no animal and no 
savage would work in the spring in order to have food next 
winter, except for a few purely instinctive forms of action, such 
as bees making honey or squirrels burying nuts. In these cases, 
there is no forethought; there is a direct impulse to an act which, 
to the human spectator, is obviously going to prove useful later 
on. True forethought only arises when a man does something 
towards which no impulse urges him, because his reason tells 
him that he will profit by it at some future date. Hunting requires 
no forethought* because it is pleasurable ; but tilling the soil is 
labour,4md cannot be done from spontaneous impulse. 

uj H'Mfcm /*****? 33 B 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Civilization checks impulse not only through forethought, 
which is a self-administered check, but also through law, custom , 
and religion. This check it inherits from barbarism, but it makes 
it less instinctive and more systematic. Certain acts arc labelled 
criminal, and are punished ; certain others, though not punished 
by law, are labelled wicked, and expose those who arc guilty of 
them to social disapproval. The institution of private property 
brings with it the subjection of women, and usually the creation 
of a slave class. On the one hand the purposes of the community 
are enforced upon the individual, and, on the other hand the 
individual, having acquired the habit of viewing his life as a 
whole, increasingly sacrifices his present to his future. 

It is evident that this process can be carried too far, as it is, for 
instance, by the miser. But without going to such extremes 
prudence may easily involve the loss of some of the best things 
in life. The worshipper of Dionysus reacts against prudence. In 
intoxication, physical or spiritual, he recovers an intensity of 
feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full 
of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated 
from the prison of every-day preoccupations. The Bacchic 
ritual produced what was called "enthusiasm," which means, 
etymologically, having the god enter into the worshipper, who 
believed that he became one with the god. Much of what is 
greatest in human achievement involves some element of intoxi- 
cation, 1 some sweeping away of prudence by passion. Without 
the Bacchic element, life would be uninteresting; with it, it is 
dangerous. Prudence versus passion is a conflict that runs through 
history. It is not a conflict in which we ought to side wholly 
with either party. 

In the sphere of thought, sober civilization is roughly synony- 
mous with science. But science, unadulterated, is not satisfying; 
men need also passion and art and religion. Science may set 
limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination. 
Among Greek philosophers, as among those of bter times, there 
were those who were primarily scientific and those who were 
primarily religious; the latter owed much, directly or indirectly, 
to the religion of Bacchus. This applies especially to Plato, and 
through him to those later developments which were ultimately 
embodied in Christian theology. 

1 I mean mental intoxication, not intoxication by alcohol. 

34 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

The worship of Dionysus in its original form was savage, and 
in many ways repulsive. It was not in this form that it influenced 
the philosophers, but in the spiritualized form attributed to 
Orpheus, which was ascetic, and substituted mental for physical 
intoxication. 

Orpheus is a dim but interesting figure. Some hold that he was 
an actual man, others that he was a god or an imaginary hero. 
Traditionally, he came from Thrace, like Bacchus, but it seems 
more probable that he (or the movement associated with his name) 
came from Crete. It is certain that Orphic doctrines contain 
much that seems to have its first source in Egypt, and it was 
chiefly through Crete that Egypt influenced Greece. Orpheus is 
said to have l>een a reformer who was torn to pieces by frenzied 
Maenads actuated by Bacchic orthodoxy. His addiction to music 
is not so prominent in the older forms of the legend as it became 
later. Primarily he was a priest and a philosopher. 

Whatever may have been the teaching of Orpheus (if he existed), 
the teaching of the Orphics is well known. They believed in the 
transmigration of souls; they taught that the soul hereafter 
might achieve eternal bliss or suffer eternal or temporary torment 
according to its way of life here on earth. They aimed at becoming 
"pure," partly by ceremonies of purification, partly by avoiding 
certain kinds of contamination. The most orthodox among them 
abstained from animal food, except on ritual occasions when 
they ate it sacramentally. Man, they held, is partly of earth, 
partly of heaven; by a pure life the heavenly part is increased 
and the earthly part diminished. In the end a man may become 
one with Bacchus, and is called **a Bacchus." There was an 
elaborate theology, according to which Bacchus was twice born, 
once of his mother Semele, and once from the thigh of his father 
Zeus. 

There are many forms of the Dionysus myth. In one of them, 
Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Persephone; while still a boy, 
he is torn to pieces by Titans, who eat his flesh, all but the heart. 
Some say that the heart was given by Zeus to Semele, others 
that Zeus swallowed it; in either case, it gave rise to the second 
birth of Dionysus. The tearing of a wild animal and the de- 
vouring of its raw flesh by Bacchae was supposed to re-enact 
the tearing and eating of Dionysus by the Titans, and the animal, 
in some* sense, was an incarnation of the god. The Titans were 

35 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

earth-born, but after eating the god they had a spark of divinity. 
So man is partly of earth, partly divine, and Bacchic rites sought 
to make him more nearly completely divine. 

Euripides puts a confession into the mouth of an Orphic priest, 
which is instructive: 1 

Lord of Europa's Tynan line, 

Zeus-born, who boldest at thy feet 
The hundred citadels of Crete, 

I seek to Thee from that dim shrine, 

Roofed by the Quick and Can-en Beam, 
By Chalyb steel and wild bull's blood. 
In flawless joints of Cypress wood 

Made steadfast. There is one pun- stream 

My days have run. The sen ant I, 
Initiate, of Idaean Jove; 2 
Where midnight Zagrcus 8 rove?, 1 rove; 

I have endured his thunder-cry ; 

Fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts ; 

Held the Great Mother's mountain flame, 
I am set free and named by name 

A Bacchos of the Mailed Priests. 

Robed in pure white I have borne me clean 
From man's vile birth and coihned clay, 
And exiled from my lip ahvay 

Touch of all meat where Life hath been. 

Orphic tablets have been found in tombs, giving instructions to 
the soul of the dead person as to how to find his way in the 
next world, and what to say in order to prove himself \\orthy of 
salvation. They are broken and incomplete; the most nearly 
complete (the Petelia tablet) is as follows: 

Thou shalt find on the left of the House of Hades a Well-spring, 
And by the side thereof standing a white cypress. 
To this well-spring approach not near. 

1 The verse translations in thii chapter are by Profc-wor Gilbert 
Murray. 

1 Mystically idmtifad with Dionysu*, 
* One of thr many narn* * of I )ionysu*. 

in 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

But thou shalt find another by the Lake of Memory, 

Cold water flowing forth, and there are Guardians before it, 

Say: "I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven; 

Hut my race is of Heaven (alone). This ye know yourselves. 

And lo, I am parched with thirst and I perish. Give me quickly 

The cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory." 

And of themselves they will give thee to drink from the holy 

well-spring, 
And thereafter among the other heroes thou shalt have lordship. . . . 

Another tablet says: "Hail, Thou who hast suffered the suffer- 
ing . . . Thou art become (Jod from Man." And yet in another: 
"Happy and Blessed One, thou shalt be God instead of mortal." 

The well-spring of which the soul is not to drink is Ix?the, which 
brings forgetfulness; the other well-spring is Mnemosyne, re- 
membrance. The soul in the next world, if it is to achieve salva- 
tion, is not to forget, but, on the contrary, to acquire a memory 
surpassing what is natural. 

The Orphics were an ascetic sect; wine, to them, was only a 
symbol, as, later, in the Christian sacrament. The intoxication that 
they sought was that of "enthusiasm," of union with the god. They 
believed themselves, in this way, to acquire mystic knowledge not 
obtainable by ordinary means. This mystical element entered into 
( Jreek philosophy with Pythagoras, who was a reformer of Orphism 
as Orpheus was a reformer of the religion of Dionysus. From 
Pythagoras Orphic elements entered into the philosophy of Plato, 
and from Plato into most later philosophy that was in any degree 
religious. 

Certain definitely Bacchic elements survived wherever Orphism 
had influence. One of these was frrrriism, of which there was 
much in Pythagoras, and which, in Plato, went so far as to claim 
complete political equality for women. "Women as a sex," says 
Pythagoras, "are more naturally akin to piety." Another Bacchic 
element was respect for violent emotion. Greek tragedy grew out 
of the rites of Dionysus. Euripides, especially, honoured the two 
chief gods of Orphism, Dionysus and Kros. He has no respect for 
the coldly self-righteous well-behaved man, who, in his tragedies, 
is apt to be driven mad or otherwise brought to grief by the gods 
in resentment of his blasphemy. 

'I 'he conventional tradition concerning the Greeks is that they 
exhibited an admirable serenity, which enabled them to contcm- 

37 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

plate passion from without, perceiving whatever beauty it exhibited 
but themselves calm and Olympian. This is a very one-sided view. 
It is true, perhaps, of Homer, Sophocles, and Aristotle, but it is 
emphatically not true of those Greeks who were touched, directly 
or indirectly, by Bacchic or Orphic influences. At Klcusis, where 
the Eleusinian mysteries formed the most sacred part of Athenian 
State religion, a hymn was sung, saying: 

With Thy wine-cup waving high, 
With Thy maddening revelry, 
To Klcusis' flower}' vale, 
Comest Thou Bacchus, Paean, hail! 

In the Bacchae of Euripides, the chorus of Maenads displays a 
combination of poetry and savagery which is the very reverse of 
serene. They celebrate the delight in tearing a wild anirnal limb 
from limb, and eating it raw then and there: 

O glad, glad on the Mountains 
To swoon in the race outworn, 
When the holy fawn-skin clings 

And all else sweeps away, 
To the joy of the quick red fountains, 
The blood of the hill-goat torn, 
The glory of wild-beast ravening* 

Where the hill-top catches the day, 
To the Phrygian, Lydian mountains 
'Tis ISromios leads the way. 

(Bromios was another of the many names of Dionysus.) The dance 
of the Maenads on the mountain side was not only fierce; it was 
an escape from the burdens and cares of civilization into the world 
of non-human beauty and the freedom of wind and stars. In a less 
frenzied mood they sing: 

Will they ever come to me, ever again, 

The long, long dances, 
On through the dark till the dim stars wane ? 
Shall I feel the dew on my throat, and the stream 
Of wind in my hair ? Shall our white feet gleam 

In the dim expanses? 
O feet of the fawn to the greenwood fled, 

Alone in the grass and the loveliness ; 
[>eap of the hunted, no more in dread, 

Beyond the snares and the deadly press. 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

Yet a voice still in the distance sounds, 
A voice and a fear and a haste of hounds, 
O wildly labouring, fiercely fleet, 

Onward yet by river and glen 
Is it joy or terror, ye storm-swift/eel? 

To the dear lone lands untroubled of men, 
Where no voice sounds, and amidfthe shadowy green 
The little things of the woodland (live unseen. 

Before repeating that the Greeks were "serene," try to imagine 
the matrons of Philadelphia behaving in ti<js manner, even in a 
play by Eugene O'Neill. 

The Orphic is no more "serene" than tl unrefr ied woift 
shipper of Dionysus. To the Orphic, life in th* world is pain and 
weariness. We are bound to a J -heel which t^rns through endless 
cycles of birth and death; our true life is tfhe stars, but we are 
tied to earth. Only by purification and renunciation and an ascetic 
life can we escape from the wheel and attain at last to the ecstasy 
of union with God. This is not the view of men to whom life is 
easy and pleasant. It is more like the Negro spiritual: 

I'm going to tell God all of my troubles 
When I get home. 

Not all of the Greeks, hut a large proportion of them, were 
passionate, unhappy, at war with themselves, driven along one 
road by the intellect and along another by the passions, with the 
imagination to conceive heaven and the wilful self-assertion that 
creates hell. They had a maxim "nothing too much," but they 
were in fact excessive in everything in pure thought, in poetry, 
in religion, and in sin. It was the combination of passion and 
intellect that made them great, while they were great. Neither 
alone would have transformed the world for all future time as 
they transformed it. Their prototype in mythology is not 
Olympian Zeus, but Prometheus, who brought fire from heaven 
and was rewarded with eternal torment. 

If taken as characterizing the Greeks as a whole, however, what 
has just been said would be as one-sided as the view that the 
Greeks were characterized by "serenity." There were, in fact, two 
tendencies in Greece, one passionate, religious, mystical, other- 
worldly, the other cheerful, empirical, rationalistic, and interested 
in acquiring knowledge of a diversity of facts. Herodotus represents 

39 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

this latter tendency; so do the earliest Ionian philosophers; so, 
up to a point, does Aristotle. Beloch (op. cit. f I, i, p. 434), after 
describing Orphism, says: 

"But the Greek nation was too full of youthful vigour for the 
general acceptance of a belief which denies this world and transfers 
real life to the Beyond. Accordingly the Orphic doctrine remained 
confined to the relatively narrow circle of the initiate, without 
acquiring the smallest influence on the State religion, not even in 
communities which, like Athens, had taken up the celebration of 
the mysteries into the State ritual and placed it under legal pro- 
tection. A full millennium was to pass before these ideas in a 
quite different theological dress, it is true achieved victory in 
the Greek world/ 1 

It would seem that this is an overstatement, particularly as 
regards the Eleusinian mysteries, which were impregnated with 
Orphism. Broadly speaking, those who were of a religious tem- 
perament turned to Orphism, while rationalists despised it. One 
might compare its status to that of Methodism in England in the 
late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 

We know more or less what an educated Greek learnt from his 
father, but we know very little of what, in his earliest years, he 
learnt from his mother, who was, to a great extent, shut out from 
the civilization in which the men took delight. It seems probable 
that educated Athenians, even in the best period, however 
rationalistic they may have been in their explicitly conscious 
mental processes, retained from tradition and from childhood a 
more primitive way of thinking and feeling, which was always 
liable to prove victorious in times of stress. For this reason, no 
simple analysis of the Greek outlook is likely to be adequate. 

The influence of religion, more particularly of non-Olympian 
religion, on Greek thought was not adequately recognized until 
recent times. A revolutionary book, Jane Harrison's Prolegomena 
to the Study of Greek Religion, emphasized both the primitive and 
the Dionysiac elements in the religion of ordinary Greeks; F. M. 
Cornford's From Religion to Philosophy tried to make students of 
Greek philosophy aware of the influence of religion on the philo- 
sophers, but cannot be wholly accepted as trustworthy in many 
of its interpretations, or, for that matter, in its anthropology. 1 The 

1 On the other hand Cornford's books on various Platonic dialogues 
seem to me wholly admirable. 



THE RISE OF GREEK CIVILIZATION 

most balanced statement known to me is in John Burnet's Early 
Greek Philosophy, especially chapter ii, "Science and Religion." A 
conflict between science and religion arose, he says, out of "the 
religious revival which swept over Hellas in the sixth century B.C.," 
together with the shifting of the scene from Ionia to the West. 
"The religion of continental Hellas," he ssi^s, "had developed in 
a very different way from that of Ionia. In particular, the worship 
of Dionysus, which came from Thrace, and is barely mentioned 
in Homer, contained in germ a wholly new way of looking at man's 
relation to the world. It would certainly b& wrong to credit the 
Thracians themselves with any very exalted wews; but there can 
be no doubt that, to the Greeks, the phenomenon of ecstasy 
suggested that the soul was something more than a feeble double 
of the self, and that it was only when 'out of the body* that it 
could show its true nature. . . . 

44 It looked as if Greek religion were about to enter on the same 
stage as that already reached by the religions of the East; and, but 
for the rise of science, it is hard to see what could have checked 
this tendency. It is usual to say that the Greeks were saved from 
a religion of the Oriental type by their having no priesthood; but 
this is to mistake the effect for the cause. Priesthoods do not make 
dogmas, though they preserve them once they are made; and in 
the earlier stages of their development, the Oriental peoples had 
no priesthoods either in the sense intended. It was not so much 
the absence of a priesthood as the existence of the scientific 
schools that saved Greece. 

"The new religion for in one sense it was new, though in 
another as old as mankind reached its highest point of develop- 
ment with the foundation of the Orphic communities. So far as 
\ve can see, the original home of these was Attica; but they spread 
with extraordinary rapidity, especially in Southern Italy and Sicily. 
They were first of dl associations for the worship of Dionysus; 
but they were distinguished by two features which were new 
among the Hellenes. They looked to a revelation as the source 
of religious authority, and they were organized as artificial com- 
munities. The poems which contained their theology were 
ascribed to the Thracian Orpheus, who had himself descended 
into Hades, and was therefore a safe guide through the perils 
which beset the disembodied soul in the next world." 

Hurried goes on to state that there is a striking similarity between 

4* 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Orphic beliefs and those prevalent in India at about the same time, 
though he holds that there cannot have been any contact. He then 
comes on to the original meaning of the word "orgy," which was 
Mc*vUV *.tiA O*"hics to mean "sacrament," and was intended to 
general acceptance o* S oul and enable it to escape from the wheel 
reallifetotheBeyond.es, unlike the priests of Olympian cults, 
confined to the relatmcall "churches/ 1 i.e. religious communities 
acquiring the smallest ithout distinction of race or sex, could be 
communities which, liH f and from their influence arose the con- 
the mysteries into th^ as a way of life. 
" - A full millc 
*+ ther 



Chapter II 
THE MILESIAN SCHOOL 

IN every history of philosophy for studenftf, the first thing men- 
tioned is that philosophy began witWi hales, who said that 
everything is made of water. Thi$ is discouraging to the 
beginner, who is struggling perhaps not very hard to feel that 
respect for philosophy which the curriculum seems to expect. 
There is, however, ample reason to feel respkct for Thales, though 
perhaps rather as a man of science than as 11 nhiloson' sitfrfws?* 
modern sense of the word. 

Thales was a native of Miletus, in Asia Minor, a flourishing 
commercial city, in which there was a large slave population, and 
a bitter class struggle between the rich and poor among the free 
population. "At Miletus the people were at first victorious and 
murdered the wives and children of the aristocrats; then the 
aristocrats prevailed and burned their opponents alive, lighting 
up the open spaces of the city with live torches/' 1 Similar con- 
ditions prevailed in most of the Greek cities of Asia Minor at the 
time of Thales. 

Miletus, like other commercial cities of Ionia, underwent im- 
portant economic and political developments during the seventh 
and sixth centuries. At first, political power belonged to a land- 
owning aristocracy, but this was gradually replaced by a pluto- 
cracy of merchants. They, in turn, were replaced by a tyrant, 
who (as was usual) achieved power by the support of the demo- 
cratic party. The kingdom of Lydia lay to the east of the Greek 
coast towns, but remained on friendly terms with them until the 
fall of Nineveh (6oO B.C.). This left Lydia free to turn its attention 
to the West, but Miletus usually succeeded in preserving friendly 
relations, especially with Croesus, the last Lydian king, who was 
conquered by Cyrus in 546 B.C. There were also important rela- 
tions with Egypt, where the king depended upon Greek mer- 
cenaries, and had opened certain cities to Greek trade. The first 
Greek settlement in Egypt was a fort occupied by a Milesian 
garrison; but the most important, during the period 610-560 B.C., 
was Daphnac. Here Jeremiah and many other Jewish fugitives 
v, History of the Ancient World, Vol. I, p. 204. 

43 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

took refuge from Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah xliii. 5 If.); but while 
Egypt undoubtedly influenced the Greeks, the Jews did not, nor 
can we suppose that Jeremiah felt anything but horror towards 
the sceptical lonians. 

As regards the u2te of Thales, the best evidence, as we saw, is 
that he was famous for predicting an eclipse which, according to 
the astronomers, must have taken place in 585 B.C. Other evidence, 
such as it is, agrees in placing his activities at about this time. It 
is no proof of extraordinaiT genius on his part to have predicted 
an eclipse. Miletus wao allied with Lydia, and Lydia had cultural 
relations with Babylonia, and Babylonian astronomers had dis- 
covered tV't eclipses recur in a cycle of about nineteen years. 
They could predict eclipses of the moon with pretty complete 
success, but as regards solar eclipses they were hampered by the 
fact that an eclipse may be visible in one place and not in another. 
Consequently they could only know that at such and such a date 
it was worth while to look out for an eclipse, and this is probably 
all that Thales knew. Neither he nor they knew why there is 
this cycle. 

Thales is said to have travelled in Kgypt, and to have thence 
brought to the Greeks the science of geometry. What the Egyptians 
knew of geometry was mainly rules of thumb, and there is no 
reason to believe that Thales arrived at deductive proofs, such as 
later Greeks discovered. He seems to have discovered how to 
calculate the distance of a ship at sea from observations taken at 
two points on land, and how to estimate the height of a pyramid 
from the length of its shadow. Many other geometrical theorem* 
are attributed to him, but probably wrongly. 

He was one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, each of whom 
was specially noted for one wise saying; his, it is a niiM.tke to 
suppose, was "water is best." 

According to Aristotle, he thought that water is the original 
substance, out of which all others are funned ; and he maintained 
that the earth rests on water. Aristotle also says of him that he 
said the magnet has a soul in it, because it moves the iron ; further, 
that all things arc full of gods. 1 

The statement that everything is made of water is to be regarded 
as a scientific hypothesis, arid by no means a foolish one. Twenty 
years ago, the received view was that everything is made of 

1 Burnct (Early Gteck Philotophy, p. 51) questions tins last * tying. 

44 



THE MILESIAN SCHOOL 

hydrogen, which is two thirds of water. The Greeks were rash 
in their hypotheses, but the Milesian school, at least, was prepared 
to test them empirically. Too little is known of Thales to make it 
possible to reconstruct him at all satisfactorily, but of his successors 
in Miletus much more is known, and it is re^n5^C5nTRM2flfe%^ 
that something of their outlook came from Jround table, and that 
his philosophy were both crude, but they ifsoul, being air, holds 
both thought and observation. /$ass the whole world." 

There are many legends about him, 'ft 

known than the few facts I have mentidquity than Anaximander, 
are pleasant, for instance, the one told by like the opposite valua- 
(1259*): "lie was reproached for his poverty, ^Koras and Sjyjftji * 1 
to show that philosophy is of no use. According to fKe story, he 
knew by his skill in the stars while it was yet winter that there 
would be a great harvest of olives in the corning year; so, having 
a little money, he gave deposits for the use of all the olive-presses 
in Chios and Miletus, which he hired at a low price because no 
one bid against him. When the harvest time came, and many 
were wanted all at once and of a sudden, he let them out at any 
rate which he pleased, and made a quantity of money. Thus he 
showed the world that philosophers can easily be rich if they like, 
but that their ambition is of another sort." 

Anaximander, the second philosopher of the Milesian school, 
is much more interesting than Thales. His dates are uncertain, 
but he was said to have been sixty-four years old in 546 B.C., and 
there is reason to suppose that this is somewhere near the truth. 
He held that all things come from a single primal substance, but 
that it is not water, as Thales held, or any other of the substances 
that we know. It is infinite, eternal and ageless, and "it encom- 
passes all the worlds" for he thought our world only one of 
many. The primal substance is transformed into the various sub- 
stances witii which we are familiar, and these are transformed 
into each other. As to this, he makes an important and remarkable 
statement : 

"Into that from which things take their rise they pass away once 
more, as is ordained, for they make reparation and satisfaction to 
one another for their injustice according to the ordering of time." 

The idea of justice, both cosmic and human, played a part in 
(irerk religion Und philosophy which is not altogether easy for a 
modern to understand ; indeed our word "justice" hardly expresses 

45 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

what is meant, but it is difficult to find any other word that would 
be preferable. The thought which Anaximander is expressing 
seems to be this: there should be a certain proportion of fire, of 
earth, and of water in the world, but each element (conceived as a 
^AsVegardslhe <j ttcm P tin g to enlarge its empire. But there is 
that he was famous itP atu 1 ral h * wh f ich Perpetually redresses the 
the astronomers, must K* been fire, for example, there are ashes, 
such as it is, agrees in pl:? ce P tlon of justice-of not overstepping 
is no proof of extraordinaif. one of the most Profound of Greek 
an eclipse. Miletus wao " ub J ect to J ustlce J ust much as men 
relations with BabyJo* P ower was not itself personal, and was 

.. . a oUfr.i,.,, ec |j - 

Anaximander had an argument to prove that the primal sub- 
stance could not be water, or any other known element. If one of 
these were primal, it would conquer the others. Aristotle reports 
him as saying that these knovrn elements are in opposition to one 
another. Air is cold, water is moist, and fire is hot. "And therefore, 
if any one of them were infinite, the rest would have ceased to be 
by this time." The primal substance, therefore, must be neutral 
in this cosmic strife. 

There was an eternal motion, in the course of which was 
brought about the origin of die worlds. The worlds were not 
created, as in Jewish or Christian theology, but evolved. There 
was evolution also in the animal kingdom. Living creatures arose 
from the moist element as it was evaporated by the sun. Man, 
like every other animal, was descended from fishes. He must be 
derived from animals of a different sort, because, owing to his 
long infancy, he could not have survived, originally, as he is now. 

Anaximander was full of scientific curiosity. I !e is said to have 
been the first man who made a map. He held tliat the earth is 
shaped like a cylinder. He is variously reported as saying the sun 
is as large as the earth, or twenty-seven times as large, or twenty- 
eight times as large. 

Wherever he is original, he is scientific and rationalistic. 

Anaximenes, the last of the Milesian triad, is not quite so 
interesting as Anaximander, but makes some important advances. 
His dates are very uncertain. He was certainly subsequent to 
Anaximander, and he certainly flourished before 494 B.C., since 
in that year Miletus was destroyed by the Persians in the course 
of their suppression of the Ionian revolt. 

46 



THE MILESIAN SCHOOL 

The fundamental substance, he said, is air. The soul is air; fire 
is rarefied air; when condensed, air becomes first water, then, if 
further condensed, earth, and finally stone. This theory has the 
merit of making all the differences between different substances 
quantitative, depending entirely upon the 

He thought that the earth is shaped like a j Ol c ?? and t ^ a t 
air encompasses everything: "Just as oui|fP unc * . e *. ^olds 
us together, so do breath and air encope3T sOU ^ ' 3el ^ g 1 ' r M" 
It seems that the world breathes. |$ass the whole wor . 

Anaximenes was more admired in ant*/ "mander, 

though almost any modern world would hfluity than Anaxi ya j ua . 
tion. He had an important influence on Pytfcte ^ PP j? l Qn tnuch 
subsequent speculation. The Pythagoreans Tdflp oras *? oiat the 
earth is spherical, but the atomists adhered to the view of Anaxi- 
menes, that it is shaped like a disc. 

The Milesian school is important,, not for what it achieved, but 
for what it attempted. It was brought into existence by the contact 
of the Greek mind with Babylonia and Egypt. Miletus was a rich 
commercial city, in which primitive prejudices and superstitions 
were softened by intercourse with many nations. Ionia, until its 
subjugation by Darius at the beginning of the fifth century, was 
culturally the most important part of the Hellenic world. It was 
almost untouched by the religious movement connected with 
Dionysus and Orpheus; its religion was Olympic, but seems to 
have been not taken very seriously. The speculations of Thales, 
Anaximander, and Anaximenes are to be regarded as scientific 
hypotheses, and seldom show any undue intrusion of anthropo- 
morphic desires and moral ideas. The questions they asked were 
good questions, and their vigour inspired subsequent investigators. 

The next stage in Greek philosophy, which is associated with 
the Greek cities in southern Italy, is more religious, and, in 
particular, more Orphic in some ways more interesting, admir- 
able in achievement, but in spirit less scientific than that of the 
Milesians. 



47 



Chapter III 
PYTHAGORAS 

PYTHAGORAS, whose influence in ancient and modern times 
is my subject ins^his chapter, was intellectually one of the 
most important *J.sn that ever lived, both when he was 
wise and when he was . mwise. Mathematics, in the sense of 
demonstrative deductive argument, begins with him, and in him 
is intimately connected with a peculiar form of mysticism. 
The influence of mathematics on philosophy, partly owing 
to him, has, ever since his time, been both profound and 
unfortunate. 

Let us begin with what little is known of his life. He was a 
native of the island of Samos, and flourished about 532 B.C. 
Some say he was the son of a substantial citizen named Mnesarchos, 
others that he was the son of the ?od Apollo ; I leave the reader to 
take his choice between these alternatives. In his time Samos was 
ruled by the tyrant Polycrates, an old ruffian who became im- 
mensely rich, and had a vast navy. 

Samos was a commercial rival of Miletus; its traders went as 
far afield as Tartessus in Spain, which was famous for its mines. 
Polycrates became tyrant of Samos about 535 B.C., and reigned 
until 515 B.C. He was not much troubled by moral scruples; he 
got rid of his two brothers, who were at first associated with him 
in the tyranny, and he used his navy largely for piracy. 1 le profited 
by the fact that Miletus had recently submitted to Persia. In order 
to obstruct any further westward expansion of the Persians, he 
allied himself with Amasis, king of Egypt. But when Cambyses, 
king of Persia, devoted his full energies to the conquest of Egypt, 
Polycrates realized that he was likely to win, and changed sides. 
He sent a fleet, composed of his political enemies, to attack Egypt ; 
but the crews mutinied and returned to Samos to attack him. 
He got the better of them, however, but fell at last by a treacherous 
appeal to his avarice. The Persian satrap at Sardes represented 
that he intended to rebel against the Great King, and would pay 
vast sums for the help of Polycrates, who went to the mainland 
for an interview, was captured and crucified. * 

Polycrates was a patron of the arts, and beautified Samps with 

48 



PYTHAGORAS 

remarkable public works. Anacreon was his court poet. Pythagoras, 
however, disliked his government, and therefore left Samos. It is 
said, and is not improbable, that Pythagoras visited Egypt, and 
learnt much of his wisdom there; however that may be, it is 
certain that he ultimately established himself at Croton, in 
southern Italy. 

The Greek cities of southern Italy, like Samos and Miletus, 
were rich and prosperous; moreover they were not exposed to 
danger from the Persians. 1 The two greatest were Sybaris and 
Croton. Sybaris has remained proverbial for luxury; its popula- 
tion, in its greatest days, is said by Diodorus to have amounted to 
300,000, though this is no doubt an exaggeration. Croton was 
about equal in sixc to Sybaris. Both cities lived by importing 
Ionian wares into Italy, partly for consumption in that country, 
partly for re-export from the western coast to Gaul and Spain. 
The various Greek cities of Italy fought each other fiercely; when 
Pythatroras arrived in Croton, it had just been defeated by Locri. 
Soon after his arrival, however, Croton was completely victorious 
in a war against Sybaris, which was utterly destroyed (510 B.C.). 
Sybaris had been closely linked in commerce with Miletus. Croton 
was famous for medicine ; a certain Democedes of Croton became 
physician to Polycrates and then to Darius. 

At t'roton Pythagoras founded a society of disciples, which for 
a time was influential in that city. But in the end the citizens 
turned against him, and he moved to Metapontion (also in southern 
Italy), where he died. He soon became a mythical figure, credited 
with miracles and niapic powers, but he was also the founder of a 
school of mathematicians." Thus two opposing traditions disputed 
his memory, and the truth is hard to disentangle. 

l*ythagoras is one of the most interesting and puzzling men in 
history. Not only are the traditions concerning him an almost 
inextricable mixture of truth and falsehood, but even in their 
barest and least disputable form they present us with a very 
curious psychology. He may be described, briefly, as a combina- 
tion of Einstein and Mrs. Eddy. He founded a religion, of which 

1 The (irrck cities of Sicily were in danger from the Carthaginians, 
but in Italy this danger was not felt to be imminent. 

* Aristotle ftays of him that he "first worked at mathematics and 
arithmetic, and u&T\viirdH, at one time, condescended to the wonder- 
working Qjroetised by I'herecydes." 

49 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The changes in the meanings of words are often very instructive. 
I spoke above about the word "orgy"; now I want to speak about 
the word "theory." This was originally an Orphic word, which 
Cornford interprets as "passionate sympathetic contemplation." 
In this state, he says. "The spectator is identified with the suffering 
Cod, dies in his death, and rises again in his new birth." For 
Pythagoras, the "passionate sympathetic contemplation" was 
intellectual, and issued in mathematical knowledge. In this way, 
through Pythagoreanism, "theory" gradually acquired its modern 
meaning; but for all who were inspired by Pythagoras it retained 
an element of ecstatic revelation. To those who have reluctantly 
learnt a little mathematics in school this may seem strange; but 
to those who have experienced the intoxicating delight of sudden 
understanding that mathematics gives, from time to time, to those 
who love it, the Pythagorean view will seem completely natural 
<rven if untrue. It might seem that the empirical philosopher is 
the slave of his material, but that the pure mathematician, like 
the musician, is a free creator of his world of ordered beauty. 

It is interesting to observe, in liurnct's account of the Pytha- 
gorean ethic, the opposition to modern values. In connection with 
a football match, modern-minded men think the players grander 
than the mere spectators. Similarly as regards the State: they 
admire more the politicians who are the contestants in the jrame 
than those who are only onlookers. This change of values is con- 
nected with a change in the social system the warrior, the 
gentleman, the plutocrat, and the dictator, each has his own 
standard of the |?ood and the true. The gentleman has had a lonj: 
inninps in philosophical theory, because he is associated with the 
Greek genius, because the virtue of contemplation acquired 
theological endorsement, and because the ideal of disinterested 
truth dignified the academic life. The gentleman is to be defined 
as one of a society of equals who live on slave labour, or at any 
rate upon the labour of men whose inferiority is unquestioned. 
It should be observed that this definition includes the saint and 
the sage, insofar as these men's lives are contemplative rather 
than active. 

Modern definitions of truth, such as those of pragmatism and 
instrumentalism, which are practical rather than contemplative, 
are inspired by industrialism as opposed to aristocracy. 

Whatever may be thought of a social system which f tolerates 

5* 



PYTHAGORAS 

slavery, it is to gentlemen in the above sense that we owe pure 
mathematics. The contemplative ideal, since it led to the creation 
of pure mathematics, was the source of a useful activity; this 
increased its prestige, and gave it a success in theology, in 
ethics, and in philosophy, which it might not otherwise have 
enjoyed. 

So much by way of explanation of the two aspects of Pythagoras : 
as religious prophet and as pure mathematician. In both respects 
he was immeasurably influential, and the two were not so separate 
as they seem to a modern mind. 

Most sciences, at their inception, have been connected with 
some form of false belief, which gave them a fictitious value. 
Astronomy was connected with astrology, chemistry with alchemy. 
Mathematics was associated with a more refined type of error. 
Mathematical knowledge appeared to be certain, exact, and appli- 
cable to the real world; moreover it was obtained by mere thinking, 
without the need of observation. Consequently, it was thought to 
supply an ideal, from which every-day empirical knowledge fell 
short. It was supposed, on the basis of mathematics, that thought 
is superior to sense, intuition to observation. If the world of sense 
does not fit mathematics, so much the worse for the world of 
sense. In various ways, methods of approaching nearer to the 
mathematician's ideal were sought, and the resulting suggestions 
were the source of much that was mistaken in metaphysics and 
theory of knowledge. This form of philosophy begins with 
Pythagoras. 

Pythagoras, as everyone knows, said that "all things are 
numbers." This statement, interpreted in a modern way, is 
logically nonsense, but what he meant was not exactly nonsense. 
1 le discovered the importance of numbers in music, and the con- 
nection which he established between music and arithmetic sur- 
vives in the mathematical terms "harmonic mean*' and "harmonic 
progression." He thought of numbers as shapes, as they appear 
on dice or playing cards. We still speak of squares and cubes of 
numbers, which are terms that we owe to him. He also spoke of 
oblong numbers, triangular numbers, pyramidal numbers, and so 
on. These were the numbers of pebbles (or, as we should more 
naturally say, shot) required to make the shapes in question. He 
presumably thotight of the world as atomic, and of bodies as built 
up of lyolcculcs composed of atoms arranged in various shapes. 

53 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

In this way he hoped to make arithmetic the fundamental study 
in physics as in aesthetics. 

The greatest discovery of Pythagoras, or of his immediate dis- 
ciples, was the proposition about right-angled triangles, that the 
sum of the squares on the sides adjoining the right angle is equal 
to the square on the remaining side, the hypotenuse. The Egyptians 
had known that a triangle whose sides are 3, 4, 5 has a right angle, 
but apparently the Greeks were the first to observe that 3 a -f 4'- 
= 5 2 , and, acting on this suggestion, to discover a proof of the 
general proposition. 

Unfortunately for Pythaponis, his theorem led at once to the 
discovery of incommcnsurables, which appeared to disprove his 
whole philosophy. In a rijjht-angled isosceles triangle, the square 
on the hypotenuse is double of the square on either side. Let us 
suppose each side an inch long ; then how long is the hypotenuse ? 
Let us suppose its length is mfn inches. Then w 2 /;i 2 ~ 2. If m 
and n have a common factor, divide it out, then either tn or n 
must be odd. Now w 2 = 2 2 , therefore m 8 is even, therefore m is 
even, therefore n is odd. Suppose m -- 2p. Then 4/> 2 = 2 2 , there- 
fore, 2 = 2/> 2 and therefore ;/ is even, contra hyp. Therefore no 
fraction m'n will measure the hypotenuse. The above proof is 
substantially that in Euclid, Book X. 1 

This argument proved that, whatever unit of length we may 
adopt, there are lengths which bear no exact numerical relation 
to the unit, in the sense that there are no two integers iw, , such 
that m times the length in question is n times the unit. This con- 
vinced the Greek mathematicians that geometry must be estab- 
lished independently of arithmetic. There are passapcs in Plato's 
dialogues which prove that the independent treatment of geo- 
metry was well under way in his day; it is perfected in Euclid. 
Euclid, in Book II, proves geometrically many things which we 
should naturally prove by algebra, such as (a -{- bf -~~ a 1 + zah 
+ A 2 . It was because of the difficulty about incommensurable* 
that he considered this course necessary. The same applies to his 
treatment of proportion in Books V and VJ. The whole system 
is logically delightful, and anticipates the rigour of nineteenth- 
century mathematicians. So long as no adequate arithmetical theory 
of incommensurable^ existed, the method of Euclid was the Inrst 

* But not by Euclid. See Heath, Gftek Mathtirutlici. The above proof 
was probably known to Plato. 

54 



PYTHAGORAS 

that was possible in geometry. When Descartes introduced co- 
ordinate geometry, thereby again making arithmetic supreme, he 
assumed the possibility of a solution of the problem of incom- 
mensurables, though in his day no such solution had been 
found. 

The influence of geometry upon philosophy and scientific 
method has been profound. Geometry, as established by the 
Greeks, starts with axioms which are (or are deemed to be) self- 
evident, and proceeds, by deductive reasoning, to arrive at 
theorems that are very far from self-evident. The axioms and 
theorems arc held to be true of actual space, which is something 
given in experience. It thus appeared to be possible to discover 
things about the actual world by first noticing what is self-evident 
and then using deduction. This view influenced Plato and Kant, 
and most of the intermediate philosophers. When the Declaration 
of Independence says "we hold these truths to be self-evident," 
it is modelling itself on Euclid. The eighteenth-century doctrine 
of natural rights is a search for Euclidean axioms in politics. 1 
The form of Newton's Principia, in spite of its admittedly empirical 
material, is entirely dominated by Euclid. Theology, in its exact 
scholastic forms, takes its style from the same source. Personal 
religion is derived from ecstasy, theology from mathematics; and 
both arc to be found in Pythagoras. 

Mathematics is, I believe, the chief source of the belief in 
eternal and exact truth, as well as in a super-sensible intelligible 
\\orld. Geometry deals with exact circles, but no sensible object 
is exactly circular; however carefully we may use our compasses, 
there will be some imperfections and irregularities. This suggests 
the view that all exact reasoning applies to ideal as opposed to 
sensible objects; it is natural to go further, and to argue that 
thought is nobler than sense, and the objects of thought more 
real than those of sense-perception. Mystical doctrines as to the 
relation of time to eternity are also reinforced by pure mathe- 
matics, for mathematical objects, such as numbers, if real at all, 
are eternal and not in time. Such eternal objects can be conceived 
as God's thoughts. Hence Plato's doctrine that God is a geometer, 
and Sir James Jeans' belief that He is addicted to arithmetic. 
Rationalistic as opposed to apocalyptic religion has been, ever 

1 "Self-evident** was substituted by Franklin for Jefferson's "sacred 
and undeniable." 

55 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

since Pythagoras, and notably ever since Plato, very completely 
dominated by mathematics and mathematical method. 

The combination of mathematics and theology, which began 
with Pythagoras, characterized religious philosophy in Greece, in 
the Middle Ages, and in modern times down to Kant. Orphism 
before Pythagoras was analogous to Asiatic mystery religions. But 
in Plato, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, 
and Leibniz there is an intimate blending of religion and reasoning, 
of moral aspiration with logical admiration of what is timeless, 
which comes from Pythagoras, and distinguishes the intellec- 
tualized theology of Europe from the more straightforward 
mysticism of Asia. It is only in quite recent times that it has been 
possible to say clearly where Pythagoras was wrong. 1 do not 
know of any other man who has been as influential as he was in 
the sphere of thought. I say this because what appears as Platonism 
is, when analysed, found to be in essence Pythagoreanism. The 
whole conception of an eternal world, revealed to the intellect 
but not to the senses, is derived from him. But for him, Christians 
would not have thought of Christ as the Word; but for him, 
theologians would not have sought logical proofs of Mod and 
immortality. But in him all this is still implicit. I low it became 
explicit will appear as we proceed. 



Chapter IV 
HERACLITUb 

Two opposite attitudes towards the Greeks are common 
at the present day. One, which was practically universal 
from the Renaissance until very recent times, views the 
Greeks with almost superstitious reverence, as the inventors of 
all that is best, and as men of superhuman genius whom the 
moderns cannot hope to equal. The other attitude, inspired by 
the triumphs of science and by an optimistic belief in progress, 
considers the authority of the ancients an incubus, and maintains 
that most of their contributions to thought are now best forgotten. 
1 cannot myself take either of these extreme views; each, I should 
say, is partly right and partly wrong. Before entering upon any 
detail, I shall try to say what sort of wisdom we can still derive 
from the study of Greek thought. 

As to the nature and structure of the world, various hypotheses 
are possible. Progress in metaphysics, so far as it has existed, has 
consisted in a gradual refinement of all these hypotheses, a develop- 
ment of their implications, and a reformulation of each to meet 
the objections urged by adherents of rival hypotheses. To learn 
to conceive the universe according to each of these systems is an 
imaginative delight and an antidote to dogmatism. Moreover, 
even if no one of the hypotheses can be demonstrated, there is 
genuine knowledge in the discovery of what is involved in making 
each of them consistent with itself and with known facts. Now 
almost all the hypotheses that have dominated modern philo- 
sophy were first thought of by the Greeks; their imaginative 
inventiveness in abstract matters can hardly be too highly praised. 
What 1 shall have to say about the Greeks will be said mainly 
from this point of view; I shall regard them as giving birth to 
theories which have had an independent life and growth, and 
which, though at first somewhat infantile, have proved capable 
of surviving and developing throughout more than two thousand 
years. 

The Greeks contributed, it is true, something else which proved 
of more permanent value to abstract thought: they discovered 
mathematics and the art of deductive reasoning. Geometry, in 

57 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

particular, is a Greek invention, without which modern science 
would have been impossible. But in connection with mathematics 
the one-sidedness of the Greek genius appears : it reasoned deduc- 
tively from what appeared self-evident, not inductively from what 
had been observed. Its amazing successes in the employment 
of this method misled not only the ancient world, but the greater 
part of the modern world also. It has only been very slowly that 
scientific method, which seeks to reach principles inductively 
from observation of particular facts, has replaced the Hellenic 
belief in deduction from luminous axioms derived from the mind 
of the philosopher. For this reason, apart from others, it is a 
mistake to treat the Greeks with superstitious reverence. Scientific 
method, though some few among them were the first men who 
had an inkling of it, is, on the whole, alien to their temper of mind, 
and the attempt to glorify them by belittling the intellectual 
progress of the last four centuries has a cramping effect upon 
modern thought. 

There is, however, a more general argument against reverence, 
whether for the Greeks or for anyone else. In studying a philo- 
sopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but 
first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know 
what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival 
of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, 
the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which hr has 
hitherto held. Contempt interferes with the first part of this 
process, and reverence with the second. Two things are to be 
remembered: that a man whose opinions and theories are worth 
studying may be presumed to have had some intelligence, but 
that no man is likely to have arrived at complete and final truth 
on any subject whatever. When an intelligent man expresses 
a view which seems to us obviously absurd, \ve should not attempt 
to prove that it is somehow true, but we should try to understand 
how it ever came to seem true. This exercise of historical and 
psychological imagination at once enlarges the scope of our 
thinking, and helps us to realize how foolish many of our own 
cherished prejudices will seem to an age which has a different 
temper of mind. 

Between Pythagoras and Heraclitus, with whom we shall be 
concerned in this chapter, there was another philosopher, of less im- 
portance, namely Xenophancs. His date is uncertain, and 's mainly 

58 



HERACLJTUS 

determined by the fact that he alludes to Pythagoras and Hera- 
clitus alludes to him. He was an Ionian by birth, but lived most 
of his life in southern Italy. He believed all things to be made 
out of earth and water. As regards the gods he was a very emphatic 
free thinker. "Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all 
things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings 
and adulteries and deccivings of one another. . . . Mortals deem 
that gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, 
and voice and form . . . yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had 
hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of 
art as men do, horses would paint the forms of gods like horses, 
and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their 
several kinds. . . . The Ethiopians make their gods black and 
snub-nosed ; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair." 
He believed in one God, unlike men in form and thoupht, who 
"without toil swayeth all things by the force of his mind." Xeno- 
phanes made fun of the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration. 
"Once, they say, he (Pythagoras) was passing by when a dog was 
being ill-treated. *Stop,' he said, 'don't hit it! It is the soul of 
a friend ! I knew it when I heard its voice/ " He believed it 
impossible to ascertain the truth in matters of theology. "The 
certain truth there is no man who knows, nor ever shall be, about 
the pods and all the things whereof I speak. Yea, even if a man 
should chance to say something utterly right, still he himself 
knows it not there is nowhere anything but guessing." 1 

Xenophanes has his place in the succession of rationalists, who 
were opposed to the mystical tendencies of Pythagoras and others, 
but as an independent thinker he is not in the first rank. 

The doctrine of Pythagoras, as we saw, is very difficult to 
disentangle from that of his disciples, and although Pythagoras 
himself is very early, the influence of his school is mainly sub- 
sequent to that of various other philosophers. The first of these 
to invent a theory which is still influential was Heraclitus, who 
flourished about 500 B.C. Of his life very little is known, except 
that he was an aristocratic citizen of Ephesus. He was chiefly 
famous in antiquity for his doctrine that everything is in a state 
of flux, but this, as we shall see, is only one aspect of his meta- 
physics. 

iieraciitus, though an Ionian, was not in the scientific tradition 

* (Juotnl from Kdwyn itevan, Stoic t an d Sceptics, Oxford, 1913, p. 121. 

59 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

of the Milesians. 1 He was a mystic, but of a peculiar kind. He 
regarded fire as the fundamental substance ; everything, like flame 
in a fire, is born by the death of something else. "Mortals are 
immortals, and immortals are mortals, the one living the other's 
death and dying the other's life." There is unity in the world, 
but it is a unity formed by the combination of opposite?. "All 
things come out of the one, and the one out of all things' 1 ; but 
the many have less reality than the one, which is God. 

From what survives of his writings he does not appear as an 
amiable character. He was much addicted to contempt, and was 
the reverse of a democrat. Concerning his fellow-citizens, he 
says: "The Kphesians would do well to hane themselves, even- 
grown man of them, and leave the city to beardless lads; for they 
have cast out Hermodorus, the best man among them, saying: 
'We will have none who is best among us; if there be any such, 
let him be so elsewhere and among others.' " He speaks ill of 
all his eminent predecessors, with a single exception. "Homer 
should be turned out of the lists and whipped." "Of all whose 
discourses I have heard, there is not one who attains to under- 
standing that wisdom is apart from all." "The learning of many 
things teachelh not understanding, else would it have taught 
Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hecataeus." 
"Pythagoras . . . claimed for his own wisdom what was but a 
knowledge of many things and an art of mischief." The one 
exception to his condemnations is Tcutamus, who is signalled 
out as "of more account than the rest." When we inquire the 
reason for this praise, we find that Tcutamus said "most men 
are bad." 

His contempt for mankind leads him to think that only force 
will compel them to act for their own good. He says: "livery beast 
is driven to the pasture with blows"; and again: "Asses would 
rather have straw than gold." 

As might be expected, Heraclitus believes in war. "War," he 
says, "is the father of all and the king of all; and some he has 
made gods and some men, some bond and some free." Again: 
"Homer was wrong in saying: * Would that strife might perish 
from among gods and men!' He did not see that he was praying 
for the destruction of the universe; for, if his prayer were heard, 

1 Comfofd, op. rit. (p. 184), ernphasixrs this, I think rightly. Herat liru 
is often misunderstood through I>CWK aasimilatrd to other lonmns. 

60 



HERACLITUS 

all things would pass away." And yet again: "We must know 
that war is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things 
come into being and pass away through strife." 

His ethic is a kind of proud asceticism, very similar to Nietzsche's, 
lie regards the soul as a mixture of fire and water, the fire being 
noble and the water ignoble. The soul that has most fire he 
calls "dry." "The dry soul is the wisest and best." "It is pleasure 
to souls to become moist." "A man, when he gets drunk, is led 
by a beardless lad, tripping, knowing not where he steps, having 
his soul moist." "It is death to souls to become water." "It is 
hard to fight with one's heart's desire. Whatever it wishes to 
get, it purchases at the cost of soul." "It is not good for men to 
get all that they wish to get." One may say that Heraclitus values 
power obtained through self-mastery, and despises the passions 
that distract men from their central ambitions. 

The attitude of Heraclitus to the religions of his time, at any 
rate the Bacchic religion, is largely hostile, but not with the 
hostility of a scientific rationalist. He has his own religion, and 
in part interprets current theology to fit his doctrine, in part 
rejects it with considerable scorn. He has been called Bacchic 
(by C'ornforti), and regarded as an interpreter of the mysteries 
(by Pfieiderer). I do not think the relevant fragments bear out 
this view. He says, for example: "The mysteries practised among 
men arc unholy mysteries/' This suggests that he had in mind 
possible mysteries that would not be "unholy," but would be 
quite different from those that existed. He would have been a 
religious reformer, if he had not been too scornful of the vulgar 
to engage in propaganda. 

The following are all the extant sayings of Heraclitus that bear 
on his attitude to the theology of his day. 

The Lord whose is the oracle of Delphi neither utters nor hides 
his meaning, but shows it by a sign. 

And the Sibyl, with raving lips uttering things mirthless, un- 
bedi/cnetl and unpei fumed, reaches over a thousand years with 
her \oice, thanks to the god in her. 

Souls smell in Hades. 

(Jieater deaths win greater portions. (Those who die them 
become gods.) 

Night-\valk(TS,*mairicians, priests of Bacchus, and priestesses of 
the wine^val, mystery-mongers. 

61 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The mysteries practised among men are unholy mysteries. 

And they pray to these images, as if one were to talk with a 
man's house, knowing not what gods or heroes are. 

For if it were not to Dionysus that they made a procession and 
sang the shameful phallic hymn, they would be acting most 
shamelessly. But Hades is the same as Dionysus in whose honour 
they go mad and keep the feast of the wine-vat. 

They vainly purify themselves by defiling themselves with 
blood, just as if one who had stepped into the mud were to wash 
his feet in mud. Any man who marked him doing this, would 
deem him mad. 

Heraclitus believed fire to be the primordial element, out of 
which everything else had arisen. Thales, the reader will remember, 
thought everything was made of water; Anaximenes thought air 
was the primitive element; Heraclitus preferred fire. At last 
Empedocles suggested a statesmanlike compromise by allowing 
four elements, earth, air, fire and water. The chemistry of the 
ancients stopped dead at this point. No further progress was made 
in this science until the Mohammedan alchemists embarked 
upon their search for the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life, 
and a method of transmuting base metals into gold. 

The metaphysics of Heraclitus are sufficiently dynamic to 
satisfy the most hustling of moderns : 

"This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men 
has made; but it was ever, is now, and ever shall be an ever-living 
Fire, with measures kindling and measures going out.*' 

"The transformations of Fire are, first of all, sea; and half of 
the sea is earth, half whirlwind." 

In such a world, perpetual change was to be expected, ami 
perpetual change was what Heraclitus believed in. 

He had, however, another doctrine on which he set even more 
store than on the perpetual flux; this was the doctrine of the 
mingling of opposites. "Men do not know," he says, "how what 
is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite 
tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre." His belief in strife 
is connected with this theory, for in strife opposites combine to 
produce a motion which is a harmony. There is a unity in the 
world, but it is a unity resulting from diversity: 

"Couples are things whole and things not whole, what is drawn 
together and what is drawn asunder, the harmonious an^I the dis- 

62 



HERACLITUS 

cordant. The one is made up of all things, and all things issue 
from the one." 

Sometimes he speaks as if the unity were more fundamental 
than the diversity : 

"Good and ill are one/ 1 

"To God all things are fair and good and right, but men hold 
some things wrong and some right." 

"The way up and the way down is one and the same." 

"God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, 
surfeit and hunger; but he takes various shapes, just as fire, when 
it is mingled with spices, is named according to the savour of each." 

Nevertheless, there would be no unity if there were not opposites 
to combine: "it is the opposite which is good for us." 

This doctrine contains the germ of Hegel's philosophy, which 
proceeds by a synthcsi/ing of opposites. 

The metaphysics of Ileraclitus, like that of Anaximander, is 
dominated by a conception of cosmic justice, which prevents the 
strife of opposites from ever issuing in the complete victory of 
cither. 

"All things are an exchange for Fire, and Fire for all things, 
even as wares for gold and gold for wares." 

"Fire lives the death of air, and air lives the death of fire; water 
lives the death of earth, earth that of water." 

"The sun will not overstep his measures ; if he does, the Erinyes, 
the handmaids of Justice, will find him out." 

"We must know that war is common to all, and strife is justice." 

Ileraclitus repeatedly speaks of "God" as distinct from "the 
gods." "The way of man has no wisdom, but that of God has. . . . 
Man is called a baby by God, even as a child by a man. . . . The 
wisest man is an ape compared to God, just as the most beautiful 
ape is ugly compared to man." 

God, no doubt, is the embodiment of cosmic justice. 

The doctrine that everything is in a state of flux is the most 
famous of the opinions of Ileraclitus, and the one most emphasized 
by his disciples, as described in Plato's Theaetetus. 

"You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters 
are ever flowing in upon you." 1 

"The sun is ne^w every day." 

1 But cf. *'\Ve step and do not step into the same rivers: we are, and 
are not/' * 

63 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

His belief in universal change is commonly supposed to have 
been expressed in the phrase "all things are flowing/ 1 but this is 
probably apocryphal, like Washington's "Father, I cannot tell a 
lie" and Wellington's "Up Guards and at 'em." His words, like 
those of all the philosophers before Plato, are only known through 
quotations, largely made by Plato or Aristotle for the sake of 
refutation. When one thinks what would become of any modern 
philosopher if he were only known through the polemics of his 
rivals, one can see how admirable the pre-Socratics must have 
been, since even through the mist of malice spread by their 
enemies they still appear great. However this may be, Plato and 
Aristotle agree that Heraclitus taught that "nothing ever is, 
everything is becoming" (Plato), and that "nothing steadfastly is" 
(Aristotle). 

I shall return to the consideration of this doctrine in connection 
with Plato, who is much concerned to refute it. For the present, I 
shall not investigate what philosophy has to say about it, but 
only what the poets have felt and the men of science have taught. 

The search for something permanent is one of the deepest of 
the instincts leading men to philosophy. It is derived, no doubt, 
from love of home and desire for a refuge from danger; we find, 
accordingly, that it is most passionate in those whose lives are 
most exposed to catastrophe. Religion seeks permanence in two 
forms, God and immortality. In God is no variableness neither 
shadow of turning; the life after death is eternal and unchanging. 
The cheerfulness of the nineteenth century turned men against 
these static conceptions, and modern liberal theology believes 
that there is progress in heaven and evolution in the Godhead. 
But even in this conception there is something permanent, namely 
progress itself and its immanent goal. And a dose of disaster is 
likely to bring men's hopes back to their older super-terrestrial 
forms: if life on earth is despaired of, it is only in heaven that 
peace can be sought. 

The poets have lamented the power of Time to sweep away 
every object of their love. 

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth, 
And delves the parallels in beauty 'a brow, 
Feeds on the rarities of nature's trurn, 
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow. 



HERACLITUS 

They generally add that their own verses are indestructible: 

And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand. 
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. 

But this is only a conventional literary conceit. 

Philosophically inclined mystics, unable to deny that whatever 
is in time is transitory, have invented a conception of eternity as 
not persistence through endless time, but existence outside the 
whole temporal process. Eternal life, according to some theologians, 
for example, Dean Inge, does not mean existence throughout 
every moment of future time, but a mode of being wholly inde- 
pendent of time, in which there is no before and after, and there- 
fore no logical possibility of change. This view has been poetically 
expressed by Vaughan : 

I saw Eternity the other night, 
Like a great ring of pure and endless light, 

All calm, as it was bright; 
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years, 

Driven by the spheres 
Like a vast shadow moved ; in which the world 

And all her train were hurled. 

Several of the most famous systems of philosophy have tried 
to state this conception in sober prose, as expressing what reason, 
patiently pursued, will ultimately compel us to believe. 

Heraclitus himself, for all his belief in change, allowed something 
everlasting. The conception of eternity (as opposed to endless 
duration), which comes from Parmenides, is not to be found in 
Heraclitus, but in his philosophy the central fire never dies: the 
world "was ever, is now, and ever shall be, an ever-living Fire/' 
But fire is something continually changing, and its permanence is 
rather that of a process than that of a substance though this view 
should not be attributed to Heraclitus. 

Science, like philosophy, has sought to escape from the doctrine 
of perpetual flux by finding some permanent substratum amid 
changing phenomena. Chemistry seemed to satisfy this desire. It 
was found that fire, which appears to destroy, only transmutes: 
elements are recombined, but each atom that existed before com- 
bustion still exists when the process is completed. Accordingly it 
was supposed that atoms arc indestructible, and that all change 
in the physical world consists merely in re-arrangement of per- 

65 C 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

sistent elements. This view prevailed until the discovery of radio- 
activity, when it was found that atoms could disintegrate. 

Nothing daunted, the physicists invented new and smaller units 
called electrons and protons, out of which atoms were composed ; 
and these units were supposed, for a few years, to have the in- 
destructibility formerly attributed to atoms. Unfortunately it 
seemed that protons and electrons could meet and explode, 
forming, not new matter, but a wave of energy spreading through 
the universe with the velocity of light. Energy had to replace 
matter as what is permanent. But energy, unlike matter, is not a 
refinement of the common-sense notion of a "thing"; it is merely 
a characteristic of physical processes. It might be fancifully 
identified with the Heraclitean Fire, but it is the burning, not 
what burns. "What burns" has disappeared from modern physics. 

Passing from the small to the large, astronomy no longer allows 
us to regard the heavenly bodies as everlasting. The planets came 
out of the sun, and the sun came out of a nebula. It has lasted 
some time, and will last some time longer; but sooner or later 
probably in about a million million years it will explode, destroy- 
ing all the planets. So at least the astronomers say; perhaps as 
the fatal day draws nearer they will find some mistake in their 
calculations. 

The doctrine of the perpetual flux, as taught by Heraclitus, is 
painful, and science, as we have seen, can do nothing to refute it. 
One of the main ambitions of philosophers has been to revive 
hopes that science seemed to have killed. Philosophers, accordingly, 
have sought, with great persistence, for something not subject to 
the empire of Time. This search begins with Parmenidcs. 



Chapter V 
PARMENIDES 

THE Greeks were not addicted to moderation, cither in 
their theories or in their practice. Heraclitus maintained 
that everything changes; Parmenides retorted that nothing 
changes. 

Parmenides was a native of Elea, in the south of Italy, and 
flourished in the first half of the fifth century B.C. According to 
Plato, Socrates in his youth (say about the year 450 B.C.) had an 
interview with Parmenides, then an old man, and learnt much 
from him. Whether or not this interview is historical, we may at 
least infer, what is otherwise evident, that Plato himself was 
influenced by the doctrines of Parmenides. The south Italian and 
Sicilian philosophers were more inclined to mysticism and religion 
than those of Ionia, who were on the whole scientific and sceptical 
in their tendencies. But mathematics, under the influence of 
Pythagoras, flourished more in Magna Graecia than in Ionia; 
mathematics at that time, however, was entangled with mysticism. 
Parmenides was influenced by Pythagoras, but the extent of this 
influence is conjectural. What makes Parmenides historically 
important is that he invented a form of metaphysical argument 
that, in one form or another, is to be found in most subsequent 
metaphysicians down to and including Hegel. He is often said to 
liave invented logic, but what he really invented was metaphysics 
based on logic. 

The doctrine of Parmenides was set forth in a poem On Nature. 
He considered the senses deceptive, and condemned the multitude 
of sensible things as mere illusion. The only true being is "the 
One/' which is infinite and indivisible. It is not, as in Heraclitus, 
a union of opposites, since there are no opposites. He apparently 
thought, for instance, that "cold" means only "not hot," and 
"dark" means only "not light." "The One" is not conceived by 
Parmenides as we conceive God ; he seems to think of it as material 
and extended, for he speaks of it as a sphere. But it cannot be 
divided, because the whole of it is present everywhere. 

Parmenides dk'ides his teaching into two parts, called respec- 
tively "the way of truth" and "the way of opinion." We need not 

67 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

sistent elements. This view prevailed until the discovery of radio- 
activity, when it was found that atoms could disintegrate. 

Nothing daunted, the physicists invented new and smaller units, 
called electrons and protons, out of which atoms were composed ; 
and these units were supposed, for a few years, to have die in- 
destructibility formerly attributed to atoms. Unfortunately it 
seemed that protons and electrons could meet and explode, 
forming, not new matter, but a wave of energy spreading through 
the universe with the velocity of light. Energy had to replace 
matter as what is permanent. But energy, unlike matter, is not a 
refinement of the common-sense notion of a "thing"; it is merely 
a characteristic of physical processes. It might be fancifully 
identified with the Heraclitean Fire, but it is the burning, not 
what burns. "What burns" has disappeared from modern physics. 

Passing from the small to the large, astronomy no longer allows 
us to regard the heavenly bodies as everlasting. The planets came 
out of the sun, and the sun came out of a nebula. It has lasted 
some time, and will last some time longer; but sooner or later 
probably in about a million million years it will explode, destroy- 
ing all the planets. So at least the astronomers say; perhaps as 
the fatal day draws nearer they will find some mistake in their 
calculations. 

The doctrine of the perpetual flux, as taught by Heraclitus, is 
painful, and science, as we have seen, can do nothing to refute it. 
One of the main ambitions of philosophers has been to revive 
hopes that science seemed to have killed. Philosophers, accordingly, 
have sought, with great persistence, for something not subject to 
the empire of Time. This search begins with Parmenides. 



66 



Chapter V 
PARMENIDES 

THE Greeks were not addicted to moderation, either in 
their theories or in their practice. Heraclitus maintained 
that everything clianges; Parmenides retorted that nothing 
changes. 

Parmenides was a native of Elea, in the south of Italy, and 
flourished in the first half of the fifth century B.C. According to 
Plato, Socrates in his youth (say about the year 450 B.C.) had an 
interview with Parmenides, then an old man, and learnt much 
from him. Whether or not this interview is historical, we may at 
least infer, what is otherwise evident, that Plato himself was 
influenced by the doctrines of Parmenides. The south Italian and 
Sicilian philosophers were more inclined to mysticism and religion 
than those of Ionia, who were on the whole scientific and sceptical 
in their tendencies. But mathematics, under the influence of 
Pythagoras, flourished more in Magna Graecia than in Ionia; 
mathematics at that time, however, was entangled with mysticism. 
Parmenides was influenced by Pythagoras, but the extent of this 
influence is conjectural. What makes Parmenides historically 
important is that he invented a form of metaphysical argument 
that, in one form or another, is to be found in most subsequent 
metaphysicians down to and including Hegel. He is often said to 
have invented logic, but what he really invented was metaphysics 
based on logic. 

The doctrine of Parmenides was set forth in a poem On Nature, 
lie considered the senses deceptive, and condemned the multitude 
of sensible things as mere illusion. The only true being is "the 
One, 1 ' which is infinite and indivisible. It is not, as in Heraclitus, 
a union of opposites, since there are no opposites. He apparently 
thought, for instance, that "cold" means only "not hot," and 
"dark" means only "not light." "The One" is not conceived by 
Parmenides as we conceive God ; he seems to think of it as material 
and extended, for he speaks of it as a sphere. But it cannot be 
divided, because the whole of it is present everywhere. 

Parmenides divides his teaching into two parts, called respec- 
tively "the way of truth 19 and "the way of opinion." We need not 

6? 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

concern ourselves with the latter. What he says about the way of 
truth, so far as it has survived, is, in its essential points, as 
follows: 

"Thou canst not know what is not that is impossible nor 
utter it; for it is the same thing that can be thought and that 
can be." 

"How, then, can what is be going to be in the future? Or how 
could it come into being? If it came into being, it is not; nor is it 
if it is going to be in the future. Thus is becoming extinguished and 
passing away not to be heard of. 

"The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which 
the thought exists is the same ; for you cannot find thought without 
something that is, as to which it is uttered." 1 

The essence of this argument is: When you think, you think of 
something; when you use a name, it must be the name of some- 
thing. Therefore both thought and language require objects out- 
side themselves. And since you can think of a thing or speak of it 
at one time as well as at another, whatever can be thought of or 
spoken of must exist at all times. Consequently there can be no 
change, since change consists in things coming into being or 
ceasing to be. 

This is the first example in philosophy of an argument from 
thought and language to the world at large. It cannot of course 
be accepted as valid, but it is worth while to see what element of 
truth it contains. 

We can put the argument in this way: if language is not just 
nonsense, words must mean something, and in general they must 
not mean just other words, but something that is there whether 
we talk of it or not. Suppose, for example, that you talk of George 
Washington. Unless there were a historical person who had that 
name, the name (it would seem) would be meaningless, and 
sentences containing the name would be nonsense. Parmenides 
maintains that not only must George Washington have existed in 
the past, but in some sense he must still exist, since we can still 
use his name significantly. This seems obviously untrue, but 
how are we to get round the argument ? 
Let us take an imaginary person, say Hamlet. Consider the 

1 Burnet'i note : "The meaning, I think, it this. 4 . . There can be 
no thought corresponding to a name that i not the name of something 
real." ' 

68 



PARMENIDES 

statement "Hamlet was Prince of Denmark." In some sense this 
is true, but not in the plain historical sense. The true statement is 
"Shakespeare says that Hamlet was Prince of Denmark," or, more 
explicitly, "Shakespeare says there was a Princ'e of Denmark 
called 'Hamlet.' " Here there is no longer anything imaginary. 
Shakespeare and Denmark and the noise "Hamlet" are all real, 
but the noise "Hamlet" is not really a name, since nobody is really 
called "Hamlet." If you say " 'Hamlet* is the name of an imaginary 
person," that is not strictly correct; you ought to say "It is ima- 
gined that 'Hamlet' is the name of a real person." 

Hamlet is an imagined individual; unicorns are an imagined 
species. Some sentences in which the word "unicorn" occurs are 
true, and some are false, but in each case not directly. Consider 
"a unicorn has one horn" and "a cow has two horns." To prove 
the latter, you have to lopk at a cow ; it is not enough to say that 
in some book cows are said to have two horns. But the evidence 
that unicorns have one horn is only to be found in books, and in 
fact the correct statement is: "Certain books assert that there are 
animals with one horn called 'unicorns/ " All statements about 
unicorns are really about the word "unicorn," just as all statements 
about Hamlet are really about the word "Hamlet." 

But it is obvious that, in most cases, we are not speaking of 
words, but of what the words mean. And this brings us back to 
the argument of Parmenides, that if a word can be used signifi- 
cantly it must mean something, not nothing, and therefore what 
the word means must in some sense exist. 

What, then, are we to say about George Washington ? It seems 
we have only two alternatives: one is to say that he still exists; the 
other is to say that, when we use the words "George Washington," 
we are not really speaking of the man who bore that name. Either 
seems a paradox, but the latter is less of a paradox, and I shall 
try to show a sense in which it is true. 

Parmenides assumes that words have a constant meaning; this 
is really the basis of his argument, which he supposes unquestion- 
able. But although the dictionary or the encyclopaedia gives what 
may be called the official and socially sanctioned meaning of a 
word, no two people who use the same word have just the same 
thought in their minds. 

George Washington himself could use his name and the word 
"I" as synonyms. He could perceive his own thoughts and the 

69 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

movements of his body, and could therefore use his name with a 
fuller meaning than was possible for any one else. His friends, 
when in his presence, could perceive the movements of his body, 
and could divine his thoughts; to them, the name "George 
Washington" still denoted something concrete in their own 
experience. After his death they had to substitute memories for 
perceptions, which involved a change in the mental processes 
taking place when they used his name. For us, who never knew 
him, the mental processes are again different. We may think of 
his picture, and say to ourselves "yes, that man." We may think 
"the first President of the United States." If we are very ignorant, 
he may be to us merely "The man who was called * George 
Washington.' " Whatever the name suggests to us, it must be not 
the man himself, since we never knew him, but something now 
present to sense or memory or thought. This shows the fallacy of 
the argument of Parmenides. 

This perpetual change in the meanings of words is concealed 
by the fact that, in general, the change nukes no difference to the 
truth or falsehood of the propositions in which the words occur. 
If you take any true sentence in which the name "George Washing- 
ton" occurs, it will, as a rule, remain true if you substitute the 
phrase "the first President of the United States." There are ex- 
ceptions to this rule. Before Washington's election, a man might 
say "I hope George Washington will be the first President of the 
United States," but he would not say "I hope the first President 
of the United States will be the first President of the United 
States" unless he had an unusual passion for the law of identity. 
But it is easy to make a rule for excluding these exceptional cases, 
and in those that remain you may substitute for "George Washing- 
ton" any descriptive phrase that applies to him alone. And it is 
only by means of such phrases that we know what we know about 
him. 

Parmenides contends that, since we can now know what is com- 
monly regarded as past, it cannot really be past, but must, in some 
sense, exist now. Hence he infers that there is no such thing as 
change. What we have been saying about George Washington 
meets this argument. It may be said, in a sense, that we have no 
knowledge of the past. When you recollect, the recollection occurs 
now, and is not identical with the event recollected. But the re- 
collection affords a description of the past event, and for most 



PARMENIOES 

practical purposes it is unnecessary to distinguish between the 
description and what it describes. 

This whole argument shows how easy it is to draw metaphysical 
conclusions from language, and how the only way to avoid 
fallacious arguments of this kind is to push the logical and psy- 
chological study of language further than has been done by most 
metaphysicians. 

I think, however, that, if Parmenides could return from the dead 
and read what I have been saying, he would regard it as very super- 
ficial. "How do you know," he would ask, "that your statements 
about George Washington refer to a past time? By your own 
account, the direct reference is to things now present; your recol- 
lections, for instance, happen now, not at the time that you think 
you recollect. If memory is to be accepted as a source of knowledge, 
the past must be before the mind now, and must therefore in some 
sense still exist/' 

I will not attempt to meet this argument now ; it requires a dis- 
cussion of memory, which is a difficult subject. I have put the 
argument here to remind the reader that philosophical theories, 
if they are important, can generally be revived in a new form after 
being refuted as originally stated. Refutations are seldom final; 
in most cases, they are only a prelude to further refinements. 

What subsequent philosophy, down to quite modern times, 
accepted from Parmenides. was not the impossibility of all change, 
which was too violent a paradox, but the indestructibility of sub- 
it once. The word "substance" did not occur in his immediate 
successors, but the concept is already present in their speculations. 
A substance was supposed to be the persistent subject of varying 
predicates. As such it became, and remained for more than two 
thousand years, one of the fundamental concepts of philosophy, 
psychology, physics, and theology. I shall have much to say about 
it at a later stage. For the present, I am merely concerned to note 
that it was introduced as a way of doing justice to the arguments 
of Parmenides without denying obvious facts. 



Chapter VI 
EMPEDOCLES 

E IHE mixture of philosopher, prophet, man of science, and 
I charlatan, which we found already in Pythagoras, was ex- 
JL emplified very completely in Empedocles, who flourished 
about 440 B.C., and was thus a younger contemporary of Par- 
menides, though his doctrine had in some ways more affinity with 
that of Heraclitus. He was a citizen of Acragas, on the south coast 
of Sicily; he was a democratic politician, who at the same time 
claimed to be a god. In most Greek cities, and especially in those 
of Sicily, there was a constant conflict between democracy and 
tyranny; the leaders of whichever party was at the moment 
defeated were executed or exiled. Those who were exiled seldom 
scrupled to enter into negotiations with the enemies of Greece 
Persia in the East, Carthage in the West. Empedocles, in due 
course, was banished, but he appears, after his banishment, to 
have preferred the career of a sage to that of an intriguing refugee. 
It seems probable that in youth he was more or less Orphic ; that 
before his exile he combined politics and science; and that it 
was only in later life, as an exile, that he became a prophet. 

Legend had much to say about Empedocles. He was supposed 
to have worked miracles, or what seemed such, sometimes by 
magic, sometimes by means of his scientific knowledge. He could 
control the winds, we are told; he restored to life a woman who 
had seemed dead for thirty days; finally, it is said, he died by 
leaping into the crater of Etna to prove that he was a god. In the 
words of the poet : 

Great Empedocles, that ardent soul, 
Leapt into Etna, and was roasted whole. 

Matthew Arnold wrote a poem on this subject, but, although one 
of his worst, it does not contain the above couplet. 

Like Parmenides, Empedocles wrote in verse. Lucretius, who 
was influenced by him, praised him highly as a poet, but on this 
subject opinions were divided. Since only fragments of his writings 
have survived, his poetic merit must remain in doubt. 

It is necessary to deal separately with his science and his religion, 

72 



BMPEDOCLBS 

as they are not consistent with each other. I shall consider first 
his science, then his philosophy, and finally his religion. 

His most important contribution to science was his discovery of 
air as a separate substance. This he proved by the observation that 
when a bucket or any similar vessel is put upside down into water, 
the water does not enter into the bucket. He says: 

"When a girl, playing with a water-clock of shining brass, puts 
the orifice of the pipe upon her comely hand, and dips the water- 
clock into the yielding mass of silvery water, the stream does not 
then flow into the vessel, but the bulk of the air inside, pressing 
upon the close-packed perforations, keeps it out till she uncovers 
the compressed stream ; but then air escapes and an equal volume 
of water runs in." 

This passage occurs in an explanation of respiration. 

He also discovered at least one example of centrifugal force: 
that if a cup of water is whirled round at the end of a string, the 
water does not come out. 

He knew that there is sex in plants, and he had a theory (some- 
what fantastic, it must be admitted) of evolution and the survival 
of the fittest. Originally, "countless tribes of mortal creatures were 
scattered abroad endowed with all manner of forms, a wonder to 
behold." There were heads without necks, arms without shoulders, 
eyes without foreheads, solitary limbs seeking for union. These 
things joined together as each might chance ; there were shambling 
creatures with countless hands, creatures with faces and breasts 
looking in different directions, creatures with the bodies of oxen 
and the faces of men, and others with the faces of oxen and the 
bodies of men. There were hermaphrodites combining the natures 
of men and women, but sterile. In the end, only certain forms 
survived. 

As regards astronomy: he knew that the moon shines by re- 
flected light, and thought that this is also true of the sun; he said 
that light takes time to travel, but so little time that we cannot 
observe it; he knew that solar eclipses are caused by the inter- 
position of the moon, a fact which he seems to have learnt from 
Anaxagoras. 

He was the founder of the Italian school of medicine, and the 
medical school which sprang from him influenced both Plato and 
Aristotle. According to Burnet (p. 234), it affected the whole 
tendency pf scientific and philosophical thinking. 

73 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

All this shows the scientific vigour of his time, which was not 
equalled in the later ages of Greece. 

I come now to his cosmology. It was he, as already mentioned, 
who established earth, air, fire, and water as the four elements 
(though the word "element" was not used by him). Each of these 
was everlasting, but they could be mixed in different proportions 
and thu produce the changing complex substances that we find 
in the world. They were combined by Love and separated by 
Strife. Love and Strife were, for Empedocles, primitive substances 
on a level with earth, air, fire, and water. There were periods when 
Love was in the ascendant, and others when Strife was the stronger. 
There had been a golden age when Love was completely vic- 
torious. In that age, men worshipped only the Cyprian Aphrodite 
(fr. 128). The changes in the world are not governed by any 
purpose, but only by Chance and Necessity. There is a cycle: 
when the elements have been thoroughly mixed by Love, Strife 
gradually sorts them out again; when Strife has separated them, 
Love gradually reunites them. Thus even- compound substance 
is temporary; only the elements, together with Love and Strife, 
are everlasting. 

There is a similarity to Heraclitus, but a softening, since it is 
not Strife alone, but Strife and Love together, that produce 
change. Plato couples Heraclitus and Empedocles in the 
Sophist (242): 

There are Ionian, and in more recent time Sicilian, muses, who 
have arrived at the conclusion that to unite the two principles (of 
the One and the Many), is safer, and to say that being is one and 
many, and that these are held together by enmity and friendship, 
ever parting, ever meeting, as the severer Muses assert, while the 
gentler ones do not insist on the perpetual strife and peace, but 
admit a relaxation and alternation of them; peace and unity 
sometimes prevailing under the sway of Aphrodite, and then 
again plurality and war, by reason of a principle of strife. 

Empedocles held that the material world is a sphere ; that in the 
Golden Age Strife was outside and Love inside ; then, gradually, 
Strife entered and Love was expelled, until, at the worst, Strife 
will be wholly within and Love wholly without the sphere. Then 
though for what reason is not clear an opposite movement 
begins, until the Golden Age returns, but not for ever. The whole 
cycle is then repeated. One might have supposed \hat either 

74 



EMPEDOCLES 

extreme could be stable, but that is not the view of Empedocles. 
He wished to explain motion while taking account of the argu- 
ments of Parmenides, and he had no wish to arrive, at any stage, 
at an unchanging universe. 

The views of Empedocles on religion are, in the main, Pytha- 
gorean. In a fragment which, in all likelihood, refers to Pythagoras, 
he says: "There was among them a man of rare knowledge, most 
skilled in all manner of wise works, a man who had won the 
utmost wealth of wisdom ; for whensoever he strained with all his 
mind, he easily saw everything of all the things that are, in ten, 
yea twenty lifetimes of men." In the Golden Age, as already 
mentioned, men worshipped only Aphrodite, "and the altar did 
not reek with pure bull's blood, but this was held in the greatest 
abomination among men, to eat the goodly limbs after tearing out 
the life." 

At one time he speaks of himself exuberantly as a god: 

Friends, that inhabit the great city looking down on the yellow 
rock of Acragas, up by the citadel, busy in goodly works, harbour 
of honour for the stranger, men unskilled in meanness, all hail. I 
go about among you an immortal god, no mortal now, honoured 
among all as is meet, crowned with fillets and flowery garlands. 
Straightway, whenever I enter with these in my train, both men 
and women, into the flourishing towns, is reverence done me; they 
go after me in countless throngs, asking of me what is the way to 
gain; some desiring oracles, while some, who for many a weary 
day have been pierced by the grievous pangs of all manner 
of sickness, beg to hear from me the word of healing. . . . But why 
do I harp on these things, as if it were any great matter that I 
should surpass mortal, perishable men?" 

At another time he feels himself a great sinner, undergoing 
expiation for his impiety: 

There is an oracle of Necessity, an ancient ordinance of the gods, 
eternal and sealed fast by broad oaths, that whenever one of the 
daemons, whose portion is length of days, has sinfully polluted his 
hands with blood, or followed strife and forsworn himself, he 
must wander thrice ten thousand years from the abodes of the 
blessed, being born throughout the time in all manners of mortal 
forms, changing jme toilsome path of life for another. For the 
mighty Air drives him into the Sea, and the Sea spews him forth 
upon the. dry Earth; Earth tosses him into the beams of the 

75 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

blazing Sun, and he flings him back to the eddies of Air. One takes 
him from the other, and all reject him. One of these I now am, 
an exile and a wanderer from the gods, for that I put my trust 
in an insensate strife. 

What his sin had been, we do not know; perhaps nothing that 
we should think very grievous. For he says : 

"Ah, woe is me that the pitiless day of death did not destroy 
me ere ever I wrought evil deeds of devouring with my lips 1 ... 

"Abstain wholly from laurel leaves . . . 

"Wretches, utter wretches, keep your hands from beans!" 

So perhaps he had done nothing worse than munching laurel 
leaves or guzzling beans. 

The most famous passage in Plato, in which he compares this 
world to a cave, in which we sec only shadows of the realities in 
the bright world above, is anticipated by Empedoclcs; its origin 
is in the teaching of the Orphics. 

There are some presumably those who abstain from sin 
through many incarnations who at last achieve immortal bliss 
in the company of the gods : 

But at the last, they 1 appear among mortal men as prophets, 
song-writers, physicians, and princes ; and thence they rise up as 
gods exalted in honour, sharing the hearth of the other gods and 
the same table, free from human woes, safe from destiny, and in- 
capable of hurt. 

In all this, it would seem, there is very little that was not already 
contained in the teaching of Orphism and Pythagoreanism. 

The originality of Empedocies, outside science, consists in the 
doctrine of the four elements, and in the use of the two principles 
of Love and Strife to explain change. 

He rejected monism, and regarded the course of nature as 
regulated by chance and necessity rather than by purpose. In 
these respects his philosophy was more scientific than those of 
Parmenides, Plato, and Aristotle. In other respects, it is true, he 
acquiesced in current superstitions; but in this he was no worse 
than many more recent men of science. 

1 It does not appear who "they" are, but one may assume that they are 
those who have preserved purity. 



Chapter VII 
ATHENS IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

E 1 1HE greatness of Athens begins at the time of the two 
I Persian wars (490 B.C. and 480-79 B.C.). Before that time, 

JL Ionia and Magna Graecia (the Greek cities of south Italy 
and Sicily) produced the great men. The victory of Athens against 
the Persian king Darius at Marathon (490), and of the combined 
Greek fleets against his son and successor Xerxes (480) under 
Athenian leadership, gave Athens great prestige. The lonians in 
the islands and on part of the mainland of Asia Minor had rebelled 
against Persia, and their liberation was effected by Athens after 
the Persians had been driven from the mainland of Greece. In 
this operation the Spartans, who cared only about their own 
territory, took no part. Thus Athens became the predominant 
partner in an alliance against Persia. By the constitution of the 
alliance, any constituent State was bound to contribute either a 
specified number of ships, or the cost of them. Most chose the 
latter, and thus Athens acquired naval supremacy over the other 
allies, and gradually transformed the alliance into an Athenian 
Empire. Athens became rich, and prospered under the wise 
leadership of Pericles, who governed, by the free choice of the 
citizens, for about thirty years, until his fall in 430 B.C. 

The age of Pericles was the happiest and most glorious time in 
the history of Athens. Aeschylus, who had fought in the Persian 
wars, inaugurated Greek tragedy; one of his tragedies, the Persae, 
departing from the custom of choosing Homeric subjects, deals 
with the defeat of Xerxes. He was quickly followed by Sophocles, 
and Sophocles by Euripides. Both extend into the dark days of the 
Peloponnesian War that followed the fall and death of Pericles* 
and Euripides reflects in his plays the scepticism of the later 
period. His contemporary Aristophanes, the comic poet, makes 
fun of all isms from the standpoint of robust and limited common 
sense; more particularly, he holds up Socrates to obloauv as one 
who denies the existence of Zeus and dabbles in 
scientific mysteries. 

Athens had Mfen captured by Xerxes, ar 
Acropoli^ had been destroyed by fire. Peric 

77 



'' WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

their reconstruction. The Parthenon and the other temples whose 
ruins remain to impress our age were built by him. Pheidias the 
sculptor was employed by the State to make colossal statues of 
gods and goddesses. At the end of this period, Athens was the 
most beautiful and splendid city of the Hellenic world. 

Herodotus, the father of history, was a native of Halicarnassus, 
in Asia Minor, but lived in Athens, was encouraged by the 
Athenian State, and wrote his account of the Persian wars from 
the Athenian point of view. 

The achievements of Athens in the time of Pericles are perhaps 
the most astonishing thing in all history. Until that time, Athens 
had lagged behind many other Greek cities ; neither in art nor in 
literature had it produced any great man (except Solon, who was 
primarily a lawgiver). Suddenly, under the stimulus of victory 
and wealth and the need of reconstruction, architects, sculptors, 
and dramatists, who remain unsurpassed to the present day, pro- 
duced works which dominated the future down to modern times. 
This is the more surprising when we consider the smallness of 
the population involved. Athens at its maximum, about 430 B.C., 
is estimated to have numbered about 230,000 (including slaves), 
and the surrounding territory of rural Attica probably contained 
a rather smaller population. Never before or since has anything 
approaching the same proportion of the inhabitants of any area 
shown itself capable of work of the highest excellence. 

In philosophy, Athens contributes only two great names, 
Socrates and Plato. Plato belongs to a somewhat later period, but 
Socrates passed his youth and early manhood under Pericles. The 
Athenians were sufficiently interested in philosophy to listen 
eagerly to teachers from other cities. The Sophists were sought 
after by young men who wished to torn the art of disputation; 
in the Protagoras, the Platonic Socrates gives an amusing satirical 
description of the ardent disciple** hanging on the words of the 
eminent visitor. Pericles, as we shall see, imported Anaxagoras, 
from whom Socrates professed to have learned the pre-eminence 
of mind in creation. 

Most of Plato's dialogues are supposed by him to take place 
during the time of Pericles, and they give an agreeable picture of 
life among the rich. Plato belonged to an aristocratic Athenian 
family, and grew up in the tradition of the perioil before war and 
democracy had destroyed the wealth and security of the upper 

78 



ATHENS IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

classes. His young men, who have no need to work, spend most 
of their leisure in the pursuit of science and mathematics and 
philosophy; they know Homer almost by heart, and are critical 
judges of the merits of professional reciters of poetry. The art 
of deductive reasoning had been lately discovered, and afforded 
the excitement of new theories, both true and false, over the whole 
field of knowledge. It was possible in that age, as in few others, 
to be both intelligent and happy, and happy through intelligence. 

But the balance of forces which produced this golden age was 
precarious. It was threatened both from within and from without 
from within by the democracy, and from without by Sparta. 
To understand what happened after Pericles, we must consider 
briefly the earlier history of Attica. 

Attica, at the beginning of the historical period, was a self- 
supporting little agricultural region; Athens, its capital, was not 
large, but contained a growing population of artisans and skilled 
artificers who desired to dispose of their produce abroad. Gradually 
it was found more profitable to cultivate vines and olives rather 
than grain, and to import grain, chiefly from the coast of the 
Black Sea. This form of cultivation required more capital than 
the cultivation of grain, and the small farmers got into debt. 
Attica, like other Greek states, had been a monarchy in the 
Homeric age, but the king became a merely religious official 
without political power. The government fell into the hands of 
the aristocracy, who oppressed both the country farmers and the 
urban artisans. A compromise in the direction of democracy was 
effected by Solon early in the sixth century, and much of his work 
survived through a subsequent period of tyranny under Peisistratus 
and his sons. When this period came to an end, the aristocrats, 
as the opponents of tyranny, were able to recommend themselves 
to the democracy. Until the fall of Pericles, democratic processes 
gave power to the aristocracy, as in nineteenth-century England. 
But towards the end of his life the leaders of the Athenian demo- 
cracy began to demand a larger share of political power. At the 
same time, his imperialist policy, with which the economic pros- 
perity of Athens was bound up, caused increasing friction with 
Sparta, leading at last to the Peloponnesian War (431-404), in 
which Athens was completely defeated. 

In spile of political collapse, the prestige of Athens survived, 

and throughout almost a millennium philosophy was centred there. 



79 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Alexandria eclipsed Athens in mathematics and science, but Plato 
and Aristotle had made Athens philosophically supreme. The 
Academy, where Plato had taught, survived all other schools, and 
persisted, as an island of paganism, for two centuries after the 
conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. At last, in 
A.D. 529, it was closed by Justinian because of his religious bigotry, 
and the Dark Ages descended upon Europe. 



80 



Chapter VIII 
ANAXAGORAS 

P | IHE philosopher Anaxagoras, though not the equal of 

I Pythagoras, Heraclitus, or Parmenides, has nevertheless 

JL a considerable historical importance. He was an Ionian, 

and carried on the scientific, rationalist tradition of Ionia. He was 

the first to introduce philosophy to the Athenians, and the first 

to suggest mind as the primary cause of physical changes. 

He was born at Clazomenae, in Ionia, about the year 500 B.C., 
but he spent about thirty years of his life in Athens, approximately 
from 462 to 432 B.C. He was probably induced to come by Pericles, 
who was bent on civilizing his fellow-townsmen. Perhaps Aspasia, 
who came from Miletus, introduced him to Pericles. Plato, in the 
Phaedrus, says : 

Pericles "fell in, it seems with Anaxagoras, who was a scientific 
man ; and satiating himself with the theory of things on high, and 
having attained to a knowledge of the true nature of intellect and 
folly, which were just what the discourses of Anaxagoras were 
mainly about, he drew from that source whatever was of a nature 
to further him in the art of speech." 

It is said that Anaxagoras also influenced Euripides, but this 
is more doubtful. 

'l*hc citizens of Athens, like those of other cities in other ages 
and continents, showed a certain hostility to those who attempted 
to introduce a higher level of culture than that to which they were 
accustomed. When Pericles was growing old, his opponents began 
a campaign against him by attacking his friends. They accused 
Phcidias of embezzling some of the gold that was to be employed 
on his statues. They passed a law permitting impeachment of 
those who did not practise religion and taught theories about "the 
things on high." Under this law, they prosecuted Anaxagoras, 
who was accused of teaching that the sun was a red-hot stone 
and the moon was earth. (The same accusation was repeated by 
the prosecutors of Socrates, who made fun of them for being out 
of date.) What happened is not certain, except that Anaxagoras 
had to leave Athens. It seems probable that Pericles got him out 

81 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

of prison and managed to get him away. He returned to Ionia, 
where he founded a school. In accordance with his will, the 
anniversary of his death was kept as a schoolchildren 's holiday. 

Anaxagoras held that everything is infinitely divisible, and that 
even the smallest portion of matter contains some of each element. 
Things appear to be that of which they contain most. Thus, for 
example, everything contains some fire, but we only call it fire if 
that element preponderates. Like Empedocles, he argues against 
the void, saying that the clepsydra or an inflated skin shows that 
there is air where there seems to be nothing. 

He differed from his predecessors in regarding mind (nous) as a 
substance which enters into the composition of living things, and 
distinguishes them from dead matter. In everything, he says, there 
is a portion of everything except mind, and some things contain 
mind also. Mind has power over all things that have life; it is 
infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing. Except as 
regards mind, everything, however small, contains portions of all 
opposites, such as hot and cold, white and black. He maintained 
that snow is black (in pan). 

Mind is the source of all motion. It causes a rotation, which is 
gradually spreading throughout the world, and is causing the 
lightest things to go to the circumference, and the heaviest to fall 
towards the centre. Mind is uniform, and is just as good in animals 
as in man. Man's apparent superiority is due to the fact that he 
has hands; all seeming differences of intelligence are really due 
to bodily differences. 

Both Aristotle and the Platonic Socrates complain that Anaxa- 
goras, after introducing mind, makes very little use of it. Aristotle 
points out that he only introduces mind as a cause when he knows 
no other. Whenever he can, he gives a mechanical explanation. 
He rejected necessity and chance as giving the origins of things ; 
nevertheless, there was no "Providence" in his cosmology. He does 
not seem to have thought much about ethics or religion ; probably 
he was an atheist, as his prosecutors maintained. All his pre- 
decessors influenced him, except Pythagoras. The influence of 
Parmenides was the same in his case as in that of Empedocles. 

In science he had great merit. It was he who first explained that 
the moon shines by reflected light, though there is a cryptic frag- 
ment in Parmenides suggesting that he also knew this. Anaxagoras 
gave the correct theory of eclipses, and knew that the moon is 

82 



ANAXAGORAS 

below the sun. The suri and stars, he said, are fiery stones, but we 
do not feel the heat of the stars because they are too distant. The 
sun is larger than the Peloponnesus. The moon has mountains, 
and (he thought) inhabitants. 

Anaxagoras is said to have been of the school of Anaximenes ; 
certainly he kept alive the rationalist and scientific tradition of the 
lonians. One does not find in him the ethical and religious pre- 
occupations which, passing from the Pythagoreans to Socrates 
and from Socrates to Plato, brought an obscurantist bias into 
Greek philosophy. He is not quite in the first rank, but he is 
important as the first to bring philosophy to Athens, and as one 
of the influences that helped to form Socrates. 



Chapter IX 
THE ATOMISTS 

} IHE founders of atomism were two, Leucippus and Demo- 

I critus. It is difficult to disentangle them, because they are 

JL generally mentioned together, and apparently some of the 

works of Leucippus were subsequently attributed to Democritus. 

Leucippus, who seems to have flourished about 440 B.C., 1 came 

from Miletus, and carried on the scientific rationalist philosophy 

associated with that city. He was much influenced by Parmenides 

and Zeno. So little is known of him that Epicurus (a later follower 

of Democritus) was thought to have denied his existence altogether, 

and some moderns have revived this theory. There are, however, 

a number of allusions to him in Aristotle, and it seems incredible 

that these (which include textual quotations) would have occurred 

if he had been merely a myth. 

Democritus is a much more definite figure. He was a native of 
Abdera in Thrace; as for his date, he stated that he was young 
when Anaxagoras was old, say about 432 B.C., and he is taken to 
have flourished about 420 B.C. He travelled widely in southern 
and eastern lands in search of knowledge ; he perhaps spent a con- 
siderable time in Egypt, and he certainly visited Persia. He then 
returned to Abdera, where he remained. Zeller calls him "superior 
to all earlier and contemporary philosophers in wealth of know- 
ledge, and to most in acuteness and logical correctness of thinking." 
Democritus was a contemporary of Socrates and the Sophists, 
and should, on purely chronological grounds, be treated some- 
what later in our history. The difficulty is that he is so hard to 
separate from Leucippus. On this ground, I am considering him 
before Socrates and the Sophists, although part of his philosophy 
was intended as an answer to Protagoras, his fellow-townsman 
and the most eminent of the Sophists. Protagoras, when he visited 
Athens, was received enthusiastically; Democritus, on the other 
hand, says: "I went to Athens, and no one knew me." For a long 
time, his philosophy was ignored in Athens; "It is not clear," says 
Burnet, "that Plato knew anything about Democritus Aristotle, 

1 Cyril Bailey, The Greek Atomitt* and Epicurus, estimates that he 
flourished about 430 B.C. or a link earlier. 

84 



THE ATOMISTS 

on the other hand, knows Democritus well; for he too was an 
Ionian from the North." 1 Plato never mentions him in the Dia- 
logues, but is said by Diogenes Laertius to have disliked him so 
much that he wished all his books burnt. Heath esteems him 
highly as a mathematician. 2 

The fundamental ideas of the common philosophy of Leucippus 
and Democritus were due to the former, but as regards the 
working out it is hardly possible to disentangle them, nor is it, 
for our purposes, important to make the attempt. Leucippus, 
if not Democritus, was led to atomism in the attempt to mediate 
between monism and pluralism, as represented by Parmenides 
and Empedocles respectively. Their point of view was remark- 
ably like that of modern science, and avoided most of the faults 
to which Greek speculation was prone. They believed that 
everything is composed of atoms, which are physically, but 
not geometrically, indivisible; that between the atoms there is 
empty space; that atoms are indestructible; that they always have 
been, and always will be, in motion; that there are an infinite 
number of atoms, and even of kinds of atoms, the differences being 
as regards shape and size. Aristotle 3 asserts that, according to the 
atomists, atoms also differ as regards heat, the spherical atoms, 
which compose fire, being the hottest; and as regards weight, he 
quotes Democritus as saying "The more any indivisible exceeds, 
the heavier it is." But the question whether atoms are originally 
possessed of weight in the theories of the atomists is a controversial 
one. 

The atoms were always in motion, but there is disagreement 
among commentators as to the character of the original motion. 
Some, especially Zeller, hold that the atoms were thought to be 
always falling, and that the heavier ones fell faster; they thus 
caught up the lighter ones, there were impacts, and the atoms 
were deflected like billiard balls. This was certainly the view of 
Epicurus, who in most respects based his theories on those of 
Democritus, while trying, rather unintelligently, to take account 
of Aristotle's criticisms. But there is considerable reason to think 
that weight was not an original property of the atoms of Leucippus 
and Democritus. It seems more probable that, on their view, 
atoms were originally moving at random, as in the modern kinetic 

1 /'ram ThaUt to Plato, p. 193- f G* k Mathematics, Vol. I, p. 176. 
9 On Generation and Corruption, 316*. 

85 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

theory of gases. Democritus said there was neither up nor down 
in the infinite void, and compared the movement of atoms in the 
soul to that of motes in a sunbeam when there is no wind. This is 
a much more intelligent view than that of Epicurus, and I think 
we may assume it to have been that of Leucippus and Democritus. 1 

As a result of collisions, collections of atoms came to form 
vortices. The rest proceeded much as in Anaxagoras, but it was 
an advance to explain the vortices mechanically rather than as 
due to the action of mind. 

It was common in antiquity to reproach the atomists with attri- 
buting everything to chance. They were, on the contrary, strict 
determinists, who believed that everything happens in accordance 
with natural laws. Democritus explicitly denied that anything can 
happen by chance. 8 Leucippus, though his existence is questioned, 
is known to have said one thing: "Naught happens for nothing, 
but everything from a ground and of necessity/' It is true that 
he gave no reason why the world should originally have been as 
it was; this, perhaps, might have been attributed to chance*. Hut 
when once the world existed, its further development was un- 
alterably fixed by mechanical principles. -Aristotle and others 
reproached him and Democritus for not accounting for the 
original motion of the atoms, but in thi* the atomists were more 
scientific than their critics. Causation must start from something, 
and wherever it starts no cause can be assigned for the initial 
datum. The world may be attributed to a Creator, but even then 
the Creator Himself is unaccounted for. The theory of the atomists, 
in fact, was more nearly that of modern science than any other 
theory propounded in antiquity. 

The atomists, unlike Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, sought to 
explain the world without introducing the notion of purpose or 
Jmal cause. The "final cause" of an occurrence is an event in the 
future for the sake of which the occurrence takes place. In human 
affairs, this conception is applicable. Why does the baker make 
bread? Because people will be hungry. Why are railways built? 
Because people will wish to travel In such cases, things are ex- 
plained by the purpose they serve. When we ask "why?" con- 
cerning an event, we may mean either of two things. We may 

1 This interpretation is adopted by Bumct, and alsfy at leant as regard* 
Leucippus, by Uaiiey (op. nV., p. 83). 
* See Bailey, op. a/., p. 121, on the detenniruttn of Uetnocqtu*. 

86 



THE ATOMIST8 

mean: "What purpose did this event serve?" or we may mean: 
"What earlier circumstances caused this event?" The answer to 
the former question is a teleological explanation, or an explanation 
by final causes ; the answer to the latter question is a mechanistic 
explanation. I do not see how it could have been known in advance 
which of these two questions science ought to ask, or whether it 
ought to ask both. But experience has shown that the mechanistic 
question leads to scientific knowledge, while the teleological 
question does not. The atomists asked the mechanistic question, 
and gave a mechanistic answer. Their successors, until the Re- 
naissance, were more interested in the teleological question, and 
thus led science up a blind alley. 

In regard to both questions alike, there is a limitation which is 
often ignored, both in popular thought and in philosophy. Neither 
question can be asked intelligibly about reality as a whole (including 
God), but only about parts of it. As regards the teleological 
explanation, it usually arrives, before long, at a Creator, or at least 
an Artificer, whose purposes are realized in the course of nature. 
But if a man is so obstinately teleological as to continue to ask 
what purpose is served by the Creator, it becomes obvious that 
his question is impious. It is, moreover, unmeaning, since, to 
make it significant, we should have to suppose the Creator created 
by some super-Creator whose purposes He served. The conception 
of purpose, therefore, is only applicable within reality, not to 
reality as a whole. 

A not dissimilar argument applies to mechanistic explanations. 
One event is caused by another, the other by a third, and so on. 
But if we ask for a cause of the whole, we are driven again to the 
Creator, who must Himself be uncaused. All causal explanations, 
therefore must have an arbitrary beginning. That is why it is no 
defect in the theory of the atomists to have left the original move- 
ments of the atoms unaccounted for. 

It must not be supposed that their reasons for their theories 
were wholly empirical. The atomic theory was revived in modern 
times to explain the facts of chemistry, but these facts were not 
known to the Greeks. There was no very sharp distinction, in 
ancient times, between empirical observation and logical argu- 
ment. Parmcnides, it is true, treated observed facts with contempt, 
but Empedocles*and Anaxagoras would combine much of their 
metaphysics with observations on water-clocks and whirling 

87 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

buckets. Until the Sophists, no philosopher seems to have doubted 
that a complete metaphysic and cosmology could be established 
by a combination of much reasoning and some observation. By 
good luck, the atomists hit on a hypothesis for which, more than 
two thousand years later, some evidence was found, but their 
belief, in their day, was none the less destitute of any solid 
foundation. 1 

Like the other philosophers of his time, Leucippus was con- 
cerned to find a way of reconciling the arguments of Parmenides 
with the obvious fact of motion and change. As Aristotle says: 2 

" Although these opinions [those of Parmenides] appear to follow 
logically in a dialectical discussion, yet to believe them seems 
next door to madness when one considers the facts. For indeed no 
lunatic seems to be so far out of his senses as to suppose that fire 
and ice are "one": it is only between what is right and what seems 
right from habit that some people are mad enough to see no 
difference." 

Leucippus, however, thought he had a theory which harmonized 
with sense-perception and would not abolish either coming-to-be 
and passing-away or motion and the multiplicity of things. He 
made these concessions to the facts of perception: on the other 
hand, he conceded to the Monists that there could be no motion 
without a void. The result is a theory which he states as follows : 
"The void is a not-being, and no part of what is is a not-being; for 
what is in the strict sense of the term is an absolute plenum. This 
plenum, however, is not one; on the contrary, it is a many infinite 
in number and invisible owing to the minuteness of their bulk. The 
many move in the void (for there is a void): and by coming to- 
gether they produce coming-to-be, while by separating they pro- 
duce passing-away. Moreover, they act and suffer action whenever 
they chance to be in contact (for there they are not one), and they 
generate by being put together and become intertwined. From 
the genuinely one, on the other hand, there could never have come 
to be a multiplicity, nor from the genuinely many a one: that is 
impossible." 

It will be seen that there was one point on which even-body 50 
far was agreed, namely that there could be no motion in a plenum. 

1 On the logical and mathematical grounds for the theories of the 
tomists, tee Gaston Mtthaud, Let Phifaiophn Gfometw de la Greet, 
chap. sv. 

* On Generation and Corruption, 325*. 

88 



THE ATOMISTS 

In this, all alike were mistaken. There can be cyclic motion in a 
plenum, provided it has always existed. The idea was that a thing 
could only move into an empty place, and that, in a plenum, there 
are no empty places. It might be contended, perhaps validly, that 
motion could never begin in a plenum, but it cannot be validly 
maintained that it could not occur at all. To the Greeks, however, 
it seemed that one must either acquiesce in the unchanging world 
of Parmcnides, or admit the void. 

Now the arguments of Parmenides against not-being seemed 
logically irrefutable against the void, and they were reinforced by 
the discovery that where there seems to be nothing there is air. 
(This is an example of the confused mixture of logic and observa- 
tion that was common.) We may put the Parmenidean position 
in this way: "You say there is the void; therefore the void is not 
nothing; therefore it is not the void." It cannot be said that the 
atomists answered this argument; they merely proclaimed that 
they proposed to ignore it, on the ground that motion is a fact of 
experience, and therefore there must be a void, however difficult 
it may be to conceive. 1 

Let us consider the subsequent history of this problem. The 
first and most obvious way of avoiding the logical difficulty is to 
distinguish between matter and space. According to this view, 
space is not nothing, but is of the nature of a receptacle, which 
may or may not have any given part filled with matter. Aristotle 
says (Physics, 208 b): 'The theory that the void exists involves 
the existence of place: for one would define void as place bereft 
of body/' This view is set forth with the utmost explicitness by 
Newton, who asserts the existence of absolute space, and accor- 
dingly distinguishes absolute from relative motion. In the 
C'opernican controversy, both sides (however little they may 
have realized it) were committed to this view, since they thought 
there was a difference between saying "the heavens revolve from 
cast to west" and saying "the earth rotates from west to east/' 
If all motion is relative, these two statements are merely different 

1 Bailey (op. /., p. 75) maintains, on the contrary, that Leucippus had 
an answer, which was "extremely subtle." It consisted essentially in 
admitting the existence of something (the void) which was not corporeal. 
Similarly Burnet sa>; "It is a curious fact that the Atomists, who are 
commonly regarded as the great materialists of antiquity, were actually 
the first to wy distinctly that a thing might be real without being a body." 

89 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

ways of saying the same thing, like "John is the father of James" 
and "James is the son of John." But if all motion is relative, and 
space is not substantial, we are left with the Parmenidean argu- 
ments against the void on our hands. 

Descartes, whose arguments are of just the same sort as those 
of early Greek philosophers, said that extension is the essence of 
matter, and therefore there is matter everywhere. For him, 
extension is an adjective, not a substantive; its substantive is 
matter, and without its substantive it cannot exist. Empty space, 
to him, is as absurd as happiness without a sentient being who is 
happy. Leibniz, on somewhat different grounds, also believed in 
the plenum, but he maintained that space is merely a system of 
relations. On this subject there was a famous controversy between 
him and Newton, the latter represented by Clarke. The con- 
troversy remained undecided until the time of Einstein, whose 
theory conclusively gave the victory to Leibniz. 

The modern physicist, while he still believes that matter is in 
some sense atomic, does not believe in empty space. Where there 
is not matter, there is still something, notably light-waves. Matter 
no longer has the lofty status that it acquired in philosophy through 
the arguments of Parmenides. It is not unchanging substance, but 
merely a way of grouping events. Some events belong to groups 
that can be regarded as material things; others, such as light- 
waves, do not. It is the events that are the stuff of the world, and 
each of them is of brief duration. In this respect, modern physics 
is on the side of Heraclitus as against Parmenides. But it was on 
the side of Parmenides until Einstein and quantum theory. 

As regards space, the modern view is that it is neither a sub- 
stance, as Newton maintained, and as Leucippus and Democritus 
ought to have said, nor an adjective of extended bodies, as Des- 
cartes thought, but a system of relations, as Leibniz held. It is 
not by any means clear whether this view is compatible with the 
existence of the void. Perhaps, as a matter of abstract logic, it can 
be reconciled with the void. We might say that, between any two 
things, there is a certain greater or smaller distance, and that 
distance does not imply the existence of intermediate things. 
Such a point of view, however, would be impossible to utilize 
in modern physics. Since Einstein, distance ^is between events, 
not between things, and involves time as well as space. It is 
essentially a causal conception, and in modern physra there is 



THE ATOMI3TB 

no action at a distance. All this, however, is based upon empirical 
rather than logical grounds. Moreover the modern view cannot be 
stated except in terms of differential equations, and would therefore 
be unintelligible to the philosophers of antiquity. 

It would seem, accordingly, that the logical development of the 
views of the atomists is the Newtonian theory of absolute space, 
which meets the difficulty of attributing reality to not-being. To 
this theory there are no logical objections. The chief objection is 
that absolute space is absolutely unknowable, and cannot therefore 
be a necessary hypothesis in an empirical science. The more 
practical objection is that physics can get on without it. But the 
world of the atomists remains logically possible, and is more akin 
to the actual world than is the world of any other of the ancient 
philosophers. 

Democritus worked out his theories in considerable detail, and 
some of the working-out is interesting. Each atom, he said, was 
impenetrable and indivisible because it contained no void. When 
you use a knife to cut an apple, the knife has to find empty places 
where it can penetrate ; if the apple contained no void, it would 
be infinitely hard and therefore physically indivisible. Each atom 
is internally unchanging, and in fact a Parmenidean One. The only 
things that atoms do are to move and hit each other, and some- 
times to combine when they happen to have shapes that are 
capable of interlocking. They are of all sorts of shapes; fire is 
composed of small spherical atoms, and so is the soul. Atoms, by 
collision, produce vortices, which generate bodies and ultimately 
worlds. 1 There are many worlds, some growing, some decaying; 
some may have no sun or moon, some several. Every world has a 
Ixrtfinning and an end. A world may be destroyed by collision 
with a larger world. This cosmology may be summarized in 
Shelley's words: 

Worlds on worlds are rolling ever 

From creation to decay, 
Like the bubbles on a river 

Sparkling bursting, borne away. 

Life developed out of the primeval slime. There is some fire every- 
where in a living body, but most in the brain or in the breast. (On 

1 On the way in wfiich this was supposed to happen, sec Bailey, op. '!., 
p. 138 ff. 

9 1 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

this, authorities differ.) Thought is a kind of motion, and is thus 
able to cause motion elsewhere. Perception and thought are phy- 
sical processes. Perception is of two sorts, one of the senses, one 
of the understanding. Perceptions of the latter sort depend only 
on the things perceived, while those of the former sort depend 
also on our senses, and are therefore apt to be deceptive. Like 
Locke, Democritus held that such qualities as warmth, taste, and 
colour are not really in the object, but are due to our sense-organs, 
while such qualities as weight, density, and hardness are really in 
the object. 

Democritus was a thorough-going materialist; for him, as we 
have seen, the soul was composed of atoms, and thought was a 
physical process. There was no purpose in the universe; there 
were only atoms governed by mechanical laws. He disbelieved in 
popular religion, and he argued against the nous of Anaxagoras. 
In ethics he considered cheerfulness the goal of life, and regarded 
moderation and culture as the best means to it. He disliked every- 
thing violent and passionate; he disapproved of sex, because, he 
said, it involved the overwhelming of consciousness by pleasure. 
He valued friendship, but thought ill of women, and did not desire 
children, because their education interferes with philosophy. In 
all this, he was very like Jeremy Bentham ; he was equally so in 
his love of what the Greeks called democracy. 1 

Democritus such, at least, is my opinion is the last of the 
Greek philosophers to be free from a certain fault which vitiated 
all later ancient and medieval thought. All the philosophers we 
have been considering so far were engaged in a disinterested effort 
to understand the world. They thought it easier to understand 
than it is, but without this optimism they would not have had the 
courage to make a beginning. Their attitude, in the main, was 
genuinely scientific whenever it did not merely embody the pre- 
judices of their age. But it was not only scientific ; it was imaginative 
and vigorous and filled with the delight of adventure. They were 
interested in everything meteors and eclipses, fishes and whirl- 
winds, religion and morality; with a penetrating intellect they 
combined the zest of children. 

From this point onwards, there are first certain seeds of decay, 
in spite of previously unmatched achievement, and then a gradual 

1 "Poverty in a democracy t* much to be preferred to what is called 
prosperity under despots * freedom is to slavery/' he tayt. 

9* 



THE ATOMIBT8 

decadence. What is amiss, even in the best philosophy after Demo- 
critus, is an undue emphasis on man as compared with the universe. 
First comes scepticism, with the Sophists, leading to a study of 
how we know rather than to the attempt to acquire fresh knowledge. 
Then comes, with Socrates, the emphasis on ethics; with Plato, 
the rejection of the world of sense in favour of the self-created 
world of pure thought; with Aristotle, the belief in purpose as 
the fundamental concept in science. In spite of the genius of Plato 
and Aristotle, their thought has vices which proved infinitely 
harmful. After their time, there was a decay of vigour, and a 
gradual recrudescence of popular superstition. A partially new 
outlook arose as a result of the victory of Catholic orthodoxy; but 
it was not until the Renaissance that philosophy regained the 
vigour and independence that characterize the predecessors of 
Socrates. 



Chapter X 
PROTAGORAS 

E IHE great pre-Socratic systems that we have been consider- 
I ing were confronted, in the latter half of the fifth century, 
JL by a sceptical movement, in which the most important 
figure was Protagoras, chief of the Sophists. The word "Sophist" 
had originally no bad connotation; it meant, as nearly as may be, 
what we mean by "professor." A Sophist was a man who made 
his living by teaching young men certain things that, it was 
thought, would be useful to them in practical life. As there was 
no public provision for such education, the Sophists taught only 
those who had private means, or whose parents had. This tended 
to give them a certain class bias, which was increased by the 
political circumstances of the time. In Athens and many other 
cities, democracy was politically triumphant, but nothing had 
been done to diminish the wealth of those who belonged to the 
old aristocratic families. It was, in the main, the rich who em- 
bodied what appears to us as Hellenic culture: they had education 
and leisure, travel had taken the edge off their traditional pre- 
judices, and the time that they spent in discussion sharpened their 
wits. What was called democracy did not touch the institution of 
slavery, which enabled the rich to enjoy their wealth without 
oppressing free citizens. 

In many cities, however, and especially in Athens, the poorer 
citizens had towards the rich a double hostility, that of envy, and 
that of traditionalism. The rich were supposed often with justice 
to be impious and immoral; they were subverting ancient 
beliefs, and probably trying to destroy democracy'. It thus hap- 
pened that political democracy, was associated with cultural 
conservatism, while those who were cultural innovators tended to 
be political reactionaries. Somewhat the same situation exists in 
modern America, where Tammany, as a mainly Catholic organiza- 
tion, is engaged in defending traditional theological and ethical 
dogmas against the assaults of enlightenment. But the enlightened 
are politically weaker in America than they were in Athens, 
because they have failed to make common cav*e with the pluto- 
cracy. There is, however, one important and highly intellectual 

94 



PROTAGORAS 

class which is concerned with the defence of the plutocracy, 
namely the class of corporation lawyers. In same respects, their 
functions are similar to those that were performed in Athens by 
the Sophists. 

Athenian democracy, though it had the grave limitation of not 
including slaves or women, was in some respects more democratic 
than any modern system. Judges and most executive officers were 
chosen by lot, and served for short periods; they were thus average 
citizens, like our jurymen, with the prejudices and lack of pro- 
fessionalism characteristic of average citizens. In general, there 
were a large number of judges to hear each case. The plaintiff 
and defendant, or prosecutor and accused, appeared in person, 
not through professional lawyers. Naturally, success or failure 
depended largely on oratorical skill in appealing to popular pre- 
judices. Although a man had to deliver his own speech, he could 
hire an expert to write the speech for him, or, as many preferred, 
he could pay for instruction in the arts required for success in the 
law courts. These arts the Sophists were supposed to teach. 

The aye of Pericles is analogous, in Athenian history, to the 
Victorian age in the history of England. Athens was rich and 
powerful, not much troubled by wars, and possessed of a demo- 
cratic constitution administered by aristocrats. As we have seen, 
in connection with Anaxagoras, a democratic opposition to 
Pericles gradually gathered strength, and attacked his friends one 
by one. The Pcloponnesian War broke out in 43 1 B.C. ; J Athens 
(in common with many other places) was ravaged by the plague; 
the population, which had been about 230,000, was greatly 
reduced, and never rose again to its former level (Bury, History of 
Greece, I, p. 444). Pericles himself, in 430 B.C., was deposed from 
the office of general and fined for misappropriation of public 
money, but soon reinstated. His two legitimate sons died 
of the plague, and he himself died in the following year (429). 
Pheidias and Anaxagoras were condemned; Aspasia was prose- 
cuted for impiety and for keeping a disorderly house, but 
acquitted. 

In such a community, it was natural that men who were likely 
to incur the hostility of democratic politicians should wish to 
acquire forensic skill. For Athens, though much addicted to per- 
secution, was in one respect less illiberal than modern America, 
1 It ended in 404 ii.C. with the complete overthrow of Athens. 

95 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

since those accused of impiety and corrupting the young were 
allowed to plead in their own defence. 

This explains the popularity of the Sophists with one class and 
their unpopularity with another. But in their own minds they 
served more impersonal purposes, and it is clear that many of 
them were genuinely concerned with philosophy. Plato devoted 
himself to caricaturing and vilifying them, but they must not be 
judged by his polemics. In his lighter vein, take the following 
passage from the Eutkydemus, in which two Sophists, Dionyso- 
dorus and Euthydemus, set to work to puzzle a simple-minded 
person named Clesippus. Dionysodorus begins: 

You say that you have a dog ? 

Yes, a villain of a one, said Clesippus. 

And he has puppies ? 

Yes, and they are very like himself. 

And the dog is the father of them ? 

Yes, he said, I certainly saw him and the mother of the 

puppies come together. 
And is he not yours ? 
To be sure he is. 
Then he is a father, and he is yours; ergo, he is your 

father, and the puppies are your brothers. 

In a more serious vein, take the dialogue called The Sophist. 
This is a logical discussion of definition, which uses the sophist 
as an illustration. With its logic we are not at present concerned ; 
the only thing I wish to mention at the moment as regards this 
dialogue is the final conclusion : 

"The ait of contradiction-making, descended from an insincere 
kind of conceited mimicry, of the semblance- making breed, 
derived from image-making, distinguished as a portion, not divine 
but human, of production, that presents a shadow-play of words 
such is the blood and lineage which can, with perfect truth, be 
assigned to the authentic Sophist/' (Corn ford's translation.) 

There is a story about Protagoras, no doubt apocryphal, which 
illustrates the connection of the Sophists with the law-courts in 
the popular mind. It is said that he taught a young man on the 
terms that he should be paid his fee if the young man won 
his first law-suit, but not otherwise, and that the young man's 
first law-suit was one brought by Protagoras for recovery of 
his fee. 

96 



PROTAGORAS 

However, it is time to leave these preliminaries and see what is 
really known about Protagoras. 

Protagoras was born about 500 B.C., at Abdera, the city from 
which Democritus came. He twice visited Athens, his second visit 
being not later than 432 B.C. He made a code of laws for the city 
of Thurii in 444-3 B.C. There is a tradition that he was prosecuted 
for impiety, but this seems to be untrue, in spite of the fact that 
he wrote a book On the Gods, which began: "With regard to the 
gods, I cannot feel sure either that they are or that they are not, 
nor what they are like in figure; for there are many things that 
hinder sure knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the 
shortness of human life." 

His second visit to Athens is described somewhat satirically in 
Plato's Protagoras, and his doctrines are discussed seriously in 
the Theaetetus. He is chiefly noted for his doctrine that "Man is 
the measure of all things, of things that are that they are, and of 
things that are not that they are not." This is interpreted as 
meaning that each man is the measure of all things, and that, 
when men differ, there is no objective truth in virtue of which 
one is right and the other wrong. The doctrine is essentially 
sceptical, and is presumably based on the "deceitfulness" of the 
senses. 

One of the three founders of pragmatism, F. C. S. Schiller, was 
in the halm of calling himself a disciple of Protagoras. This was, 
I think, because Plato, in the Thcaetetus, suggests, as an interpre- 
tation of Protagoras, that one opinion can be better than another, 
though it cannot be truer. For example, when a man has jaundice 
everything looks yellow. There is no sense in saying that things 
are really not yellow, but the colour they look to a man in health; 
we can say, however, that, since health is better than sickness, 
the opinion of the man in health is better than that of the man 
who has jaundice. This point of view, obviously, is akin to 
pragmatism. 

The disbelief in objective truth makes the majority, for practical 
puqxiscs, the arbiters as to what to believe. Hence Protagoras was 
led to a defence of law and convention and traditional morality. 
While, as we saw, he did not know whether the gods existed, he 
was sure they ought to be worshipped. This point of view is 
obviously the right one for a man whose theoretical scepticism is 
thoroughgoing and logical. 

97 D 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Protagoras spent his adult life in a sort of perpetual lecture tour 
through the cities of Greece, teaching, for a fee, "any one who 
desired practical efficiency and higher mental culture" (Zeller, 
p. 1299). Plato objects somewhat snobbishly, according to modern 
notions to the Sophists' practice of charging money for instruc- 
tion. Plato himself had adequate private means, and was unable, 
apparently, to realize the necessities of those who had not his good 
fortune. It is odd that modern professors, who see no reason to 
refuse a salary, have so frequently repeated Plato's strictures. 

There was, however, another point in which the Sophists differed 
from most contemporary philosophers. It was usual, except among 
the Sophists, for a teacher to found a school, which had some of 
the properties of a brotherhood; there was a greater or smaller 
amount of common life, there was often something analogous to 
a monastic rule, and there was usually an esoteric doctrine not 
proclaimed to the public. All this was natural wherever philosophy 
had arisen out of Orphism. Among the Sophists there was none 
of this. What they had to teach was not, in their minds, connected 
with religion or virtue. They taught the art of arguing, and as 
much knowledge as would help in this an. Broadly speaking, they 
were prepared, like modern lawyers, to show how to ar^ue for 
or against any opinion, and were not concerned to advocate con- 
clusions of their own. Those to whom philosophy was a way of 
life, closely bound up with religion, were naturally shocked; to 
them, the Sophists appeared frivolous and immoral. 

To some extent though it is impossible to say how far the 
odium which the Sophists incurred, not only with the general 
public, but with Plato and subsequent philosophers, was due to 
their intellectual merit. The pursuit of truth, when it is whole- 
hearted, must ignore moral considerations; we cannot know in 
advance that the truth will turn out to be what is thought edifying 
in a given society. The Sophists were prepared to follow an argu- 
ment wherever it might lead them. Often it led them to scepticism. 
One of them, Gorgias, maintained that nothing exists; that if 
anything exists, it is unknowable; and granting it even to exist 
and la be knowable by any one man, he could never communicate 
it to others. We do not know what hLs arguments were, but I can 
well imagine that they had a logical force which compelled his 
opponents to take refuge in edification. Plato u? always concerned 
to advocate views that \\ill make people wliat he thinks virtuous; 

98 



PROTAGORAS 

he is hardly ever intellectually honest, because he allows himself 
to judge doctrines by their social consequences. Even about this, 
he is not honest; he pretends to follow the argument and to be 
judging by purely theoretical standards, when in fact he is twist- 
ing the discussion so as to lead to a virtuous result. He introduced 
this vice into philosophy, where it has persisted ever since. It 
was probably largely hostility to the Sophists that gave this, 
character to his dialogues. One of the defects of all philosophers 
since Plato is that their inquiries into ethics proceed on the 
assumption that they already know the conclusions to be reached. 

It seems that there were men, in the Athens of the late fifth 
century, who taught political doctrines which seemed immoral to 
their contemporaries, and seem so to the democratic nations of 
the present day. Thrasymachus, in the first book of the Republic, 
argues that there is no justice except the interest of the stronger; 
that laws are made by governments for their own advantage; and 
that there is no impersonal standard to which to appeal in contests 
for power, Callicles, according to Plato (in the Gorgtas), maintained 
a similar doctrine. The law of nature, he said, is the law of the 
stronger; but for convenience men have established institutions 
and moral precepts to restrain the strong. Such doctrines have 
won much wider assent in our day than they did in antiquity. 
And whatever may be thought of them, they are not characteristic 
of the Sophists. 

During the fifth century whatever part the Sophists may have 
had in the change- there was in Athens a transformation from a 
certain stiff Puritan simplicity to a quick-witted and rather cruel 
cynicism in conflict with a slow-witted and equally cruel defence 
of crumbling orthodoxy. At the beginning of the century comes 
the Athenian championship of the cities of Ionia against the 
Persians, and the victory of Marathon in 490 B.C. At the end 
comes the defeat of Athens by Sparta in 404 B.C., and the execu- 
tion of Socrates in 3^9 B.C. After this time Athens ceased to be 
politically important, but acquired undoubted cultural supremacy, 
which it retained until the victory of Christianity. 

Something of the history of fifth-century 
the understanding of Plato and of all subsec 
In the first Persian war, the chief glory 
owing to the decisfvc victor}' at Marathor 
years later^ the Athenians still were the 

99 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

but on land victory was mainly due to the Spartans, who were the 
acknowledged leaders of the Hellenic world. The Spartans, how- 
ever, were narrowly provincial in their outlook, and ceased to 
oppose the Persians when they had been chased out of European 
Greece. The championship of the Asiatic Greeks, and the libera- 
tion of the islands that had been conquered by the Persians, was 
undertaken, with great success, by Athens. Athens became the 
leading sea power, and acquired a considerable imperialist control 
over the Ionian islands. Under the leadership of Pericles, who was 
a moderate democrat and a moderate imperialist, Athens prospered. 
The great temples, whose ruins are still the glory of Athens, were 
built by his initiative, to replace those destroyed by Xerxes. The 
city increased very rapidly in wealth, and also in culture, and, as 
invariably happens at such times, particularly when wealth is due 
to foreign commerce, traditional morality and traditional beliefs 
decayed. 

There was at this time in Athens an extraordinarily large 
number of men of genius. The three great dramatists, Aeschylus, 
Sophocles, and Euripides, all belong to the fifth century. Aeschylus 
fought at Marathon and saw the battle of Salamis. Sophocles was 
still religiously orthodox. But Euripides was influenced by Prota- 
goras and by the free-thinking spirit of the time, and his treatment 
of the myths is sceptical and subversive. Aristophanes, the comic 
poet, made fun of Socrates, Sophists, and philosophers, but, 
nevertheless, belonged to their circle; in the Symposium Plato 
represents him as on very friendly terms with Socrates. Pheidias 
the sculptor, as we have seen, belonged to the circle of Pericles. 

The excellence of Athens, at this period, was artistic rather 
than intellectual. None of the great mathematicians or philosophers 
of the fifth century were Athenians, with the exception of Socrates ; 
and Socrates was not a writer, but a man who confined himself 
to oral discussion. 

The outbreak of the Pcloponncsian War in 431 B.C. and t he- 
death of Pericles in 429 B.C. introduced a darker period in Athenian 
history. The Athenians were superior at sea, but the Spartans 
had supremacy on land, and repeatedly occupied Attica (except 
Athens) during the summer. The result was that Athens was over- 
crowded, and suffered severely from the plague. In 414 B.C. the 
Athenians sent a large expedition to Sicily, in the hope of capturing 
Syracuse, which was aljied with Sparta; but the attempt was a 

100 



PROTAGORAS 

failure. War made the Athenians fierce and persecuting. In 416 B.C. 
they conquered the island of Melos, put to death all men of 
military age and enslaved the other inhabitants. The Trojan 
Women of Euripides is a protest against such barbarism. The 
conflict had an ideological aspect, since Sparta was the champion 
of oligarchy and Athens of democracy. The Athenians had reason 
to suspect some of their own aristocrats of treachery, which was 
generally thought to have had a part in the final naval defeat at 
the battle of Acgospotami in 405 B.C. 

At the end of the war, the Spartans established in Athens an 
oligarchical government, known as the Thirty Tyrants. Some of 
the Thirty, including Critias, their chief, had been pupils of 
Socrates. They were deservedly unpopular, and were overthrown 
within a year. With the compliance of Sparta, democracy was 
restored, but it was an embittered democracy, precluded by an 
amnesty from direct vengeance against its internal enemies, but 
glad of any pretext, not covered by the amnesty, for prosecuting 
them. It was in this atmosphere that the trial and death of Socrates 
took place- (3W n.r.). 



101 



Part 2. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle 

Chapter XI 
SOCRATES 

SOCRATES is a very difficult subject for the historian. There 
are many men concerning whom it is certain that very little 
is known, and other men concerning whom it is certain that 
a great deal is known; but in the case of Socrates the uncertainty 
is as to whether we kno\v very little or a great deal. He was un- 
doubtedly an Athenian citizen of moderate means, who spent his 
time in disputation, and taught philosophy to the young, but not 
for money, like the Sophists. lie was certainly tried, condemned 
to death, and executed in 399 B.C., at about the ape of seventy. 
He was unquestionably a well-known figure in Athens, since 
Aristophanes caricatured him in The Clouds. But beyond this 
point we become involved in controversy. Two of his pupils, 
Xenophon and Plato, wrote voluminously about him, but they 
said very different things. Even when they agree, it has been 
suggested by Burnet that Xenophon is copying Plato. Where they 
disagree, some believe the one, some the other, some neither. In 
such a dangerous dispute, I shall not venture to take sides, but I 
will set out briefly the various points of view. 

Let us begin with Xenophon, a military man, not very lilnrrally 
endowed with brains, and on the whole conventional in his out- 
look. Xenophon is pained that Socrates should have been accused 
of impiety and of corrupting the youth; he contends that, on the 
cont ran\ Socrates was eminently pious and had a thoroughly 
wholesome effect upon those who came under his influence. His 
ideas, it appears, so far from being subversive, were rather dull 
and commonplace. This defence goes too far, since it leaves the 
hostility to Socrates unexplained. As Burnet says (Tliaks to Plato. 
p. 149): "Xenophon *8 defence of .Socrates is too successful. He 
would never have been put to death if he had been like that." 

There has been a tendency to think that everything Xenophon 
gays must be true, because he had not the wits to think/if anything 

102 



SOCRATES 

untrue. This is a very invalid line of argument. A stupid man's 
report of what a clever man says is never accurate, because he un- 
consciously translates what he hears into something that he can 
understand. I would rather be reported by my bitterest enemy 
among philosophers than by a friend innocent of philosophy. We 
cannot therefore accept what Xenophon says if it either involves 
any difficult point in philosophy or is part of an argument to prove 
that Socrates was unjustly condemned. 

Nevertheless, some of Xenophon 's reminiscences are very con- 
vincing. He tells (as Plato also does) how Socrates was continually 
occupied with the problem of getting competent men into positions 
of power. He would ask such questions as: "If I wanted a shoe 
mended, whom should I employ?" To which some ingenuous 
youth would answer: "A shoemaker, O Socrates." He would go 
on to carpenters, coppersmiths, etc., and finally ask some such 
question as "who should mend the Ship of State?" When he fell 
into conflict with the Thirty Tyrants, Critias, their chief, who 
knew his ways from having studied under him, forbade him to 
continue teaching the young, and added: "You had better be 
done with your shoemakers, carpenters, and coppersmiths. These 
must be pretty well trodden out at heel by this time, considering 
the circulation you have given them" (Xenophon, Memorabilia, 
Ilk. I, chap. ii). This happened during the brief oligarchic 
government established by the Spartans at the end of the Pelo- 
ponnesian War. But at most times Athens was democratic, so 
much so that even generals were elected or chosen by lot. Socrates 
came across a young man who wished to become a general, and 
persuaded him that it would be well to know something of the 
art of war. The young man accordingly went away and took a 
brief course in tactics. When he returned, Socrates, after some 
satirical praise, sent him back for further instruction (ibid., Bk. Ill, 
chap. i). Another young man he set to learning the principles of 
finance. He tried the same sort of plan on many people, including 
the war minister; but it was decided that it was easier to silence 
him by means of the hemlock than to cure the evils of which he 
complained. 

With Plato's account of Socrates, the difficulty is quite a different 
one from what it is in the case of Xenophon, namely, that it is 
very hard to judgc'how far Plato means to portray the historical 
Socrates, a'jd how far he intends the person called "Socrates" in 

03 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

his dialogues to be merely the mouthpiece of his own opinions. 
Plato, in addition to being a philosopher, is an imaginative writer 
of great genius and charm. No one supposes, and he himself does 
not seriously pretend, that the conversations in his dialogues took 
place just as he records them. Nevertheless, at any rate in the 
earlier dialogues, the conversation is completely natural and the 
characters quite convincing. It is the excellence of Plato as a 
writer of fiction that throws doubt on him as a historian. His 
Socrates is a consistent and extraordinarily interesting character, 
far beyond the power of most men to invent ; but I think Plato 
could have invented him. Whether he did so is of course another 
question. 

The dialogue which is most generally regarded as historical is 
the Apology. This professes to be the speech that Socrates made in 
his own defence at his trial not, of course, a stenographic report, 
but what remained in Plato's memory some years after the event, 
put together and elaborated with literary art. Plato was present 
at the trial, and it certainly seems fairly clear that what is set 
down is the sort of thing that Plato remembered Socrates as 
saying, and that the intention is, broadly speaking, historical. 
This, with all its limitations, is enough to give a fairly definite 
picture of the character of Socrates. 

The main facts of the trial of Socrates are not open to doubt. 
The prosecution was based upon the charge that " Socrates is an 
evil-doer and a curious person, searching into things under the 
earth and above the heaven; and making the worse appear the 
better cause, and teaching all this to others." The real ground of 
hostility to him was, almost certainly, that he was supposed to 
be connected with the aristocratic party; most of his pupils 
belonged to this faction, and some, in positions of power, had 
proved themselves very pernicious. But this ground could not be 
made evident, on account of the amnesty. He was found guilty 
by a majority, and it was then open to him, by Athenian law, to 
propose some lesser penalty than death. The judges had to choose, 
if they had found the accused guilty, between the penalty de- 
manded by the prosecution and that suggested by the defence. 
It was therefore to the interest of Socrates to suggest a substantial 
penalty, which the court might have accepted as adequate. He, 
however, proposed a fine of thirty minae, for 'which some of his 
friends (including Plato) were willing to go surety. 'Vhis was so 

104 



SOCRATES 

small a punishment that the court was annoyed, and condemned 
him to death by a larger majority than that which had found him 
guilty. Undoubtedly he foresaw this result. It is clear that he had 
no wish to avoid the death penalty by concessions which might 
seem to acknowledge his guilt. 

The prosecutors were Anytus, a democratic politician; Meletus, 
a tragic poet, "youthful and unknown, with lanky hair, and scanty 
beard, and a hooked nose"; and Lykon, an obscure rhetorician. 
(See Burnet, Thales to Plato, p. 180.) They maintained that 
Socrates was guilty of not worshipping the gods the State wor- 
shipped but introducing other new divinities, and further that 
he was guilty of corrupting the young by teaching them accordingly. 

Without further troubling ourselves with the insoluble question 
of the relation of the Platonic Socrates to the real man, let us see 
what Plato makes him say in answer to this charge. 

Socrates begins by accusing his prosecutors of eloquence, and 
rebutting the charge of eloquence as applied to himself. The only 
eloquence of which he is capable, he says, is that of truth. And 
they must not be angry with him if he speaks in his accustomed 
manner, not in "a set oration, duly ornamented with words and 
phrases/* 1 He is over seventy, and has never appeared in a court 
of law until now; they must therefore pardon his un-forensic way 
of speaking. 

lie goes on to say that, in addition to his formal accusers, he has 
a large body of informal accusers, who, ever since the judges were 
children, have gone about "telling of one Socrates, a wise man, 
who speculated about the heavens above, and searched into the 
earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause." Such 
men, he says, are supposed not to believe in the existence of the 
Htnls. This old accihsation by public opinion is more dangerous 
than the formal indictment, the more so as he does not know 
who are the men from whom it comes, except in the case of 
Aristophanes. 2 He points out, in reply to these older grounds of 
hostility, that he is not a man of science "I have nothing to do 
with physical speculations" that he is not a teacher, and does 
not take money for teaching. He goes on to make fun of the 
Sophist*, and to disclaim the knowledge that they profess to have. 

1 In quotations frapi Plato, I have generally used Jowett's translation. 
In Tkf Clouds, Socrates is represented as denying the existence of 
Zeus. , 

105 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

What, then, is "the reason why I am called wise and have such 
an evil fame? 1 ' 

The oracle of Delphi, it appears, was once asked if there were 
any man wiser than Socrates, and replied that there was not. 
Socrates professes to have been completely puz/led, since he knew 
nothing, and yet a god cannot lie. He therefore went about among 
men reputed wise, to see whether he could convict the god of 
error. First he went to a politician, who "was thought wise by 
many, and still wiser by himself.*' He soon found that the man 
was not wise, and explained this to him, kindly but firmly, "and 
the consequence was that he hated me." He then went to the 
poets, and asked them to explain passages in their writings, but 
they were unable to do so. "Then I knew that not by wisdom do 
poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration. 1 ' Then 
he went to the artisans, but found them equally disappointing. 
In the process, he says, he made many dangerous enemies. Finally 
he concluded that "God only is wise; and by his answer he intends 
to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is 
not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of 
illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like 
Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing." This 
business of shoeing up pretenders to wisdom takes up all his time, 
and has left him in utter poverty, but he feels it a duty to vindicate 
the oracle. 

Young men of the richer classes, he says, having not much to 
do, enjoy listening to him exposing people, and proceed to do 
likewise, thus increasing the number of his enemies. ''For they 
do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been 
detected." 

So much for the first class of accusers. 

Socrates now proceeds to examine his prosecutor Mektus. "that 
good man and true lover of his country, as he calls himself." He 
asks who are the people who improve the young. Mclctus first 
mentions the judges; then, under pressure, is driven, step by step, 
to say that every Athenian except Socrates improves the young; 
whereupon Socrates congratulates the city on its good fortune. 
Next, he points out that good men are better to live among than 
bad men, and therefore he cannot be so foolish as to corrupt his 
fellow-citizens intentionally ; but if unintentionally, then Mclctus 
should instruct him, not prosecute him. 

106 



SOCRATES 

The indictment had said that Socrates not only denied the gods 
of the State, but introduced other gods of his own ; Meletus, how- 
ever, says that Socrates is a complete atheist, and adds: "He says 
that the sun is stone and the moon earth." Socrates replies that 
Meletus seems to think he is prosecuting Anaxagoras, whose 
views may be heard in the theatre for one drachma (presumably 
in the plays of Euripides). Socrates of course points out that this 
new accusation of complete atheism contradicts the indictment, 
and then passes on to more general considerations. 

The rest of the Apology is essentially religious in tone. He has 
been a soldier, and has remained at his post, as he was ordered 
to do. Now "God orders me to fulfil the philosopher's mission of 
searching into myself and other men," and it would be as shameful 
to desert his post now as in time of battle. Fear of death is not 
wisdom, since no one knows whether death may not be the greater 
good. If he were offered his life on condition of ceasing to speculate 
as he has done hitherto, he would reply: "Men of Athens, I 
honour and love you ; but I shall obey God rather than you, 1 and 
while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice 
and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet. . . . 
For know that this is the command of God; and I believe that no 
greater good has ever happened in the State than my service to 
the God." He goes on: 

I have something more to say, at which you may be inclined 
to cry cnit; but I believe that to hear me will be good for you, 
and therefore I beg that you will not cry out. I would have you 
know, that if you kill such a one as I am, you will injure your- 
selves more than you will injure me. Nothing will injure me, 
not Meletus nor yet Anytus they cannot, for a bad man is not 
permitted to injure a belter than himself. I do not deny that 
Anytus may perhaps kill him, or drive him into exile, or deprive 
him of civil rights; and he may imagine, and others may imagine, 
that he is intlicting a great injury upon him: but there I do not 
agree. For the evil of doing as he is doing the evil of unjustly 
taking away the life of another is greater far. 

It is for the sake of his judges, he says, not for his own sake, 
that he is pleading. He is a gad-fly, given to the State by God, and 
it will not be easy to find another like him. "I dare say you may 
feel out of temper(like a person who is suddenly awakened from 

1 Cf. Acts, v, 29. 
107 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

sleep), and you think that you might easily strike me dead as 
Anytus advises, and then you would sleep on for the remainder 
of your lives, unless God in his care of you sent you another 
gad-fly." 

Why has he only gone about in private, and not given advice 
on public affairs? "You have heard me speak at sundry times and 
in diverse places of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is 
the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign, 
which is a kind of voice, first began to come to me when I was a 
child; it always forbids but never commands me to do anything 
which I am going to do. This is what deters me from being a 
politician." He goes on to say that in politics no honest man can 
live long. He gives two instances in which he was unavoidably 
mixed up in public affairs: in the first, he resisted the democracy; 
in the second, the Thirty Tyrants, in each case when the authorities 
were acting illegally. 

He points out that among those present are many former pupils 
of his, and fathers and brothers of pupils ; not one of these has 
been produced by the prosecution to testify that he corrupts the 
young. (This is almost the only argument in the Apology that a 
lawyer for the defence would sanction.) He refuses to follow the 
custom of producing his weeping children in court, to soften the 
hearts of the judges; such scenes, he says, make the accused and 
the city alike ridiculous. It is his business to convince the judges, 
not to ask a favour of them. 

After the verdict, and the rejection of the alternative penalty of 
thirty minae (in connection with which Socrates names Plato as 
one among his sureties, and present in court), he makes OIK- final 
speech. 

And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain 
prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and in the hour of death 
men are gifted with prophetic power. And I prophesy to you, 
who are my murderers, that immediately after my departure 
punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely 
await you. ... If you think that by killing men you can prevent 
some one from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken; that 
is not a way of escape which is either possible or honourable; 
the easiest and the noblest way is not to be disabling others, but 
to be improving yourselves. 

He then turns to those of his judges w..^ .ave ^voted for 

108 



SOCRATES 

acquittal, and tells them that, in all that he has done that day, his 
oracle has never opposed him, though on other occasions it has 
often stopped him in the middle of a speech. This, he says, "is an 
intimation that what has happened to me is a good, and that those 
of us who think death is an evil are in error." For either death is 
a dreamless sleep which is plainly good or the soul migrates to 
another world. And "what would not a man give if he might 
converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? 
Nay, if this be true, let me die and die again." In the next world, 
he will converse with others who have suffered death unjustly, 
and, above all, lie will continue his search after knowledge. "In 
another world they do not put a man to death for asking questions: 
assuredly not. For besides being happier than we are, they will 
be immortal, if what is said is true. . . . 

"The hour of departure has arrived, and \ve go our ways I 
to die, ami you to live. Which is better God only knows." 

The Apology gives a clear picture of a man of a certain type: a 
man very sure of himself, high-minded, indifferent to worldly 
success, believing that he is guided by a divine voice, and per- 
suaded that clear thinking is the most important requisite for right 
living. Lxcept in this last point, he resembles a Christian martyr 
or a Puritan. In the final passage, where he considers what happens 
after death, it is impossible not to feel that he firmly believes in 
immortality, and that his professed uncertainty is only assumed. 
He is not troubled, like the Christians, by fears of eternal torment: 
he has no doubt that his life in the next world will be a happy 
one. In the PhaeJo, the Platonic Socrates gives reasons for the 
belief in immortality; whether these were the reasons that in- 
fluenced the historical Socrates, it is impossible to say. 

There seems hardly any doubt that the historical Socrates 
claimed to be guided by an oracle or daimon. Whether this was 
analogous to what a Christian would call the voice of conscience, 
or whether it appeared to him as an actual voice, it is impossible 
to know. Joan of Arc was inspired by voices, which are a common 
symptom of insanity. Socrates was liable to cataleptic trances; at 
least, that seems the natural explanation of such an incident as 
occurred once when he was on military service: 

One morning he was thinking about something which he could 
not resolve; he would not give it up, but continued thinking from 
early dawn until noon there he stood fixed in thought; and at 

109 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

noon attention was drawn to him, and the rumour ran through 
the wondering crowd that Socrates had been standing and thinking 
about something ever since the break of day. At last, in the 
evening after supper, some lonians out of curiosity (I should 
explain that this occurred not in winter but in summer), brought 
out their mats and slept in the open air that they might watch 
him and see whether he would stand all night. There he stood 
until the following morning; and with the return of light he 
offered up a prayer to the sun, and went his way (Symposium, 220). 

This sort of thing, in a lesser degree, was a common occurrence 
with Socrates. At the beginning of the Symposium, Socrates and 
Aristodemus go together to the banquet, but Socrates drops behind 
in a fit of abstraction. When Aristodemus arrives, Agathon, the 
host, says "what have you done with Socrates?" Aristodemus is 
astonished to find Socrates not with him; a slave is sent to look 
for him, and finds him in the portico of a neighbouring house. 
"There he is fixed," says the slave on his return, "ami when I 
call to him he will not stir." Those who know him well explain 
that "he has a way of stopping anywhere and losing himself 
without any reason." They leave him alone, and he enters when 
the feast is half over. 

Every one is agreed that Socrates was very uply; he had a snub 
nose and a considerable paunch ; he was "uglier than all the 
Silenuses in the Satyric drama" (Xenophon, Symposium). He was 
always dressed in shabby old clothes, and went barefoot every- 
where. His indifference to heat and cold, hunger and thirst, 
amazed every one. Alcihiades in the Symposium, describing 
Socrates on military sen-ice, says: 

His endurance was simply marvellous when, beins; cut off from 
our supplies, we were compelled to go without food -on such 
occasions, which often happen in time of war, he was superior 
not only to me but to everybody: there was no one to be com- 
pared to him. ... His fortitude in enduring cold was also 
surprising. There was a severe frost, for the winter in that region 
is really tremendous, and everybody else cither remained indoors 
or if they went out had on an amazing quantity of clothes, and 
were well shod, and had their feet swathed in felt and fleeces: 
in the midst of this, Socrates with his bare feet on the ice and in 
his ordinary dress marched better than the other soldiers who 
had shoes and they looked daggers at him because he seemed 
to despise them. 

no 



SOCRATES 

His mastery over all bodily passions is constantly stressed. He 
seldom drank wine, but when he did, he could out-drink anybody; 
no one had ever seen him drunk. In love, even under the strongest 
temptations, he remained "Platonic," if Plato is speaking the truth. 
He was the perfect Orphic saint: in the dualism of heavenly soul 
and earthly body, he had achieved the complete mastery of the 
soul over the body. His indifference to death at the last is the 
final proof of this mastery. At the same time, he is not an orthodox 
Orphic; it is only the fundamental doctrines that he accepts, not 
the superstitions and ceremonies of purification. 

The Platonic Socrates anticipates both the Stoics and the Cynics. 
The Stoics held that the supreme good is virtue, and that a man 
cannot be deprived of virtue by outside causes ; this doctrine is 
implicit in the contention of Socrates that his judges cannot harm 
him. The Cynics despised worldly goods, and showed their con- 
tempt by eschewing the comforts of civilization; this is the same 
point of view that led Socrates to go barefoot and ill-clad. 

It seems fairly certain that the preoccupations of Socrates were 
ethical rather than scientific. In the Apology, as we saw, he says: 
* 4 I have nothing to do with physical speculations." The earliest 
of the Platonic dialogues, which are generally supposed to be the 
most Socratic, are mainly occupied with the search for definitions 
of ethical terms. The Charmides is concerned with the definition 
of temj>erance or moderation ; the Lysis with friendship ; the Laches 
with courage. In all of these, no conclusion is arrived at, but 
Socrates makes it clear that he thinks it important to examine 
such questions. The Platonic Socrates consistently maintains that 
fie knows nothing, and is only wiser than others in knowing that 
he knows nothing ; but he does not think knowledge unobtainable. 
On the contrary, he thinks the search for knowledge of the utmost 
importance. He maintains that no man sins wittingly, and there- 
fore only knowledge is needed to make all men perfectly virtuous. 

The close connection between virtue and knowledge is charac- 
teristic of Socrates and Plato. To some degree, it exists in all 
Greek thought, as opposed to that of Christianity. In Christian 
ethics, a pure heart is the essential, and is at least as likely to be 
found among the ignorant as among the learned. This difference 
between Greek and Christian ethics has persisted down to the 
present day, * 

Dialectic, that is to say, the method of seeking knowledge by 

in 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

question and answer, was not invented by Socrates. It seems to 
have been first practised systematically by Zeno, the disciple of 
Parmenides ; in Plato's dialogue Parmenides, Zeno subjects Socrates 
to the same kind of treatment to which, elsewhere in Plato, 
Socrates subjects others. But there is every reason to suppose that 
Socrates practised and developed the method. As we saw, when 
Socrates is condemned to death he reflects happily that in the 
next world he can go on asking questions for ever, and cannot be 
put to death, as he will be immortal. Certainly, if he practised 
dialectic in the way described in the Apology, the hostility to him 
is easily explained: all the humbugs in Athens would combine 
against him. 

The dialectic method is suitable for some questions, and un- 
suitable for others. Perhaps this helped to determine the character 
of Plato's inquiries, which were, for the most part, such as could 
be dealt with in this way. And through Plato's influence, most 
subsequent philosophy has been bounded by the limitations 
resulting from his method. 

Some matters are obviously unsuitable for treatment in this way 
empirical science, for example. It is true that Galileo used dia- 
logues to advocate his theories, but that was only in order to 
overcome prejudice the positive grounds for his discoveries 
could not be inserted in a dialogue without great artificiality. 
Socrates, in Plato's works, always pretends that he is only eliciting 
knowledge already possessed by the man he is questioning; on 
this ground, he compares himself to a midwife. When, in the 
Phaedo and the Afeno, he applies his method to geometrical 
problems, he has to ask leading questions which any judge would 
disallow. The method is in harmony with the doctrine of reminis- 
cence, according to which we learn by remembering what we knew 
in a former existence. As against this view, consider any discovery 
that has been made by means of the microscope, say the spread 
of diseases by bacteria; it can hardly be maintained that such 
knowledge can be elicited from a previously ignorant person by 
the method of question and answer. 

The matters that are suitable for treatment by the Socrattc 
method are those as to which we have already enough knowledge 
to come to a right conclusion, but have failed, through confusion 
of thought or lack of analysis, to make the best logical use of what 
we know. A question such as "what is justice?'' is eminently suited 

112 



SOCRATES 

for discussion in a Platonic dialogue. We all freely use the words 
"just" and "unjust," and, by examining the ways in which we 
use them, we can arrive inductively at the definition that will best 
suit with usage. All that is needed is knowledge of how the words 
in question are used. But when our inquiry is concluded, we have 
made only a linguistic discovery, not a discovery in ethics. 

We can, however, apply the method profitably to a somewhat 
larger class of cases. Wherever what is being debated is logical 
rather than factual, discussion is a good method of eliciting truth. 
Suppose someone maintains, for example, that democracy is good, 
hut persons holding certain opinions should not be allowed to 
vote, we may convict him of inconsistency, and prove to him that 
at least one of his two assertions must be more or less erroneous. 
Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than 
many people believe; they enable their perpetrators to hold the 
comfortable opinion on every subject in turn. Any logically 
coherent body of doctrine is sure to be in part painful and con- 
trary to current prejudices. The dialectic method or, more 
generally, the habit of unfettered discussion tends to promote 
logical consistency, and is in this way useful. But it is quite un- 
availing when the object is to discover new facts. Perhaps "philo- 
sophy* 1 might he defined as the sum-total of those inquiries that 
can he pursued by Plato's methods. But if this definition is 
appropriate, that is because of Plato's influence upon subsequent 
philosophers. 



Chapter XII 
THE INFLUENCE OF SPARTA 

E 1O understand Plato, and indeed many later philosophers, 
I it is necessary to know something of Sparta. Sparta had 
JL a double effect on Greek thought: through the reality, and 
through the myth. Each is important. The reality enabled the 
Spartans to defeat Athens in war; the myth influenced Plato's 
political theory, and that of countless subsequent writers. The 
myth, fully developed, is to be found in Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus\ 
the ideals that it favours have had a great part in framing the 
doctrines of Rousseau, Nietzsche, and National Socialism. 1 The 
myth is of even more importance, historically, than the reality ; 
nevertheless, we will begin with the latter. For the reality was the 
source of the myth. 

Laconia, of which Sparta, or Lacedacmon was the capital, 
occupied the south-east of the Peloponnesus. The Spartans, who 
were the ruling race, had conquered the country at the time of the 
Dorian invasion from the north, and had reduced the population 
that they found there to the condition of serfs. These serfs were 
called helots. In historical times, all the land belonged to the 
Spartans, who, however, were forbidden by law and custom to 
cultivate it themselves, both on the ground that such labour was 
degrading, and in order that they might always be free for military 
service. The serfs were not bought and sold, but remained attached 
to the land, which was divided into lots, one or more for each 
adult male Spartan. These lots, like the helots, could not be 
bought or sold, and passed, by law, from father to son. (They 
could, however, be bequeathed.) The landowner received from 
the helot who cultivated the lot seventy medirnni (about 105 
bushels) of grain for himself, twelve for his wife, and a stated 
portion of wine and fruit annually * Anything beyond this amount 
was the property of the helot. The helots were Greeks, like the 
Spartans, and bitterly resented their servile condition. When they 
could, they rebelled. The Spartans had a body of secret police to 

1 Not to mention Dr. Thomas Arnold and the English public schools. 
f Bury, History of Greece, Vol. I, p. 138. It wen is that Spartan men ate 
nearly six times as much as their wive*. 

"4 



THE INFLUENCE OF SPARTA 

deal with this danger, but to supplement this precaution they had 
another: once a year, they declared war on the helots, so that their 
young men could kill any who seemed insubordinate without 
incurring the legal guilt of homicide. Helots could be emancipated 
by the State, but not by their masters; they were emancipated, 
rather rarely, for exceptional bravery in battle. 

At some time during the eighth century B.C. the Spartans con- 
quered the neighbouring country of Messenia, and reduced most 
of its inhabitants to the condition of helots. There had been a 
lack of Lebensraum in Sparta, but the new territory, for a time, 
removed this source of discontent. 

Lois were for the common run of Spartans; the aristocracy had 
estates of their own, whereas the lots were portions of common 
land assigned by the State. 

The free inhabitants of other parts of Laconia, called "p^rioeci," 
had no share of political power. 

The sole business of a Spartan citizen was war, to which he was 
trained from birth. Sickly children were exposed after inspection 
by the heads of the tribe; only those judged vigorous were allowed 
to be reared. Up to the age of twenty, all the boys were trained in 
one big school; the purpose of the training was to make them 
hardy, indifferent to pain, and submissive to discipline. There 
was no nonsense about cultural or scientific education; the sole 
aim was to produce good soldiers, wholly devoted to the State. 

At the age of twenty, actual military service began. Marriage 
uas permitted to anyone over the age of twenty, but until the 
age of thirty a man had to live in the "men's house," and had to 
manage his marriage as if it were an illicit and secret affair. After 
thirty, he was a full-fledged citizen. Every citizen belonged to a 
mess, and dined with the other members; he had to make a 
contribution in kind from the produce of his lot. It was the theory 
of the State that no Spartan citizen should be destitute, and none 
should be rich. Each was expected to live on the produce of his 
lot, which lie could not alienate except by free gift. None was 
allowed to own gold or silver, and the money was made of iron. 
Spartan simplicity became proverbial. 

The position of women in Sparta was peculiar. They were not 
secluded, like respectable women elsewhere in Greece. Girls went 
through the same 'physical training as was given to boys; what is 
more remarkable, boys and girls did their gymnastics together, 

"5 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

all being naked. It was desired (I quote Plutarch's Lycurgus in 
North's translation): 

that the maidens should harden their bodies with exercise of 
running, wrestling, throwing the bar, and casting the dart, to the 
end that the fruit wherewith they might be afterwards con- 
ceived, taking nourishment of a strong and lusty body, should 
shoot out and spread the better: and that they by gathering 
strength thus by exercises, should more easily away with the 
pains of child bearing. . . . And though the maidens did show 
themselves thus naked openly, yet was there no dishonesty seen 
nor offered, but all this sport was full of play and toys, without 
any youthful part or wantonness. 

Men who would not marry were made "infamous by law/* and 
compelled, even in the coldest weather, to walk up and down 
naked outside the place where the young people were doing their 
exercises and dances. 

Women were not allowed to exhibit any emotion not profitable 
to the State. They might display contempt for a coward, and 
would be praised if he were their son; but they might not show 
grief if their new-born child was condemned to death as a weakling, 
or if their sons were killed in battle. They were considered, by 
other Greeks, exceptionally chaste; at the same time, a childless 
married woman would raise no objection if the State ordered her 
to find out whether some other man would be more successful 
than her husband in begetting citizens. Children were encouraged 
by legislation. According to Aristotle, the father of three sons was 
exempt from military service, and the father of four from all the 
burdens of the State. 

The constitution of Sparta was complicated. There were two 
kings, belonging to two different families, and succeeding by 
heredity. One or other of the kings commanded the army in time 
of war, but in time of peace their powers were limited. At com- 
munal feasts they got twice as much to eat as any one else, and 
there was general mourning when one of them died. They were 
members of the Council of Klders, a body consisting of thirty 
men (including the kings); the other twenty-eight must be over 
sixty, and were chosen for life by the whole body of the citizens, 
but only from aristocratic families. The Council tried criminal 
cases, and prepared matters which were to 'come before the 
Assembly. This body (the Assembly) consisted of all the citizens ; 

116 



THE INFLUENCE OF SPARTA 

it could not initiate anything, but could vote yes or no to any 
proposal brought before it. No law could be enacted without 
its consent. But its consent, though necessary, was not sufficient ; 
the elders and magistrates must proclaim the decision before it 
became valid. 

In addition to the kings, the Council of Elders, and the 
Assembly, there was a fourth branch of the government, peculiar 
to Sparta. This was the five ephors. These were chosen out of the 
whole body of the citizens, by a method which Aristotle says was 
"too childish," and which Bury says was virtually by lot. They 
were a "democratic 11 element in the constitution, 1 apparently 
intended to balance the kings. Every month the kings swore to 
uphold the constitution, and the ephors then swore to uphold the 
kings so long as they remained true to their oath. When either 
king went on a warlike expedition, two ephors accompanied him 
to watch over his behaviour. The ephors were the supreme civil 
court, but over the kings they had criminal jurisdiction. 

The Spartan constitution was supposed, in later antiquity, to 
have been due to a legislator named Lycurgus, who was said to 
have promulgated his laws in 885 B.C. In fact, the Spartan system 
grew up gradually, and Lycurgus was a mythical person, originally 
a god. His name meant "wolf-repcller," and his origin was 
Arcadian. 

Sparta aroused among the other Greeks an admiration which 
is to us somewhat surprising. Originally, it had been much less 
different from other Greek cities than it became later; in early 
days it produced ports and artists as good as those elsewhere. 
But about the seventh century B.C., or perhaps even later, its con- 
stitution (falsely attributed to Lycurgus) crystallized into the form 
we have been considering; everything else was sacrificed to success 
in war, and Sparta ceased to have any part whatever in what 
Greece contributed to the civilization of the world. To us, the 
Spartan State appears as a model, in miniature, of the State that 
the Nazis would establish if victorious. To the Greeks it seemed 
otherwise. As Bury says: 

A stranger from Athens or Miletus in the fifth century visiting 
the straggling villages which formed her unwalled unpretentious 

1 In speaking of " Jemocratie" elements in the Spartan constitution, one 
must of course remember that the citizens as a whole were a ruling class 
fiercely tyrannizing over the helots, and allowing no power to die perioeci. 

117 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

city must have bad a feeling of being transported into an age 
long past, when men were braver, better and simpler, unspoiled 
by wealth,. undisturbed by ideas. To a philosopher, like Plato, 
speculating in political science, the Spartan State seemed the 
nearest approach to the ideal. The ordinary Greek looked upon 
it as a structure of severe and simple beauty, a Dorian city stately 
as a Dorian temple, far nobler than his own abode but not so 
comfortable to dwell in. 1 

One reason for the admiration felt for Sparta by other Greeks 
was its stability. All other Greek cities had revolutions, but the 
Spartan constitution remained unchanged for centuries, except 
for a gradual increase in the powers of the ephors, which occurred 
by legal means, without violence. 

It cannot be denied that, for a long period, the Spartans were 
successful in their main purpose, the creation of a race of invincible 
warriors. The battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.), though technically 
a defeat, is perhaps the best example of their valour. Thermopylae 
was a narrow pass through the mountains, where it was hoped 
that the Persian army could be held. Three hundred Spartans, 
with auxiliaries, repulsed all frontal attacks. Hut at last the Persians 
discovered a detour through the hills, and succeeded in attacking 
the Greeks on both sides at once. Every single Spartan was killed 
at his post. Two men had been absent on sick leave, suffering 
from a disease of the eyes amounting almost to ternporar} blind- 
ness. One of them insisted on being led by his helot to the battle, 
where he perished; the other, Aristodemus, decided that lie was 
too ill to fight, and remained absent. When he returned to Sparta, 
no one would speak to him; he was called "the coward ArLsto- 
demus." A year later, he wiped out his disgrace by dying bravely 
at the battle of Plataea, where the Spartans were victorious. 

After the war, the Spartans erected a memorial on the battlefield 
of Thermopylae, saying only: "Stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians 
that we lie here, in obedience to their orders/' 

For a long time, the Spartans proved themselves invincible on 
land. They retained their supremacy until the year 371 B.C., when 
they were defeated by the Thebans at the battle of Lcuctra. This 
was the end of their military greatness. 

Apart from war, the reality of Sparta was never quite the same 
as the theory. Herodotus, who lived at its great period, remarks, 
1 History of Greece t Vol. I, p. 141. 



THE INFLUENCE OF SPARTA 

surprisingly, that no Spartan could resist a bribe. This was in spite 
of the fact that contempt for riches and love of the simple life was 
one of the main things inculcated in Spartan education. We are 
told that the Spartan women were chaste, yet it happened several 
times that a reputed heir to the kingship was set aside on the 
ground of not being the son of his mother's husband. We are told 
that the Spartans were inflexibly patriotic, yet the king Pausanias, 
the victor of Plataea, ended as a traitor in the pay of Xerxes. 
Apart from such flagrant matters, the policy of Sparta was always 
petty and provincial. When Athens liberated the Greeks of Asia 
Minor and the adjacent islands from the Persians, Sparta held 
aloof; so long as the Peloponnesus was deemed safe, the fate of 
other (ireeks was a matter of indifference. Every attempt at a 
confederation of the Hellenic world was defeated by Spartan 
particularism. 

Aristotle, who lived after the downfall of Sparta, gives a very 
hostile account of its constitution. 1 What he says is so different 
from what other people say that it is difficult to believe he is 
speaking of the same place, e.g. "The legislator wanted to make 
the whole State hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his 
intention in the case of men, but he has neglected the women, 
who live in even* sort of intemperance and luxury. The conse- 
quence is that in such a State wealth is too highly valued, especially 
if the citixcns fall under the dominion of their wives, after the 
manner of most warlike races. . . . Even in regard to courage, 
which is of no use in daily life, and is needed only in war, the 
influence of the I^iccdaemonian women has been most mischievous. 
. . . This license of the Lacedaemonian women existed from the 
earliest times, and was only what might be expected. For . . . 
when I.vcurgus, as tradition says, wanted to bring the women 
under his laws, they resisted, and he gave up the attempt." 

1 le goes on to accuse Spartans of avarice, which he attributes 
to the unequal distribution of property. Although lots cannot be 
sold, he says, they can be given or bequeathed. Two-fifths of all 
the land, he adds, belongs to women. The consequence is a great 
diminution in the number of citizens: it is said that once there 
were ten thousand, but at the time of the defeat by Thebes there 
were less than one thousand. 

Aristotle criticfccs every point of the Spartan constitution. He 
, Vol. II, Q ( 126911- 1 270A). 

IK) 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

says that the ephors are often very poor, and therefore easy to 
bribe ; and their power is so great that even kings are compelled 
to court them, so that the constitution has been turned into a 
democracy. The ephor?, we are told, have too much licence, and 
live in a manner contrary to the spirit of the constitution, while 
the strictness in relation to ordinary citizens is so intolerable that 
they take refuge in the secret illegal indulgence of sensual pleasures. 

Aristotle wrote when Sparta was decadent, but on some points 
he expressly says that the evil he is mentioning has existed from 
early times. His tone is so dry and realistic that it is difficult to 
disbelieve him, and it is in line with all modern experience of the 
results of excessive severity in the laws. But it was not Aristotle's 
Sparta that persisted in men's imagination; it was the mythical 
Sparta of Plutarch and the philosophic idealization of Sparta in 
Plato's Republic. Century after century, young men read these 
works, and were fired with the ambition to become Lycurguses 
or philosopher-kings. The resulting union of idealism and love of 
power has led men astray over and over again, and is still doing so 
in the present day. 

The myth of Sparta, for medieval and modern readers, was 
mainly fixed by Plutarch. When he wrote, Sparta belonged to the 
romantic past ; its great period was as far removed from his time 
as Columbus is from ours. What he says must IK* treated with 
great caution by the historian of institutions, but to the historian 
of myth it is of the utmost importance. Greece has influenced the 
world, always, through its effect on men's imaginations, ideals, 
and hopes, not directly through political power. Rome made roads 
which largely still survive, and la\v> which are the source of many 
modern legal codes, but it was the armies of Rome that made these 
things important. The Greeks, though admirable fighters, made 
few conquests, because they expended their military fury mainly 
on each other. It was left to the semi-barbarian Alexander to spread 
Hellenism throughout the Near Kast, and to make Greek the 
literary language in Kgypt and Syria and the inland parts of Asia 
Minor. The Greeks could never have accomplished this task, not 
for lack of military force, but owing to their incapacity for 
political cohesion. The political vehicles of Hellenism have always 
been non-Hellenic; but it was the Greek genius that so inspired 
alien nations as to cause them to spread the* culture of those 
whom they had conquered. 

120 



THE INFLUENCE OF SPARTA 

What is important to the historian of the world is not the petty 
wars between Greek cities, or the sordid squabbles for party 
ascendancy, but the memories retained by mankind when the 
brief episode was ended like the recollection of a brilliant sunrise 
in the Alps, while the mountaineer struggles through an arduous 
day of wind and snow. These memories, as they gradually faded, 
left in men's minds the images of certain peaks that had shone 
with peculiar brightness in the early light, keeping alive the 
knowledge that behind the clouds a splendour still survived, and 
might at any moment become manifest. Of these, Plato was the 
most important in early Christianity, Aristotle in the medieval 
Church; hut when, after the Renaissance, men began to value 
political freedom, it was above all to Plutarch that they turned. 
I le influenced profoundly the English and French liberals of the 
eighteenth century, and the founders of the United States; he 
influenced the romantic movement in Germany, and has con- 
tinued, mainly by indirect channels, to influence German thought 
down to the present day. In some ways his influence was good, 
in some bad; as regards Lycurgus and Sparta, it was bad. What 
he has to say about Lycurgus is important, and I shall give a brief 
account of it, even at the cost of some repetition. 

Lycurgus so Plutarch says having resolved to give laws to 
Sparta, travelled widely in order to study different institutions. 
He liked the laws of Crete, which were "very straight and severe," 1 
but disliked tho.se of Ionia, where there were "superfluities and 
vanities.*' In Kgypt he learned the advantage of separating the 
soldiers from the rest of the people, and afterwards, having 
returned from his travels, "brought the practice of it into Sparta: 
where setting the merchants, artificers, and labourers every one 
a part by themselves, he did establish a noble Commonwealth." 
He nude an equal division of hinds among all the citizens of Sparta 
in order to "banish out of the city all insolvency, envy, covetous- 
ness, and dcliciousness, and also all riches and poverty." He for- 
bade gold and silver money, allowing only iron coinage, of so 
little value that "to lay up thereof the value often minas, it would 
have occupied a whole cellar in a house." By this means he 
banished "all superfluous and unprofitable sciences," since there 
was not enough money to pay their practitioners; and by the 
same law he made'all external commerce impossible. Rhetoricians, 
N ' In quoting Plutarch I use North's translation. 
121 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

panders, and jewellers, not liking the iron money, avoided Sparta. 
He next ordained that all the citizens should eat together, and all 
should have the same food. 

Lycurgus, like other reformers, thought the education of children 
"the chiefest and greatest matter, that a reformer of laws should 
establish"; and like all who aim chiefly nt military power, he was 
anxious to keep up the birth rate. The M plays, sports, and dances 
the maids did naked before young men, were provocations to draw 
and allure the young men to marry: not as persuaded by geo- 
metrical reasons, as saith Plato, but brought to it by liking, and of 
very love." The habit of treating a marriage, for the first few years, 
as if it were a clandestine affair, "continued in both parties a still 
burning love, and a new desire of the one to the other" such, at 
least, is the opinion of Plutarch. He goes on to explain that a man 
was not thought ill of if, being old and having a young wife, he 
allowed a younger man to have children by her. "It was lawful 
also for an honest man that loved another man's wife ... to intreat 
her husband to suffer him to lie with her, and that he might also 
plough in that lusty ground, an j e^t abroad the seed of well- 
favoured children." There was to be no foolish jealousy, for 
"Lycurgus did not like that children should be private to any 
men, but that they should be common to the common weal: by 
which reason he would also, that such as should become citizens 
should not be begotten of every man, but of the most honest 
men only." He goes on to explain that this is the principle that 
farmers apply to their live-stock. 

When a child was born, the father brought him before the 
elders of his family to be examined: if he was healthy, he was 
given back to the father to he reared; if not, he was thrown into 
a deep pit of water. Children, from the first, were subjected to a 
severe hardening process, in some respects good for example, 
they were not put in swaddling clothes. At the age of seven, boys 
were taken away from home and put in a boarding school, where 
they were divided into companies, each under the orders of one 
of their number, chosen for sense and courage. "Touching learning, 
they had as much as served their turn: for the rest of their time 
they spent in learning how to obey, to away with pain, to endure 
labour, to overcome still in fight." They played naked together 
most of the time; after twelve years old, they wf>re no coals; they 
were always "nasty and sluttish," and they never bathed except 

122 



THE INFLUENCE OF SPARTA 

on certain days in the year. They slept on beds of straw, which 
in winter they mixed with thistle. They were taught to steal, and 
were punished if caught not for stealing, but for stupidity. 

Homosexual love, male if not female, was a recognized 
custom in Sparta, and had an acknowledged part in the education 
of adolescent boys. A boy's lover suffered credit or discredit by 
the boy's actions; Plutarch states that once, when a boy cried out 
because he was hurt in fighting, his lover was fined for the boy's 
cowardice. 

There was little liberty at any stape in the life of a Spartan. 

Their discipline and order of life continued still, after they 
were full grown men, For it was not lawful for any man to live 
as he listed, but they were within tlieir city, as if they had been in 
a camp, where every man knoweth what allowance he hath to live 
withal, and what business he hath else to do in his calling. To be 
short, they were all of this mind, that they were not born to serve 
themselves, but to serve their country. . . . One of the best and 
happit-st things which Lycurpus ever brought into his city, was 
the preat rest and leisure which he made his citizens to have, only 
forhiddini; them that they should not profess any vile or base 
occupation: and they needed not also to be careful to get great 
riches, in a place where goods were nothing profitable nor esteemed. 
For the 1 lelots, which were bond men made by the wars, did till 
their grounds, and yielded them a certain revenue every year. 

Plutarch goes on to tell a story of an Athenian condemned for 
idleness, upon hearing of which a Spartan exclaimed: "show me 
the man condemned for living nobly and like a gentleman." 

Lycurijus (Plutarch continues) "did accustom his citizens so, 
that they neither would nor could live alone, but were in manner 
as men incorporated one with another, and were always in company 
together, as the bees be about their master bee." 

Spartans were not allowed to travel, nor were foreigners admitted 
to Sparta, except on business; for it was feared that alien customs 
uould corrupt Lacedaemonian virtue. 

Plutarch relates the law that allowed Spartans to kill helots 
whenever they felt so disposed, but refuses to believe that any- 
thing so abominable can have been due to Lycurgus. "For I 
cannot be persuaded, that ever Lycurgus invented, or instituted 
so wicked and mischievous an act, as that kind of ordinance was: 
because I imagine his nature was gentle and merciful, by the 

123 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

clemency and justice we see he used in- all his other doings/* 
Except in this matter Plutarch has nothing but praise for the 
constitution of Sparta. 

The effect of Sparta on Plato, with whom, at the moment, we 
shall be specially concerned, will be e\ident from the account of 
his Utopia, which will occupy the next chapter. 



124 



Chapter XIII 
THE SOURCES OF PLATO'S OPINIONS 

PLATO and Aristotle were the most influential of all philo- 
sophers, ancient, medieval, or modern; and of the two, it 
was Plato who had the greater effect upon subsequent ages. 
I say this for two reasons: first, that Aristotle himself is an out- 
come of Plato; second, that Christian theology and philosophy, at 
any rate until the thirteenth century, was much more Platonic 
than Aristotelian. It is necessary therefore, in a history of philo- 
sophic thought, to treat Plato, and to a lesser degree Aristotle, 
more fully than any of their predecessors or successors. 

The most important matters in Plato's philosophy are: fast, his 
Utopia, which was the earliest of a long series; second, his theory 
of ideas, which was a pioneer attempt to deal with the still unsolved 
problem of universal*; third, his arguments in favour of immor- 
tality; fourth, his cosmogony; fifth, his conception of knowledge 
as reminiscence rather than perception. But before dealing with 
any of these topics, I shall say a few words about the circumstances 
of his life and the influences which determined his political and 
philosophical opinions. 

Plato was born in 428-7 B.C., in the early years of the Pelo- 
ponncsian War. He was a well-to-do aristocrat, related to various 
people who were concerned in the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. He 
was a young man when Athens was defeated, and he could attribute 
the defeat to democracy, which his social position and his family 
connections were likely to make him despise. He was a pupil of 
Socrates, for whom he had a profound affection and respect; and 
Socrates was put to death by the democracy. It is not, therefore, 
surprising that he should turn to Sparta for an adumbration of 
his ideal commonwealth. Plato possessed the an to dress up 
illiberal suggestions in such a way that they deceived future ages, 
which admired the Republic without ever becoming aware of what 
was involved in its proposals. It has always been correct to praise 
Plato, but not to understand him. This is the common fate of 
great men. My object is the opposite. I wish to understand hiiiL 
but to treat him vrith as little reverence as if he were a corirern- 
porary Knclish or American advocate of totalitarianism. ,*y? Or 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The purely philosophical influences on Plato were also such as 
to predispose him in favour of Sparta. These influences, speaking 
broadly, were: Pythagoras, Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Socrates. 

From Pythagoras (whether by way of Socrates or not) Plato 
derived the Orphic elements in his philosophy: the religious trend, 
the belief in immortality, the other-worldliness, the priestly tone, 
and all that is involved in the simile of the cave; also his respect 
for mathematics, and his intimate intermingling of intellect and 
mysticism. 

From Parmenides he derived the belief that reality is eternal 
and timeless, and that, on logical grounds, all change* must be 
illusory. 

From Heraclitus he derived the negative doctine that there is 
nothing permanent in the sensible world. This, combined with the 
doctrine of Parmenides, led to the conclusion that knowledge is 
not to be derived from the senses, but is only to be achieved by 
the intellect. This, in turn, fitted in well with Pythagoreanism. 

From Socrates he probably learnt his preoccupation with 
ethical problems, and his tendency to seek teleological rather than 
mechanical explanations of the world. "The Good" dominated his 
thought more than that of the pre-Socratics, and it is difficult not 
to attribute this fact to the influence of Socrates. 

How is all this connected with authoritarianism in politics ? 

In the first place: Goodness and Reality being timeless, the best 
State will be the one which most nearly copies the heavenly model, 
by having a minimum of change and a maximum of static perfec- 
tion, and its rulers should be those who best understand the 
eternal Good. 

In the second place: Plato, like all mystics, has, in his beliefs, 
a core of certainty which is essentially incommunicable except by 
a way of life. The Pythagoreans had endeavoured to set up a rule 
of the initiate, and this is, at bottom, what Plato desires. If a man 
is to be a good statesman, he must know the Good; this he can 
only do by a combination of intellectual and moral discipline. 
If those who have not gone through this discipline are allowed a 
share in the government, they will inevitably corrupt it. 

In the third place: much education is needed to make a good 

''er on Plato's principles. It seems to us unwise to have insisted 

chtng geometry to the younger Dion VMusJ tyrant of Syracuse, 

r to make him a good king, but from Plato's point of view 

126 



THE SOURCES OF PLATO'S OPINIONS 

it was essential. He was sufficiently Pythagorean to think that 
without mathematics no true wisdom is possible. This view implies 
an oligarchy. 

In the fourth place: Plato, in common with most Greek philo- 
sophers, took the view that leisure is essential to wisdom, which 
will therefore not be found among those who have to work for 
their living, but only among those who have independent means 
or who are relieved by the State from anxieties as to their sub- 
sistence. This point of view is essentially aristocratic. 

Two general questions arise in confronting Plato with modern 
ideas. The first is: is there such a thing as "wisdom"? The second 
is: granted that there is such a thing, can any constitution be 
devised that will give it political power? 

"Wisdom," in the sense supposed, would not be any kind of 
specialized skill, such as is possessed by the shoemake- or the 
physician or the military tactician. It must be something more 
generali/cd than this, since its possession is supposed to make a 
man capable of governing wisely. I think Plato would have said 
that it consists in knowledge of the good, and would have supple- 
mented this definition with the Socratic doctrine that no man 
Mns wittingly, from which it follows that whoever knows what is 
good does what is right. To us, such a view seems remote from 
reality. We should more naturally say that there are divergent 
interests, and that the statesman should arrive at the best available 
compromise. The members of a class or a nation may have a 
common interest, but it will usually conflict with the interests of 
other classes or other nations. There are, no doubt, some interests 
of mankind as a whole, but they do not suffice to determine political 
action. Perhaps they will do so at some future date, but certainly 
not so long as there are many sovereign States. And even then the 
most difficult part of the pursuit of the general interest would 
consist in arriving at compromises among mutually hostile special 
interests. 

But even if we suppose that there is such a thing as "wisdom," 
is there any form of constitution which will give the government 
to the wise? It is clear that majorities, like general councils, may 
err, and in fact have erred. Aristocracies are not always wise; kings 
are often foolish ; Popes, in spite of infallibility, have committed 
grievous errors. Wduld anybody advocate entrusting the govern- 
ment to university graduates, or even to doctors of divinity? Or 

127 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

to men who, having been born poor, have made great fortunes? 
It is clear that no legally definable selection of citizens is likely to 
be wiser, in practice, than the whole body. 

It might be suggested that men could be given political wisdom 
by a suitable training. But the question would arise: what is a 
suitable training? And this would turn out to be a party question. 

The problem of finding a collection of "wise" men and leaving 
the government to them is thus an insoluble one. That is the 
ultimate reason for democracy. 



128 



Chapter XIV 
PLATO'S UTOPIA 

PLATO'S most important dialogue, the Republic, consists, 
broadly, of three parts. The first (to near the end of Book V) 
consists in the construction of an ideal commonwealth ; it is 
the earliest of Utopias. 

One of the conclusions arrived at is that the rulers must be philo- 
sophers. Books VI and VII are concerned to define the word 
" philosopher." This discussion constitutes the second section. 

The third section consists mainly of a discussion of various 
kinds of actual constitutions and of their merits and defects. 

The nominal purpose of the Republic is to define "justice." But 
at an early stage it is decided that, since everything is easier to see 
in the large than in the small, it will be better to inquire what 
makes a just State than what makes a just individual. And since 
justice must be among the attributes of the best imaginable State, 
such a State is first delineated, and then it is decided which of its 
perfections is to be called "justice." 

Let us first describe Plato's Utopia in its broad outlines, and 
then consider points that arise by the way. 

Plato begins by deciding that the citizens are to be divided into 
three classes: the common people, the soldiers, and the guardians. 
'I 'he last, alone, are to have political power. There are to be much 
fewer of them than of the other two classes. In the first instance, 
it seems, they are to be chosen by the legislator; after that, they 
will usually succeed by heredity, but in exceptional cases a pro- 
mising child may be promoted from one of the inferior classes, 
while among the children of guardians a child or young man who 
is unsatisfactory may be degraded. 

The main problem, as Plato perceives, is to insure that the 
guardians shall carry out the intentions of the legislator. For this 
purpose he has various proposals, educational, economic, biological, 
and religious. It is not always clear how far these proposals apply 
to other classes than the guardians; it is clear that some of them 
apply to the soldiers, but in the main Plato is concerned only 
with the guardians? who are to be a class apart, like the Jesuits in 
old Paraguay, the ecclesiastics in the States of the Church until 

1 19 * 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

1870, and the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R. at the present day. 

The first thing to consider is education. This is divided into 
two parts, music and gymnastics. Each has a wider meaning than 
at present: "music" means everything that is in the province of 
the muses, and "gymnastics" means everything concerned with 
physical training and fitness. "Music" is almost as wide as what 
we should call "culture/ 9 and "gymnastics" is somewhat wider 
than what we call "athletics." 

Culture is to be devoted to making men gentlemen, in the sense 
which, largely owing to Plato, is familiar in England. The Athens 
of his day was, in one respect, analogous to England in the nine- 
teenth century: there was in each an aristocracy enjoying wealth 
and social prestige, but having no monopoly of political power; 
and in each the aristocracy had to secure as much power as it 
could by means of impressive behaviour. In Plato's Utopia, 
however, the aristocracy rules unchecked. 

Gravity, decorum and courage seem to be the qualities mainly 
to be cultivated in education. There is to be a rigid censorship 
from very early years over the literature to which the young have 
access and the music they are allowed to hear. Mothers and nurses 
are to tell their children only authorized stories. Homer and 
Hesiod are not to be allowed, for a number of reasons. First they 
represent the gods as behaving badly on occasion, which is un- 
edifying; the young must be taught that evils never come from 
the gods, for God is not the author of all things, but only of good 
things. Second, there are things in Homer and Hesiod which art- 
calculated to make their readers fear death, whereas everything 
ought to he done in education to make young people willing to 
die in battle. Our boys must be taught to consider slavery worse 
than death, and therefore they must have no stories of good men 
weeping and wailing, even for the death of friends. Third, decorum 
demands that there should never be loud laughter, and yet Homer 
speaks of "inextinguishable laughter among the blessed gods/' 
How is a schoolmaster to reprove mirth effectively, if boys can 
quote this passage? Fourth, there are passages in Homer praising 
rich feasts, and others describing the lusts of the gods; such 
passages discourage temperance. (Dean Inge, a true Platonist, 
objected to a line in a well-known hymn: "The shout of them 
thai triumph, the song of them that feast/' which occurs in a 
description of die joys of heaven.) Then there must be no stories 

130 



PLATO'S UTOPIA 

in which the wicked are happy or the good unhappy; the moral 
effect on tender minds might be most unfortunate. On all these 
counts, the poets are to be condemned. 

Plato passes on to a curious argument about the drama. The 
good man, he says, ought to be unwilling to imitate a bad man; 
now most plays contain villains; therefore the dramatist, and the 
actor who plays the villain's part, have to imitate people guilty of 
various crimes. Not only criminals, but women, slaves, and 
inferiors generally, ought not to be imitated by superior men. 
(In Greece, as in Elizabethan England, women's parts were acted 
by men.) Plays, therefore, if permissible at all, must contain no 
characters except faultless male heroes of good birth. The im- 
possibility of this is so evident that Plato decides to banish all 
dramatists from his city: 

When any of these pantomimic gentlemen, who are so clever 
that they can imitate anything, comes to us, and makes a proposal 
to exhibit himself and his poetry, we will fall down and worship 
him as a sweet and holy and wonderful being; but we must 
also inform him that in our State such as he are not permitted to 
exist ; the law will not allow them. And so when we have anointed 
him with myrrh, and set a garland of wool upon his head, we shall 
send him away to another city. 

Next we come to the censorship of music (in the modern sense). 
The Lydian and Ionian harmonies are to be forbidden, the first 
because it expresses sorrow, the second because it is relaxed. Only 
the Dorian (for courage) and the Phrygian (for temperance) are 
to be allowed. Permissible rhythms must be simple, and such as 
are expressive of a courageous and harmonious life. 

The training of the body is to be very austere. No one is to eat 
fish, or meat cooked otherwise than roasted, and there must be 
no sauces or confectionery. People brought up on his regimen, 
he says, will have no need of doctors. 

Up to a certain age, the young are to sec no ugliness or vice. 
But at a suitable moment, they must be exposed to "enchant- 
ments/* both in the shape of terrors that must not terrify, and of 
bad pleasures that must not seduce the will. Only after they have 
withstood these tests will they be judged fit to be guardians. 

Young boys, before they are grown up, should see war, though 
they should not themselves fight. 

As for economics: Plato proposes a thoroughgoing communism 

'3 1 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

for the guardians, and (I think) also for the soldiers, though this 
is not very clear. The guardians are to have small houses and 
simple food ; they are to live as in a camp, dining together in com- 
panies; they are to have no private property beyond what is 
absolutely necessary. Gold and silver are to be forbidden. Though 
not rich, there is no reason why they should not be happy; but 
the purpose of the city is the good of the whole, not the happiness 
of one class. Both wealth and poverty are harmful, and in Plato's 
city neither will exist. There is a curious argument about war, 
that it will be easy to purchase allies, since our city will not want 
any share in the spoils of victory. 

With feigned unwillingness, the Platonic Socrates proceeds to 
apply his communism to the family. Friends, he says, should 
have all things in common, including women and children. He 
admits that this presents difficulties, but thinks them not insuper- 
able. First of all, girls are to have exactly the same education as 
boys, learning music, gymnastics, and the art of war along with 
the boys. Women are to have complete equality with men in all 
respects. "The same education which makes a man a good guardian 
will make a woman a good guardian ; for their original nature is 
the same." No doubt there are differences between men and 
women, but they have nothing to do with politics. Some women 
are philosophic, and suitable as guardians; some are warlike, and 
could make good soldiers. 

The legislator, having selected the guardians, some men and 
some women, will ordain that they shall all share common houses 
and common meals. Marriage, as we know it, will be radically 
transformed. 1 At certain festivals, brides and bridegrooms, in 
such numbers as are required to keep the population constant, 
mil be brought together, by lot, as they will be taught to believe; 
but in fact the rulers of the city will manipulate the lots on eugenic 
principles. They will arrange that the best sires shall have the 
most children. All children will be taken away from their parents 
at birth, and great care will be taken that no parents shall know 
who are their children, and no children shall know who are their 
parents. Deformed children, and children of inferior parents, "will 
be put away in some mysterious unknown place, as they ought to 
be." Children arising from unions not sanctioned by the State 

1 "These women ahull be, without exception, the common wives of 
these men, and no one shall have a wife of hit own." 

'3* 



PLATO'S UTOPIA 

are to be considered illegitimate. Mothers are to be between 
twenty and forty, fathers between twenty-five and fifty-five. Out- 
side these ages, intercourse is to be free, but abortion or infanticide 
is to be compulsory. In the "marriages" arranged by the State, 
the people concerned have no voice; they are to be actuated by 
the thought of their duty to the State, not by any of those common 
emotions that the banished poets used to celebrate. 

Since no one knows who his parents are, he is to call every one 
"father" whose age is such that he might be his father, and 
similarly as regards "mother" and "brother" and "sister." (This 
sort of thing happens among some savages, and used to puzzle 
missionaries.) There is to be no marriage between a "father" and 
"daughter" or "mother" and "son" ; in general, but not absolutely, 
marriages of "brother" and "sister" are to be prevented. (I think 
if Plato had thought this out more carefully he would have found 
that he had prohibited all marriages, except the "brother-sister" 
marriages which he regards as rare exceptions.) 

It is supposed that the sentiments at present attached to the 
words "father," "mother," "son," and "daughter" will still attach 
to them under Plato's new arrangements; a young man, for 
instance, will not strike an old man, because he might be striking 
his father. 

The advantage sought is, of course, to minimize private pos- 
sessive emotions, and so remove obstacles to the domination of 
public spirit, as well as to acquiescence in the absence of private 
property. It was largely motives of a similar kind that led to the 
celibacy of the clergy. 1 

I come last to the theological aspect of the system. I am not 
thinking of the accepted Greek gods, but of certain myths which 
the government is to inculcate. Lying, Plato says explicitly, is to 
be a prerogative of the government, just as giving medicine is of 
physicians. The government, as we have already seen, is to 
deceive people in pretending to arrange marriages by lot, but this 
is not a religious matter. 

There is to be "one royal lie," which, Plato hopes, may deceive 
the rulers, but will at any rate deceive the rest of the city. This 
"lie" is set forth in considerable detail. The most important part 
of it is the dogma that God has created men of three kinds, the 
best made of gold/ the second best of silver, and the common 
1 Se^ Henry C. 1-ca, A History of Sacerdotal Celibacy. 

133 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

herd of brass and iron. Those made of gold are fit to be guardians ; 
those made of silver should be soldiers; the others should do the 
manual work. Usually, but by no means always, children will 
belong to the same grade as their parents ; when they do not, they 
must be promoted or degraded accordingly. It is thought hardly 
possible to make the present generation believe this myth, but the 
next, and all subsequent generations, can be so educated as not 
to doubt it 

Plato is right in thinking that belief in this myth could be 
generated in two generations. The Japanese have been taught 
since 1868 that the Mikado is descended from the sun-goddess, 
and that Japan was created earlier than the rest of the world. Any 
university professor, who, even in a learned work, throws doubt 
on these dogmas, is dismissed for un-Japanese activities. What 
Plato does not seem to realize is that the compulsory acceptance 
of such myths is incompatible with philosophy, and involves a 
kind of education which stunts intelligence. 

The definition of "justice/ 1 which is the nominal goal of the 
whole discussion, is reached in Book IV. It consists, we are told, 
in everybody doing his own work and not being a busybody: the 
city is /urt when trader, auxiliary, and guardian, each does his 
own job without interfering with that of other classes. 

That everybody should mind his own business is no doubt an 
admirable precept, but it hardly corresponds to what a modern 
would naturally call "justice." The Greek word so translated 
corresponded to a concept which was very important in Greek 
thought, but for which we have no exact equivalent. It is worth 
while to recall what Anaximander said: 

Into that from which things take their rise they pass away once 
more, as is ordained; for they make reparation and satisfaction to 
one another for their injustice according to the appointed time. 

Before philosophy began, the Greeks had a theory or feeling 
about the universe, which may be called religious or ethical. 
According to this theory, every person and every thing has his 
or its appointed place and appointed function. This does not 
depend upon the fiat of Zeus, for Zeus himself is subject to the 
same kind of law as governs others. The theory is connected with 
the idea of fate or necessity. It applies emphatitally to the heavenly 
bodies. But where there is vigour, there is a tendency to overstep 

'34 



PLATO'S UTOPIA 

just bounds; hence arises strife. Some kind of impersonal super- 
Olympian law punishes hubris, and restores the eternal order 
which the aggressor sought to violate. This whole outlook, ori- 
ginally, perhaps, scarcely conscious, passed over into philosophy; 
it is to be found alike in cosmologies of strife, such as those of 
Heraclitus and Empedoclea, and in monistic doctrines such as 
that of Parmenides. It is the source of the belief both in natural 
and in human law, and it clearly underlies Plato's conception of 
justice. 

The word "justice," as still used in the law, is more similar to 
Plato's conception than it is as used in political speculation. Under 
the influence of democratic theory, we have come to associate 
justice with equality : while for Plato it has no such implication. 
"Justice," in the sense in which it is almost synonymous with 
"law" as when we speak of "courts of justice" is concerned 
mainly with property rights, which have nothing to do with 
equality. The first suggested definition of "justice," at the be- 
ginning of the Republic, is that it consists in paying debts. This 
definition is soon abandoned as inadequate, but something of it 
remains at the end. 

There are several points to be noted about Plato's definition. 
First, it makes it possible to have inequalities of power and 
privilege without injustice. The guardians are to have all the power, 
because they are the wisest members of the community; injustice 
would only occur, on Plato's definition, if there were men in the 
other classes who were wiser than some of the guardians. That is 
why Plato provides for promotion and degradation of citizens, 
although he thinks that the double advantage of birth and edu- 
cation will, in most cases, make the children of guardians superior 
to the children of others. If there were a more exact science of 
government, and more certainty of men following its precepts, 
there would be much to be said for Plato's system. No one thinks 
it unjust to put the best men into a football team, although they 
acquire thereby a great superiority. If football were managed as 
democratically as the Athenian government the students to play 
for their university would be chosen by lot. But in matters of 
government it is difficult to know who has the most skill, and 
very far from certain that a politician will use his skill in the 
public interest rather than in his own or in that of his class or 
party or crcfd. 

135 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The next point is that Plato's definition of "justice" presup- 
poses a State organized either on traditional lines, or, like his own, 
so as to realize, in its totality, some ethical ideal. Justice, we are 
told, consists in every man doing his own job. But what is a man's 
job? In a State which, like ancient Egypt or the kingdom of the 
Incas, remains unchanged generation after generation, a man's 
job is his father's job, and no question arises. But in Plato's State 
no man has any legal father. His job, therefore, must be decided 
either by his own tastes or by the State's judgment as to his 
aptitudes. The latter is obviously what Plato would desire. But 
some kinds of work, though highly skilled, may be deemed 
pernicious ; Plato takes this view of poetry, and I should take it 
of the work of Napoleon. The purposes of the Government, 
therefore, are essential in determining what is a man's job. Al- 
though all the rulers are to be philosophers, there are to be no 
innovations: a philosopher is to be, for all time, a man who 
understands and agrees with Plato. 

When we ask: what will Plato's Republic achieve ? the answer 
is rather humdrum. It will achieve success in wars against roughly 
equal populations, and it will secure a livelihood for a certain 
small number of people. It will almost certainly produce no art 
or science, because of its rigidity; in this respect, as in others, 
it will be like Sparta. In spite of all the fine talk, skill in war and 
enough to eat is all that will be achieved. Plato had lived through 
famine and defeat in Athens; perhaps, subconsciously, he thought 
the avoidance of these evils the best that statesmanship could 
accomplish. 

A Utopia, if seriously intended, obviously must embody the 
ideals of its creator. Let us consider, for a moment, what we can 
mean by "ideals." In the first place, they are desired by those 
who believe in them; but they are not desired quite in the same- 
way as a man desires personal comforts, such as food and shelter. 
What makes the difference between an "ideal" and an ordinary 
object of desire is that the former is impersonal ; it is something 
having (at least ostensibly) no special reference to the ego of the 
man who feels the desire, and therefore capable, theoretically, 
of being desired by everybody. Thus we might define an "ideal" 
as something desired, not egocentric, and such that the person 
desiring it wishes that every one else also deiircd it. I may wish 
that everybody had enough to eat, that everybody felt kindly 

36 



PLATO'S UTOPIA 

towards everybody, and so on, and if I wish anything of this 
kind I shall also wish others to wish it. In this way, I can build 
up what looks like an impersonal ethic, although in fact it rests 
upon the personal basis of my own desires for the desire remains 
mine, even when what is desired has no reference to myself. 
For example, one man may wish that everybody understood 
science, and another that everybody appreciated an; it is a per- 
sonal difference between the two men that produces this difference 
in their desires. 

The personal element becomes apparent as soon as controversy 
is involved. Suppose some man says: "You are wrong to wish 
everybody to be happy; you ought to desire the happiness of 
Germans and the unhappiness of everyone else." Here "ought" 
may be taken to mean that that is what the speaker wishes me 
to desire. I might retort that, not being German, it is psychologi- 
cally impossible for me to desire the unhappiness of all non- 
Germans ; but this answer seems inadequate. 

Again, there may be a conflict of purely impersonal ideals. 
Nietzsche's hero differs from a Christian saint, yet both are 
impersonally admired, the one by Nietzscheans, the other by 
Christians. How are we to decide between the two except by 
means of our own desires? Yet, if there is nothing further, an 
ethical disagreement can only be decided by emotional appeals, 
or by force in the ultimate resort, by war. On questions of 
fact, we can appeal to science and scientific methods of obser- 
vation; but on ultimate questions of ethics there seems to be 
nothing analogous. Yet, if this is really the case, ethical disputes 
resolve themselves into contests for power including propaganda 
power. 

This point of view, in a crude form, is put forth in the first 
book of the Republic by Thrasymachus, who, like almost all the 
characters in Plato's dialogues, was a real person. He was a 
Sophist from Chalcedon. and a famous teacher of rhetoric; he 
appeared in the first comedy of Aristophanes, 427 B.C. After 
Socrates has, for some time, been amiably discussing justice with 
an old man named Cephalus, and with Plato's elder brothers 
Glaucon and Adeimantus, Thrasymachus, who has been listening 
with growing impatience, breaks in with a vehement protest 
against such childish nonsense. He proclaims emphatically that 
"justice is lathing else than the interest of the stronger." 

'37 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

This point of view is refuted by Socrates with quibbles; it is 
never fairly faced. It raises the fundamental question in ethics 
and politics, namely: Is there any standard of "good" and "bad," 
except what the man using these words desires ? If there is not, 
many of the consequences drawn by Thrasymachus seem unes- 
capable. Yet how are we to say that there is ? 

At this point, religion has, at first sight, a simple answer. God 
determines what is good and what bad ; the man whose will is in 
harmony with the will of God is a good man. Yet this answer is 
not quite orthodox. Theologians say that God is good, and this 
implies that there is a standard of goodness which is independent 
of God's will. We are thus forced to face the question: Is there 
objective truth or falsehood in such a statement as "pleasure 
is good/' in the same sense as in such a statement as "snow is 
white"? 

To answer this question, a very long discussion would be 
necessary. Some may think that we can, for practical purposes, 
evade the fundamental issue, and say: "I do not know what is 
meant by 'objective truth,' but I shall consider a statement 'true* 
if all, or virtually all, of those who have investigated it are agreed 
in upholding it." In this sense, it is "true" that snow is white. 
that Caesar was assassinated, that water is composed of hydrogen 
and oxygen, and so on. \Ve are then faced with a question of fact: 
are there any similarly agreed statements in ethics? If there arc, 
they can be made the basis both for rules of private conduct, 
and for a theory of politics. If there are not, we are driven in 
practice, whatever may be the philosophic truth, to a contest by 
force or propaganda or both, whenever an irreconcilable ethical 
difference exists between powerful groups. 

For Plato, this question does not really exist. Although his 
dramatic sense leads him to state the position of Thrasymachus 
forcibly, he is quite unaware of its strength, and allows himself 
to be grossly unfair in arguing against it. Plato is convinced that 
there is "the Good," and that its nature can be ascertained; 
when people disagree about it, one, at least, is making an intel- 
lectual, error just as much as if the disagreement were a scientific 
one on some matter of fact. 

The difference between Plato and Thrasymachus is very impor- 
tant, but for the historian of philosophy it is one to be only noted, 
not decided. Plato thinks he can prove that his ideal ^Republic is 

138 



PLATO'S UTOPIA 

good ; a democrat who accepts the objectivity of ethics may think 
that he can prove the Republic bad; but anyone who agrees with 
Thrasymachus will say: "There is no question of proving or 
disproving; the only question is whether you like the kind of State 
that Plato desires. If you do, it is good for you ; if you do not, 
it is bad for you. If many do and many do not, the decision cannot 
be made by reason, but only by force, actual or concealed." This 
is one of the issues in philosophy that are still open ; on each side 
there are men who command respect. But for a very long time 
the opinion that Plato advocated remained almost undisputed. 

It should be observed, further, that the view which substi- 
tutes the consensus of opinion for an objective standard has 
certain consequences that few would accept. What are we to say 
of scientific innovators like Galileo, who advocate an opinion 
with which few agree, but finally win the support of almost 
everybody? They do so by means of arguments, not by emotional 
appeals or state propaganda or the use of force. This implies 
a criterion other than the general opinion. In ethical matters, 
there is something analogous in the case of the great religious 
teachers. Christ taught that it is not wrong to pluck ears of corn 
on the Sabbath, but that it is wrong to hate your enemies. Such 
ethical innovations obviously imply some standard other than 
majority opinion, but the standard, whatever it is, is not objective 
fact, as in a scientific question. This problem is a difficult one, 
and I do not profess to be able to solve it. For the present, let us 
be content to note it. 

Plato's Republic, unlike modern Utopias, was perhaps intended 
to be actually founded. This was not so fantastic or impossible as 
it might naturally seem to us. Many of its provisions, including 
some that we should have thought quite impracticable, were 
actually realized at Sparta. The rule of philosophers had been 
attempted by Pythagoras, and in Plato's time Archytas the 
Pythagorean was politically influential in Taras (the modern 
Taranto) when Plato visited Sicily and southern Italy. It was 
a common practice for cities to employ a sage to draw up their 
laws; Solon had done this for Athens, and Protagoras for Thurii. 
Colonies, in those days, were completely free from control by 
their parent cities, and it would have been quite feasible for a 
band of Platonists to establish the Republic on the shores of Spain 
or Gaul. Unfortunately chance led Plato to Syracuse, a great 

139 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

commercial city engaged in desperate wars with Cartilage; in 
such an atmosphere, no philosopher could have achieved much. 
In the next generation, the rise of Macedonia had made all small 
States antiquated, and had brought about the futility of all 
political experiments in miniature. 



140 



Chapter XV 
THE THEORY OF IDEAS 

E I 1HE middle of the Republic, from the later part of Book V 

I to the end of Book VII, is occupied mainly with questions 

JL of pure philosophy, as opposed to politics. These questions 

are introduced by a somewhat abrupt statement: 

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this . 
world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political great- 
ness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who 
pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand 
aside, cities will never have rest from these evils no, nor the 
human race, as I believe and then only will this our State have 
a possibility of life and behold the light of day. 

If this is true, we must decide what constitutes a philosopher, 
and what we mean by "philosophy." The consequent discussion 
is the most famous part of the Republic, and has perhaps been the 
most influential. It has, in parts, extraordinary literary beauty; 
the reader may disagree (as 1 do) with what is said, but cannot 
help being moved by it. 

Plato's philosophy rests on the distinction between reality and 
appearance, which was first set forth by Parmenides; throughout 
the discussion with which we are now concerned, Parmenidean 
phrases and arguments are constantly recurring. There is, however, 
a religious tone about reality, which is rather Pythagorean than 
Parmenidean ; and there is much about mathematics and music 
which is directly traceable to the disciples of Pythagoras. This 
combination of the logic of Parmenides with the other- worldliness 
of Pythagoras and the Orphics produced a doctrine which was 
felt to be satisfying to both the intellect and the religious emo- 
tions ; the result was a very powerful synthesis, which, with various 
modifications, influenced most of the great philosophers, down 
to and including Hegel. But not only philosophers were influenced 
by Plato. Why did the Puritans object to the music ag^^fiSUl 
and gorgeous ritual of the Catholic Church ? Yoy^ff3u|VnSh<M)| 

M^r \ ^^'*^*4^ 

answer in the tenth book of the Republic. \V\\wG*p> pMtoren 11 
school compelled no learn arithmetic? The re^gnf/fire given ii 
the seventh book. 

141 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The following paragraphs summarize Plato's theory of ideas. 
Our question is: What is a philosopher? The first answer is in 
accordance with the etymology : a philosopher is a lover of wisdom. 
But this is not the same thing as a lover of knowledge, in the sense 
in which an inquisitive man may be said to love knowledge ; vulgar 
curiosity does not make a philosopher. The definition is therefore 
amended : the philosopher is a man who loves the " vision of truth." 
But what is this vision ? 

Consider a man who loves beautiful things, who makes a point 
of being present at new tragedies, seeing new pictures, and hearing 
new music. Such a man is not a philosopher, because he loves 
only beautiful things, whereas the philosopher loves beauty in 
itself. The man who only loves beautiful things is dreaming, 
whereas the man who knows absolute beauty is wide awake. 
The former has only opinion ; the latter has knowledge. 

What is the difference between "knowledge" and ''opinion"? 
The man who has knowledge has knowledge of sometliing, that 
is to say, of something that exists, for what does not exist is 
nothing. (This is reminiscent of Parmenides.) Thus knowledge 
is infallible, since it is logically impossible for it to be mistaken. 
But opinion can be mistaken. How can this be? Opinion cannot 
be of what is not, for that is impossible ; nor of what is, for then 
it would be knowledge. Therefore opinion must be of what both 
is and is not. 

But how is this possible ? The answer is that particular things 
always partake of opposite characters: what is beautiful is also, 
in some respects, ugly; what is just is, in some respects, unjust; 
and so on. All particular sensible objects, so Plato contends, have 
this contradictory character; they are thus intermediate between 
being and not-being, and are suitable as objects of opinion, but 
not of knowledge. "But those who see the absolute and eternal 
and immutable may be said to know, and not to have opinion only." 
Thus we arrive at the conclusion that opinion is of the world 
presented to the senses, whereas knowledge is of a super-sensible 
eternal world; for instance, opinion is concerned with particular 
beautiful things, but knowledge is concerned with beauty in 
itself. 

The only argument advanced is that it is self-contradictory to 
suppose that a thing can be both beautiful and not beautiful, or 

both just and not just, and that nevertheless particular things 

f 
142 



THE THEORY OF IDEAS 

seem to combine such contradictory characters. Therefore par- 
ticular things are not real. Heraclitus had said "We step and do 
not step into the same rivers; we are and are not." By combining 
this with Parmenides we arrive at Plato's result. 

There is, however, something of great importance in Plato's 
doctrine which is not traceable to his predecessors, and that is 
the theory of "ideas" or "forms." This theory is partly logical, 
partly metaphysical. The logical part has to do with the meaning 
of general words. There are many individual animals of whom we 
can truly say "this is a cat." What do we mean by the word "cat" ? 
Obviously something different from each particular cat. An 
animal is a cat, it would seem, because it participates in a general 
nature common to all cats. Language cannot get on without 
general words such as "cat," and such words are evidently not 
meaningless. But if the word "cat" means anything, it means 
something which is not this or that cat, but some kind of universal 
cattiness. This is not born when a particular cat is born, and 
does not die when it dies. In fact, it has no position in space or 
time; it is "eternal." This is the logical part of the doctrine. 
The arguments in its favour, whether ultimately valid or not, are 
strong, and quite independent of the metaphysical part of the 
doctrine. 

According to the metaphysical part of the doctrine, the word 
"cat" means a certain ideal cat, "the cat," created by God, and 
unique. Particular cats partake of the nature of the cat, but more 
or less imperfectly; it is only owing to this imperfection that 
there can be many of them. The cat is real ; particular cats are 
only apparent. 

In the last book of the Republic, as a preliminary to a condemna- 
tion of painters, there is a very clear exposition of the doctrine of 
ideas or forms. 

Here Plato explains that, whenever a number of individuals 
have a common name, they have also a common "idea" or "form." 
For instance, though there are many beds, there is only one 
"idea" or. "form" of a bed. Just as a reflection of a bed in a mirror 
is only apparent and not "real," so the various particular beds 
are unreal, being only copies of the "idea," which is the one real 
bed, and is made by God. Of this one bed, made by God, there 
cm be knowledge, but in respect of the many beds made by 
carpenters there can be only opinion. The philosopher, as such, 

'43 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

will be interested only in the one ideal bed, not in the many beds 
found in the sensible world. He will have a certain indifference 
to ordinary mundane affairs: "how can he who has magnificence 
of mind and is the spectator of all time and all existence, think 
much of human life?" The youth who is capable of becoming 
a philosopher will be distinguished among his fellows as just and 
gentle, fond of learning, possessed of a good memory and a 
naturally harmonious mind. Such a one shall be educated into 
a philosopher and a guardian. 

At this point Adeimantus breaks in with a protest. When he tries 
to argue with Socrates, he says, he feels himself led a little astray 
at each step, until, in the end, all his former notions are turned 
upside down. But whatever Socrates may say, it remains the case, 
as any one can see, that people who stick to philosophy become 
strange monsters, not to say utter rogues ; even the best of them 
are made useless by philosophy. 

Socrates admits that this is true in the world as it is, but main- 
tains that it is the other people who are to blame, not the philo- 
sophers; in a wise community the philosophers would not seem 
foolish; it is only among fools that the wise are judged to be 
destitute of wisdom. 

What are we to do in this dilemma ? There were to have been 
two ways of inaugurating our Republic: by philosophers becoming 
rulers, or by rulers becoming philosophers. The first way seems 
impossible as a beginning, because in a city not already philo- 
sophic the philosophers are unpopular. But a born prince might 
be a philosopher, and "one is enough; let there be one man who 
has a city obedient to his will, and he might bring into existence 
the ideal polity about which the world is so incredulous." Plato 
hoped that he had found such a prince in the younger Dionysius, 
tyrant of Syracuse, but the young man turned out disappointingly. 
In the sixth and seventh books of the Republic, Plato is concerned 
with two questions: First, what is philosophy? Second, how can a 
young man or woman, of suitable temperament, be so educated 
as to become a philosopher ? 

Philosophy, for Plato, is a kind of vision, the "vision of truth." 
It is not purely intellectual ; it is not merely wisdom, but low of 
wisdom. Spinoza's "intellectual love of God" is much the same 
intimate union of thought and feeling. Every 6ne who has done 
any kind of creative work has experienced, in a greater or less 

144 



THE THEORY OP IDEAS 

degree, the state of mind in which, after long labour, truth or 
beauty appears, or seems to appear, in a sudden glory it may 
be only about some small matter, or it may be about the universe. 
The experience is, at the moment, very convincing; doubt may 
come later, but at the time there is utter certainty. I think most 
of the best creative work, in art, in science, in literature, and in 
philosophy, has been the result of such a moment. Whether it 
comes to others as to me, I cannot say. For my pan, I have found 
that, when I wish to write a book on some subject, I must first 
soak myself in detail, until all the separate parts of the subject- 
matter are familiar; then, some day, if I am fortunate, I perceive 
the whole, with all its parts duly interrelated. After that, I only 
have to write down what I have seen. The nearest analogy is 
first walking all over a mountain in a mist, until every path and 
ridge and valley is separately familiar, and then, from a distance, 
seeing the mountain whole and clear in bright sunshine. 

This experience, I believe, is necessary to good creative work, 
but it is not sufficient; indeed the subjective certainty that it 
brings with it may be fatally misleading. William James describes 
a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he 
was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but 
when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense 
effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. 
When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. 
It was: "A smell of petroleum prevails throughout." What seems 
like sudden insight may be misleading, and must be tested soberly, 
when the divine intoxication has passed. 

Plato's vision, which he completely trusted at the time when he 
wrote the Republic, needs ultimately the help of a parable, 
the parable of the cave, in order to convey its nature to the 
reader. Rut it is led up to by various preliminary discussions, 
designed to make the reader see the necessity of the world of 
ideas. 

First, the world of the intellect is distinguished from the world 
of the senses ; then intellect and sense-perception are in turn each 
divided into two kinds. The two kinds of sense-perception need 
not concern us ; the two kinds of intellect are called, respectively, 
"reason" and "understanding." Of these, reason is the higher 
kind ; it is concerned with pure ideas, and its method is dialectic. 
Understanding is the kind of intellect that is used in mathematics; 

45 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

it is inferior to reason in that it uses hypotheses which it cannot 
test. In geometry, for example, we say: "Let ABC be a rectilinear 
triangle." It is against the rules to ask whether ABC really is 
a rectilinear triangle, although, if it is a figure that we have drawn, 
we may be sure that it is not, because we can't draw absolutely 
straight lines. Accordingly, mathematics can never tell us what u, 
but only what would be if. ... There are no straight lines in the 
sensible world; therefore, if mathematics is to have more than 
hypothetical truth, we must find evidence for the existence of 
super-sensible straight lines in a super-sensible world. This 
cannot be done by the understanding, but according to Plato 
it can be done by reason, which shows that there is a rectilinear 
triangle in heaven, of which geometrical propositions can be 
affirmed categorically, not hypothetically. 

There is, at this point, a difficulty which did not escape Plato's 
notice, and was evident to modern idealistic philosophers. 
We saw that God made only one bed, and it would he natural 
to suppose that he made only one straight line. But if there is a 
heavenly triangle, he must have made at least three straight lines. 
Theobjects of geometry, though ideal, must exist in manycxamples ; 
we need the possibility of two intersecting circles , and so on. 
This suggests that geometry, on Plato's theory, should not be 
capable of ultimate truth, but should be condemned as part of 
the study of appearance. We will, however, ignore this point, 
as to which Plato's answer is somewhat obscure. 

Plato seeks to explain the difference between clear intellectual 
vision and the confused vision of sense-perception by an analogy 
from the sense of sight. Sight, he says, differs from the other senses, 
since it requires not only the eye and the object, hut also light. 
We see clearly objects on which the sun shines: in twilight we 
see confusedly, and in pitch-darkness not at all. Now the world 
of ideas is what we see when the object is illumined by the sun, 
while the world of passing things is a confused twilight world. 
The eye is compared to the soul, and the sun, as the source of 
light, to truth or goodness. 

The soul is like an eye: when resting upon that on which truth 
and being shine, the soul perceives and understands, and is radiant 
with intelligence; but when turned towards the twilight of be- 
coming and perishing, then she has opinion onfy, and goes blinking 
about, and is first of one opinion and then of another, and seems to 

146 



THE THEORY OP IDEAS 

have no intelligence. . . . Now what imparts truth to the known 
and the power of knowing to the knower is what I would have 
you term the idea of good, and this you will deem to be the cause 
of science. 

This leads up to the famous simile of the cave or den, according 
to which those who are destitute of philosophy may be compared 
to prisoners in a cave, who are only able to look in one direction 
because they are bound, and who have a fire behind them and 
a wall in front. Between them and the wall there is nothing; 
all that they see are shadows of themselves, and of objects behind 
them, cast on the wall by the light of the fire. Inevitably they 
regard these shadows as real, and have no notion of the objects 
to which they are due. At last some man succeeds in escaping 
from the cave to the light of the sun ; for the first time he sees 
real things, and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived 
by shadows. If he is the sort of philosopher who is fit to become 
a guardian, he will feel it his duty to those who were formerly 
his fellow-prisoners to go down again into the cave, instruct 
them as to the truth, and show them the way up. But he will have 
difficulty in persuading them, because, coming out of the sunlight, 
he will sec shadows less clearly than they do, and will seem to 
them stupider than before his escape. 

"And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is 
enlightened or unenlightened : Behold! human beings living in 
an underground den, which has a mouth open toward the light 
and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their 
childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they 
cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by 
the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind 
them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the 
prisoners there is a raised way ; and you will see, if you look, a low 
wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players 
have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. 

"I see. 

"And do you sec, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all 
sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood 
and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall ? Some 
of them arc talking, others silent. 

"You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange 
prisoners. 

14 Like ourselves, I replied ; and they see only their own shadows, 

147 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the 
opposite wall of the cave." 

The position of the good in Plato's philosophy is peculiar. 
Science and truth, he says, are like the good, but the good has 
a higher place. "The good is not essence, but far exceeds essence 
in dignity and power." Dialectic leads to the end of the intellectual 
world in the perception of the absolute good. It is by means of 
the good that dialectic is able to dispense with the hypotheses of 
the mathematician. The underlying assumption is that reality, 
as opposed to appearance, is completely and perfectly good; 
to perceive the good, therefore, is to perceive reality. Throughout 
Plato's philosophy there is the same fusion of intellect and mysti- 
cism as in Pythagoreanism, but at this final culmination mysticism 
clearly has the upper hand. 

Plato's doctrine of ideas contains a number of obvious errors. 
But in spite of these it marks a very important advance in philo- 
sophy, since it is the first theory to emphasize the problem of 
universal, which, in varying forms, has persisted to the present 
day. Beginnings are apt to be crude, but their originality should 
not be overlooked on this account. Something remains of what 
Plato had to say, even after all necessary corrections have been 
made. The absolute minimum of what remains, even in the view 
of those most hostile to Plato, is this: that we cannot express 
ourselves in a language composed wholly of proper names, but 
must have also general words such as "man," "dog," "cat"; 
or, if not these, then relational words such as "similar," "before," 
and so on. Such words are not meaningless noises, and it is 
difficult to see how they can have meaning if the world consists en- 
tirely of particular things, such as are designated by proper 
names. There may be ways of getting round this argument, but 
at any rate it affords a prima facie case in favour of universal*. 
I shall provisionally accept it as in some degree valid. But when 
so much is granted, the rest of what Plato says by no means 
follows. 

In the first place, Plato has no understanding of philosophical 
syntax. I can say "Socrates is human," "Plato is human," and 
so on. In all these statements, it may be assumed that the word 
"human" has exactly the same meaning. But whatever it means, 
it means something which is not of the same kind as Socrates, 

-48 



THE THEORY OF IDEAS 

Plato, and the rest of the individuals who compose the human 
race. "Human" is an adjective; it would be nonsense to say 
"human is human." Plato makes a mistake analogous to saying 
"human is human." He thinks that beauty is beautiful; he thinks 
that the universal "man" is the name of a pattern man created 
by God, of whom actual men are imperfect and somewhat unreal 
copies. He fails altogether to realize how great is the gap between 
universals and particulars; his "ideas" are really just other par- 
ticulars, ethically and aesthetically superior to the ordinary kind* 
He himself, at a later date, began to see this difficulty, as appears 
in the Parmenides, which contains one of the most remarkable 
cases in history of self-criticism by a philosopher. 

The Parmenides is supposed to be related by Antiphon (Plato's 
half-brother), who alone remembers the conversation, but is 
now only interested in horses. They find him carrying a bridle, 
and with difficulty persuade him to relate the famous discussion 
between Parmenides, Zeno, and Socrates. This, we are told, took 
place when Parmenides was old (about sixty-five), Zeno in middle 
life (about forty), and Socrates quite a young man. Socrates 
expounds the theory of ideas; he is sure that there are ideas of 
likeness, justices beauty, and goodness; he is not sure that there 
is an idea of man ; and he rejects with indignation the suggestion 
that there could be ideas of such things as hair and mud and 
dirt though, he adds, there are times when he thinks that there 
is nothing without an idea. He runs away from this view because 
he is afraid of falling into a bottomless pit of nonsense. 

"Yes, Socrates, said Parmenides; that is because you are still 
young ; the time will come, if I am not mistaken, when philosophy 
will have a firmer grasp of you, and then you will not despise 
even the meanest things/' 

Socrates agrees that, in his view, "There are certain ideas of 
which ail other things partake, and from which they derive their 
names; that similars, for example, become similar, because they 
partake of similarity; and great things become great, because 
they partake of greatness; and that just and beautiful things 
become just and beautiful, because they partake of justice and 
beauty." 

Parmenides proceeds to raise difficulties, (a) Does the individual 
partake of the wh<fle idea, or only of a part ? To either view there 
are objections. If the former, one thing is in many places at once; 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

if the latter, the idea is divisible, and a thing which has a part of 
smallness will be smaller than absolute smallness, which is absurd. 
(b) When an individual partakes of an idea, the individual and 
the idea are similar; therefore there will have to be another idea, 
embracing both the particulars and the original idea. And there 
will have to be yet another, embracing the particulars and the 
two ideas, and so on ad mfintium. Thus every idea, instead of 
being one, becomes an infinite series of ideas. (This is the same 
as Aristotle's argument of the "third man.") (c) Socrates suggests 
that perhaps ideas are only thoughts, but Parmenides points 
out that thoughts must be of something, (d) Ideas cannot resemble 
the particulars that partake of them, for the reason given in (b) 
above. (*) Ideas, if there are any, must be unknown to us, because 
our knowledge is not absolute. (/) If God's knowledge is absolute, 
He will not know us, and therefore cannot rule us. 

Nevertheless, the theory of ideas is not wholly abandoned. 
Without ideas, Socrates says, there will be nothing on which the 
mind can rest, and therefore reasoning will be destroyed. Par* 
menides tells him that his troubles come of lack of previous 
training, but no definite conclusion is reached. 

I do not think that Plato's logical objections to the reality of 
sensible particulars will bear examination. He says, for example, 
that whatever is beautiful is also in some respects ugly; what is 
double is also half; and so on. But when we say of some work of 
art that it is beautiful in some respects and ugly in others, analysis 
will always (at least theoretically) enable us to say "this part or 
aspect is beautiful, while that part or aspect is ugly." And as 
regards "double" and "half," these are relative terms; there is 
no contradiction in the fact that 2 is double of i and half of 4. 
Plato is perpetually getting into trouble through not understanding 
relative terms. He thinks that if A is greater than B and less than 
C, then A is at once great and small, which seems to him a contra- 
diction. Such troubles are among the infantile diseases of philo- 
sophy. 

The distinction between reality and appearance cannot have 
the consequences attributed to it by Parmenides and Plato and 
Hegel. If appearance really appears, it is not nothing, and is 
therefore pan of reality; this is an argument of the correct Par- 
menidean sort. If appearance does not really appear, why trouble 
our heads about it? But perhaps some one will say: "Appearance 

150 



THE THEORY OF IDEAS 

does not really appear, but it appears to appear." This will not 
help, for we shall ask again: "Does it really appear to appear, 
or only apparently appear to appear?" Sooner or later, if appear- 
ance is even to appear to appear, we must reach something that 
really appears, and is therefore part of reality. Plato would not 
dream of denying that there appear to be many beds, although 
there is only one real bed, namely the one made by God. But 
he does not seem to have faced the implications of the fact that 
there are many appearances, and that this many-ness is part of 
reality. Any attempt to divide the world into portions, of which 
one is more "real" than the other, is doomed to failure. 

Connected with this is another curious view of Plato's, that 
knowledge and opinion must be concerned with different subject- 
matters. We should say: If I think it is going to snow, that is 
opinion; if later I see it snowing, that is knowledge; but the 
subject-matter is the same on both occasions. Plato, however, 
thinks that what can at any time be a matter ot opinion can never 
be a matter of knowledge. Knowledge is certain and infallible; 
opinion is not merely fallible, but is necessarily mistaken, since it 
assumes the reality of what is only appearance. All this repeats 
what had been said by Parmenides. 

There is one respect in which Plato's metaphysic is apparently 
different from that of Parmenides. For Parmenides there is only 
the One; for Plato, there are many ideas. There are not only 
beauty, truth, and goodness, but, as we saw, there is the heavenly 
bed, created by God; there is a heavenly man, a heavenly dog, 
a heavenly cat, and so on through a whole Noah's ark. All this 
however, seems, in the Republic , to have been not adequately 
thought out. A Platonic idea or form is not a thought, thougk it 
may be the object of a thought. It is difficult to see how God 
can have created it, since its being is timeless, and he could not 
have decided to create a bed unless his thought, when he decided, 
had had for its object that very Platonic bed which we are told 
he brought into existence. What is timeless must be uncreated. 
We come here to a difficulty which has troubled many philosophic 
theologians. Only the contingent world, the world in space and 
time, can have been created; but this is the everyday world which 
has been condemned as illusory and also bad. Therefore the 
Creator, it would* seem, created only illusion and evil. Some 
Gnostics \vere so consistent as to adopt this view; but in Plato 

'5* 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

the difficulty is still below the surface, and he seems, in the Repub- 
lic, to have never become aware of it. 

The philosopher who is to be a guardian must, according to 
Plato, return into the cave, and live among those who have never 
seen the sun of truth. It would seem that God Himself, if He 
wishes to amend His creation, must do likewise; a Christian 
Platonist might so interpret the Incarnation. But it remains 
completely impossible to explain why God was not content 
with the world of ideas. The philosopher finds the cave in existence, 
and is actuated by benevolence in returning to it ; but the Creator, 
if He created everything, might, one would think, have avoided 
the cave altogether. 

Perhaps this difficulty arises only from the Christian notion 
of a Creator, and is not chargeable to Plato, who says that God 
did not create everything, but only what is good. The multiplicity 
of the sensible world, on this view, would have some other source 
than God. And the ideas would, perhaps, be not so much created 
by God as constituents of His essence. The apparent pluralism 
involved in the multiplicity of ideas would thus not be ultimate. 
Ultimately there is only God, or the Good, to whom the ideas are 
adjectival. This, at any rate, is a possible interpretation of Plato. 
Plato proceeds to an interesting sketch of the education proper 
to a young man who is to be a guardian. We saw that the young 
man is selected for this honour on the ground of a combination of 
intellectual and moral qualities; he must be just and gentle, fond 
of learning, with a good memory and a harmonious mind. The 
young man who has been chosen for these merits will spend the 
years from twenty to thirty on the four Pythagorean studies: 
arithmetic, geometry (plane and solid), astronomy, and harmony. 
These studies are not to be pursued in any utilitarian spirit, but 
in order to prepare his mind for the vision of eternal things. In 
astronomy, for example, he is not to trouble himself too much 
about the actual heavenly bodies, but rather with the mathematics 
of the motion of ideal heavenly bodies. This may sound absurd to 
modern ears, but, strange to say, it proved to be a fruitful point 
of view in connection with empirical astronomy. The way this 
came about is curious, and worth considering. 

The apparent motions of the planets, until they have been 
very profoundly analysed, appear to be irregular and complicated, 
and not at all such &* a Pythagorean Creator would tyvc chosen. 

152 



THE THEORY OF IDEAS 

It was obvious to every Greek that the heavens ought to exemplify 
mathematical beauty, which would only be the case if the planets 
moved in circles. This would be especially evident to Plato, 
owing to his emphasis on the good. The problem thus arose: is 
there any hypothesis which will reduce the apparent disorderliness 
of planetary motions to order and beauty and simplicity? If 
there is, the idea of the good will justify us in asserting this 
hypothesis. Aristarchus of Samos found such a hypothesis: that 
all the planets, including the earth, go round the sun in circles. 
This view was rejected for two thousand years, partly on the 
authority of Aristotle, who attributes a rather similar hypothesis 
to "the Pythagoreans" (De Coelo, 293 a). It was revived by 
Copernicus, and its success might seem to justify Plato's aesthetic 
bias in astronomy. Unfortunately, however, Kepler discovered 
that the planets move in ellipses, not in circles, with the sun 
at a focus, not at the centre; then Newton discovered that they 
do not move even in exact ellipses. And so the geometrical sim- 
plicity sought by Plato, and apparently found by Aristarchus of 
Samos, proved in the end illusory. 

This piece of scientific history illustrates a general maxim : that 
any hypothesis, however absurd, may be useful in science, if it 
enables a discoverer to conceive things in a new way; but that, 
when it has served this purpose by luck, it is likely to become an 
obstacle to further advance. The belief in the good as the key to 
the scientific understanding of the world was useful, at a certain 
stage, in astronomy, but at every later stage it was harmful. The 
ethical and aesthetic bias of Plato, and still more of Aristotle, 
did much to kill Greek science. 

It is noteworthy that modern Platonists, with few exceptions, 
are ignorant of mathematics, in spite of the immense importance 
that Plato attached to arithmetic and geometry, and the immense 
influence that they had on his philosophy. This is an example 
of the evils of specialization: a man must not write on Plato unless 
he has spent so much of his youth on Greek as to have had no 
time for the things that Plato thought important. 



'53 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

I have good hope that there is yet something remaining for the 
dead, some far better thing for the good than for the evil." 

Death, says Socrates, is the separation of soul and body. Here 
we come under Plato's dualism: between reality and appearance, 
ideas and sensible objects, reason and sense-perception, soul and 
body. These pairs are connected: the first in each pair is superior 
to the second both in reality and in goodness. An ascetic morality 
was the natural consequence of this dualism. Christianity adopted 
this doctrine in part, but never wholly. There were two obstacles. 
The first was that the creation of the visible world, if Plato was 
right, might seem to have been an evil deed, and therefore the 
Creator could not be good. The second was that orthodox Christi- 
anity could never bring itself to condemn marriage, though it 
held celibacy to be nobler. The Manichaeans were more consistent 
in both respects. 

The distinction between mind and matter, which has become 
a commonplace in philosophy and science and popular thought, 
has a religious origin, and began as the distinction of soul and body. 
The Orphic, as we saw, proclaims himself the child of earth and 
of the starry heaven ; from earth comes the body, from heaven the 
soul. It is this theory that Plato seeks to express in the language 
of philosophy. 

Socrates, in the Phaedo, proceeds at once to develop the ascetic 
implications of his doctrine, but his asceticism is of a moderate and 
gentlemanly sort. He does not say that the philosopher should 
wholly abstain from ordinary pleasures, but only that he should 
not be a slave to them. The philosopher should not care about 
eating and drinking, but of coune he should eat as much as is 
necessary; there is no suggestion of fasting. And we are told that 
Socrates, though indifferent to wine, could, on occasion, drink 
more than anybody else, without ever becoming intoxicated. 
It was not drinking that he condemned, but pleasure in drinking. 
In like manner, the philosopher must not care for the pleasures 
of love, or for costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments 
of the person. He must be entirely concerned with the soul, 
and not with the body. "He would like, as far as he can, to get 
away from the body and to turn to the soul." 

It is obvious that this doctrine, popularized, would become 
ascetic, but in intention it is not, properly' speaking, ascetic. 
The philosopher will not abstain with an effort from the pleasures 



PLATO'S THEORY OF IMMORTALITY 

of sense, but will be thinking of other things. I have known many 
philosophers who forgot their meals, and read a book when at 
last they did eat. These men were acting as Plato says they should: 
they were not abstaining from gluttony by means of a moral 
effort, but were more interested in other matters. Apparently 
the philosopher should marry, and beget and rear children, in 
the same absent-minded way, but since the emancipation of 
women this has become more difficult. No wonder Xanthippe 
was a shrew. 

Philosophers, Socrates continues, try to dissever the soul from 
communion with thfe body, whereas other people think that life is 
not worth living for a man who has "no sense of pleasure and no 
part in bodily pleasure." In this phrase, Plato seems perhaps 
inadvertently to countenance the view of a certain class of 
moralists, that bodily pleasures are the only ones that count. 
These moralists hold that the man who does not seek the pleasures 
of sense must be eschewing pleasure altogether, and living virtu- 
ously. This is an error which has done untold harm. In so far as 
the division of mind and body can be accepted, the worst pleasures, 
as well as the best, are mental for example, envy, and many 
forms of cruelty and love of power. Milton's Satan rises superior 
to physical torment, and devotes himself to a work of destruction 
from which he derives a pleasure that is wholly of the mind. 
Many eminent ecclesiastics, having renounced the pleasures of 
sense, and not being on their guard against others, become 
dominated by love of power, which led them to appalling cruelties 
and persecutions, nominally for the sake of religion. In our own 
day, Hitler belongs to this type; by all accounts, the pleasures of 
sense are of very little importance to him. Liberation from the 
tyranny of the body contributes to greatness, but just as much to 
greatness in sin as to greatness in virtue. 

This, however, is a digression, from which we must return to 
Socrates. 

We come now to the intellectual aspect of the religion which 
Plato (rightly or wrongly) attributes to Socrates. We are told 
that the body is a hindrance in the acquisition of knowledge, and 
that sight and hearing are inaccurate witnesses: true existence, 
if revealed to the soul at all, is revealed in thought, not in sense. 
Ixrt us consider, for* a moment, the implications of this doctrine. 
It involves a complete rejection of empirical knowledge, including 

157 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

all history and geography. We cannot know that there was such 
a place as Athens, or such a man as Socrates; his death, and his 
courage in dying, belong to the world of appearance. It is only 
through sight and hearing that we know anything about all this, 
and the true philosopher ignores sight and hearing. What, then, 
is left to him? First, logic and mathematics; but these are hypo- 
thetical, and do not justify any categorical assertion about the real 
world. The next step and this is the crucial one depends upon 
the idea of the good. Having arrived at this idea, the philosopher 
is supposed to know that the good is the real, and thus to be able 
to infer that the world of ideas is the real world. Later philosophers 
had arguments to prove the identity of the real and the good, but 
Plato seems to have assumed it as self-evident. If we wish to 
understand him, we must, hypothetically, suppose this assumption 
justified. 

Thought is best, Socrates says, when the mind is gathered into 
itself, and is not troubled by sounds or sights or pain or pleasure 
but takes leave of the body and aspires after true being; "and in 
this the philosopher dishonours the body/' From this point, 
Socrates goes on to the ideas or forms or essences. There is 
absolute justice, absolute beauty, and absolute good, but they are 
not visible to the eye. "And I speak not of these alone, but of 
absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and of the essence 
or true nature of everything." All these are only to be seen by 
intellectual vision. Therefore while we are in the body, and while 
the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire for truth 
Mill not be satisfied. 

This point of view excludes scientific observation and experi- 
ment as methods for the attainment of knowledge. The experi- 
menter's mind is not "gathered into itself," and docs not aim at 
avoiding sounds or sights. The two kinds of mental activity that 
can be pursued by the method that Plato recommends are mathe- 
matics and mystic insight. This explains how these two come to 
be so intimately combined in Plato and the Pythagoreans. 

To the empiricist, the body is what brings us into touch with 
the world of external reality, bat to Plato it is doubly evil, as a 
distorting medium, causing us to see as through a glass darkly, 
and as a source of lusts which distract us from the pursuit of 
knowledge and the vision of truth. Some Quotations will mike 
this dear. 



PLATO'S THEORY OF IMMORTALITY 

The body is the source of endless trouble to us by reason of 
the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which 
overtake and impede us in the search after true being: it fills us 
full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and end- 
less foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us all power 
of thinking at all. Whence come wars, and fightings and factions? 
Whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? Wars are 
occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired 
for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of all 
these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, 
last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure to betake ourselves 
to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, 
causing turmoil and confusion in our inquiries, and so amazing us 
that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proved 
to us by experience that if we would have true knowledge of 
anything we must be quit of the body the soul in herself must 
behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom 
which we desire, and of which we say we are lovers; not while we 
live, but after death ; for if while in company with the body the 
soul cannot have pure knowledge, knowledge must be attained 
after death, if at all. 

And thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall 
he pure and have converse with the pure, and know of ourselves 
the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of 
tnith. For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. . . . 
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the 
body ? . . . And this separation and release of the soul from the 
body is termed death. . . . And the true philosophers, and they 
only, arc ever seeking to release the soul. 

There is one true coin for which all things ought to be exchanged, 
and that is wisdom. 

The founders of the mysteries would appear to have had a real 
meaning, and were not talking nonsense when they intimated in 
a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated 
into the world below will lie on a slough, but that he who arrives 
there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods. 
For many, as they say in the mysteries, are the thyrsus-bearers, but 
few are the mystics, meaning, as 1 interpret the words, the true 
philosophers. 

All this language is mystical, and is derived from the mysteries. 
"Purity" is an Orphic conception, having primarily a ritual 
meaning, but for Pilto it means freedom from slavery to the body 
and its needs. It it interesting to find him saying that wars are 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

caused by love of money, and that money is only needed for the 
service of the body. The first half of this opinion is the same as 
that held by Marx, but the second belongs to a very different out- 
look. Plato thinks that a man could live on very little money if his 
wants were reduced to a minimum, and this no doubt is true. But 
he also thinks that a philosopher should be exempt from manual 
labour; he must therefore live on wealth created by others. In a 
very poor State there are likely to be no philosophers. It was the 
imperialism of Athens in the age of Pericles that made it possible 
for Athenians to study philosophy. Speaking broadly, intellectual 
goods are just as expensive as more material commodities, and 
just as little independent of economic conditions. Science requires 
libraries, laboratories, telescopes, microscopes, and so on, and 
men of science have to be supported by the labour of others. But 
to the mystic all this is foolishness. A holy man in India or Tibet 
needs no apparatus, wears only a loin cloth, eats only rice, and is 
supported by very meagre charity because he is thought wise. 
This is the logical development of Plato's point of view. 

To return to the Phaedo: Cehcs expresses doubt as to the 
survival of the soul after death, and urges Socrates to offer argu- 
ments. This he proceeds to do, but it must be said that the argu- 
ments are very poor. 

Tlit first argument is that all things which have opposites arc 
generated from their opposites a statement which reminds us of 
Anaximander's views on cosmic justice. Now life and death are 
opposites, and therefore each must generate the other. It follows 
that the souk of the dead exist somewhere, and come back to 
earth in due course. St. Paul's statement, "the seed is not 
quickened except it die," seems to belong to some such theory as 
this. 

The second argument is that knowledge is recollection, and 
therefore the soul must have existed before birth. The theory that 
knowledge is recollection is supported chiefly by the fact that we 
have ideas, such as exact equality, which cannot be derived from 
experience. We have experience of approximate equality, but 
absolute equality is never found among sensible objects, and yet 
we know what we mean by "absolute equality." Since we have 
not learnt this from experience, we must have brought the know- 
ledge with us from a previous existence. A similar argument, he 
says, applies to all other ideas. Thus the existence of essences, 

160 



PLATO'S THEORY OF IMMORTALITY 

and our capacity to apprehend them, proves the pre-existence of 
the soul with knowledge. 

The contention that all knowledge is reminiscence is developed 
at greater length in the Meno (82 ff.). Here Socrates says "there is 
no teaching, but only recollection." He professes to prove his point 
by having Meno call in a slave-boy whom Socrates proceeds to 
question on geometrical problems. The boy's answers are supposed 
to show that he really knows geometry, although he has hitherto 
been unaware of possessing this knowledge. The same conclusion 
is drawn in the Meno as in the Phaedo, that knowledge is brought 
by the soul from a previous existence. 

As to this, one may observe, in the first place, that the argument 
is wholly inapplicable to empirical knowledge. The slave-boy 
could not have been led to "remember" when the Pyramids were 
built, or whether the siege of Troy really occurred, unless he had 
happened to be present at these events. Only the sort of knowledge 
that is called a priori especially logic and mathematics can be 
possibly supposed to exist in every one independently of experience. 
In fact, this is the only sort of knowledge (apart from mystic 
insight) that Plato admits to be really knowledge. Let us see how 
the argument can be met in regard to mathematics. 

Take the concept of equality. We must admit that we have no 
experience, among sensible objects, of exact equality ; we see only 
approximate equality. How, then, do we arrive at the idea of 
absolute equality? Or do we, perhaps, have no such idea? 

Let us take a concrete case. The metre is defined as the length 
of a certain rod in Paris at a certain temperature. What should we 
mean if we said, of some other rod, that its length was exactly 
one metre? I don't think \ve should mean anything. We could 
say: The most accurate processes of measurement known to 
science at the present day fail to show that our rod is either longer 
or shorter than the standard metre in Paris. We might, if we were 
sufficiently rash, add a prophecy that no subsequent refinements 
in the technique of measurement will alter this result. But this 
is still an empirical statement, in the sense that empirical evidence 
may at any moment disprove it. I do not think we really possess 
the idea of absolute equality that Plato supposes us to possess. 

But even if we do, it is clear that no child possesses it until it 
reaches a certain afce, and that the idea is elidttd by experience, 
although not directly derived from experience. Moreover, unless 

1 6l F 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

our existence before birth was not one of sense-perception, it 
would have been as incapable of generating the idea as this life 
is; and if our previous existence is supposed to have been partly 
super-sensible, why not make the same supposition concerning 
our present existence? On all these grounds, the argument fails. 

The doctrine of reminiscence being considered established, 
Cebes says: "About half of what was required has been proven; 
to wit, that our souls existed before we were born: that the 
soul will exist after death as well as before birth is the other half 
of which the proof is still wanting." Socrates accordingly applies 
himself to this. He says that it follows from what was said about 
everything being generated from its opposite, according to which 
death must generate life just as much as life generates death. But 
he adds another argument, which had a longer history in philo- 
sophy: that only what is complex can be dissolved, and that the 
soul, like the ideas, is simple and not compounded of parts. What 
is simple, it is thought, cannot begin or end or change. Now 
essences are unchanging: absolute beauty, for example, is always 
the same, whereas beautiful things continually change. Thus 
things seen are temporal, but things unseen are eternal. The body 
is seen, but the soul is unseen ; therefore the soul is to be classified 
in the group of things that are eternal. 

The soul, being eternal, is at home in the contemplation of 
eternal things, that is, essences, but is lost and confused when, 
as in sense-perception, it contemplates the world of changing 
things. 

The soul, when using the body as an instrument of perception, 
that is to say, when using the sense of sight or hearing or some 
other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the body is 
perceiving through the senses) ... is then dragged by the body 
into the region of the changeable, and wanders and is confused ; 
the world spins round her, and she is like a drunkard, when she 
touches change. . . . But when returning into herself she reflects, 
then she passes into the other world, the region of purity, and 
eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which arc her 
kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself, and 
is not let or hindered ; then she ceases from her erring ways, and 
being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this 
state of the soul is called wisdom. 

The soul of the true philosopher, which has, in life, been 

162 



PLATO'S THEORY OP IMMORTALITY 

liberated from thraldom to the flesh, will, after death, depart to 
the invisible world, to live in bliss in the company of the gods. 
But the impure soul, which has loved the body, will become a 
ghost haunting the sepulchre, or will enter into the body of an 
animal, such as an ass or wolf or hawk, according to its character. 
A man who has been virtuous without being a philosopher will 
become a bee or wasp or ant, or some other animal of a gregarious 
and social sort. 

Only the true philosopher goes to heaven when he dies. "No 
one who has not studied philosophy and who is not entirely pure 
at the time of his departure is allowed to enter the company of 
the Gods, but the lover of knowledge only." That is why the true 
votaries of philosophy abstain from fleshly lusts: not that they 
fear poverty or disgrace, but because they "are conscious that the 
soul was simply fastened or glued to the body until philosophy 
received her, she could only view real existence through the bars 
of a prison, not in and through herself, . . . and by reason of lust 
had become the principal accomplice in her own captivity." The 
philosopher will be temperate because "each pleasure and pain 
is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, until 
si ie becomes like the body, and believes that to be true which the 
body affirms to be true." 

At this point, Simmias brings up the Pythagorean opinion that 
the soul is a harmony, and urges: if the lyre is broken, can the 
harmony survive? Socrates replies that the soul is not a harmony, 
for a harmony is complex, but the soul is simple. Moreover, he 
says, the view that the soul is a harmony is incompatible with its 
pre-existcnce, which was proved by the doctrine of reminiscence; 
for the harmony does not exist before the lyre. 

Socrates proceeds to give an account of his own philosophical 
development, which is very interesting, but not germane to the 
main argument. He goes on to expound the doctrine of ideas, 
leading to the conclusion "that ideas exist, and that other things 
participate in them and derive their names from them.*' At last 
lie describes the fate of souls after death: the good go to heaven, 
the bad to hell, the intermediate to purgatory. 

His end, and his farewells, are described. His last words are: 
"Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the 
debt?" Men paid A cock to Asclepius when they recovered from 
tn illness, and Socrates has recovered from life's fitful fever. 

163 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

"Of aU the men of his time/* Phaedo concludes, "he was the 
wisest and justest and best." 

The Platonic Socrates was a pattern to subsequent philosophers 
for many ages. What are we to think of him ethically? (I am con- 
cerned only with the man as Plato portrays him.) His merits are 
obvious. He is indifferent to worldly success, so devoid of fear that 
he remains calm and urbane and humorous to the last moment, 
caring more for what he believes to be truth than for anything 
else whatever. He has, however, some very grave defects. He is 
dishonest and sophistical in argument, and in his private thinking 
he uses intellect to prove conclusions that are to him agreeable, 
rather than in a disinterested search for knowledge. There is 
something smug and unctuous about him, which reminds one of 
a bad type of cleric. His courage in the face of death would have 
been more remarkable if he had not believed that he was going 
to enjoy eternal bliss in the company of the gods. Unlike some of 
his predecessors, he was not scientific in his thinking, but was 
determined to prove the universe agreeable to his ethical standards. 
This is treachery to truth, and the worst of philosophic sin*. As 
a man, we may believe him admitted to the communion of saints; 
but as a philosopher he needs a long residence in ; scientific 
purgatory. 



Chapter XVII 
PLATO'S COSMOGONY 

PLATO'S cosmogony is set forth in the Timaeus, 1 which was 
translated into Latin by Cicero, and was, moreover, the 
only one of the dialogues that was known in the West in 
the Middle Ages. Both then, and earlier in Neoplatonism, it 
had more influence than anything else in Plato, which is curious, 
as it certainly contains more that is simply silly than is to be found 
in his other writings. As philosophy, it is unimportant, but his- 
torically it was so influential that it must be considered in some 
detail. 

The place occupied by Socrates in the earlier dialogues i* taken, 
in the Timaeus, by a Pythagorean, and the doctrines of that school 
are in the main adopted, including (up to a point) the view that 
number-is the explanation of the world. There is first a summary 
of the first five books of the Republic, then the myth of Atlantis, 
which is said to have been an island off the Pillars of Hercules, 
larger than Libya and Asia put together. Then Timaeus, who is a 
Pythagorean astronomer, proceeds to tell the history of the world 
down to the creation of man. What he says is, in outline, as follows. 
What is unchanging is apprehended by intelligence and reason ; 
what is changing is apprehended by opinion. The world, being 
sensible, cannot be eternal, and must have been created by God. 
Since God is good, He made the world after the pattern of the 
eternal; being without jealousy, He wanted everything as like 
Himself as possible. "God desired that all things should be good, 
and nothing bad, as far as possible." "Finding the whole visible 
sphere not at rest, but moving in an irregular and disorderly 
fashion, out of disorder he brought order." (Thus it appears that 
Plato's God, unlike the Jewish and Christian God, did not create 
the world out of nothing, but rearranged pre-existing material.) 
He put intelligence in the soul, and the soul in the body. He made 
the world as a whole a living creature having soul and intelligence. 
There is only one world, not many, as various pre-Socratics had 

1 This dialogue contains much that is obscure and has given rise to 
controversies among commentators. On the whole, I find myself in most 
agreement with Comford's admirable book, Plato's Cosmology. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

taught; there cannot be more than one, since it is a created copy 
designed to accord as closely as possible with the eternal original 
apprehended by God. The world in its entirety is one visible 
animal, comprehending within itself all other animals. It is a 
globe, because like is fairer than unlike, and only a globe is alike 
everywhere. It rotates, because circular motion is the most perfect ; 
and since this is its only motion it needs no feet or hands. 

The four elements, fire, air, water, and earth, each of which 
apparently is represented by a number, are in continued propor- 
tion, i.e. fire is to air as air is to water and as water is to earth. God 
used all the elements in making the world, and therefore it is 
perfect, and not liable to old age or disease. It is harmonized by 
proportion, which causes it to have the spirit of friendship, and 
therefore to be indissoluble except by God. 

God made first the soul, then the body. The soul is compounded 
of the indivisible-unchangeable and the divisible-changeable; it 
is a third and intermediate kind of essence. 

Here follows a Pythagorean account of the planets, leading to 
an explanation of the origin of time: 

When the father and creator saw the creature which he had 
made moving and living, the created image of the eternal gods, he 
rejoiced, and in his joy determined to make the copy still more like 
the original ; and as this was eternal, he sought to make the universe 
eternal, so far as might be. Now the nature of the ideal being was 
everlasting, but to bestow this attribute in its fulness upon a 
creature was impossible. Wherefore he resolved to have a moving 
image of eternity, and when be set in order the heaven, he made this 
image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity 
itself rests in unity; and this image we call Time. 1 

Before this, there were no days or nights. Of the eternal essence 
we must not say that it tvas or will be ; only is is correct. It is implied 
that of the "moving image of eternity* 1 it is correct to say that it 
was and will be. 

Time and the heavens came into existence at the same instant. 
God made the sun so that animals could learn arithmetic without 
the succession of days and nights, one supposes, we should not 
have thought of numbers. The sight of day and night, months 
and years, has created knowledge of number and given u* the 

1 Vaughcn mutt have been reading this pasngc when he wrote the 
poem beginning "I saw eternity the other night." 

166 



PLATO'S COSMOGONY 

conception of time, and hence came philosophy. This is the 
greatest boon we owe to sight. 

There are (apart from the world as a whole) four kinds of 
animals: gods, birds, fishes, and land animals. The gods are 
mainly fire; the fixed stars are divine and eternal animals. The 
Creator told the gods that he could destroy them, but would not 
do so. He left it to them to make the mortal part of all other 
animals, after he had made the immortal and divine part. (This, 
like other passages about the gods in Plato, is perhaps not to be 
taken very seriously. At the beginning, Timaeus says he seeks 
only probability, and cannot be sure. Many details are obviously 
imaginative, and not meant literally.) 

The Creator, Timaeus says, made one soul for each star. Souls 
have sensation, love, fear, and anger; if they overcome these, they 
live righteously, but if not, not. If a man lives well, he goes, after 
death, to live happily for ever in his star. But if he lives badly, he 
will, in the next life, be a woman ; if he (or she) persists in evil- 
doing, he (or she) will become a brute, and go on through trans- 
migrations until at last reason conquers. God put some souls on 
earth, some on the moon, some on other planets and stars, and 
left it to the gods to fashion their bodies. 

There are two kinds of causes, those that are intelligent, and 
those that, being moved by others, are, in turn, compelled to 
move others. The former are endowed with mind, and are the 
workers of things fair and good, while the latter produce chance 
effects without order or design. Both sorts ought to be studied, 
for the creation is mixed, being made up of necessity and mind. 
(It will be observed that necessity is not subject to God's power.) 
Timaeus now proceeds to deal with the part contributed by 
necessity. 1 

Earth, air, tire, and water are not the first principles or letters 
or elements; they are not even syllables or first compounds. Fire, 
for instance, should not be called this, but such that is to say, it 
is not a substance, but rather a state of substance. At this point, 
the question is raised: are intelligible essences only names? The 
answer turns, we are told, on whether mind is or is not the same 

1 Cornford (op. cit.) points out that "necessity" is not to be con- 
founded with the modern conception of a deterministic reign of law. The 
things that happen through "necessity" are those not brought about by 
a purpose : they are chaotic and not subject to laws. 

167 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

thing as true opinion. If it is not, knowledge must be knowledge 
of essences, and therefore essences cannot be mere names. Now 
mind and true opinion certainly differ, for the one is implanted 
by instruction, the other by persuasion; one is accompanied by 
true reason, the other is not; all men share in true opinion, 
but mind is the attribute of the gods and of a very few among 
men. 

This leads to a somewhat curious theory of space, as something 
intermediate between the world of essence and the world of 
transient sensible things. 

There is one kind of being which is always the same, uncreated 
and indestructible, never receiving anything into itself from with- 
out, nor itself going out to any other, but invisible and imper- 
ceptible by any sense, and of which the contemplation is granted 
to intelligence only. And there is another nature of the same name 
with it, and like to it, perceived by sense, created, always in motion, 
becoming in place and again vanishing out of place, which is appre- 
hended by opinion and sense. And there is a third nature, which 
is space, and is eternal, and admits not of destruction and provides 
a home for all created things, and is apprehended without the help 
of sense, by a kind of spurious reason, and is hardly real ; which \vc 
beholding as in a dream, say of all existence that it must of necessity 
be in some place and occupy a space, but that what is neither in 
heaven nor on earth has no existence. 

This is a very difficult passage, which I do not pretend to under- 
stand at all fully. The theory expressed must, I think, have arisen 
from reflection on geometry, which appeared to be a matter of 
pure reason, like arithmetic, and yet had to do with space, which 
was an aspect of the sensible world. In general it is fanciful to 
find analogies with later philosophers, but I cannot help thinking 
that Kant must have liked this view of space, as one having an 
affinity with his own. 

The true elements of the material world, Timaeus says, are not 
earth, air, fire, and water, but two sorts of right-angled triangles, 
the one which is half a square and the one which is half an equi- 
lateral triangle. Originally everything was in confusion, and "the 
various elements had different places before they were arranged 
so as to form the universe/' But then God fashioned them by 
form and number, and "made them as far as'possible the fairest 
and best, out of things which were not fair and good." The above 

168 



PLATO'S COSMOGONY 

two sorts of triangles, we are told, are the most beautiful forms 
and therefore God used them in constructing matter. By means of 
these two triangles, it is possible to construct four of the five 
regular solids, and each atom of one of the four elements is a 
regular solid. Atoms of earth are cubes; of fire, tetrahedra; of air, 
octahedra ; and of water, icosahedra. (I shall come to the dode- 
cahedron presently.) 

The theory of the regular solids, which is set forth in the 
thirteenth book of Euclid, was, in Plato's day, a recent discovery; 
it was completed by Theaetetus, who appears as a very young 
man in the dialogue that bears his name. It was, according to 
tradition, he who first proved that there are only five kinds of 
regular solids, and discovered the octahedron and the icosahedron. 1 
The regular tetrahedron, octahedron, and icosahedron, have 
equilateral triangles for their faces; the dodecahedron has regular 
pentagons, and cannot therefore be constructed out of Plato's two 
triangles. For this reason he does not use it in connection with the 
four elements. 

As for the dodecahedron, Plato says only "there was yet a fifth 
combination which God used in the delineation of the universe." 
This is obscure, and suggests that the universe is a dodecahedron; 
but elsewhere it is said to be a sphere. 1 The pentagram has always 
been prominent in magic, and apparently owes this position to the 
Pythagoreans, who called it '"Health" and used it as a symbol of 
recognition of members of the brotherhood. 8 It seems that it owed 
its properties to the fact that the dodecahedron has pentagons for 
its faces, and is, in some sense, a symbol of the universe. This 
topic is attractive, but it is difficult to ascertain much that is 
definite about it. 

After a discussion of sensation, Timaeus proceeds to explain 
the two souls in man, one immortal, the other mortal, one created 
by God, the other by the gods. The mortal soul is "subject to 
terrible and irresistible affections first of all, pleasure, the 
greatest incitement to evil; then pain, which deters from good; 
also rashness and fear, two foolish counsellors, anger hard to be 
appeased, and hope easily led astray; these they (the gods) mingled 

1 Sec Heath, Greek Mathcmalic*, Vol. 1, pp. 159, 162, 294-296. 
1 For a reconciliation of the two statements, see Cornford, op. /., 
p. 219. 
9 Heath, of. ri/., p. 161. 

169 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

with irrational sense and with all-daring love according to 
necessary laws, and so framed men." 

The immortal soul is in the head, the mortal in the breast. 

There is some curious physiology, as, that the purpose of the 
intestines is to prevent gluttony by keeping the food in, and then 
there is another account of transmigration. Cowardly or un- 
righteous men will, in the next life, be women. Innocent light- 
minded men, who think that astronomy can be learnt by looking 
at the stars without knowledge of mathematics, will become birds ; 
those who have no philosophy will become wild land-animals; 
the very stupidest will become fishes. 

The last paragraph of the dialogue sums it up : 

We may now say that our discourse about the nature of the 
universe has an end. The world has received animals, mortal and 
immortal, and is fulfilled with them, and has become a visible 
animal containing the visible the sensible God who is the image 
of the intellectual, the greatest, best, fairest, most perfect- the 
one only-begotten heaven. 

It is difficult to know what to take seriously in the Tiwacus, 
and what to regard as play of fancy. I think the account of the 
creation as bringing order out of chaos is to be taken quite 
seriously; so also is the proportion between the four elements, and 
their relation to the regular solids and their constituent triangles. 
The accounts of time and space are obviously what Plato believes, 
and so is the view of the created world as a copy of an eternal 
archetype. The mixture of necessity and purpose in the world is 
a belief common to practically all Greeks, long antedating the rise 
of philosophy; Plato accepted it, and thus avoided the problem 
of evil, which troubles Christian theology. I think his world- 
animal is seriously meant. But the details about transmigration, 
and the pan attributed to the gods, and other inessentials, are, I 
think, only put in to give a possible concreteness. 

The whole dialogue, as I said before, deserves to he studied 
because of its great influence on ancient and medieval thought; 
and this influence is not confined to what is least fantastic. 



170 



Chapter XVIII 
KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION IN PLATO 

MOST modern men take it for granted that empirical know- 
ledge is dependent upon, or derived from, perception. 
There is however in Plato and among philosophers of 
certain other schools a very different doctrine, to the effect that 
there is nothing worthy to be called "knowledge" to be derived 
from the senses, and that the only real knowledge has to do with 
concepts. In this view, "2 + 2 = 4" is genuine knowledge, but 
such a statement as "snow is white" is so full of ambiguity and 
uncertainty that it cannot find a place in the philosopher's corpus 
of truths. 

This view is perhaps traceable to Panne nides, but in its explicit 
form the philosophic world owes it to Plato. I propose, in this 
chapter, to deal with Plato's criticism of the view that know- 
ledge is the same thing as perception, which occupies the first 
half of the Theaetetus. 

This dialogue is concerned to find a definition of "knowledge," 
but ends without arriving at any but a negative conclusion; 
several definitions are proposed and rejected, but no definition 
that is considered satisfactory is suggested. 

The first of the suggested definitions, and the only one that I 
shall consider, is set forth by Theaetetus in the words: 

"It seems to me that one who knows something is perceiving 
the thing that he knows, and, so far as I can see at present, 
knowledge is nothing but perception." 

Socrates identifies this doctrine with that of Protagoras, that 
"man is the measure of all thini;s v " i.e.*that any given thing "is 
to me such as it appears to me, and is to you such as it appears 
10 you." Socrates adds: "Perception, then, is always something 
that w, and, as being knowledge, it is infallible." 

A large part of the argument that follows is concerned with the 
characterization of perception; when once this is completed, it 
does not take long to prove that such a thing as perception has 
turned out to be cannot be knowledge. 

Socrates adds to* the doctrine of Protagoras the doctrine of 
Heraclitus, jhat everything is always changing, i.e. that "all the 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

things we are pleased to say 'are' really are in process of becoming. " 
Plato believes this to be true of objects of sense, but not of the 
objects of real knowledge. Throughout the dialogue, however, 
his positive doctrines remain in the background. 

From the doctrine of Heraclitus, even if it be only applicable 
to objects of sense, together with the definition of knowledge as 
perception, it follows that knowledge is of what becomes, not of 
what is. 

There are, at this point, some puzzles of a very elementary 
character. We are told that, since 6 is greater than 4 but less than 
12, 6 is both great and small, which is a contradiction. Again, 
Socrates is now taller than Theaetetus, who is a youth not yet 
full grown; but in a few years Socrates will be shorter than 
Theaetetus. Therefore Socrates is both tall and short. The idea 
of a relational proposition seems to have puzzled Plato, as it did 
most of the great philosophers down to Hegel (inclusive). These 
puzzles, however, are not very germane to the argument, and 
may be ignored. 

Returning to perception, it is regarded as due to an interaction 
between the object and the sense-organ, both of which, according 
to the doctrine of Heraclitus, are always changing, and both of 
which, in changing, change the percept. Socrates remarks that 
when he is well he finds wine sweet, but when ill, sour. Here it 
is a change in the percipient that causes the change in the percept. 

Certain objections to the doctrine of Protagoras arc advanced, 
and some of these are subsequently withdrawn. It is urged that 
Protagoras ought equally to have admitted pigs and baboons as 
measures of all things, since they also are percipients. Questions 
are raised as to the validity of perception in dreams and in madness. 
It is suggested that, if Protagoras is right, one man knows no 
more than another: not only is Protagoras as wise as the gods, 
but, what is more serious, he is no wiser than a fool. Further, if 
one man's judgments are as correct as another's, the people who 
judge that Protagoras is mistaken have the same reason to be 
thought right as he has. 

Socrates undertakes to find an answer to many of these objec- 
tions, putting himself, for the moment, in the place of Protagoras. 
As for dreams, the percepu are true as percept*. As for the argu- 
ment about pigs and baboons, this is dismissed as vulgar abuse. 
As for the argument that, if each man U the measure pf all things, 

172 



KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION IN PLATO 

one man is as wise as another, Socrates suggests, on behalf of 
Protagoras, a very interesting answer, namely that, while one 
judgment cannot be truer than another, it can be better, in the 
sense of having better consequences. This suggests pragmatism. 1 

This answer, however, though Socrates has invented it, does 
not satisfy him. He urges, for example, that when a doctor fore- 
tells the course of my illness, he actually knows more of my future 
than I do. And when men differ as to what it is wise for the State 
to decree, the issue shows that some men had a greater knowledge 
as to the future than others had. Thus we cannot escape the 
conclusion that a wise man is a better measure of things than a fool. 

All these are objections to the doctrine that each man is the 
measure of all things, and only indirectly to the doctrine that 
"knowledge" means "perception," in so far as this doctrine leads 
to the other. There is, however, a direct argument, namely that 
memory must be allowed as well as perception. This is admitted, 
and to this extent the proposed definition is amended. 

We come next to criticisms of the doctrine of Heraclitus. This 
is first pushed to extremes, in accordance, we are told, with the 
practice of his disciples among the bright youths of Ephesus. A 
thing may change in two ways, by locomotion, and by a change of 
quality, and the doctrine of flux is held to state that everything 
is always changing in both respects. 2 And not only is everything 
always undergoing some qualitative change, but everything is 
always changing all its qualities so, we are told, clever people 
think at Ephesus. This has awkward consequences. We cannot 
say "this is white," for if it was white when we began speaking it 
will have ceased to be white before we end our sentence. We 
cannot be right in saying we are seeing a thing, for seeing is 
perpetually changing into not-seeing.* If everything is changing 

1 It was presumably thit passage that first suggested to F. C. S. Schiller 
his admiration of Protagoras. 

1 It seems that neither Plato nor the dynamic youths of Ephesus had 
noticed that locomotion is impossible on the extreme Heraclitean doctrine. 
Motion demands that a given thing A should be now here, now there : it 
must remain the tame thing while it moves. In the doctrine that Plato 
examines there is change of quality and change of place, but not change 
of substance. In this respect, modern quantum physics goes further than 
the most extreme di^iples of Heraclitus went in Plato's time. Plato \\ould 
have thought this fatal to science, but it has not proved so. 

* Compaq* the advertisement: "That's Shell, that was. 9 

173 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

in every kind of way, seeing has no right to be called seeing rather 
than not-seeing, or perception to be called perception rather than 
not-perception. And when we say "perception is knowledge," we 
might just as well say "perception is not-knowledge." 

What the above argument amounts to is that, whatever else 
may be in perpetual flux, the meanings of words must be fixed, 
at least for a time, since otherwise no assertion is definite, and no 
assertion is true rather than false. There must be something more 
or less constant, if discourse and knowledge are to be possible. 
This, I think, should be admitted. But a great deal of flux is 
compatible with this admission. 

There is, at this point, a refusal to discuss Parmenides, on the 
ground that he is too great and grand. He is a "reverend and 
awfiil figure." "There was a sort of depth in him that was alto- 
gether noble." He is "one being whom I respect above all." In 
these remarks Plato shows his love for a static universe, and his 
dislike of the Heraclitean flux which he has been admitting for 
the sake of argument. But after this expression of reverence he 
abstains from developing the Parmenidean alternative to I leraclitus. 
We now reach Plato's final argument against the identification 
of knowledge with perception. He begins by pointing out that we 
perceive through eyes and ears, rather than with them, and he goes 
on to point out that some of our knowledge is not connected with 
any sense-organ. We can know, for instance, that sounds and 
colours are unlike, though no organ of sense can perceive both. 
There is no special organ for "existence and non-existence, like- 
ness and unlikeness, sameness and differences, and also unity and 
numbers in general." The same applies to honourable and dis- 
honourable, and good and bad. "The mind contemplates some 
things through its own instrumentality, others through the bodily 
faculties." We perceive hard and soft through touch, but it is the 
mind that judges that they exist and that they are contraries. Only 
the mind can reach existence, and we cannot reach truth if we do 
not reach existence. It follows that we cannot know things through 
the senses alone, since through the senses alone we cannot know 
that things exist. Therefore knowledge consists in reflection, not 
in impressions, and perception is not knowledge, because it "has 
no part in apprehending truth, since it has none in apprehending 
existence." 

7*o disentangle what can be accepted from what must be rejected 

*74 



KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION IN PLATO 

in this argument against the identification of knowledge with 
perception is by no means easy. There are three inter-connected 
theses that Plato discusses, namely: 

(1) Knowledge is perception; 

(2) Man is the measure of all things; 

(3) Everything is in a state of flux. 

(i) The first of these, with which alone the argument is pri- 
marily concerned, is hardly discussed on its own account except 
in the final passage with which we have just been concerned. 
Here it is argued that comparison, knowledge of existence, and 
understanding of number, are essential to knowledge, but cannot 
be included in perception since they are not effected through 
any sense-organ. The things to be said about these are different. 
Let us begin with likeness and unlikeness. 

That two shades of colour, both of which I am seeing, are 
similar or dissimilar as the case may be, is something which I, 
for my part, should accept, not indeed as a "percept," but as a 
"judgment of perception. 11 A percept, I should say, is not know- 
ledge, but merely something that happens, and that belongs 
equally to the world of physics and to the world of psychology. 
We naturally think of perception, as Plato does, as a relation 
between a percipient and an object: we say "I see a table." But 
here "I" and "table" are logical constructions. The core of crude 
occurrence is merely certain patches of colour. These are asso- 
ciated with images of touch, they may cause words, and they may 
become a source of memories. The percept as filled out with 
images of touch becomes an "object," which is supposed physical; 
the percept as filled out with words and memories becomes a 
"perception," which is part of a "subject" and is considered 
mental. The percept is just an occurrence, and neither true nor 
false; the percept as filled out with words is a judgment, and 
capable of truth or falsehood. This judgment I call a "judgment 
of perception." The proposition "knowledge is perception" must 
be interpreted as meaning "knowledge is judgments of perception." 
It is only in this form that it is grammatically capable of being 
correct. 

To return to likeness and unlikeness, it is quite possible, when 
I perceive two colours simultaneously, for their likeness or unlike- 
ness to be part of the datum, and to be asserted in a judgment of 

175 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

perception. Plato's argument that we have no sense-organ for 
perceiving likeness and unlikeness ignores the cortex, and assumes 
that all sense-organs must be at the surface of the body. 

The argument for including likeness and unlikeness as possible 
perceptive data is as follows. Let us assume that we see two shades 
of colour A and B, and that we judge "A is like B." Let us assume 
further, as Plato does, that such a judgment is in general correct, 
and, in particular, is correct in the case we are considering. There 
is, then, a relation of likeness between A and B, and not merely 
a judgment on our part asserting likeness. If there were only our 
judgment, it would be an arbitrary judgment, incapable of truth 
or falsehood. Since it obviously is capable of truth or falsehood, 
the likeness can subsist between A and B, and cannot be merely 
something "mental." The judgment "A is like B" is true (if it is 
true) in virtue of a "fact," just as much as the judgment "A is 
red" or "A is round." The mind is no wore involved in the per- 
ception of likeness than in the perception of colour. 

I come now to existence^ on which Plato lays great stress. We 
have, he says, as regards sound and colour, a thought which 
includes both at once, namely that they exist. Existence belongs 
to everything, and is among the things that the mind apprehends 
by itself; without reaching existence, it is impossible to reach 
truth. 

The argument against Plato here is quite different from that 
in the case of likeness and unlikeness. The argument here is that 
all that Plato says about existence is bad grammar, or rather bad 
syntax. This point is important, not only in connection with 
Plato, but also with other matters such as the ontological argument 
for the existence of the Deity. 

Suppose you say to a child "lions exist, but unicorns don't," 
you can prove your point so far as lions are concerned by taking 
him to the Zoo and saying "look, that's a lion." You will not, 
unless you are a philosopher, add: "And you can sec that that 
exists." If, being a philosopher, you do add this, you are uttering 
nonsense. To say "lions exist" means "there are lions," i.e. " 'x 
is a lion' is true for a suitable #." But we cannot say of the suitable 
x that it "exists"; we can only apply this verb to a description, 
complete or incomplete. "Lion" is an incomplete description, 
because it applies to many objects: "The largbst lion in the Zoo" 
is complete, because it applies to only one object. 

176 



KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION IN PLATO 

Now suppose that I am looking at a bright red patch. I may 
say "this is my present percept"; I may also say "my present 
percept exists"; but I must not say "this exists/' because the 
word "exists" is only significant when applied to a description 
as opposed to a name. 1 This disposes of existence as one of the 
things that the mind is aware of in objects. 

I come now to understanding of numbers. Here there are two 
very different things to be considered : on the one hand, the pro- 
positions of arithmetic, and on the other hand, empirical pro- 
positions of enumeration. "2 + 2 = 4" is of the former kind; "I 
have ten fingers" is of the latter. 

I should agree with Plato that arithmetic, and pure mathematics 
generally, is not derived from perception. Pure mathematics con- 
sists of tautologies, analogous to "men are men," but usually 
more complicated. To know that a mathematical proposition is 
correct, we do not have to study the world, but only the meanings 
of the symbols ; and the symbols, when we dispense with definitions 
(of which the purpose is merely abbreviation), are found to be 
such words as "or" and "not," and "all" and "some," which do 
not, like "Socrates," denote anything in the actual world. A 
mathematical equation asserts that two groups of symbols have 
the same meaning; and so long as we confine ourselves to pure 
mathematics, this meaning must be one that can be understood 
without knowing anything about what can be perceived. Mathe- 
matical truth, therefore, is, as Plato contends, independent of 
perception ; but it is truth of a very peculiar sort, and is concerned 
only with symbols. 

Propositions of enumeration, such as "I have ten fingers," are 
in quite a different category, and are obviously, at least in part, 
dependent on perception. Clearly the concept "finger" is abstracted 
from perception; but how about the concept "ten"? Here we 
may seem to have arrived at a true universal or Platonic idea. We 
cannot say that "ten" is abstracted from perception, for any 
percept which can be viewed as ten of some kind of thing can 
equally well be viewed otherwise. Suppose I give the name 
"digitary" to all the fingers of one hand taken together; then I 
can say "I have two digitaries," and this describes the same fact 
of perception as I formerly described by the help of the number 
ten. Thus in the statement "I have ten fingers" perception plays 
1 On this subject see the last chapter of the present work. 

177 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

a smaller part, and conception a larger part, than in such a 
statement as "this is red." The matter, however, is only one of 
degree. 

The complete answer, as regards propositions in which the 
word "ten" occurs, is that, when these propositions are correctly 
analysed, they are found to contain no constituent corresponding 
to the word "ten." To explain this in the case of such a large 
number as ten would be complicated ; let us, therefore, substitute 
"I have two hands." This means: 

"There is an a such that there is a b such that a and b are not 
identical and whatever x may be, l x is a hand of mine* is true 
when, and only when, x is a or x is 6." 

Here the word "two" does not occur. It is true that two letters 
a and b occur, but we do not need to know that they are two, any 
more than we need to know that they are black, or white, or 
whatever colour they may happen to be. 

Thus numbers are, in a certain precise sense, formal. The facts 
which verify various propositions asserting that various collections 
each have two members, have in common, not a constituent, but 
a form. In this they differ from propositions about the Statue of 
Liberty, or the moon, or George Washington. Such propositions 
refer to a particular portion of space-time; it is this that is in 
common between all the statements that can be made about the 
Statue of Liberty. But there is nothing in common among pro- 
positions "there are two so-and-so's" except a common form. 
The relation of the symbol "two" to the meaning of a proposition 
in which it occurs is far more complicated than the relation of the 
symbol "red" to the meaning of a proposition in which it occurs. 
We may say, in a certain sense, that the symbol "two" means 
nothing, for, when it occurs in a true statement, there is no 
corresponding constituent in the meaning of the statement. We 
may continue, if we like, to say that numbers are eternal, im- 
mutable, and so on, but we must add that they are logical fictions. 

There is a further point. Concerning sound and colour, Plato 
says "both together are two, and each of them is erne." We have 
considered the two\ now we must consider the one. There is here 
a mistake very analogous to that concerning existence. The pre- 
dicate "one" is not applicable to things, but only to unit classes. 
We can say "the earth has one satellite," bdt it is a syntactical 
error to say "the moon is one." For what can such an assertion 



KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION IN PLATO 

mean ? You may just as well say "the moon is many/' since it 
has many parts. To say "the earth has one satellite*' is to give a 
property of the concept "earth's satellite," namely the following 
property: 

"There is a c such that '* is a satellite of the earth' is true when, 
and only when, x is ." 

This is an astronomical truth; but if, for "a satellite of the 
earth/' you substitute "the moon" or any other proper name, the 
result is either meaningless or a mere tautology. "One," therefore, 
is a property of certain concepts, just as "ten" is a property of the 
concept "my finger." But to argue "the earth has one satellite, 
namely the moon, therefore the moon is one" is as bad as to 
argue "The Apostles were twelve; Peter was an apostle; therefore 
Peter was twelve/ 1 which would be valid if for "twelve" we 
substituted "white." 

The above considerations have shown that, while there is a 
formal kind of knowledge, namely logic and mathematics, which 
is not derived from perception, Plato's arguments as regards all 
other knowledge are fallacious. This does not, of course, prove 
that his conclusion is false; it proves only that he has given no 
valid reason for supposing it true. 

(2) I come now to the position of Protagoras, that man is the 
measure of all things, or, as it is interpreted, that each man is the 
measure of all things. Mere it is essential to decide the level upon 
which the discussion is to proceed. It is obvious that, to begin 
with, we must distinguish between percepts and inferences. Among 
percepts, each man is inevitably confined to his own; what he 
knows of the percepts of others he knows by inference from his 
own percepts in hearing and reading. The percepts of dreamers 
and madmen, as percepts, arc just as good as those of others; the 
only objection to them is that, as their context is unusual, they 
are apt to give rise to fallacious inferences. 

But how about inferences? Are they equally personal and 
private? In a sense, we must admit that they are. What I am to 
believe, 1 must believe because of some reason that appeals to 
me. It is true that my reason may be some one else's assertion, 
but that may be a perfectly adequate reason for instance, if I am 
a judge listening to evidence. And however Protagorean I may 
be, it is reasonable to accept the opinion of an accountant about 
a set of figures in preference to my own, for 1 may have repeatedly 

'79 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

found that if, at first, I disagree with him, a little more care shows 
me that he was right. In this sense I may admit that another man 
is wiser than I am. The Protagorean position, rightly interpreted, 
does not involve the view that I never make mistakes, but only 
that the evidence of my mistakes must appear to me. My past self 
can be judged just as another person can be judged. But all this 
presupposes that, as regards inferences as opposed to percepts, 
there is some impersonal standard of correctness. If any inference 
that I happen to draw is just as good as any other, then the in- 
tellectual anarchy that Plato deduces from Protagoras does in 
fact follow. On this point, therefore, which is an important one, 
Plato seems to be in the right. But the empiricist would say that 
perceptions are the test of correctness in inference in empirical 
material. 

(3) The doctrine of universal flux is caricatured by Plato, and 
it is difficult to suppose that any one ever held it in the extreme 
form that he gives to it. Let us suppose, for example, that the 
colours we see are continually changing. Such a word as "red" 
applies to many shades of colour, and if we say "I see red," there 
is no reason why this should not remain true throughout the time 
that it takes to say it. Plato gets his results by applying to pro- 
cesses of continuous change such logical oppositions as perceiving 
and not-perceiving, knowing and not-knowing. Such oppositions, 
however, are not suitable for describing such processes. Suppose, 
on a foggy day, you watch a man walking away from you along a 
road: he grows dimmer and dimmer, and there comes a moment 
when you are sure that you no longer see him, but there is an 
intermediate period of doubt. Logical oppositions have been 
invented for our convenience, but continuous change requires a 
quantitative apparatus, the possibility of which Plato ignores. 
What he says on this subject, therefore, is largely beside the mark. 

At the same time, it must be admitted that, unless words, to 
some extent, had fixed meanings, discourse would be impossible. 
Here again, however, it is easy to be too absolute. Words do change 
their meanings; take, for example, the word "idea," It i* only 
by a considerable process of education that we learn to give to 
this word something like the meaning which Plato gave to it. It 
is necessary that the changes in the meanings of words should he 
slower than the changes that the words d&cribe; but it is not 
necessary that there should be no changes in the meanings of 

180 



KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION IN PLATO 

words. Perhaps this does not apply to the abstract words of logic 
and mathematics, but these words, as we have seen, apply only 
to the form, not to the matter, of propositions. Here, again, we 
find that logic and mathematics are peculiar. Plato, under the 
influence of the Pythagoreans, assimilated other knowledge too 
much to mathematics. He shared this mistake with many of the 
greatest philosophers, but it was a mistake none the less. 



181 



Chapter XIX 
ARISTOTLE'S METAPHYSICS 

IN reading any important philosopher, but most of all in reading 
Aristotle, it is necessary to study him in two ways: with refer- 
ence to his predecessors, and with reference to his successors. 
In the former aspect, Aristotle's merits are enormous ; in the latter, 
his demerits are equally enormous. For his demerits, however, his 
successors are more responsible than he is. He came at the end of 
the creative period in Greek thought, and after his death it was 
two thousand years before the world produced any philosopher 
who could be regarded as approximately his equal. Towards the 
end of this long period his authority had become almost as un- 
questioned as that of the Church, and in science, as well as in 
philosophy, had become a serious obstacle to progress. Ever since 
the beginning of the seventeenth century, almost every serious 
intellectual advance has had to begin with an attack on some 
Aristotelian doctrine; in logic, this is still true at the present day. 
But it would have been at least as disastrous if any of his pre- 
decessors (except perhaps Democritus) had acquired equal 
authority. To do him justice, we must, to bejrin with, forget his 
excessive posthumous fame, and the equally excessive posthumous 
condemnation to which it led. 

Aristotle was born, probably in 384 B.C., at Stagira in Thrace. 
His father had inherited the position of family physician to the 
king of Macedonia. At about the age of eighteen Aristotle came 
to Athens and became a pupil of Plato ; he remained in the Aca- 
demy for nearly twenty years, until the death of Plato in 348-7 B.C. 
I le then travelled for a time, and married either the sister or the 
niece of a tyrant named Hermias. (Scandal said she was the 
daughter or concubine of Hermias, but both stories are disproved 
by the fact that he was a eunuch.) In 343 B.C. he became tutor to 
Alexander, then thirteen years old, and continued in that position 
until, at the age of sixteen, Alexander was pronounced by his 
father to be of age, and was appointed regent during Philip's 
absence. Everything one would wish to know of the relations of 
Aristotle and Alexander is unascertainable, the more so as legends 
were soon invented on the subject. There are letters between them 

182 



ARISTOTLE'S METAPHYSICS 

which are generally regarded as forgeries. People who admire 
both men suppose that the tutor influenced the pupil. Hegel 
thinks that Alexander's career shows the practical usefulness of 
philosophy. As to this, A. W. Benn says: "It would be unfortunate 
if philosophy had no better testimonial to show for herself than 
the character of Alexander. . . . Arrogant, drunken, cruel, 
vindictive, and grossly superstitious, he united the vices of a 
Highland chieftain to the frenzy of an Oriental despot." 1 

For my part, while I agree with Benn about the character of 
Alexander, I nevertheless think that his work was enormously 
important and enormously beneficial, since, but for him, the whole 
tradition of Hellenic civilization might well have perished. As 
to Aristotle's influence on him, we are left free to conjecture 
whatever seems to us most plausible. For my part, I should 
suppose it nil. Alexander was an ambitious and passionate boy, 
on bad terms with his father, and presumably impatient of 
schooling. Aristotle thought no State should have as many as one 
hundred thousand citizens, 2 and preached the doctrine of the 
golden mean. I cannot imagine his pupil regarding him as any- 
thing but a prosy old pedant, set over him by his father to keep 
him out of mischief. Alexander, it is true, had a certain snobbish 
respect for Athenian civilization, but this was common to his 
whole dynasty, who wished to prove that they were not barbarians. 
It was analogous to the feeline; of nineteenth-century Russian 
aristocrats for Paris. This, therefore, was not attributable to 
Aristotle's influence. And I do not see anything else in Alexander 
that could possibly have come from this source. 

It is more surprising that Alexander had so little influence on 
Aristotle, whose speculations on politics were blandly oblivious 
of the fact that the era of City States had given \vay to the era of 
empires. I suspect that Aristotle, to the end, thought of him as 
"that idle and headstrong' boy, who never could understand any- 
thing of philosophy/* On the whole, the contacts of these two 
great men seem to have been as unfruitful as if they had lived in 
different worlds. 

From 335 B.C. to 323 B.C. (in which latter year Alexander died), 
Aristotle lived at Athens. It was during these twelve years that he 
founded his school and wrote most of his books. At the death of 
Alexander, the Athenians rebelled, and turned on his friends, 

1 Tht Cree^ Philosophers, Vol. I, p. 285. * Ethics, 11708. 

183 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

including Aristotle, who was indicted for impiety, but, unlike 
Socrates, fled to avoid punishment. In the next year (322) he died. 

Aristotle, as a philosopher, is in many ways very different from 
all his predecessors. He is the first to write like a professor: his 
treatises are systematic, his discussions are divided into heads, 
he is a professional teacher, not an inspired prophet. His work is 
critical, careful, pedestrian, without any trace of Bacchic en- 
thusiasm. The Orphic elements in Plato are watered down in 
Aristotle, and mixed with a strong dose of common sense; where 
he is Platonic, one feels that his natural temperament has been 
overpowered by the teaching to which he has been subjected. He 
is not passionate, or in any profound sense religious. The errors 
of his predecessors were the glorious errors of youth attempting 
the impossible ; his errors are those of age which cannot free itself 
of habitual prejudices. He is best in detail and in criticism; he 
fails in large construction, for lack of fundamental clarity and 
Titanic fire. 

It is difficult to decide at what point to begin an account of 
Aristotle's metaphysics, but perhaps the best place is his criticism 
of the theory of ideas and his own alternative doctrine of uni- 
versals. He advances against the theory of ideas a number of very 
good arguments, most of which are already to be found in Plato's 
Parmenides. The strongest argument is that of the "third man": 
if a man is a man because he resembles the ideal man, there must 
be a still more ideal man to whom both ordinary men and the 
ideal man are similar. Again, Socrates is both a man and an animal, 
and the question arises whether the ideal man is an ideal animal ; 
if he is, there must be as many ideal animals as there are species 
of animals. It is needless to pursue the matter; Aristotle makes it 
obvious that, when a number of individuals share a predicate, 
this cannot be because of relation to something of the same kind 
as themselves, but more ideal. This much may be taken as proved, 
but Aristotle's own doctrine is far from clear. It was this lack of 
clarity that made possible the medieval controversy between 
nominalists and realists. 

Aristotle's metaphysics, roughly speaking, may be described as 
Plato diluted by common sense, lie is difficult because Plato and 
common sense do not mix easily. When one tries to understand 
him, one thinks part of the time that he is expressing the ordinary 
views of a person innocent of philosophy and the rest of the time 

184 



ARISTOTLE'S METAPHYSICS 

that he is setting forth Platonism with a new vocabulary. It does 
not do to lay too much stress on any single passage, because there 
is liable to be a correction or modification of it in some later 
passage. On the whole, the easiest way to understand both his 
theory of universals and his theory of matter and form is to set 
forth first the common-sense doctrine which is half of his view, 
and then to consider the Platonic modifications to which he 
subjects it. 

Up to a certain point, the theory of universals is quite simple. 
In language, there are proper names, and there are adjectives. 
The proper names apply to "things" or "persons," each of which 
is the only thing or person to which the name in question applies. 
The sun, the moon, France, Napoleon, are unique; there are not 
a number of instances of things to which these names apply. On 
the other hand, words like "cat," "dog," "man" apply to many 
different things. The problem of universals is concerned with 
the meanings of such words, and also of adjectives, such as 
"white," "hard," "round," and so on. He says: 1 "By the term 
'universal' I mean that which is of such a nature as to be pre- 
dicated of many subjects, by 'individual' that which is not thus 
predicated." 

What is signified by a proper name is a "substance/* while 
what is signified by an adjective or class-name, such as "human" 
or "man," is called a "universal." A substance is a "this," but a 
universal is a "such" it indicates the sort of thing, not the actual 
particular thing. A universal is not a substance, because it is not 
a "this." (Plato's heavenly bed would be a "this" to those who 
could perceive it ; this is a matter as to which Aristotle disagrees 
with Plato.) "It seems impossible," Aristotle says, "that any uni- 
versal term should be the name of a substance. For . . . the 
substance of each thing is that which is peculiar to it, which does 
not belong to anything else; but the universal is common, since 
that is called universal which is sUch as to belong to more than 
one thing." The gist of the matter, so far, is that a universal 
cannot exist by itself, but only in particular things. 

Superficially, Aristotle's doctrine is plain enough. Suppose I 

say "there is such a thing as the game of football," most people 

would regard the remark as a truism. But if I were to infer that 

football could exist without football-players, I should be rightly 

1 'to Interpretation, 17*. 

185 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

held to be talking nonsense. Similarly, it would be held, there is 
such a thing as parenthood, but only because there are parents; 
there is such a thing as sweetness, but only because there are 
sweet things; and there is redness, but only because there are 
red things. And this dependence is thought to be not reciprocal : 
the men who play football would still exist even if they never 
played football; things which are usually sweet may turn sour; 
and my face, which is usually red, may turn pale without ceasing 
to be my face. In this way we are led to conclude that what is 
meant by an adjective is dependent for its being on what is meant 
by a proper name, but not vice versa. This is, I think, what 
Aristotle means. His doctrine on this point, as on many others, 
is a common-sense prejudice pedantically expressed. 

But it is not easy to give precision to the theory. Granted that 
football could not exist without football-players, it could perfectly 
well exist without this or that football-player. And granted that a 
person can exist without playing football, he nevertheless cannot 
exist without doing something. The quality redness cannot exist 
without some subject, but it can exist without this or that subject ; 
similarly a subject cannot exist without some quality, but can 
exist without this or that quality. The supposed ground for the 
distinction between things and qualities thus seems to be illusory. 

The true ground of the distinction is, in fact, linguistic; it is 
derived from syntax. There are proper names, adjectives, and 
relation- words ; we may say "John is wise, James is foolish, John 
is taller than James," Here "John" and "James" are proper 
names, "wise" and "foolish" are adjectives, and "taller" is a 
relation-word. Metaphysicians, ever since Aristotle, have inter- 
preted these syntactical differences metaphysically: John and 
James are substances, wisdom and folly are universal*. (Relation- 
words were ignored or misinterpreted.) It may be that, given 
sufficient care, metaphysical differences can be found that have 
some relation to these syntactical differences, but, if so, it will be 
only by means of a long process, involving, incidentally, the 
creation of an artificial philosophical language. And this language 
will contain no such names as "John" and "James/* and no such 
adjectives as "wise" and "foolish"; all the words of ordinary 
languages will have yielded to analysis, and been replaced by 
words having a less complex significance. Until this labour has 
been performed, the question of particulars and universals cannot 

186 



ARISTOTLE'S METAPHYSICS 

be adequately discussed. And when we reach the point at which 
we can at last discuss it, we shall find that the question we are 
discussing is quite different from what we supposed it to be at 
the outset. 

If, therefore, I have failed to make Aristotle's theory of uni- 
versals clear, that is (I maintain) because it is not clear. But it is 
certainly an advance on the theory of ideas, and is certainly con- 
cerned with a genuine and very important problem. 

There is another term which is important in Aristotle and in 
his scholastic followers, and that is the term "essence." This is 
by no means synonymous with "universal." Your "essence" is 
"what you are by your very nature." It is, one may say, those of 
your properties which you cannot lose without ceasing to be your- 
self. Not only an individual thing, but a species, has an essence. 
The definition of a species should consist in mentioning its essence. 
I shall return to the conception of "essence" in connection with 
Aristotle's logic. For the present I will merely observe that it 
seems to me a muddle-headed notion, incapable of precision. 

The next point in Aristotle's metaphysics is the distinction of 
"form" and "matter. f> (It must be understood that "matter," in 
the sense in which it is opposed to "form," is different from 
"matter" as opposed to "mind.") 

Here, again, there is a common-sense basis for Aristotle's theory, 
but here, more than in the case of universals, the Platonic modifi- 
cations are very important. We may start with a marble statue; 
here marble is the matter, while the shape conferred by the 
sculptor is the form. Or, to take Aristotle's examples, if a man 
makes a bronze sphere, bronze is the matter, and sphericity is the 
form; while in the case of a calm sea, water is the matter and 
smoothness is the form. So far, all is simple. 

He goes on to say that it is in virtue of the form that the matter 
is some one definite thing, and this is the substance of the thing. 
What Aristotle means seems to be plain common sense: a "thing" 
must be bounded, and the boundary constitutes its form. Take, 
say, a volume of water: any part of it can be marked off from the 
rest by being enclosed in a vessel, and then this part becomes a 
* thing," but so long as the part is in no way marked out from the 
rest of the homogeneous mass it is not a "thing." A statue is a 
"thing," and the marble of which it is composed is, in a sense, 
unchanged from what it was as part of a lump or as part of the 

,8 7 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

provided it is so used that we can translate our statements into 
a form in which the concept is absent. "A block of marble is a 
potential statue" means "from a block of marble, by suitable acts, 
a statue is produced." But when potentiality is used as a funda- 
mental and irreducible concept, it always conceals confusion of 
thought. Aristotle's use of it is one of the bad points in his 
system. 

Aristotle's theology is interesting, and closely connected with 
the rest of his metaphysics indeed, "theology" is one of his 
names for what we call "metaphysics." (The book which we know 
under that name was not so called by him.) 

There are, he says, three kinds of substances: those that are 
sensible and perishable, those that are sensible but not perishable, 
and those that are neither sensible nor perishable. The first class 
includes plants and animals, the second includes the heavenly 
bodies (which Aristotle believed to undergo no change except 
motion), the third includes the rational soul in man, and also 
God. 

The main argument for God is the First Cause: there must be 
something which originates motion, and this something must itself 
be unmoved, and must be eternal, substance, and actuality. The 
object of desire and the object of thought, Aristotle says, cause 
movement in this way, without themselves being in motion. So 
God produces motion by being loved, whereas every other cause 
of motion works by being itself in motion (like a billiard ball). 
God is pure thought ; for thought is what is best. "Life also belongs 
to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that 
actuality; and God's self-dependent actuality is life most good 
and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, 
most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong 
to God; for this is God" (1072*). 

"It is clear then from what has been said that there is a sub- 
stance which is eternal and unmovable and separate from sensible 
things. It has been shown that this substance cannot have any 
magnitude, but is without parts and indivisible. . . . But it has 
also been shown that it is impassive and unalterable; for all the 
other changes are posterior to change of place" (1073*). 

God does not have the attributes of a Christian Providence, for 
it would derogate from His perfection to think about anything 
except what is perfect, i.e. Himself "It must be of itself that the 

190 



ARISTOTLE'S METAPHYSICS 

divine thought thinks (since it is the most excellent of things), 
and its thinking is a thinking on thinking." (1074*). We must infer 
that God does not know of the existence of our sublunary world. 
Aristotle, like Spinoza, holds that, while men must love God, 
it is impossible that God should love men. 

God is not definable as "the unmoved mover." On the contrary, 
astronomical considerations lead to the conclusion that there are 
either forty-seven or fifty-five unmoved movers (1074*). The 
relation of these to God is not made clear; indeed the natural 
interpretation would be that there are forty-seven or fifty-five 
gods. For after one of the above passages on God Aristotle pro- 
ceeds: "We must not ignore the question whether we are to 
suppose one such substance or more than one," and at once 
embarks upon the argument that leads to the forty-seven or 
fifty-five unmoved movers. 

The conception of an unmoved mover is a difficult one. To a 
modern mind, it would seem that the cause of a change must be a 
previous change, and that, if the universe were ever wholly static, 
it would remain so eternally. To understand what Aristotle means, 
we must take account of what he says about causes. There are, 
according to him, four kinds of causes, which were called, respec- 
tively, material, formal, efficient, and final. Let us take again the 
man who is making a statue. The material cause of the statue is 
the marble, the formal cause is the essence of the statue to be 
produced, the efficient cause is the contact of the chisel with the 
marble, and the final cause is the end that the sculptor has in 
view. In modern terminology, the word "cause" would be con- 
fined to the efficient cause. The unmoved mover may be regarded 
as a final cause : it supplies a purpose for change, which is essentially 
an evolution towards likeness with God. 

I said that Aristotle was not by temperament deeply religious, 
but this is only partly true. One could, perhaps, interpret one 
aspect of his religion, somewhat freely, as follows: 

God exists eternally, as pure thought, happiness, complete self- 
fulfilment, without any unrealized purposes. The sensible world, 
oo the contrary, is imperfect, but it has life, desire, thought of an 
imperfect kind, and aspiration. All living things are in a greater 
or less degree aware of God, and are moved to action by admira- 
tion and love of God. Thus God is the final cause of all activity. 
Change consists in giving form to matter, but, where sensible 

191 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

things are concerned, a substratum of matter always remains. 
Only God consists of form without matter. The world is con- 
tinually evolving towards a greater degree of form, and thus 
becoming progressively more like God. But the process cannot 
be completed, because matter cannot be wholly eliminated. This 
is a religion of progress and evolution, for God's static perfection 
moves the world only through the love that finite beings feel for 
Him. Plato was mathematical, Aristotle was biological; this 
accounts for the differences in their religions. 

This would, however, be a one-sided view of Aristotle's religion ; 
he has also the Greek love of static perfection and preference for 
contemplation rather than action. His doctrine of the soul 
illustrates this aspect of his philosophy. 

Whether Aristotle taught immortality in any form, or not, was 
a vexed question among commentators. Avenoes, who held that 
he did not, had followers in Christian countries, of whom the 
more extreme were called Epicureans, and whom Dante found in 
hell. In fact, Aristotle's doctrine is complex, and easily lends itself 
to misunderstandings. In his book On the Soul, he regards the 
soul as bound up with the body, and ridicules the Pythagorean 
doctrine of transmigration (407*). The soul, it seems, perishes 
with the body: "it indubitably follows that the soul is inseparable 
from its body" (4x3*); but he immediately adds: "or at any rate 
certain parts of it are." Body and soul are related as matter and 
form: "the soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of 
a material body having life potentially within it. But substance is 
actuality, and thus soul is the actuality of a body as above charac- 
terized" (412*). Soul "is substance in the sense which corresponds 
to the definitive formula of a thing's essence. That means that it 
is the 'essential whatness' of a body of the character just assigned 1 ' 
(i.e. having Hfe) (412*). The soul is the first grade of actuality of 
a natural body having life potentially in it. The body so described 
is a body which is organized (412*). To ask whether soul and body 
are one is as meaningless as to ask whether the wax and the shape 
given it by the stamp are one (412*). Self nutrition is the only 
psychic power possessed by plants (413'). The soul is the final 
cause of the body (414"). 

In this book, he distinguishes between "soul" and "mind," 
making mind higher than soul, and less bound to the body. After 
peaking of the relation of soul and body, he says: "The case of 

192 



ARISTOTLE'S METAPHYSICS 

mind is different; it seems to be an independent substance im- 
planted within the soul and to be incapable of being destroyed" 
(408*). Again: "We have no evidence as yet about mind or the 
power to think; it seems to be a widely different kind of soul, 
differing as what is eternal from what is perishable; it alone is 
capable of existence in isolation from all other psychic powers. 
All the other parts of soul, it is evident from what we have said, 
are, in spite of certain statements to the contrary, incapable of 
separate existence** (413*). The mind is the part of us that under- 
stands mathematics and philosophy; its objects are timeless, and 
therefore it is regarded as itself timeless. The soul is what moves 
the body and perceives sensible objects ; it is characterized by self- 
nutrition, sensation, feeling, and motivity (413*); but the mind 
has the higher function of thinking, which has no relation to the 
body or to the senses. Hence the mind can be immortal, though 
the rest of the soul cannot. 

To understand Aristotle's doctrine of the soul, we must re- 
member that the soul is the "form" of the body, and that spatial 
shape is one kind of "form." What is there in common between 
soul and shape? I think what is in common is the conferring of 
unity upon a certain amount of matter. The part of a block of 
marble which afterwards becomes a statue is, as yet, not separated 
from the rest of the marble; it is not yet a "thing," and has not 
yet any unity. After the sculptor has made the statue, it has unity, 
which it derives from its shape. Now the essential feature of the 
soul, in virtue of which it is the "form" of the body, is that it 
makes the body an organic whole, having purposes as a unit. A 
single organ has purposes lying outside itself; the eye, in isolation, 
cannot see. Thus many things can be said in which an animal or 
plant as a whole is the subject, which cannot be said about any 
part of it. It is in this sense that organization, or form, confers 
substantiality. That which confers substantiality upon a plant or 
animal is what Aristotle calls its "soul/ 1 But "mind" is some- 
thing different, less intimately bound up with the body; perhaps 
it is a part of the soul, but it is possessed by only a small minority 
of living beings (415"). Mind as speculation cannot be the cause 
of movement, for it never thinks about what is practicable, and 
never says what is to be avoided or what pursued (432*). 

A similar doctrine, though with a slight change of terminology, 
is set forth in the Nicomachean Ethics. There is in the soul one 

Hukiry / H' 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

element that is rational, and one that is irrational. The irrational 
part is two-fold: the vegetative, which is found in everything 
living, even in plants, and the appetitive, which exists in all 
animals (1102*). The life of the rational soul consists in contem- 
plation, which is the complete happiness of man though not fully 
attainable. "Such a life would be too high for man; for it is not 
in so far as he is man that he will live so, but in so far as something 
divine is present in him ; and by so much as this is superior to our 
composite nature is its activity superior to that which is the 
exercise of the other kind of virtue (the practical kind). If reason 
is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life in accordance 
with it is divine in comparison with human life. But we must not 
follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, 
and being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, 
make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accord- 
ance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, 
much more does it in power and worth surpass everything" ( 1 177'). 
It seems, from these passages, that individuality what distin- 
guishes one man from another is connected with the body and 
the irrational soul, while the rational soul or mind is divine and 
impersonal. One man likes oysters, and another likes pineapples; 
this distinguishes between them. But when they think about the 
multiplication table, provided they think correctly, there is no 
difference between them. The irrational separates us, the rational 
unites us. Thus the immortality of mind or reason is not a personal 
immortality of separate men, but a share in God's immortality. 
It does not appear that Aristotle believed in personal immortality, 
in the sense in which it was taught by Plato and afterwards by 
Christianity. He believed only that, in so far as men are rational, 
they partake of the divine, which is immortal. It is open to man 
to increase the element of the divine in his nature, and to do so 
is the highest virtue. But if he succeeded completely, he would 
have ceased to exist as a separate person. This is perhaps not the 
only possible interpretation of Aristotle's words, but I think it is 
the most natural. 



'94 



Chapter XX 
ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS 

IN the corpus of Aristotle's works, three treatises on ethics have 
a place, but two of these are now generally held to be by dis- 
ciples. The third, the Nicomachean Ethics, remains for the most 
part unquestioned as to authenticity, but even in this book there 
is a portion (Books V, VI, and VII) which is held by many to have 
been incorporated from one of the works of disciples. I shall, 
however, ignore this controversial question, and treat the book as 
a whole and as Aristotle's. 

The views of Aristotle on ethics represent, in the main, the pre- 
vailing opinions of educated and experienced men of his day. 
They are not, like Plato's, impregnated with mystical religion; nor 
do they countenance such unorthodox theories as are to be found 
in the Republic concerning property and the family. Those who 
neither fall below nor rise above the level of decent, well-behaved 
citizens mil find in the Ethics a systematic account of the prin- 
ciples by which they hold that their conduct should be regulated. 
Those who demand anything more will be disappointed. The 
book appeals to the respectable middle-aged, and has been used 
by them, especially since the seventeenth century, to repress the 
ardours and enthusiasms of the young. But to a man with any 
depth of feeling it is likely to be repulsive. 

The good, we are told, is happiness, which is an activity of the 
soul. Aristotle says that Plato was right in dividing the soul into 
two parts, one rational, the other irrational. The irrational part 
itself he divides into the vegetative (which is found even in plants) 
and the appetitive (which is found in all animals). The appetitive 
part may be in some degree rational, when the goods that it seeks 
arc such as reason approves of. This is essential to the account of 
virtue, for reason alone, in Aristotle, is purely contemplative, and 
docs not, without the help of appetite, lead to any practical 
activity. 

There are two kinds of virtues, intellectual and moral, corre- 
sponding to the two parts of the soul. Intellectual virtues result 
from teaching, moral virtues from habit. It is the business of the 
legislator to make the citizens good by forming good habits. We 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

become just by performing just acts, and similarly as regards 
other virtues. By being compelled to acquire good habits, we shall 
in time, Aristotle thinks, come to find pleasure in performing good 
actions. One is reminded of Hamlet's speech to his mother: 

Assume a virtue if you have it not. 

That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat, 

Of habits devil, is angel, yet in this 

That to the use of actions fair and good 

He likewise gives a frock or livery 

That aptly is put on. 

We now come to the famous doctrine of the golden mean. 
Every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a 
vice. This is proved by an examination of the various virtues. 
Courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness; liberality, 
between prodigality and meanness ; proper pride, between vanity 
and humility; ready wit, between buffoonery and boorishness; 
modesty, between bashfulness and shamelessness. Some virtues 
do not seem to fit into this scheme; for instance, truthfulness. 
Aristotle says that this is a mean between boastfulness and mock- 
modesty (1108*), but this only applies to truthfulness about one- 
self. I do not see how truthfulness in any wider sense can be fitted 
into the scheme. There was once a mayor who had adopted 
Aristotle's doctrine ; at the end of his term of office he made a 
speech saying that he had endeavoured to steer the narrow line 
between partiality on the one hand and impartiality on the other. 
The view of truthfulness as a mean seems scarcely less absurd. 

Aristotle's opinions on moral questions are always such as were 
conventional in his day. On some points they differ from those of 
our time, chiefly where some form of aristocracy comes in. We 
think that human beings, at least in ethical theory, all have equal 
rights, and that justice involves equality; Aristotle thinks that 
justice involves, not equality, but right proportion, which is only 
sometimes equality (1131*). 

The justice of a master or a father is a different thing from that 
of a citizen, for a son or slave is property, and there can be no 
injustice to one's own property (i 134*). As regards stoves, however, 
there is a slight modification of this doctrine in connection with 
the question whether it is possible for a man to be a friend of his 
slave: "There is nothing in common between the two parties; the 
slave is a living tool. . . . Qua slave, then, one cannot be friends 

196 



ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS 

with him. But qua man one can ; for there seems to be some justice 
between any man and any other who can share in a system of 
law or be a party to an agreement; therefore there can also be 
friendship with him in so far as he is a man" (n6i 6 ). 

A father can repudiate his son if he is wicked, but a son cannot 
repudiate his father, because he owes him more than he can pos- 
sibly repay, especially existence (n63 6 ). In unequal relations, it is 
right, since everybody should be loved in proportion to his worth, 
that the inferior should love the superior more than the superior 
loves the inferior: wives, children, subjects, should have more love 
for husbands, parents, and monarchs than the latter have for 
them. In a good marriage, "the man rules in accordance with 
his worth, and in those matters in which a man should rule, but 
the matters that befit a woman he hands over to her" (1160*). 
He should not rule in her province; still less should she rule in 
his, as sometimes happens when she is an heiress. 

The best individual, as conceived by Aristotle, is a very different 
person from the Christian saint. He should have proper pride, and 
not underestimate his own merits. He should despise whoever 
deserves to be despised (1124*). The description of the proud or 
magnanimous man 1 is very interesting as showing the difference 
between pagan and Christian ethics, and the sense in which 
Nietzsche was justified in regarding Christianity as a slave- 
morality. 

The magnanimous man, since he deserves most, must be good, 
in the highest degree; for the better man always deserves more, 
and the best man most. Therefore the truly magnanimous man 
must be good. And greatness in every virtue would seem to be 
characteristic of the magnanimous man. And it would be most 
unbecoming for the magnanimous man to fly from danger, 
swinging his arms by his sides, or to wrong another; for to what 
end should he do disgraceful acts, he to whom nothing is great ? 
. . . magnanimity, then, seems to be a sort of crown of the 
virtues; for it makes them greater, and it is not found without 
them. Therefore it is hard to be truly magnanimous; for it is 

1 The Greek word means, literally, "great-souled," and is usually 
translated "magnanimous, " but the Oxford translation renders it "proud.*' 
Neither word, in its modern usage, quite expresses Aristotle's meaning, 
but 1 prefrr"magnaninu>us," and have therefore substituted it for'* proud" 
in the above qtyotation from the Oxford translation. 

"97 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

impossible without nobility and goodness of character. It is 
chiefly with honours and dishonours, then, that the magnanimous 
man is concerned; and at honours that are great and conferred 
by good men he will be moderately pleased, thinking that he is 
coming by his own or even less than his own; for there can be 
no honour that is worthy of perfect virtue, yet he will at any rate 
accept it since they have nothing greater to bestow on him ; but 
honour from casual people and on trifling grounds he will utterly 
despise, since it is not this that he deserves, and dishonour too, 
since in his case it cannot be just. . . . Power and wealth arc 
desirable for the sake of honour; and to him for whom even 
honour is a little thing the others must be so too. Hence magnani- 
mous men are thought to be disdainful. . . . The magnanimous 
man does not run into trifling dangers, . . . but he will face great 
dangers, and when he is in danger he is unsparing of his life, 
knowing that there are conditions on which life is not worth 
having. And he is the sort of man to confer benefits, but he is 
ashamed of receiving them; for the one is the mark of a superior, 
the other of an inferior. And he is apt to confer greater benefits 
in return; for thus the original benefactor besides being repaid 
will incur a debt to him. ... It is the mark of the magnanimous 
man to ask for nothing or scarcely anything, but to give help 
readily, and to be dignified towards people who enjoy a hiuh 
position but unassuming towards those of the middle class; for 
it is a difficult and lofty thing to be superior to the former, but 
easy to be so to the latter, and a lofty bearing over the former is 
no mark of ill-breeding, but among humble people it is as vulgar 
as a display of strength against the weak. ... lie must also be 
open in his hate and in his love, for to conceal one's feelings, 
i.e. to care less for truth than for what people think, is a coward's 
part. . . . He is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and 
he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony 
to the vulgar. . . . Nor is he given to admiration, for to him nothing 
is great. . . . Nor is he a gossip; for he will speak neither about 
himself nor about another, since he cares not to be praised nor 
for others to be blamed. ... He is one who will possess beautiful 
and profitless things rather than profitable and useful ones, . . . 
Further, a slow step is thought proper to the magnanimous man, 
a deep voice, and a level utterance. . . . Such, then, is the magnani- 
mous man; the man who falls short of him is unduly humble 
and the man who goes beyond him is vain" (1123*-! 125*). 

One shudders to think what a vain man would b? like. 
Whatc/er may be thought of the magnanimous pun, one thing 



ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS 

is clear: there cannot be very many of him in a community. I do 
not mean merely in the general sense in which there are not likely 
to be many virtuous men, on the ground that virtue is difficult; 
what I mean is that the virtues of the magnanimous man largely 
depend upon his having an exceptional social position. Aristotle 
considers ethics a branch of politics, and it is not surprising, after 
his praise of pride, to find that he considers monarchy the best 
form of government, and aristocracy the next best. Monarchs and 
aristocrats can be "magnanimous," but ordinary citizens would 
be laughable if they attempted to live up to such a pattern. 

This brings up a question which is half ethical, half political. 
Can we regard as morally satisfactory a community which, by its 
essential constitution, confines the best things to a few, and 
requires the majority to be content with the second-best? Plato 
and Aristotle say yes, and Nietzsche agrees with them. Stoics, 
Christians, and democrats say no. But there are great differences 
in their ways of saying no. Stoics and early Christians consider 
that the greatest pood is virtue, and that external circumstances 
cannot prevent a man from being virtuous; there is therefore no 
need to seek a just social system, since social injustice affects only 
unimportant matters. The democrat, on the contrary, usually 
holds that, at least so far as politics are concerned, the most 
important goods are power and property; he cannot, therefore, 
acquiesce in a social system which is unjust in these respects. 

The Stoic-Christian view requires a conception of virtue very 
different from Aristotle's, since it must hold that virtue is as 
possible for the slave as for his master. Christian ethics dis- 
approves of pride, which Aristotle thinks a virtue, and praises 
humility, which he thinks a vice. The intellectual virtues, which 
Plato and Aristotle value above all others, have to be thrust out 
of the list altogether, in order that the poor and humble may be 
able to be as virtuous as any one else. Pope Gregory the Great 
solemnly reproved a bishop for teaching grammar. 

The Aristotelian view, that the highest virtue is for the few, is 
logically connected with the subordination of ethics to politics, 
if the aim is the good community rather than the good individual, 
it i possible that the good community may be one in which there 
is subordination. In an orchestra, the first violin is more important 
than the oboe, though both arc necessary for the excellence of the 
whole. It is impossible to organize an orchestra on the principle 

199 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

of giving to each man what would be best lor him as an isolated 
individual. The same sort of thing applies to the government of a 
large modern State, however democratic. A modern democracy 
unlike those of antiquity confers great power upon certain 
chosen individuals, Presidents or Prime Ministers, and must expect 
of them kinds of merit which are not expected of the ordinary 
citizen. When people are not thinking in terms of religion or 
political controversy, they are likely to hold that a good President 
is more to be honoured than a good bricklayer. In a democracy 
a President is not expected to be quite like Aristotle's magnani- 
mous man, but still he is expected to be rather different from the 
average citizen, and to have certain merits connected with his 
station. These peculiar merits would perhaps not be considered 
"ethical,* 1 but that is because we use this adjective in a narrower 
sense than that in which it is used by Aristotle. 

As a result of Christian dogma, the distinction between moral 
and other merits has become much sharper than it was in Greek 
times. It is a merit in a man to be a great poet or composer or 
painter, but not a moral merit; we do not consider him the more 
virtuous for possessing such aptitudes, or the more likely to go 
to heaven. Moral merit is concerned solely with acts of will, i.e. 
with choosing rightly among possible courses of action. 1 I am not 
to blame for not composing an opera, because I don't know how 
to do it. The orthodox view is that, wherever two courses of action 
are possible, conscience tells me which is right, and to choose the 
other is sin. Virtue consists mainly in the avoidance of sin, rather 
than in anything positive. There is no reason to expect an educated 
man to be morally better than an uneducated man, or a clever 
man than a stupid man. In this way, a number of merits of great 
social importance are shut out from the realm of ethics. The 
adjective "unethical," in modern usage, has a much narrower 
range than the adjective "undesirable. 11 It is undesirable to be 
feeble-minded, but not unethical. 

Many modern philosophers, however, have not accepted this 
view of ethics. They have thought that one should first define the 
good, and then say that our actions ought to be such as tend to 
realize the good. This point of view is more like that of Aristotle, 
who holds that happiness is the good. The highest happiness, it 

1 It i* true that Aristotle also say* this (i 105'), but as he means it the 
consequences are not so far-reaching as in the Christian interpretation. 

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ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS 

is true, is only open to the philosopher, but to Aristotle that is no 
objection to the theory. 

Ethical theories may be divided into two classes, according as 
they regard virtue as an end or a means. Aristotle, on the whole, 
takes the view that virtues are means to an end, namely happiness. 
"The end, then, being what we wish for, the means what we 
deliberate about and choose, actions concerning means must be 
according to choice and voluntary. Now the exercise of the virtues 
is concerned with means" (iii3 6 ). But there is another sense of 
virtue in which it is included in the ends of action: "Human good 
is activity of soul in accordance with virtue in a complete life" 
(1098*). I think he would say that the intellectual virtues are ends, 
but the practical virtues are only means. Christian moralists hold 
that, while the consequences of virtuous actions are in general 
good, they are not as good as the virtuous actions themselves, 
which are to be valued on their own account, and not on account 
of their effects. On the other hand, those who consider pleasure 
the good regard virtues solely as means. Any other definition of 
the good, except the definition as virtue, will have the same conse- 
quence, that virtues are means to goods other than themselves. 
On this question, Aristotle, as already said, agrees mainly, though 
not wholly, with those who think the first business of ethics is to 
define the good, and that virtue is to be defined as action tending 
to produce the good. 

The relation of ethics to politics raises another ethical question 
of considerable importance. Granted that the good at which right 
action should aim is the good of the whole community, or, ulti- 
mately, of the whole human race, is this social good a sum of 
goods enjoyed by individuals, or is it something belonging 
essentially to the whole, not to the parts ? We may illustrate the 
problem by the analogy of the human body. Pleasures are largely 
associated with different parts of the body, but we consider them 
as belonging to a person as a whole; we may enjoy a pleasant 
smell, but we know that the nose alone could not enjoy it. Some 
contend that, in a closely organized community, there are, analo- 
gously, excellences belonging to the whole, but not to any part. 
If they are metaphysicians, they may hold, like Hegel, that what- 
ever quality is good is an attribute of the universe as a whole; 
but they will generally add that it is less mistaken to attribute good 
to a State thap to an individual. logically, the view may be put 

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WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

as follows. We can attribute to a State various predicates that 
cannot be attributed to its separate members that it is populous, 
extensive, powerful, etc. The view we are considering puts ethical 
predicates in this class, and says that they only derivatively belong 
to individuals. A man may belong to a populous State, or to a 
good State; but he, they say, is no more good than he is populous. 
This view, which has been widely held by German philosophers, 
is not Aristotle's, except possibly, in some degree, in his conception 
of justice. 

A considerable part of the Ethics is occupied with the discussion 
of friendship, including all relations that involve affection. Perfect 
friendship is only possible between the good, and it is impossible 
to be friends with many people. One should not be friends with a 
person of higher station than one's own, unless he is also of higher 
virtue, which will justify the respect shown to him. \Ve have seen 
that, in unequal relations, such as those of man and wife or father 
and son, the superior should be the more loved. It is impossible 
to be friends with God, because He cannot love us. Aristotle 
discusses whether a man can be a friend to himself, and decides 
that this is only possible if he is a good man; wicked men, he 
asserts, often hate themselves. The good man should love himself, 
but nobly (1169*). Friends are a comfort in misfortune, but one 
should not make them unhappy by seeking their sympathy, as is 
done by women and womanish men (1171*). It is not only in 
misfortune that friends are desirable, for the happy man needs 
friends with whom to share his happiness. "No one would choose 
the whole world on condition of being alone, since man is a 
political creature and one whose nature is to live with others" 
(1169*). All that is said about friendship is sensible, but there is 
not a word that rises above common sense. 

Aristotle again shows his good sense in the discussion of pleasure, 
which Plato had regarded somewhat ascetically. Pleasure, as 
Aristotle uses the word, is distinct from happiness, though there 
can be no happiness without pleasure. There are, he says, three 
views of pleasure: (i) that it is never good; (2) that some pleasure- 
is good, but most is bad; (3) that pleasure is good, but not the 
best. He rejects the first of these on the ground that pain is cer- 
tainly bad, and therefore pleasure must be good. He says, very 
justly, that it is nonsense to say a man can be happy on the rack : 
some degree of external good fortune is necessary for happiness. 

202 



ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS 

tie also disposes of the view that all pleasures are bodily ; all things 
have something divine, and therefore some capacity for higher 
pleasures. Good men have pleasure unless they are unfortunate, 
and God always enjoys a single and simple pleasure (1152-1154). 

There is another discussion of pleasure, in a later pan of the 
book, which is not wholly consistent with the above. Here it is 
argued that there are bad pleasures, which, however, are not 
pleasures to pood people (1173*); that perhaps pleasures differ in 
kind (ibid.) ; and that pleasures are good or bad according as they 
are connected with good or bad activities (1175*). There are things 
that are valued more than pleasure; no one would be content to 
go through life with a child's intellect, even if it were pleasant to 
do so. Each animal has its proper pleasure, and the proper pleasure 
of man is connected with reason. 

This leads on to the only doctrine in the book which is not mere 
common sense. Happiness lies in virtuous activity, and perfect 
happiness lies in the best activity, which is contemplative. Con- 
templation is preferable to war or politics or any other practical 
career, because it allows leisure, and leisure is essential to happi- 
ness. Practical virtue brings only a secondary kind of happiness; 
the supreme happiness is in the exercise of reason, for reason, 
more than anything else, is man. Man cannot be wholly contem- 
plative, but in so far as he is so he shares in the divine life. "The 
activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must 
be contemplative." Of all human beings, the philosopher is the 
most godlike in his activity, and therefore the happiest and best: 

I Ic who exercises his reason and cultivates it seems to be both 
in the be*t state of mind and most dear to the gods. For if the gods 
have any care for human affairs, as they are thought to have, it 
would be reasonable both that they should delight in that which 
was best and most akin to them (i.e. reason) and that they should 
reward those who love and honour this most, as caring for the 
things that are dear to them and acting both rightly and nobly. 
And that all these attributes belong most of all to the philosopher 
is manifest. He, therefore, is the dearest to the gods. And he who 
is that will presumably be also the happiest; so that in this way 
too the philosopher will more than any other be happy (1179*). 

This passage is virtually the peroration of the Ethics-, the few 

paragraphs that follow are concerned with the transition to politics. 

Let us now try to decide what we are to think of the merits and 

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WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

demerits of the Ethics. Unlike many other subjects treated by 
Greek philosophers, ethics has not made any definite advances, 
in the sense of ascertained discoveries ; nothing in ethics is known 
in a scientific sense. There is therefore no reason why an ancient 
treatise on it should be in any respect inferior to a modern one. 
When Aristotle talks about astronomy, we can say definitely that 
he is wrong; but when he talks about ethics we cannot say, in 
the same sense, either that he is wrong or that he is right. Broadly 
speaking, there are three questions that we can ask about the 
ethics of Aristotle, or of any other philosopher: (i) Is it internally 
self-consistent? (2) Is it consistent with the remainder of the 
author's views ? (3) Does it give answers to ethical problems that 
are consonant to our own ethical feelings ? If the answer to cither 
the first or second question is in the negative, the philosopher in 
question has been guilty of some intellectual error. But if the 
answer to the third question is in the negative, we have no right 
to say that he is mistaken ; we have only the right to say that we 
do not like him. 

Let us examine these three questions in turn, as regards the 
ethical theory set forth in the Nicomachean Ethics. 

(1) On the whole, the book is self-consistent, except in a few 
not very important respects. The doctrine that the good is happi- 
ness, and that happiness consists in successful activity, is well 
worked out. The doctrine that every virtue is a mean between 
two extremes, though very ingeniously developed, is less successful, 
since it does not apply to intellectual contemplation, which, we 
are told, is the best of all activities. It can, however, be maintained 
that the doctrine of the mean is only intended to apply to the 
practical virtues, not to, those of the intellect. Perhaps, to take 
another point, the position of the legislator is somewhat ambiguous. 
He is to cause children and young people to acquire the habit of 
performing good actions, which mil, in the end, lead them to find 
pleasure in virtue, and to act virtuously without the need of legal 
compulsion. It is obvious that the legislator might equally well 
cause the young to acquire bad habits; if this is to be avoided, he 
must have all the wisdom of a Platonic guardian ; and if it is not 
avoided, the argument that a virtuous life is pleasant will fail. 
This problem, however, belongs perhaps more to politics than 
to ethics. 

(2) Aristotle's ethics is, at all points, consistent with his meta- 

204 



ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS 

physics. Indeed, his metaphysical theories are themselves the 
expression of an ethical optimism. He believes in the scientific 
importance of final causes, and this implies the belief that purpose 
governs the course of development in the universe. He thinks 
that changes are, in the main, such as embody an increase of 
organization or "form," and at bottom virtuous actions are those 
that favour this tendency. It is true that a great deal of his practical 
ethics is not particularly philosophical, but merely the result of 
observation of human affairs ; but this part of his doctrine, though 
it may be independent of his metaphysics, is not inconsistent 
with it. 

(3) When we come to compare Aristotle's ethical tastes with 
our own, we find, in the first place, as already noted, an acceptance 
of inequality which is repugnant to much modern sentiment. 
Not only is there no objection to slavery, or to the superiority 
of husbands and fathers over wives and children, but it is held 
that what is best is essentially only for the few magnanimous 
men and philosophers. Most men, it would seem to follow, are 
mainly means for the production of a few rulers and sages. Kant 
maintained that every human being is an end in himself, and this 
may be taken as an expression of the view introduced by Christi- 
anity. There is, however, a logical difficulty in Kant's view, since 
it gives no means of reaching a decision when two men's interests 
clash. If each is an end in himself, how are we to arrive at a prin- 
ciple for determining which shall give way? Such a principle 
must have to do with the community rather than with the indi- 
vidual. In the broadest sense of the word, it will have to be a 
principle of "justice." Benthum and the utilitarians interpret 
"justice" as "equality": when two men's interests clash, the right 
course is that which produces the greatest total of happiness, 
regardless of which of the two enjoys it, or how it is shared among 
them. If more is given to the better man than to the worse, that 
is because, in the long run, the general happiness is increased by 
rewarding virtue and punishing vice, not because of an ultimate 
ethical doctrine that the good deserve more than the bad. "Justice," 
in this view, consists in considering only the amount of happiness 
involved, without favour to one individual or class as against 
another. Greek philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle, had 
a different conception of justice, and it is one which is still widely 
prevalent. They thought originally on grounds derived from 

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WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

religion that each thing or person had its or his proper sphere, 
to overstep which is "unjust." Some men, in virtue of their 
character and aptitudes, have a wider sphere than others, and 
there is no injustice if they enjoy a greater share of happiness. 
This view is taken for granted in Aristotle, but its basis in primitive 
religion, which is evident in the earliest philosophers, is no longer 
apparent in his writings. 

There is in Aristotle an almost complete absence of what may 
be called benevolence or philanthropy. The sufferings of mankind, 
in so far as he is aware of them do not move him emotionally; 
he holds them, intellectually, to be an evil, but there is no evidence 
that they cause him unhappiness except when the sufferers happen 
to be his friends. 

More generally, there is an emotional poverty in the Ethics, 
which is not found in the earlier philosophers. There is something 
unduly smug and comfortable about Aristotle's speculations on 
human affairs; everything that makes men feel a passionate interest 
in each other seems to be forgotten. Even his account of friend- 
ship is tepid. He shows no sign of having had any of those experi- 
ences which make it difficult to preserve sanity; all the more 
profound aspects of the moral life are apparently unknown to him. 
He leaves out, one may say, the whole sphere of human experi- 
ence with which religion is concerned. What he ha,s to say is 
what will be useful to comfortable men of weak passions; but he 
has nothing to say to those who are possessed by a god or a devil, 
or whom outward misfortune drives to despair. For these reasons, 
in my judgment, his Ethics, in spite of its fame, is lacking in 
intrinsic importance. 



206 



Chapter XXI 
ARISTOTLE'S POLITICS 

ARISTOTLE'S Politics is both interesting and important 
interesting, as showing the common prejudices of educated 
Greeks in his time, and important as a source of many prin- 
ciples which remained influential until the end of the Middle 
Ages. I do not think there is much in it that could be of any practical 
use to a statesman of the present day, but there is a great deal 
that throws light on the conflicts of parties in different parts of 
the Hellenic world. There is not very much awareness of methods 
of government in non-Hellenic States. There are, it is true, 
allusions to Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Carthage, but except in 
the case of Carthage they are somewhat perfunctory. There is 
no mention of Alexander, and not even the faintest awareness of 
the complete transformation that he was effecting in the world. 
The whole discussion is concerned with City States, and there is 
no prevision of their obsolescence. Greece, owing to its division 
into independent cities, was a laboratory of political experiment; 
but nothing to which these experiments were relevant existed 
from Aristotle's time until the rise of the Italian cities in the Middle 
Ages. In many ways, the experience to which Aristotle appeals is 
more relevant to the comparatively modern world than to any 
that existed for fifteen hundred years after the book was written. 
There are many pleasant incidental remarks, some of which 
may be noted before we embark upon political theory. We are 
told that Euripides, when he was staying at the court of Archelaus, 
King of Macedon, was accused of halitosis by a certain Decam- 
nichus. To soothe his fury, the king gave him permission to 
scourge Decarnnichus, which he did. Decamnichus, after waiting 
many years, joined in a successful plot to kill the king; but by 
this time Euripides was dead. We are told that children should 
be conceived in winter, when the wind is in the north ; that there 
must be a careful avoidance of indecency, because "shameful 
words lead to shameful acts," and that obscenity is never to be 
tolerated except in temples, where the law permits even ribaldry. 
People should not marry too young, because, if they do, the 
children will be weak and female, the wives will become wanton, 

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WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

and the husbands stunted in their growth. The right age for 
marriage is thirty-seven in men, eighteen in women. 

We learn how Thales, being taunted with his poverty, bought up 
all the olive-presses on the instalment plan, and was then able to 
charge monopoly rates for their use. This he did to show that 
philosophers can make money, and, if they remain poor, it is 
because they have something more important than wealth to 
think about. All this, however, is by the way ; it is time to come to 
more serious matters. 

The book begins by pointing out the importance of the State ; 
it is the highest kind of community, and aims at the highest good. 
In order of time, the family comes first ; it is built on the two 
fundamental relations of man and woman, master and slave, both 
of which are natural. Several families combined make a village ; 
several villages, a State, provided the combination is nearly large 
enough to be self-sufficing. The State, though later in time than 
the family, is prior to it, and even to the individual, by nature; 
for "what each thing is when fully developed we call its nature/' 
and human society, fully developed, is a State, and the whole 
is prior to the part. The conception involved here is that of 
organism: a hand, when the body is destroyed, is, we are told, no 
longer a hand. The implication is that a hand is to be defined by 
its purpose that of grasping which it can only perform when 
joined to a living body. In like manner an individual cannot fulfil 
his purpose unless he is part of a State. He who founded the 
State, Aristotle says, was the greatest of benefactors; for without 
law man is the worst of animals, and law depends for its existence 
on the State. The State is not a mere society for exchange and the 
prevention of crime: "The end of the State is the good life. 
. . . And the State is the union of families and villages in a 
perfect and self-sufficing life, by which we mean a happy and 
honourable life" (1280*). "A political society exists for the sake 
of noble actions, not of mere companionship" (1281). 

A State being composed of households, each of which consists 
of one family, the discussion of politics should begin with the 
family. The bulk of this discussion is concerned with slavery 
for in antiquity the slaves were always reckoned as pan of the 
family. Slavery is expedient and right, but the slave should be 
naturally inferior to the master. From birth, some are marked out 
for subjection, others for rule; the man who is by nature not his 

208 



ARISTOTLE'S POLITICS 

own but another man's is by nature a slave. Slaves should not be 
Greeks, but of an inferior race with less spirit (1255* and 1330*). 
Tame animals are better off when ruled by man, and so are those 
who are naturally inferior when ruled by their superiors. It may 
be questioned whether the practice of making slaves out of 
prisoners of war is justified ; power, such as leads to victory in 
war, seems to imply superior virtue, but this is not always the 
case. War, however, is just when waged against men who, though 
intended by nature to be governed, will not submit (1256*); and 
in this case, it is implied, it would be right to make slaves of the 
conquered. This would seem enough to justify any conqueror who 
ever lived ; for no nation will admit that it is intended by nature to 
be governed, and the only evidence as to nature's intentions 
must be derived from the outcome of war. In every war, therefore, 
the victors are in the right and the vanquished in the wrong. 
Very satisfactory ! 

Next comes a discussion of trade, which profoundly influenced 
scholastic casuistry. There are two uses of a thing, one proper, 
the other improper; a shoe, for instance, may be worn, which is 
its proper use, or exchanged, which is its improper use. It follows 
that there is something degraded about a shoemaker, who must 
exchange his shoes in order to live. Retail trade, we are told, is 
not a natural part of the art of getting wealth (1257*). The natural 
way to get wealth is by skilful management of house and land. 
To the wealth that can be made in this way there is a limit, but 
to what can be made by trade there is none. Trade has to do with 
money, but wealth is not the acquisition of coin. Wealth derived 
from trade is justly hated, because it is unnatural. "The most 
hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes 
a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. 
For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase 
at interest. ... Of all modes of getting wealth this is the most 
unnatural" (1258). 

What came of this dictum you may read in Tawney's Religion 
and the Rise oj Capitalism. But while his history is reliable, his 
comment has a bias in favour of what is pre-capitalistic. 

44 Usury" means all lending money at interest, not only, as now, 
lending at an exorbitant rate. From Greek times to the present 
day, mankind, or at least the economically more developed 
portion of them, have been divided into debtors and creditors; 

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WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

debtors have disapproved of interest, and creditors have approved 
of it. At most times, landowners have been debtors, while men 
engaged in commerce have been creditors. The views of philo- 
sophers, with few exceptions, have coincided with the pecuniary 
interests of their class. Greek philosophers belonged to, or were 
employed by, the landowning class; they therefore disapproved 
of interest. Medieval philosophers were churchmen, and the 
property of the Church was mainly in land ; they therefore saw 
no reason to revise Aristotle's opinion. Their objection to usury 
was reinforced by anti-Semitism, for most fluid capital was 
Jewish. Ecclesiastics and barons had their quarrels, sometimes 
very bitter; but they could combine against the wicked Jew who 
had tided them over a bad harvest by means of a loan, and con- 
sidered that he deserved some reward for his thrift. 

With the Reformation, the situation changed. Many of the 
most earnest Protestants were business men, to whom lending 
money at interest was essential. Consequently first Calvin, and 
then other Protestant divines, sanctioned interest. At last the 
Catholic Church was compelled to follow suit, because the old 
prohibitions did not suit the modern world. Philosophers, whose 
incomes are derived from the investments of universities, have 
favoured interest ever since they ceased to be ecclesiastics and 
therefore connected with landowning. At every stage, theie has 
been a wealth of theoretical argument to support the economically 
convenient opinion. 

Plato's Utopia is criticized by Aristotle on various grounds. 
There is first the very interesting comment that it gives too much 
unity to the State, and would make it into an individual. Next 
comes the kind of argument against the proposed abolition of the 
family that naturally occurs to every reader. Plato thinks that, by 
merely giving the title of "son'* to all who are of an age that makes 
their sonship possible, a man will acquire towards the whole 
multitude the sentiments that men have at present towards their 
actual sons, and correlatively as regards the title "father/* Aristotle, 
on the contrary, says that what is common to the greatest number 
receives the least care, and that if "sons' 1 are common to many 
"fathers" they will be neglected in common; it is better to be 
a cousin in reality than a "son" in Plato's sense ; Plato's plan would 
make love watery. Then there is a curious argument that, since 
abstinence from adultery is a virtue, it would be a pity to have 

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ARISTOTLE'S POLITICS 

a social system which abolishes this virtue and the correlative 
vice (1263*). Then we are asked: if women are common, who 
will manage the house ? I wrote an essay once, called "Architecture 
and the Social System," in which I pointed out that all who 
combine communism with abolition of the family also advocate 
communal houses for large numbers, with communal kitchens, 
dining-rooms, and nurseries. This system may be described as 
monasteries without celibacy. It is essential to the carrying out of 
Plato's plans, but it is certainly not more impossible than many 
other things that he recommends. 

Plato's communism annoys Aristotle. It would lead, he says, 
to anger against lazy people, and to the sort of quarrels that are 
common between fellow-travellers. It is better if each minds his 
own business. Property should be private, but people should be 
so trained in benevolence as to allow the use of it to be largely 
common. Benevolence and generosity are virtues, and without 
pr vate property they are impossible. Finally we are told that, if 
Plato's plans were good, someone would have thought of them 
sooner. 1 I do not agree with Plato, but if anything could make 
me do so, it would be Aristotle's arguments against him. 

As we have seen in connection with slavery, Aristotle is no 
Miever in equality. Granted, however, the subjection of slaves 
and women, it still remains a question whether all citizens should 
be politically equal. Some men, he says, think this desirable, on 
the ground that all revolutions turn on the regulation of property, 
lie rejects this argument, maintaining that the greatest crimes 
are due to excess rather than want ; no man becomes a tyrant in 
order to avoid feeling the cold. 

A government is good when it aims at the good of the whole 
community, bad when it cares only for itself. There are three kinds 
of government that are good: monarchy, aristocracy, and consti- 
tutional government (or polity); there are three that are bad: 
tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. There are also many mixed 
intermediate forms. It will be observed that the good and bad 
governments are defined by the ethical qualities of the holders of 
power, not by the form of the constitution. This, however, is 

1 Ct. Tlit Noodle's Oration in Sydney Smith; "If the proposal be 
bound, would the Saxon have passed it by ? Would the Dane have ignored 
it? Would it have escaped the wisdom of the Norman?" (I quote from 
memory. ) 

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WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

only partly true. An aristocracy is a rule of men of virtue, an 
oligarchy is a rule of the rich, and Aristotle does not consider 
virtue and wealth strictly synonymous. What he holds, in accord- 
ance with the doctrine of the golden mean, is that a moderate 
competence is most likely to be associated with virtue: "Mankind 
do not acquire or preserve virtue by the help of external goods, 
but external goods by the help of virtue, and happiness, whether 
consisting in pleasure or virtue, or both, is more often found 
with those who are most highly cultivated in their mind and in 
their character, and have only a moderate share of external poods, 
than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent 
but are deficient in higher qualities*' (1323* and ')- There is 
therefore a difference between the rule of the best (aristocracy) 
and of the richest (oligarchy), since the best are likely to have 
only moderate fortunes. There is also a difference between demo- 
cracy and polity, in addition to the ethical difference in the govern- 
ment, for what Aristotle calls "polity" retains some oligarchic 
elements (1293*). But between monarchy and tyranny the only 
difference is ethical. 

He is emphatic in distinguishing oligarchy and democracy by 
the economic status of the governing party: there is oligarchy 
when the rich govern without consideration for the poor, demo- 
cracy when power is in the hands of the needy and they disregard 
the interest of the rich. 

Monarchy is better than aristocracy, aristocracy is better than 
polity. But the corruption of the best is worst ; therefore tyranny 
is worse than oligarchy, and oligarchy than democracy. In this 
way Aristotle arrives at a qualified defence of democracy; for 
most Actual governments are bad, and therefore, among actual 
governments, democracies tend to be best. 

The Greek conception of democracy was in many ways more 
extreme than ours; for instance, Aristotle says that to elect magis- 
trates is oligarchic, while it is democratic to appoint them by lot. 
In extreme democracies, the assembly of the citizens was above the 
law, and decided each question independently. The Athenian 
law-courts were composed of a large number of citizens chosen 
by lot, unaided by any jurist ; they were, of course, liable to be 
swayed by eloquence or party passion. When democracy is 
criticized, it must be understood that this sort of thing is 
meant. 

212 



ARISTOTLE'S POLITICS 

There is a long discussion of causes of revolution. In Greece, 
revolutions were as frequent as formerly in Latin America, and 
therefore Aristotle had a copious experience from which to draw 
inferences. The main cause was the conflict of oligarchs and 
democrats. Democracy, Aristotle says, arises from the belief that 
men who are equally free should be equal in all respects; oligarchy, 
from the fact that men who are superior in some respect claim 
too much. Both have a kind of justice, but not the best kind. 
"Therefore both parties, whenever their share in the government 
does not accord with their preconceived ideas, stir up revolution" 
(1301*). Democratic governments are less liable to revolutions 
than oligarchies, because oligarchs may fall out with each other. 
The oligarchs seem to have been vigorous fellows. In some cities, 
we are told, they swore an oath : "I will be an enemy to the people, 
and will devise all the harm against them which I can." Nowadays 
reactionaries are not so frank. 

The three things needed to prevent revolution are government 
propaganda in education, respect for law, even in small things, 
and justice in law and administration, i.e., "equality according 
to proportion, and for every man to enjoy his own" (1307*, 
I 37 b ^ *3 10 *)' Aristotle never seems to have realized the difficulty 
of "equality according to proportion." If this is to be true justice, 
the proportion must be of virtue. Now virtue is difficult to measure, 
and is a matter of party controversy. In political practice, therefore, 
virtue tends to be measured by income; the distinction between 
aristocracy and oligarchy, which Aristotle attempts to make, is 
only possible where there is a very well-established hereditary 
nobility. Even then, as soon as there exists a large class of rich 
men who are not noble, they have to be admitted to power for 
fear of their making a revolution. Hereditary aristocracies cannot 
long retain their power except where land is almost the only 
source of wealth. All social inequality, in the long run, is inequality 
of income. That is part of the argument for democracy: that the 
attempt to have a "proportionate justice" based on any merit 
other than wealth is sure to break down. Defenders of oligarchy 
pretend that income is proportional to virtue; the prophet said 
he had never seen a righteous man begging his bread, and Aristotle 
thinks that good men acquire just about his own income, neither 
very large nor very small. But such views are absurd. Eveiy kind 
of 4 'justice" other than absolute equality will, in practice, reward 

"3 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

some quality quite other than virtue, and is therefore to be 
condemned. 

There is an interesting section on tyranny. A tyrant desires 
riches, whereas a king desires honour. The tyrant has guards who 
are mercenaries, whereas the king has guards who are citizens. 
Tyrants are mostly demagogues, who acquire power by promising 
to protect the people against the notables. In an ironically Machia- 
vellian tone, Aristotle explains what a tyrant must do to retain 
power. He must prevent the rise of any person of exceptional 
merit, by execution or assassination if necessary. He must prohibit 
common meals, clubs, and any education likely to produce hostile 
sentiment. There must be no literary assemblies or discussions. 
He must prevent people from knowing each other well, and 
compel them to live in public at his gates. He should employ 
spies, like the female detectives at Syracuse. He must sow quarrels, 
and impoverish his subjects. He should keep them occupied in 
great works, as the king of Egypt did in getting the pyramids 
built. He should give power to women and slaves, to make them 
informers. He should make war, in order that his subjects may 
have something to do and be always in want of a leader (131 3' 
and *). 

It is a melancholy reflection that this passage is, of the whole 
book, the one most appropriate to the present day. Aristotle 
concludes that there is no wickedness too great for a tyrant. There- 
is, however, he says, another method of preserving a tyranny, 
namely by moderation and by seeming religious. There is no 
decision as to which method is likely to prove the more successful. 

There is a long argument to prove that foreign conquest is not 
the end of the State, showing that many people took the imperialist 
view. There is, it is true, an exception: conquest of "natural 
slaves" is right and just. This would, in Aristotle's view, justify 
wars against barbarians, but not against Greeks, for no Greeks 
are '"natural slaves." In general, war is only a means, not an end; 
a city in an isolated situation, where conquest is not possible, 
may be happy; States that live in isolation need not be inactive. 
God and the universe are active, though foreign conquest is 
impossible for them. The happiness that a State should seek, 
therefore, though war may sometimes be a necessary means to it, 
should not be war, but the activities of peace. 

This leads to the question : how large should a State be ? Large 



ARISTOTLE'S POLITICS 

cities, we are told, are never well governed, because a great multi- 
tude cannot be orderly. A State ought to be large enough to be 
more or less self-sufficing, but not too large for constitutional 
government. It ought to be small enough for the citizens to know 
each other's characters, otherwise right will not be done in elections 
and law-suits. The territory should be small enough to be surveyed 
in its entirety from a hill-top. We are told both that it should be 
self-sufficient (1326*) and that it should have an export and 
import trade (1327*), which seems an inconsistency. 

Men who work for their living should not be admitted to citizen- 
ship. " Citizens should not lead the life of mechanics or tradesmen, 
for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue." Nor should they 
be husbandmen, because they need leisure. The citizens should 
own the property, but the husbandmen should be slaves of a 
different race (1330). Northern races, we are told, are spirited; 
southern races, intelligent ; therefore slaves should be of southern 
races, since it is inconvenient if they are spirited. The Greeks 
alone are both spirited and intelligent ; they are better governed 
than barbarians, and if united could rule the world (1327*). One 
might have expected at this point some allusion to Alexander, 
but there is none. 

With regard to the size of States, Aristotle makes, on a different 
scale, the same mistake that is made by many modern liberals. 
A State must be able to defend itself in war, and even, if any 
liberal culture is to survive, to defend itself without very great 
difficulty. I low large this requires a State to be, depends upon the 
technique of war and industry. In Aristotle's day, the City State 
was obsolete because it could not defend itself against Macedonia. 
In our day, Greece as a whole, including Macedonia, is obsolete 
in this sense, as has been recently proved. 1 To advocate complete 
independence for Greece, or any other small country, is now as 
futile as to advocate complete independence for a single city, 
whose territory can be seen entire from an eminence. There can 
be no true independence except for a State or alliance strong 
enough, by its own efforts, to repel all attempts at foreign conquest. 
Nothing smaller than America and the British Empire combined 
will satisfy this requirement; and perhaps even this would be 
too small a unit. 

The book, which, in the form in which we have it, appears to 
1 Thh was written in May, 194". 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

be unfinished, ends with a discussion of education. Education, 
of course, is only for children who are going to be citizens ; slaves 
may be taught useful arts, such as cooking, but these are no part 
of education. The citizen should be moulded to the form of 
government under which he lives, and there should therefore be 
differences according as the city in question is oligarchic or 
democratic. In the discussion, however, Aristotle assumes that 
the citizens will all have a share of political power. Children 
should learn what is useful to them, but not vulgarizing; for 
instance, they should not be taught any skill that deforms the 
body, or that would enable them to earn money. They should 
practise athletics in moderation, but not to the point of acquiring 
professional skill; the boys who train for the Olympic games 
suffer in health, as is shown by the fact that those who have been 
victors as boys are hardly ever victors as men. Children should 
learn drawing, in order to appreciate the beauty of the human 
form; and they should be taught to appreciate such painting and 
sculpture as expresses moral ideas. They may learn to sing and to 
play musical instruments enough to be able to enjoy music 
critically, but not enough to be skilled performers ; for no freeman 
would play or sing unless drunk. They must of course, learn to 
read and write, in spite of the usefulness of these arts. But the 
purpose of education is "virtue," not usefulness. What Aristotle 
means by "virtue" he has told us in the Ethics, to which this book 
frequently refers. 

Aristotle's fundamental assumptions, in his Politics, are very 
different from those of any modern writer. The aim of the State, 
in his view, is to produce cultured gentlemen men who combine 
the aristocratic mentality with love of learning and the arts 
This combination existed, in its highest perfection, in the Athens 
of Pericles, not in the population at large, but among the well- 
to-do. It began to break down in the last years of Pericles. The 
populace, who had no culture, turned against the friends of 
Pericles, who were driven to defend the privileges of the rich, 
by treachery, assassination, illegal despotism, and other such 
not very gentlemanly methods. After the death of Socrates, 
the bigotry of the Athenian democracy diminished, and Athens 
remained the centre of ancient culture, but political power went 
elsewhere. Throughout later antiquity, power and culture were 
usually separate: power was in the hands of rough soldiers, 

216 



ARISTOTLE'S POLITICS 

culture belonged to powerless Greeks, often slaves. This is only 
partially true of Rome in its great days, but it is emphatically 
true before Cicero and after Marcus Aurelius. After the barbarian 
invasion, the "gentlemen" were northern barbarians, the men 
of culture subtle southern ecclesiastics. This state of affairs 
continued, more or less, until the Renaissance, when the laity 
began to acquire culture. From the Renaissance onwards, the 
Creek conception of government by cultured gentlemen gradually 
prevailed more and more, reaching its acme in the eighteenth 
century. 

Various forces have put an end to this state of affairs. First, 
democracy, as embodied in the French Revolution and its after- 
math. The cultured gentlemen, as after the age of Pericles, had 
to defend their privileges against the populace, and in the process 
ceased to he either gentlemen or cultured. A second cause was 
the rise of industrialism, with a scientific technique very different 
from traditional culture. A third cause was popular education, 
which conferred the power to read and write, but did not confer 
culture; this enabled a new type of demagogue to practise a new 
type of propaganda, as seen in the dictatorships. 

Both for good and evil, therefore, the day of the cultured 
gentleman is past. 



-21" 



Chapter XXII 
ARISTOTLE'S LOGIC 

ARISTOTLE'S influence, which was very great in many 
different fields, was greatest of all in logic. In late antiquity, 
when Plato was still supreme in metaphysics, Aristotle was 
the recognized authority in logic, and he retained this position 
throughout the Middle Ages. It was not till the thirteenth century 
that Christian philosophers accorded him supremacy in the field 
of metaphysics. This supremacy was largely lost after the Renais- 
sance, but his supremacy in logic survived. Even at the present 
day, all Catholic teachers of philosophy and many others still 
obstinately reject the discoveries of modern logic, and adhere 
with a strange tenacity to a system which is as definitely antiquated 
as Ptolemaic astronomy. This makes it difficult to do historical 
justice to Aristotle. His present-day influence is so inimical to 
clear thinking that it is hard to remember how great an advance 
he made upon all his predecessors (including Plato), or how 
admirable his logical work would still seem if it had been a stage 
in a continual progress, instead of being (as in fact it was) a dead 
end, followed by over two thousand years of stagnation. In dealing 
with the predecessors of Aristotle, it is not necessary to remind 
the reader that they are not verbally inspired; one can therefore 
praise them for their ability without being supposed to subscrilxr 
to all their doctrines. Aristotle, on the contrary, is still, especially 
in logic, a battle-ground, and cannot be treated in a purely his- 
torical spirit. 

Aristotle's most important work in logic is the doctrine of the 
syllogism. A syllogism is an argument consisting of three parts, a 
major premiss, a minor premiss, and a conclusion. Syllogisms 
are of a number of different kinds, each of which has a name, 
given by the scholastics. The most familiar ts the kind called 
"Barbara": 

All men are mortal (Major premiss). 
Socrates is a man (Minor premiss). 
Therefore: Socrates is mortal (Conclusion) 

21* 



ARISTOTLE'S LOGIC 

Or: all men are mortal. 

AH Greeks are men. 

Therefore: All Greeks are mortal. 

(Aristotle docs not distinguish between these two forms; this, as 
we shall sec later, is a mistake.) 

Other forms are: No fishes are rational, oil sharks are fishes, 
therefore no sharks are rational. (This is called "Celarent.") 

All men are rational, some animals are men, therefore some 
animals are rational. (This is called "Darii.") 

No Greeks are black, some men are Greeks, therefore some men 
are not black. (This is called "Ferio.") x 

These four make up the "first figure"; Aristotle adds a second 
and third figure, and the schoolmen added a fourth. It is *hown 
that the three later figures can be reduced to the first by various 
devices. 

There are some inferences that can be made from a single 
premiss. From "some men are mortal" we can infer that "some 
mortals are men." According to Aristotle, this can be also inferred 
from "all men are mortal." From "no gods are mortal" we can 
infer "no mortals are gods," but from "some men are not Greeks" 
it does not follow that "some Greeks are not men." 

Apart from such inferences as the above, Aristotle and his 
followers thought that all deductive inference, when strictly 
stated, is syllogistic. By setting forth all the valid kinds of syllogism, 
and setting out any suggested argument in syllogistic form, it 
should therefore be possible to avoid all fallacies. 

This system was the beginning of formal logic, and, as such, was 
both important and admirable. But considered as the end, not the 
beginning, of formal logic, it is open to three kinds of criticism: 

(1) Formal defects within the system itself. 

(2) Over-estimation of the syllogism, as compared to other 
forms of deductive argument. 

(3) Over-estimation of deduction as a- form of argument. 
On each of these three, something must be said. 

(i) Formal defect*. Ix?t us begin with the two statements 
"Socrates is a man" and "all Greeks are men." It is necessary to 
make a sharp distinction between these two, which is not done 
in Aristotelian logic. The statement "all Greeks arc men" is 
commonly interpreted ss implying that there are Greeks: without 

219 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

this implication, some of Aristotle's syllogisms are not valid. 
Take for instance: 

"All Greeks are men, All Greeks are white, therefore some 
men are white." This is valid if there are Greeks, but not otherwise. 
If I were to say : 

"All golden mountains are mountains, all golden mountains 
are golden, therefore some mountains are golden," my conclusion 
would be false, though in some sense my premisses would be 
true. If we are to be explicit, we must therefore divide the one 
statement "all Greeks are men" into two, one saying "there are 
Greeks," and the other saying "if anything is a Greek it is a man." 
The latter statement is purely hypothetical, and does not imply 
that there are Greeks. 

The statement "all Greeks are men" is thus much more 
complex in form than the statement "Socrates is a man." 
"Socrates is a man" has "Socrates" for its subject, but "all 
Greeks are men" does not have "all Greeks" for its subject, 
for there is nothing about "all Greeks" either in the statement 
"there are Greeks," or in the statement "if anything is a Greek it 
is a man." 

This purely formal error was a source of errors in metaphysics 
and theory of knowledge. Consider the state of our knowledge in 
regard to the two propositions "Socrates is mortal" and "all men 
are mortal." In order to know the truth of "Socrates is mortal," 
most of us are content to rely upon testimony ; but if testimony 
is to be reliable, it must lead us back to some one who knew 
Socrates and saw him dead. The one perceived fact the dead 
body of Socrates together with the knowledge that this was 
called "Socrates," was enough to assure us of the mortality 
of Socrates. But when it comes to "all men are mortal," the 
matter is different. The question of our knowledge of such 
general propositions is a very difficult one. Sometimes they are 
merely verbal: "all Greeks are men" is known because nothing 
is called "a Greek" unless it is a man. Such general statements 
can be ascertained from the dictionary ; they tell us nothing about 
the world except how words are used. But "all men are mortal" 
is not of this sort; there is nothing logically self-contradictory 
about an immortal man. We believe the proposition on the basis 
of induction, because there is no well-authenticated case of a 
man living more than (say) 150 years; but this only makes the 

220 



ARISTOTLE'S LOGIC 

proposition probable, not certain. It cannot be certain so long as 
living men exist. 

Metaphysical errors arose through supposing that "all men" is 
the subject of "all men are mortal" in the same sense as that in 
which "Socrates" is the subject of "Socrates is mortal." It made 
it possible to hold that, in some sense, "all men" denotes an entity 
of the same sort as that denoted by "Socrates." This led Aristotle 
to say that in a sense a species is a substance. He is careful to 
qualify this statement, but his followers, especially Porphyry, 
showed less caution. 

Another error into which Aristotle falls through this mistake 
is to think that a predicate of a predicate can be a predicate of 
the original subject. If I say "Socrates is Greek, all Greeks are 
human," Aristotle thinks that "human" is a predicate of "Greek," 
while "Greek" is a predicate of "Socrates," and obviously "human" 
is a predicate of "Socrates." But in fact "human" is not a predicate 
of "Greek." The distinction between names and predicates, or 
in metaphysical language, between particulars and universals, 
is thus blurred, with disastrous consequences to philosophy. One 
of the resulting confusions was to suppose that a class with only 
one member is identical with that one member. This made it 
impossible to have a correct theory of the number one, and led 
to endless bad metaphysics about unity. 

(2) Over-estimation of tlie syllogism. The syllogism is only one 
kind of deductive argument. In mathematics, which is wholly 
deductive, syllogisms hardly ever occur. Of course, it would be 
possible to re-write mathematical arguments in syllogistic form, 
but this would he very artificial and would not make them any 
more cogent. Take arithmetic, for example. If I buy goods worth 
1 6s. 3d., and tender a 1 note in payment, how much change 
is due to me ? To put this simple sum in the form of a syllogism 
would be absurd, and would tend to conceal the real nature of 
the argument. Again, within logic there are non-syllogistic 
inferences such as: "A horse is an animal, therefore a horse's 
head is an animal's head." Valid syllogisms, in fact, are only 
some among valid deductions, and have no logical priority over 
others. The attempt to give pre-eminence to the syllogism in 
deduction misled philosophers as to the nature of mathematical 
reasoning. Kant, who perceived that mathematics is not syllogistic, 
inferred that it uses extra-logical principles, which, however, he 

221 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

supposed to be as certain as those of logic. He, like his predecessors, 
though in a different way, was misled by respect for Aristotle. 

(3) Over -estimation of deduction. The Greeks in general attached 
more importance to deduction as a source of knowledge than 
modern philosophers do. In this respect, Aristotle was less at 
fault than Plato ; he repeatedly admitted the importance of induc- 
tion, and he devoted considerable attention to the question : how 
do we know the first premisses from which deduction must start ? 
Nevertheless, he, like other Greeks, gave undue prominence to 
deduction in his theory of knowledge. We shall agree that Mr. 
Smith (say) is mortal, and we may, loosely, say that we know this 
because we know that all men are mortal. But what we really 
know is not "all men are mortal"; we know mther something 
like "all men born more than one hundred and fifty years ago are 
mortal, and so are almost all men born more than one hundred 
years ago." This is our reason for thinking that Mr. Smith will 
die. But this argument is an induction, not a deduction. It has 
less cogency than a deduction, and yields only a probability, not 
a certainty; but on the other hand it gives new knowledge, which 
deduction does not. All the important inferences outside logic and 
pure mathematics are inductive, not deductive; the only excep- 
tions are law and theology, each of which derives its first prin- 
ciples from an unquestionable text, viz. the statute hooks 01 the 
scriptures. 

Apart from The Prior Analytics, which deals with the syllogism 
there are other logical writings of Aristotle which have con- 
siderable importance in the history of philosophy. One of these 
is the short work on The Categories. Porphyry the Neoplatonist 
wrote a commentary on this book, which had a very notable 
influence on medieval philosophy; but for the present let us 
ignore Porphyry and confine ourselves to Aristotle. 

What, exactly, is meant by the word "category/* whether in 
Aristotle or in Kant and Hegel, I must confess that I have never 
been able to understand. I do not myself believe that the term 
"category" is in any way useful in philosophy, as representing 
any clear idea. There are, in Aristotle, ten categories: substance, 
quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action, 
and affection. The only definition offered of the term "category " 
is: "expressions which are in no way composite signify" and 
then follows the above list. This seems to mean that every word 

222 



ARISTOTLE'S LOGIC 

of which the meaning is not compounded of the meanings of 
other words signifies a substance or a quantity or etc. There is 
no suggestion of any principle on which the list of ten categories 
has been compiled. 

"Substance" is primarily what is not predicable of a subject nor 
present in a subject. A thing is said to be "present in a subject" 
when, though not a part of the subject, it cannot exist without 
the subject. The instances given are a piece of grammatical 
knowledge which is present in a mind, and a certain whiteness 
which may be present in a body. A substance in the above primary 
sense is an individual thing or person or animal. But in a secondary 
sense a species or a genus e.g. "man" or "animal" may be 
called a substance. This secondary sense seems indefensible, 
and opened the door, in later writers, to much bad metaphysics. 

The Posterior Analytics is a work largely concerned with a 
question which must trouble any deductive theory, namely: How 
are first premisses obtained? Since deduction must start from 
somewhere, we must begin with something unproved, which 
must be known otherwise than by demonstration. I shall not give 
Aristotle's theory in detail, since it depends upon the notion of 
essence. A definition, he says, is a statement of a thing's essential 
nature. The notion of essence is an intimate part of every philo- 
sophy subsequent to Aristotle, until we come to modern times. 
It is, in my opinion, a hopelessly muddle-headed notion, but its 
historical importance requires us to say something about it. 

The "essence" of a thing appears to have meant "those of its 
properties which it cannot change without losing its identity." 
Socrates may be sometimes happy, sometimes sad; sometimes 
well, sometimes ill. Since he can change these properties without 
ceasing to be Socrates, they are no part of his essence. But it is 
supposed to be of the essence of Socrates that he is a man, though 
a Pythagorean, who believes in transmigration, will not admit 
this. In fact, the question of "essence" is one as to the use of 
words. We apply the same name, on different occasions, to 
somewhat different occurrences, which .we regard as manifesta- 
tions of a single "thing" or "person." In fact, however, this is 
only a verbal convenience. The "essence" of Socrates thus consists 
of those properties in the absence of which we should not use the 
name "Socrates." The question is purely linguistic: a word may 
have an essence, but a thing cannot. 

223 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The conception of "substance," like that of "essence, 11 is a 
transference to metaphysics of what is only a linguistic convenience. 
We find it convenient, in describing the world, to describe a 
certain number of occurrences as events in the life of "Socrates," 
and a certain number of others as events in the life of "Mr. Smith." 
This leads us to think of "Socrates" or "Mr. Smith" as denoting 
something that persists through a certain number of years, and 
as in some way more "solid" and "real" than the events that 
happen to him. If Socrates is ill, we think that Socrates, at other 
times, is well, and therefore the being of Socrates is independent 
of his illness; illness, on the other hand, requires somebody to 
be ill. But although Socrates need not be ill, something must be 
occurring to him if he is to be considered to exist. He is not, 
therefore, really any more "solid" than the things that happen 
to him. 

"Substance," when taken seriously, is a concept impossible to 
free from difficulties. A substance is supposed to be the subject 
of properties, and to be something distinct from all its properties. 
But when we take away the properties, and try to imagine the 
substance by itself, we find that there is nothing left. To put the 
matter in another way: What distinguishes one substance from 
another? Not difference of properties, for, according to the logic 
of substance, difference of properties presupposes numerical 
diversity between the substances concerned. Two substances, 
therefore, must be just two, without being, in themselves, in any 
way distinguishable. How, then, are we ever to find out that 
they are two ? 

"Substance," in fact, is merely a convenient way of collecting 
events into bundles. What can we know about Mr. Smith? When 
we look at him, we see a pattern of colours ; when we listen to him 
talking, we hear a series of sounds. We believe that, like us, he has 
thoughts and feelings. But what is Mr. Smith apart from all these 
occurrences? A mere imaginary hook, from which the occurrences 
are supposed to hang. They have in fact no need of a hook, any 
more than the earth needs an elephant to rest upon. Any one 
can see, in the analogous case of a geographical region, that such 
a word as "France" (say) is only a linguistic convenience, and that 
there is not a thing called "France" over and above its various 
parts. The same holds of "Mr. Smith"; it is a collective name 
for a number of occurrences. If we take it as anything more, it 

224 



ARISTOTLE'S LOGIC 

denotes something completely unknowable, and therefore not 
needed for the expression of what we know. 

"Substance," in a word, is a metaphysical mistake, due to 
transference to the world-structure of the structure of sentences 
composed of a subject and a predicate. 

I conclude that the Aristotelian doctrines with which we have 
been concerned in this chapter are wholly false, with the exception 
of the formal theory of the syllogism, which is unimportant. 
Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be 
wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples. 
None the less, Aristotle's logical writings show great ability, and 
would have been useful to mankind if they had appeared at a 
time when intellectual originality was still active. Unfortunately, 
they appeared at the very end of the creative period of Greek 
thought, and therefore came to be accepted as authoritative. 
By the time that logical originality revived, a reign of two thousand 
years had made Aristotle very difficult to dethrone. Throughout 
modern times, practically every advance in science, in logic, or 
in philosophy has had to be made in the teeth of opposition from 
Aristotle's disciples. 



H 



Chapter XXIII 
ARISTOTLE'S PHYSICS 

IN tiiis chapter I propose to consider two of Aristotle's books, 
the one called Physics and the one called On the Heavens. 
These two books are closely connected; the second takes up 
the argument at the point at which the first has left it. Both were 
extremely influential, and dominated science until the time of 
Galileo. Words such as "quintessence" and "sublunary" are 
derived from the theories expressed in these books. The historian 
of philosophy, accordingly, must study them, in spite of the fact 
that hardly a sentence in either can be accepted in the light of 
modern science. 

To understand the views of Aristotle, as of most Greeks, on 
physics, it is necessary to apprehend their imaginative back- 
ground. Every philosopher, in addition to the formal system which 
he offers to the world, has another, much simpler, of which he 
may be quite unaware. If he is aware of it, he probably realizes 
that it won't quite do; he therefore conceals it, and sets forth 
something more sophisticated, which he believes because it is 
like his crude system, but which he asks others to accept because 
he thinks he has made it such as cannot be disproved. The 
sophistication comes in by way of refutation of refutations, but 
this alone will never give a positive result: it shows, at best, 
that a theory may be true, not that it must be. The positive result, 
however little the philosopher may realize it, is due to his imagina- 
tive preconceptions, or to what Santayana calls "animal faith." 

In relation to physics, Aristotle's imaginative background was 
very different from that of a modern student. Nowadays, a boy 
begins with mechanics, which, by its very name, suggests machines. 
He is accustomed to motor-cars and aeroplanes; he docs not, 
even in the dimmest recesses of his subconscious imagination, 
think that a motor-car contains some sort of horse in its inside, 
or that an aeroplane flies because its wings are those of a bird 
possessing magical powers. Animals have lost their importance 
in our imaginative pictures of the world, in which man stands 
comparatively alone as master of a mainly lifeless and largely 
subservient material environment. 

226 



ARISTOTLE'S PHYSICS 

To the Greek, attempting to give a scientific account of motion, 
the purely mechanical view hardly suggested itself, except in the 
case of a few men of genius such as Democritus and Archimedes. 
Two sets of phenomena seemed important: the movements of 
animals, and the movements of the heavenly bodies. To the 
modern man of science, the body of an animal is a very elaborate 
machine, with an enormously complex physico-chemical structure; 
every new discovery consists in diminishing the apparent gulf 
between animals and machines. To the Greek, it seemed more 
natural to assimilate apparently lifeless motions to those of animals. 
A child still distinguishes live animals from other things by the 
fact that they can move of themselves; to many Greeks, and 
especially to Aristotle, this peculiarity suggested itself as the basis 
of a general theory of physics. 

But how about the heavenly bodies? They differ from animals 
by the regularity of their movements, but this may be only due 
to their superior perfection. Every Greek philosopher, whatever 
he may have come to think in adult life, had been taught in child- 
hood to regard the sun and moon as gods; Anaxagoras was 
prosecuted for impiety because he thought that they were not 
alive. It was natural that a philosopher who could no longer 
regard the heavenly bodies themselves as divine should think of 
them as moved by the will of a Divine Being who had a Hellenic 
love of order and geometrical simplicity. Thus the ultimate 
source of all movement is Will: on earth the capricious Will of 
human beings and animals, but in heaven the unchanging Will 
of the Supreme Artificer. 

I do not suggest that this applies to every detail of what Aristotle 
has to say. What I do suggest is that it gives his imaginative back- 
ground, and represents the sort of thing which, in embarking on 
liis investigations, he would expect to find true. 

After these preliminaries, let us examine what it is that he 
actually says. 

Physics, in Aristotle, is the science of what the Greeks called 
"phusis" (or M physis") t a word which is translated 'nature," 
but has not exactly the meaning which we attach to that word. 
We still speak of "natural science" and "natural history," but 
"nature" by itself, though it is a very ambiguous word, seldom 
means just what "phusis" meant. "Phusis" had to do with growth ; 
one might sav it is the "nature" of an acorn to grow into an oak, 

227 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

and in that case one would be using the word in the Aristotelian 
sense. The "nature" of .a thing, Aristotle says, is its end, that for 
the sake of which it exists. Thus the word has a ideological 
implication. Some things exist by nature, some from other causes. 
Animals, plants, and simple bodies (elements) exist by nature; 
they have an internal principle of motion (the word translated 
"motion" or "movement" has a wider meaning than "loco- 
motion" ; in addition to locomotion it includes change of quality 
or of size.) Nature is a source of being moved or at rest. Things 
"have a nature" if they have an internal principle of this kind. 
The phrase "according to nature" applies to these things and their 
essential attributes. (It was through this point of view that 
"unnatural" came to express blame.) Nature is in form rather 
than in matter; what is potentially flesh or bone has not 
yet acquired its own nature, and a thing is more what it is 
when it has attained to fulfilment. This whole point of view 
seems to be suggested by biology: the acorn is "potentially" 
an oak. 

Nature belongs to the class of causes which operate for the sake 
of something. This leads to a discussion of the view that nature 
works of necessity, without purpose, in connection with which 
Aristotle discusses the survival of the fittest, in the form taught 
by Empedocles. This cannot be right, he says, because things 
happen in fixed ways, and when a series has a completion, all 
preceding steps are for its sake. Those things are "natural" which 
"by a continuous movement, originated from an internal principle, 
arrive at some completion" (199*). 

This whole conception of "nature," though it might well seem 
admirably suited to explain the growth of animals and plants, 
became, in the event, a great obstacle to the progress of science, 
and a source of much that was bad in ethics. In the latter respect, 
it is still harmful. 

Motion, we are told, is the fulfilling of what exists potentially. 
This view, apart from other defects, is incompatible with the 
relativity of locomotion. When A moves relatively to B, B moves 
relatively to A, and there is no sense in saying that one of the two 
is in motion while the other is at rest. When a dog seizes a bone, 
it seems to common sense that the dog moves while the bone 
remains at rest (until seized), and that the motion has a purpose, 
namely to fulfil the dog's "nature." But it has turned out that this 

228 



ARISTOTLE'S PHYSICS 

point of view cannot be applied to dead matter, and that, for the 
purposes of scientific physics, no conception of an "end" is useful, 
nor can any motion, in scientific strictness, be treated as other 
than relative. 

Aristotle rejects the void, as maintained by Leucippus and 
Democritus. He then passes on to a rather curious discussion of 
time. It might, he says, be maintained that time does not exist, 
since it is composed of past and future, of which one no longer 
exists while the other does not yet exist. This view, however, he 
rejects. Time, he says, is motion that admits of numeration. (It is 
not clear why he thinks numeration essential.) We may fairly ask, 
he continues, whether time could exist without the soul, since there 
cannot be anything to count unless there is someone to count, 
and time involves numeration. It seems that he thinks of time as 
so many hours or days or years. Some things, he adds, are eternal, 
in the sense of not being in time ; presumably he is thinking of 
such things as numbers. 

There always has been motion, and there always will be; for 
there cannot be time without motion, and all are agreed that time 
is uncreated, except Plato. On this point, Christian followers of 
Aristotle were obliged to dissent from him, since the Bible tells 
us that the universe had a beginning. 

The Physics ends with the argument for an unmoved mover, 
which we considered in connection with the Metaphysics. There 
is one unmoved mover, which directly causes a circular motion. 
Circular motion is the primary kind, and the only kind which 
can be continuous and infinite. The first mover has no parts or 
magnitude and is at the circumference of the world. 

Having reached this conclusion, we pass on to the heavens. 

The treatise On tlit Heavens sets forth a pleasant and simple 
theory. Things below the moon are subject to generation and 
decay; from the moon upwards, everything is ungenerated and 
indestnictible.The earth, which is spherical, is at the centre of the 
universe. In the sublunary sphere, everything is composed of the 
four elements, earth, water, air, and fire; but there is a fifth ele- 
ment, of which the heavenly bodies are composed. The natural 
movement of the terrestrial elements is rectilinear, but that of the 
fifth clement is circular. The heavens are perfectly spherical, and 
the upper regions are more divine than the lower. The stars and 
planets are not composed of fire, hut of the fifth element; their 

229 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

motion is due to that of spheres to which they are attached. 
(All this appears in poetical form in Dante's Paradiso.) 

The four terrestrial elements are not eternal, but are generated 
out of each other fire is absolutely light, in the sense that its 
natural motion is upward ; earth is absolutely heavy. Air is relatively 
light, and water is relatively heavy. 

This theory provided many difficulties for later ages. Comets, 
which were recognized as destructible, had to be assigned to the 
sublunary sphere, but in the seventeenth century it was found 
that they describe orbits round the sun, and are very seldom as 
near as the moon. Since the natural motion of terrestrial bodies 
is rectilinear, it was held that a projectile fired horizontally will 
move horizontally for a time, and then suddenly begin to fall 
vertically. Galileo's discovery that a projectile moves in a parabola 
shocked his Aristotelian colleagues. Copernicus, Kepler, and 
Galileo had to combat Aristotle as well as the Bible in establishing 
the view that the earth is not the centre of the universe, but rotates 
once a day and goes round the sun once a year. 

To come to a more general matter: Aristotelian physics is in- 
compatible with Newton's "First Law of Motion," originally 
enunciated by Galileo. This law states that every body, left to 
itself, mil, if already in motion, continue to move in a straight 
line with uniform velocity. Thus outside causes are required, not 
to account for motion, but to account for change of motion, either 
in velocity or in direction. Circular motion, which Aristotle 
thought "natural" for the heavenly bodies, involves a continual 
change in the direction of motion, and therefore requires a force 
directed towards the centre of the circle, as in Newton's law of 
gravitation. 

Finally: The view that the heavenly bodies are eternal and in- 
corruptible has had to be abandoned. The sun and stars have long 
lives, but do not live for ever. They are born from a nebula, and 
in the end they either explode or die of cold. Nothing in the visible 
world is exempt from change and decay; the Aristotelian belief 
to the contrary, though accepted by medieval Christians, is a 
product of the pagan worship of sun and moon and planets. 



230 



Chapter XXIV 
EARLY GREEK MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY 

I AM concerned in this chapter with mathematics, not on its 
own account, but as it was related to Greek philosophy a 
relation which, especially in Plato, was very close. The pre- 
eminence of the Greeks appears more clearly in mathematics and 
astronomy than in anything else. What they did in art, in literature, 
and in philosophy, may be judged better or worse according to 
taste, but what they accomplished in geometry is wholly beyond 
question. They derived something from Egypt, and rather less 
from Babylonia; but what they obtained from these sources was, 
in mathematics, mainly simple rules, and in astronomy records 
of observations extended over very long periods. The art of 
mathematical demonstration was, almost wholly, Greek in origin. 
There are many pleasant stories, probably unhistorical, showing 
what practical problems stimulated mathematical investigations. 
The earliest and simplest relates to Thales, who, when in Egypt, 
was asked by the king to find out the height of a pyramid. He 
waited for the time of day when his shadow was as long as he was 
tall ; he then measured the shadow of the pyramid, which was of 
course equal to its height. It is said that the laws of perspective 
were first studied by the geometer Agatharcus, in order to paint 
scenery for the plays of Aeschylus. The problem of finding the 
distance of a ship at sea, which was said to have been studied by 
Thales, was correctly solved at an early stage. One of the great 
problems that occupied Greek geometers, that of the duplication 
of the cube, originated, we are told, with the priests of a certain 
temple, who were informed by the oracle that the god wanted a 
statue twice as large as the one they had. At first they thought 
simply of doubling all the dimensions of the statue, but then they 
realized that the result would be eight times as large as the ori- 
ginal, which would involve more expense than the god had 
demanded. So they sent a deputation to Plato to ask whether any- 
body in the Academy could solve their problem. The geometers 
took it up, and worked at it for centuries, producing, incidentally, 
much admirable work. The problem is, of course, that of deter- 
mining the cube root of a. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The square root of 2, which was the first irrational to be dis- 
covered, was known to the early Pythagoreans, and ingenious 
methods of approximating to its value were discovered. The best 
was as follows: Form two columns of numbers, which we will 
call the <z's and the 6's; each starts with i. The next a, at each 
stage, is formed by adding the last a and b already obtained ; the 
next b is formed by adding twice the previous a to the previous b. 
The first 6 pairs so obtained are (i ,i), (2, 3), (5, 7), (12, 17), (29, 41), 

(70, 99). In each pair, 20* - 6 a is i or i. Thus - is nearly the 

square root of two, and at each fresh step it gets nearer. For 
instance, the reader may satisfy himself that the square of 99/70 
is very nearly equal to 2. 

Pythagoras always a rather misty figure is described by 
Proclus as the first who made geometry a liberal education. Many 
authorities, including Sir Thomas Heath, 1 believe that he probably 
discovered the theorem that bears his name, to the effect that, in 
a right-angled triangle, the square on the side opposite the right 
angle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. 
In any case, this theorem was known to the Pythagoreans at a 
very early date. They knew also that the sum of the angles of a 
triangle is two right angles. 

Irrationals other than the square root of two were studied, in 
particular cases, by Theodorus, a contemporary of Socrates, and 
in a more general way by Theaetetus, who was roughly contem- 
porary with Plato, but somewhat older. Democritus wrote a 
treatise on irrationals, but very little is known as to its contents. 
Plato was profoundly interested in the subject; he mentions the 
work of Thcodorus and Theaetetus in the dialogue called after 
the latter. In the Laws (819-820), he says that the general ignorance 
on this subject is disgraceful, and implies .that he himself began 
to know about it rather late in life. It had of course an important 
bearing on the Pythagorean philosophy. 

One of the most important consequences of the discovery of 
irrationals was the invention of the geometrical theory of propor- 
tion by Eudoxus (ca. 408 ca. 355 B.C.). Before him, there was 
only the arithmetical theory of proportion. According to this 
theory*, the ratio of a to b is equal to the ratio of c to d if a times d 

' (jreek Mathtmatia, Vol. I, p. 145 

23* 



FARI'Y GREEK MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY 

is equal to b times c. This definition, in the absence of an arith- 
metical theory of irrationals, is only applicable to rationals. 
Eudoxus, however, gave a new definition not subject to this 
restriction, framed in a manner which suggests the methods of 
modern analysis. The theory is developed in Euclid, and has 
great logical beauty. 

Eudoxus also either invented or perfected the "method of ex- 
haustion," which was subsequently used with great success by 
Archimedes. This method is an anticipation of the integral cal- 
culus. Take, for example, the question of the area of a circle. You 
can inscribe in a circle a regular hexagon, or a regular dodecagon, 
or a regular polygon of a thousand or a million sides. The area 
of such a polygon, however many sides it has, is proportional to 
the square on the diameter of the circle. The more sides the 
polygon has, the more nearly it becomes equal to the circle. You 
can prove that, if you give the polygon enough sides, its area can 
be got to differ from that of the circle by less than any previously 
assigned area, however small. For this purpose, the "axiom of 
Archimedes" is used. This states (when somewhat simplified) 
that if the greater of two quantities is halved, and then the half 
is halved, and so on, a quantity will be reached, at last, which is 
less than the smaller of the original two quantities. In other words, 
if a is greater than A, there is some whole number n such that 2 n 
times b is greater than a. 

The method of exhaustion sometimes leads to an exact result, 
as in squaring the parabola, which was done by Archimedes ; some- 
times, as in the attempt to square the circle, it can only lead to 
successive approximations. The problem of squaring the circle is 
the problem of determining the ratio of the circumference of a 
circle to the diameter, which is called 77. Archimedes used the 
approximation *f in calculations ; by inscribing and circumscribing 
a regular polygon of 96 sides, he proved that TT is less than 3^ and 
greater than 3^ J. The method could be carried to any required 
degree of approximation, and that is all that any method can do 
in this problem. The use of inscribed and circumscribed polygons 
for approximations to n goes back to Antiphon, who was a 
contemporary of Socrates. 

Euclid, who was still, when I was young, the sole acknowledged 
text-book of geometry for boys, lived at Alexandria, about 300 B.C., 
a few years after the death of Alexander and Aristotle. Most of 

233 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

his Elements was not original, but the order of propositions, and 
the logical structure, were largely his. The more one studies geo- 
metry, the more admirable these are seen to be. The treatment of 
parallels by means of the famous postulate of parallels has the 
twofold merit of rigour in deduction and of not concealing the 
dubiousness of the initial assumption. The theory of proportion, 
which follows Eudoxus, avoids all the difficulties connected with 
irrationals, by methods essentially similar to those introduced by 
Weierstrass into nineteenth-century analysis. Euclid then passes 
on to a kind of geometrical algebra, and deals, in Book X, with the 
subject of irrationals. After this he proceeds to solid geometry, 
ending with the construction of the regular solids, which had 
been perfected by Theaetetus and assumed in Plato's Timaeus. 

Euclid's Elements is certainly one of the greatest books ever 
written, and one of the most perfect monuments of the Greek 
intellect. It has, of course, the typical Greek limitations: the 
method is purely deductive, and there is no way, within it, of 
testing the initial assumptions. These assumptions were supposed 
to be unquestionable, but in the nineteenth century non-Euclidean 
geometry showed that they might be in part mistaken, and that 
only observation could decide whether they were so. 

There is in Euclid the contempt for practical utility which had 
been inculcated by Plato. It is said that a pupil, after listening to 
a demonstration, asked what he would gain by learning geometry, 
whereupon Euclid called a slave and said "Give the young man 
threepence, since he must needs make a gain out of what he 
learns." The contempt for practice was, however, pragmatically 
justified. No one, in Greek times, supposed that conic sections 
had any utility; at last, in the seventeenth century, Galileo dis- 
covered that projectiles move in parabolas, and Kepler discovered 
that planets move in ellipses. Suddenly the work that the Greeks 
had done from pure love of theory became the key to warfare and 
astronomy. 

The Romans were too practical-minded to appreciate Euclid; 
the first of them to mention him is Cicero, in whose time there was 
probably no Latin translation ; indeed there is no record of any 
Latin translation before Boethius (ca. A.D. 480). The Arabs were 
more appreciative : a copy was given to the caliph by the Byzantine 
emperor about A.D. 760, and a translation into Arabic was made 
under Harun al Rashid, about A.D. 800. The first still extant 

234 



EARLY GREEK MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY 

Latin translation was made from the Arabic by Adelard of 
Bath in A.D. 1120. From that time on, the study of geometry 
gradually revived in the West; but it was not until the late Re- 
naissance that important advances were made. 

I come now to astronomy, where Greek achievements were as 
remarkable as in geometry. Before their time, among the Baby- 
lonians and Egyptians, many centuries of observation had laid a 
foundation. The apparent motions of the planets had been re- 
corded, but it was not known that the morning and evening star 
were the same. A cycle of eclipses had been discovered, certainly 
in Babylonia and probably in Egypt, which made the prediction 
of lunar eclipses fairly reliable, but not of solar eclipses, since 
those were not always visible at a given spot. We owe to the 
Babylonians the division of the right angle into ninety degrees, 
and of the degree into sixty minutes; they had a liking for the 
number sixty, and even a system of numeration based upon it. 
The Greeks were fond of attributing the wisdom of their pioneers 
to travels in Egypt, but what had really been achieved before the 
Greeks was very little. The prediction of an eclipse by Thales 
was, however, an example of foreign influence; there is no reason 
to suppose that he added anything to what he learnt from Egyptian 
or Babylonian sources, and it was a stroke of luck that his prediction 
was verified. 

Let us begin with some of the earliest discoveries and correct 
hypotheses. Ariaximander thought that the earth floats freely, and 
is not supported on anything. Aristotle, 1 who often rejected the 
hcst hypotheses of his time, objected to the theory of Anaxi- 
inander, that the earth, being at the centre, remained immovable 
because there was no reason for moving in one direction rather 
than another. If this were valid, he said, a man placed at the 
centre of a circle with food at various points of the circumference 
would starve to death for lack of reason to choose one portion of 
food rather than another. This argument reappears in scholastic 
philosophy, not in connection with astronomy, but with free will. 
It reappears in the form of "Buridan's ass," which was unable to 
choose between two bundles of hay placed at equal distances to 
right and left, and therefore died of hunger. 

Pythagoras, in all probability, was the first to think the earth 
spherical, but his reasons were (one must suppose) aesthetic 

1 De Cacto, 295*- 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

rather than scientific. Scientific reasons, however, were soon found. 
Anaxagoras discovered that the moon shines by reflected light, 
and gave the right theory of eclipses. He himself still thought the 
earth flat, but the shape of the earth's shadow in lunar eclipses 
gave the Pythagoreans conclusive arguments in favour of its being 
spherical. They went further, and regarded the earth as one of the 
planets. They knew from Pythagoras himself, it is said that 
the morning star and the evening star are identical, and they 
thought that ail the planets, including the earth, move in circles, 
not round the sun, but round the "central fire." They had dis- 
covered that the moon always turns the same face to the earth, 
and they thought that the earth always turns the same face to the 
"central fire." The Mediterranean regions were on the side turned 
away from the central fire, which was therefore always invisible. 
The central fire was called "the house of Zeus," or "the Mother 
of the gods." The sun was supposed to shine by light reflected 
from the central fire. In addition to the earth, there was another 
body, the counter-earth, at the same distance from the central 
fire. For this, they had two reasons, one scientific, one derived 
from their arithmetical mysticism. The scientific reason was the 
correct observation that an eclipse of the moon sometimes occurs 
when both sun and moon are above the horizon. Refraction, 
which is the cause of this phenomenon, was unknown to them, 
and they thought that, in such cases, the eclipse must be due to 
the shadow of a body other than the earth. The other reason was 
that the sun and moon, the five planets, the earth and counter- 
earth, and the central fire, made ten heavenly bodies, and ten was 
the mystic number of the Pythagoreans. 

This Pythagorean theory is attributed to Philolatis, a Theban, 
who lived at the end of the fifth century B.C. Although it is fanciful 
and in part quite unscientific, it is very important, since it involves 
the greater part of the imaginative effort required for conceiving 
the Copernican hypothesis. To conceive of the earth, not as the 
centre of the universe, but as one among the planets, not as 
eternally fixed, but as wandering through space, showed an extra- 
ordinary emancipation from anthropoctntric thinking. When once 
this jolt had been given to men's natural picture of the universe, 
it was not so very difficult to be led by scientific arguments to a 
more accurate theory. 
To this various observations contributed. Oenopidcs, who was 



EARLY GREEK MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY 

slightly later than Anaxagoras, discovered the obliquity of the 
ecliptic. It soon became clear that the sun must be much larger 
than the earth, which fact supported those who denied that the 
earth is the centre of the universe. The central fire and the counter- 
earth were dropped by the Pythagoreans soon after the time of 
Plato. Heraclides of Pontus (whose dates are about 388 to 315 B.C., 
contemporary with Aristotle) discovered that Venus and Mercury 
revolve about the sun, and adopted the view that the earth rotates 
on its own axis once every twenty-four hours. This last was a 
very important step, which no predecessor had taken. Heraclides 
was of Plato's school, and must have been a great man, but was 
not as much respected as one would expect ; he is described as a 
fat dandy. 

Aristarchus of Samos, who lived approximately from 310 to 
230 B.C., and was thus about twenty-five years older than Archi- 
medes, is the most interesting of all ancient astronomers, because 
he advanced the complete Copernican hypothesis, that all the 
planets, including the earth, revolve in circles round the sun, and 
that the earth rotates on its axis once in twenty-four hours. It is 
a little disappointing to find that the only extant work of Aristar- 
chus, On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and the Moon, adheres 
to the geocentric view. It is true that, for the problems with which 
this book deals, it makes no difference which theory is adopted, 
and he may therefore have thought it unwise to burden his cal- 
culations with an unnecessary opposition to the general opinion 
of astronomers ; or he may have only arrived at the Copernican 
hypothesis after writing this book. Sir Thomas Heath, in his 
work on Aristarchus, 1 which contains the text of this book with 
a translation, inclines to the latter view. The evidence that 
Aristarchus suggested the Copernican view is, in any case, quite 
conclusive. 

The first and best evidence is that of Archimedes, who, as we 
have seen, was a younger contemporary of Aristarchus. Writing 
to Gelon, King of Syracuse, he says that Aristarchus brought out 
"a book consisting of certain hypotheses," and continues: "His 
hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, 
that the earth revolves about the sun in the circumference of a 
circle, the sun lying in the middle of the orbit." There is a 

1 Aristurchut of Samos, the Ancient Copernicus. By Sir Thomas Heath. 
Oxford, 1913. What follows is bused on this book. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

passage in Plutarch saying that Cleanthes "thought it was the 
duty of the Greeks to indict Aristarchus of Samos on the charge 
of impiety for putting in motion the Hearth of the Universe (i.e. 
the earth), this being the effect of his attempt to save the pheno- 
mena by supposing the heaven to remain at rest and the earth to 
revolve in an oblique circle, while it rotates, at the same time, 
about its own axis." Cleanthes was a contemporary of Aristarchus, 
and died about 232 B.C. In another passage, Plutarch says that 
Aristarchus advanced this view only as a hypothesis, but that 
his successor Seleucus maintained it as a definite opinion. (Seleucus 
flourished about 250 B.C.). Aetius and Sextus Empiricus also assert 
that Aristarchus advanced the heliocentric hypothesis, but do not 
say that it was set forth by him only as a hypothesis. Even if he 
did so, it seems not unlikely that he, like Galileo two thousand 
years later, was influenced by the fear of offending religious pre- 
judices, a fear which the attitude of Cleanthes (mentioned above) 
shows to have been well grounded. 

The Copernican hypothesis, after being advanced, whether posi- 
tively or tentatively, by Aristarchus, was definitely adopted by 
Seleucus, but by no other ancient astronomer. This general 
rejection was mainly due to Hip parch us, who flourished from 161 
to 126 B.C. He is described by Heath as "the greatest astronomer 
of antiquity." 1 He was the first to write systematically on trigono- 
metry ; he discovered the precession of the equinoxes ; he estimated 
the length of the lunar month with an error of less than one 
second; he improved Aristarchus's estimates of the sizes and 
distances of the sun and moon; he made a catalogue of eight 
hundred and fifty fixed stars, giving their latitude and longitude. 
As against the heliocentric hypothesis of Aristarchus, he adopted 
and improved the theory of epicycles which had been invented by 
Apollonius, who flourished about 220 B.C. ; it was a development 
of this theory that came to be known, later, as the Ptolemaic 
system, after the astronomer Ptolemy, who flourished in the middle 
of the second century A.D. 

Copernicus perhaps came to know something, though not 
much, of the almost forgotten hypothesis of Aristarchus, and was 
encouraged by finding ancient authority for his innovation. Other- 
wise, the effect of this hypothesis on subsequent astronomy was 
practically nil. 

1 Greek Mathematics, Vol. II, p. 253. 



EARLY GREEK MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY 

Ancient astronomers, in estimating the sizes of the earth, moon, 
and sun, and the distances of the moon and sun, used methods 
which were theoretically valid, but they were hampered by the 
lack of instruments of precision. Many of their results, in view 
of this lack, were surprisingly good. Eratosthenes estimated the 
earth's diameter at 7,850 miles, which is only about fifty miles 
short of the truth. Ptolemy estimated the mean distance of the 
moon at 29 J times the earth's diameter; the correct figure is 
about 30.2. None of them got anywhere near the size and distance 
of the sun, which all under-estimated. Their estimates, in terms 
of the earth's diameter, were: 

Aristarchus, 180; 

Hipparchus, 1,245; 

Posidonius, 6,545. 

The correct figure is 1 1 ,726. It will be seen that these estimates 
continually improved (that of Ptolemy, however, showed a retro- 
gression) ; that of Posidonius 1 is about half the correct figure. On 
the whole, their picture of the solar system was not so very far 
from the truth. 

Creek astronomy was geometrical, not dynamic. The ancients 
thought of the motions of the heavenly bodies as uniform and 
circular, or compounded of circular motions. They had not the 
conception of force. There were spheres which moved as a whole, 
and on which the various heavenly bodies were fixed. With Newton 
and gravitation a new point of view, less geometrical, was intro- 
duced. It is curious to observe that there is a reversion to the 
geometrical point of view in Einstein's General Theory of 
Relativity, from which the conception of force, in the Newtonian 
sense, has been banished. 

The problem for the astronomer is this: given the apparent 
motions of the heavenly bodies on the celestial sphere, to introduce, 
by hypothesis, a third co-ordinate, depth, in such a way as to 
make the description of the phenomena as simple as possible. 
The merit of the Coperntcan hypothesis is not truth, but simplicity; 
in view of the relativity of motion, no question of truth is involved. 
The Greeks, in their search for hypotheses which would "save 
the phenomena," were in effect, though not altogether in intention, 
tackling the problem in the scientifically correct way. A com- 

1 Posidonius was Cicero's teacher. He flourished in the latter half of 
the second century u.c 

239 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

parison with their predecessors, and with their successors until 
Copernicus, must convince every student of their truly astonishing 
genius. 

Two very great men, Archimedes and Apollonius, in the third 
century B.C., complete the list of first-class Greek mathematicians. 
Archimedes was a friend, probably a cousin, of the king of 
Syracuse, and was killed when that city was captured by the 
Romans in 212 B.C. Apollonius, from his youth, lived at Alexandria. 
Archimedes was not only a mathematician, but also a physicist 
and student of hydrostatics. Apollonius is chiefly noted for his 
work on conic sections. I shall say no more about them, as they 
came too late to influence philosophy. 

After these two men, though respectable work continued to be 
done in Alexandria, the great age was ended. Under the Roman 
domination, the Greeks lost the self-confidence that belongs to 
political liberty, and in losing it acquired a paralysing respect for 
their predecessors. The Roman soldier who killed Archimedes 
was a symbol of the death of original thought that Rome caused 
throughout the Hellenic world. 



040 



Part 3. Ancient Philosophy after Aristotle 

Chapter XXV 
THE HELLENISTIC WORLD 

^ I WE history of the Greek-speaking world in antiquity may 

I be divided into three periods: that of the free City States, 

JL which was brought to an end by Philip and Alexander; 

that of the Macedonian domination, of which the last remnant 

was extinguished by the Roman annexation of Egypt after the 

death of Cleopatra; and finally that of the Roman Empire. Of 

these three periods, the first is characterized by freedom and 

disorder, and second by subjection and disorder, the third by 

subjection and order. 

The second of these periods is known as the Hellenistic age. 
In science and mathematics, the work done during this period is 
the best ever achieved by the Greeks. In philosophy, it includes 
the foundation of the Epicurean and Stoic schools, and also of 
scepticism as a definitely formulated doctrine; it is therefore still 
important philosophically, though less so than the period of Plato 
and Aristotle. After the third century B.C., there is nothing really 
new in Greek philosophy until the Neoplatonists in the third 
century A.D. But meanwhile the Roman world was being prepared 
for the victory of Christianity. 

The brief career of Alexander suddenly transformed the Greek 
world. In the ten years from 334 to 324 B.C., he conquered Asia 
Minor, Syria, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Samarcand, Bactria, and 
the Punjab. The Persian Empire, the greatest that the world had 
known, was destroyed by three battles. The ancient lore of the 
Babylonians, along with their ancient superstitions, became 
familiar to Greek curiosity; so did the Zoroastrian dualism and 
(in a lesser degree) die religions of India, where Buddhism was 
moving towards supremacy. Wherever Alexander penetrated, even 
in the mountains of Afghanistan, on the banks of the Jaxattes, 
and on the tributaries of the Indus, he founded Greek cities, in 
which he tried to reproduce Greek institutions, with a measure 

241 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

of self-government. Although his army was composed mainly of 
Macedonians, and although most European Greeks submitted to 
him unwillingly, he considered himself, at first, as the apostle of 
Hellenism. Gradually, however, as his conquests extended, he 
adopted the policy of promoting a friendly fusion between Greek 
and barbarian. 

For this he had various motives. On the one hand, it was obvious 
that his armies, which were not very large, could not permanently 
hold so vast an empire by force, but must, in the long run, depend 
upon conciliation of the conquered populations. On the other 
hand, the East was unaccustomed to any form of government 
except that of a divine king, a role which Alexander felt himself 
well fitted to perform. Whether he believed himself a god, or 
only took on the attributes of divinity from motives of policy, is 
a question for the psychologist, since the historical evidence is 
indecisive. In any case, he clearly enjoyed the adulation which 
he received in Egypt as successor of the Pharaohs, and in Persia 
as the Great King. His Macedonian captains the "Companions," 
as they were called had towards him the attitude of western 
nobles to their constitutional sovereign : they refused to prostrate 
themselves before him, they gave advice and criticism even at the 
risk of their lives, and at a crucial moment they controlled his 
actions, when they compelled him to turn homewards from the 
Indus instead of marching on to the conquest of the Ganges. 
Orientals were more accommodating, provided their religious 
prejudices were respected. This offered no difficulty to Alexander; 
it was only necessary to identify Ammon or Bel with Zeus, and 
to declare himself the son of the god. Psychologists observe that 
Alexander hated Philip, and was probably privy to his murder; 
he would have liked to believe that his mother Olympias, like 
some lady of Greek mythology, had been beloved of a god. 
Alexander's career was so miraculous that he may well have 
thought a miraculous origin the best explanation of his prodigious 
success. 

The Greeks had a very strong feeling of superiority to the bar* 
barians; Aristotle no doubt expresses the general view when he 
says that northern races are spirited, southern races civilized, but 
the Greeks alone are both spirited and civilized. Plato and Aris- 
totle thought it wrong to make slaves of Greeks, but not of bar- 
barians. Alexander, who was not quite a Greek, tried to break 

242 



THE HELLENISTIC WORLD 

down this attitude of superiority. He himself married two barbarian 
princesses, and he compelled his leading Macedonians to marry 
Persian women of noble birth. His innumerable Greek cities, one 
would suppose, must have contained many more male than female 
colonists, and their men must therefore have followed his example 
in intermarrying with the women of the locality. The result of 
this policy was to bring into the minds of thoughtful men the 
conception of mankind as a whole; the old loyalty to the City 
State and (in a lesser degree) to the Greek race seemed no longer 
adequate. In philosophy, this cosmopolitan point of view begins 
with the Stoics, but in practice it begins earlier, with Alexander. 
It had the result that the interaction of Greek and barbarian was 
reciprocal: the barbarians learnt something of Greek science, 
while the Greeks learnt much of barbarian superstition. Greek 
civilization, in covering a wider area, became less purely Greek. 

Greek civilization was essentially urban. There were, of course, 
many Greeks engaged in agriculture, but they contributed little 
to what was distinctive in Hellenic culture. From the Milesian 
school onwards, the Greeks who were eminent in science and 
philosophy and literature were associated with rich commercial 
cities, often surrounded by barbarian populations. This type of 
civilization was inaugurated, not by the Greeks, but by the Phoe- 
nicians; Tyre and Sidon and Carthage depended on slaves for 
manual labour at home, and on hired mercenaries in the conduct 
of their wars. They did not depend, as modern capital cities do, 
upon large rural populations of the same blood and with equal 
political rights. The nearest modern analogue is to be seen in the 
Far East during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Singapore 
and Hong Kong, Shanghai and the other treaty ports of China, 
were little European islands, where the white men formed a com- 
mercial aristocracy living on coolie labour. In North America, 
north of the Mason- Dixon line, since such labour was not available, 
white men were compelled to practise agriculture. For this reason, 
the hold of the white man on North America is secure, while his 
hold on the Far East has already been greatly diminished, and 
may easily cease altogether. Much of his type of culture, especially 
industrialism, will, however, survive. This analogue will help us 
to understand the position of the Greeks in the 
Alexander's empire. 

The effect of Alexander on the imagination 

241 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

and lasting. The First Book of the Maccabees, written centuries 
after his death, opens with an account of his career: 

"And it happened, after that Alexander, son of Philip, the Mace- 
donian, who came out of the land of Chettiim, had smitten Darius, 
king of the Persians and Medes, that he reigned in his stead, the 
first over Greece, and made many wars, and won many strong 
holds, and slew the kings of the earth, and went through to the 
ends of the earth, and took spoil of many nations, insomuch that 
the earth was quiet before him; whereupon he was exalted, and 
his heart was lifted up. And he gathered a mighty strong host, and 
ruled over countries, and nations, and kings, who became tri- 
butaries unto him. And after these things he fell sick, and per- 
ceived that he should die. Wherefore he called his servants, such 
as were honorable, and had been brought up with him from his 
youth, and parted his kingdom among them, while he was yet 
alive. 1 So Alexander reigned twelve years, and then died/ 1 

He survived as a legendary hero in the Mohammedan religion, 
and to this day petty chieftains in the Himalayas claim to be 
descended from him. 1 No other hilly historical hero has ever 
furnished such a perfect opportunity for the mythopoeic faculty. 

At Alexander's death, there was an attempt to preserve the 
unit}' of his empire. But of his two sons, one was an infant and 
the other was not yet born. Each had supporters, but in the 
resultant civil war both were thrust aside. In the end, his empire 
was divided between the families of three generals, of whom, 
roughly speaking, one obtained the European, one the African, 
and one the Asiatic parts of Alexander's possessions. The European 
part fell ultimately to Antigonus's descendants; Ptolemy, who 
obtained Egypt, made Alexandria his capital; Seleucus, who 
obtained Asia after many wars, was too busy with campaigns to 
have a fixed capital, but in later times Antioch was the chief city 
of his dynasty. 

Both the Ptolemies and the Seleucids (as the dynasty of Seleu- 
cus was called) abandoned Alexander's attempts to produce a 
fusion of Greek and barbarian, and established military tyrannies 
based, at first, upon their part of the Macedonian army streng- 
thened with Greek mercenaries. The Ptolemies held Egypt fairly 

1 7 % his is not historically true. 

* Perhaps this is no longer true, as the sons of thobc who held thia belief 
have been educated at Eton. 

244 



THE HELLENISTIC WORLD 

securely, but in Asia two centuries of confused dynastic wars were 
only ended by the Roman conquest. During these centuries, 
Persia was conquered by the Parthians, and the Bactrian Greeks 
were increasingly isolated. 

In the second century B.C. (after which they rapidly declined) 
they had a king, Menander, whose Indian Empire was very 
extensive. A couple of dialogues between him and a Buddhist sage 
have survived in Pali, and, in part, in a Chinese translation. Dr. 
Tarn suggests that the first of these is based on a Greek original; 
the second, which ends with Menander abdicating and becoming 
a Buddhist saint, is certainly not. 

Buddhism, at this time, was a vigorous proselytizing religion. 
Asoka (264-228), the saintly Buddhist king, records, in a still extant 
inscription, that he sent missionaries to all the Macedonian kings: 
"And this is the cliicfcst conquest in His Majesty's opinion the 
conquest by the Law; this also is that effected by His Majesty both 
in his own dominions and in all the neighbouring realms as far 
as six hundred leagues even to where the Greek king Antiochus 
dwells, and beyond that Antiochus to where dwell the four kings 
severally named Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas, and Alexander . . , 
and likewise here, in the king's dominions, among the Yonas" 1 
(i.e. the Greeks of the Punjab). Unfortunately no western account 
of these missionaries has survived. 

Babylonia was much more profoundly influenced by Hellenism. 
As we have seen, the only ancient who followed Aristarchus of 
Sarnos in maintaining the Copernican system was Seleucus of 
Sdeucia on the Tigris, who flourished about 150 B.C. Tacitus 
tells us that in the first century A.D. Seleucia had not "lapsed into 
the barbarous usages of the Parthians, but still retained the insti- 
tutions of Seleucus, 8 its Greek founder. Three hundred citizens, 
chosen for their wealth or wisdom, compose as it were a Senate; 
the {x>pulace too have their share of power." 3 Throughout Meso- 
potamia, as further West, Greek became the language of literature 
and culture, and remained so until the Mohammedan conquest. 

Syria (excluding Judea) became completely Hellenized in the 
cities, in so far as language and literature were concerned. But the 
rural populations, which were more conservative, retained the 

1 Quoted in Be van, Housf of ScletAtvs, Vol. I, p. 29811. 
* The king, not die astronomer. 
Book VI, chap. 42. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

religions and the languages to which they were accustomed. 1 In 
Asia Minor, the Greek cities of the coast had, for centuries, had 
an influence on their barbarian neighbours. This was intensified 
by the Macedonian conquest. The first conflict of Hellenism with 
the Jews is related in the Books of the Maccabees. It is a profoundly 
interesting story, unlike anything else in the Macedonian Empire. 
I shall deal with it at a later stage, when I come to the origin and 
growth of Christianity. Elsewhere, Greek influence encountered 
no such stubborn opposition. 

From the point of view of Hellenistic culture, the most brilliant 
success of the third century B.C. was the city of Alexandria. Egypt 
was less exposed to war than the European and Asiatic parts of 
the Macedonian domain, and Alexandria was in an extraordinarily 
favoured position for commerce. The Ptolemies were patrons of 
learning, and attracted to their capital many of the best men of 
the age. Mathematics became, and remained until the fall of Rome, 
mainly Alexandrian. Archimedes, it is true, was a Sicilian, and 
belonged to the one part of the world where the Greek City 
States (until the moment of his death in 212 B.C.) retained their 
independence ; but he too had studied in Alexandria. Eratosthenes 
was chief librarian of the famous library of Alexandria. The 
mathematicians and men of science connected, more or less closely, 
with Alexandria in the third century before Christ were as able 
as any of the Greeks of the previous centuries, and did work of 
equal importance. But they were not, like their predecessors, men 
who took all learning for their province, and propounded universal 
philosophies; they were specialists in the modern sense. Euclid, 
Aristarchus, Archimedes, and Apollonius, were content to be 
mathematicians ; in philosophy they did not aspire to originality. 

Specialization characterized the age in all departments, not only 
in the world of learning. In the self-governing Greek cities of the 
fifth and fourth centuries, a capable man was assumed to be capable 
of everything. He would be, as occasion arose, a soldier, a politician, 
a lawgiver, or a philosopher. Socrates, though he disliked politics, 
could not avoid being mixed up with political disputes. In his 
youth he was a soldier, and (in spite of his disclaimer in the 
Apology) a student of physical science. Protagoras, when he could 
spare time from teaching scepticism to aristocratic youths in search 
of the latest thing, was drawing up a code of laws for Thurii. 
1 See Cambridge Ancient History* VoL V1J, pp. 194-5. 

246 



THE HELLENISTIC WORLD 

Plato dabbled in politics, though unsuccessfully. Xenophon, 
when he was neither writing about Socrates nor being a country 
gentleman, spent his spare time as a general. Pythagorean mathe- 
maticians attempted to acquire the government of cities. Every- 
body had to serve on juries and perform various other public 
duties. In the third century all this was changed. There continued, 
it is true, to be politics in the old City States, but they had become 
parochial and unimportant, since Greece was at the mercy of 
Macedonian aimies. The serious struggles for power were between 
Macedonian soldiers ; they involved no question of principle, but 
merely the distribution of territory between rival adventurers. On 
administrative and technical matters, these more or less unedu- 
cated soldiers employed Greeks as experts; in Egypt, for example, 
excellent work was done in irrigation and drainage. There were 
soldiers, administrators, physicians, mathematicians, philosophers, 
but there was no one who was all these at once. 

The age was one in which a man who had money and no desire 
for power could enjoy a very pleasant life always assuming that 
no marauding army happened to come his way. Learned men who 
found favour with some prince could enjoy a high degree of luxury, 
provided they were adroit flatterers and did not mind being the 
butt of ignorant royal witticisms. But there was no such thing as 
security. A palace revolution might displace the sycophantic 
sage's patron; the Galatians might destroy the rich man's villa; 
one's city might be sacked as an incident in a dynastic war. In 
such circumstances it is no wonder that people took to worshipping 
the goddess Fortune, or Luck. There seemed nothing rational in 
the ordering of human affairs. Those who obstinately insisted 
upon finding rationality somewhere withdrew into themselves, 
and decided, like Milton's Satan, that 

The mind is its own place, and in itself 
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. 

Except for adventurous self-seekers, there was no longer any 
incentive to take an interest in public affairs. After the brilliant 
episode of Alexander's conquests, the Hellenistic world was 
sinking into chaos, for lack of a despot strong enough to achieve 
stable supremacy, or a principle powerful enough to produce 
social cohesion. Greek intelligence, confronted with new political 
problems, showed complete incompetence. The Romans, no 

247 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

doubt, were stupid and brutal compared to the Greeks, but at 
least they created order. The old disorder of the days of freedom 
had been tolerable, because every citizen had a share in it; but 
the new Macedonian disorder, imposed upon subjects by incom- 
petent rulers, was utterly intolerable far more so than the subse- 
quent subjection to Rome. 

There was widespread social discontent and fear of revolution. 
The wages of free labour fell, presumably owing to the competition 
of eastern slave labour; and meantime the prices of necessaries 
rose. One finds Alexander, at the outset of his enterprise, having 
time to make treaties designed to keep the poor in their place. 
"In the treaties made in 335 between Alexander and the States 
of the League of Corinth it was provided that the Council of the 
League and Alexander's representative were to see to it that in 
no city of the League should there be either confiscation of per- 
sonal property, or division of land, or cancellation of debt, or 
liberation of slaves for the purpose of revolution." 1 The temples, 
in the Hellenistic world, were the bankers; they owned the gold 
reserve, and controlled credit. In the early third century, the 
temple of Apollo at Delos made loans at ten per cent ; formerly, 
the rate of interest had been higher. 2 

Free labourers who found wages insufficient even for bare 
necessities must, if young and vigorous, have been able to obtain 
employment as mercenaries. The life of a mercenary, no doubt, 
was filled with hardships and dangers, but it also had great possi- 
bilities. There might be the loot of some rich eastern city ; there 
might be a chance of lucrative mutiny. It must have been dangerous 
for a commander to attempt to disband his army, and this must 
have been one of the reasons why wars were almost continuous. 

The old civic spirit more or less survived in the old Greek 
cities, but not in the new cities founded by Alexander not ex- 
cepting Alexandria. In earlier times, a new city was always a 
colony composed of emigrants from some one older city, and it 
remained connected with its parent by a bond of sentiment. This 
kind of sentiment had great longevity, as is shown, for example, 
by the diplomatic activities of Lampsacus on the Hellespont in 

1 "The Social Question in the Third Century," by W W. Tarn, in 7Vi 
Hellenistic Age by various authors. Cambridge, 1923. This essay is exceed* 
ingly interesting, and contains many facts nor elsewhere readily accessible. 

' Ibid. 



THE HELLENISTIC WORLD 

the year 196 B.C. This city was threatened with subjugation by the 
Seleucid King Antiochus III, and decided to appeal to Rome for 
protection. An embassy was sent, but it did not go direct to Rome ; 
it went first, in spite of the immense distance, to Marseilles, which, 
like Lampsacus, was a colony of Phocaea, and was, moreover, 
viewed with friendly eyes by the Romans. The citizens of Mar- 
seilles, having listened to an oration by the envoy, at once decided 
to send a diplomatic mission of their own to Rome to support 
their sister city. The Gauls who lived inland from Marseilles 
joined in with a letter to their kinsmen of Asia Minor, the 
Galatians, recommending Lampsacus to their friendship. Rome, 
naturally, was glad of a pretext for meddling in the affairs of Asia 
Minor, and by Rome's intervention Lampsacus preserved its 
freedom until it became inconvenient to the Romans. 1 

In general, the rulers of Asia called themselves "Phil-Hellene," 
and befriended the old Greek cities as far as policy and military 
necessity allowed. The cities desired, and (when they could) 
claimed as a right, democratic self-government, absence of tribute, 
and freedom from a royal garrison. It was worth while to conciliate 
them, because they were rich, they could supply mercenaries, and 
many of them had important harbours. But if they took the wrong 
side in a civil war, they exposed themselves to sheer conquest. 
On the whole, the Seleucids, and the other dynasties which 
gradually grew up, dealt tolerably with them, but there were 
exceptions. 

The new cities, though they had a measure of self-government, 
had not the same traditions as the older ones. Their citizens were 
not of homogeneous origin, but were from all parts of Greece. 
They were in the main adventurers like the conquistadors or the 
settlers in Johannesburg, not pious pilgrims like the earlier Greek 
colonists or the New England pioneers. Consequently no one of 
Alexander's cities formed a strong political unit. This was con- 
venient from the standpoint of the king's government, but a 
weakness from the standpoint of the spread of Hellenism. 

The influence of non-Greek religion and superstition in the 
Hellenistic world was mainly, but not wholly, bad. This might 
not have been the case. Jews, Persians, and Buddhists all had 
religions that were very definitely superior to the popular Greek 
polytheism, and could even have been studied with profit by the 
1 Heyan, House of Seleucut, Vol. II, pp. 45-0. 

H9 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

best philosophers. Unfortunately it was the Babylonians, or 
Chaldeans, who most impressed the imagination of the Greeks. 
There was, first of all, their fabulous antiquity ; the priestly records 
went back for thousands of years, and professed to go back for 
thousands more. Then there was some genuine wisdom: the 
Babylonians could more or less predict eclipses long before the 
Greeks could. But these were merely causes of receptiveness; 
what was received was mainly astrology and magic. "Astrology," 
says Professor Gilbert Murray, "fell upon the Hellenistic mind as 
a new disease falls upon some remote island people. The tomb of 
Ozymandias, as described by Diodorus, was covered with astro- 
logical symbols, and that of Antiochus I, which has been dis- 
covered in Commagene, is of the same character. It was natural 
for monarchs to believe that the stars watched over them. But 
every one was ready to receive the germ." 1 It appears that astrology 
was first taught to the Greeks in the time of Alexander, by a 
Chaldean named Berosus, who taught in Cos, and, according to 
Seneca, "interpreted Bel." "This," says Professor Murray, "must 
mean that he translated into Greek the 'Eye of Bel,' a treatise in 
seventy tablets found in the library of Assur-bani-pal (686-626 B.C.) 
but composed for Sargon I in the third millennium B.C." (ibid., 
p. 176). 

As we shall see, the majority even of the best philosophers fell 
in with the belief in astrology. It involved, since it thought the 
future predictable, a belief in necessity or fate, which could be 
set against the prevalent belief in fortune. No doubt most men 
believed in both, and never noticed the inconsistency. 

The general confusion was bound to bring moral decay, even 
more than intellectual enfeeblement. Ages of prolonged uncer- 
tainty, while they are compatible with the highest degree of saintli- 
ness in a few, are inimical to the prosaic every-day virtues of 
respectable citizens. There seems no use in thrift, when to-morrow 
all your savings may be dissipated ; no advantage in honesty, when 
the man towards whom you practise it is pretty sure to swindle 
you ; no point in steadfast adherence to a cause, when no cause is 
important or has a chance of stable victory ; no argument in favour 
of truthfulness, when only supple tergiversation makes the pre- 
servation of life and fortune possible. The man whose virtue has 
no source except a purely terrestrial prudence will, in such a world, 
1 Fit* Stag* of Gfttk Reti0<m 9 pp. 17778 



THE HELLENISTIC WORLD 

become an adventurer if he has the courage, and, if not, will seek 
obscurity as a timid time-server. 
Menander, who belongs to this age, says: 

So many cases I have known 
Of men who, though not naturally rogues, 
Became so, through misfortune, by constraint. 

This sums up the moral character of the third century B.C., 
except for a few exceptional men. Even among these few, fear 
took the place of hope ; the purpose of life was rather to escape 
misfortune than to achieve any positive good. "Metaphysics sink 
into the background, and ethics, now individual, become of the 
first importance. Philosophy is no longer the pillar of fire going 
before a few intrepid seekers after truth : it is rather an ambulance 
following in the wake of the struggle for existence and picking up 
the weak and wounded." 1 

1 C. F. Angus in Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. VII, p. 231. The 
above quotation from Menander is taken from the same chapter. 



251 



Chapter XXVI 
CYNICS AND SCEPTICS 

E I IHE relation of intellectually eminent men to contemporary 
I society has been very different in different ages. In some 
JL fortunate epochs they have been on the whole in harmony 
with their surroundings suggesting, no doubt, such reforms as 
seemed to them necessary, but fairly confident that their sugges- 
tions would be welcomed, and not disliking the world in which 
they found themselves even if it remained unreformed. At other 
times they have been revolutionary, considering that radical 
alterations were called for, but expecting that, partly as a result 
of their advocacy, these alterations would be brought about in the 
near future. At yet other times they have despaired of the world, 
and felt that, though they themselves knew what was needed, 
there was no hope of its being brought about. This mood sinks 
easily into the deeper despair which regards life on earth as 
essentially bad, and hopes for good only in a future life or in 
some mystical transfiguration. 

In some ages, all these attitudes have been adopted by different 
men living at the same time. Consider, for example, the early 
nineteenth century. Goethe is comfortable, Bentharn is a reformer, 
Shelley is a revolutionary, and Leopardi is a pessimist. But in 
most periods there has been a prevailing tone among great writers. 
In England they were comfortable under Elizabeth and in the 
eighteenth century; in France, they became revolutionary about 
1750; in Germany, they have been nationalistic since 1813. 

During the period of ecclesiastical domination, from the fifth 
century to the fifteenth, there was a certain conflict between what 
was theoretically believed and what was actually felt. Theoretically, 
the world was a vale of tears, a preparation, amid tribulation, for 
the world to come. But in practice the writers of hooks, being 
almost all clerics, could not help feeling exhilarated by the power 
of the Church; they found opportunity for abundant activity of 
a sort that they believed to be useful. They had therefore the 
mentality of a governing class, not of men who feel themselves 
exiles in an alien world. This is part of the curious dualism that 
runs through the Middle Ages, owing to the fact that the Church, 

252 



CYNICS AND SCEPTICS 

chough based on other-worldly beliefs, was the most important 
institution in the every-day world. 

The psychological preparation for the other-worldliness of 
Christianity begins in the Hellenistic period, and is connected 
with the eclipse of the City State. Down to Aristotle, Greek philo- 
sophers, though they might complain of this or that, were, in 
the main, not cosmically despairing, nor did they feel themselves 
politically impotent. They might, at times, belong to a beaten 
party, but, if so, their defeat was due to the chances of conflict, 
not to any inevitable powerlessness of the wise. Even those who, 
like Pythagoras, and Plato in certain moods, condemned the world 
of appearance and sought escape in mysticism, had practical plans 
for turning the governing classes into saints and sages. When 
political power passed into the hands of the Macedonians, Greek 
philosophers, as was natural, turned aside from politics and 
devoted themselves more to the problem of individual virtue or 
salvation. They no longer asked: how can men create a good 
State? They asked instead: how can men be virtuous in a wicked 
world, or happy in a world of suffering? The change, it is true, 
is only one of degree ; such questions had been asked before, and 
the later Stoics, for a time, again concerned themselves with 
politics the politic^ of Rome, not of Greece. But the change was 
none the less real. Except to a limited extent during the Roman 
period in Stoicism, the outlook of those who thought and felt 
seriously became increasingly subjective and individualistic, until, 
at last, Christianity evolved a gospel of individual salvation which 
inspired missionary zeal and created the Church. Until that 
happened, there was no institution to which the philosopher could 
give whole-hearted adherence, and therefore there was no ade- 
cjuate outlet for his legitimate love of power. For this reason, the 
philosophers of the Hellenistic period are more limited as human 
beings than the men who lived while the City State could still 
inspire allegiance. They still think, because they cannot help 
thinking; but they scarcely hope that their thought will bear fruit 
in the world of affairs. 

Four schools of philosophy were founded about the time of 
Alexander. The two most famous, the Stoics and Epicureans, 
will be the subjects of later chapters ; in the present chapter we 
shall be concerned with the Cynics and Sceptics. 

The first of these schools is derived, through its founder Dio- 

2 53 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

genes, from Amisthenes, a disciple of Socrates, about twenty 
years older than Plato. Antisthenes was a remarkable character, 
in some ways rather like Tolstoy. Until after the death of Socrates, 
he lived in the aristocratic circle of his fellow disciples, and 
showed no sign of unorthodoxy. But something whether the 
defeat of Athens, or the death of Socrates, or a distaste for philo- 
sophic quibbling caused him, when no longer young, to despise 
the things that he had formerly valued. He would have nothing 
but simple goodness. He associated with working men, and 
dressed as one of them. He took to open-air preaching, in a style 
that the uneducated could understand. All refined philosophy he 
held to be worthless; what could be known, could be known by 
the plain man. He believed in the "return to nature/ 1 and carried 
this belief very far. There was to be no government, no private 
property, no marriage, no established religion. His followers, if 
not he himself, condemned slavery. He was not exactly ascetic, 
but he despised luxury and all pursuit of artificial pleasures of 
the senses. "I had rather be mad than delighted/' he said. 1 

The fame of Antisthenes was surpassed by that of his disciple 
Diogenes, "a young man from Sinope, on the Euxine, whom he 
[Antisthenes] did not take to at first sight ; the son of a disreputable 
money-changer who had been sent to prison for defacing the 
coinage. Antisthenes ordered the lad away, but he paid no attention ; 
he beat him with his stick, but he never moved. He wanted 
'wisdom/ and saw that Antisthenes had it to give. His aim in 
life was to do as his father had done, to 'deface the coinage/ but 
on a much larger scale. He would deface all the coinage current 
in the world. Every conventional stamp was false. The men 
stamped as generals and kings; the things stamped as honour and 
wisdom and happiness and riches ; all were base metal with lying 
superscription/'* 

He decided to live like a dog, and was therefore called a "cynic," 
which means "canine." He rejected all conventions whether of 
religion, of manners, of dress, of housing, of food, or of decency. 
One is told that he lived in a tub, but Gilbert Murray assures us 
that this is a mistake: it was a large pitcher, of the sort used in 
primitive times for burials. 8 He lived, like an Indian fakir, by 
begging. He proclaimed his brotherhood, not only with the whole 

1 Benn, Vol. II, pp. 4, 5: Murray, Five Stagey pp. 113-14. 

9 Ibid., p. 117. Ibid., p. no. 



CYNICS AND SCEPTICS 

human race, but also with animals. He was a man about whom 
stories gathered, even in his lifetime. Everyone knows how 
Alexander visited him, and asked if he desired any favour ; "only 
to stand out of my light/' he replied. 

The teaching of Diogenes was by no means what we now call 
"cynical" quite the contrary. He had an ardent passion for 
"virtue," in comparison with which he held worldly goods of no 
account. He sought virtue and moral freedom in liberation from 
desire: be indifferent to the goods that fortune has to bestow, 
and you will be emancipated from fear. In this respect, his doctrine, 
as we shall see, was taken up by the Stoics, but they did not follow 
him in rejecting the amenities of civilization. He considered that 
Prometheus was justly punished for bringing to man the arts that 
have produced the complication and artificiality of modern life. 
In this he resembled the Taoists and Rousseau and Tolstoy, but 
was more consistent than they were. 

His doctrine, though he was a contemporary of Aristotle, 
belongs in its temper to the Hellenistic age. Aristotle is the last 
Greek philosopher who faces the world cheerfully ; after him, all 
have, in one form or another, a philosophy of retreat. The world 
is bad ; let us learn to be independent of it. External goods are 
precarious ; they are the gift of fortune, not the reward of our own 
efforts. Only subjective goods virtue, or contentment through 
resignation are secure, and these alone, therefore, will be valued 
by the wise man. Diogenes personally was a man full of vigour, 
but his doctrine, like all those of the Hellenistic age, was one to 
appeal to weary men, in whom disappointment had destroyed 
natural zest. And it was certainly not a doctrine calculated to 
promote art or science or statesmanship, or any useful activity 
except one of protest against powerful evil. 

It is interesting to observe what the Cynic teaching became 
when it was popularized. In the early part of the third century B.C., 
the cynics were the fashion, especially in Alexandria. They 
published little sermons pointing out how easy it is to do without 
material possessions, how happy one can be on simple food, how 
warm one can keep in winter without expensive clothes (which 
might be true in Egypt I), how silly it is to feel affection for one's 
native country, or to mourn when one's children or friends die. 
"Because my son or my wife is dead/* says Teles, who was one 
of these popularizing Cynics, "is that any reason for my neglecting 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

myself, who am still alive, and ceasing to look after my property ?"* 
At this point, it becomes difficult to feel any sympathy with the 
simple life, which has grown altogether too simple. One wonders 
who enjoyed these sermons. Was it the rich, who wished to think 
the sufferings of the poor imaginary? Or was it the new poor, 
who were trying to despise the successful business man ? Or was 
it sycophants who persuaded themselves that the charity they 
accepted was unimportant? Teles says to a rich man: "You give 
liberally and I take valiantly from you, neither grovelling nor 
demeaning myself basely nor grumbling." 2 A very convenient 
doctrine. Popular Cynicism did not teach abstinence from the good 
things of this world, but only a certain indifference to them. In 
the case of a borrower, this might take the form of minimizing 
the obligation to the lender. One can see how the word "cynic" 
acquired its everyday meaning. 

What was best in the Cynic doctrine passed over into Stoicism, 
which was an altogether more complete and rounded philosophy. 

Scepticism, as a doctrine of the schools, was first proclaimed 
by Pyrrho, who was in Alexander's army, and campaigned with 
it as far as India. It seems that this gave him a sufficient taste of 
travel, and that he spent the rest of his life in his native city, Elis, 
where he died in 275 B.C. There was not much that was new in 
his doctrine, beyond a certain systematizing and formalizing of 
older doubts. Scepticism with regard to the senses had troubled 
Greek philosophers from a very early stage ; the only exceptions 
were those who, like Parmenides and Plato, denied the cognitive 
value of perception, and made their denial into an opportunity 
for an intellectual dogmatism. The Sophists, notably Protagoras 
and Gorgias, had been led by the ambiguities and apparent con- 
tradictions of sense-perception to a subjectivism not unlike I luine's. 
Pyrrho seems (for he very wisely wrote no books) to have added 
moral and logical scepticism to scepticism as to the senses. He 
is said to have maintained that there could never be any rational 
ground for preferring one course of action to another. In practice, 
this meant that one conformed to the customs of whatever country 
one inhabited. A modem disciple would go to church on Sundays 
and perform the correct genuflexions, but without any of the 
religious beliefs that are supposed to inspire these actions. Ancient 

1 The Hellemstif Age (Cambridge, 1923), p. 84 11. 
* Ibid., p. 86. 



CYNICS AND SCEPTICS 

Sceptics went through the whole pagan ritual, and were even 
sometimes priests; their Scepticism assured them that this 
behaviour could not be proved wrong, and their common sense 
(which survived their philosophy) assured them that it was con- 
venient. 

Scepticism naturally made an appeal to many unphilosophic 
minds. People observed the diversity of schools and the acerbity 
of their disputes, and decided that all alike were pretending to 
knowledge which was in fact unattainable. Scepticism was a lazy 
man's consolation, since it showed the ignorant to be as wise as 
the reputed men of learning. To men who, by temperament, 
required a gospel, it might seem unsatisfying, but like every 
doctrine of the Hellenistic period it recommended itself as an 
antidote to worry. Why trouble about the future? It is wholly 
uncertain. You may as well enjoy the present; "what's to come 
is still unsure/ 1 For these reasons, Scepticism enjoyed a con- 
siderable popular success. 

It should be observed that Scepticism as a philosophy is not 
merely doubt, but what may be called dogmatic doubt. The man 
of science says "I think it is so-and-so, but I am not sure." The 
man of intellectual curiosity says "I don't know how it is, but I 
hope to find out." The philosophical Sceptic says "nobody knows, 
and nobody ever can know/' It is this element of dogmatism that 
makes the system vulnerable. Sceptics, of course, deny that they 
assert the impossibility of knowledge dogmatically, but their 
denials are not very convincing. 

Pyrrho's disciple Timon, however, advanced some intellectual 
arguments which, from the standpoint of Greek logic, were very 
hard to answer. The only logic admitted by the Greeks was de- 
ductive, and all deduction had to start, like Euclid, from general 
principles regarded as self-evident. Timon denied the possibility 
of finding such principles. Everything* therefore, will have to be 
proved by means of something else, and all argument will be 
either circular or an endless chain hanging from nothing. In either 
case nothing can be proved. This argument, as we can see, cut 
at the root of the Aristotelian philosophy which dominated the 
Middle Ages. 

Some forms of Scepticism which, in our own day, arc advocated 
by men who arc by no means wholly sceptical, had not occurred 
to the Sceptics of antiquity. They did not doubt phenomena, or 

//Mlur> <>/ 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

question propositions which, in their opinion, only expressed 
what we know directly concerning phenomena. Most of Timon's 
work is lost, but two surviving fragments will illustrate this point. 
One says "The phenomenon is always valid." The other says: 
"That honey w sweet I refuse to assert ; that it appears sweet, I 
fully grant." 1 A modern Sceptic would point out that the pheno- 
menon merely occurs, and is not either valid or invalid; what is 
valid or invalid must be a statement, and no statement can be so 
closely linked to the phenomenon as to be incapable of falsehood. 
For the same reason, he would say that the statement "honey 
appears sweet" is only highly probable, not absolutely certain. 

In some respects, the doctrine of Timon was very similar to 
that of Hume. He maintained that something which had never 
been observed atoms, for instance could not be validly inferred ; 
but when two phenomena had been frequently observed together, 
one could be inferred fiom the other. 

Timon lived at Athens throughout the later years of his long 
life, and died there in 235 B.C. With his death, the school of 
Pyrrho, as a school, came to an end, but his doctrines, somewhat 
modified, were taken up, strange as it may seem, by the Academy, 
which represented the Platonic tradition. 

The man who effected this surprising philosophic revolution 
was Arcesilaus, a contemporary of Timon, who died as an old 
man about 240 B.C. What most men have taken from Plato is 
belief in a supersensible intellectual world and in the superiority 
of the immortal soul to the mortal body. But Plato was many- 
sided, and in some respects could be regarded as teaching scep- 
ticism. The Platonic Socrates professes to know nothing; we 
naturally treat this as irony, but it could be taken seriously. 
Many of the dialogues reach no positive conclusion, and aim at 
leaving the reader in a state of doubt. Some the latter half of 
the Parmenide*, for instance might seem to have no purpose 
except to show that either side of any question can be maintained 
with equal plausibility. The Platonic dialectic could be treated 
as an end, rather than a means, and if so treated it lent itself 
admirably to the advocacy of Scepticism. This seems to have 
been the way in which Arcesilaus interpreted the man whom he 
still professed to follow. He had decapitated Plato, but at any rate 
the torso that remained was genuine. 

1 Quoted by Edwyn Bevan, Stoics and Sceptics, p. 126. 



CYNICS AND SCEPTICS 

The manner in which Arcesilaus taught would have had much 
to commend it, if the young men who learnt from him had been 
able to avoid being paralysed by it. He maintained no thesis, but 
would refute any thesis set up by a pupil. Sometimes he would 
himself advance two contradictory propositions on successive 
occasions, showing how to argue convincingly in favour of either. 
A pupil sufficiently vigorous to rebel might have learnt dexterity 
and the avoidance of fallacies ; in fact, none seem to have learnt 
anything except cleverness and indifference to truth. So great 
was the influence of Arcesilaus that the Academy remained 
sceptical for about two hundred years. 

In the middle of this sceptical period, an amusing incident 
occurred. Carneades, a worthy successor of Arcesilaus as head of 
the Academy, was one of three philosophers sent by Athens on 
a diplomatic mission to Rome in the year 156 B.C. He saw no 
reason why his ambassadorial dignity should interfere with the 
main chance, so he announced a course of lectures in Rome. The 
young men, who, at that time, were anxious to ape Greek manners 
and acquire Greek culture, flocked to hear him. His first lecture 
expounded the views of Aristotle and Plato on justice, and was 
thoroughly edifying. His second, however, was concerned in 
refuting all that he had said in his first, not with a view to estab- 
lishing opposite conclusions, but merely to show that every con- 
clusion is unwarranted. Plato's Socrates had argued that to inflict 
injustice was a greater evil to the perpetrator than to suffer it. 
Carneadcs, in his second lecture, treated this contention with 
scorn. Great States, he pointed out, had become great by unjust 
aggressions against their weaker neighbours; in Rome, this could 
not well be denied. In a shipwreck, you may save your life at the 
expense of some one weaker, and you are a fool if you do not. 
"Women and children first," he seems to think, is not a maxim 
that leads to personal survival. What would you do if you were 
flying from a victorious enemy, you had lost your horse, but you 
found a wounded comrade on a horse? If you were sensible, you 
would drag him off and seize his horse, whatever justice might 
ordain. All this not very edifying argumentation is surprising in 
a nominal follower of Plato, but it seems to have pleased the 
modern-minded Roman youths. 

There was one man whom it did not please, and that was the 
Cato, who represented the stern, stiff, stupid, and brutal 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

moral code by means of which Rome had defeated Carthage. 
From youth to old age, he lived simply, rose early, practised 
severe manual labour, ate only coarse food, and never wore a 
gown that cost over a hundred pence. Towards the State he was 
scrupulously honest, avoiding all bribery and plunder. He exacted 
of other Romans all the virtues that he practised himself, and 
asserted that to accuse and pursue the wicked was the best thing 
an honest man could do. He enforced, as far as he could, the old 
Roman severity of manners: 

"Cato put out of the Senate also, one Manilius, who was in 
great towardness to have been made Consul the next year following, 
only because he kissed his wife too lovingly in the day time, and 
before his daughter: and reproving him for it, he told him, his 
wife never kissed him, but when it thundered." 1 

When he was in power, he put down luxury and feasting. He 
made his wife suckle not only her own children, but also those of 
his slaves, in order that, having been nourished by the same milk, 
they might love his children. When his slaves were too old to 
work, he sold them remorselessly. He insisted that his slaves 
should always be either working or sleeping. He encouraged his 
slaves to quarrel with each other, for "he could not abide that 
they should be friends." When a slave had committed a grave 
fault, he would call in his other slaves, and induce them to condemn 
the delinquent to death; he would then carry out the sentence 
with his own hands in the presence of the survivors. 

The contrast between Cato and Carneades was very complete: 
the one brutal through a morality that was too strict and too 
traditional, the other ignoble through a morality that was too 
lax and too much infected with the social dissolution of the 
Hellenistic world. 

"Marcus Cato, even from the beginning that young men began 
to study the Greek tongue, and that it grew in estimation in Rome, 
did dislike of it: fearing lest the youth of Rome that were desirous 
of learning and eloquence, would utterly give over the honour and 
glory of arms. ... So lie openly found fault one day in the 
Senate, that the Ambassadors were long there, and had no dis- 
patch : considering also they were cunning men, and could easily 
persuade what they would. And if there were no other respect, 
this only might persuade them to determine some answer for 
1 North's Plutarch, Lftto, Marcus Cato. 



CYNICS AND SCEPTICS 

them, and to send them home again to their schools, to teach 
their children of Greece, and to let alone the children of Rome, 
that they might learn to obey the laws and the Senate, as they 
had done before. Now he spake thus to the Senate, not of any 
private ill will or malice he bare to Carneades, as some men 
thought: but because he generally hated philosophy." 1 

The Athenians, in Cato's view, were a lesser breed without the 
law; it did not matter if they were degraded by the shallow soph- 
istries of intellectuals, but the Roman youth must be kept puri- 
tanical, imperialistic, ruthless, and stupid. He failed, however; 
later Romans, while retaining many of his vices, adopted those of 
Carneades also. 

The next head of the Academy, after Carneades (ca. 180 to 
ca. no B.C.), was a Carthaginian whose real name was Hasdrubal, 
but who, in his dealings with Greeks, preferred to call himself 
Clitomachus. Unlike Carneades, who confined himself to lec- 
turing, Clitomachus wrote over four hundred books, some of 
them in the Phoenician language. His principles appear to have 
been the same as those of Carneades. In some respects, they were 
useful. These two Sceptics set themselves against the belief in 
divination, magic, and astrology, which was becoming more and 
more widespread. They also developed a constructive doctrine, 
concerning degrees of probability: although we can never be 
justified in feeling certainty, some things are more likely to be 
true than others. Probability should be our guide in practice, since 
it is reasonable to act on the most probable of possible hypo- 
theses. This view is one with which most modern philosophers 
would agree. Unfortunately, the books setting it forth are lost, and 
it is difficult to reconstruct the doctrine from the hints that remain. 

After Clitomachus, the Academy ceased to be sceptical, and from 
the time of Antiochus (who died in 69 B.C.) its doctrines became, 
for centuries, practically indistinguishable from those of the Stoics. 

Scepticism, however, did not disappear. It was revived by the 
Cretan Aenesidemus, who came from Knossos, where, for aught 
we know, there may have been Sceptics two thousand years earlier, 
entertaining dissolute courtiers with doubts as to the divinity of 
the mistress of animals. The date of Aenesidemus is uncertain. 
He threw over the doctrines on probability advocated by Carneades, 
and reverted to the earliest forms of Scepticism. 11 is influence was 
1 North's Plutarch, Ltvtt, Marcus Cato 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

considerable; he was followed by the satirist Lucian in the second 
century A.D., and also, slightly later, by Sextus Empiricus, the 
only Sceptic philosopher of antiquity whose works survive. There 
is, for example, a short treatise, "Arguments Against Belief in a 
God," translated by Edwyn Bevan in his Later Greek Religion, 
pp. 52-56, and said by him to be probably taken by Sextus 
Empiricus from Carneades, as reported by Clitomachus. 

This treatise begins by explaining that, in behaviour, the Sceptics 
are orthodox: "We sceptics follow in practice the way of the world, 
but without holding any opinion about it. We speak of the Gods 
as existing and offer worship to the Gods and say that they exercise 
providence, but in saying this we express no belief, and avoid the 
rashness of the dogmatize rs." 

He then argues that people differ as to the nature of God ; for 
instance, some think Him corporeal, some incorporeal. Since we 
have no experience of Him, we cannot know His attributes. The 
existence of God is not self-evident, and therefore needs proof. 
There is a somewhat confused argument to show that no such 
proof is possible. He next takes up the problem of evil, and 
concludes with the words: 

"Those who affirm positively that God exists cannot avoid falling 
into an impiety. For if they say that God controls everything, 
they make Him the author of evil things; if, on the other hand, 
they say that He controls some things only, or that He controls 
nothing, they are compelled to make God cither grudging or 
impotent, and to do that is quite obviously an impiety/' 

Scepticism, while it continued to appeal to some cultivated indi- 
viduals until somewhere in the third century A.D., was contrary 
to the temper of the age, which was turning more and more to 
dogmatic religion and doctrines of salvation. Scepticism had 
enough force to make educated men dissatisfied with the State 
religions, but it had nothing positive, even in the purely intellectual 
sphere, to offer in their place. From the Renaissance onwards, 
theological scepticism has been supplemented, in most of its 
advocates, by an enthusiastic belief in science, but in antiquity 
there was no such supplement to doubt. Without answering the 
arguments of the Sceptics, the ancient world turned aside from 
them. The Olympians being discredited, the way was left clear 
for an invasion of oriental religions, which competed for the 
favour of the superstitious until the triumph of Christianity. 

262 



Chapter XXVII 
THE EPICUREANS 

p I 1HE two great new schools of the Hellenistic period, the 
I Stoics and Epicureans, were contemporaneous in their 
JL foundation. Their founders, Zeno and Epicurus, were born 
at about the same time, and settled in Athens as heads of their 
respective sects within a few years of each other. It is therefore 
a matter of taste which to consider first. I shall begin with the 
Epicureans, because their doctrines were fixed once for all by 
their founder, whereas Stoicism had a long development, 
extending as far as the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who died 
in A.D. 1 80. 

The main authority for the life of Epicurus is Diogenes Laertius, 
who lived in the third century A.D. There are, however, two diffi- 
culties: first, Diogenes Laertius is himself ready to accept legends 
of little or no historical value; second, part of his Life consists in 
reporting the scandalous accusations brought against Epicurus by 
the Stoics, and it is not always clear whether he is asserting some- 
thing himself or merely mentioning a libel. The scandals invented 
by the Stoics are facts about them, to be remembered when their 
lofty morality is praised; but they are not facts about Epicurus. 
For instance, there was a legend that his mother was a quack 
priestess, as to which Diogenes says: 

"They (apparently the Stoics) say that he used to go round 
from house to house with his mother reading out the purification 
prayers, and assisted his father in elementary teaching for a 
miserable pittance." 

On this Bailey comments: 1 "If there is any truth in the story 
that he went about with his mother as an acolyte, reciting the 
formulae of her incantations, he may well have been inspired in 
quite early years with the hatred of superstition, which was after- 
wards so prominent a feature in his teaching." This theory is 
attractive, but, in view of the extreme unscrupulousness of later 
antiquity in inventing a scandal, I do not think it can be accepted 

1 The Greek Atomitts and Epicurus, by Cyril Bailey, Oxford, 1928, 
p. 221. Mr. Bailey has made a specialty of Epicurus, and his book is 
invaluable to the student. 

63 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

as having any foundation. 1 There is against it the fact that he 
had an unusually strong affection for his mother. 2 

The main facts of the life of Epicurus seem, however, fairly 
certain. His father was a poor Athenian colonist in Samos ; Epi- 
curus was born in 342-1 B.C., but whether in Samos or in Attica 
is not known. In any case, his boyhood was passed in Samos. He 
states that he took to the study of philosophy at the age of fourteen. 
At the age of eighteen, about the time of Alexander's death, he 
went to Athens, apparently to establish his citizenship, but while 
he was there the Athenian colonists were turned out of Samos 
(322 B.C.). The family of Epicurus became refugees in Asia Minor, 
where he rejoined them. At Taos, either at this time, or perhaps 
earlier, he was taught philosophy by a certain Nausiphanes, 
apparently a follower of Democritus. Although his mature philo- 
sophy owes more to Democritus than to any other philosopher, 
he never expressed anything but contempt for Nausiphanes, 
whom he alluded to as "The Mollusc." 

In the year 311 he founded his school, which was first in 
Mitylene, then in Lampsacus, and, from 307 onwards, in Athens, 
where he died in 270-1 B.C. 

After the hard years of his youth, his life in Athens was placid, 
and was only troubled by his ill health. He had a house and a 
garden (apparently separate from the house), and it was in the 
garden that he taught. His three brothers, and some others, had 
been members of his school from the first, but in Athens his 
community was increased, not only by philosophic disciples, but 
by friends and their children, slaves and hetaerae. These last were 
made an occasion of scandal by his enemies, but apparently quite 
unjustly. He had a very exceptional capacity for purely human 
friendship, and wrote pleasant letters to the young children of 
members of the community. He did not practise that dignity and 
reserve in the expression of the emotions that was expected of 
ancient philosophers; his letters are amazingly natural and 
unaffected. 

The life of the community was very simple, partly on principle, 

1 The Stoics were very unjust to Epicurus. Epictctus, for example, 
addressing him, says; "This is the life of which you pronounce yourself 
worthy: eating, drinking, copulation, evacuation and snoring." Book II, 
chap, n, Ditcoune* of Epictctus. 

a Gilbert Murray, Five Stages, p. 130 



THE EPICUREANS 

and partly (no doubt) for lack of money. Their food and drink 
was mainly bread and water, which Epicurus found quite satis- 
fying. "I am thrilled with pleasure in the body," he says, "when 
I live on bread and water, and I spit on luxurious pleasures, not 
for their own sake, but because of the inconveniences that follow 
them." The community depended financially, at least in part, 
on voluntary contributions. "Send me some preserved cheese," 
he writes, "that when I like, I may have a feast." To another 
friend: "Send us offerings for the sustenance of our holy body 
on behalf of yourself and your children." And again: "The only 

contribution I require is that which ordered the disciples to 

send me, even if they be among the Hyperboreans. I wish to 
receive from each of you two hundred and twenty drachmae 1 a 
year and no more." 

Epicurus suffered all his life from bad health, but learnt to 
endure it with great fortitude. It was he, not a Stoic, who first 
maintained that a man could be happy on the rack. Two letters 
written, one a few days before his death, the other on the day of 
his death, show that he had some right to this opinion. The first 
says: "Seven days before writing this the stoppage became com- 
plete and I suffered pains such as bring men to their last day. If 
anything happens to me, do you look after the children of Metro- 
dorus for four or five years, but do not spend any more on them 
than you now spend on me." The second says: "On this truly 
happy day of my life, as I am at the point of death, I write this 
to you. The diseases in my bladder and stomach are pursuing 
their course, lacking nothing of their usual severity: but against 
all this is the joy in my heart at the recollection of my conversa- 
tions with you. Do you, as I might expect from your devotion 
from boyhood to me and to philosophy, take good care of the 
children of Metrodorus." Metrodorus, who had been one of his 
first disciples, was dead; Epicurus provided for his children in 
his will. 

Although Epicurus was gentle and kindly towards most people, 
a different side of his character appeared in his relations to philo- 
sophers, especially those to whom he might be considered in- 
debted. "I suppose," he says, "that these grumblers will believe 
me to be a disciple of The Mollusc (Nausiphanes) and to have 
listened to his teaching in company with a few bibulous youths. 
1 About five pounds. 

265 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

For indeed the fellow was a bad man and his habits such as 
could never lead to wisdom." 1 He never acknowledged the extent 
of his indebtedness to Democritus, and as for Leucippus, he 
asserted that there was no such philosopher meaning, no doubt, 
not that there was no such man, but that the man was not a 
philosopher. Diogenes Laertius gives a whole list of abusive 
epithets that he is supposed to have applied to the most eminent 
of his predecessors. With this lack of generosity towards other 
philosophers goes another grave fault, that of dictatorial dog- 
matism. His followers had to learn a kind of creed embodying 
his doctrines, which they were not allowed to question. To the 
end, none of them added or modified anything. When Lucretius, 
two hundred years later, turned the philosophy of Epicurus into 
poetry, he added, so far as can be judged, nothing theoretical to 
the master's teaching. Wherever comparison is possible, Lucretius 
is found to agree closely with the original, and it is generally 
held that, elsewhere, he may be used to fill in the gaps in our 
knowledge caused by the loss of all of Epicurus's three hundred 
books. Of his writings, nothing remains except a few letters, some 
fragments, and a statement of "Principal Doctrines." 

The philosophy of Epicurus, like all those of his age (with the 
partial exception of Scepticism), was primarily designed to secure 
tranquillity. He considered pleasure to be the good, and adhered, 
with remarkable consistency* to all the consequences of this view. 
"Pleasure," he said, "is the beginning and end of the blessed life. 
Diogenes Laertius quotes him as saying, in a book on The End of 
Life, "I know not how I can conceive the good, if I withdraw the 
pleasures of taste and withdraw the pleasures of love and those of 
hearing and sight." Again: "The beginning and the root of all 
good is the pleasure of the stomach; even wisdom and culture 
must be referred to this." The pleasure of the mind, we are told, 
is the contemplation of pleasures of the body. Its only advantage 
over bodily pleasures is that we can learn to contemplate pleasure 
rather than pain, and thus have more control over mental 
than over physical pleasures. "Virtue," unless it means "pru- 
dence in the pursuit of pleasure," is an empty name. Justice, for 
example, consists in so acting as not to have occasion to fear 
other men's resentment a view which leads to a doctrine 

1 The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers, by W. J. Gates, p. 47. Whtre 
possible, I have availed myself of Mr. Oates's translations. 

266 



THE EPICUREANS 

of the origin of society not unlike the theory of the Social 
Contract. 

Epicurus disagrees with some of his hedonist predecessors in 
distinguishing between active and passive pleasures, or dynamic 
and static pleasures. Dynamic pleasures consist in the attainment 
of a desired end, the previous desire having been accompanied 
by pain. Static pleasures consist in a state of equilibrium, which 
results from the existence of the kind of state of affairs that would 
be desired if it were absent. I think one may say that the satisfying 
of hunger, while it is in progress, is a dynamic pleasure, but the 
state of quiescence which supervenes when hunger is completely 
satisfied is a static pleasure. Of these two kinds, Epicurus holds it 
more prudent to pursue the second, since it is unalloyed, and does 
not depend upon the existence of pain as a stimulus to desire. 
When the body is in a state of equilibrium, there is no pain; we 
should, therefore, aim at equilibrium and the quiet pleasures 
rather than at more violent joys. Epicurus, it seems, would wish, 
if it were possible, to be always in the state of having eaten 
moderately, never in that of voracious desire to eat. 

He is thus led, in practice, to regarding absence of pain, rather 
than presence of pleasure, as the wise man's goal. 1 The stomach 
may be at the root of things, but the pains of stomach-ache out- 
weigh the pleasures of gluttony; accordingly Epicurus lived on 
bread, with a little cheese on feast days. Such desires as those for 
wealth and honour are futile, because they make a man restless 
when he might be contented. ' 'The greatest good of all is prudence : 
it is a more precious thing even than philosophy." Philosophy, as 
he understood it, was a practical system designed to secure a 
happy life; it required only common sense, not logic or mathe- 
matics or any of the elaborate training prescribed by Plato. He 
urges his young disciple and friend Pythodes to "flee from every 
form of culture." It was a natural consequence of his principles 
that he advised abstinence from public life, for in proportion as 
a man achieves power he increases the number of those who envy 
him and therefore wish to do him injury. Even if he escapes out- 
ward misfortune, peace of mind is impossible in such a situation. 
The wise man will try to live unnoticed, so as to have no enemies. 

Sexual love, as one of the most "dynamic 11 of pleasures, naturally 

1 (For Epicurus) "Absence of pain is in itself pleasure, indeed in his 
ultimate analvsia the truest pleasure.' 1 Bailey, op. of., p. 349. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

comes under the ban. "Sexual intercourse," the philosopher 
declares, "has never done a man good and he is lucky if it has not 
harmed him." He was fond of children (other people's), but for 
the gratification of this taste he seems to have relied upon other 
people not to follow his advice. He seems, in fact, to have liked 
children against his better judgment ; for he considered marriage 
and children a distraction from more serious pursuits. Lucretius, 
who follows him in denouncing love, sees no harm in sexual 
intercourse provided it is divorced from passion. 

The safest of social pleasures, in the opinion of Epicurus, is 
friendship. Epicurus, like Bentham, is a man who considers that 
all men, at all times, pursue only their own pleasure, sometimes 
wisely, sometimes unwisely; but, again like Bentham, he is con- 
stantly seduced by his own kindly and affectionate nature into 
admirable behaviour from which, on his own theories, he ought 
to have refrained. He obviously liked his friends without regard 
to what he got out of them, but he persuaded himself that he was 
as selfish as his philosophy held all men to be. According to 
Cicero, he held that "friendship cannot be divorced from pleasure, 
and for that reason must be cultivated, because without it neither 
can we live in safety and without fear, nor even pleasantly." 
Occasionally, however, he forgets his theories more or less: "all 
friendship is desirable in itself," he says, adding "though it starts 
from the need of help." 1 

Epicurus, though his ethic seemed to others swinish and lacking 
in moral exaltation, was very much in earnest. As we have seen, 
he speaks of the community in the garden as "our holy body"; 
he wrote a book On Holiness ; he had all the fervour of a religious 
reformer. He must have had a strong emotion of pity for the 
sufferings of mankind, and an unshakeable conviction that they 
would be greatly lessened if men would adopt his philosophy. It 
was a valetudinarian's philosophy, designed to suit a world in 
which adventurous happiness had become scarcely possible. Eat 
little, for fear of indigestion ; drink little, for fear of next morning ; 
eschew politics and love and all violently passionate activities; do 
not give hostages to fortune by marrying and having children ; in 
your mental life, teach yourself to contemplate pleasures rather 
than pains. Physical pain is certainly a great evil, but if severe, 

1 On the subject of friendship and Epicurus's amiable inconsistency, 
see Bailey, op. cit., pp. 517-20. 

268 



THE EPICUREANS 

it is brief, and if prolonged, it can be endured. by means of mental 
discipline and the habit of thinking of happy things in spite of it. 
Above all, live so as to avoid fear. 

It was through the problem of avoiding fear that Epicurus was 
led into theoretical philosophy. He held that two of the greatest 
sources of fear were religion and the dread of death, which were 
connected, since religion encouraged the view that the dead are 
unhappy. He therefore sought a metaphysic which would prove 
that the gods do not interfere in human affairs, and that the soul 
perishes with the body. Most modern people think of religion as 
a consolation, but to Epicurus it was the opposite. Supernatural 
interference with the course of nature seemed to him a source of 
terror, and immortality fatal to the hope of release from pain. 
Accordingly he constructed an elaborate doctrine designed to 
cure men of the beliefs that inspire fear. 

Epicurus was a materialist, but not a determinist. He followed 
Democritus in believing that the world consists of atoms and the 
void; but he did not believe, as Democritus did, that the atoms are 
at all times completely controlled by natural laws. The conception 
of necessity in Greece was, as we have seen, religious in origin, 
and perhaps he was right in considering that an attack on religion 
would be incomplete if it allowed necessity to survive. His atoms 
had weight, and were continually falling; not towards the centre 
of the earth, but downwards in some absolute sense. Every now 
and then, however, an atom, actuated by something like free will, 
would swerve slightly from the direct downward path, 1 and so 
would come into collision with some other atom. From this point 
onwards, the development of vortices, etc., proceeded in much the 
same way as in Democritus. The soul is material, and is composed 
of particles like those of breath and heat. (Epicurus thought 
breath and wind different in substance from air; they were not 
merely air in motion.) Soul-atoms are distributed throughout the 
body. Sensation is due to thin films thrown off by bodies and 
travelling on until they touch soul-atoms. These films may still 
exist when the bodies from which they originally proceeded have 
been dissolved; this accounts for dreams. At death, the soul is 
dispersed, and its atoms, which of course survive, are no longer 
capable of sensation, because they are no longer connected with 

1 An analogous view is urged in our day by Eddtngton, in his inter- 
pretation of the principle of indeterminacy. 

369 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

the body. It follows, in the words of Epicurus, that "Death is 
nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, 
and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us." 

As for the gods, Epicurus firmly believes in their existence, 
since he cannot otherwise account for the widespread existence 
of the idea of gods. But he is persuaded that they do not trouble 
themselves with the affairs of our human world. They are rational 
hedonists, who follow his precepts, and abstain from public life; 
government would be an unnecessary labour, to which, in their 
life of complete blessedness, they feel no temptation. Of course, 
divination and augury and all such practices are purely super- 
stitious, and so is the belief in Providence. 

There is therefore no ground for the fear that we may incur the 
anger of the gods, or that we may suffer in Hades after death. 
Though subject to the powers of nature, which can be studied 
scientifically, we yet have free will, and are, within limits, the 
masters of our fate. We cannot escape death, but death, rightly 
understood, is no evil. If we live prudently, according to the 
maxims of Epicurus, we shall probably achieve a measure of 
freedom from pain. This is a moderate gospel, but to a man 
impressed with human misery it sufficed to inspire enthusiasm 

Epicurus has no interest in science on its own account ; he values 
it solely as providing naturalistic explanations of phenomena which 
superstition attributes to the agency of the gods. When there are 
several possible naturalistic explanations, he holds that there is no 
point in trying to decide between them. The phases of the moon, 
for example, have been explained in many different ways; any 
one of these, so long as it does not bring in the gods, is as good as 
any other, and it would be idle curiosity to attempt to determine 
which of them is true. It is no wonder that the Epicureans con- 
tributed practically nothing to natural knowledge. They served a 
useful purpose by their protest against the increasing devotion of 
the later pagans to magic, astrology, and divination ; but they re- 
mained, like their founder, dogmatic, limited, and without genuine 
interest in anything outside individual happiness. They learnt by 
heart the creed of Epicurus, and added nothing to it throughout 
the centuries during which the school survived. 

The only eminent disciple of Epicurus is the poet Lucretius 
(99-55 B.C.), who was a contemporary of Julius Caesar. In the 
last days of the Roman Republic, free thought was the fashion, 

270 



THE EPICUREANS 

and the doctrines of Epicurus were popular among educated 
people. The Emperor Augustus introduced an archaistic revival 
of ancient virtue and ancient religion, which caused the poem of 
Lucretius On the Nature of Things to become unpopular, and it 
remained so until the Renaissance. Only one manuscript of it 
survived die Middle Ages, and that narrowly escaped destruction 
by bigots. Hardly any great poet has had to wait so long for 
recognition, but in modern times his merits have been almost 
universally acknowledged. For example, he and Benjamin Franklin 
were Shelley's favourite authors. 

His poem sets forth in verse the philosophy of Epicurus. Al- 
though the two men have the same doctrine, their temperaments 
are very different. Lucretius was passionate, and much more in 
need of exhortations to prudence than Epicurus was. He com- 
mitted suicide, and appears to have suffered from periodic insanity 
brought on, so some averred, by the pains of love or the un- 
intended effects of a love philtre. He feels towards Epicurus as 
towards a saviour, and applies language of religious intensity to 
the man whom he regards as the destroyer of religion: 1 

When prostrate upon earth lay human life 
Visibly trampled down and foully crushed 
Beneath Religion's cruelty, who meanwhile 
Out of the regions of the heavens above 
Showed forth her face, lowering on mortal men 
With horrible aspect, first did a man of Greece 
Dare to lift up his mortal eyes against her; 
The first was he to stand up and defy her. 
Him neither stories of the gods, nor lightnings, 
Nor heaven with muttering menaces could quell, 
But all the more did they arouse his soul's 
Keen valour, till he longed to be the first 
To break through the fast-bolted doors of Nature. 
Therefore his fervent energy of mind 
Prevailed, and he passed onward, voyaging far 
Beyond the flaming ramparts of the world, 
Ranging in mind and spirit far and wide 
Throughout the unmeasured universe ; and thence 
A conqueror he returns to us, bringing back 
Knowledge both of what can and what cannot 
Rise into being, teaching us in fine 

1 1 quote the translation of Mr. R. C. Trevelyan, Book 1, 60-79. 

271 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Upon what principle each thing has its powers 
Limited, and its deep-set boundary stone. 
Therefore now has Religion been cast down 
Beneath men's feet, and trampled on in turn: 
Ourselves heaven-high his victory exalts. 

The hatred of religion expressed by Epicurus and Lucretius is 
not altogether easy to understand, if one accepts the conventional 
accounts of the cheerfulness of Greek religion and ritual. Keats 's 
Ode on a Grecian Urn, for instance, celebrates a religious ceremony, 
but not one which could fill men's minds with dark and gloomy 
terrors. I think popular beliefs were very largely not of this cheerful 
kind. The worship of the Olympians had less of superstitious 
cruelty than the other forms of Greek religion, but even the 
Olympian gods had demanded occasional human sacrifice until 
the seventh or sixth century B.C., and this practice was recorded 
in myth and drama. 1 Throughout the barbarian world, human 
sacrifice was still recognized in the time of Epicurus; until the 
Roman conquest, it was practised in times of crisis, such as the 
Punic Wars, by even the most civilized of barbarian populations. 

As was shown most convincingly by Jane Harrison, the Greeks 
had, in addition to the official cults of Zeus and his family, other 
more primitive beliefs associated with more or less barbarous rites. 
These were to some extent incorporated in Orphism, which 
became the prevalent belief among men of religious temperament. 
It is sometimes supposed that Hell was a Christian invention, but 
this is a mistake. What Christianity did in this respect was only 
to systematize earlier popular beliefs. From the beginning of Plato's 
Republic it is clear that the fear of punishment after death was 
common in fifth-century Athens, and it is not likely that it grew 
less in the interval between Socrates and Epicurus. (I am thinking 
not of the educated minority, but of the general population.) 
Certainly, also, it was common to attribute plagues, earthquakes, 
defeats in war, and such calamities, to divine displeasure or to 
failure to respect the omens. I think that Greek literature and art 
are probably very misleading as regards popular beliefs. What 
should we know of Methodism in the late eighteenth century if 
no record of the period survived except its aristocratic books and 
paintings? The influence of Methodism, like that of religiosity in 

1 Lucretius instances the sacrifice of Iphigcnia as an example of the 
harm wrought by religion. Book I, 85-100. 

272 



THE EPICUREANS 

the Hellenistic age, rose from below; it was already powerful in 
the time of Boswell and Sir Joshua Reynolds, although from their 
allusions to it the strength of its influence is not apparent. We 
must not, therefore, judge of popular religion in Greece by the 
pictures on "Grecian Urns" or by the works of poets and aristo- 
cratic philosophers. Epicurus was not aristocratic, either by birth 
or through his associates; perhaps this explains his exceptional 
hostility to religion. 

It is through the poem of Lucretius that the philosophy of Epi- 
curus has chiefly become known to readers since the Renaissance. 
What has most impressed them, when they were not professional 
philosophers, is the contrast with Christian belief in such matters 
as materialism, denial of Providence, and rejection of immortality. 
What is especially striking to a modern reader is to have these 
views which, nowadays, are generally regarded as gloomy and 
depressing presented as a gospel of liberation from the burden 
of fear. Lucretius is as firmly persuaded as any Christian of the 
importance of true belief in matters of religion. After describing 
how men seek escape from themselves when they are the victims 
of an inner conflict, and vainly seek relief in change of place, 
he says: 1 

Each man flies from his own self; 
Yet from that self in fact he has no power 
To escape: he clings to it in his own despite, 
And loathes it too, because, though he is sick, 
He perceives not the cause of his disease. 
Which if he could but comprehend aright, 
Each would put all things else aside and first 
Study to learn the nature of the world, 
Since 'tis our state during eternal time, 
Not for one hour merely, that is in doubt, 
That state wherein mortals will have to pass 
The whole time that awaits them after death. 

The age of Epicurus was a wean' age, and extinction could 
appear as a welcome rest from travail of spirit. The last age of 
the Republic, on the contrary, was not, to most Romans, a time 
of disillusionment: men of titanic energy were creating out of 
chaos a new order, which the Macedonians had failed to do. But 
to the Roman aristocrat who stood aside from politics, and cared 

1 Book III, 1068-76. I again quote Mr. R. C. Trevelyan's translation. 

273 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

nothing for the scramble for power and plunder, the course of 
events must have been profoundly discouraging. When to this 
was added the affliction of recurrent insanity, it is not to be 
wondered at that Lucretius accepted the hope of non-existence 
as a deliverance. 

But the fear of death is so deeply rooted in instinct that the 
gospel of Epicurus could not, at any time, make a wide popular 
appeal; it remained always the creed of a cultivated minority. 
Even among philosophers, after the time of Augustus, it was, as 
a rule, rejected in favour of Stoicism. It survived, it is true, though 
with diminishing vigour, for six hundred years after the death of 
Epicurus; but as men became increasingly oppressed by the 
miseries of our terrestrial existence, they demanded continually 
stronger medicine from philosophy or religion. The philosophers 
took refuge, with few exceptions, in Neoplatonism ; the uneducated 
turned to various Eastern superstitions, and then, in continually 
increasing numbers, to Christianity, which, in its early form, 
placed all good in the life beyond the grave, thus offering men a 
gospel which was the exact opposite of that of Kpicurus. Doc- 
trines very similar to his, however, were revived by the French 
philosophes at the end of the eighteenth century, and brought to 
England by Bentham and his followers; this was done in conscious 
opposition to Christianity, which these men regarded as hostilcly 
as Epicurus regarded the religions of his day. 



Chapter XXVIII 
STOICISM 

STOICISM, while in origin contemporaneous with Epicurean- 
ism, had a longer history and less constancy in doctrine. 
The teaching of its founder Zeno, in the early part of the 
third century B.C., was by no means identical with that of Marcus 
Aurelius in the latter half of the second century A.D. Zeno was a 
materialist, whose doctrines were, in the main, a combination of 
Cynicism and Heraclitus; but gradually, through an admixture 
of Platonism, the Stoics abandoned materialism, until, in the end, 
little trace of it remained. Their ethical doctrine, it is true, changed 
very little, and was what most of them regarded as of the chief 
importance. liven in this respect, however, there is some change 
of emphasis. As time goes on, continually less is said about the 
other aspects of Stoicism, and continually more exclusive stress 
is laid upon ethics and those parts of theology that are most 
relevant to ethics. With regard to all the earlier Stoics, we are 
hampered by the fact that their works survive only in a few frag- 
ments. Seneca, Kpictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, who belong to 
the first and second centuries A.D., alone survive in complete 
books. 

Stoicism is less Greek than any school of philosophy with which 
we have been hitherto concerned. The early Stoics were mostly 
Syrian, the later ones mostly Roman. Tarn (Hellenistic Civilization, 
p. 287) suspects Chaldean influences in Stoicism. Uebenveg justly 
observes that, in Hcllenizing the barbarian world, the Greeks 
dropped what only suited themselves. Stoicism, unlike the earlier 
purely Greek philosophies, is emotionally narrow, and in a certain 
sense fanatical ; but it also contains religious elements of which 
the world felt the need, and which the Greeks seemed unable to 
supply. In particular, it appealed to rulers: "nearly all the suc- 
cessors of Alexander we may say all the principal kings in 
existence in the generations following Zeno professed themselves 
Stoics," says Professor Gilbert Murray. 

Zeno was a Phoenician, born at Citium, in Cyprus, at some time 
during the latter half of the fourth century B.C. It seems probable 
that his family were engaged in commerce, and that business 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

interests were what first took him to Athens. When there, however, 
he became anxious to study philosophy. The views of the Cynics 
were more congenial to him than those of any other school, but 
he was something of an eclectic. The followers of Plato accused 
him of plagiarizing the Academy. Socrates was the chief saint of 
the Stoics throughout their history; his attitude at the time of 
his trial, his refusal to escape, his calmness in the face of death, 
and his contention that the perpetrator of injustice injures himself 
more than his victim, all fined in perfectly with Stoic teaching. 
So did his indifference to heat and cold, his plainness in matters 
of food and dress, and his complete independence of all bodily 
comforts. But the Stoics never took over Plato 1 * doctrine of ideas, 
and most of them rejected his arguments for immortality. Only 
the later Stoics followed him in regarding the soul as immaterial ; 
the earlier Stoics agreed with Heraclitus in the view that the soul 
is composed of material fire. Verbally, this doctrine is also to be 
found in Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, but it seems that in 
them the fire is not to be taken literally as one of the four elements 
of which physical things are composed. 

Zcno had no patience with metaphysical subtleties. Virtue was 
what he thought important, and he only valued physics and meta- 
physics in so far as they contributed to virtue. He attempted to 
combat the metaphysical tendencies of the age by means of 
common sense, which, in Greece, meant materialism. Doubts as 
to the trustworthiness of the senses annoyed him, and he pushed 
the opposite doctrine to extremes. 

"Zeno began by asserting the existence of the real world. 'What 
do you mean by real ?' asked the Sceptic. 'I mean solid and material. 
I mean that this table is solid matter/ 'And God/ asked the 
Sceptic, 'and the Soul?' 'Perfectly solid/ said Zeno, 'more solid, 
if anything, than the table.' 'And virtue or justice or the Rule of 
Three; also solid matter?' 4 Of course,' said Zeno, 'quite solid/ "' 

It is evident that, at this point, Zeno, like many others, was 
hurried by anti-metaphysical zeal into a metaphysic of his own. 

The main doctrines to which the school remained constant 
throughout are concerned with cosmic determinism and human 
freedom. Zeno believed that there is no such thing as chance, and 
that the course of nature is rigidly determined by natural laws. 
Originally there was only fire; then the other elements air, water. 

1 Gilbert Murray, The Stoic Philosophy (1915), P. as- 
276 



STOICISM 

earth, in that order gradually emerged. But sooner or later there 
will be a cosmic conflagration, and all will again become fire. This, 
according to most Stoics, is not a final consummation, like the 
end of the world in Christian doctrine, but only the conclusion 
of a cycle; the whole process will be repeated endlessly. Every- 
thing that happens has happened before, and will happen again, 
not once, but countless times. 

So far, the doctrine might seem cheerless, and in no respect 
more comforting than ordinary materialism such as that of Demo- 
critus. But this was only one aspect of it. The course of nature, in 
Stoicism as in eighteenth-century theology, was ordained by a 
Lawgiver who was also a beneficent Providence. Down to the 
smallest detail, the whole was designed to secure certain ends by 
natural means. These ends, except in so far as they concern gods 
and daemons, are to be found in the life of man. Everything has a 
purpose connected with human beings. Some animals are good 
to eat, some afford tests of courage; even bed bugs are useful, 
since they help us to wake in the morning and not lie in bed too 
long. The supreme Power is called sometimes God, sometimes 
Zeus. Seneca distinguished this Zeus from the object of popular 
belief, who was also real, but subordinate. 

God is not separate from the world ; He is the soul of the world, 
and each of us contains a part of the Divine Fire. All things are 
parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual 
life is good when it is in harmony with Nature. In one sense, every 
life is in harmony with Nature, since it is such as Nature's laws 
have caused it to be ; but in another sense a human life is only in 
harmony with Nature when the individual will is directed to ends 
which are among those of Nature. Virtue consists in a will which 
is in agreement with Nature. The wicked, though perforce they 
obey God's law, do so involuntarily; in the simile of Cleanthes, 
they are like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever 
it goes. 

In the life of an individual man, virtue is the sole good; such 
things as health, happiness, possessions, are of no account. Since 
virtue resides in the will, everything really good or bad in a man's 
life depends only upon himself. He may become poor, but what 
of it? He can still be virtuous. A tyrant may put him in prison, 
but he can still persevere in living in harmony with Nature. He 
may be sentenced to death, but he can die nobly, like Socrates. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Other men have power only over externals; virtue, which alone 
is truly good, rests entirely with the individual. Therefore every 
man has perfect freedom, provided he emancipates himself from 
mundane desires. It is only through false judgments that such 
desires prevail; the sage whose judgments are true is master of 
his fate in all that he values, since no outside force can deprive 
him of virtue. 

There are obvious logical difficulties about this doctrine. II 
virtue is really the sole good, a beneficent Providence must be 
solely concerned to cause virtue, yet the laws of Nature have 
produced abundance of sinners. If virtue is the sole good, there 
can be no reason against cruelty and injustice, since, as the Stoics 
are never tired of pointing out, cruelty and injustice afford the 
sufferer the best opportunities for the exercise of virtue. If the 
world is completely deterministic, natural laws will decide whether 
I shall be virtuous or not. If I am wicked, Nature compels me to 
be wicked, and the freedom which virtue is supposed to give is 
not possible for me. 

To a modern mind, it is difficult to feel enthusiastic about a 
virtuous life if nothing is going to be achieved by it. We admire a 
medical man who risks his life in an epidemic of plague, because 
we think illness is an evil, and we hope to diminish its frequency. 
But if illness is no evil, the medical man might as well stay com- 
fortably at home. To the Stoic, his virtue is an end it itself, not 
something that does good. And when we take a longer view, what 
is the ultimate outcome? A destruction of the present world by 
fire, and then a repetition of the whole process. Could anything 
be more devastatingly futile? There may be progress here and 
there, for a time, but in the long run there is only recurrence. 
When we see something unbearably painful, we hope that in 
time such things will cease to happen ; but the Stoic assures us 
that what is happening now will happen over and over again. 
Providence, which sees the whole, must, one would think, ulti- 
mately grow weary through despair. 

There goes with this a certain coldness in the Stoic conception 
of virtue. Not only bad passions are condemned, but all passions. 
The $age does not feel sympathy ; when his wife or hift children 
die, he reflects that this event is no obstacle to his own virtue, 
and therefore he does not suffer deeply. Friendship, so highly 
prized by Epicurus, is all very well, but it must not be carried to 

278 



STOICISM 

the point where your friend's misfortunes can destroy your holy 
calm. As for public life, it may be your duty to engage in it, since 
it gives opportunities for justice, fortitude, and so on; but you 
must not be actuated by a desire to benefit mankind, since the 
benefits you can confer such as peace, or a more adequate supply 
of food are no true benefits, and, in any case, nothing matters 
to you except your own virtue. The Stoic is not virtuous in order 
to do good, but does good in order to be virtuous. It has not 
occurred to him to love his neighbour as himself; love, except in 
a superficial sense, is absent from his conception of virtue. 

When I say this, I am thinking of love as an emotion, not as a 
principle. As a principle, the Stoics preached universal love; this 
principle is found in Seneca and his successors, and probably was 
taken by them from earlier Stoics. The logic of the school led to 
doctrines which were softened by the humanity of its adherents, 
who were much better men than they would have been if they 
had been consistent. Kant who resembles them says that you 
must be kind to your brother, not because you are fond of him, 
but because the moral law enjoins kindness; I doubt, however, 
whether, in private life, he lived down to this precept. 

Leaving these generalities, let us come to the history of Stoicism. 

Of Zeno, 1 only some fragments remain. From these it appears 
that he defined God as the fiery mind of the world, that he said 
God was a bodily substance, and that the whole universe formed 
the substance of God; Tertullian says that, according to Zeno, 
God runs through the material world as honey runs through the 
honeycomb. According to Diogenes Lacrtius, Zeno held that the 
General Law, which is Right Reason, pervading everything, is 
the same as Zeus, the Supreme Head of the government of the 
universe: God, Mind, Destiny, Zeus, are one thing. Destiny is a 
power which moves matter; "Providence" and "Nature" are 
other names for it. Zeno does not believe that there should be 
temples to the gods: "To build temples there will be no need: for 
a temple must not be held a thing of great worth or anything holy. 
Nothing can be of great worth or holy which is the work of 
builders and mechanics." He seems, like the later Stoics, to have 
believed in astrology and divination. Cicero says that he attributed 
a divine potency to the stars. Diogenes Laertius says: "All kinds 
of divination the Stoics leave valid. There must be divination, 

1 For the source* of what follows, sec lie van, l^ter Greek Religion, p. i if. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

they say, if there is such a thing as Providence. They prove the 
reality of the art of divination by a number of cases in which 
predictions have come true, as Zeno asserts." Chrysippus is 
explicit on this subject. 

The Stoic doctrine as to virtue does not appear in the surviving 
fragments of Zeno, but seems to have been held by him. 

Cleanthes of Assos, the immediate successor of Zeno, is chiefly 
notable for two things. First: as we have already seen, he held 
that Aristarchus of Samos should be prosecuted for impiety 
because he made the sun, instead of the earth, the centre of the 
universe. The second thing is his Hymn to Zeus, much of which 
might have been written by Pope, or any educated Christian in 
the century after Newton. Even more Christian is the short 
prayer of Cleanthes: 

Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny. 

Lead thou me on. 

To whatsoever task thou sendest me, 

Lead thou me on. 

I follow fearless, or, if in mistrust 

I lag and will not, follow still I must. 



Chrysippus (280-207 B - C w h succeeded Cleanthcs, was a 
voluminous author, and is said to have written seven hundred and 
five books. He made Stoicism systematic and pedantic. He held 
that only Zeus, the Supreme Fire, is immortal ; the other gods, 
including the sun and moon, are born and die. He is said to have 
considered that God has no share in the causation of evil, but it 
is not clear how he reconciled this with determinism. Elsewhere 
he deals with evil after the manner of Hcraclitus, maintaining that 
opposites imply one another, and good without evil is logically 
impossible: "There can be nothing more inept than the people 
who suppose that good could have existed without the existence 
of evil. Good and evil being antithetical, both must needs subsist 
in opposition. " In support of this doctrine he appeals to Plato, 
not to Heraclitus. 

Chrysippus maintained that the good man is always happy and 
the bad man unhappy, and that the good man's happiness differs 
in no way from God's. On the question whether the soul survives 
death, there were conflicting opinions. Clcanthes maintained that 
all souls survive until the next universal conflagration (when 

280 



STOICISM 

everything is absorbed into God); but Chrysippus maintained 
that this is only true of the souls of the wise. He was less exclusively 
ethical in his interests than the later Stoics ; in fact, he made logic 
fundamental. The hypothetical and disjunctive syllogism, as well 
as the word "disjunction," are due to the Stoics; so is the study 
of grammar and the invention of "cases" in declension. 1 Chry- 
sippus, or other Stoics inspired by his work, had an elaborate 
theory of knowledge, in the main empirical and based on percep- 
tion, though they allowed certain ideas and principles, which 
were held to be established by consensus gentium, the agreement 
of mankind. But Zeno, as well as the Roman Stoics, regarded all 
theoretical studies as subordinate to ethics: he says that philo- 
sophy is like an orchard, in which logic is the walls, physics the 
trees, and ethics the fruit; or like an egg, in which logic is the 
shell, physics the white, and ethics the yolk. 2 Chrysippus, it 
would seem, allowed more independent value to theoretical 
studies. Perhaps his influence accounts for the fact that among the 
Stoics there were many men who made advances in mathematics 
and other sciences. 

Stoicism, after Chrysippus, was considerably modified by two 
important men, Panaetius and Posidonius. Panaetius introduced 
a considerable element of Platonism, and abandoned materialism. 
He was a friend of the younger Scipio, and had an influence on 
Cicero, through whom, mainly, Stoicism became known to the 
Romans. Posidonius, under whom Cicero studied in Rhodes, 
influenced him even more. Posidonius was taught by Panaetius, 
who died about 1 10 B.C. 

Posidonius (ra, 135-01. 51 B.C.) was a Syrian Greek, and was a 
child when the Seleucid empire came to an end. Perhaps it was 
his experience of anarchy in Syria that caused him to travel west- 
ward, first to Athens, where he imbibed the Stoic philosophy, 
and then further afield, to the western parts of the Roman Empire. 
44 He saw with his own eyes the sunset in the Atlantic beyond the 
verge of the known world, and the African coast over against 
Spain, where the trees were full of apes, and the villages of bar- 
barous people inland from * Marseilles, where human heads 
hanging at the house-doors for trophies were an every-day sight."* 
He became a voluminous writer on scientific subjects; indeed, 

1 See Berth, Die Stoa, 4th edition, Stuttgart, 1922. 

1 Ibid. ' Bcvan, Stoics and Sceptics, p. 88. 

28l 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

one of the reasons for his travels was a wish to study the tides, 
which could not be done in the Mediterranean. He did excellent 
work in astronomy; as we saw in Chapter XXIV his estimate of 
the distance of the sun was the best in antiquity. 1 He was also a 
historian of note he continued Polybius. But it was chiefly as 
an eclectic philosopher that he was known: he combined with 
Stoicism much of Plato's teaching, which the Academy, in its 
sceptical phase, appeared to have forgotten. 

This affinity to Plato is shown in his teaching about the soul 
and the life after death. Panaetius had said, as most Stoics did, 
that the soul perishes with the body. Posidonius, on the contrary, 
says that it continues to live in the air, where, in most cases, it 
remains unchanged until the next world-conflagration. There is 
no hell, but the wicked, after death, are not so fortunate as the 
good, for sin makes the vapours of the soul muddy, and prevents 
it from rising as far as the good soul rises. The very wicked stay 
near the earth and are reincarnated ; the truly virtuous rise to the 
stellar sphere and spend their time watching the stars go round. 
They can help other souls; this explains (he thinks) the truth of 
astrology. Bevan suggests that, by this revival of Orphic notions 
and incorporation of Neo-Pythagorean beliefs, Posidonius may 
have paved the way for Gnosticism. He adds, very truly, that 
what was fatal to such philosophies as his was not Christianity 
but the Coperrucan theory. 1 Cleanthes was right in regarding 
Aristarchus of Samos as a dangerous enemy. 

Much more important historically (though not philosophically) 
than the earlier Stoics were the three who were connected with 
Rome: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius a minister, a 
slave, and an emperor, respectively. 

Seneca (ca. 3 B.C. to A.D. 65) was a Spaniard, whose father was 
a cultivated man living in Rome. Seneca adopted a political career, 
and was being moderately successful when he was banished to 
Corsica (A.D. 41) by the Emperor Claudius, because he had 
incurred the enmity of the Empress Messalina. Claudius's second 
wife Agrippina recalled Seneca from exile in A.D. 48, and appointed 

1 He estimated that by sailing westward from Cadiz, India could be 
teached after 70,000 stades. "This remark was the ultimate foundation 
of Columbia's confidence." Tarn, Hellenistic Civilization, p. 249. 

1 The above account of Posidonius is mainly based on Chapter II I of 
Edwyn Be van's Stoic t and Sceptic*. 

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STOICISM 

him tutor to her son, aged eleven. Seneca was less fortunate than 
Aristotle in his pupil, who was the Emperor Nero. Although, as a 
Stoic, Seneca officially despised riches, he amassed a huge fortune, 
amounting, it was said, to three hundred million sesterces (about 
three million pounds). Much of this he acquired by lending 
money in Britain ; according to Dio, the excessive rates of interest 
that he exacted were among the causes of revolt in that country. 
The heroic Queen Boadicea, if this is true, was heading a rebellion 
against capitalism as represented by the philosophic apostle of 
austerity. 

Gradually, as Nero's excesses grew more unbridled, Seneca fell 
increasingly out of favour. At length he \vas accused, justly or 
unjustly, of complicity in a widespread conspiracy to murder 
Nero and place a new emperor some said, Seneca himself 
upon the throne. In view of his former services, he was graciously 
permitted to commit suicide (A.D. 65). 

His end was edifying. At first, on being informed of the Em- 
peror's decision, he set about making a will. When told that there 
was no time allowed for such a lengthy business, he turned to his 
sorrowing family and said: "Never mind, I leave you what is of 
far more value than earthly riches, the example of a virtuous life" 
or words to that effect. lie then opened his veins, and summoned 
his secretaries to take down his dying words; according to Tacitus, 
his eloquence continued to flow during his last moments. His 
nephew Lucan, the poet, suffered a similar death at the same time, 
and expired reciting his own verses. Seneca was judged, in future 
ages, rather hy his admirable precepts than by his somewhat 
dubious practice. Several of the Fathers claimed him as a Christian, 
and a supposed correspondence between him and Saint Paul was 
accepted as genuine by such men as Saint Jerome. 

Epictetus (born about A.D. 60, died about A.D. 100) is a very 
different type of man, though closely akin as a philosopher. He 
was a Greek, originally a slave of Epaphroditus, a freedman of 
Nero and then his minister. He was lame as a result, it was said 
of a cruel punishment in his days of slavery. He lived and taught 
at Rome until A.D. 90, when the Emperor Domitian, who had no 
use for intellectuals, banished all philosophers. Epictetus there- 
upon retired to lS ? icopolis in Epirus, where, after some years 
spent in writing and teaching, he died. 

Marcus Aurrlius (A.D. 121-180) was at the other end of the 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

social scale. He was the adopted son of the good Emperor Anto- 
ninus Pius, who was his uncle and his father-in-law, whom he 
succeeded in A.D. 161, and whose memory he revered. As Emperor, 
he devoted himself to Stoic virtue. He had much need of fortitude, 
for his reign was beset by calamities earthquakes, pestilences, 
long and difficult wars, military insurrections. His Meditations, 
which are addressed to himself, and apparently not intended for 
publication, show that he felt his public duties burdensome, and 
that he suffered from a great weariness. His only son Commodus, 
who succeeded him, turned out to be one of the worst of the 
many bad emperors, but successfully concealed his vicious pro- 
pensities so long as his father lived. The philosopher's wife 
Faustina was accused, perhaps unjustly, of gross immorality, but 
he never suspected her, and after her death took trouble about 
her deification. He persecuted the Christians, because they re- 
jected the State religion, which he considered politically necessary. 
In all his actions he was conscientious, but in most he was un- 
successful. He is a pathetic figure: in a list of mundane desires to 
be resisted, the one that he finds most seductive is the wish to 
retire to a quiet country life. For this, the opportunity never 
came. Some of his Meditations are dated from the camp, on 
distant campaigns, the hardships of which eventually caused his 
death. 

It is remarkable that Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are com- 
pletely at one on all philosophical questions. This suggests that 
although social circumstances affect the philosophy of an age, 
individual circumstances have less influence than is sometimes 
thought upon the philosophy of an individual. Philosophers are 
usually men with a certain breadth of mind, who can largely dis- 
count the accidents of their private lives; but even they cannot 
rise above the larger good or evil of their time. In bad times they 
invent consolations ; in good times their interests are more purely 
intellectual. 

Gibbon, whose detailed history begins with the vices of Corn- 
modus, agrees with most eighteenth-century writers in regarding 
the period of the Amonines as a golden age. "If a man were called 
upon/' be says, "to fix the period in the history of the world, 
during which the condition of the human race was most happy 
and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which 
elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Com- 



STOICISM 


modus." It is impossible to agree altogether with this judgment. 
The evil of slavery involved immense suffering, and was sapping 
the vigour of the ancient world. There were gladiatorial shows 
and fights with wild beasts, which were intolerably cruel and 
must have debased the populations that enjoyed the spectacle. 
Marcus Aurelius, it is true, decreed that gladiators should fight 
with blunted swords ; but this reform was short-lived, and he did 
nothing about fights with wild beasts. The economic system was 
very bad; Italy was going out of cultivation, and the population 
of Rome depended upon the free distribution of grain from the 
provinces. All initiative was concentrated in the Emperor and his 
ministers; throughout the vast extent of the Empire, no one. 
except an occasional rebellious general, could do anything but 
submit. Men looked to the past for what was best; the future, 
they felt, would be at best a weariness, and at worst a horror. 
When we compare the tone of Marcus Aurelius with that of 
Bacon, or Ixrcke, or Condorcet, we see the difference between a 
tired and a hopeful age. In a hopeful age, great present evils can 
be endured, because it is thought that they will pass; but in a 
tired ape even real poods lose their savour. The Stoic ethic suited 
the times of Kpictettis and Marcus Aurelius, because its gospel 
was one of endurance rather than hope. 

Undoubtedly the ape of the Antonines was much better than 
any later ape until the Renaissance, from the point of view of the 
general happiness. Rut careful study shows that it was not so 
prosperous as its architectural remains would lead one to suppose. 
Graeco- Roman civilization had made very little impression on 
the agricultural regions; it was practically limited to the cities. 
Even in the cities, there was a proletariat which suffered very 
great poverty, and there was a large slave class. Rostovtseff sums 
up a discussion of social and economic conditions in the cities 
as follows: 1 

"This picture of their social conditions is not so attractive as 
the picture of their external appearance. The impression conveyed 
by our sources is that the splendour of the cities was created by, 
and existed for, a rather small minority of their population ; that 
the welfare even of this small minority was based on comparatively 
weak foundations; that the large masses of the city population 

1 Roftovtacff, The Social and Economic History qf the Roman Empire. 
P. 17J>. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

had either a very moderate income or lived in extreme poverty. 
In a word, we must not exaggerate the health of the cities: their 
external aspect is misleading." 

On earth, says Epictetus, we are prisoners, and in an earthly 
body. According to Marcus Aurelius, he used to say "Thou art 
a little soul bearing about a corpse." Zeus could not make the 
body free, but he gave us a portion of his divinity. God is the 
father of men, and we are all brothers. We should not say "I am 
an Athenian" or "I am a Roman," but "I am a citizen of the 
universe." If you were a kinsman of Caesar, you would feel safe; 
how much more should you feel safe in being a kinsman of God ? 
If we understand that virtue is the only true good, we shall see 
that no real evil can befall us. 

I must die. But must I die groaning? I must be imprisoned. But 
must I whine as well ? I must suffer exile. Can any one then hinder 
me from going with a smile, and a good courage, and at peace? 
"Tell the secret." I refuse to tell, for this is in my power. "But I 
will chain you." What say you, fellow? Chain me? My leg you 
will chain yes, but my will no, not even Zeus can conquer that. 
"I will imprison you." My bit of a body, you mean. "I will behead 
you." Why? When did I ever tell you that I was the only man in 
the world that could not be beheaded ? 

These are the thoughts that those who pursue philosophy 
should ponder, these are the lessons they should write down day 
by day, in these they should exercise themselves. 1 

Slaves are the equals of other men, because all alike arc sons 
of God. 

We must submit to Cod as a good citizen submits to the law. 
"The soldier swears to respect no man above Caesar, but we to 
respect ourselves first of all." 2 "When you appear before the 
mighty of the earth, remember that Another looks from above 
on what is happening, and that you must please Him rather than 
this man." 3 

Who then is a Stoic ? 

Show me a man moulded to the pattern of the judgments that 
he utters, in the same way as we call a statue Phidian that is 
moulded according to the art of Phidias. Show me one who is 
sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, 

1 Quoted from Gates, op. rtf., pp. 225-6, 

1 //., p. 251. IUd. 9 p. 280. 

286 



STOICISM 

in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Show him me. By the 
gods I would fain see a Stoic. Nay you cannot show me a finished 
Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his 
feet on the path. Do me this kindness, do not grudge an old man 
like me a sight I never 'saw till now. What! You think you are 
going to show me the Zeus of Phidias or his Athena, that work of 
ivory and gold? It is a soul I want; let one of you show me the 
soul of a man who wishes to be at one with God, and to blame 
God or man no longer, to fail in nothing, to feel no misfortune, 
to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy one who (why wrap 
up my meaning?) desires to change his manhood for godhead, 
and who in this poor body of his has his purpose set upon com- 
munion with God. Show him to me. Nay, you cannot. 

Epictctus is never weary of showing how we should deal with 
what are considered misfortunes, which he does often by means 
of homely dialogues. 

Like the Christians, he holds that we should love our enemies. 
In general, in common with other Stoics, he despises pleasure, 
but there is a kind of happiness that is noi to be despised. "Athens 
is beautiful. Yes, but happiness is far more beautiful freedom 
from passion and disturbance, the sense that your affairs depend 
on no one" (p. 428). Every man is an actor in a play, in which 
God has assigned the parts; it is our duty to perform our part 
worthily, whatever it may be. 

There is great sincerity and simplicity in the writings which 
record the teaching of Kpictetus. (They are written down from 
notes by his pupil Arrian.) His morality is lofty and unworldly; 
in a situation in which a man's main duty is to resist tyrannical 
power, it would be difficult to find anything more helpful. In 
some respects, for instance in recognizing the brotherhood of 
nian and in teaching the equality of slaves, it is superior to any- 
thing to be found in Plato or Aristotle or any philosopher whose 
thought is inspired by the City State. The actual world, in the 
time of Epictctus, was very inferior to the Athens of Pericles; 
but the evil in what existed liberated his aspirations, and his 
ideal world is a* superior to that of Plato as his actual world is 
inferior to the Athens of the fifth century. 

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius begin by acknowledging 
his indebtedness to his grandfather, father, adopted father, various 
teachers, and the gods. Some of the obligations he enumerates are 

287 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

curious. He learned (he says) from Diognetus not to listen to 
miracle- workers; from Rusticus, not to write poetry; from Sextus, 
to practise gravity without affectation; from Alexander the 
grammarian, not to correct bad grammar in others, but to use 
the right expression shortly afterwards; from Alexander the 
Platonist, not to excuse tardiness in answering a letter by the 
plea of press of business; from his adopted father, not to fall in 
love with boys. He owes it to the gods (he continues) that he was 
not brought up too long with his grandfather's concubine, and 
did not make proof of his virility too soon ; that his children are 
neither stupid nor deformed in body; that his wife is obedient, 
affectionate, and simple ; and that when he took to philosophy he 
did not waste time on history, syllogism, or astronomy. 

What is impersonal in the Meditations agrees closely with 
Epictetus. Marcus Aurelius is doubtful about immortality, but 
says, as a Christian might: "Since it is possible that thou mayst 
depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought 
accordingly." Life in harmony with the universe is what is good; 
and harmony with the universe is the same thing as obedience 
to the will of God. 

"Everything harmonizes with me which is harmonious to thec, 
O Universe. Nothing for me is too early or too late, which is in 
due time for thee. Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons 
bring, O Nature: from thec are ail things, in thee are all things, 
to thee all things return. The poet says, Dear city of Cecrops; and 
wilt not thou say, Dear city of Zeus?" 

One sees that Saint Augustine's City of God was in part taken 
over from the pagan Emperor. 

Marcus Aureiius is persuaded that God gives every man a 
special daemon as his guide a belief which reappears in the 
Christian guardian angel. He finds comfort in the thought of the 
universe as a closely-knit whole; it is, he says, one living being, 
having one substance and one soul. One of his maxims is: "Fre- 
quently consider the connection of all things in the universe." 
"Whatever may happen to thee, it was prepared for thee from all 
eternity; and the implication of causes was from eternity spinning 
the thread of thy being/' There goes with this, in spite of his 
position in the Roman State, the Stoic belief in the human race 
as one community : "My city and country, so far as 1 am Antoninus, 
it Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world." There is the 

288 



STOICISM 

difficulty that one finds in all Stoics, of reconciling determinism 
with the freedom of the will. "Men exist for the sake of one 
another," he says, when he is thinking of his duty as ruler. "The 
wickedness of one man does no harm to another," he says on 
the same page, when he is thinking of the doctrine that the virtuous 
will alone is good. He never inferred that the goodness of one 
man does no good to another, and that he would do no harm to 
anybody but himself if he were as bad an Emperor as Nero; and 
yet this conclusion seems to follow. 

"It is peculiar to man," he says, "to love even those who do 
wrong. And this happens if, when they do wrong, it occurs to 
thee that they are kinsmen, and that they do wrong through 
ignorance and unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die; 
and above all, that the wrong-doer has done thee no harm, foi 
he has not made thy ruling faculty worse than it was before." 

And again: "Love mankind, Follow God. . . . And it is 
enough to remember that Law rules all." 

These passages bring out very clearly the inherent contradictions 
in Stoic ethics arid theology. On the one hand, the universe is a 
rigidly deterministic single whole, in which all that happens is 
the result of previous causes. On the other hand, the individual 
will is completely autonomous, and no man can be forced to sin 
by outside causes. This is one contradiction and there is a second 
closely connected with it. Since the will is autonomous, and the 
virtuous will alone is good, one man cannot do either good or 
harm to another; therefore benevolence is an illusion. Something 
must be said about each of these contradictions. 

The contradiction between free will and determinism is one of 
those that run through philosophy from early times to our own 
day, taking different forms at different times. At present it is the 
Stoic form that concerns us. 

I think that a Stoic, if we could make him submit to a Socratic 
interrogation, would defend his view more or less as follows: The 
universe is a single animate Being, having a soul which may also 
be called God or Reason. As a whole, this Being is free. God 
decided, from the first, that He would act according to fixed 
general laws, but He chose such laws as would have the best 
results. Sometimes, in particular cases, the results are not wholly 
desirable, but this inconvenience is worth enduring, as in human 
codes of law, for the sake of the advantage of legislative fixity. A 

> ti f M'/ur* /'JMliOoffty 289 K 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

human being is partly fire, partly of lower clay ; in so far as he is 
fire (at any rate when it is of the best quality), he is part of God. 
When the divine part of a man exercises will virtuously, this will 
is part of God's, which is free; therefore in these circumstances 
the human will also is free. 

This is a good answer up to a point, but it breaks down when 

we consider the causes of our volitions. We all know, as a matter 

of empirical fact, that dyspepsia, for example, has a bad effect on 

a man's virtue, and that, by suitable drugs forcibly administered, 

will-power can be destroyed. Take Epictetus's favourite case, 

the man unjustly imprisoned by a tyrant, of which there have 

been more examples in recent years than at any other period in 

human history. Some of these men have acted with Stoic heroism ; 

some, rather mysteriously, have not. It has become clear, not 

only that sufficient torture will break down almost any man's 

fortitude, but also that morphia or cocaine can reduce a man to 

docility. The will, in fact, is only independent of the tyrant so 

long as the tyrant is unscientific. This is an extreme example; 

but the same arguments that exist in favour of determinism in the 

inanimate world exist also in the sphere of human volitions in 

general. I do not say I do not think that these arguments are 

conclusive; I say only that they are of equal strength in both cases, 

and that there can be no good reason for accepting them in one 

region and rejecting them in another. The Stoic, when he is 

engaged in urging a tolerant attitude to sinners, will himself urge 

that the sinful will is a result of previous causes ; it is only the 

virtuous will that seems to him free. This, however, is inconsistent. 

Marcus Aurelius explains his own virtue as due to the good 

influence of parents, grandparents, and teachers; the good will is 

just as much a result of previous causes as the bad will. The 

Stoic may say truly that his philosophy is a cause of virtue in 

those who adopt it, but it seems that it will not have this desirable 

effect unless there is a certain admixture of intellectual error. 

The realization that virtue and sin alike are the inevitable result 

of previous causes (as the Stoics should have held) is likely to 

have a somewhat paralysing effect on moral effort. 

I come now to the second contradiction, that the Stoic, while he 
preached benevolence, held, in theory, that no man can do either 
good or harm to another, since the virtuous will alone is good, and 
the virtuous will is independent of outside causes. This contra- 

290 



STOICISM 

diction is more patent than the other, and more peculiar to the 
Stoics (including certain Christian moralists). The explanation of 
their not noticing it is that, like many other people, they had two 
systems of ethics, a superfine one for themselves, and an inferior 
one for "the lesser breeds without the law." When the Stoic 
philosopher is thinking of himself, he holds that happiness and 
all other worldly so-called goods are worthless; he even says that 
to desire happiness is contrary to nature, meaning that it involves 
lack of resignation to the will of God. But as a practical man 
administering the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius knows per- 
fectly well that this son of thing won't do. It is his duty to see 
that the grain-ships from Africa duly reach Rome, that measures 
are taken to relieve the sufferings caused by pestilence, and that 
barbarian enemies are not allowed to cross the frontier. That is 
to say, in dealing with those of his subjects whom he does not 
regard as Stoic philosophers, actual or potential, he accepts 
ordinary mundane standards of what is good or bad. It is by 
applying these standards that he arrives at his duty as an adminis- 
trator. What is odd is that this duty, itself, is in the higher sphere 
of what the Stoic sage should do, although it is deduced from an 
ethic which the Stoic sage regards as fundamentally mistaken. 

The only reply that I can imagine to this difficulty is one which 
is perhaps logically unassailable, but is not very plausible. It 
would, I think, be given by Kant, whose ethical system is very 
similar to that of the Stoics. True, he might say, there is nothing 
good but the good will, but the will is good when it is directed 
to certain ends, that, in themselves, are indifferent. It does not 
matter whether Mr. A is happy or unhappy, but I, if I am virtuous, 
shall act in a way which I believe will make him happy, because 
that is what the moral law enjoins. I cannot make Mr. A virtuous, 
because his virtue depends only upon himself; but I can do some- 
thing towards making him happy, or rich, or learned, or healthy. 
The Stoic ethic may therefore be stated as follows: Certain things 
are vulgarly considered goods, but this is a mistake; what is good 
is a will directed towards securing these false goods for other people. 
This doctrine involves no logical contradiction, but it loses all 
plausibility if we genuinely believe that what are commonly con- 
sidered goods are worthless, for in that case the virtuous will 
might just as well be directed to quite other ends. 

There is, in fact, an element of sour grapes in Stoicism. We 

291 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

can't be happy, but we can be good; let us therefore pretend that, 
so long as we are good, it doesn't matter being unhappy. This 
doctrine is heroic, and, in a bad world, useful; but it is neither 
quite true nor, in a fundamental sense, quite sincere. 

Although the main importance of the Stoics was ethical, there 
were two respects in which their teaching bore fruit in other fields. 
One of these is theory of knowledge ; the other is the doctrine of 
natural law and natural rights. 

In theory of knowledge, in spite of Plato, they accepted percep- 
tion; the deceptiveness of the senses, they held, was really false 
judgment, and could be avoided by a little care. A Stoic philo- 
sopher, Sphaerus, an immediate disciple of Zcno, was once invited 
to dinner by King Ptolemy, who, having heard of this doctrine, 
offered him a pomegranate made of wax. The philosopher pro- 
ceeded to try to eat it, whereupon the king laughed at him. He 
replied that he had felt no certainty of its being a real pomegranate, 
but had thought it unlikely that anything inedible would be 
supplied at the royal table. 1 In this answer he appealed to a Stoic 
distinction, between those things which can be known with 
certainty on the basis of perception, and those which, on this 
basis, are only probable. On the whole, this doctrine was sane and 
scientific. 

Another doctrine of theirs in theory of knowledge was more 
influential, though more questionable. This was their belief in 
innate ideas and principles. Greek logic was wholly deductive, 
and this raised the question of first premisses. First premisses had 
to be, at least in part, general, and no method existed of proving 
them. The Stoics held that there are certain principles which are 
luminously obvious, and are admitted by all men ; these could be 
made, as in Euclid's Elements, the basis of deduction. Innate ideas, 
similarly, could be used as the starting-point of definitions. This 
point of view was accepted throughout the Middle Ages, and 
even by Descartes. 

The doctrine of natural right, as it appears in the sixteenth, 
seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, is a revival of a Stoic 
doctrine, though with important modifications. It was the Stoics 
who distinguished jus naturale from jut gentium. Natural law was 
derived from first principles of the kind held to underlie all 
general knowledge. By nature, the Stoics held, all human beings 
1 Diogenet Laertnu, Vol. VII ,177. 
292 



STOICISM 

are equal. Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, favours "a polity 
in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with 
regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and a kingly 
government which respects most of all the freedom of the 
governed.*' This was an ideal which could not be consistently 
realized in the Roman Empire, but it influenced legislation, partic- 
ularly in improving the status of women and slaves. Christianity 
took over this part of Stoic teaching along with much of the rest. 
And when at last, in the seventeenth century, the opportunity 
came to combat despotism effectually, the Stoic doctrines of 
natural law and natural equality, in their Christian dress, acquired 
a practical force which, in antiquity, not even an emperor could 
to them. 



Chapter XXIX 

THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION 
TO CULTURE 

f IHE Roman Empire affected the history of culture in various 

I more or less separate ways. 

JL First: there is the direct effect of Rome on Hellenistic 
thought. This is not very important or profound. 

Second: the effect of Greece and the East on the western half 
of the empire. This was profound and lasting, since it included 
the Christian religion. 

Third: the importance of the long Roman peace in diffusing 
culture and in accustoming men to the idea of a single civilization 
associated with a single government. 

Fourth: the transmission of Hellenistic civilization to the 
Mohammedans, and thence ultimately to western Europe. 

Before considering these influences of Rome, a very brief 
synopsis of the political history will be useful. 

Alexander's conquests had left the western Mediterranean un- 
touched ; it was dominated, at the beginning of the third century 
B.C., by two powerful City States, Carthage and Syracuse. In the 
first and second Punic Wars (264-241 and 218-201), Rome con- 
quered Syracuse and reduced Carthage to insignificance. During 
the second century, Rome conquered the Macedonian monarchies 
Egypt, it is true, lingered on as a vassal state until the death of 
Cleopatra (30 B.C.). Spain was conquered as an incident in the 
war with Hannibal; France was conquered by Caesar in the 
middle of the first century B.C., and England was conquered 
about a hundred years later. The frontiers of the Empire, in its 
great days, were the Rhine and Danube in Europe, the Euphrates 
in Asia, and the desert in North Africa. 

Roman imperialism was, perhaps, at its best in North Africa 
(important in Christian history as the home of Saint Cyprian and 
Saint Augustine), where large areas, uncultivated before and after 
Roman times, were rendered fertile and supported populous cities. 
The Roman Empire was on the whole stable and peaceful for 
over two hundred years, from the accession of Augustus (30 B.C.) 
until the disasters of the third century. 

294 



THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

Meanwhile the constitution of the Roman State had undergone 
important developments. Originally, Rome was a small City 
State, not very unlike those of Greece, especially such as, like 
Sparta, did not depend upon foreign commerce. Kings, like those 
of Homeric Greece, had been succeeded by an aristocratic republic. 
Gradually, while the aristocratic element, embodied in the Senate, 
remained powerful, democratic elements were added ; the resulting 
compromise was regarded by Panaetius the Stoic (whose views 
are reproduced by Polybius and Cicero) as an ideal combination 
of monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements. But con- 
quest upset the precarious balance; it brought immense new 
wealth to the senatorial class, and, in a slightly lesser degree, to 
the "knights," as the upper middle class were called. Italian 
agriculture, which had been in the hands of small farmers growing 
grain by their own labour and that of their families, came to be a 
matter of huge estates belonging to the Roman aristocracy, where 
vines and olives were cultivated by slave labour. The result was 
the virtual omnipotence of the Senate, which was used shamelessly 
for the enrichment of individuals, without regard for the interests 
of the State or the welfare of its subjects. 

A democratic movement, inaugurated by the Gracchi in the 
latter half of the second century B.C., led to a series of civil wars, 
and finally as so often in Greece to the establishment of a 
4 'tyranny." It is curious to see the repetition, on such a vast scale, 
of developments which, in Greece, had been confined to minute 
areas. Augustus, the heir and adopted son of Julius Caesar, who 
reigned from 30 B.C. to A.D. 14, put an end to civil strife, and (with 
few exceptions) to external wars of conquest. For the first time 
since the beginnings of Greek civilization, the ancient world 
enjoyed peace and security. 

Two things had ruined the Greek political system: first, the 
claim of each city to absolute sovereignty; second, the bitter and 
bloody strife between rich and poor within most cities. After the 
conquest of Carthage and the Hellenistic kingdoms, the first of 
these causes no longer afflicted the world, since no effective 
resistance to Rome was possible. But the second cause remained. 
In the civil wars, one general would proclaim himself the champion 
of the Senate, the other of the people. Victory went to the one 
who offered the highest rewards to the soldiers. The soldiers 
wanted not only pay and plunder, but grants of land; therefore 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

each civil war ended in the formally legal expulsion of many 
existing landholders, who were nominally tenants of the State, to 
make room for the legionaries of the victor. The expenses of the 
war, while in progress, were defrayed by executing rich men and 
confiscating their property. This system, disastrous as it was, 
could not easily be ended ; at last, to every one's surprise, Augustus 
was so completely victorious that no competitor remained to 
challenge his claim to power. 

To the Roman world, the discovery that the period of civil 
war was ended came as a surprise, which was a cause of rejoicing 
to all except a small senatorial party. To every one else, it was a 
profound relief when Rome, under Augustus, at last achieved the 
stability and order which Greeks and Macedonians had sought in 
vain, and which Rome, before Augustus, had also failed to pro- 
duce. In Greece, according to Rostovtseff, republican Rome had 
"introduced nothing new, except pauperization, bankruptcy, and 
a stoppage of all independent political activity/' 1 

The reign of Augustus was a period of happiness for the Roman 
Empire. The administration of the provinces was at last organized 
with some regard to the welfare of the population, and not on a 
purely predatory system. Augustus was not only officially deified 
after his death, but was spontaneously regarded as a god in various 
provincial cities. Poets praised him, the commercial classes found 
the universal peace convenient, and even the Senate, which he 
treated with all the outward forms of respect, lost no opportunity 
of heaping honours and offices on his head. 

But although the world was happy, some savour had gone out 
of life, since safety had been preferred to adventure. In early times, 
every free Greek had had the opportunity of adventure; Philip 
and Alexander put an end to this state of affairs, and in the 
Hellenistic world only Macedonian dynasts enjoyed anarchic 
freedom. The Greek world lost its youth, and became either 
cynical or religious. The hope of embodying ideals in earthly 
institutions faded, and with it the best men lost their zest. Heaven, 
for Socrates, was a place where he could go on arguing; for 
philosophers after Alexander, it was something more different 
from their existence here below. 

In Rome, a similar development came later, and in a less painful 
form. Rome was not conquered, as Greece was, but had, on the 
1 History of th* Ancient World. Vol. II, p. 255. 
2Q6 



THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

contrary, the stimulus of successful imperialism. Throughout the 
period of the civil wars, it was Romans who were responsible for 
the disorders. The Greeks had not secured peace and order by 
submitting to the Macedonians, whereas both Greeks and Romans 
secured both by submitting to Augustus. Augustus was a Roman, 
to whom most Romans submitted willingly, not only on account 
of his superior power; moreover he took pains to disguise the 
military origin of his government, and to base it upon decrees of 
the Senate. The adulation expressed by the Senate was, no doubt, 
largely insincere, but outside the senatorial class no one felt 
humiliated. 

The mood of the Romans was like that of zjeune homtne range 
in nineteenth-century France, who, after a life of amatory ad- 
venture, settles down to a marriage of reason. This mood, though 
contented, is not creative. The great poets of the Augustan age 
had been formed in more troubled times; Horace fled at Philippi, 
and both he and Virgil lost their farms in confiscations for the 
benefit of victorious soldiers. Augustus, for the sake of stability, 
set to work, somewhat insincerely, to restore ancient piety, and 
was therefore necessarily rather hostile to free inquiry. The 
Roman world began to become stereotyped, and the process 
continued under later emperors. 

The immediate successors of Augustus indulged in appalling 
cruelties towards Senators and towards possible competitors for 
the purple. To some extent, the misgovernment of this period 
extended to the provinces; but in the main the administrative 
machine created by Augustus continued to function fairly well. 

A better period began with the accession of Trajan in A.D, 98, 
and continued until the death of Marcus Aurelius in A.D. 180. 
During this time, the government of the Empire was as good as 
any despotic government can be. The third century, on the con- 
trary, was one of appalling disaster. The army realized its power, 
made and unmade emperors in return for cash and the promise 
of a life without warfare, and ceased, in consequence, to be an 
effective fighting force. The barbarians, from north and east, 
invaded and plundered Roman territory. The army, preoccupied 
with private gain and civil discord, was incompetent in defence. 
The whole fiscal system broke down, since there was an immense 
diminution of resources and, at the same time, a vast increase of 
expenditure in unsuccessful war and in bribery of the army. 

297 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Pestilence, in addition to war, greatly diminished the population. 
It seemed as if the Empire was about to fall. 

This result was averted by two energetic men, Diocletian (A.D. 

286-305) and Constantine, whose undisputed reign lasted from 

A.D. 312 to 337. By them the Empire was divided into an eastern 

and western half, corresponding, approximately, to the division 

between the Greek and Latin languages. By Constantine the 

capital of the eastern half was established at Byzantium, to which 

he gave the new name of Constantinople. Diocletian curbed the 

army, for a while, by altering its character ; from his time onwards, 

the most effective fighting forces were composed of barbarians, 

chiefly German, to whom all the highest commands were open. 

This was obviously a dangerous expedient, and early in the fifth 

century it bore its natural fruit. The barbarians decided that it 

was more profitable to fight for themselves than for a Roman 

master. Nevertheless it served its purpose for over a century. 

Diocletian's administrative reforms were equally successful for a 

time, and equally disastrous in the long run. The Roman system 

was to allow local self-government to the towns, and to leave 

their officials to collect the taxes, of which only the total amount 

due from any one town was fixed by the centra) authorities. 

This system had worked well enough in prosperous times, but 

now, in the exhausted state of the empire, the revenue demanded 

was more than could be borne without excessive hardship. The 

municipal authorities were personally responsible for the taxes, 

and fled to escape payment. Diocletian compelled well-to-do 

citizens to accept municipal office, and made flight illegal. From 

similar motives he turned the rural population into serfs, tied to 

the soil and forbidden to migrate. This system was kept on by 

later emperors. 

Constantine's most important innovation was the adoption of 
Christianity as the State religion, apparently because a large 
proportion of the soldiers were Christian. 1 The result of this was 
that when, during the fifth century, the Germans destroyed the 
Western Empire, its prestige caused them to adopt the Christian 
religion, thereby preserving for western Europe so much of 
ancient civilization as had been absorbed by the Church. 

The development of the territory assigned to the eastern half 
of the Empire was different. The Eastern Empire, though con- 

1 Sec Rottovtteff, Hittorv of the Ancient World, Vol. II, p. 332. 

298 



THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

tinually diminishing in extent (except for the transient conquests 
of Justinian in the sixth century), survived until 1453, when 
Constantinople was conquered by the Turks. But most of what 
had been Roman provinces in the east, including also Africa and 
Spain in the west, became Mohammedan. The Arabs, unlike the 
Germans, rejected the religion, but adopted the civilization, of 
those whom they had conquered. The Eastern Empire was Greek, 
not Latin, in its civilization; accordingly, from the seventh to the 
eleventh centuries, it was it and the Arabs who preserved Greek 
literature and whatever survived of Greek, as opposed to Latin, 
civilization. From the eleventh century onward, at first through 
Moorish influences, the west gradually recovered what it had lost 
of the Grecian heritage. 

I come now to the four ways in which the Roman Empire 
affected the history of culture. 

I. The direct effect of Rome on Greek thought. This begins in 
the second century B.C., with two men, the historian Polybius, 
and the Stoic philosopher Panaetius. The natural attitude of the 
Greek to the Roman was one of contempt mingled with fear; 
the Greek felt himself more civilized, but politically less powerful. 
If the Romans were more successful in politics, that only showed 
that politics is an ignoble pursuit. The average Greek of the 
second century B.C. was pleasure- loving, quick-witted, clever in 
business, and unscrupulous in all things. There were, however, 
still men of philosophic capacity. Some of these notably the 
sceptics, such as Carneades had allowed cleverness to destroy 
seriousness. Some, like the Epicureans and a section of the Stoics, 
had withdrawn wholly into a quiet private life. But a few, with more 
insight than had been shown by Aristotle in relation to Alexander, 
realized that the greatness of Rome was due to certain merits 
which were lacking among the Greeks. 

The historian Polybius, born in Arcadia about 200 B.C., was 
sent to Rome as a prisoner, and there had the good fortune to 
become the friend of the younger Scipio, whom he accompanied 
on many of his campaigns. It was uncommon for a Greek to know 
Latin, though most educated Romans knew Greek; the circum- 
stances of Polybius, however, led him to a thorough familiarity 
with Latin, lie wrote, for the benefit of the Greeks, the history of 
ihc later Punic Wars, which enabled Rome to conquer the world. 

299 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

His admiration of the Roman constitution was becoming out of 
date while he wrote, but until his time it had compared very 
favourably, in stability and efficiency, with the continually 
changing constitutions of most Greek cities. The Romans naturally 
read his history with pleasure; whether the Greeks did so is 
more doubtful. 

Panaetius the Stoic has been already considered in the preceding 
chapter. He was a friend of Polybius, and, like him, a protege of 
the younger Scipio. While Scipio lived, he was frequently in 
Rome, but after Scipio's death in 129 B.C. he stayed in Athens 
as head of the Stoic school. Rome still had, what Greece had lost, 
the hopefulness connected with the opportunity for political 
activity. Accordingly the doctrines of Panaetius were more 
political, and less akin to those of the Cynics, than were those of 
earlier Stoics. Probably the admiration of Plato felt by cultivated 
Romans influenced him in abandoning the dogmatic narrowness 
of his Stoic predecessors. In the broader form given to it by him 
and by his successor Posidonius, Stoicism strongly appealed to 
the more serious among the Romans. 

At a later date, Epictetus, though a Greek, lived most of his life 
in Rome. Rome supplied him with most of his illustrations ; he is 
always exhorting the wise man not to tremble in the presence of 
the Emperor. We know the influence of Epictetus on Marcus 
Aurelius, but his influence on the Greeks is hard to trace. 

Plutarch (ca. A.D. 46-120), in his Lives of the Noble Grecians and 
Romans, traced a parallelism between the most eminent men of 
the two countries. He spent a considerable time in Rome, and was 
honoured by the Emperors Hadrian and Trajan. In addition to 
his Lives, he wrote numerous works on philosophy, religion, 
natural history, and morals. His Lives are obviously concerned 
to reconcile Greece and Rome in men's thoughts. 

On the whole, apart from such exceptional men, Rome acted 
as a blight on the Greek-speaking part of the Empire. Thought 
and art alike declined. Until the end of the second century A.D., 
life, for the well-to-do, was pleasant and easy-going; there was no 
incentive to strenuousness, and little opportunity for great achieve- 
ment. The recognized schools of philosophy the Academy, the 
Peripatetics, the Epicureans, and the Stoics continued to exist 
until they were closed by Justinian. None of these, however, 
showed any vitality throughout the time after Marcus Aurelius, 

joo 



THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

except the Neoplatonists in the third century A.D., whom we shall 
consider in the next chapter; and these men were hardly at all 
influenced by Rome. The Latin and Greek halves of the Empire 
became more and more divergent; the knowledge of Greek 
became rare in the west, and after Constantine Latin, in the east, 
survived only in law and in the army. 

II. The influence of Greece and the East on Rome. There are here 
two very different things to consider: first, the influence of Hellenic 
art and literature and philosophy on the most cultivated Romans; 
second, the spread of non-Hellenic religions and superstitions 
throughout the Western world. 

(i) When the Romans first came in contact with Greeks, they 
became aware of themselves as comparatively barbarous and ur- 
couth. The Greeks were immeasurably their superiors in many 
ways: in manufacture and in the technique of agriculture ; in the 
kinds of knowledge that are necessary for a good official; in con- 
versation and the art of enjoying life; in art and literature and 
philosophy. The only tilings in which the Romans were superior 
were military tactics and social cohesion. The relation of the 
Romans to the Creeks was something like that of the Prussians 
to the French in 1814 and 1815; but this latter was temporary, 
whereas the other lasted a long time. After the Punic Wars, young 
Romans conceived an admiration for the Greeks. They learnt the 
Greek language, they copied Greek architecture, they employed 
Greek sculptors. The Roman gods were identified with the gods 
of Greece. The Trojan origin of the Romans was invented to 
make a connection with the Homeric myths. Latin poets adopted 
Greek metres, Latin philosophers took over Greek theories. To 
the end, Rome was culturally parasitic on Greece. The Romans 
invented no art forms, constructed no original system of philo- 
sophy, and made no scientific discoveries. They made good roads, 
systematic legal codes, and efficient armies; for the rest they 
looked to Greece, 

The Hellenizing of Rome brought with it a certain softening of 
manners, abhorrent to the elder Cato. Until the Punic Wars, the 
Romans had been a bucolic people, with the virtues and vices ot 
farmers: austere, industrious, brutal, obstinate, and stupid. Their 
family life had been stable and solidly built on the patria potestas; 
women ;md young people were completely subordinated. All this 

301 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 



changed with the influx of sudden wealth. The small farms dis- 
appeared, and were gradually replaced by huge estates on which 
slave labour was employed to carry out new scientific kinds of 
agriculture. A great class of traders grew up, and a large number 
of men enriched by plunder, like the nabobs in eighteenth-century 
England. Women, who had been virtuous slaves, became free and 
dissolute; divorce became common; the rich ceased to have 
children. The Greeks, who had gone through a similar develop- 
ment centuries ago, encouraged, by their example, what historians 
call the decay of morals. Even in the most dissolute times of the 
Empire, the average Roman still thought of Rome as the upholder 
of a purer ethical standard against the decadent corruption of 
Greece. 

The cultural influence ot Greece on the Western Kmpire 
diminished rapidly from the third century A.D. onwards, chiefly 
because culture in general decayed. For this there were many 
causes, but one in particular must be mentioned. In the last times 
of the Western Empire, the government was more undisguised!}* 
a military tyranny than it had been, and the army usually selected 
a successful general as emperor; but the army, even in its highest 
ranks, was no longer composed of cultivated Romans, but of semi- 
barbarians from the frontier. These rough soldiers had no use for 
culture, and regarded the civilized citizens solely as sources of 
revenue. Private persons were too impoverished to support much 
in the way of education, and the State considered education un- 
necessary. Consequently, in the West, only a few men of excep- 
tional learning continued to read Greek. 

(2) Non-Hellenic religion and superstition, on the contrary, 
acquired, as time went on, a firmer and firmer hold on the West. 
We have already seen how Alexander's conquests introduced the 
Greek world to the beliefs of Babylonians, Persians, and Egyptians. 
Similarly the Roman conquests made the Western world familiar 
with these doctrines, and also with those of Jews and Christians. 
I shall consider what concerns the Jews anJ Christians at a later 
stage; for the present, I shall confine myself as far as possible to 
pagan superstitions. 1 

In Rome every sect and every prophet was represented, and 
sometimes won favour in the highest government circles. Lucian, 
who stood for sane scepticism in spite of the credulity of his age. 
* See Cumom, Oriental Religion* in Roman Paganism. 



THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

tcfls an amusing story, generally accepted as broadly true, about 
a prophet and miracle-worker called Alexander the Paphlagonian. 
This man healed the sick and foretold the future, with excursions 
into blackmail. His fame reached the ears of Marcus Aurelius, 
then fighting the Marcomanni on the Danube. The Emperor 
consulted him as to how to win the war, and was told that if he 
threw two lions into the Danube a great victory would result. He 
followed the advice of the seer, but it was the Marcomanni who 
won the great victor)'. In spite of this mishap, Alexander's fame 
continued to grow. A prominent Roman of consular rank, Ruti- 
lianus, after consulting him on many points, at last sought his 
advice as to the choice of a wife. Alexander, like Endymion, had 
enjoyed the favours of the moon, and by her had a daughter, 
whom the oracle recommended to Rutilianus. "Rutilianus, who 
was at the time sixty years old, at once complied with the divine 
injunction, and celebrated his marriage by sacrificing whole 
hecatombs to his celestial mother-in-law." 1 

More important than the career of Alexander the Paphlagonian 
was the reign of the Krnperor Klagabalus or Heliogabalus (A.D. 218- 
22), who was, until his elevation by the choice of the army, a 
Syrian priest of the sun. In his slow progress from Syria to Rome, 
he was preceded by his portrait, sent as a present to the Senate. 
"He was drawn in his sacerdotal robes of silk and gold, after the 
loose flowing fashion of the Medes and Phoenicians; his head 
was covered with a lofty tiara, his numerous collars and bracelets 
were adorned with gems of inestimable value. His eyebrows were 
tinged with black, and his cheeks painted with an artificial red 
and white. The grave senators confessed with a sigh, that, after 
having long experienced the stern tyranny of their own country- 
men, Rome was at length humbled beneath the effeminate luxury 
of Oriental despotism." 1 Supported by a large section in the army, 
he proceeded, with fanatical zeal, to introduce in Rome the 
religious practices of the East ; his name was that of the sun-god 
worshipped at Emesa, where he had been chief priest. His mother, 
or grandmother, who was the real ruler, perceived that he had 
Kone too far, and deposed him in favour of her nephew Alexander 
(222-35), whoe Oriental proclivities were more moderate. The 
mixture of creeds that wa$ possible in his day was illustrated in 

Brnn, Tht Check PMlmofhen. Vol. II, p. 226. 

Gibbon, chap. vi. 

303 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

his private chapel, in which he placed the statues of Abraham 
Orpheus, Apollonius of Tyana, and Christ. 
. The religion of Mithras, which was of Persian origin, was a 
close competitor of Christianity, especially during the latter half 
of the third century A.D. The emperors, who were making desperate 
attempts to control the army, felt that religion might give a much 
needed stability; but it would have to be one of the new religions, 
since it was these that the soldiers favoured. The cult was intro- 
duced at Rome, and had much to commend it to the military mind. 
Mithras was a sun-god, but not so effeminate as his Syrian col- 
league ; he was a god concerned with war, the great war between 
good and evil which had been part of the Persian creed since 
Zoroaster. Rostovtseff 1 reproduces a bas-relief representing his 
worship, which was found in a subterranean sanctuary at Heddern- 
heim in Germany, and shows that his disciples must have been 
numerous among the soldiers, not only in the East, but in the 
West also. 

Constantine's adoption of Christianity was politically successful, 
whereas earlier attempts to introduce a new religion failed; but 
the earlier attempts were, from a governmental point of view, very 
similar to his. All alike derived their possibility of success from 
the misfortunes and weariness of the Roman world. The traditional 
religions of Greece and Rome were suited to men interested in the 
terrestrial world, and hopeful of happiness on earth. Asia, with a 
longer experience of despair, had evolved more successful anti- 
dotes in the form of other-worldly hopes; of all these, Christianity 
was the most effective in bringing consolation. But Christianity, 
by the time it became the State religion, had absorbed much from 
Greece, and transmitted this, along with the Judaic element, to 
succeeding ages in the West. 

III. The unification of government and culture. We owe it first 

to Alexander and then to Rome that the achievements of the great 

age of Greece were not lost to the world, like those of the Minoan 

age. In the fifth century B.C., a Jenghiz Khan, if one had happened 

to arise, could have wiped out all that was important in the 

Hellenic world; Xerxes, with a little more competence, might 

have made Greek civilization very greatly inferior to what it 

became after he was repulsed. Consider the period from Aeschylus 

1 History of the Ancient World, Vol. II, p. 343. 

304 



THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

to Plato: all that was done in this time was done by a minority 
of the population of a few commercial cities. These cities, as the 
future showed, had no great capacity for withstanding foreign 
conquest, but by an extraordinary stroke of good fortune their 
conquerors, Macedonian and Roman, were Philhellenes, and did 
not destroy what they conquered, as Xerxes or Carthage would 
have done. The fact that we are acquainted with what was done 
by the (1 reeks in an and literature and philosophy and science 
is due to the stability introduced by Western conquerors who had 
the good sense to admire the civilization which they governed 
but did their utmost to preserve. 

In certain respects, political and ethical, Alexander and the 
Romans were the causes of a better philosophy than any that was 
professed by Greeks in their days of freedom. The Stoics, as we 
have seen, believed in the brotherhood of man, and did not confine 
their sympathies to the Greeks. The long dominion of Rome 
accustomed men to the idea of a single civilization under a single 
government, li'e are aware that there were important parts of the 
world which were not subject to Rome India and China, more 
especially. But to the Roman it seemed that outside the Empire there 
were only more or less barbarian tribes, who might be conquered 
whenever it should be worth while to make the effort. Essentially 
and in idea, the empire, in the minds of the Romans, was world- 
wide. This conception descended to the Church, which was 
"Catholic" in spite of Buddhists, Confucians, and (later) Moham- 
medans. tSVruriis judicat orbis terrarum is a maxim taken over by 
ihr Church from the later Stoics; it owes its appeal to the apparent 
uimcr&ality of the Roman Empire. Throughout the Middle Ages, 
after the time of Charlemagne, the Church and the Holy Roman 
Kmpirt were world-xude in idea, although everybody knew that 
they were not so in fact. The conception of one human family, 
one Catholic religion, one universal culture, and one world-wide 
State, has haunted men's thoughts ever since its approximate 
realization by Rome. 

The part played by Rome in enlarging the area of civilization 
was of immense importance. Northern Italy, Spain, France, and 
parts of western Germany, were civilized as a result of forcible 
conquest by the Roman legions. All these regions proved them- 
selves just as capable of a high level of culture as Rome itself. 
In the last days of the Western Empire, Gaul produced men who 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

were at least the equals of their contemporaries in regions of 
older civilization. It was owing to the diffusion of culture by 
Rome that the barbarians produced only a temporary eclipse, 
not a permanent darkness. It may be argued that the quality of 
civilization was never again as good as in the Athens of Pericles; 
but in a world of war and destruction, quantity is, in the long 
run, almost as important as quality, and quantity was due to 
Rome. 

IV. The Mohammedans as vehicles of Hellenism. In the seventh 
century, the disciples of the Prophet conquered Syria, Egypt, and 
North Africa; in the following century, they conquered Spain. 
Their victories were easy, and the fighting was slight. Except 
possibly during the first few years, they were not fanatical; 
Christians and Jews were unmolested so long as they paid the 
tribute. Very soon the Arabs acquired the civilization of the 
Eastern Empire, but with the hopefulness of a rising polity 
instead of the weariness of decline. Their learned men read 
Greek authors in translation, and wrote commentaries. Aristotle's 
reputation is mainly due to them ; in antiquity, he was not regarded 
as on a level with Plato. 

It is instructive to consider some of the words that we derive 
from Arabic, such as: algebra, alcohol, alchemy, alembic, alkali, 
azimuth, zenith. With the exception of "alcohol" which meant, 
not a drink, but a substance used in chemistr these words 
would give a good picture of some of the things we owe to the 
Arabs. Algebra had been invented by the Alexandrian Greeks, 
but was carried further by the Mohammedans. "Alchemy/ 
"alembic," "alkali" are words connected with the attempt to 
turn base metals into gold, which the Arabs took over from the 
Greeks, and in pursuit of which they appealed to Greek philo- 
sophy. 1 "Azimuth" and "zenith" are astronomical terms, chiefly 
useful to the Arabs in connection with astrology. 

The etymological method conceals what we owe to the Arabs 
as regards knowledge of Greek philosophy, because, when it was 
again studied in Europe, the technical term* required were taken 
from Greek or Latin. In philosophy, the Arabs were better as 
commentators than as original thinkers. Their importance, for us, 

1 Sec Alchemy, Child of Greek Philtxaphy, by Arthur John Hopkin*, 
Columbia, 1934. 

306 



THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN RELATION TO CULTURE 

is that they, and not the Christians, were the immediate inheritors 
of those parts of the Greek tradition which only the Eastern 
Empire had kept alive. Contact with the Mohammedans, in Spain, 
and to a lesser extent in Sicily, made the West aware of Aristotle; 
also ot Arabic numerals, algebra, and chemistry. It was this 
contact that began the revival of learning in the eleventh century, 
leading to the Scholastic philosophy. It was later, from the 
thirteenth century onward, that the study of Greek enabled men 
to go direct to the works of Plato and Aristotle and other Greek 
writers of antiquity. Rut if the Arabs had not preserved the 
tradition, the men of the Renaissance might not have suspected 
how much was to he gained by the revival of classical learning. 



307 



Chapter XXX 
PLOTINUS 

PLOTINUS (A.D. 204-70), the founder of Neoplatonism, is 
the last of the great philosophers of antiquity. His life is 
almost coextensive with one of the most disastrous periods 
in Roman history. Shortly before his birth, the army had become 
conscious of its power, and had adopted the practice of choosing 
emperors in return for monetary rewards, and assassinating them 
afterwards to give occasion for a renewed sale of the empire. 
These preoccupations unfitted the soldiers for the defence of the 
frontier, and permitted vigorous incursions of Germans from the 
north and Persians from the Hast. War and pestilence diminished 
the population of the empire by about a third, while increased 
taxation and diminished resources caused financial ruin in even 
those provinces to which no hostile forces penetrated. The cities, 
which had been the bearers of culture, were especially hard hit ; 
substantial citizens, in large numbers, fled to escape the tax* 
collector. It was not till after the death of Plotinus that order was 
re-established and the empire temporarily saved by the vigorous 
measures of Diocletian and Constantine. 

Of all this there is no mention in the works of Plotinus. He 
turned aside from the spectacle of ruin and misery in the actual 
world, to contemplate an eternal world ot goodness and beauty. 
In this he was in harmony with all the most serious men of his 
age. To all of them, Christians and pagans alike, the world of 
practical affairs seemed to offer no hope, and only the Other 
World seemed worthy of allegiance. To the Christian, the Other 
World was the Kingdom of Heaven, to be enjoyed after death; 
to the Platonist, it was the eternal world of ideas, the real world 
as opposed to that of illusory appearance. Christian theologians 
combined these points of view, and embodied much of the philo- 
sophy of Plotinus. Dean Inge, in his invaluable book on Plotinus, 
rightly emphasizes what Christianity owes to him. "Platonism," 
he says, "is part of the vital structure of Christian theology, with 
which no other philosophy, I venture to say. can work without 
friction/' There is, he says, an "utter impossibility of excising 
Platonism from Christianity without tearing Christianity to 

308 



PLOTINUS 

pieces." He points out that Saint Augustine speaks of Plato's 
system as "the most pure and bright in all philosophy/' and of 
Plotinus as a man in whom "Plato lived again," and who, if he 
had lived a little later, would have "changed a few words and 
phrases and become Christian." Saint Thomas Aquinas, according 
to Dean Inge, "is nearer to Plotinus than to the real Aristotle." 

Plotinus, accordingly, is historically important as an influence 
in moulding the Christianity of the Middle Ages and of Catholic 
theology. The historian, in speaking of Christianity, has to be 
careful to recognize the very great changes that it has undergone, 
and the variety of forms that it may assume even at one epoch. 
The Christianity of the Synoptic Gospels is almost innocent of 
metaphysics. The Christianity of modern America, in this respect, 
is like primitive Christianity; Platonism is alien to popular thought 
and feeling in the United States, and most American Christians 
are much mere concerned with duties here on earth, and with 
social progress in the everyday world, than with the transcendental 
hopes that consoled men when everything terrestrial inspired 
despair. I am not speaking of any change of dogma, but of a 
difference of emphasis and interest. A modern Christian, unless 
he realizes how great this difference is, will fail to understand the 
Christianity of the past. We, since our study is historical, are con- 
cerned with the effective beliefs of past centuries, and as to these 
it is impossible to disagree with what Dean Inge says on the 
influence of Plato and Plotinus. 

Plotinus, however, is not only historically important. He repre- 
sents, better than any other philosopher, an important type of 
theory. A philosophical system may be judged important for 
various different kinds of reasons. The first and most obvious is 
that we think it may be true. Not many students of philosophy 
at the present time would feel this about Plotinus; Dean Inge is, 
in this respect, a rare exception. But truth is not the only merit 
that a mctaphysic can possess. It may have beauty, and this is 
certainly to be found in Plotinus; there are passages that remind 
one of the later cantos of Dante's Paradise, and of almost nothing 
else in literature. Now and again, his descriptions of the eternal 

world of glory 

To our high-wrought fantasy present 
That undisturbed song of pure concent 
Aye sung before the sapphire-coloured throne 
To Him that sits thereon. 
309 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Again, a philosophy may be important because it expresses well 
what men are prone to believe in certain moods or in certain cir- 
cumstances. Uncomplicated joy and sorrow is not matter for 
philosophy, but rather for the simpler kinds of poetry and music. 
Only joy and sorrow accompanied by reflection on the universe 
generate metaphysical theories. A man may be a cheerful pessimist 
or a melancholy optimist. Perhaps Samuel Butler may serve as 
an example of the first; Plotinus is an admirable example of the 
second. In an age such as that in which he lived, unhappiness is 
immediate and pressing, whereas happiness, if attainable at all, 
must be sought by reflection upon things that are remote from the 
impressions of sense. Such happiness has in it always an element 
of strain ; it is very unlike the simple happiness of a child. And 
since it is not derived from the everyday world, but from thought 
and imagination, it demands a power of ignoring or despising the 
life of the senses. It is, therefore, not those who enjoy instinctive 
happiness who invent the kinds of metaphysical optimism that 
depend upon belief in the reality of a super-sensible world. Among 
the men who have been unhappy in a mundane sense, but reso- 
lutely determined to find a higher happiness in the world of 
theory, Plotinus holds a very high place. 

Nor are his purely intellectual merits by any means to be 
despised. He has, in many respects, clarified Plato's teaching; he 
has developed, with as much consistency as possible, the type of 
theory advocated by him in common with many others. His 
arguments against materialism are good, and his whole conception 
of the relation of soul and body is clearer than that of Plato or 
Aristotle. 

Like Spinoza, he has a certain kind of moral purity and loftiness, 
which is very impressive. He is always sincere, never shrill or 
censorious, invariably concerned to tell the reader, as simply as 
he can, what he believes to be important. Whatever one may think 
of him as a theoretical philosopher, it is impossible not to love 
him as a man. 

The life of Plotinus is known, so far as it is known, through the 
biography written by his friend and disciple Porphyry, a Semite 
whose real name was Malchus. There are, however, miraculous 
elements in this account, which maker it difficult to place a complete 
reliance upon its more credible portions. 
Plotinus considered his spatio-temporal appearance unim~ 

310 



PLOTINU8 



portant, and was loath to talk about the accidents of his historical 
existence. He stated, however, that he was born in Egypt, and it 
is known that as a young man he studied in Alexandria, where 
he lived until the age of thirty-nine, and where his teacher was 
Ammonius Saccas, often regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism. 
He then joined the expedition of the Emperor Gordian III against 
the Persians, with the intention, it is said, of studying the religions 
of the East. The Emperor was still a youth, and was murdered by 
the army, as was at that time the custom. This occurred during 
his campaign in Mesopotamia in A.D. 244. Plotinus thereupon 
abandoned his oriental projects and settled in Rome, where 
he soon began to teach. Among his hearers were many influen- 
tial men, and he was favoured by the Emperor Gallienus. 1 At 
one time he formed a project of founding Plato's Republic in 
Campania, and building for the purpose a new city to be called 
Platonopolis. The Kmperor, at first, was favourable, but ulti- 
mately withdrew his permission. It may seem strange that there 
should be room for a new city so near Rome, but probably by that 
time the region was malarial, as it is now, but had not been earlier. 
He wrote nothing until the age of forty-nine; after that, he wrote 
much. His works \u-re edited and arranged by Porphyry, who 
was more Pythagorean than Plotinus, and caused the Neoplatonist 
school to become more supernaturilist than it would have been 
if it had followed Plotinns more faithfully. 

The respect of Plotinus for Plato is very great; Plato is usually 
alluded to as "He." In general, the "blessed ancients" are treated 
with reverence, but this reverence does not extend to the atomists. 
The Stoics and Epicureans, being still active, are controverted, 
the Stoics only for their materialism, the Epicureans for every 
part of their philosophy. Aristotle plays a larger part than appears, 
as borrowings from him are often unacknowledged. One feels the 
influence of Parmenides at many points. 

The Plato of Plotinus is not so full-blooded as the real Plato. 

Concerning Gailienus, Gibbon remarks : "He was a master of several 
curieTbttl JL ^-nccs, a ready orator and - e egant poe^i i*dftd 
excellent cook, and most contemptible pnnce. When the 
iet of the St,te required his presence and attention he 
convention with the philosopher Plotmus, wasting hi, 
or licentious pleasure., preparing his .motto. , the 
in myU or eliciting a place in the Areopagus of Athens 
'chap. x). 

3" 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The theory of ideas, the mystical doctrines of the Phaedo and of 
Book VI of the Republic, and the discussion of love in the Sym- 
posium, make up almost the whole of Plato as he appears in the 
Emieads (as the books of Plotinus are called). The political interests, 
the search for definitions of separate virtues, the pleasure in 
mathematics, the dramatic and affectionate appreciation of indi- 
viduals, and above all the playfulness of Plato, are wholly absent 
from Plotinus. Plato, as Carlyle said, is "very much at his ease 
in Zion"; Plotinus, on the contrary, is always on his best behaviour. 
The metaphysics of Plotinus begins with a Holy Trinity: The 
One, Spirit and Soul. These three are not equal, like the Persons 
of the Christian Trinity; the One is supreme, Spirit conies next, 
and Soul last. 1 

The One is somewhat shadowy. It is sometimes called God, 
sometimes the Good ; it transcends Being, which is the first sequent 
upon the One. We must not attribute predicates to it, but only 
say "It is." (This is reminiscent of Parmenides.) It would be a 
mistake to speak of God as "the All," because God transcends 
the All. God is present through all things. The One can be present 
without any coming: ** while it is nowhere, nowhere is it not." 
Although the One is sometimes spoken of as the Good, we arc- 
also told that it precedes both the Good and the Beautiful.* 
Sometimes, the One appears to resemble Aristotle's God; we arc 
told that God has no need of His derivatives, and ignores the 
created world. The One is indefinable, and in regard to it there 
is more truth in silence than in any words whatever. 

We now come to the Second Person, whom Plotinus calls nous. 
It is always difficult to find an English word to represent nous. 
The standard dictionary translation is "mind," but this does not 
have the correct connotations, particularly when the word is used 
in a religious philosophy. If we were to say that Plotinus put 
mind above soul, we should give a completely wrong impression. 
McKenna, the translator of Plotinus, uses "Intellectual-Principle/' 
but this is awkward, and does not suggest an object suitable for 
religious veneration. Dean Inge uses "Spirit," which is perhaps 

1 Origen, who waa a contemporary of Plotinus and had the tame teacher 
to philosophy, taught that the Fiitt Pcnon waa auperior to the Second, 
and the Second to the Third, agreeing in (hit with Plotinua. But 
view wa* aubaequently declared heretical. 

1 Ftfth Ermtad, Fifth Tractate, chap. 12. 

3'* 



PLOTINUS 

the best word available. But it leaves out the intellectual element 
which was important in all Greek religious philosophy after 
Pythagoras. Mathematics, the world of ideas, and all thought 
about what is not sensible, have, for Pythagoras, Plato, and 
Plotinus, something divine; they constitute the activity of nous, 
or at least the nearest approach to its activity that we can conceive. 
It was this intellectual element in Plato's religion that led Chris- 
tiansnotably the author of Saint John's Gospel to identify 
Christ with the Logos. Logos should be translated "reason" in this 
connection ; this prevents us from using "reason" as the translation 
of nous. I shall follow Dean Inge in using "Spirit," but with the 
proviso that nous has an intellectual connotation which is absent 
from "Spirit" as usually understood. But often I shall use the 
word nous untranslated. 

Nous, we are told, is the image of the One; it is engendered 
because the One, in its self-quest, has vision; this seeing is nous. 
This is a difficult conception. A Being without parts, Plotinus says, 
may know itself; in this case, the seer and the seen are one. In 
God, who is conceived, as by Plato, on the analogy of the sun, the 
light-giver and what is lit are the same. Pursuing the analogy, nous 
may be considered as the lit^ht by which the One sees itself. It is 
possible for us to know the Divine Mind, which we forget through 
self-will. To know the Divine Mind, we must study our own 
toul when it is most god-like: we must put aside the body, and 
the part of the soul that moulded the body, and "sense with 
desires and impulses and every such futility"; what is then left 
is an image of the Divine Intellect. 

"Those divinely possessed and inspired have at least the know- 
ledge that they hold some greater thing within them, though they 
cannot tell what it is; from the movements that stir them and the 
utterances that come from them they perceive the power, not 
themselves, that moves them: in the same way, it must be, we 
stand towards the Supreme when we hold nous pure; we know 
the Divine Mind within, that which gives Being and all else of 
that order: but we know, too, that other, know that it is none of 
these, but a nobler principle than anything we know as Being; 
fuller and greater; above reason, mind, and feeling; conferring 
these powers, not to be confounded with them." 1 

Thus when we are "divinely possessed and inspired" we see not 
1 Eimtad*. V, 3, 14- McKenna's translation. 
3'3 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

only nous, but also the One. When we are thus in contact with the 
Divine, we cannot reason or express the vision in words ; this comes 
later. "At the moment of touch there is no power whatever to make 
any affirmation; there is no leisure; reasoning upon the vision is 
for afterwards. We may know we have had the vision when the 
Soul has suddenly taken light. This light is from the Supreme and 
is the Supreme; we may believe in the Presence when, like that 
other God on the call of a certain man, He comes bringing light; 
the light is the proof of the advent. Thus, the Soul unlit remains 
without that vision; lit, it possesses what it sought. And this is 
the true end set before the Soul, to take that light, to see the 
Supreme by the Supreme and not by the light of any other 
principle to see the Supreme which is also the means to the 
vision ; for that which illumines the Soul is that which it is to see 
just as it is by the sun's own light that we see the sun. 

But how is this to be accomplished ? 
Cut away everything/' 1 

The experience of "ecstasy" (standing outside one's own body) 
happened frequently to Plotinus: 

Many times it has happened: Lifted out of the body into myself; 
becoming external to all other things and self-encentred ; behold- 
ing a marvellous beauty; then, more than ever, assured of com- 
munity with the loftiest order; enacting the noblest life, acquiring 
identity with the divine; stationing within It by having attained 
that activity; poised above whatsoever in the Intellectual is less 
than the Supreme : yet, there comes the moment of descent from 
intellection to reasoning, and after that sojourn in the divine, I ask 
myself how it happens that I can now be descending, and how did 
the Soul ever enter into my body, the Soul which even within the 
body, is the high thing it has shown itself to be. 1 

This brings us to Soul, the third and lowest member of the 
Trinity. Soul, though inferior to nous, is the author of all living 
things; it made the sun and moon and stars, and the whole visible 
world. It is the offspring of the Divine Intellect. It is double: 
there is an inner soul, intent on nous, and another, which faces 
the external. The latter is associated with a downward movement, 
in which the Soul generates its image, which is Nature and the 
world of sense. The Stoics had identified Nature with God, but 

1 Eimtadt, V, 3, 17. 2 IV, 8, i 

3'4 



PLOTINU8 

Plotinus regards it as the lowest sphere, something emanating 
from the Soul when it forgets to look upward towards nous. 
This might suggest the Gnostic view that the visible world is evil, 
but Plotinus does not take this view. The visible world is beautiful, 
and is the abode of blessed spirits; it is only less good than the 
intellectual world. In a very interesting controversial discussion 
of the Gnostic view, that the cosmos and its Creator are evil, he 
admits that some parts of Gnostic doctrine, such as the hatred of 
matter, may be due to Plato, but holds that the other parts, which 
do not come from Plato, are untrue. 

His objections to Gnosticism are of two sorts. On the one hand, 
he says that Soul, when it creates the material world, does so from 
memory of the divine, and not because it is fallen; the world of 
sense, he thinks, is as good as a sensible world can be. He feels 
strongly the beauty of things perceived by the senses: 

Who that truly perceives the harmony of the Intellectual 
Realm could fail, if he has any bent towards music, to answer to 
the harmony in sensible sounds? What geometrician or arith- 
metician could fail to take pleasure in the symmetries, corre- 
spondences and principles of order observed in visible things? 
Consider, even, the case of pictures : those seeing by the bodily 
sense the productions of the art of painting do not see the one 
thing in the one only way ; they are deeply stirred by recognizing 
in the objects depicted to the eyes the presentation of what lies 
in the idea, and so are called to recollection of the truth the 
very experience out of which Love rises. Now, if the sight of 
Beauty excellently reproduced upon a face hurries the mind to 
that other Sphere, surely no one seeing the loveliness lavish in 
the world of sense this vast orderliness, the form which the stars 
even in their remoteness display, no one could be so dull-witted, 
so immoveable, as not to be carried by all this to recollection, 
and gripped by reverent awe in the thought of all this, so great, 
sprung from that greatness. Not to answer thus could only be to 
have neither fathomed this world nor had any vision of that 
other (II, 9, 16). 

There is another reason for rejecting the Gnostic view. The 
Gnostics think that nothing divine is associated with the sun, 
moon, and stars; they were created by an evil spirit. Only the soul 
of man, among things perceived, has any goodness. But Plotinus 
is firmly persuaded that the heavenly bodies are the bodies of 

315 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

god-like beings, immeasurably superior to man. According to the 
Gnostics, "their own soul, the soul of the least of mankind, they 
declare deathless, divine; but the entire heavens and the stars 
within the heavens have had no communion with the Immortal 
Principle, though these are far purer and lovelier than their own 
souls" (II, 9, 5). For the view of Plotinus there is authority in 
the Timaeus, and it was adopted by some Christian Fathers, for 
instance, Origen. It is imaginatively attractive; it expresses 
feelings that the heavenly bodies naturally inspire, and makes 
man less lonely in the physical universe. 

There is in the mysticism of Plotinus nothing morose or hostile 
to beauty. But he is the last religious teacher, for many centuries, 
of whom this can be said. Beauty, and all the pleasures associated 
with it, came to be thought to be of the Devil ; pagans, as well as 
Christians, came to glorify ugliness and dirt. Julian the Apostate, 
like contemporary orthodox saints, boasted of the populousness 
of liis beard. Of all this, there is nothing in Plotinus. 

Matter is created by Soul, and has no independent reality. 
Every Soul has its hour; when that strikes, it descends, and enters 
the body suitable to it. The motive is not reason, but something 
more analogous to sexual desire. When the soul leaves the body, 
it must enter another body if it has been sinful, for justice requires 
that it should be punished. If, in this life, you have murdered 
your mother, you will, in the next life, be a woman, and be 
murdered by your son (HI, 2, 13). Sin must be punished; but the 
punishment happens naturally, through the restless driving of the 
sinner's errors. 

Do we remember this life after we are dead ? The answer is per- 
fectly logical, but not what most modem theologians would say. 
Memory is concerned with our life in time, whereas our best and 
truest life is in eternity. Therefore, as the soul grows towards 
eternal life, it mil remember less and less; friends, children, wife, 
will be gradually forgotten; ultimately, we shall know nothing of 
the things of this world, but only contemplate the intellectual 
realm. There will be no memory of personality, which, in con- 
templative vision, is unaware of itself. The soul will become one 
with nous, but not to its own destruction : nous and the individual 
soul will be simultaneously two and one (IV, 4, 2). 

In the Fourth Emend, which is on the Soul, one section, the 
Seventh Tractate, is devoted to the discussion of immortality. 

116 



PLOTINUS 

The body, being compound, is clearly not immortal; if, then, 
it is part of us, we are not wholly immortal. But what is the relation 
of the soul to the body ? Aristotle (who is not mentioned explicitly) 
said the soul was the form of the body, but Plotinus rejects this 
view, on the ground that the intellectual act would be impossible 
if the soul were any form of body. The Stoics think that the soul 
is material, but the unity of the soul proves that this is impossible. 
Moreover, since matter is passive, it cannot have created itself; 
matter could not exist if soul had not created it, and, if soul did 
not exist, matter would disappear in a twinkling. The soul is 
neither matter nor the form of a material body, but Essence, and 
Essence is eternal. This view is implicit in Plato's argument that 
the soul is immortal because ideas arc eternal ; but it is only with 
Plotinus that it becomes explicit. 

How does the soul enter the body from the aloofness of the 
intellectual world ? The answer is, through appetite. But appetite, 
though sometimes ignoble, may be comparatively noble. At best, 
the soul "has the desire of elaborating order on the model of 
what it has seen in the Intellectual-Principle (nous). 99 That is to 
say, soul contemplates the inward realm of essence, and wishes 
to produce something, as like it as possible, that can be seen by 
looking without instead of looking within like (we might say) a 
composer who first imagines his music, and then wishes to hear it 
performed by an orchestra. 

But this desire of the soul to create has unfortunate results. So 
long as the soul lives in the pure world of essence, it is not separated 
from other souls living in the same world ; but as soon as it becomes 
joined to a body, it has the task of governing what is lower than 
itself, and by this task it becomes separate from other souls, which 
have other bodies. Except in a few men at a few moments, the 
soul becomes chained to the body. "The body obscures the truth, 
but there 1 all stands out clear and separate 11 (IV, 9, 5). 

This doctrine, like Plato's, has difficulty in avoiding the view 
that the creation was a mistake. The soul at its best is content 
with nous, the world of essence ; if it were always at its best, it 
would not create, but only contemplate. It seems that the act of 

4 Plotinus habitually uses "There" as a Christian might as it is used, 
for instance, in 

The life that knows no ending, 
The tearless life is There. 

317 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

creation is to be excused on the ground that the created world, 
in its main lines, is the best that is logically possible; but this is 
a copy of the eternal world, and as such has the beauty that is 
possible to a copy. The most definite statement is in the Tractate 
on the Gnostics (II, 9, 8): 

To ask why the Soul has created the Kosmos, is to ask why there 
is a Soul and why a Creator creates. The question, also, implies a 
beginning in the eternal and, further, represents creation as the act 
of a changeful Being who turns from this to that. 

Those that think so must be instructed if they would but bear 
with correction in the nature of the Supernals, and brought to 
desist from that blasphemy of majestic powers which comes so 
easily to them, where all should be reverent scruple. 

Even in the administration of the Universe there is no ground 
for such attack, for it affords manifest proof of the greatness of 
the Intellectual Kind. 

This All that has emerged into life is no amorphous structure 
like those lesser forms within it which are born night and day out 
of the lavishness of its vitality the Universe is a life organised, 
effective, complex, all-comprehensive, displaying an unfathomable 
wisdom. How, then, can anyone deny that it is a clear image, beau- 
tifully formed, of the Intellectual Divinities ? No doubt it is a copy, 
not original ; but that is its very nature ; it cannot be at once symbol 
and reality. But to say that it is an inadequate copy is false ; nothing 
has been left out which a beautiful representation within the physi- 
cal order could include. 

Such a reproduction there must necessarily be though not by 
deliberation and contrivance for the Intellectual could not be the 
last of things, but must have a double Act, one within itself, and 
one outgoing; there must, then, be something later than the 
Divine; for only the thing with which all power ends fails to pass 
downwards something of itself. 

This is perhaps the best answer to the Gnostics that the prin- 
ciples of Plotinus make possible. The problem, in slightly different 
language, was inherited by Christian theologians ; they, also, have 
found it difficult to account for the creation without allowing the 
blasphemous conclusion that, before it, something was lacking 
to the Creator. Indeed, their difficulty is greater than that of 
Plotinus, for he may say that the nature of Mind made creation 
inevitable, whereas, for the Christian, the world resulted from the 
untrammelled exercise of God's free will 



PLCtlNUS 

Plotinus has a very vivid sense of a certain kind of abstract 
beauty. In describing the position of Intellect as intermediate 
between the One and Soul, he suddenly bursts out into a passage 
of rare eloquence: 

The Supreme in its progress could never be borne forward upon 
some soulless vehicle nor even directly upon the Soul: it will be 
heralded by some ineffable beauty: before the Great King in his 
progress there comes first the minor train, thn rank by rank the 
greater and more exalted, closer to the King the kinglier; next his 
own honoured company until, last among all these grandeurs, 
suddenly appears the Supreme Monarch himself, and all unless 
indeed for those who have contented themselves with the spectacle 
before his coming and gone away prostrate themselves and hail 
him (V, 5, 3). 

There is a Tractate on Intellectual Beauty, which shows the 
same kind of feeling (V, 8): 

Assuredly all the gods are august and beautiful in a beauty 
beyond our speech. And what makes them so? Intellect; and 
especially Intellect operating within them (the divine sun and 
stars) to visibility. . . . 

To "live at ease" is There; and to these divine beings verity is 
mother and nurse, existence and sustenance; all that is not of 
process but of authentic being they see, and themselves in all; for 
all is transparent, nothing dark, nothing resistant; every being is 
lucid to every other, in breadth and depth; light runs through 
light. And each of them contains all within itself, and at the same 
time sees all in every other, so that everywhere there is all, and all 
is all and each all, and infinite the glory. Each of them is great; 
the small is great ; the sun, There, is all the stars ; and every star, 
again, is all the stars and sun. While some manner of being is 
dominant in each, all are mirrored in every other. 

In addition to the imperfection which the world inevitably 
possesses because it is a copy, there is, for Plotinus as for the 
Christians, the more positive evil that results from sin. Sin is a 
consequence of free will, which Plotinus upholds as against the 
determinists, and, more particularly, the astrologers. He does not 
venture to deny the validity of astrology altogether, but he attempts 
to set bounds to it, BO as to make what remains compatible with 
free will. He does the same as regards magic; the sage, he says, is 
exempt from the power of the magician. Porphyry relates that a 

3*9 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

rival philosopher tried to put evil spells on Plotinus, but that' 
because of his holiness and wisdom, the spells recoiled on the 
rival. Porphyry, and all the followers of Plotinus, are much more 
superstitious than he is. Superstition, in him, is as slight as was 
possible in that age. 

Let us now endeavour to sum up the merits and defects of the 
doctrine taught by Plotinus, and in the main accepted by Christian 
theology so long as, it remained systematic and intellectual. 

There is, first and foremost, the construction of what Plotinus 
believed to be a secure refuge for ideals and hopes, and one, more- 
over, which involved both moral and intellectual effort. In the 
third century, and in the centuries after the barbarian invasion, 
western civilization came near to total destruction. It was fortunate 
that, while theology was almost the sole surviving mental activity, 
the system that was accepted was not purely superstitious, but 
preserved, though sometimes deeply buried, doctrines which 
embodied much of the work of Greek intellect and much of the 
moral devotion that is common to the Stoics and the Neoplatonists. 
This made possible the rise of the scholastic philosophy, and later, 
with the Renaissance, the stimulus derived from the renewed 
study of Plato, and thence of the other ancients. 

On the other hand, the philosophy of Plotinus has the defect 
of encouraging men to look within rather than to look without : 
when we look within we see nous, which is divine, while when we 
look without we see the imperfections of the sensible world. This 
kind of subjectivity was a gradual growth ; it is to be found in the 
doctrines of Protagoras, Socrates, and Plato, as well as in the 
Stoics and Epicureans. But at first it was only doctrinal, not 
temperamental ; for a long time it failed to kill scientific curiosity. 
We saw how Posidonius, about 100 B.C., travelled to Spain and 
the Atlantic coast of Africa to study the tides. Gradually, however, 
subjectivism invaded men's feelings as well as their doctrines. 
Science was no longer cultivated, and only virtue was thought 
important. Virtue, as conceived by Plato, involved all that was 
then possible in the way of mental achievement; but in later 
centuries it came to be thought of, increasingly, as involving only 
the virtuous wiU, and not a desire to understand the physical 
world or improve the world of human institutions. Christianity, 
in its ethical doctrines, was not free from this defect, although in 
practice belief in the importance of spreading the Christian faith 

.120 * 



PLOTINUS 

gave a practicable object for moral activity, which was no longer 
confined to the perfecting of self. 

Plotinus is both an end and a beginning an end as regards the 
Greeks, a beginning as regards Christendom. To the ancient world, 
weary with centuries of disappointment, exhausted by despair, 
his doctrine might be acceptable, but could not be stimulating. 
To the cruder barbarian world, where superabundant energy 
needed to be restrained and regulated rather than stimulated, 
what could penetrate in his teaching was beneficial, since the 
evil to be combated was not languor but brutality. The work of 
transmitting what could survive of his philosophy was performed 
by the Christian philosophers of the last age of Rome. 



// u/or > o/ W nt cr n l>k tttuoff h > J 2 1 



Book Two CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHY 



INTRODUCTION 7 

CATHOLIC philosophy, in the sense in which 1 shall use the 
term, is that which dominated European thought from 
Augustine to the Renaissance. There have been philo- 
sophers, before and after this period often centuries, who belonged 
to the same general school. Before Augustine there were the early 
Fathers, especially Origen; after the Renaissance there are many, 
'ncluding, at the present day, all orthodox Catholic teachers of 
philosophy, who adhere to some medieval system, especially that 
of Thomas Aquinas. But it is only from Augustine to the Re- 
naissance that the greatest philosophers of the age are concerned 
in building up or perfecting the Catholic synthesis. In the Christian 
centuries before Augustine, Stoics and Neoplatonists outshine the 
Fathers in philosophic ability; after the Renaissance, none of the 
outstanding philosophers, even among those who were orthodox 
Catholics, were concerned to carry on the Scholastic or the 
Augustinian tradition. 

The period with which we shall be concerned in this book differs 
from earlier and later times not only in philosophy, but in many 
other ways. The most notable of these is the power of the Church. 
The Church brought philosophic beliefs into a closer relation to 
social and political circumstances than they have ever had before 
or since the medieval period, which we may reckon from about 
A.I). 400 to about A.D. 1400. The Church is a social institution 
built upon a creed, partly philosophic, partly concerned with 
sacred history. It achieved power and wealth by means of its creed. 
The lay rulers, who were in frequent conflict with it, were defeated 
because the great majority' of the population, including most of 
the lay rulers themselves, were profoundly convinced of the truth 
of the Catholic faith. There were traditions, Roman and Germanic, 
against which the Church had to fight. The Roman tradition was 
strongest in Italy, especially among lawyers; the German tradition 
was strongest in the feudal aristocracy that arose out of the bar- 
barian conquest. But for many centuries neither of these traditions 

122 



INTRODUCTION 

proved strong enough to generate a successful opposition to the 
Church ; and this was largely due to the fact that they were not 
embodied in any adequate philosophy. 

A history of thought, such as that upon which we are engaged, 
is unavoidably one-sided in dealing with the Middle Ages. With 
very few exceptions, all the men of this period who contributed 
to the intellectual life of their time were churchmen. The laity 
in the Middle Ages slowly built up a vigorous political and 
economic system, but their activities were in a sense blind. There 
was in the later Middle Ages an important lay literature, very 
different from that of the Church ; in a general history, this litera- 
ture would demand more consideration than is called for in a 
history of philosophic thought. It is not until we come to Dante 
that we find a layman writing with full knowledge of the ecclesi- 
astical philosophy of his time. Until the fourteenth century, 
ecclesiastics have a virtual monopoly of philosophy, and philo- 
sophy, accordingly, is written from the standpoint of the Church. 
For this reason, medieval thought cannot be made intelligible 
without a fairly extensive account of the growth of ecclesiastical 
institutions, and especially of the papacy. 

The medieval world, as contrasted with the world of antiquity, 
is characterized by various forms of dualism. There is the dualisr 
of clergy and laity, the dualism of Latin and Teuton, the duali' 
of the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, the c* 
ism of the spirit and the flesh. All these are exemplified ' 
dualism of Pope and Emperor. The dualism of Latin and 
an outcome of the barbarian invasion, but the others 
sources. The relations of clergy and laity, for the 
were to be modelled on the relations of Samuel and 
demand for the supremacy of the clergy arose out 
of Arian or semi-Arian emperors and kings. The d 
kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world i* 
New Testament, but was systematized in Saint t ^ c dark 
of God. The dualism of the spirit and the flesh ' ct i v ity was 
Plato, and was emphasized by the Neoplatoni?* me to the 
in the teaching of St. Paul; and it domir^ nstan 
asceticism of the fourth and fifth centuries. 

Catholic philosophy is divided into 
ages, during which, in Western Europe, 
almost non-existent. From the 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

wars of Byzantines and Lombards destroyed most of what re- 
mained of the civilization of Italy. The Arabs conquered most of 
the territory of the Eastern Empire, established themselves in 
Africa and Spain, threatened France, and even, on one occasion, 
sacked Rome. The Danes and Normans caused havoc in France 
and England, in Sicily and Southern Italy. Life, throughout these 
centuries, was precarious and full of hardship. Bad as it was in 
reality, gloomy superstitions made it even worse. It was thought 
that the great majority even of Christians would go to hell. At 
every moment, men felt themselves encompassed by evil spirits, 
and exposed to the machinations of sorcerers and witches. No joy 
of life was possible, except, in fortunate moments, to those who 
retained the thoughtlessness of children. The general misery 
heightened the intensity of religious feeling. The life of the good 
here below was a pilgrimage to the heavenly city; nothing of value 
was possible in the sublunary world except the steadfast virtue 
that would lead, in the end, to eternal bliss. The Greeks, in their 
great days, had found joy and beauty in the everyday world. 
Empedocles, apostrophizing his fellow-citizens, says: " Friends, 
that inhabit the great city looking down on the yellow rock of 
Acragas, up by the citadel, busy in goodly works, harbour of 
honour for the stranger, men unskilled in meanness, all hail." In 
later times, until the Renaissance, men had no such simple happi- 
ness in the visible world, but turned their hopes to the ur-*>' J 
Acragas is replaced in their love by Jerusalem the Golden. lts t " e 
earthly happiness at last returned, the intensity of longin- nten ; sts 
other world grew gradually less. Men used the same \ f *" e 
with a less profound sincerity. *; 

In the attempt to make the genesis and significance stian reve ' 
philosophy intelligible, I have found it necessary to challenged 
space to general history than is demanded in connects- * systems 
ancient or modern philosophy. Catholic philoy^^' * n the * on 8 
the philosophy of an institution, namel ""stake, but in the 
modern philosophy, even when it r -** v;Cess * u *' 
concerned with problems, espec* 8 ' which had an air of complete- 
which are derived from Christ :J b X a vanet y of cause8 - Perhaps 
Catholic doctrines as to thtV 2 * thc 8 rowth of a rich commercial 
Graeco-Ror/*n paganism tl Hewhene. The feudal aristocracy, in 
Christian, from the very begi' * tu P ld - and barbaric; the common 
or, in political terms, to Chur^ rch M superior to the nobles in 

3*4 



INTRODUCTION 

The problems raised by this dual loyalty were, for the most 
part, worked out in practice before the philosophers supplied the 
necessary theory. In this process there were two very distinct 
stages: one before the fall of the Western Empire, and one after 
it. The practice of a long line of bishops, culminating in St. 
Ambrose, supplied the basis for St. Augustine's political philo- 
sophy. Then came the barbarian invasion, followed by a long time 
of confusion and increasing ignorance. Between Boethius and 
St. Anselm, a period of over five centuries, there is only one 
eminent philosopher, John the Scot, and he, as an Irishman, had 
largely escaped the various processes that were moulding the rest 
of the Western world. But this period, in spite of the absence of 
philosophers, was not one during which there was no intellectual 
development. Chaos raised urgent practical problems, which were 
dealt with by means of institutions and modes of thought that 
dominated scholastic philosophy, and are, to a great extent, still 
important at the present day. These institutions and modes of 
thought were not introduced to the world by theorists, but by 
practical men in the stress of conflict. The moral reform of the 
Church in the eleventh century, which was the immediate prelude 
to the scholastic philosophy, was a reaction against the increasing 
absorption of the Church into the feudal system. To understand 
the scholastics we must understand Hil deb rand, and to understand 
1 ^Mebrand we must know something of the evils against which 

.. Attended. Nor can we ignore the foundation of the Holy 
mediex .**,. & T - ^ i_ 

. , Empire and its effect upon European thought. 

S u- ! * i^Js* 5 reasons, the reader will find in the following pages 
this svntfiC . , , - t f i - . i 

rf * |piastical and political history of which the relevance to 
1 he moi f . ., , . , i , . ,. , 

,|ment of philosophic thought may not be immediately 

I . I is the more necessary to relate something of this 
only rendcf . . . . . J . , . f & ... 

Tl h period concerned is obscure, and is unfamiliar to 

\ . . *^* nt home with both ancient and modern history, 
out western huru> . . , , , . ~ , 

, . . : - ^phers have had as much influence on philo- 

when the general level c. , ~ , , . T<1 , ' r , 

i 11 j ^t. r L %h rose, Charlemagne, and Hiidebrand. 
lull during the fourth century, . ' . / , 6 ' , , . . 
u \\r * r i *u * u nin fe these men and their times 
the Western Empire and the estab T r 

. . f * . rr, ,;v adequate treatment of our 

out its former territory. The culm. ^ 

late Roman civilization depended, 
condition of destitute refugees; the 
their rural estates. Fresh shocks cor 
without any sufficient breathing $rt 

125 ] 



Part i . The Fathers 



Chapter I 

THE RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT 
OF THE JEWS 

^ | -1HE Christian religion, as it was handed over by the late 

I Roman Empire to the barbarians, consisted of three ele- 

JL ments: first, certain philosophical beliefs, derived mainly 

from Plato and the Neoplatonists, but also in part from the Stoics; 

second, a conception of morals and history derived from the Jews ; 

and third, certain theories, more especially as to salvation, which 

were on the whole new in Christianity, though in part traceable 

to Orphism, and to kindred cults of the Near East. 
The most important Jewish elements in Christianity appear to 

me to be the following: 

1. A sacred history, beginning with the Creation, leading to a 
consummation in the future, and justifying the ways of Q . 

man ' i . f f , *** the unseen. 

2. The existence of a small section of man* e Q^J^ When 

specially loves. For Jews, this section was the. of , . for thc 
Christians, the elect. uged tf Mme * V0rd8> but 

3. A new conception of nghteoi 

giving, for example, was taken o^ and significance O f Catholic 
Judaism. The importance attache^ h nec lo ^. otc more 

from Orphism or from onent emanded in ^^n ^ th cithcr 
practical philanthropy, as a /h Catholjc hilocj phy is essentially 
of virtue, seems to have cof tution> MIW>V thc Catholic Church; 

4. The Law. Chnstiami^jj ; , IS t ar f rom orthodox, is largely 
instance the Decalogue, wL^feUy in ethics and political theory 
ritual parts. But in practice ^, an views of the moral law and froin 
same feelings that the Jew* relations of Church and State. In 
the doctrine that correct beliere is no such dual loyalty as the 
action, a doctrine which is esnning, has owed to God and Caesar, 
origin is the exclusiveness of -h and State. 



THE RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT OP THE JEWS 

5. The Messiah. The Jews believed that the Messiah would 
bring them temporal prosperity, and victory over their enemies 
here on earth ; moreover, he remained in the future. For Christians, 
the Messiah was the historical Jesus, who was also identified with 
the Logos of Greek philosophy; and it was not on earth, but in 
heaven, that the Messiah was to enable his followers to triumph 
over their enemies. 

6. The Kingdom of Heaven. Other-worldliness is a conception 
which Jews and Christians, in a sense, share with later Platonism, 
but it takes, with them, a much more concrete form than with 
(I reek philosophers. The Greek doctrine which is to be found 
in much Christian philosophy, but not in popular Christianity 
was that the sensible world, in space and time, is an illusion, and 
that, by intellectual and moral discipline, a man can learn to live 
in the eternal world, which alone is real. The Jewish and Christian 
doctrine, on the other hand, conceived the Other World as not 
metaphysically different from this world, but as in the future, when 
the virtuous would enjoy everlasting bliss and the wicked would 
suffer everlasting torment. This belief embodied revenge psy- 
chology, and was intelligible to all and sundry, as the doctrines 
of Greek philosophers were not. 

' r o understand the origin of these beliefs, we must take account 



..-.. . '" facts in Jewish history, to which we will now turn our 
Hildebranu 

he contended. , ^ of lhe Israc i ites ^^^ be con fi r med from any 
Roman Lmpire an>v,, d Testamen t, and it is impossible to know at 
tor these reasons, * - . urelv legendary. David and Solomon 
much ecclesiastical and polit ' bablv had a real existence, but 
the development .of ph.losophi, w CQme to somethi ^^ 
evident. It is the more nect ki doms of Israe , and Judah . 
history as the period concerned . Q , d Testamem of whom there 
many who are at home with both of Ittac , who u ken 
I-ew technical philosophers have had a A^yrf^ finally conquered 
sopluc thought as St. Ambrose, Cha; nd remoyed . rf 

lo relate what is essential concerning dom of Judah a , one 
is therefore indispensable in any i tion . The kingdom of Judah 
8U ' ec ' ower came to an end with the 

.lians and Medes in 606 B.C. 
aptured Jerusalem, destroyed 
t of the population to Babylon. 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The Babylonian kingdom fell in 538 B.C., when Babylon was taken 
by Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians. Cyrus, in 537 B.C., 
issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to Palestine. Many of 
them did so, under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra; die 
Temple was rebuilt, and Jewish orthodoxy began to be crystallized. 

In the period of the captivity, and for some time before and 
after this period, Jewish religion went through a very important 
development. Originally, there appears to have been not very 
much difference, from a religious point of view, between the 
Israelites and surrounding tribes. Yahweh was, at first, only a 
tribal god who favoured the children of Israel, but it was not 
denied that there were other gods, and their worship was habitual. 
When the first Commandment says "Thou shall have none other 
gods but me," it is saying something which was an innovation 
in the time immediately preceding the captivity. This is made 
evident by various texts in the earlier prophets. It was the 
prophets at this time who first taught that the worship of heathen 
gods was sin. To win the victory in the constant wars of that time, 
they proclaimed, the favour of Yahweh was essential ; and Yahweh 
would withdraw his favour if other gods were also honoured. 
Jeremiah and Ezekiel, especially, seem to have invented the idea 
that all religions except one are false, and that the Lord punishes 
idolatry. 

Some quotations will illustrate their teachings, and the pre- 
valence of the heathen practices against which they protested. 
"Seest Thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the 
streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers 
kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes 
to the queen of heaven [Ishtar], and pour out drink offerings unto 
other gods, that they may provoke me to anger." 1 The Ix>rd is 
angry about it. "And they have built the high places of Tophct, 
which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons 
and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, 
neither came it into my heart." 2 

There is a very interesting passage in Jeremiah in which he 
denounces the Jews in Kgypt for their idolatry. He himself had 
lived among them for a time. The prophet tells the Jewish refugees 
in Egypt that Yahweh will destroy them all because their wives 
have burnt incense to other gods. But they refuse to listen to him, 

1 Jeremiah vii, 17-18. * Jbid. t vii, 31. 

330 



THE RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWS 

saying: "We will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out 
of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and 
to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we and our 
fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in 
the streets of Jerusalem ; for then had we plenty of victuals, and 
were well, and saw no evil." But Jeremiah assures them that 
Yahweh noticed these idolatrous practices, and that misfortune 
has come because of them. "Behold, I have sworn by my great 
name, saith the Lord, that my name shall no more be named in 
the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt. . . . 
I will watch over them for evil, and not for good; and all the 
men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by 
the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them." 1 

Iv/ckiel is equally shocked by the idolatrous practices of the 
Jews. The Ix>rd in a vision shows him women at the north gate of 
the temple weeping for Tammuz (a Babylonian deity); then He 
shows him "greater abominations," five and twenty men at the 
door of the temple worshipping the sun. The Lord declares: 
"Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, 
neither will I have pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a 
loud voice, yet will I not hear them." 2 

The idea that all religions but one are wicked, and that the 
Lord punishes idolatry, was apparently invented by these prophets. 
The prophets, on the whole, were fiercely nationalistic, and looked 
forward to the day when the Ix>rd would utterly destroy the 
gentiles. 

The captivity was taken to justify the denunciations of the 
prophets. If Yahweh was all-powerful, and the Jews were his 
Chosen People, their sufferings could only be explained by their 
wickedness. The psychology is that of paternal correction: the 
Jews are to be purified by punishment. Under the influence of this 
belief, they developed, in exile, an orthodoxy much more rigid and 
much more nationally exclusive than that which had prevailed while 
they were independent. The Jews who remained behind and were 
not transplanted to Babylon did not undergo this development 
to anything like the same extent. When Ezra and Nehemiah came 
back to Jerusalem after the captivity, they were shocked to find 
that mixed marriages had been common, and they dissolved all 
such marriages. 3 

1 Jeremiah xliv, ii-cnd. ' Kzckiel vii, ii-cnd. * Ezra ix-x, 5. 

33' 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

in our version of the Apocrypha. The morality taught is very 
mundane. Reputation among neighbours is highly prized. Honesty 
is the best policy, because it is useful to have Yahweh on your 
side. Almsgiving is recommended. The only sign of Greek influence 
is in the praise of medicine. 

Slaves must not be treated too kindly. "Fodder, a wand, and 
burdens, are for the ass: and bread, correction, and work, for a 
servant. ... Set him to work, as is fit for him: if he be not 
obedient, put on more heavy fetters"(xxiii, 24, 28). At the same 
time, remember that you have paid a price for him, and that if 
he runs away you will lose your money; this sets a limit to pro- 
fitable severity (ibid., 30, 31). Daughters are a great source of 
anxiety; apparently in the writer's day they were much addicted to 
immorality (xlii, 9-11). He has a low opinion of women: "From 
garments cometh a moth, and from women wickedness" (ibid., 13). 
It is a mistake to be cheerful with your children ; the right course 
is to "bow down their neck from their youth" (vii. 23, 24). 

Altogether, like the elder Cato, he represents the morality of 
the virtuous business man in a very unattractive li^ht. 

This tranquil existence ot comfortable self-righteousness was 
rudely interrupted by the Scleucid king Amiochus IV, who was 
determined to hellenize all his dominions. In 175 B.C. he estab- 
lished a gymnasium in Jerusalem, and taught young men to ucar 
Greek hats and practise athletics. In this he was helped by a 
hellenizing Jew named Jason, whom he made high priest. The 
priestly aristocracy had become lax, and had felt the attraction 
of Greek civilization; but they were vehemently opposed by a 
party called the "Hasidim" (meaning "Holy"), who were strong 
among the rural population. 1 When, in 170 B.C., Antiochus 
became Involved in war with ligypt, the Jews rebelled. Thereupon 
Antiochus took the holy vessels from the Temple, and placed in 
it the image of the God. He identified Yahweh with Zeus, 
following a practice \\hich had been successful ever)' where else.* 
He resolved to extirpate the Jewish religion, and to stop circum- 

1 From them, probably, dc \eloped the sect of the Kssenes, whose 
doctrines seem to have influenced primitive Christianity. Sec Ocstcrlcy 
and Robinson, Ilutury of Israel, Vol. II, p. 323 II. The Pharisee* also 
descended from them. 

9 Some Alexandrian Jew* did not object to this identification. See 
Letter uf Aris teas t 15, 16. 

334 



THE RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWS 

cision and the observance of the laws relating to food. To all this 
Jerusalem submitted, but outside Jerusalem the Jews resisted 
with the utmost stubbornness. 

The history of this period is told in the First Book of Maccabees. 
The first chapter tells how Antiochus decreed that all the in- 
habitants of his kingdom should be one people, and abandon their 
separate laws. All the heathen obeyed, and many of the Israelites, 
although the king commanded that they should profane the 
sabbath, sacrifice swine's flesh, and leave their children uncir- 
cumcised. All who disobeyed were to suffer death. Many, neverthe- 
less, resisted. "They put to death certain women, that had caused 
their children to be circumcised. And they hanged the infants 
about their necks, and rifled their houses, and slew them that had 
circumcised them. Howbeit many in Israel were fully resolved 
and confirmed in themselves not to eat any unclean thing. Where- 
fore they chose rather to die, that they might not be defiled with 
meats, and that they might not profane the holy covenant: so then 
they died." 1 

It was at this time that the doctrine of immortality came to be 
widely believed among the Jews. It had been thought that virtue 
would be rewarded here on earth; but persecution, which fell 
upon the most virtuous, made it evident that this was not the case. 
In order to safeguard divine justice, therefore, it was necessary 
to believe in rewards and punishments hereafter. This doctrine 
was not universally accepted among the Jews; in the time of 
Christ, the Sadducees still rejected it. But by that time they 
were a small party, and in later times all Jews believed in immor- 
tality. 

The revolt against Antiochus was led by Judas Maccabaeus, an 
able military commander, who first recaptured Jerusalem (164 B.C.), 
and then embarked upon aggression. Sometimes he killed all the 
males, sometimes he circumcised them by force. His brother 
Jonathan was made high priest, was allowed to occupy Jerusalem 
with a garrison, and conquered part of Samaria, acquiring Joppa 
and Akra. He negotiated with Rome, and was successful in securing 
complete autonomy. His family were high priests until Herod, 
and are known as the I lasmonean dynasts. 

In enduring and resisting persecution the Jews of this time 
showed immense heroism, although in defence of things that do 
1 I Maccabees i, 60-3. 

335 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

The New Testament writers are familiar with it; St. Jude con- 
siders it to be actually by Enoch. Early Christian Fathers, for 
instance Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, treated it as 
canonical, but Jerome and Augustine rejected it. It fell, conse- 
quently, into oblivion, and was lost until, early in the nineteenth 
century, three manuscripts of it, in Ethiopic, were found in 
Abyssinia. Since then, manuscripts of parts of it have been found 
in Greek and Latin versions. It appears to have been originally 
written partly in Hebrew, partly in Aramaic. Its authors were 
members of the Hasidim, and their successors the Pharisees. It 
denounces kings and princes, meaning the Hasmonean dynasty 
and the Sadducees. It influenced New Testament doctrine, 
particularly as regards the Messiah, Sheol (hell), and demonology. 

The book consists mainly of "parables," which are more cosmic 
than those of the New Testament. There are visions of heaven 
and hell, of the Last Judgment, and so on ; one is reminded of the 
first two Books of Paradise Lost where the literary quality is good, 
and of Blake's Prophetic Books where it is inferior. 

There is an expansion of Genesis vi, 2, 4, which is curious and 
Promethean. The angels taught men metallurgy, and were punished 
for revealing ''eternal secrets." They were also cannibals. The 
angels that had sinned became pagan gods, and their women 
became sirens ; but at the last, they were punished with everlajtin^ 
torments. 

There are descriptions of heaven and hell which have consider- 
able literary merit. The Last Judgipent is performed by "the Son 
of Man, who hath righteousness" and who sits on the throne of 
His glory. Some of the gentiles, at the last, will repent and be 
forgiven; but most gentiles, and all hellenizing Jews, will suffer 
eternal damnation, for the righteous will pray for vengeance, and 
their prayer will be granted. 

There is a section on astronomy, where we learn that the sun 
and moon have chariots driven by the wind, that the year consists 
of 364 days, that human sin causes the heavenly bodies to depart 
from their courses, and that only the virtuous can know astronomy. 
Falling stars are falling angels, and are punished by the seven 
archangels. 

Next comes sacred history. Up to the Maccabees, this pursues 
the course known from the Bible in its earlier portions, and from 
history in the later parts. Then the author goes on into the future: 

338 



THE RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWS 

the New Jerusalem, the conversion of the remnant of the gentiles, 
the resurrection of the righteous, and the Messiah. 

There is a great deal about the punishment of sinners and the 
reward of the righteous, who never display an attitude of Christian 
forgiveness towards sinners. "What will ye do, ye sinners, and 
whither will ye flee on that day of judgment, when ye hear the 
voice of the prayer of the righteous?" "Sin has not been sent upon 
the earth, but man of himself has created it." Sins are recorded 
in heaven. "Ye sinners shall be cursed for ever, and ye shall have 
no peace." Sinners may be happy all their lives, and even in 
dying, but their souls descend into Sheol, where they shall suffer 
"darkness and chains and a burning flame." But as for the 
righteous, "I and my Son will be united with them for ever." 

The last words of the book are: "To the faithful he will give 
faithfulness in the habitation of upright paths. And they shall see 
those who were born in darkness led into darkness, while the 
righteous shall be resplendent. And the sinners shall cry aloud 
and see them resplendent, and they indeed will go where days and 
seasons are prescribed for them." 

Jews, like Christians, thought much about sin, but few of them 
thought of themselves as sinners. This was, in the main, a Christian 
innovation, introduced by the parable of the Pharisee and the 
publican, and taucht as a virtue in Christ's denunciations of the 
Scribes and Pharisees. The Christians endeavoured to practise 
Christian humility; the Jews, in general, did not. 

There are, however, important exceptions among orthodox Jews 
just before the lime of Christ. Take, for instance, "The Testaments 
ill" the Twelve Patriarchs/ 1 written between 109 and 107 B.C. by 
a Pharisee who admired John Hyrcanus, a high priest of the 
Ihusmonean dynasty. This book, in the form in which we have it, 
contains Christian interpolations, but these are all concerned with 
dogma. When they are excised, the ethical teaching remains closely 
similar to that of the ( jnspels. As the Rev. Dr. R. H. Charles says: 
"The Sermon on the Mount reflects in several instances the spirit 
and even reproduces the very phrases of our text: many passages 
in tlir (iospcls exhibit traces of the same, and St. Paul seems to 
have used the book as a vade mecuin" (op. '/., pp. 291-2). We 
lind in this hook such preempts as the following: 

"Love ye one another from the heart; and if a man sin against 
thec, speak peaceably to him, and in thy soul hold not guile; and 

339 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

if he repent and confess, forgive him. But if he deny it, do not 
get into a passion with him, lest catching the poison from thee 
he take to swearing, and so then sin doubly. . . . And if he be 
shameless and persist in wrong-doing, even so forgive him from 
the heart, and leave to God the avenging." 

Dr. Charles is of opinion that Christ must have been acquainted 
with this passage. Again we find : 

"Love the Lord and your neighbour." 

"Love the Lord through all your life, and one another with a 
true heart." 

"I love the Lord; likewise also every man with all my heart." 
These are to be compared with Matthew xxii, 37-39. There is a 
reprobation of all hatred in "The Testaments of the Twelve 
Patriarchs"; for instance: 

"Anger is blindness, and docs not suffer one to see the face of 
any man with truth." 

"Hatred, therefore, is evil; for it constantly matcth with lying." 
The author of this book, as might be expected, holds that not only 
the Jews, but all the gentiles, will be saved. 

Christians have learnt from the Gospels to think ill of Pharisees, 
yet the author of this book was a Pharisee, and he taught, as we 
have seen, those very ethical maxims which we think of as most 
distinctive of Christ's preaching. The explanation, however, is 
not difficult. In the first place, he must have been, even in his own 
day, an exceptional Pharisee; the more usual doctrine was, no 
doubt, that of the Book of Enoch. In the second place, we know 
that all movements tend to ossify ; who could infer the principles 
of Jefferson from those of the Daughters of the American Revo- 
lution? In the third place, we know, as regards the Pharisees in 
particular, that their devotion to the Law, as the absolute and 
final truth, soon put an end to all fresh and living thought and 
feeling among them. As Dr. Charles says: 

"When Pharisaism, breaking with the ancient ideals of its party, 
committed itself to political interests and movements, and con- 
currently therewith surrendered itself more and more wholly to 
the study of the letter of the Law, it soon ceased to offer scope for 
the development of such a lofty system of ethics as the Testaments 
[of the Patriarchs] attest, and so the true successors of the early 
Hasids and their teaching quitted Judaism and found their natural 
home in the bosom of primitive Christianity." 

340 



THE RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENT OF THE JEWS 

After a period of rule by the High Priests, Mark Antony made 
his friend Herod King of the Jews. Herod was a gay adventurer, 
often on the verge of bankruptcy, accustomed to Roman society, 
and very far removed from Jewish piety. His wife was of the 
family of the high priests, but he was an Idumaean, which alone 
would suffice to make him an object of suspicion to the Jews. He 
was a skilful time-server, and deserted Antony promptly when it 
became evident that Octavius was going to be victorious. However, 
he made strenuous attempts to reconcile the Jews to his rule. He 
rebuilt the Temple, though in a hellenistic style, with rows of 
Corinthian pillars; but he placed over the main gate a large 
golden eagle, thereby infringing the second Commandment. When 
it was rumoured that he was dying, the Pharisees pulled down the 
eagle, but he, in revenge, caused a number of them to be put to 
death. He died in 4 B.C., and soon after his death the Romans 
abolished the kingship, putting Judea under a procurator. Pontius 
Pilate, who became procurator in A.U. 26, was tactless, and was 
soon retired. 

In A.D. 66, the Jews, led by the party of the Zealots, rebelled 
against Rome. They were defeated, and Jerusalem was captured 
in A.D. 70. The Temple was destroyed, and few Jews were left in 
Judea. 

The Jews of the Dispersion had become important centuries 
before this time. The Jews had been originally an almost wholly 
agricultural people, but they learnt trading from the Babylonians 
during the captivity. Many of them remained in Babylon after the 
time of lizra and Nehemiah, and among these some were very 
rich. After the foundation of Alexandria, great numbers of Jews 
settled in that city; they had a special quarter assigned to them, 
not as a ghetto, but to keep them from danger of pollution by 
contact with gentiles. The Alexandrian Jews became much more 
hellenized than those of Judea, and forgot Hebrew. For this reason 
it became necessary to translate the Old Testament into Greek; 
the result was the Septuagint. The Pentateuch was translated in 
the middle of the third century B.C.; the other parts somewhat 
later. 

Legends arose about the Septuagint, so called because it was 
the work of seventy translators. It was said that each of the 
seventy translated the whole independently, and that when the 
versions were compared they were found to be identical down to 



Chapter II 

CHRISTIANITY DURING THE FIRST FOUR 

CENTURIES 

CHRISTIANITY, at first, was preached by Jews to Jews, as 
a reformed Judaism. St. James, and to a lesser extent St. 
Peter, wished it to remain no more than this, and they 
might have prevailed but for St. Paul, who was determined to 
admit gentiles without demanding circumcision or submission to 
the Mosaic Law. The contention between the two factions is 
related in the Acts of the Apostles, from a Pauline point of view. 
The communities of Christians that St. Paul established in many 
places, were, no doubt, composed partly of converts from among 
the Jews, partly of gentiles seeking a new religion. The certainties 
of Judaism made it attractive in that age of dissolving faiths, but 
circumcision was an obstacle to the conversion of men. The ritual 
laws in regard to food were also inconvenient. These two obstacles, 
even if there had been no others, would have made it almost im- 
possible for the Hebrew religion to become universal. Christianity, 
owing to St. Paul, retained what was attractive in the doctrines of 
the Jews, without the features that gentiles found hardest to 
assimilate. 

The view that the Jews were the Chosen People remained, how- 
ever, obnoxious to Greek pride. This view was radically rejected 
by the Gnostics. They, or at least some of them, held that the 
sensible world had been created by an inferior deity named 
laldabaoth, the rebellious son of Sophia (heavenly wisdom). He, 
they said, is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, while the serpent, 
so far from being wicked, was engaged in warning Eve against 
his deceptions. For a long time, the supreme deity allowed lalda- 
baoth free play; at last lie sent His Son to inhabit temporarily 
the body of the man Jesus, and to liberate the world from the false 
teaching of Moses. Those who held this view, or something like 
it, combined it, as a rule, with a Platonic philosophy; Plotinus, 
as we saw, found some difficulty in refuting it. Gnosticism afforded 
a half-way house between philosophic paganism and Christianity, 
for, while it honoured Christ, it thought ill of the Jews. The 
same was true, later, of Manichaeism, through which St. Augustine 

344 



CHRISTIANITY DURING THE FIRST FOUR CENTURIES 

came to the Catholic Faith. Manichseism combined Christian and 
Zoroastrian elements, teaching that evil is a positive principle, 
embodied in matter, while the good principle is embodied in 
spirit. It condemned meat-eating, and all sex, even in marriage. 
Such intermediate doctrines helped much in the gradual con- 
version of cultivated men of Greek speech; but the New Testa- 
ment warns true believers against them: "O Timothy, keep that 
which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain 
babblings, and oppositions of science [Gnosis] falsely so called: 
which some professing have erred concerning the faith." 1 

Gnostics and Manichaeans continued to flourish until the govern- 
ment became Christian. After that time they were led to conceal 
their beliefs, but they still had a subterranean influence. One of the 
doctrines of a certain sect of Gnostics was adopted by Mohammed. 
They taught that Jesus was a mere man, and that the Son of God 
descended upon him at the baptism, and abandoned him at the 
time of the Passion. In support of this view they appealed to 
the text: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 2 
a text which, it must be confessed, Christians have always found 
difficult. The Gnostics considered it unworthy of the Son of God 
to be born, to be an infant, and, above all, to die on the cross; 
they said that these things had befallen the man Jesus, but not 
the divine Son of God. Mohammed, who recognized Jesus as a 
prophet, though not as divine, had a strong class feeling that 
prophets ought not to come to a bad end. He therefore adopted 
the view of the Docetics (a Gnostic sect), according to which it 
was a mere phantom that hung upon the cross, upon which, 
impotently and ignorantly, Jews and Romans wreaked their 
ineffectual vengeance. In this way, something of Gnosticism 
passed over into the orthodox doctrine of Islam. 

The attitude of Christians to contemporary Jews early became 
hostile. The received view was that God had spoken to the patri- 
archs and prophets, who were holy men, and had foretold the 
coming of Christ; but when Christ came, the Jews failed to 
recognize Him, and were thenceforth to be accounted wicked. 
Moreover Christ had abrogated the Mosaic Law, substituting the 
two commandments to love God and our neighbour; this, also, 
the Jews perversely failed to recognize. As soon as the State 
became Christian, anti-Semitism, in its medieval form, began, 

1 I Timothy vi, ao, ai. ' Mark xxv, 34. 

345 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

nominally as a manifestation of Christian zeal. How far the 
economic motives, by which it was inflamed in later times, operated 
in the Christian Empire, it seems impossible to ascertain. 

In proportion as Christianity became hellenized, it became theo- 
logical. Jewish theology was always simple. Yahweh developed 
from a tribal deity into the sole omnipotent God who created 
heaven and earth ; divine justice, when it was seen not to confer 
earthly prosperity upon the virtuous, was transferred to heaven, 
which entailed belief in immortality. But throughout its evolution 
the Jewish creed involved nothing complicated and metaphysical ; 
it had no mysteries, and every Jew could understand it. 

This Jewish simplicity, on the whole, still characterizes the 
synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but has already 
disappeared in St. John, where Christ is identified with the 
Platonic-Stoic Logos. It is less Christ the Man than Christ 'the 
theological figure that interests the fourth evangelist. This is still 
more true of the Fathers; you mil find, in their writings, many 
more allusions to St. John than to the other three gospels put 
together. The Pauline epistles also contain much theology, espe- 
cially as regards salvation; at the same time they show a con- 
siderable acquaintance with Greek culture a quotation from 
Menander, an allusion to Epimenides the Cretan who said that 
all Cretans are liars, and so on. Nevertheless St. Paul 1 says: 
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain 
deceit." 

The synthesis of Greek philosophy and Hebrew scriptures 
remained more or less haphazard and fragmentary until the time 
of Origen (A.D. 185-254). Origen, like Philo, lived in Alexandria, 
which, owing to commerce and the university, was, from its 
foundation to its fall, the chief centre of learned syncretism. Like 
his contemporary Plotinus, he was a pupil of Ammonius Saccas, 
whom many regard as the founder of Neoplatonisrn. His doctrines, 
as set forth in his work De Principtis, have much affinity to those 
of Plotinus more, in fact, than is compatible with orthodoxy. 

There is, Origen says, nothing wholly incorporeal except God 
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The stars are living rational beings, 
to whom God has given souls that were already in existence. The 
sun, he thinks, can sin. The souls of men, as Plato taught, come 
to them at birth from elsewhere, having existed ever since the 
1 Or rather the author of an Epistle attributed to St. Paul Coiosaians ii,8. 

34 6 



CHRISTIANITY DURING THE FIRST FOUR CENTURIES 

Creation. Nous and soul are distinguished more or less as in 
Plotinus. When Nous falls away, it becomes soul; soul, when 
virtuous, becomes Nous. Ultimately all spirits will become wholly 
submissive to Christ, and will then be bodiless. Even the devil 
will be saved at the last. 

Origen, in spite of being recognized as one of the Fathers, was, 
in later times, condemned as having maintained four heresies: 

1 . The pre-existence of souls, as taught by Plato. 

2. That the human nature of Christ, and not only His divine 
nature, existed before the Incarnation. 

3. That, at the resurrection, our bodies will be transformed 
into absolutely ethereal bodies. 

4. That all men, and even devils, shall be saved at the last. 

St. Jerome, who had expressed a somewhat unguarded admira- 
tion of Origen for his work in establishing the text of the Old 
Testament, found it prudent, subsequently, to expend much time 
and vehemence in repudiating his theological errors. 

Origen 's aberrations were not only theological; in his youth he 
was guilty of an irreparable error through a too literal interpreta- 
tion of the text: "There be eunuchs, which have made themselves 
eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake." 1 This method of 
escaping the temptations of the flesh, which Origen rashly adopted, 
had been condemned by the Church; moreover it made him 
ineligible for holy orders, although some ecclesiastics seem to have 
thought otherwise, thereby giving rise to unedifying controversies. 

Origen *s longest work is a book entitled Against Celsus. Celsus 
was the author of a book (now lost) against Christianity, and 
Origen set to work to answer him point by point. Celsus begins 
by objecting to Christians because they belong to illegal associa- 
tions; this Origen does not deny, but claims to be a virtue, like 
tyrannicide. He then comes to what is no doubt the real basis for 
the dislike of Christianity: Christianity, says Celsus, comes from 
the Jews, who are barbarians; and only Greeks can extract sense 
out of the teachings of barbarians. Origen replies that anyone 
coming from Greek philosophy to the Gospels would conclude 
that they arc true, and supply a demonstration satisfying to the 
Greek intellect. But, further, "The Gospel has a demonstration 
of its own, more divine than any established by Grecian dialectics. 
And this diviner method is called by the apostle the 'manifestation 
1 Matthew xix, 12. 

347 



WBSTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

of the Spirit and of power'; of 'the Spirit/ on account of the 
prophecies, which are sufficient to produce faith in any one who 
reads them, especially in those things which relate to Christ; and 
of 'power/ because of the signs and wonders which we must 
believe to have been performed, both on many other grounds, and 
on this, that traces of them are still preserved among those who 
regulate their lives by the precepts of the Gospel." 1 

This passage is interesting, as showing already the twofold argu- 
ment for belief which is characteristic of Christian philosophy. 
On the one hand, pure reason, rightly exercised, suffices to establish 
the essentials of the Christian faith, more especially God, im- 
mortality, and free will. But on the other hand the Scriptures 
prove not only these bare essentials, but much more; and the 
divine inspiration of the Scriptures is proved by the fact that the 
prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah, by the miracles, 
and by the beneficent effects of belief on the lives of the faithful. 
Some of these arguments are now considered out of date, but the 
last of them was still employed by William James. All of them, 
until the Renaissance, were accepted by even 1 Christian philo- 
sopher. 

Some of Origen's arguments are curious. He says that magicians 
invoke the "God of Abraham/' often without knowing who Ik- 
is; but apparently this invocation is specially potent. Names are 
essential in magic; it is not indifferent whether Coil is called by 
His Jewish, Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, or Brahman name. 
Magic formulae lose their efficacy- when translated. (>nc is led to 
suppose that the magicians of the time used formulae from all 
known religions, but if Origen is right, those derived from Hebrew 
sources were the most effective. The argument is the more curious 
as he points out that Moses forbade sorcery. 2 

Christians, we are told, should not take part in the government 
of the State, but only of the "divine nation, " i.e., the Church. 3 
This doctrine, of course, was somewhat modified after the time 
of Constantine, but something of it survived. It is implicit in St. 
Augustine's City of God. It led churchmen, at the time of the 
fall of the Western Empire, to look on passively at secular disasters, 
while they exercised their very great talents in Church discipline, 

1 Origen, Contra Celsum, Book I, chap. ti. 
1 Ibid., Book I, chap. xxvi. 
., Book VIII, chap. bcxv 

348 



CHRISTIANITY DURING THE FIRST FOUR CENTURIES 

theological controversy, and the spread of monasticism. Some 
trace of it still exists: most people regard politics as "worldly" 
and unworthy of any really holy man. 

Church government developed slowly during the first three 
centuries, and rapidly after the conversion of Constantino. Bishops 
were popularly elected; gradually they acquired considerable 
power over Christians in their own dioceses, but before Con- 
stant ine there was hardly any form of central government over 
the whole Church. The power of bishops in great cities was 
enhanced by the practice of almsgiving: the offerings of the 
faithful were administered by the bishop, who could give or with- 
hold charity to the poor. There came thus to be a mob of the 
destitute, ready to do the bishop's will. When the State became 
Christian, the bishops were given judicial and administrative 
functions. There came also to be a central government, at least 
in matters of doctrine. Constantine was annoyed by the quarrel 
between Catholics and Arians; having thrown in his lot with the 
Christians he wanted them to be a united part)'. For the purpose 
of healing dissensions, he caused the convening of the oecumenical 
Council of Nicara, which drew up the Xicene Creed, 1 and, so 
far as the Arian controversy was concerned, determined for all 
lime the standard of orthodoxy. Other later controversies were 
similarly decided by oecummical councils, until the division 
between Kast and West and the Kastern refusal to admit the 
authority of the POJX* made them impossible. 

The i'ope, though officially the most important individual in 
ihc Church, had no authority over the Church as a whole until a 
much later period. The gradual growth of the papal power is a 
very interesting subject, which I shall deal with in later chapters. 

The growth of Christianity before Constantine, as well as the 
motives of his conversion, has been variously explained by various 
authors. Gibbon* assigns live causes: 

"I. The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the 
intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the 
Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit 
which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from em- 
bracing the law of Moses. 

"II. The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional 
1 Not exactly in its present form, which was decided upon in 362. 
1 The Decline and Full <>/ the Ruman Empire, chap. xv. 

349 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that im- 
portant truth. 

"III. The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive Church. 

"IV. The pure and austere morals of the Christians. 

"V. The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which 
gradually formed an independent and increasing State in the 
heart of the Roman empire." 

Broadly speaking, this analysis may be accepted, but with some 
comments. The first cause the inflexibility and intolerance 
derived from the Jews may be wholly accepted. We have seen 
in our own day the advantages of intolerance in propaganda. The 
Christians, for the most part, believed that they alone would go 
to heaven, and that the most awful punishments would, in the 
next world, fall upon the heathen. The other religions which 
competed for favour during the third century had not this threa- 
tening character. The worshippers of the Great Mother, for 
example, while they had a ceremony the Taurobolium which 
was analogous to baptism, did not teach that those who omitted 
it would go to hell. It may be remarked, incidentally, that the 
Taurobolium was expensive: a bull had to be killed, and its blood 
allowed to trickle over the convert. A rite of this sort is aristocratic, 
and cannot be the basis of a religion which is to embrace the 
great bulk of the population, rich and poor, free and slave. In 
such respects, Christianity had an advantage over all its rivals. 

As regards the doctrine of a future life, in the West it was first 
taught by the Orphics and thence adopted by Greek philosophers. 
The Hebrew prophets, some of them, taught the resurrection of 
the body, but it seems to have been from the Greeks that the Jews 
learnt to believe in the resurrection of the spirit. 1 The doctrine of 
immortality, in Greece, had a popular form in Orphism and a 
learned form in Platonism. The latter, being based upon difficult 
arguments, could not become widely popular; the Orphic form, 
however, probably had a great influence on the general opinions 
of later antiquity, not only among pagans, but also among Jews 
and Christians. Elements of mystery religions, both Orphic and 
Asiatic, enter largely into Christian theology; in all of them, the 
central myth is that of the dying god who rises again. 2 i think, 

1 See Oesterley and Robinson, I i threw Religion. 
1 See Angus, The Mystery Religions and Christianity 

35 



CHRISTIANITY DURING THE FIRST FOUR CENTURIES 

therefore, that the doctrine of immortality must have had less 
to do with the spread of Christianity than Gibbon thought. 

Miracles certainly played a very large part in Christian propa- 
ganda. But miracles, in later antiquity, were very common, and 
were not the prerogative of any one religion. It is not altogether 
easy to see why, in this competition, the Christian miracles came 
to be more widely believed than those of other sects. I think 
Gibbon omits one very important matter, namely the possession 
of a Sacred Book. The miracles to which Christians appealed had 
begun in a remote antiquity, among a nation which the ancients 
felt to be mysterious; there was a consistent history, from the 
Creation onwards, according to which Providence had always 
worked wonders, first for the Jews, then for the Christians. To a 
modern historical student it is obvious that the early history of 
the Israelites is in the main legendary, but not so to the ancients. 
They believed in the Homeric account of the siege of Troy, in 
Romulus and Remus, and so on; why, asks Origen, should you 
accept these traditions and reject those of the Jews? To this 
argument there was no logical answer. It was therefore natural 
to accept Old Testament miracles, and, when they had been 
admitted, those of more recent date became credible, especially 
in view of the Christian interpretation of the prophets. 

The morals of the Christians, before Constantine, were un- 
doubtedly very superior to those of average pagans. The Christians 
were persecuted at times, and were almost always at a disadvantage 
in competition with pagans. They believed firmly that virtue 
would be rewarded in heaven and sin punished in hell. Their sexual 
ethics had a strictness that was rare in antiquity. Pliny, whose 
official duty it was to persecute them, testifies to their high moral 
character. After the conversion of Constantine,therewere, of course, 
time-servers among Christians; but prominent ecclesiastics, with 
some exceptions, continued to be men of inflexible moral principles. 
I think Gibbon is right in attributing great importance to this 
high moral level as one of the causes of the spread of Christianity. 

Gibbon puts last "the union and discipline of the Christian 
republic." I think that, from a political point of view, this was the 
most important of his five causes. In the modern world, we are 
accustomed to political organization; every politician has to reckon 
with the Catholic vote, but it is balanced by the vote of other or- 
ganized groups. A Catholic candidate for the American Presidency 

35' 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

is at a disadvantage, because of Protestant prejudice. But, if there 
were no such thing as Protestant prejudice, a Catholic candidate 
would stand a better chance than any other. This seems to have 
been Constantino's calculation. The support of the Christians, as 
a single organized bloc, was to be obtained by favouring them. 
Whatever dislike of the Christians existed was unorganized and 
politically ineffective. Probably Rostovtseff is right in holding 
that a large part of the army was Christian, and that this was 
what most influenced Constantino. However that may be, the 
Christians, while still a minority, had a kind of organization which 
was then new, though now common, and which gave them all 
the political influence of a pressure group to which no other 
pressure groups are opposed. This was the natural consequence 
of their virtual monopoly of zeal, and their zeal was an inheritance 
from the Jews. 

Unfortunately, as soon as the Christians acquired political 
power, they turned their zeal against each other. There had been 
heresies, not a few, before Constantine, but the orthodox had 
had no means of punishing them. When the State became Chris- 
tian, great prizes, in the shape of power and wealth, became open 
to ecclesiastics; there were disputed elections, and theological 
quarrels were also quarrels for worldly advantages. Constantine 
himself preserved a certain degree of neutrality in the disputes of 
theologians, but after his death (337) his successors (except for 
Julian the Apostate) were, in a greater or less degree, favourable 
to the Arians, until the accession of Theodosius in 379. 

The hero of this period is Athanasius (ca. 297-373), who was 
throughout his long life the most intrepid champion of Nicene 
orthodoxy. 

The period from Constantine to the Council of Chalceclon (451) 
is peculiar owing to the political importance of theology. Two 
questions successively agitated the Christian world: first, the 
nature of the Trinity, and then the doctrine of the Incarnation. 
Only the first of these was to the fore in the time of Athanasius. 
Anus, a cultivated Alexandrian priest, maintained that the Son 
is not the equal of the Father, but created by Him. At an earlier 
period, this view might not have aroused much antagonism, but 
in the fourth century most theologians rejected it. The view which 
finally prevailed was that the Father and the Son were equal, and 
of the same substance; they were, however, distinct Persons. The 

352 



CHRISTIANITY DURING THE FIRST FOUR CENTURIES 

view that they were not distinct, but only different aspects of one 
Being, was the Sabellian heresy, called after its founder Sabellius. 
Orthodoxy thus had to tread a narrow line: those who unduly 
emphasized the distinctness of the Father and the Son were in 
danger of Arianism, and those who unduly emphasized their 
oneness were in danger of Sabellianism. 

The doctrines of Arius were condemned by the Council of 
Nicaea (325) by an overwhelming majority. But various modifica- 
tions were suggested by various theologians, and favoured by 
Emperors. Athanasius, who was Bishop of Alexandria from 328 
till his death, was constantly in exile because of his zeal for Nicene 
orthodoxy. He had immense popularity in Egypt, which, through- 
out the controversy, followed him unwaveringly. It is curious that, 
in the course of theological controversy, national (or at least 
regional) feeling, which had seemed extinct since the Roman 
conquest, revived. Constantinople and Asia inclined to Arianism; 
Egypt was fanatically Athanasian; the West steadfastly adhered 
to the decrees of the Council of Nicaea. After the Arian controversy 
was ended, new controversies, of a more or less kindred sort, 
arose, in which Egypt became heretical in one direction and Syria 
in another. These heresies, which were persecuted by the orthodox, 
impaired the unity of the Eastern Empire, and facilitated the 
Mohammedan conquest. The separatist movements, in themselves, 
are not surprising, but it is curious that they should have been 
associated with vefy subtle and abstruse theological questions. 

The Emperors, from 335 to 378, favoured more or less Arian 
opinions as far as they dared, except for Julian the Apostate 
(361-363), who, as a pagan, was neutral as regards the internal 
disputes of the Christians. At last, in 379, the Emperor Theodosius 
gave his full support to the Catholics, and their victory throughout 
the Empire was complete. St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. 
Augustine, whom we shall consider in the next chapter, lived most 
of their lives during this period of Catholic triumph. It was 
succeeded, however, in the West, by another Arian domination, 
that of the Goths and Vandals, who, between them, conquered 
most of the Western Empire. Their power lasted for about a 
century, at the end of which it was destroyed by Justinian, the 
Lombards, and the Franks, of whom Justinian and the Franks, 
and ultimately the Lombards also, were orthodox. Thus at last 
the Catholic faith achieved definitive success. 

353 M 



Chapter III 
THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

FOUR men are called the Doctors of the Western Church: 
St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and Pope Gregory 
the Great. Of these the first three were contemporaries, 
while the fourth belonged to a later date. I shall, in this chapter, 
give some account of the life and times of the first three, reserving 
for a later chapter an account of the doctrines of St. Augustine, 
who is, for us, the most important of the three. 

Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine all flourished during the brief 
period between the victory of the Catholic Church in the Roman 
Empire and the barbarian invasion. All three were young during 
the reign of Julian the Apostate ; Jerome lived ten years after the 
sack of Rome by the Goths under Alaric ; Augustine lived till the 
irruption of the Vandals into Africa, and died while they were 
besieging Hippo, of which he was bishop. Immediately after their 
time, the masters of Italy, Spain, and Africa were not only bar- 
barians, but Arian heretics. Civilization declined for centuries, 
and it was not until nearly a thousand years later that Christendom 
again produced men who were their equals in learning and culture. 
Throughout the dark ages and the medieval period, their authority 
was revered; they, more than any other men, fixed the mould 
into which the Church was shaped. Speaking broadly, St. Ambrose 
determined the ecclesiastical conception of the relation of Church 
and State; St. Jerome gave the Western Church its Latin Bible 
and a great part of the impetus to monasticism ; while St. Augustine 
fixed the theology of the Church until the Reformation, and, later, 
a great part of the doctrines of Luther and Calvin. Few men have 
surpassed these three in influence on the course of history. The 
independence of the Church in relation to the secular State, as 
successfully maintained by St. Ambrose, was a new and revolu- 
tionary doctrine, which prevailed until the Reformation; when 
Hobbes combated it in the seventeenth century, it was against 
St. Ambrose that he chiefly argued. St. Augustine was in the fore- 
front of theological controversy during the sixteenth and seven- 
teenth centuries, Protestants and Jansenists being for him, and 
orthodox Catholics against him. 

354 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

The capital of the Western Empire, at the end of the fourth 
century, was Milan, of which Ambrose was bishop. His duties 
brought him constantly into relations with the emperors, to whom 
he spoke habitually as an equal, sometimes as a superior. His 
dealings with the imperial court illustrate a general contrast 
characteristic of the times: while the State was feeble, incompetent, 
governed by unprincipled self-seekers, and totally without any* 
policy beyond that of momentary expedients, the Church was 
vigorous, able, guided by men prepared to sacrifice everything 
personal in its interests, and with a policy so far-sighted that 
it brought victory for the next thousand years. It is true that 
these merits were offset by fanaticism and superstition, but 
without these no reforming movement could, at that time, have 
succeeded. 

St. Ambrose had every opportunity to seek success in the service 
of the State. His father, also named Ambrose, was a high official 
prefect of the Gauls. The Saint was born, probably, at Treves, 
a frontier garrison town, where the Roman legions were stationed 
to keep the Germans at bay. At the age of thirteen he was taken 
to Rome, where he had a good education, including a thorough 
grounding in Greek. When he grew up he took to the law, in 
which he was very successful; and at the age of thirty he was 
made governor of Liguria and ^Emilia. Nevertheless, four years 
later he turned his back on secular government, and by popular 
acclaim became bishop of Milan, in opposition to an Arian candi- 
date. He gave all his worldly goods to the poor, and devoted the 
whole of the rest of his life to the service of the Church, sometimes 
at great personal risk. This choice was certainly not dictated by 
worldly motives, but, if it had been, it would have been wise. In 
the State, even if he had become Emperor, he could at that time 
have found no such scope for his administrative statesmanship as 
he found in the discharge of his episcopal duties. 

During the first nine years of Ambrose's episcopate, the 
Emperor of the West was Gratian, who was Catholic, virtuous, 
and careless. He was so devoted to the chase that he neglected 
the government, and in the end was assassinated. He was suc- 
ceeded, throughout most of the Western Empire, by a usurper 
named Maximus; but in Italy the succession passed to Gratian 's 
younger brother Valentinian II, who was still a boy. At first, the 
imperial power was exercised by his mother, Justina, widow of 

355 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

the Emperor Valentinian I; but as she was an Arian, conflicts 
between her and St. Ambrose were inevitable. 

All the three Saints with whom we are concerned in this chapter 
wrote innumerable letters, of which many are preserved ; the con- 
sequence is that we know more about them than about any of 
the pagan philosophers, and more than about all but a few of the 
ecclesiastics of the Middle Ages. St. Augustine wrote letters to 
all and sundry, mostly on doctrine or Church discipline; St. 
Jerome's letters are mainly addressed to ladies, giving advice on 
how to preserve virginity ; but St. Ambrose's most important and 
interesting letters are to Emperors, telling them in what respects 
they have fallen short of their duty, or, on occasion, congratulating 
them on having performed it. 

The first public question with which Ambrose had to deal was 
that of the altar and statue of Victory in Rome. Paganism lingered 
longer among the senatorial families of the capital than it did 
elsewhere; the official religion was in the hands of an aristocratic 
priesthood, and was bound up with the imperial pride of the 
conquerors of the world. The statue of Victor}' in the Senate 
House had been removed by Constantius, the son of Constantine, 
and restored by Julian the Apostate. The Emperor Gratian again 
removed the statue, whereupon a deputation of the Senate, headed 
by Symmachus, prefect of the City, asked for its renewed 
restoration. 

Symmachus, who also played a part in the life of Augustine, 
was a distinguished member of a distinguished family rich, 
aristocratic, cultivated, and pagan. He was banished from Rome 
by Gratian in 382 for his protest against the removal of the statue 
of Victory, but not for long, as he was prefect of the City in 384. 
He was the grandfather of the Symmachus who was the father-in- 
law of Boethius, and who was prominent in the reign of Theodoric. 

The Christian senators objected, and by the help of Ambrose 
and the Pope (Damasus) their view was made to prevail with the 
Emperor. After the death of Gratian, Symmachus and the pagan 
senators petitioned the new Emperor, Valentinian II, in A.o. 384. 
In rebuttal of this renewed attempt, Ambrose wrote to the 
Emperor, setting forth the thesis that, as all Romans owed military 
service to their sovereign, so he (the Emperor) owed service to 
Almighty God. 1 "Let no one," he says, "take advantage of your 
1 This thesis seems to anticipate the outlook of feudalism. 

356 



THREE DOCTORS OP THE CHURCH 

youth ; if he be a heathen who demands this, it is not right that 
he should bind your mind with the bonds of his own superstition; 
but by his zeal he ought to teach and admonish you how to be 
zealous for the true faith, since he defends vain things with all 
the passion of truth." To be compelled to swear at the altar of an 
idol, he says, is, to a Christian, persecution. "If it were a civil 
cause the right of reply would be reserved for the opposing party; 
it is a religious cause, and I the bishop make a claim. . . . Certainly 
if anything else is decreed, we bishops cannot constantly suffer it 
and take no notice; you indeed may come to the Church, but will 
find either no priest there, or one who will resist you." 1 

The next epistle points out that the endowments of the Church 
serve purposes never served by the wealth of heathen temples. "The 
possessions of the Church are the maintenance of the poor. Let 
them count up how many captives the temples have ransomed, 
what food they have contributed for the poor, to what exiles they 
have supplied the means of living.** This was a telling argument, 
and one which was quite justified by Christian practice. 

St. Ambrose won his point, but a subsequent usurper, Eugenius, 
who favoured the heathen, restored the altar and statue. It was 
only after the defeat of Eugenius by Theodosius in 394 that the 
question was finally decided in favour of the Christians. 

The bishop was, at first, on very friendly terms with the imperial 
court, and was employed on a diplomatic mission to the usurper 
Maximus, who, it was feared, might invade Italy. Out before long 
a grave matter of controversy arose. The Empress Justina, as an 
Arian, requested that one church in Milan might be ceded to the 
Arians, but Ambrose refused. The people sided with him, and 
thronged the basilica in great crowds. Gothic soldiers, who were 
Arians, were sent to take possession, but fraternized with the 
people. "The Counts and Tribunes,' 1 he says in a spirited letter 
to his sister, 3 "came and urged me to cause the basilica to be 
quickly surrendered, saying that the Emperor was exercising his 
rights since everything was under his power. I answered that if 
he asked of me what was mine, that is, my land, my money, or 
whatever of this kind was my own, I would not refuse it, although 
all that I have belonged to the poor, but that those things which 
are God's are not subject to the imperial power. 'If my patrimony 
is required, enter upon it ; if my body, I will go at once. Do you 

1 Epistle xvii. Ibid. xx. 

357 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

wish to cast me into chains, or to give me to death ? It will be a 
pleasure to me. I will not defend myself with throngs of people, 
nor will I cling to the altars and entreat for my life, but will more 
gladly be slain myself for the altars.' I was indeed struck with 
horror when I learnt that armed men had been sent to take posses- 
sion of the basilica, lest while the people were defending the 
basilica, there might be some slaughter which would tend to the 
injury of the whole city. I prayed that I might not survive the 
destruction of so great a city, or it might be of the whole of Italy." 

These fears were not exaggerated, as the Gothic soldiery were 
liable to break out into savagery, as they did twenty-five years 
later in the sack of Rome. 

Ambrose's strength lay in the support of the people. He was 
accused of inciting them, but replied that "it was in my power 
not to excite them, but in God's hands to quiet them." None of 
the Arians, he says, dared to go forth, as there was not one Arian 
among the citizens. He was formally commanded to surrender the 
basilica, and the soldiers were ordered to use violence if necessary. 
But in the end they refused to use violence, and the Emperor was 
compelled to give way. A great battle had been won in the contest 
for ecclesiastical independence; Ambrose had demonstrated that 
there were matters in which the State must yield to the Church, 
and had thereby established a new principle which retains its 
importance to the present day. 

His next conflict was with the Emperor Theodosius. A syna- 
gogue had been burnt, and the Count of the East reported that 
this had been done at the instigation of die local bishop. The 
Emperor ordered that the actual incendiaries should be punished, 
and that the guilty bishop should rebuild the synagogue. St. 
Ambrose neither admits nor denies the bishop's complicity, but 
is indignant that the Emperor should seem to side with Jews 
against Christians. Suppose the bishop refuses to obey? He will 
then have to become a martyr if he persists, or an apostate if he 
gives way. Suppose the Count decides to rebuild the synagogue 
himself at the expense of the Christians? In that case the Emperor 
will have an apostate Count, and Christian money will be taken 
to support unbelief. "Shall, then, a place be made for the unbelief 
of the Jews out of the spoils of the Church, and shall the patrimony, 
which by the favour of Christ has been gained for Christians, be 
transferred to the treasuries of unbelievers?" He continues: "But 

358 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

perhaps the cause of discipline moves you, O Emperor. Which, 
then, is of greater importance, the show of discipline or the cause 
of religion ? It is needful that judgment should yield to religion. 
Have you not heard, O Emperor, how, when Julian commanded 
that the Temple of Jerusalem should be restored, those who were 
clearing the rubbish were consumed by fire?" 

It is clear that, in the Saint's opinion, the destruction of syna- 
gogues should not be punished in any way. This is an example of 
the manner in which, as soon as it acquired power, the Church 
began to stimulate anti-Semitism. 

The next conflict between Emperor and Saint was more honour- 
able to the latter. In A.D. 390, when Theodosius was in Milan, a 
mob in Thessalonica murdered the captain of the garrison. Theo- 
dosius, on receiving the news, was seized with ungovernable fury, 
and ordered an abominable revenge. When the people were 
assembled in the circus, the soldiers fell upon them, and massacred 
at least seven thousand of them in an indiscriminate slaughter. 
Hereupon Ambrose, who had endeavoured in advance to restrain 
the Emperor, but in vain, wrote him a letter full of splendid 
courage, on a purely moral issue, involving, for once, no question 
of theology or the power of the Church: 

"There was that done in the city of the Thessalonians of which 
no similar record exists, which I was not able to prevent happening; 
which, indeed, I had before said would be most atrocious when 
I so often petitioned against it." 

David repeatedly sinned, and confessed his sin with penitence. 1 
Will Theodosius do likewise? Ambrose decides that "I dare not 
offer the sacrifice if you intend to be present. Is that which is not 
allowed after shedding the blood of one innocent person, allowed 
after shedding the blood of many? I do not think so." 

The Emperor repented, and, divested of the purple, did public 
penance in the cathedral of Milan. From that time until his death 
in 395, he had no friction with Ambrose. 

Ambrose, while he was eminent as a statesman, was, in other 
respects, merely typical of his age. He wrote, like other ecclesi- 
astical authors, a treatise in praise of virginity, and another 

* This allusion to the Books of Samuel begins a line of biblical argu- 
ment against kings which persisted throughout the Middle Ages, and 
even in the conflict of the Puritans with the Stuarts. It appears for instance 
in Milton. - 

359 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

deprecating the remarriage of widows. When he had decided on 
the site for his new cathedral, two skeletons (revealed in a vision, 
it was said) were conveniently discovered on the spot, were found 
to work miracles, and were declared by him to be those of two 
martyrs. Other miracles are related in his letters, with all the 
credulity characteristic of his times. He was inferior to Jerome 
as a scholar, and to Augustine as a philosopher. But as a statesman, 
who skilfully and courageously consolidated the power of the 
Church, he stands out as a man of the first rank. 

Jerome is chiefly notable as the translator who produced the 
Vulgate, which remains to this day the official Catholic version of 
the Bible. Until his day the Western Church relied, as regards 
the Old Testament, chiefly on translations from the Septuagint, 
which, in important ways, differed from the Hebrew original. 
Christians, as we have seen, were given to maintaining that the 
Jews, since the rise of Christianity, had falsified the Hebrew text 
where it seemed to predict the Messiah. This was a view which 
sound scholarship showed to be untenable, and which Jerome 
firmly rejected. He accepted the help of rabbis, given secretly for 
fear of the Jews. In defending himself against Christian criticism 
he said: "Let him who would challenge aught in this translation 
ask the Jews." Because of his acceptance of the Hebrew text in 
the form which the Jews regarded as correct, his version had, at 
first, a largely hostile reception; but it won its way, partly because 
St. Augustine on the whole supported it. It was a great achieve- 
ment, involving considerable textual criticism. 

Jerome was born in 345 five years after Ambrose not far from 
Aquileia, at a town called Stridon, which was destroyed by the 
Goths in 377. His family were well-to-do, but not rich. In 363 he 
went to Rome, where he studied rhetoric and sinned. After travel- 
ling in Gaul, he settled in Aquileia, and become an ascetic. The 
next five years he spent as a hermit in the Syrian wilderness. "His 
life while in the desert was one of rigorous penance, of tears and 
groans alternating with spiritual ecstasy, and of temptations from 
haunting memories of Roman life ; he lived in a cell or cavern ; he 
earned his daily bread, and was clad in sackcloth." 1 After this 
period, he travelled to Constantinople, and lived in Rome for three 
years, where he became the friend and adviser of Pope Damasus, 
with whose encouragement he undertook his translation of the Bible. 
1 Selict Library of Nutmt and Post-Nicent Father* t Vol. VI, p. 17. 

360 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

St. Jerome was a man of many quarrels. He quarrelled with St. 
Augustine about the somewhat questionable behaviour of St. Peter 
as related by St. Paul in Galatians ii ; he broke with his friend Ru- 
finus over Origen ; and he was so vehement against Pelagius that 
his monastery was attacked by a Pelagian mob. After the death of 
Damasus, he seems to have quarrelled with the new Pope; he had, 
while in Rome, become acquainted with various ladies who were 
both aristocratic and pious, some of whom he persuaded to adopt 
the ascetic life. The new Pope, in common with many other people 
in Rome, disliked this. For this reason among others, Jerome left 
Rome for Bethlehem, where he remained from 386 till his death 
in 420. 

Among his distinguished female converts, two were especially 
notable: the widow Paula and her daughter Eustochium. Both these 
ladies accompanied him on his circuitous journey to Bethlehem. 
They were of the highest nobility, and one cannot but feel a flavour 
of snobbery in the Saint's attitude to them. When Paula died and 
was buried at Bethlehem, Jerome composed an epitaph for her 
tomb : 

Within this tomb a child of Scipio lies, 

A daughter of the far-famed Pauline house, 

A scion of the Gracchi, of the stock 

Of Agamemnon's self, illustrious: 

Here rests the lady Paula, well-beloved 

Of both her parents, with Eustochium 

For daughter ; she the first of Roman dames 

Who hardship chose and Bethlehem for Christ. 1 

Some of Jerome's letters to Eustochium are curious. He gives 
her advice on the preservation of virginity, very detailed and frank; 
he explains the exact anatomical meaning of certain euphemisms 
in the Old Testament ; and he employs a kind of erode mysticism 
in praising the joys of conventual life. A nun is the Bride of 
Christ ; this marriage is celebrated in the Song of Solomon. In a 
long letter written at the time when she took the vows, he gives 
a remarkable message to her mother: "Are you angry with her 
because she chooses to be a king's [Christ's] wife and not a sol- 
dier's? She has conferred on you a high privilege; you are now 
the mother-in-law of God." 8 

1 Select Library of A'*ffr und Fo$t-Ktcene Fathers, Vol. VI, p, 212. 
ibid., p. 30. 

361 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

To Eustochium herself, in the same letter (xxii), he says: 

"Ever let the privacy of your chamber guard you ; ever let the 
Bridegroom sport with you within. Do you pray ? You speak to the 
Bridegroom. Do you read ? He speaks to you. When sleep over- 
takes you He will come behind and put His hand through the hole 
of the door, and your heart shall be moved for Him; and you will 
awake and rise up and say: "I am sick of love.' Then He will reply: 
'A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a 
fountain sealed/ " 

In the same letter he relates how, after cutting himself off from 
relations and friends, u and harder still from the dainty food 
to which I had been accustomed," he still could not bear to be 
parted from his library, and took it with him to the desert. "And 
so, miserable man that I was, I would fast only that I might after- 
wards read Cicero." After days and nights of remorse, he would 
fall again, and read Plautus. After such indulgence, the style of 
the prophets seemed "rude and repellent." At last, during a fever, 
he dreamed that, at the Last Judgment, Christ asked him who 
he was, and he replied that he was a Christian. The answer came: 
"Thou liest, thou art a follower of Cicero and not of Christ." 
Thereupon he was ordered to be scourged. At length Jerome, in 
his dream, cried out: "Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, 
or if ever again I read such, I have denied Thee." This, he adds, 
"was no sleep or idle dream." 1 

After this, for some years, his letters contain few classical quota- 
tions. But after a certain time he lapses again into verses from 
Virgil, Horace, and even Ovid. They seem, however, to be from 
memory, particularly as some of them are repeated over and over 
again. 

Jerome's letters express the feelings produced by the fall of the 
Roman Empire more vividly than any others known to me. In 
396 he writes: 2 

"I shudder when I think of the catastrophes of our time. For 
twenty years and more the blood of Romans has been shed daily 
between Constantinople and the Julian Alps. Scythia, Thrace, 
Macedonia, Dacia, Thessaly, Achaia, Epirus, Dalmatia, the 

* This hostility to pagan literature persisted in the Church until the 
eleventh century, except in Ireland, where the Olympian gods had never 
been worshipped, and were therefore not feared by the Church. 

1 Utter be. 

, ' 362 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

Pannonias each and all of these have been sacked and pillaged 
and plundered by Goths and Sarmatians, Quad! and Alans, Huns 
and Vandals and Marchmen. . . . The Roman world is falling: yet 
we hold up our heads instead of bowing them. What courage, 
think you, have the Corinthians now, or the Athenians or the 
Lacedaemonians or the Arcadians, or any of the Greeks over whom 
the barbarians bear sway ? I have mentioned only a few cities, but 
these once the capitals of no mean States " 

He goes on to relate the ravages of the Huns in the East, and 
ends with the reflection : "To treat such themes as they deserve, 
Thucydides and Sallust would be as good as dumb." 

Seventeen years* later, three years after the sack of Rome, he 
writes: 1 

"The world sinks into ruin: yes! but shameful to say our sins 
still live and flourish. The renowned city, the capital of the Roman 
Kmpire, is swallowed up in one tremendous fire ; and there is no 
part of the earth where Romans are not in exile. Churches once 
held sacred are now but heaps of dust and ashes ; and yet we have 
our minds set on the desire of gain. We live as though we were 
going to die to-morrow; yet we build as though we were going 
to live always in this world. Our walls shine with gold, our ceilings 
also and the capitals of our pillars ; yet Christ dies before our doors 
naked and hungry in the person of His poor." 

This passage occurs incidentally in a letter to a friend who has 
decided to devote his daughter to perpetual virginity, and most 
of it is concerned \\ith the rules to be observed in the education 
of girls so dedicated. It is strange that, with all Jerome's deep 
feeling about the fall of the ancient world, he thinks the preser- 
vation of virginity more important than victory over the Huns and 
Vandals and Goths. Never once do his thoughts turn to any 
possible measure of practical statesmanship; never once does he 
point out the evils of the fiscal system, or of reliance on an army 
composed of barbarians. The same is true of Ambrose and of 
Augustine ; Ambrose, it is true, was a statesman, but only on behalf 
of the Church. It is no wonder that the Empire fell into ruin when 
all the best and most vigorous minds of the age were so compl 
remote from secular concerns. On the other hand, if 
inevitable, the Christian outlook was admirably fitted^ 
fortitude, and to enable them to preserve their 

1 Letter cxxviii. 

363 




WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

when earthly hopes seemed vain. The expression of this point of 
view, in The City of God, was the supreme merit of St. Augustine. 

Of St. Augustine I shall speak, in this chapter, only as a man ; 
as a theologian and philosopher, I shall consider him in the next 
chapter. 

He was born in 354, nine years after Jerome, and fourteen years 
after Ambrose; he was a native of Africa, where he passed much 
the greater part of his life. His mother was a Christian, but his 
father was not. After a period as a Manicluean, he became a 
Catholic, and was baptized by Ambrose in Milan. He became 
bishop of Hippo, not far from Carthage, about the year 396. There 
he remained until his death in 430. 

Of his early life we know much more than in the case of most 
ecclesiastics, because he has told of it in his Confessions. This book 
has had famous imitators, particularly Rousseau and Tolstoy, but 
I do not think it had any comparable predecessors. St. Augustine 
is in some ways similar to Tolstoy, to whom, however, he is 
superior in intellect. He was a passionate man, in youth very far 
from a pattern of virtue, but driven by an inner impulse to search 
for truth and righteousness. Like Tolstoy, he was obsessed, in his 
later years, by a sense of sin, which made his life stern and his 
philosophy inhuman. He combated heresies vigorously, but some 
of his views, when repeated by Jansenius in the seventeenth cen- 
tury, were pronounced heretical. Until the Protestants took up 
his opinions, however, the Catholic Church had never impugned 
their orthodox)*. 

One of the first incidents of his life related in the Confessions 
occurred in his boyhood, and did not, in itself, greatly distinguish 
him from other boys. It appears that, with some companions of 
his own age, he despoiled a neighbour's pear tree, although he was 
not hungry, and his parents had better pears at home. He con- 
tinued throughout his life to consider this an act of almost in- 
credible wickedness. It would not have been so bad if he had been 
hungry, or had had no other means of getting pears; but, as it was, 
the act was one of pure mischief, inspired by the love of wicked- 
ness for its own sake. It is this that makes it so unspeakably 
black. He beseeches God to forgive him: 

"Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst 
pity upon in the bottom of the abyss. Now, behold, let my heart 
tell Thee, what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously 

364 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

wicked, having no temptation to that evil deed, but the evil deed 
itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine 
own fault, not that for the sake of which I committed the fault, 
but my fault itself I loved. Foul soul, falling from the firmament 
to expulsion from Thy presence; not seeking aught through the 
shame, but the shame itself I" 1 

Me goes on like this for seven chapters, and all about some pears 
plucked from a tree in a boyish prank. To a modern mind, this 
seems morbid; 2 but in his own age it seemed right and a mark 
of holiness. The sense of sin, which was very strong in his day, 
came to the Jews as a way of reconciling self-importance with 
outward defeat. Yahweh was omnipotent, and Yahweh was specially 
interested in the Jews; why, then, did they not prosper? Because 
they were wicked : they were idolaters, they married gentiles, they 
failed to observe the Law. God's purposes were centred on the 
Jews, but, since righteousness is the greatest of goods, and is 
achieved through tribulation, they must first be chastised, and 
must recognize their chastisement as a mark of God's paternal love. 

Christians put the Church in place of the Chosen People, but 
except in one respect this made little difference to the psychology 
of sin. The Church, like the Jews, suffered tribulation; the Church 
was troubled by heresies; individual Christians fell into apostasy 
under the stress of persecution. There was, however, one impor- 
tant development, already made, to a great extent, by the Jews, 
and that was the substitution of individual for communal sin. 
Originally, it was the Jewish nation that sinned, and that was 
collectively punished; but later sin became more personal, thus 
losing its political character. When the Church was substituted 
for the Jewish nation, this change became essential, since the 
Church, as a spiritual entity, could not sin, but the individual 
sinner could cease to be in communion with the Church. Sin, as 
we said just now, is connected with self-importance. Originally 
the importance was that of the Jewish nation, but subsequently 
it was that of the individual not of the Church, because the 
Church never sinned. It thus came about that Christian theology 
had two parts, one concerned with the Church, and one with the 
individual soul. In later times, the first of these was most em- 



s, Book II, chap. iv. 

1 I must except Mahatma Gnndhi, whoso autobiography contains 
passages closely similar to the above. 

365 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

phasized by Catholics, and the second by Protestants, but in St. 
Augustine both exist equally, without his having any sense of 
disharmony. Those who are saved are those whom God has pre- 
destined to salvation ; this is a direct relation of the soul to God. 
But no one will be saved unless he has been baptized, and thereby 
become a member of the Church; this makes the Church an 
intermediary between the soul and God. 

Sin is what is essential to the direct relation, since it explains 
how a beneficent Deity can cause men to suffer, and how, in spite 
of this, individual souls can be what is of most importance in the 
created world. It is therefore not surprising that the theology 
upon which the Reformation relied should be due to a man whose 
sense of sin was abnormal. 

So much for the pears. Let us now see what the Confessions have 
to say on some other subjects. 

Augustine relates how he learnt Latin, painlessly, at his mother's 
knee, but hated Greek, which they tried to teach him at school, 
because he was "urged vehemently with cruel threats and punish- 
ments." To the end of his life, his knowledge of Greek remained 
slight. One might have supposed that he would go on, from this 
contrast, to draw a moral in favour of gentle methods in education. 
What he says, however, is: 

"It is quite clear, then, that a free curiosity has more power to 
make us learn these things than a terrifying obligation. Only this 
obligation restrains the waverings of that freedom by Thy laws, 
O my God, Thy laws, from the master's rod to the martyr's trials, 
for Thy laws have the effect of mingling for us certain wholesome 
bitters, which recall us to Thee away from that pernicious blithe- 
someness, by means of which we depart from Thee." 

The schoolmaster's blows, though they failed to make him know 
Greek, cured him of being perniciously blithesome, and were, on 
this ground, a desirable part of education. For those who make sin 
the most important of all human concerns, this view is logical. He 
goes on to point out that he sinned, not only as a school-boy, when 
he told lies and stole food, but even earlier; indeed he devotes a 
whole chapter (Book I, chap, vii) to proving that even infants at the 
breast are full of sin gluttony, jealousy, and other horrible vices. 

When he reached adolescence, the lusts of the flesh overcame 
him. "Where was I, and how far was I exiled from the delights of 
Thy house, in that sixteenth year of the age of my flesh, when the 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

madness of lust which hath licence through man's viciousness, 
though forbidden by Thy laws, took the rule over me, and I 
resigned myself wholly to it?" 1 

His father took no pains to prevent this evil, but confined him- 
self to giving help in Augustine's studies. His mother, St. Monica, 
on the contrary, exhorted him to chastity, but in vain. And even 
she did not, at that time, suggest marriage, "lest my prospects 
might be embarrassed by the clog of a wife." 

At the age of sixteen he went to Carthage, "where there seethed 
all around me a cauldron of lawless loves. I loved not yet, yet I 
loved to love, and out of a deep-seated want, I hated myself for 
wanting not. I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and 
I hated safety. ... To love then, and to be beloved, was sweet to 
me; but more, when I obtained to* enjoy the person I loved. I 
defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of con- 
cupiscence, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lust- 
fulness." 2 These words describe his relation to a mistress whom 
he loved faithfully for many years, 3 and by whom he had a son, 
whom he also loved, and to whom, after his conversion, he gave 
much care in religious education. 

The time came when he and his mother thought he ought to 
begin to think of marrying. He became engaged to a girl of whom 
she approved, and it was held necessary that he should break with 
his mistress. "My mistress," he says, "being torn from my side 
as a hindrance to my marriage, my heart which clave unto her was 
torn and wounded and bleeding. And she returned to Africa 
[Augustine was at this time in Milan], vowing unto Thee never 
to know any other man, leaving with me my son by her." 4 As, 
however, the marriage could not take place for two years, owing 
to the girl's youth, he took meanwhile another mistress, less official 
and less acknowledged. His conscience increasingly troubled him, 
and he used to pray: "Give me chastity and continence, only not 
yet." 6 At last, before the time had come for his marriage, religion 
won a complete victory, and he dedicated the rest of his life to 
celibacy. 

To return to an earlier time: in his nineteenth year, having 
achieved proficiency in rhetoric, he was recalled to philosophy by 

1 Confusions, Book II, chap. ii. * Ibid,, Book III, chap. i. 

8 Ibid., Book IV, chap. ii. ' Ibid., Book VI, chap. xv. 

' Ibid., Book VIII, chap. vii. 

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WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Cicero, He tried reading the Bible, but found it lacking in 
Ciceronian dignity. It was at this time that he became a Mwiichaean, 
which grieved his mother. By profession he was a teacher of 
rhetoric. He was addicted to astrology, to which, in later life, he 
was averse, because it teaches that "the inevitable cause of thy 
sin is in the sky." 1 He read philosophy, so far as it could be read 
in Latin; he mentions particularly Aristotle's Ten Categories > 
which, he says, he understood without the help of a teacher. "And 
what did it profit me, that I, the vilest slave of evil passions, read 
by myself all the books of so-called 'liberal' arts, and understood 
whatever I could read? . . . For I had my back to the light, and 
my face to the things enlightened ; whence my face . . . itself was 
not enlightened." 8 At this time he believed that God was a vast 
and bright body, and he himself a part of that body. One could 
wish that he had told in detail the tenets of the Manichaeans, 
instead of merely saying they were erroneous. 

It is interesting that St. Augustine's first reasons for rejecting 
the doctrines of Manichanis were scientific. He remembered so 
he tells us 8 what he had learned of astronomy from the writings 
of the best astronomers, "and I compared them with the sayings 
of Manichaeus, who in his crazy folly has written much and 
copiously upon these subjects; but none of his reasoning of the 
solstices, nor equinoxes, nor eclipses, nor whatever of this kind 
I had learned in books of secular philosophy, was satisfactory to 
me. But I was commanded to believe; and yet it corresponded 
not with the reasonings obtained by calculations, and by my own 
observations, but was quite contrary." He is careful to point out 
that scientific mistakes are not in themselves a sign of errors as 
to the faith, but only become so when delivered with an air of 
authority as known through divine inspiration. One wonders what 
he would have thought if he had lived in the time of Galileo. 

In the hope of resolving his doubts, a Manich&an bishop named 
Faustus, reputed the most learned member of the sect, met him 
and reasoned with him. But "I found him first utterly ignorant 
of liberal sciences, save grammar, and that but in an ordinary 
way. But because he had read some of Tully's Orations, a very 
few books of Seneca, some things of the poets, and such few 
volumes of his own sect, as were written in I<atin and in logical 

1 Cottfesricns, Book IV, chap. iii. 

1 IMd. t Book IV, chap. xvi. * /*, Book V, chap, iii 

368 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

order, and was daily practised in speaking, he acquired a certain 
eloquence, which proved the more pleasing and seductive, because 
under the control of his good sense, and with a certain natural 
grace." 1 

He found Faustus quite unable to solve his astronomical diffi- 
culties. The books of the Manichecans, he tells us, "are full of 
lengthy fables, of the heaven, and stars, sun, and moon," which 
do not agree with what has been discovered by astronomers; but 
when he questioned Faustus on these matters, Faustus frankly 
confessed his ignorance. "Even for this I liked him the better. 
For the modesty of a candid mind is even more attractive than 
the knowledge of those things which I desired ; and such I found 
him, in all the more difficult and subtle questions." 2 

This sentiment is surprisingly liberal; one would not have ex- 
pected it in that age. Nor is it quite in harmony with St. Augus- 
tine's later attitude towards heretics. 

At this time he decided to go to Rome, not, he says, because 
there the income of a teacher was higher than at Carthage, but 
because he had heard that classes were more orderly. At Carthage, 
the disorders perpetrated by students were such that teaching was 
almost impossible; but at Rome, while there was less disorder, 
students fraudulently evaded payment. 

In Rome, he still associated with the Manichaeans, but with less 
conviction of their tightness. He began to think that the Academics 
were right in holding that men ought to doubt everything. 3 He 
still, however, agreed with the Manichseans in thinking "that it 
is not we ourselves that sin, but that some other nature (what, I 
know not) sins in us," and he believed Evil to be some kind of 
substance. This makes it clear that, before as after his conversion, 
the question of sin pre-occupied him. 

After about a year in Rome, he was sent to Milan by the Prefect 
Symmachus, in response to a request from that city for a teacher 
of rhetoric. At Milan he became acquainted with Ambrose, "known 
to the whole world as among the best of men." He came to love 
Ambrose for his kindness, and to prefer the Catholic doctrine to 
that of the Manichseans; hut for a while he was held back by the 
scepticism he had learnt from the Academics, "to which philoso- 
phers notwithstanding, because they were without the saving name 

1 Confessions, Bcx>k V, chap. vi. 

d., Book II, chap. vii. 8 /</., Book V, chap. x. 

369 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

of Christ, I utterly refused to commit the care of my sick 
soul." 1 

In Milan he was joined by his mother, who had a powerful 
influence in hastening the last steps to his conversion. She was a 
very earnest Catholic, and he writes of her always in a tone of 
reverence. She was the more important to him at this time, because 
Ambrose was too busy to converse with him privately. 

There is a very interesting chapter 9 in which he compares the 
Platonic philosophy with Christian doctrine. The Lord, he says, 
at this time provided him with "certain books of the Platonists, 
translated from Greek into Latin. And therein I read, not indeed 
in these words, but to the same purpose, enforced by many and 
diverse reasons, that 'In the beginning was the Word, and the 
Word was with God, and the Word was God: the same was in 
the beginning with God ; all things were made by Him, and without 
Him was nothing made: that which was made by Him is life, and 
the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness, 
and the darkness comprehended it not. And that the soul of man, 
though it 'bears witness to the light,' yet itself 'is not that light,' 
but God, the Word of God, 'is that true light that lighteth every 
man that cometh into the world. 1 And that 'He was in the world, 
and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. 9 
But that 'He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; 
but as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become 
the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name': this I 
read not there." He also did not read there that "the Word was 
made flesh, and dwelt among us" ; nor that "He humbled Himself, 
and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross"; 
nor that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow." 

Broadly speaking, he found in the Platonists the metaphysical 
doctrine of the Logos, but not the doctrine of the Incarnation and 
the consequent doctrine of human salvation. Something not 
unlike these doctrines existed in Orphism and the other mystery 
religions; but of this St. Augustine appears to have been ignorant. 
In any case, none of these were connected with a comparatively 
recent historical event, as Christianity was. 

As against the Manichaeans, who were dualists, Augustine came 
to believe that evil originates not from some substance, but from 
pcrvcrseness of will. 

1 Confetti. Book V. chap. tiv. Ibid.. Book VII, chap. is. 

370 



THREE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH 

He found especial comfort in the writings of St. Paul. 1 
At length, after passionate inward struggles, he was converted 
(386) ; he gave up his professorship, his mistress, and his bride, and, 
after a brief period of meditation in retirement, was baptized by 
St. Ambrose. His mother rejoiced, but died not long afterwards. 
In 388 he returned to Africa, where he remained for the rest of his 
life, fully occupied with his episcopal duties and with controversial 
writings against various heresies, Donatist, Manichaean, and 
Pelagian. 

1 Confessions, Book VII, chap. xxi. 



37* 



Chapter IV 

ST. AUGUSTINE'S PHILOSOPHY AND 
THEOLOGY 

ST. AUGUSTINE was a very voluminous writer, mainly on 
theological subjects. Some of his controversial writing was 
topical, and lost interest through its very success ; but some 
of it, especially what is concerned with the Pelagians, remained 
practically influential down to modern times. I do not propose to 
treat his works exhaustively, but only to discuss what seems to me 
important, either intrinsically or historically. I shall consider: 

First: his pure philosophy, particularly his theory of time; 
Second: his philosophy of history, as developed in The City 

ofGod\ 
Third: his theory of salvation, as propounded ajrainst the 

Pelagians. 

1. PURE PHILOSOPHY 

St. Augustine, at most times, docs not occupy himself with pure 
philosophy, but when he does he shows very great ability'. He is 
the first of a long line whose purely speculative views are influenced 
by the necessity of agreeing with Scripture. This cannot be said of 
earlier Christian philosophers, e.g., Origen ; in Origen, Christianity 
and Platonism lie side by side, and do not interpenetrate. In St. 
Augustine, on the other hand, original thinking in pure philosophy 
is stimulated by the fact that Platonism, in certain respects, is not 
in harmony with Genesis. 

The best purely philosophical work in St. Augustine's writings 
is the eleventh book of the Confessions. Popular editions of the 
Confessions end with Book X, on the ground that what follows is 
uninteresting; it is uninteresting because it is good philosophy, 
not biography. Book XI is concerned with the problem: Creation 
having occurred as the first chapter of Genesis asserts, and as 
Augustine maintains against the Manicha-ans, it should have 
occurred as soon as possible. So he imagines an objector arguing. 

The first point to realize, if his answer is to be understood, is that 

37* 



ST. AUGUSTINE'S PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY 

creation out of nothing, which was taught in the Old Testament, 
was an idea wholly foreign to Greek philosophy. When Plato speaks 
of creation, he imagines a primitive matter to which God gives 
form ; and the same is true of Aristotle. Their God is an artificer or 
architect, rather than a Creator. Substance is thought of as eternal 
and uncreated ; only form is due to the will of God. As against 
this view, St. Augustine maintains, as every orthodox Christian 
must, that the world was created not from any certain matter, 
but from nothing. God created substance, not only order and 
arrangement. 

The Greek view, that creation out of nothing is impossible, has 
recurred at intervals in Christian times, and has led to pantheism. 
Pantheism holds that God and the world are not distinct, and that 
everything in the world is part of God. This view is developed most 
fully in Spinoza, but is one to which almost all mystics arc attracted. 
It has thus happened, throughout the Christian centuries, that 
mystics have had difficulty in remaining orthodox, since they find 
it hard to believe that the world is outside God. Augustine, how- 
ever, feels no difficulty on this point; Genesis is explicit, and that 
is enough for him. His view on this matter is essential to his theory 
of time. 

Why was the world not created sooner? Because there was no 
"sooner." Time was created when the world was created. God is 
eternal, in the sense of being timeless; in God there is no before 
and after, but only an eternal present. God's eternity is exempt from 
the relation of time; all time is present to Him at once. He did not 
precede His own creation of time, for that would imply that He was 
in time, whereas He stands eternally outside the stream of time. 
This leads St. Augustine to a very admirable relativistic theory 
of time. 

"What, then, is time ?" lie asks. "If no one asks of me, I know; if 
I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not." Various difficulties 
perplex him. Neither past nor future, he says, but only the present, 
really li; the present is only a moment, and time can only be 
measured while it is passing. Nevertheless, there really is time past 
and future. We seem here to be led into contradictions. The only 
way Augustine can find to avoid these contradictions is to say that 
past and future can only be thought of as present: "past" must 
be identified with memory, and "future" with expectation, 
memory and expectation being both present facts. There are, he 

373 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

says, three times: "a present of things past, a present of things 
present, and a present of things future." "The present of things 
past is memory; the present of things present is sight; and the 
present of things future is expectation." 1 To say that there are 
three times, past, present, and future, is a loose way of speaking. 

He realizes that he has not really solved all difficulties by this 
theory. "My soul yearns to know this most entangled enigma," he 
says, and he prays to God to enlighten him, assuring Him that 
his interest in the problem does not arise from vain curiosity. "I 
confess to Thee, O Lord, that I am as yet ignorant what time is." 
But the gist of the solution he suggests is that time is subjective: 
time is in the human mind, which expects, considers, and remem- 
bers. 2 It follows that there can be no time without a created being, 9 
and that to speak of time before the Creation is meaningless. 

I do not myself agree with this theory, in so far as it makes time 
something mental. But it is clearly a very able theory, deserving 
to be seriously considered. I should go further, and say that it is 
a great advance on anything to be found on the subject in Greek 
philosophy. It contains a better and clearer statement than Kant's 
of the subjective theory of time a theory which, since Kant, has 
been widely accepted among philosophers. 

The theory that time is only an aspect of our thoughts is one of 
the most extreme forms of that subjectivism which, as we have 
seen, gradually increased in antiquity from the time of Protagoras 
and Socrates onwards. Its emotional aspect is obsession with sin, 
which came later than its intellectual aspects. St. Augustine 
exhibits both kinds of subjectivism. Subjectivism led him to 
anticipate not only Kant's theory of time, but Descartes' cogito. 
In his Soliloquia he says: "You, who wish to know, do you know 
you are? I know it. Whence are you? I know not. Do you feel 
yourself single or multiple? I know not. Do you feel yourself 
moved? I know not. Do you know that you think? I do." This 
contains not only Descartes' cogito, but his reply to Ga&sendi's 
ambulo ergo sum. As a philosopher, therefore, Augustine deserves 
a high placl. 

II. THE CITY OF GOD 

When, tn 410, Rome was sacked by the Goths, the pagans, not 
unnaturally, attributed the disaster to the abandonment of the 

1 Confessions, Book XI, chap. xx. 

1 Ibid., chap, xxvtit. * ibid., chap. xxx. 

374 



ST. AUGUSTINE'S PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY 

ancient gods. So long as Jupiter was worshipped, they said, Rome 
remained powerful; now that the Emperors have turned away 
from him, he no longer protects his Romans. This pagan argument 
called for an answer. The City of God, written gradually between 
412 and 427, was St. Augustine's answer; but it took, as it pro- 
ceeded, a far wider flight, and developed a complete Christian 
scheme of history, past, present, and future. It was an immensely 
influential book throughout the Middle Ages, especially in the 
struggles of the Church with secular princes. 

Like some other very great books, it composes itself, in the 
memory of those who have read it, into something better than at 
first appears on re-reading. It contains a great deal that hardly 
anyone at the present day can accept, and its central thesis is some- 
what obscured by excrescences belonging to his age. But the broad 
conception of a contrast between the City of this world and the 
City of God has remained an inspiration to many, and even now 
can be restated in non-theological terms. 

To omit detail in an account of the book, and concentrate on the 
central idea, would give an unduly favourable view; on the other 
hand, to concentrate on the detail would be to omit what is best 
and most important. I shall endeavour to avoid both errors by first 
giving some account of the detail and then passing on to the 
general idea as it appeared in historical development. 

The book begins with considerations arising out of the sack of 
Rome, and designed to show that even worse things happened in 
pre-Christian times. Among the pagans who attribute the disaster 
to Christianity, there are many, the Saint says, who, during the 
sack, sought sanctuary in the churches, which the Goths, because 
they were Christians, respected. In the sack of Troy, on the 
contrary, Juno's temple afforded no protection, nor did the gods 
preserve the city from destruction. The Romans never spared 
temples in conquered cities; in this respect, the sack of Rome 
was milder than most, and the mitigation was a result of 
Christianity. 

Christians who suffered the sack have no right to complain, for 
several reasons. Some wicked Goths may have prospered at their 
expense, but they will suffer hereafter: if all sin were punished on 
earth, there would be no need of the Last Judgment. What Chris- 
tians endured would, if they were virtuous, turn to their edification, 
for saints, in the loss of things temporal, lose nothing of any value, 

375 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

It does not matter if their bodies lie unburied, because ravenous 
beasts cannot interfere with the resurrection of the body. 

Next comes the question of pious virgins who were raped during 
the sack. There were apparently some who held that these ladies, 
by no fault of their own, had lost the crown of virginity. This view 
the Saint very sensibly opposes. "Tush, another's lust cannot 
pollute thee." Chastity is a virtue of the mind, and is not lost by 
rape, but is lost by the intention of sin, even if unperformed. It 
is suggested that God permitted rapes because the victims had 
been too proud of their continence. It is wicked to commit suicide 
in order to avoid being raped ; this leads to a long discussion of 
Lucretia, who ought not to have killed herself, because suicide is 
always a sin. 

There is one proviso to the exculpation of virtuous women who 
are raped: they must not enjoy it. If they do, they are sinful. 

He comes next to the wickedness of the heathen gods. For 
example: "Your stage-plays, those spectacles of uncleanness, 
those licentious vanities, were not first brought up at Rome by 
the corruptions of men, but by the direct command of your 
gods/' 1 It would be better to worship a virtuous man, such as 
Scipio, than these immoral gods. But as for the sack of Rome, it 
need not trouble Christians, who have a sanctuary in the "pilgrim 
city of God." 

In this world, the two cities the earthly and the heavenly are 
commingled ; but hereafter the predestinate and the reprobate will 
be separated. In this life, we cannot know who, even among our 
seeming enemies, are to be found ultimately among the elect. 

The most difficult part of the work, we are told, will consist in 
the refutation of the philosophers, with the best of whom Chris- 
tians are to a large extent in agreement for instance as to immor- 
tality and the creation of the world by God. 2 

The philosophers did not throw over the worship of the heathen 
gods, and their moral instructions were weak because the gods 
were wicked. It is not suggested that the gods are mere fables; 
they are held by St. Augustine to exist, but to be devils. They 
liked to have filthy stories told of them, because they wanted to 
injure men. Jupiter's deeds count more, with most pagans, than 
Plato's doctrines or Cato's opinions. "Plato, who would not allow 
poets to dwell in a well-governed city, showed that his sole worth 

1 The City of God, I, 31. lbid. t I, 35- 

376 



ST. AUGUSTINE'S PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY 

was better than those gods, that desire to be honoured with stage- 
plays." 1 

Rome was always wicked, from the rape of the Sabine women 
onwards. Many chapters are devoted to the sinfulness of Roman 
imperialism. Nor is it true that Rome did not suffer before the 
State became Christian; from the Gauls and the civil wars it 
suffered as much as from the Goths, and more. 

Astrology is not only wicked, but false ; this may be proved from 
the different fortunes of twins, who have the same horoscope. 9 
The Stoic conception of Fate (which was connected with astrology) 
is mistaken, since angels and men have free will. It is true that 
God has foreknowledge of our sins, but we do not sin because of 
His foreknowledge. It is a mistake to suppose that virtue brings 
unhappiness, even in this world: Christian emperors, if virtuous, 
have been happy even if not fortunate, and Constantine and 
Theodosius were fortunate as well; again, the Jewish kingdom 
lasted as long as the Jews adhered to the truth of religion. 

There is a very sympathetic account of Plato, whom he places 
above all other philosophers. All others are to give place to him: 
"Let Thales depart with his water, Anaximenes with the air, the 
Stoics with their fire, Epicurus with his atoms." 8 All these were 
materialists ; Plato was not. Plato saw that God is not any bodily 
thing, but that all things have their being from God, and from 
something immutable. He was right, also, in saying that perception 
is not the source of truth. Platonists are the best in logic and 
ethics, and nearest to Christianity. "It is said that Plotinus, that 
lived but lately, understood Plato the best of any. 1 ' As for Aristotle, 
he was Plato's inferior, but far above the rest. Both, however, said 
that all gods are good, and to be worshipped. 

As against the Stoics, who condemned all passion, St. Augustine 
holds that the passions of Christians may be causes of virtue; 
anger, or pity, is not to be condemned per s* , but we must inquire 
into its cause. 

Platonists are right about God, wrong about gods. They are also 
wrong in not acknowledging the Incarnation. 

There is a long discussion of angels and demons, which is con- 

1 Tfie City of God, II, 14. 

1 This argument is not original : it is derived from the academic sceptic 
Carncades. Cf. Curnont, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, p. 166. 
* The City of God, VIII, 5. 

377 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

nected with the Neoplatonists. Angels may be good or bad, but 
demons are always bad. To angels, knowledge of temporal things 
(though they have it) is vile. St. Augustine holds with Plato that 
the sensible world is inferior to the eternal. 

Book XI begins the account of the nature of the City of God. 
The City of God is the society of the elect. Knowledge of God is 
obtained only through Christ. There are things that can be dis- 
covered by reason (as in the philosophers), but for all further 
religious knowledge we must rely on the Scriptures. We ought 
not to seek to understand time and space before the world was 
made: there was no time before the Creation, and there is no 
place where the world is not. 

Everything blessed is eternal, but not everything eternal is 
blessed e.g. hell and Satan. God foreknew the sins of devils, but 
also their use in improving the universe as a whole, which is 
analogous to antithesis in rhetoric. 

Origen errs in thinking that souls were given bodies as a punish- 
ment. If this were so, bad souls would have bad bodies; but devils, 
even the worst of them, have airy bodies, which are better 
than ours. 

The reason the world was created in six days is that six is a 
perfect number (i.e. equal to the sum of its factors). 

There are good and bad angels, but even the bad angels do not 
have an essence which is contrary to God. God's enemies are not 
so by nature, but by mil. The vicious will has no efficient cause, 
but only a deficient one ; it is not an effect, but a defect. 

The world is less than six thousand years old. History is not 
cyclic, as some philosophers suppose: "Christ died once for our 
sins." 1 

If our first parents had not sinned, they would not have died, 
but, because they sinned, all their posterity die. Eating the apple 
brought not only natural death, but eternal death, i.e. damnation. 

Porphyry is wrong in refusing bodies to saints in heaven. They 
will have better bodies than Adam's before the fall; their bodies 
will be spiritual, but not spirits, and will not have weight. Men 
will have male bodies, and women female bodies, and those who 
have died in infancy will rise again with adult bodies. 

Adam's sin would have brought all mankind to eternal death 
(i.e. damnation), but that God's grace has freed many from it. 

vi: I TheMtkmiant iv. 

378 



ST. AUGUSTINE'S PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY 

Sin came from the soul, not from the flesh. Platonists and 
Manichseans both err in ascribing sin to the nature of the flesh, 
though Platonists are not so bad as Manichaeans. The punishment 
of all mankind for Adam's sin was just ; for, as a result of this 
sin, man, that might have been spiritual in body, became carnal 
in mind. 1 

This leads to a long and minute discussion of sexual lust, to 
which we are subject as part of our punishment for Adam's sin. 
This discussion is very important as revealing the psychology of 
asceticism; we must therefore go into it, although the Saint 
confesses that the theme is immodest. The theory advanced is as 
follows. 

It must be admitted that sexual intercourse in marriage is not 
sinful, provided the intention is to beget offspring. Yet even in 
marriage a virtuous man will wish that he could manage without 
lust. Even in marriage, as the desire for privacy shows, people are 
ashamed of sexual intercourse, because "this lawful act of nature 
is (from our first parents) accompanied with our penal shame." 
The cynics thought that one should be without shame, and 
Diogenes would have none of it, wishing to be in all things like 
a dog; yet even he, after one attempt, abandoned, in practice, 
this extreme of shamelessness. What is shameful about lust is its 
independence of the will. Adam and Eve, before the fall, could 
have had sexual intercourse without lust, though in fact they did 
not. Handicraftsmen, in the pursuit of their trade, move their 
hands without lust; similarly Adam, if only he had kept away 
from the apple-tree, could have performed the business of sex 
without the emotions that it now demands. The sexual members, 
like the rest of the body, would have obeyed the will. The need 
of lust in sexual intercourse is a punishment for Adam's sin, but 
for which sex might have been divorced from pleasure. Omitting 
some physiological details which the translator has very properly 
left in the decent obscurity of the original Latin, the above is 
St. Augustine's theory as regards sex. 

It is evident from the above that what makes the ascetic dislike 
sex is its independence of the will. Virtue, it is held, demands a 
complete control of the will over the body, but such control does 
not suffice to make the sexual act possible. The sexual act, there- 
fore, seems inconsistent with a perfectly virtuous life. 
1 ThtCityofGod,\\\, 15. 
379 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Ever since the Fall, the world has been divided into two cities, 
of which one shall reign eternally with God, the other shall be in 
eternal torment with Satan. Cain belongs to the city of the Devil, 
Abel to the City of God. Abel, by grace, and in virtue of pre- 
destination, was a pilgrim on earth and a citizen of heaven. The 
patriarchs belonged to the City of God. Discussion of the death 
of Methuselah brings St. Augustine to the vexed question of the 
comparison of the Septuagint with the Vulgate. The data, as given 
in the Septuagint, lead to the conclusion that Methuselah survived 
the flood by fourteen years, which is impossible, since he was not 
in the Ark. The Vulgate, following the Hebrew manuscripts, gives 
data from which it follows that he died in the year of the flood. On 
this point, St. Augustine holds that St. Jerome and the Hebrew 
manuscripts must be right. Some people maintained that the Jews 
had deliberately falsified the Hebrew manuscripts, out of malice 
towards the Christians; this hypothesis is rejected. On the other 
hand, the Septuagint must have been divinely inspired. The only 
conclusion is that Ptolemy's copyists made mistakes in transcribing 
the Septuagint. Speaking of the translations of the Old Testament, 
he says: "The Church has received that of the Seventy, as if there 
were no other, as many of the Greek Christians, using this wholly, 
know not whether there be or no. Our Latin translation is from 
this also. Although one Jerome, a learned priest, and a great 
linguist, has translated the same Scriptures from the Hebrew into 
Latin. But although the Jews affirm his learned labour to be all 
truth, and avouch the Seventy to have oftentimes erred, yet the 
Churches of Christ hold no one man to be preferred before so 
many, especially being selected by the high priest, for this work.*' 
He accepts the story of the miraculous agreement of the seventy 
independent translations, and considers this a proof that the 
Septuagint is divinely inspired. The Hebrew, however, is equally 
inspired. This conclusion leaves undecided the question as to the 
authority of Jerome's translation. Perhaps he might have been 
more decidedly on Jerome's side if the two Saints had not had a 
quarrel about St. Peter's time-serving propensities. 1 

He gives a synchronism of sacred and profane history. We learn 
that neas came to Italy when Abdon 3 was judge in Israel, and 

1 Galatians ii, 11-14. 

1 Of Abclon we know only that he had forty nons and thirty nephews, 
and that all these seventy rode donkeys (Judge* xii, 14). 

380 



ST. AUGUSTINE'S PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY 

that the last persecution will be under Antichrist, but its date is 
unknown. 

After an admirable chapter against judicial torture, St. Augustine 
proceeds to combat the new Academicians, who hold all things 
to be doubtful. "The Church of Christ detests these doubts as 
madness, having a most certain knowledge of the things it appre- 
hends." We should believe in the truth of the Scriptures. He goes 
on to explain that there is no true virtue apart from true religion. 
Pagan virtue is " prostituted with the influence of obscene and 
filthy devils." What would be virtues in a Christian are vices in a 
pagan. "Those things which she [the soul] seems to account 
virtues, and thereby to sway her affections, if they be not all 
referred unto God, are indeed vices rather than virtues." They 
that are not of this society (the Church) shall suffer eternal misery. 
"In our conflicts here on earth, either the pain is victor, and so 
death expels the sense of it, or nature conquers, and expels the 
pain. But there, pain shall afflict eternally, and nature shall suffer 
eternally, both enduring to the continuance of the inflicted punish- 
ment." 

There are two resurrections, that of the soul at death, and that 
of the body at the Last Judgment. After a discussion of various 
difficulties concerning the millennium, and the subsequent doings 
of Gog and Magog, he comes to a text in II Thessalonians 
(ii, 11,12): "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should 
believe a lie, that they nil might be damned who believed not the 
truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Some people might 
think it unjust that the Omnipotent should first deceive them, 
and then punish them for being deceived; but to St. Augustine 
this seems quite in order. "Being condemned, they are seduced, 
and, being seduced, condemned. But their seducement is by the 
secret judgment of God, justly secret, and secretly just; even His 
that hath judged continually, ever since the world began." St. 
Augustine holds that God divided mankind into the elect and the 
reprobate, not because of their merits or demerits, but arbitrarily. 
All alike deserve damnation, and therefore the reprobate have no 
ground of complaint. From the above passage of St. Paul, it 
appears that they are wicked because they are reprobate, not repro- 
bate because they are wicked. 

After the resurrection of the body, the bodies of the damned 
will burn eternally without being consumed. In this there is 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

nothing strange; it happens to the salamander and Mount Etna. 
Devils, though incorporeal, can be burnt by corporeal fire. Hell's 
torments are not purifying, and will not be lessened by the inter- 
cessions of saints. Origen erred in thinking hell not eternal. 
Heretics, and sinful Catholics, will be damned. 

The book ends with a description of the Saints' vision of God 
in heaven, and of the eternal felicity of die City of God. 

From the above summary, the importance of the work may not 
be clear. What was influential was the separation of Church and 
State, with the clear implication that the State could only be part 
of the City of God by being submissive towards the Church in all 
religious matters. This has been the doctrine of the Church ever 
since. All through the Middle Ages, during the gradual rise of 
the papal power, and throughout the conflict between Pope and 
Emperor, St. Augustine supplied the Western Church with the 
theoretical justification of its policy. The Jewish State, in the 
legendary time of the Judges, and in the historical period after 
the return from the Babylonian captivity, had been a theocracy; 
the Christian State should imitate it in this respect. The weakness 
of the emperors, and of most Western medieval monarchs, enabled 
the Church, to a great extent, to realize the ideal of the City of 
God. In the East, where the emperor was strong, this development 
never took place, and the Church remained much more subject 
to the State than it became in the West. 

The Reformation, which revived St. Augustine's doctrine of 
salvation, threw over his theocratic teaching, and became Eras- 
tian, 1 largely owing to the practical exigencies of the fight with 
Catholicism. But Protestant Erastianism was half-hearted, and the 
most religious among Protestants were still influenced by St. 
Augustine. Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchy Men, and Quakers took 
over a part of his doctrine, but laid less stress on the Church. He 
held to predestination, and also to the need of baptism for salva- 
tion; these two doctrines do not harmonize well, and the extreme 
Protestants threw over the latter. But their eschatology remained 
Augustinian. 

The City of God contains little that is fundamentally original. 
The eschatology is Jewish in origin, and came into Christianity 
mainly through the Book of Revelation. The doctrine of prc- 

* Erasttanism is the doctrine that the Church should be subject to the 
State. 

382 



ST. AUGUSTINE'S PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY 

destination and election is Pauline, though St. Augustine gave it 
a much fuller and more logical development than is to be found 
in the Epistles. The distinction between sacred and profane history 
is quite clearly set forth in the Old Testament. What St. Augustine 
did was to bring these elements together, and to relate them to 
the history of his own time, in such a way that the fall of the 
Western Empire, and the subsequent period of confusion, could 
be assimilated by Christians without any unduly severe trial of 
their faith. 

The Jewish pattern of history, past and future, is such as to 
make a powerful appeal to the oppressed and unfortunate at all 
times. St. Augustine adapted this pattern to Christianity, Marx 
to Socialism. To understand Marx psychologically, one should 
use the following dictionary : 

Yahweh = Dialectical Materialism 
The Messiah = Marx 

The Elect = The Proletariat 
The Church = The Communist Party 
The Second Coming = The Revolution 

Hell = Punishment of the Capitalists 

The Millennium = The Communist Commonwealth 

* 

The terms on the left give the emotional content of the terms 
on the right, and it is this emotional content, familiar to those who 
have had a Christian or a Jewish upbringing, that makes Marx's 
eschatology credible. A similar dictionary could be made for the 
Nazis, but their conceptions are more purely Old Testament and 
less Christian than those of Marx, and their Messiah is more 
analogous to the Maccabees than to Christ. 



III. THE PELAGIAN CONTROVERSY 

Much of the most influential part of St. Augustine's theology 
was concerned in combating the Pelagian heresy. Pelagius was a 
Welshman, whose real name was Morgan, which means "man of 
the sea," as "Pelagius" does in Greek. He was a cultivated and 
agreeable ecclesiastic, less fanatical than many of his contem- 
poraries. He believed in free will, questioned the doctrine of 
original sin, and thought that, when men act virtuously, it is by 

383 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

reason of their own moral effort. If they act rightly, and are 
orthodox, they go to heaven as a reward of their virtues. 

These views, though they may now seem commonplace, caused, 
at the time, a great commotion, and were, largely through St. 
Augustine's efforts, declared heretical. They had, however, a 
considerable temporary success. Augustine had to write to the 
patriarch of Jerusalem to warn him against the wily heresiarch, 
who had persuaded many Eastern theologians to adopt his views. 
Even after his condemnation, other people, called semi-Pelagians, 
advocated weakened forms of his doctrines. It was a long time 
before the purer teaching of the Saint was completely victorious, 
especially in France, where the final condemnation of the semi- 
Pelagian heresy took place at the Council of Orange in 529. 

St. Augustine taught that Adam, before the Fall, had had free 
will, and could have abstained from sin. But as he and Eve ate the 
apple, corruption entered into them, and descended to all their 
posterity, none of whom can, of their own power, abstain from 
sin. Only God's grace enables men to be virtuous. Since we all 
inherit Adam's sin, we all deserve eternal damnation. All who die 
unbaptized, even infants, mil go to hell and suffer unending 
torment. We have no reason to complain of this, since we are all 
wicked. (In the Confessions, the Saint enumerates the crimes of 
which he was guilty in the cradle.) But by God's free grace certain 
people, among those who have been baptized, are chosen to go 
to heaven ; these are the elect. They do not go to heaven because 
they are good; we are all totally depraved, except in so far as 
God's grace, which is only bestowed on the elect, enables us to 
be otherwise. No reason can be given why some are saved and the 
rest damned; this is due to God's unmotived choice. Damnation 
proves God's justice; salvation, His mercy. Both equally display 
His goodness. 

The arguments in favour of this ferocious doctrine which was 
revived by Calvin, and has since then not been held by the Catholic 
Church are to be found in the writings of St. Paul, particularly 
the Epistle to the Romans. These are treated by Augustine as a 
lawyer treats the law: the interpretation is able, and the texts are 
made to yield their utmost meaning. One is persuaded, at the end, 
not that St. Paul believed what Augustine deduces, but that, 
taking certain texts in isolation, they do imply just what he says 
they do. It may seem odd that the damnation of unbaptized infants 

384 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

should not have been thought shocking, but should have been 
attributed to a good God. The conviction of sin, however, so 
dominated him that he really believed new-born children to be 
limbs of Satan. A great deal of what is most ferocious in the 
medieval Church is traceable to his gloomy sense of universal 
guilt. 

There is only one intellectual difficulty that really troubles St. 
Augustine. This is not that it seems a pity to have created Man, 
since the immense majority of the human race are predestined to 
eternal torment. What troubles him is that, if original sin is 
inherited from Adam, as St. Paul teaches, the soul, as well as the 
body, must be propagated by the parents, for sin is of the soul, 
not the body. He sees difficulties in this doctrine, but says that, 
since Scripture is silent, it cannot be necessary to salvation to 
arrive at a just view on the matter. He therefore leaves it undecided. 

It is strange that the last men of intellectual eminence before 
the dark ages were concerned, not with saving civilization or 
expelling the barbarians or reforming the abuses of the adminis- 
tration, but with preaching the merit of virginity and the damna- 
tion of unbaptized infants. Seeing that these were the preoccupa- 
tions that the Church handed on to the converted barbarians, it 
is no wonder that the succeeding age surpassed almost all other 
fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition. 



History of W*tt*r Pkihsof>ky 385 N 



Chapter V 
THE FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES 

^ IHE fifth century was that of the barbarian invasion and 
I the fall of the Western Empire. After the death of 

JL Augustine in 430, there was little philosophy; it was a 
century of destructive action, which, however, largely determined 
the lines upon which Europe was to be developed. It was in this 
century that the English invaded Britain, causing it to become 
England; it was also in this century that the Prankish invasion 
turned Gaul into France, and that the Vandals invaded Spain, 
giving their name to Andalusia. St. Patrick, during the middle 
years of the century, converted the Irish to Christianity. Through- 
out the Western World, rough Germanic kingdoms succeeded the 
centralized bureaucracy of the Empire. The imperial post ceased, 
the great roads fell into decay, war put an end to large-scale 
commerce, and life again became local both politically and 
economically. Centralized authority was preserved only in the 
Church, and there with much difficulty. 

Of the Germanic tribes that invaded the Empire in the fifth 
century, the most important were the Goths. They were pushed 
westwards by the Huns, who attacked them from the East. At 
first they tried to conquer the Eastern Empire, but were defeated ; 
then they turned upon Italy. Since Diocletian, they had been 
employed as Roman mercenaries ; this had taught them more of 
the art of war than barbarians would otherwise have known. 
Alaric, king of the Goths, sacked Rome in 410, but died the same 
year. Odovaker, king of the Ostrogoths, put an end to the Western 
Empire in 476, and reigned until 493, when he was treacherously 
murdered by another Ostrogoth, Theodoric, who was king of 
Italy until 526. Of him I shall have more to say shortly. He was 
important both in history and legend; in the Niebelungenlicd he 
appears as "Dietrich von Bern" (**Bern" being Verona). 

Meanwhile the Vandals established themselves in Africa, the 
Visigoths in the south of France, and the Franks in the north. 

In the middle of the Germanic invasion came the inroads of the 
Huns under Attila, The Huns were of Mongol race, and yet they 
were often allied with the Goths. At the crucial moment, however, 

386 



THE FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES 

when they invaded Gaul in 451, they had quarrelled with the 
Goths; the Goths and Romans together defeated them in that 
year at Chalons. Attila then turned against Italy, and thought of 
marching on Rome, but Pope Leo dissuaded him, pointing out 
that Alaric had died after sacking Rome. His forbearance, how- 
ever, did him no service, for he died in the following year. After 
his death the power of the Huns collapsed. 

During this period of confusion the Church was troubled by a 
complicated controversy on the Incarnation. The protagonists in 
the debates were two ecclesiastics, Cyril and Nestorius, of whom, 
more or less by accident, the former was proclaimed a saint and 
the latter a heretic. St. Cyril was patriarch of Alexandria from 
about 412 till his death in 444; Nestorius was patriarch of Con- 
stantinople. The question at issue was the relation of Christ's 
divinity to His humanity. Were there two Persons, one human 
and one divine ? This was the view held by Nestorius. If not, was 
there only one nature, or were there two natures in one person, 
a human nature and a divine nature ? These questions roused, in 
the fifth century, an almost incredible degree of passion and fury. 
"A secret and incurable discord was cherished between those who 
were most apprehensive of confounding, and those who were most 
fearful of separating, the divinity and the humanity of Christ." 1 

St. Cyril, the advocate of unity, was a man of fanatical zeal. He 
used his position as patriarch to incite pogroms against the very large 
Jewish colony in Alexandria. His chief claim to fame is the lynching 
of Hypatia, a distinguished lady who, in an age of bigotry, adhered 
to the Neoplatonic philosophy and devoted her talents to mathe- 
matics. She was "torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged 
to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter 
the Reader and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics: her flesh 
was scraped from her bones with sharp oyster-shells and her 
quivering limbs were delivered to the flames. The just progress 
of inquiry and punishment was stopped by seasonable gifts." 2 
After this, Alexandria was no longer troubled by philosophers. 

St. Cyril was pained to learn that Constantinople was being led 
astray by the teaching of its patriarch Nestorius, who maintained 
that there were two Persons in Christ, one human and one divine. 
On this ground Nestorius objected to the new practice of calling 
the Virgin "Mother of God"; she was, he said, only the mother 

1 Gibbon, op. cit. t chap, xlvii, * Ibid. 

387 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

of the human Person, while the divine Person, who was God, had 
no mother. On this question the Church was divided: roughly 
speaking, bishops east of Suez favoured Nestorius, while those 
west of Suez favoured St. Cyril. A council was summoned to 
meet at Ephesus in 431 to decide the question. The Western 
bishops arrived firsthand proceeded to lock the doors against late- 
comers and decide in hot haste for St. Cyril, who presided. "This 
episcopal tumult, at the distance of thirteen centuries, assumes 
the venerable aspect of the third oecumenical Council." 1 

As a result of this council, Nestorius was condemned as a heretic. 
He did not recant, but was the founder of the Nestorian sect, 
which had a large following in Syria and throughout the East. 
Some centuries later, Nestorianism was so strong in China that 
it seemed to have a chance of becoming the established religion. 
Nestorians were found in India by the Spanish and Portuguese 
missionaries in the sixteenth century. The persecution of Nes- 
torianism by the Catholic government of Constantinople caused 
disaffection which helped the Mohammedans in their conquest 
of Syria. 

The tongue of Nestorius, which by its eloquence had seduced 
so many, was eaten by worms so at least we are assured. 

Ephesus had learnt to substitute the Virgin for Artemis, but had 
still the same intemperate zeal for its goddess as in the time of St. 
Paul. It was said that the Virgin was buried there. In 449, after the 
death of St. Cyril, a synod at Ephesus tried to carry the triumph 
further, and thereby fell into the heresy opposite to that of Nes- 
torius; this is called the Monophysite heresy, and maintains that 
Christ has only one nature. If St. Cyril had still been alive, he 
would certainly have supported this view, and have become 
heretical. The Emperor supported the synod, but the Pope repu- 
diated it. At last Pope Leothe same Pope who turned Attila 
from attacking Rome in the year of the battle of Chalons secured 
the summoning of an oecumenical council at Chalcedon in 451, 
which condemned the Monophysites and finally decided the ortho- 
dox doctrine of the Incarnation. The Council of Ephesus had 
decided that there is only one Person of Christ, but the Council of 
Chalcedon decided that He exists in two natures, one human and 
one divine. The influence of the Pope was paramount in securing 
this decision. 

1 Gibbon, op. *&, chip xlvii. 

388 



THE FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES 

The Monophysites, like the Nestorians, refused to submit. 
Egypt, almost to a man, adopted their heresy, which spread up the 
Nile and as far as Abyssinia. The heresy of the Abyssinians was 
given by Mussolini as one of his reasons for conquering them. The 
heresy of Egypt, like the opposite heresy of Syria, facilitated the 
Arab conquest. 

During the sixth century, there were four men of great im- 
portance in the history of culture: Boethius, Justinian, Benedict, 
and Gregory the Great. They will be my chief concern in the 
remainder of this chapter and in the next. 

The Gothic conquest of Italy did not put an end to Roman 
civilization. Under Theodoric, king of Italy and of the Goths, the 
civil administration of Italy was entirely Roman; Italy enjoyed 
peace and religious toleration (till near the end); the king was 
both wise and vigorous. He appointed consuls, preserved Roman 
law, and kept up the Senate: when in Rome, his first visit was to 
the Senate House. 

Though an Arian, Theodoric was on good terms with the 
Church until his last years. In 523, the Emperor Justin proscribed 
Arianism, and this annoyed Theodoric. He had reason for fear, 
since Italy was Catholic and was led by theological sympathy to 
side with the Emperor. He believed, rightly or wrongly, that 
there was a plot involving men in his own government. This led 
him to imprison and execute his minister, the senator Boethius, 
whose Consolations of Philosophy was written while he was in 
prison. 

Boethius is a singular figure. Throughout the Middle Ages he 
was read and admired, regarded always as a devout Christian, 
and treated almost as if he had been one of the Fathers. Yet his 
Consolations of Philosophy, written in 524 while he was awaiting 
execution, is purely Platonic; it does not prove that he was not 
a Christian, but it does show that pagan philosophy had a much 
stronger hold on him than Christian theology. Some theological 
works, especially one on the Trinity, which are attributed to him, 
are by many authorities considered to be spurious; but it was 
probably owing to them that the Middle Ages were able to regard 
him as orthodox, and to imbibe from him much Platonism which 
would otherwise have been viewed with suspicion. 

The work is an alternation of verse and prose: Boethius, in his 
own person, speaks in prose, while Philosophy answers in verse. 

389 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

There is a certain resemblance to Dante, who was no doubt 
influenced by him in the Vita Nuova. 

The Consolations, which Gibbon rightly calls a "golden volume," 
begins by the statement that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are the 
true philosophers; Stoics, Epicureans, and the rest are usurpers 
whom the profane multitude mistook for the friends of philosophy. 
Boethius says he obeyed the Pythagorean command to "follow 
God" (not the Christian command). Happiness, which is the same 
thing as blessedness, is the good, not pleasure. Friendship is a 
"most sacred thing." There is much morality that agrees closely 
with Stoic doctrine, and is in fact largely taken from Seneca. 
There is a summary, in verse, of the beginning of the Timaeus. 
This is followed by a great deal of purely Platonic metaphysics. 
Imperfection, we are told, is a lack, implying the existence of a 
perfect pattern. He adopted the privative theory of evil. He then 
passes on to a pantheism which should have shocked Christians, but 
for some reason did not. Blessedness and God, he says, are both the 
chiefest good, and are therefore identical. "Men are made happy 
by the obtaining of divinity." "They who obtain divinity become 
gods. Wherefore every one that is happy is a god, but by nature 
there is only one God, but there may be many by participation. 
"The sum, origin, and cause of all that is sought after is rightly 
thought to be goodness." "The substance of God consisteth in 
nothing else but in goodness." Can God do evil? No. Therefore 
evil is nothing, since God can do everything. Virtuous men are 
always powerful, and bad men always weak; for both desire the 
good, but only the virtuous get it. The wicked are more unfor- 
tunate if they escape punishment than if they suffer it. "In wise 
men there is no place for hatred." 

The tone of the book is more like that of Plato than that of 
Plotinus. There is no trace of the superstition or morbidness of 
the age, no obsession with sin, no excessive straining after the 
unattainable. There is perfect philosophic calm so much that, 
if the book had been written in prosperity, it might almost have 
been called smug. Written when it was, in prison under sentence 
of death, it is as admirable as the last moments of the Platonic 
Socrates. 

One does not find a similar outlook until after Newton. I will 
quote in extenso one poem from the book, which, in its philosophy, 
is not unlike Pope's Essay an Man. 

39 



THE FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES 

If Thou wouldst sec 

God's laws with purest mind, 

Thy sight on heaven fixed must be, 

Whose settled course the stars in peace doth bind. 

The sun's bright fire 

Stops not his sister's team. 

Nor doth the northern bear desire 

Within the ocean's wave to hide her beam. 

Though she behold 

The other stars there crouching, 

Yet she incessantly is rolled 

About high heaven, the ocean never touching. 

The evening light 

With certain course doth show 

The coming of the shady night, 

And Lucifer before the day doth go. 

This mutual love 

Courses eternal makes, 

And from the starry spheres above 

All cause of war and dangerous discord takes. 

This sweet consent 

In equal bands doth tie 

The nature of each element 

So that the moist things yield unto the dry. 

The piercing cold 

With flames doth friendship heap 

The trembling fire the highest place doth hold, 

And the gross earth sinks down into the deep. 

The flowery year 

Breathes odours in the spring, 

The scorching summer corn doth bear, 

The autumn fruit from laden trees doth faring. 

The falling rain 

Doth winter's moisture iive. 

These rules thus nourish and maintain 

All creatures which we see on earth to live. 

And when they die, 

These bring them to their end, 

While their Creator sits on high, 

Whose hand the reins of the whole world doth bend. 

He as their king 

Rules them with lordly might. 

From Him they rise, flourish, and spring, 

He as their law and judge decides their right. 

39' 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Those things whose course 

Most swiftly glides away 

His might doth often backward force, 

And suddenly their wandering motion stay. 

Unless his strength 

Their violence should bound, 

And them which else would run at length, 

Should bring within the compass of a round, 

That firm decree 

Which now doth all adorn 

Would soon destroyed and broken be, 

Things being far from their beginning borne. 

This powerful love 

Is common unto all, 

Which for desire of good do move 

Back to the springs from whence they first did fall. 

No worldly thing 

Can a continuance have 

Unless love back again it bring 

Unto the cause which first the essence gave. 

Boethius was, until the end, a friend of Theodoric. His father 
was consul, he was consul, and so were his two sons. His father- 
in-law Symmachus (probably grandson of the one who had a 
controversy with Ambrose about the statue of Victory) was an 
important man in the court of the Gothic king. Theodoric em- 
ployed Boethius to reform the coinage, and to astonish less 
sophisticated barbarian kings with such devices as sun-dials and 
water-docks. It may be that his freedom from superstition was 
not so exceptional in Roman aristocratic families as elsewhere; 
but its combination with great learning and zeal for the public 
good was unique in that age. During the two centuries before his 
time and the ten centuries after it, I cannot think of any European 
man of learning so free from superstition and fanaticism. Nor are 
his merits merely negative; his survey is lofty, disinterested, and 
sublime. He would have been remarkable in any age; in the age 
in which he lived, he is utterly amazing. 

The medieval reputation of Boethius was .partly due to his 
being regarded as a martyr to Arian persecution a view which 
began two or three hundred years after his death. In Pa via, he 
was regarded as a saint , but in fact he was not canonized. Though 
Cyril was a saint, Boethius was not. 

393 



THE FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES 

Two years after the execution of Boethius, Theodoric died. In 
the next year, Justinian became Emperor. He reigned until 565, 
and in this long time managed to do much harm and some good. 
He is of course chiefly famous for his Digest, but I shall not venture 
on this topic, which is one for the lawyers. He was a man of deep 
piety, which he signalized, two years after his accession, by closing 
the schools of philosophy in Athens, where paganism still reigned. 
The dispossessed philosophers betook themselves to Persia, where 
the king received them kindly. But they were shocked more so, 
says Gibbon, than became philosophers by the Persian practices 
of polygamy and incest, so they returned home again, and faded 
into obscurity. Three years after this exploit (532), Justinian 
embarked upon another, more worthy of praise the building of 
St. Sophia. I have never seen St. Sophia, but I have seen the 
beautiful contemporary mosaics at Ravenna, including portraits 
of Justinian and his empress Theodora. Both were very pious, 
though Theodora was a lady of easy virtue whom he had picked 
up in the circus. What is even worse, she was inclined to be a 
Monophysite. 

But enough of scandal. The Emperor himself, I am happy to 
say, was of impeccable orthodoxy, even in the matter of the 
"Three Chapters." This was a vexatious controversy. The Council 
of Chalcedon had pronounced orthodox three Fathers suspected 
of Nestorianism ; Theodora, along with many others, accepted all 
the other decrees of the council, but not this one. The Western 
Church stood by everything decided by the Council, and the 
empress was driven to persecute the Pope. Justinian adored her, 
and after her death in 548, she became to him what the dead 
Prince Consort was to Queen Victoria. So in the end he lapsed 
into heresy, that of Aphthartodocctism. A contemporary historian 
(Evagrius) writes: "Having since the end of his life received the 
wages of his misdeeds, he has gone to seek the justice which was 
his due before the judgment-seat of hell." 

Justinian aspired to reconquer as much as possible of the 
Western Empire. In 535 he invaded Italy, and at first had quick 
success against the Goths. The Catholic population welcomed 
him, and he came as representing Rome against the barbarians. 
But the Goths rallied, and the war lasted eighteen years, during 
which Rome, and Italy generally, suffered far more than in the 
barbarian invasion. 

393 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Rome was five times captured, thrice by Byzantines, twice by 
Goths, and sank to a small town. The same sort of thing happened 
in Africa, which Justinian also more or less reconquered. At first 
his armies were welcomed; then it was found that Byzantine 
administration was corrupt end Byzantine taxes were ruinous. 
In the end, many people wished the Goths and Vandals back. 
The Church, however, until his last years, was steadily on the 
side of the Emperor, because of his orthodoxy. He did not attempt 
the reconquest of Gaul, partly because of distance, but partly also 
because the Franks were orthodox. 

In 568, three years after Justinian's death, Italy was invaded 
by a new and very fierce German tribe, the Lombards. Wars 
between them and the Byzantines continued intermittently for 
two hundred years, until nearly the time of Charlemagne. The 
Byzantines held gradually less and less of Italy; in the South, 
they had also to face the Saracens. Rome remained nominally 
subject to them, and the popes treated the Kastern emperors with 
deference. But in most parts of Italy the emperors, after the 
coming of the Lombards, had very little authority or even none 
at all. It was this period that ruined Italian civilization. It was 
refugees from the Lombards who founded Venice, not, as tradition 
avers, fugitives from Attila. 



394 



Chapter VI 
ST. BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT 

-TTN the general decay of civilization that came about during the 
I incessant wars of the sixth and succeeding centuries, it was 
JL above all the Church that preserved whatever survived of the 
culture of ancient Rome. The Church performed this work very 
imperfectly, because fanaticism and superstition prevailed among 
even the greatest ecclesiastics of thp time, and secular learning 
was thought wicked. Nevertheless, ecclesiastical institutions 
created a solid framework, within which, in later times, a revival 
of learning and civilized arts became possible. 

In the period with which we are concerned, three of the activities 
of the Church call for special notice: first, the monastic movement; 
second, the influence of the papacy, especially under Gregory the 
Great; third, the conversion of the heathen barbarians by means 
of missions. I will say something about each of these in succession. 

The monastic movement began simultaneously in Egypt and 
Syria about the beginning of the fourth century. It had two forms, 
that of solitary hermits, and that of monasteries. St. Anthony, the 
first of the hermits, was born in Egypt about 250, and withdrew 
from the world about 270. For fifteen years he lived alone in a 
hut near his home; then, for twenty years, in remote solitude in 
the desert. But his fame spread, and multitudes longed to hear 
him preach. Accordingly, about 305, he came forth to teach, and 
to encourage the hermit's life. He practised extreme austerities, 
reducing food, drink, and sleep to the minimum required to 
support life. The devil constantly assailed him with lustful visions, 
but he manfully withstood the malign diligence of Satan. By the 
end of his life, the Thebaid 1 was full of hermits who had been 
inspired by his example and his precepts. 

A few years later about 315 or 320 another Egyptian, Pacho- 
mius, founded the first monastery. Here the monks had a common 
life, without private property, with communal meals and com- 
munal religious observances. It was in this form, rather than in 
that of St. Anthony, that monasticism conquered the Christian 
world. In the monasteries derived from Pachomius, the monks 
1 The desert near Egyptian Thebes. 
395 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

did much work, chiefly agricultural, instead of spending the whole 
of their time in resisting the temptations of the flesh. 

At about the same time, monasticism sprang up in Syria and 
Mesopotamia. Here asceticism was carried to even greater lengths 
than in Egypt. St. Simeon Stylites and the other pillar hermits 
were Syrian. It was from the East that monasticism came to Greek- 
speaking countries, chiefly owing to St. Basil (about 360). His 
monasteries were less ascetic; they had orphanages, and schools 
for boys (not only for such as intended to become monks). 

At first, monasticism was a spontaneous movement, quite out- 
side Church organization. It was St. Athanasius who reconciled 
ecclesiastics to it. Partly as a result of his influence, it came to be 
the rule that monks should be priests. It was he also, while he 
was in Rome in 339, who introduced the movement into the West. 
St. Jerome did much to promote it, and St. Augustine introduced 
it into Africa. St. Martin of Tours inaugurated monasteries in 
Gaul, St. Patrick in Ireland. The monastery of lona was founded 
by St. Columba in 566. In early days, before monks had been 
fined into the ecclesiastical organization, they had been a source 
of disorder. To begin with, there was no way of discriminating 
between genuine ascetics and men who, being destitute, found 
monastic establishments comparatively luxurious. Then again 
there was the difficulty that the monks gave a turbulent support 
to their favourite bishop, causing synods (and almost causing 
Councils) to fall into heresy. The synod (not the Council) of 
Ephesus, which decided for the Monophysites, was under a 
monkish reign of terror. But for the resistance of the Pope, the 
victory of the Monophysites might have been permanent. In 
later times, such disorders no longer occurred. 

There seem to have been nuns before there were monks as 
early as the middle of the third century. 

Cleanliness was viewed with abhorrence. Lice were called 
"pearls of God," and were a mark of saintliness. Saints, male and 
female, would boast that water had never touched their feet except 
when they had to cross rivers. In later centuries, monks served 
many useful purposes: they were skilled agriculturists, and some 
of them kept alive or revived learning. But in the beginning, 
especially in the eremitic section, there was none of this. Most 
monks did no work, never read anything except what religion 
prescribed, and conceived virtue in an entirely negative manner, 

396 



ST. BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT 

as abstention from sin, especially the sins of the flesh. St. Jerome, 
it is true, took his library with him into the desert, but he came to 
think that this had been a sin. 

In Western monasticism, the most important name is that of 
St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order. He was born 
about 480, near Spoleto, of a noble Umbrian family; at the age 
of twenty, he fled from the luxuries and pleasures of Rome to 
the solitude of a cave, where he lived for three years. After this 
period, his life was less solitary, and about the year 520 he founded 
the famous monastery of Monte Cassino, for which he drew up 
the "Benedictine rule." This was adapted to Western climates, 
and demanded less austerity than had been common among 
Egyptian and Syrian monks. There had been an unedifying com- 
petition in ascetic extravagance, the most extreme practitioner 
being considered the most holy. To this St. Benedict put an end, 
decreeing that austerities going beyond the rule could only be 
practised by permission of the abbot. The abbot was given great 
power ; he was elected for life, and had (within the Rule and the 
limits of orthodoxy) an almost despotic control over his monks, 
who were no longer allowed, as previously, to leave their monastery 
for another if they felt so inclined. In later times, Benedictines 
have been remarkable for learning, but at first all their reading 
was devotional. 

Organizations have a life of their own, independent of the 
intentions of their founders. Of this fact, the most striking example 
is the Catholic Church, which would astonish Jesus, and even 
Paul. The Benedictine Order is a lesser example. The monks take 
a vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity. As to this, Gibbon 
remarks: "I have somewhere heard or read the frank confession 
of a Benedictine abbot: 'My vow of poverty has given me an 
hundred thousand crowns a year; my vow of obedience has raised 
me to the rank of a sovereign prince.' I forget the consequences 
of his vow of chastity." 1 The departures of the Order from the 
founder's intentions were, however, by no means all regrettable. 
This is true, in particular, of learning. The library of Monte 
Cassino was famous, and in various ways the world is much 
indebted to the scholarly tastes of later Benedictines. 

St. Benedict lived at Monte Cassino from its foundation until 
his death in 543. The monastery was sacked by the Lombards, 
1 Op. cit. t xxxvii, note 57. 

397 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

shortly before Gregory the Great, himself a Benedictine, became 
Pope. The monks fled to Rome; but when the fury of the 
Lombards had abated, they returned to Monte Cassino. 

From the dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, written in 593, 
we learn much about St. Benedict. He was "brought up at Rome 
in the study of humanity. But forasmuch as he saw many by the 
reason of such learning to fall to dissolute and lewd life, he drew 
back his foot, which he had as it were now set forth into the world, 
lest, entering too far in acquaintance therewith, he likewise might 
have fallen into that dangerous and godless gulf: wherefore, giving 
over his book, and forsaking his father's house and wealth, with 
a resolute mind only to serve God, he sought for some place, 
where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose: and in 
this sort he departed, instructed with learned ignorance, and 
furnished with unlearned wisdom." 

He immediately acquired the power to work miracles. The first 
of these was the mending of a broken sieve by means of prayer. 
The townsmen hung the sieve over the church door, and it "con- 
tinued there many years after, even to these very troubles of the 
Lombards." Abandoning the sieve, he went to his cave, unknown 
to all but one friend, who secretly supplied him with food let 
down by a rope, to which a bell was tied to let the saint know 
when his dinner had come. But Satan threw a stone at the rope, 
breaking both it and the bell. Nevertheless, the enemy of mankind 
was foiled in his hope of disrupting the Saint's food-supply. 

When Benedict had been as long in the cave as God's purposes 
required, our Lord appeared on Easter Sunday to a certain priest, 
revealed the hermit's whereabouts, and bade him share his Easter 
feast with the Saint. About the same time certain shepherds 
found him. "At the first, when they espied him through the bushes, 
and saw his apparel made of skins, they verily thought that it 
had been some beast: but after they were acquainted with the 
r \ju*nt of God, many of them were by his means convened from 
jfce ot'-^tly life to grace, piety, and devotion." 
, flesh- na ner hermits, Benedict suffered from the temptations oi 
a, tb* lptt A certain woman there was which some time he had 
toemory of which the wicked spirit put into his mind, 
*k c *** memory of her did so mightily inflame with concupis- 
mi of God's servant, which did so increase that, almost 
ith pleasure, he was of mind to have forsaken the 

398 



ST. BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT 

wilderness. But suddenly, assisted with God's grace, he came to 
himself; and seeing many thick briers and nettle bushes to grow 
hard by, off he cast his apparel, and threw himself into the midst 
of them, and there wallowed so long that, when he rose up, all 
his flesh was pitifully torn: and so by the wounds of his body, 
he cured the wounds of his soul." 

His fame being spread abroad, the monks of a certain monastery, 
whose abbot had lately died, besought him to accept the succession. 
He did so, and insisted upon observance of strict virtue, so that 
the monks, in a rage, decided to poison him with a glass of poisoned 
wine. He, however, made the sign of the cross over the glass, 
whereupon it broke in pieces. So he returned to the wilderness. 

The miracle of the sieve was not the only practically useful one 
performed by St. Benedict. One day, a virtuous Goth was using a 
bill-hook to clear away briers, when the head of it flew off the 
handle and fell into deep water. The Saint, being informed, held 
the handle in the water, whereupon the iron head rose up and 
joined itself again to the handle. 

A neighbouring priest, envious of the holy man's reputation, sent 
him a poisoned loaf. But Benedict miraculously knew it was 
poisoned. He had the habit of giving bread to a certain crow, and 
when the crow came on the day in question, the Saint said to it: 
"In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, take up that loaf, and 
leave it in some such place where no man may find it." The crow 
obeyed, and on its return was given its usual dinner. The wicked 
priest, seeing he could not kill Benedict's body, decided to kill 
his soul, and sent seven naked young women into the monastery. 
The Saint feared lest some of the younger monks might be moved 
to sin, and therefore departed himself, that the priest might no 
longer have a motive for such acts. But the priest was killed by 
the ceiling of his room's falling on him. A monk pursued Benedict 
with the news, rejoicing, and bidding him return. Benedict 
mourned over the death of the sinner, and imposed a penance 
on the monk for rejoicing. 

Gregory does not only relate miracles, but deigns, now and 
then, to tell facts in the career of St. Benedict. After founding 
twelve monasteries, he finally came to Monte Cassino, where 
there was a "chapel" to Apollo, still used by the country people 
for heathen worship. "Even to that very time, the mad multitude 
of infidels did offer most wicked sacrifice/* Benedict destroyed 

399 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

the altar, substituted a church, and converted the neighbouring 
pagans. Satan was annoyed: 

"The old enemy of mankind, not taking this in good part, did 
not now privily or in a dream, but in open sight present himself 
to the eyes of that holy father, and with great outcries complained 
that he had offered him violence. The noise which he made, the 
monks did hear, but himself they could not see; but, as the 
venerable father told them, he appeared visibly unto him most fell 
and cruel, and as though, with his fiery mouth and flaming eyes, 
he would have torn him in pieces: what the devil said unto him, 
all the monks did hear; for first he would call him by his name, 
and because the man of God vouchsafed him not any answer, 
then would he fall a reviling and railing at him : for when he cried 
out, calling him "Blessed Bennet,' and yet found that he gave him 
no answer, straightways he would turn his tune and say: 'Cursed 
Bennet, and not blessed: what hast thou to do with me? and why 
dost thou thus persecute me?' " Here the story ends; one gathers 
that Satan gave up in despair. 

I have quoted at some length from these dialogues, because they 
have a threefold importance. First, they are the principal source 
for our knowledge of the life of St. Benedict, whose Rule became 
the model for all Western monasteries except those of Ireland or 
founded by Irishmen. Secondly, they give a vivid picture of the 
mental atmosphere among the most civilized people living at the 
end of the sixth century. Thirdly, they are written by Pope 
Gregory the Great, fourth and last of the Doctors of the Western 
Church, and politically one of the most eminent of the popes. 
To him we must now turn our attention. 

The Venerable W. H. Hutton, Archdeacon of Northampton, 1 
claims that Gregory was the greatest man of the sixth century; 
the only rival claimants, hc^ays, would be Justinian and St. Bene- 
dict. All three, certainly, had a profound effect on future ages: 
Justinian by his Laws (not by his conquests, which were ephe- 
meral); Benedict by his monastic order; and Gregory by the 
increase of papal power which he brought about. In the dialogues 
that I have been quoting he appears childish and credulous, but 
as a statesman he is astute, masterful, and very well aware of 
what can be achieved in the complex and changing world in 
which he has to operate. The contrast is surprising; but the 
1 Cambridge Medieval History t II, chap. viii. 
400 



ST. BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT 

most effective men of action are often intellectually second- 
rate. 

Gregory the Great, the first Pope of that name, was born in 
Rome, about 540, of a rich and noble family. It seems his grand- 
father had been Pope after he became a widower. He himself, as a 
young man, had a palace and immense wealth. He had what was 
considered a good education, though it did not include a know- 
ledge of Greek, which he never acquired, although he lived for 
six years in Constantinople. In 573 he was prefect of the City of 
Rome. But religion claimed him: he resigned his office, gave his 
wealth to the founding of monasteries and to charity, and turned 
his own palace into a house for monks, himself becoming a Bene- 
dictine. He devoted himself to meditation, and to austerities 
which permanently injured his health. But Pope Pelagius II had 
become aware of his political abilities, and sent him as his envoy 
to Constantinople, to which, since Justinian's time, Rome was 
nominally subject. Gregory lived in Constantinople from 579 to 
585, representing papal interests at the Emperor's court, and papal 
theology in discussions with Eastern ecclesiastics, who were always 
more prone to heresy than those of the West. The patriarch of 
Constantinople, at this time, held the erroneous opinion that our 
resurrection bodies will be impalpable, but Gregory saved the 
Emperor from falling into this departure from the true faith. He 
was unable, however, to persuade the Emperor to undertake a 
campaign against the Lombards, which was the principal object 
of his mission. 

The five years 585-90 Gregory spent as head of his monastery. 
Then the Pope died, and Gregory succeeded him. The times were 
difficult, but by their very confusion offered great opportunities 
to an able statesman. The Lombards were ravaging Italy; Spain 
and Africa were in a state of anarchy due to the weakness of the 
Byzantines and the decadence of Visigoths and the depredations 
of Moors. In France there were wars between North and South. 
Britain, which had been Christian under the Romans, had re- 
verted to paganism since the Saxon invasion. There were still 
remnants of Arianism, and the heresy of the Three Chapters was 
by no means extinct. The turbulent times infected even bishops, 
many of whom led far from exemplary lives. Simony was rife, 
and remained a crying evil until the latter half of the eleventh 
century. 

401 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

All these sources of trouble Gregory combated with energy and 
sagacity. Before his pontificate, the bishop of Rome, though 
acknowledged to be the greatest man in the hierarchy, was not 
regarded as having any jurisdiction outside his own diocese. St. 
Ambrose, for example, who was on the best of terms with the 
Pope of his day, obviously never regarded himself as in any degree 
subject to his authority. Gregory, owing partly to his personal 
qualities and partly to the prevailing anarchy, was able to assert 
successfully an authority which was admitted by ecclesiastics 
throughout the West, and even, to a lesser degree, in the East. 
He exerted this authority chiefly by means of letters to bishops 
and secular rulers in all parts of the Roman world, but also in 
other ways. His Book of Pastoral Rule, containing advice to bishops, 
had a great influence throughout the earlier Middle Ages. It was 
intended as a guide to the duties of bishops, and was accepted as 
such. He wrote it in the first instance for the bishop of Ravenna, 
and sent it also to the bishop of Seville. Under Charlemagne, it 
was given to bishops at consecration. Alfred the Great translated 
it into Anglo-Saxon. In the East it was circulated in Greek. It 
gives sound, if not surprising, advice to bishops, such as not to 
neglect business. It tells them also that rulers should not be 
criticized, but should be kept alive to the danger of hell-fire if 
they fail to follow the advice of the Church. 

Gregory's letters are extraordinarily interesting:, not only as 
showing his character, but as giving a picture of his age. His tone, 
except to the Emperor and the ladies of the Byzantine court, is 
that of a head master sometimes commending, often reproving, 
never showing the faintest hesitation as to his right to give orders. 

Let us take as a sample his letters during one year (599). The 
first is a letter to the bishop of Cagliari in Sardinia, who, though 
old, was bad. It says, in part: "It has been told me that on the 
Lord's day, before celebrating the solemnities of mass, thou 
wentest forth to plough up the crop of the bearer of these presents. 
. . . Also, after the solemnities of mass thou didst not fear to root 
up the landmarks of that possession. . . . Seeing that we still 
spare thy grey hairs, bethink thee at length, old man, and restrain 
thyself from such levity of .behaviour, and perversity of deeds/' 
He writes at the same time to the secular authorities of Sardinia 
on the same subject. The bishop in question next has to be re- 
proved because he makes a charge for conducting funerals; and 

402 



ST. BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT 

then again because, with his sanction, a converted Jew placed the 
Cross and an image of the Virgin in a synagogue. Moreover, he 
and other Sardinian bishops have been known to travel without 
permission of their metropolitan; this must cease. Then follows 
a very severe letter to the proconsul of Dalmatia, saying, among 
other things: "We see not of what sort your satisfaction is either 
to God or men"; and again: "With regard to your seeking to be 
in favour with us, it is fitting that with your whole heart and soul, 
and with tears, as becomes you, you should satisfy your Redeemer 
for such things as these." I am ignorant as to what the wretch 
had done. 

Next comes a letter to CaUinicus, exarch of Italy, congratulating 
him on a victory over the Slavs, and telling him how to act towards 
the heretics of I stria, who erred as to the Three Chapters. He 
writes also on this subject to the bishop of Ravenna. Once, by way 
of exception, we find a letter to the bishop of Syracuse, in which 
Gregory defends himself instead of finding fault with others. The 
question at issue is a weighty one, namely whether "Alleluia" 
should be said at a certain point in the mass. Gregory's usage, he 
says, is not adopted from subservience to the Byzantines, as the 
bishop of Syracuse suggests, but is derived from St. James via 
the blessed Jerome. Those who thought he was being unduly 
subservient to Greek usage were therefore in error. (A similar 
question was one of the causes of the schism of the Old Believers 
in Russia.) 

There are a number of letters to barbarian sovereigns, male and 
female. Brunichild, queen of the Franks, wanted the pallium con- 
ferred on a certain French bishop, and Gregory was willing to 
grant her request ; but unfortunately the emissary she sent was a 
schismatic. To Agilulph king of the Lombards he writes con- 
gratulating him on having made peace. "For, if unhappily peace 
had not been made, what else could have ensued but, with sin 
and danger on ix>th sides, the shedding of the blood of miserable 
peasants whose lalxmr profits both?" At the same time he writes 
to Agilulph's wife, Queen Theodelinda, telling her to influence 
her husband to persist in good courses. 1 le writes again to Bruni- 
child to find fault with two things IA her kingdom: that laymen 
are promoted at once to be bishops, without a probationary time 
as ordinary priests; and that Jews are allowed to have Christian 
slaves. To Theodoric and Theodebert, kings of the Franks, he 

403 



WBSTBRN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

writes saying that, owing to the exemplary piety of the Franks, 
he would like to utter only pleasant things, but he cannot refrain 
from pointing out the prevalence of simony in their kingdom. 
He writes again about a wrong done to the Bishop of Turin. 
One letter to a barbarian sovereign is wholly complimentary; it is 
to Richard, king of the Visigoths, who had been an Arian, but 
became a Catholic in 587. For this the Pope rewards him by 
sending him "a small key from the most sacred body of the blessed 
apostle Peter to convey his blessing, containing iron from his chains, 
that what had bound his neck for martyrdom may loose yours 
from all sins." I hope His Majesty was pleased with this present. 

The Bishop of Antioch is instructed as to the heretical synod of 
Ephesus, and informed that "it has come to our ears that in the 
Churches of the East no one attains to a sacred order except by 
giving of bribes" a matter which the bishop is to rectify where- 
ever it is in his power to do so. The Bishop of Marseilles is 
reproached for breaking certain images which were being adored : 
it is true that adoration of images is wrong, but images, neverthe- 
less, are useful and should be treated with respect. Two bishops 
of Gaul are reproached because a lady who had become a nun 
was afterwards forced to marry. "If this be so, ... you shall 
have the office of hirelings, and not the merit of shepherds." 

The above are a few of the letters of a single year. It is no wonder 
that he found no time for contemplation, as he laments in one of 
the letters of this year (cxxi). 

Gregory was no friend to secular learning. To Desiderius 
Bishop of Vienne in France, he writes: 

"It came to our ears, what we cannot mention without shame, 
that thy Fraternity is [i.e. thou art] in the habit of expounding 
gUpunar to certain persons. This thing we took so much amiss, 
and so strongly disapproved it, that we changed what had been 
said before into groaning and sadness, since the praises of Christ 
cannot find room in one mouth with the praises of Jupiter .... In 
proportion as it is execrable for such a thing to be related of a 
priest, it ought to be ascertained by strict and veracious evidence 
whether or not it be so." 

This hostility to pagan learning survived in the Church for at 
least four centuries, till the time of Gerbert (Sylvester II). It was 
only from the eleventh century onward that the Church became 
friendly to learning. 

404 



ST. BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT 

Gregory's attitude to the emperor is much more deferential than 
his attitude to barbarian kings. Writing to a correspondent in 
Constantinople he says: "What pleases the most pious emperor, 
whatever he commands to be done, is in his power. As he deter- 
mines, so let him provide. Only let him not cause us to be mixed 
up in the deposition [of an orthodox bishop]. Still, what he does, 
if it is canonical, we will follow. But, if it is not canonical, we will 
bear it, so far as we can without sin of our own." When the 
Emperor Maurice was dethroned by a mutiny, of which the leader 
was an obscure centurion named Phocas, this upstart acquired 
the throne, and proceeded to massacre the five sons of Maurice 
in their father's presence, after which he put to death the aged 
Emperor himself. Phocas was of course crowned by the patriarch 
of Constantinople, \vho had no alternative but death. What is 
more surprising is that Gregory, from the comparatively safe 
distance of Rome, wrote letters of fulsome adulation to the usurper 
and his wife. "There is this difference/' he writes, "between the 
kings of the nations and the emperors of the republic, that the 
kings of the nations are lords of slaves, but the emperors of the 
republic lords of freemen. . . . May Almighty God in every 
thought and deed keep the heart of your Piety [i.e. you] in the 
hand of His grace; and whatsoever things should be done justly, 
whatsoever things with clemency, may the Holy Spirit who dwells 
in your breast direct." And to the wife of Phocas, the Empress 
Leontia, he writes: "What tongue may suffice to speak, what mind 
to think, what great thanks we owe to Almighty God for the 
serenity of your empire, in that such hard burdens of long duration 
have been removed from our necks, and the gentle yoke of im- 
perial supremacy has returned." One might suppose Maurice to 
have been a monster; in fact, he was a good old man. Apologists 
excuse Gregory on the pica that he did not know what atrocities 
had been committed by Phocas ; but he certainly knew the custo- 
mary behaviour of Byzantine usurpers, and he did not wait to 
ascertain whether Phocas was an exception. 

The conversion of the heathen was an important part of the 
increasing influence of the Church. The Goths had been convened 
before the end of the fourth century by Ulphilas, or Ulfila un- 
fortunately to Arianism, which was also the creed of the Vandals. 
After the death of Theodoric, however, the Goths became gradually 
Catholic: the king of the Visigoths, as we have seen, adopted 

405 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

the orthodox faith in the time of Gregory. The Franks were 
Catholic from the time of Clovis. The Irish were converted before 
the fall of the Western Empire by St. Patrick, a Somersetshire 
country gentleman 1 who lived among them from 432 till his death 
in 461. The Irish in turn did much to evangelize Scotland and 
the North of England. In this work the greatest missionary was 
St. Columba; another was St. Columban, who wrote long letters 
to Gregory on the date of Easter and other important questions. 
The conversion of England, apart from Northumbria, was Gre- 
gory's special care. Every one knows how, before he was Pope, he 
saw two fair-haired blue-eyed boys in the slave market in Rome, 
and on being told they were Angles replied, "No, angels/* When 
he became Pope he sent St. Augustine to Kent to convert the 
Angles. There are many letters in his correspondence to St. 
Augustine, to Edilbext, king of the Angeli, and to others, about 
the mission. Gregory decrees that heathen temples in England are 
not to be destroyed, but the idols are to be destroyed and the 
temples then consecrated as churches. St. Augustine puts a 
number of queries to the Pope, such as whether cousins may 
marry, whether spouses who have had intercourse the previous 
night may come to church (yes, if they have washed, says Gregory), 
and so on. The mission, as we know, prospered, and that is why 
we are all Christians at this day. 

The period we have been considering is peculiar in the fact that, 
though its great men are inferior to those of many other epochs, 
their influence on future ages has been greater. Roman law, 
monasticism, and the papacy owe their long and profound in- 
fluence very largely to Justinian, Benedict, and Gregory. The 
men of the sixth century, though less civilized than their pre- 
decessors, were much more civilized than the men of the next 
four centuries, and they succeeded in framing institutions that 
ultimately tamed the barbarians. It is noteworthy that, of the 
above three men, two were aristocratic natives of Rome, and the 
third was Roman Emperor. Gregory is in a very real sense the 
last of the Romans. His tone of command, while justified by his 
office, has its instinctive basis in Roman aristocratic pride. After 
him, for many ages, the city of Rome ceased to produce great 
men. But in its downfall it succeeded in fettering the souls of its 
conquerors: the reverence which they felt for the Chair of Peter 
1 So at least Bury says in hit Life of the Stint. 
406 



ST. BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT 

was an outcome of the awe which they felt for the throne of the 
Caesars. 

In the East, the course of history was different. Mohammed 
was born when Gregory was about thirty years old. 



407 



Part 2. The Schoolmen 

Chapter VII 
THE PAPACY IN THE DARK AGES 

DURING the four centuries from Gregory the Great to Syl- 
vester II, the papacy underwent astonishing vicissitudes. Ii 
was subject, at times, to the Greek Emperor, at other times 
to the Western Emperor, and at yet other times to the local Roman 
aristocracy; nevertheless, vigorous popes in the eighth and ninth 
centuries, seizing propitious moments, built up the tradition of 
papal power. The period from A.D. 600 to 1000 is of vital impor- 
tance for the understanding of the medieval Church and its relation 
to the State. 

The popes achieved independence of the Greek emperors, not 
so much by their own efforts, as by the arms of the Lombards, to 
whom, however, they felt no gratitude whatever. The Greek Church 
remained always, in a great measure, subservient to the Emperor, 
who considered himself competent to decide on matters of faith, 
as well as to appoint and depose bishops, even patriarchs. The 
monks strove for independence of the Emperor, and for that reason 
sided, at times, with the Pope. But the patriarchs of Constantinople, 
though willing to submit to the Emperor, refused to regard them- 
selves as in any degree subject to papal authority. At times, when 
the Emperor needed the Pope's help against barbarians in Italy, 
he was more friendly to the Pope than the patriarch of Constanti- 
nople was. The main cause of the ultimate separation of the 
Eastern and the Western Churches was the refusal of the former 
to submit to papal jurisdiction. 

After the defeat of the Byzantines by the Lombards, the popes 
had reason to fear that they also would be conquered by these 
vigorous barbarians. They saved themselves by an alliance with 
the Franks, who, under Charlemagne, conquered Italy and Ger- 
many. This alliance produced the Holy Roman Empire, which 
had a constitution that assumed harmony between Pope and 
Emperor. The power of the Carolingian dynasty, however, decayed 

408 



THE PAPACY IN THE DARK AGES 

rapidly. At first, the Pope reaped the advantage of this decay, and 
in the latter half of the ninth century Nicholas I raised the papal 
power to hitherto unexampled heights. The general anarchy, how- 
ever, led to the practical independence of the Roman aristocracy, 
which, in the tenth century, controlled the papacy, with disastrous 
results. The way in which, by a great movement of reform, the 
papacy, and the Church generally, was saved from subordination 
to the feudal aristocracy, will be the subject of a later chapter. 

In the seventh century, Rome was still subject to the military 
power of the emperors, and popes had to obey or suffer. Some, e.g. 
Honorius, obeyed, even to the point of heresy; others, e.g. Martin 
I, resisted, and were imprisoned by the Emperor. From 685 to 
752, most of the popes were Syrians or Greeks. Gradually, how- 
ever, as the Lombards acquired more and more of Italy, Byzantine 
power declined. The Emperor Leo the Isaurian, in 726, issued his 
iconoclast decree, which was regarded as heretical, not only 
throughout the West, but by a large party in the East. This the 
popes resisted vigorously and successfully; at last, in 787, under 
the Empress Irene (at first as regent), the East abandoned the 
iconoclast heresy. Meanwhile, however, events in the West had 
put an end forever to the control of Byzantium over the papacy. 

In about the year 751, the Lombards captured Ravenna, the 
capital of Byzantine Italy. This event, while it exposed the popes 
to great danger from the Lombards, freed them from all depen- 
dence on the Greek emperors. The popes had preferred the Greeks 
to the Lombards for several reasons. First, the authority of the 
emperors was legitimate, whereas barbarian kings, unless recog- 
nized by the emperors, were regarded as usurpers. Second, the 
Greeks were civilized. Third, the Lombards were nationalists, 
whereas the Church retained Roman internationalism. Fourth, the 
Lombards had been Arians, and some odium still clung to them 
after their conversion. 

The Lombards, under King Liutprand, attempted to conquer 
Rome in 739, and were hotly opposed by Pope Gregory III, who 
turned to the Franks for aid The Merovingian kings, the descen- 
dants of Clovis, had lost all real power in the Prankish kingdom, 
which was governed by the "Mayors of the Palace." At this time 
the Mayor of the Palace was an exceptionally vigorous and able 
man, Charles Mattel, like William the Conqueror a bastard. In 
732 he had won the decisive battle of Tours against the Moors 

409 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

thereby saving Fiance for Christendom. This should have won 
him the gratitude of the Church, but financial necessity led him 
to seize some Church lands, which much diminished ecclesiastical 
appreciation of his merits. However, he and Gregory III both died 
in 741, and his successor Pepin was wholly satisfactory to the 
Church. Pope Stephen III, in 754, to escape the Lombards 
crossed the Alps and visited Pepin, when a bargain was struck 
which proved highly advantageous to both parties. The Pope 
needed military protection, but Pepin needed something that only 
the Pope could bestow: the legitimization of his title as king in 
place of the last of the Merovingians. In return for this, Pepin 
bestowed on the Pope Ravenna and all the territory of the former 
Exarchate in Italy. Since it could not be expected that Constanti- 
nople would recognize such a gift, this involved* political severance 
from the Eastern Empire. 

If the popes had remained subject to the Greek emperors, the 
development of the Catholic Church would have been very 
different. In the Eastern Church, the patriarch of Constantinople 
never acquired either that independence of secular authority or 
that superiority to other ecclesiastics that was achieved by the 
Pope. Originally all bishops were considered equal, and to a 
considerable extent this view persisted in the East. Moreover, 
there were other Eastern patriarchs, at Alexandria, Antioch, and 
Jerusalem, whereas the Pope was the only patriarch in the West. 
(This fact, however, lost its importance after the Mohammedan 
conquest.) In the West, but not in the East, the laity were mostly 
illiterate for many centuries, and this gave the Church an advantage 
in the West which it did not possess in the East. The prestige of 
Rome surpassed that of any Eastern city, for it combined the 
imperial tradition with legends of the martyrdom of Peter and 
Paul, and of Peter as first Pope. The Emperor's prestige might 
have sufficed to cope with that of the Pope, but no Western 
monarch's could. The Holy Roman emperors were often destitute 
of real power; moreover they only became emperors when the 
Pope crowned them. For all these reasons, the emancipation of 
the Pope from Byzantine domination was essential both to the 
independence of the Chuith in relation to secular monarchs, and 
to the ultimate establishment of the papal monarchy in the 
government of the Western Church. 

Certain documents of great importance, the 4< Donation of 



THE PAPACY IN THE DARK AGES 

Constantine" and the False Decretals, belong to this period. The 
False Decretals need not concern us, but something must be 
said of the Donation of Constantine. In order to give an air of 
antique legality to Pepin's gift, churchmen forged a document, 
purporting to be a decree issued by the Emperor Constantine, 
by which, when he founded the New Rome, he bestowed upon 
the Pope the old Rome and all its Western territories. This bequest, 
which was the basis of the Pope's temporal power, was accepted 
as genuine by the whole of the subsequent Middle Ages. It was 
first rejected as a forgery, in the time of the Renaissance, by 
Lorenzo Valla in 1439. He had written a book "on the elegancies 
of the Latin language," which, naturally, were absent in a pro- 
duction of the eighth century. Oddly enough, after he had pub- 
lished his book against the Donation of Constantine, as well as a 
treatise in praise of Epicurus, he was made apostolic secretary by 
Pope Nicholas V, who cared more for latinity than for the Church. 
Nicholas V did not, however, propose to give up the States of the 
Church, though the Pope's title to them had been based upon the 
supposed Donation. 

The contents of this remarkable document are summarized by 
C. Delislc Burns as follows: 1 

After a summary of the Nicene creed, the fall of Adam, and the 
birth of Christ, Constantine says he was suffering from leprosy, 
that doctors were useless, and that he therefore approached "the 
priests of the Capitol." They proposed that he should slaughter 
several infants and be washed in their blood, but owing to their 
mothers' tears he restored them. That night Peter and Paul 
appeared to him and said that Pope Sylvester was hiding in a cave 
on Soracte, and would cure him. He went to Soracte, where the 
"universal Pope*' told him Peter and Paul were apostles, not gods, 
showed him portraits which he recognized from his vision, and 
admitted it before all his "satraps." Pope Sylvester thereupon 
assigned him a period of penance in a hair shirt ; then he baptized 
him, when he saw a hand from heaven touching him. He was 
cured of leprosy, and gave up worshipping idols. Then "with all 
his satraps, the Senate, his nobles and the whole Roman people 
he thought it good to grant supreme power to the See of Peter/' 
and superiority over Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Con- 
stantinople. He then built a church in his palace of the Lateran. 
On the Pope he conferred his crown, tiara, and imperial garments. 
1 I am quoting t still unpublished book, Th* Firti Europe. 

4" 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

He placed a tiara on the Pope's head and held the reins of his 
horse. He left to "Silvester and his successors Rome and all the 
provinces, districts and cities of Italy and the West to be subject 
to the Roman Church forever"; he then moved East "because, 
where the princedom of bishops and the head of the Christian 
religion has been established by the heavenly Emperor it is not 
just that an earthly Emperor should have power." 

The Lombards did not tamely submit to Pepin and the Pope, 
but in repeated wars with the Franks they were worsted. At last, 
in 774, Pepin's son Charlemagne marched into Italy, completely 
defeated the Lombards, had himself recognized as their king, 
and then occupied Rome, where he confirmed Pepin's donation. 
The Popes of his day, Hadrian and Leo HI, found it to their 
advantage to further his schemes in every way. He conquered 
most of Germany, converted the Saxons by vigorous persecution, 
and finally, in his own person, revived the Western Empire, being 
crowned Emperor by the Pope in Rome on Christmas Day, 
A.D. 800. 

The foundation of the Holy Roman Empire marks an epoch in 
medieval theory, though much less in medieval practice. The 
Middle Ages were peculiarly addicted to legal fictions, and until 
this time the fiction had persisted that the Western provinces of 
the former Roman Empire were still subject, de jure, to the 
Emperor in Constantinople, who was regarded as the sole source 
of legal authority. Charlemagne, an adept in legal fictions, main- 
tained that the throne of the Empire was vacant, because the 
reigning Eastern sovereign Irene (who called herself emperor, not 
empress) was a usurper, since no woman could be emperor. 
Charles derived his claim to legitimacy from the Pope. There was 
thus, from the first, a curious interdependence of pope and 
emperor. No one could be emperor unless crowned by the Pope 
in Rome; on the other hand, for some centuries, every strong 
emperor claimed the right to appoint or depose popes. The 
medieval theory of legitimate power depended upon both emperor 
and pope; their mutual dependence was galling to both, but for 
centuries inescapable. There was constant friction, with advantage 
now to one side, now to the other. At last, in the thirteenth century, 
the conflict became irreconcilable. The Pope was victorious, but 
lost moral authority shortly afterwards. The Pope and the Holy 
Roman Emperor both survived, the Pope to the present day, the 



THE PAPACY IN THE DARK AGES 

Emperor to the time of Napoleon. But the elaborate medieval 
theory that had been built up concerning their respective powers 
ceased to be effective during the fifteenth century. The unity of 
Christendom, which it maintained, was destroyed by the power 
of the French, Spanish, and English monarchies in the secular 
sphere, and by the Reformation in the sphere of religion. 

The character of Charles the Great and his entourage is thus 
summed up by Dr. Gerhard Seeliger: 1 

Vigorous life was developed at Charles's court. We see there 
magnificence and genius, but immorality also. For Charles was 
not particular about the people he drew round him. He himself 
was no model, and he suffered the greatest licence in those whom 
he liked and found useful. As "Holy Emperor" he was addressed, 
though his life exhibited little holiness. He is so addressed by 
Alcuin, who also praises the Emperor's beautiful daughter Rotrud 
as distinguished for her virtues in spite of her having borne a son 
to Count Rodenc of Maine, though not his wife. Charles would not 
be separated from his daughters, he would not allow their 
marriage, and he was therefore obliged to accept the consequences. 
The other daughter, Bertha, also had two sons by the pious Abbot 
Angilbert of St. Riquier. In fact the court of Charles was a centre 
of very loose life. 

Charlemagne was a vigorous barbarian, politically in alliance 
with the Church, but not unduly burdened with personal piety 
He could not read or write, but he inaugurated a literary renais- 
sance. He was dissolute in his life, and unduly fond of his daughters, 
but he did all in his power to promote holy living among his 
subjects. He, like his father Pepin, made skilful use of the zeal of 
missionaries to promote his influence in Germany, but he saw to 
it that Popes obeyed his orders. They did this the more willingly, 
because Rome had become a barbarous city, in which the person 
of the Pope was not safe without external protection, and papal 
elections had degenerated into disorderly faction fights. In 799, 
local enemies seized the Pope, imprisoned him, and threatened to 
blind him. During Charles's lifetime, it seemed as if a new order 
would be inaugurated; but after his death little survived except 
a theory. 

The gains of the Church, and more particularly of the papacy, 
were wort solid than those of the Western Empire. England had 
1 In Cambridge Medieval History, II, 663. 

4*3 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

been converted by a monastic mission under the orders of Gregory 
the Great, and remained much more subject to Rome than were 
the countries with bishops accustomed to local autonomy. The 
conversion of Germany was largely the work of St. Boniface 
(680-754), an English missionary, who was a friend of Charles 
Martel and Pepin, and completely faithful to the Pope. Boniface 
founded many monasteries in Germany ; his friend St. Gall founded 
the Swiss monastery which bears his name. According to some 
authorities, Boniface anointed Pepin as king with a ritual taken 
from the First Book of Kings. 

St. Boniface was a native of Devonshire, educated at Exeter and 
Winchester. He went to Frisia in 716, but soon had to return. In 
717 he went to Rome, and in 719 Pope Gregory II sent him to 
Germany to convert the Germans and to combat the influence of 
the Irish missionaries (who, it will be remembered, erred as to 
the date of Easter and the shape of the tonsure). After considerable 
successes, he returned to Rome in 722, where he was made bishop 
by Gregory II, to whom he took an oath of obedience. The Pope 
gave him a letter to Charles Martel, and charged him to suppress 
heresy in addition to converting the heathen. In 732 he became 
archbishop; in 738 he visited Rome a third time. In 741 Pope 
Zacharias made him legate, and charged him to reform the 
Prankish Church. He founded the abbey of Fulda, to which he 
gave a rule stricter than the Benedictine. Then he had a con- 
troversy with an Irish bishop of Salzburg, named Virgil, who 
maintained that there are other worlds than ours, but was, never- 
theless, canonized. In 754, after returning to Frisia, Boniface and 
his companions were massacred by the heathen. It was owing to 
him that German Christianity was papal, not Irish. 

English monasteries, particularly those of Yorkshire, were of 
great importance at this time. Such civilization as had existed in 
Roman Britain had disappeared, and the new civilization intro- 
duced by Christian missionaries centred entirely round the 
Benedictine abbeys, which owed everything directly to Rome. 
The Venerable Bede was a monk at Jarrow. His pupil Ecgbert, 
first archbishop of York, founded a cathedral school, where Alcuin 
was educated. 

Alcuin is an important figure in the culture of the time. He went 
to Rome in 780, and in the course of his journey met Charlemagne 
at Parma. The Emperor employed him to teach Latin to the Franks 

4*4 



THE PAPACY IN THE DARK AGES 

and to educate the royal family. He spent a considerable part of 
his life at the court of Charlemagne, engaged in teaching and in 
founding schools. At the end of his life he was abbot of St. Martin's 
at Tours. He wrote a number of books, including a verse history 
of the church at York. The emperor, though uneducated, had a 
considerable belief in the value of culture, and for a brief period 
diminished the darkness of the dark ages. But his work in this 
direction was ephemeral. The culture of Yorkshire was for a time 
destroyed by the Danes, that of France was damaged by the 
Normans. The Saracens raided Southern Italy, conquered Sicily, 
and in 846 even attacked Rome. On the whole, the tenth century 
was, in Western Christendom, about the darkest epoch; for the 
ninth is redeemed by the English ecclesiastics and by the as- 
tonishing figure of Johannes Scotus, as to whom I shall have 
more to say presently. 

The decay of Carolingian power after the death of Charlemagne 
and the division of his empire redounded, at first, to the advantage 
of the papacy. Pope Nicholas I (858-67) raised papal power to a 
far greater height than it had ever attained before. He quarrelled 
with the Emperors of the East and the West, with King Charles 
the Bald of France and King Lothar II of Lorraine, and with the 
episcopate of nearly every Christian country; but in almost all 
his quarrels he was successful. The clergy in many regions had 
become dependent on the local princes, and he set to work to 
remedy this state of affairs. His two greatest controversies con- 
cerned the divorce of Lothar II and the uncanonical deposition 
of Ignatius, patriarch of Constantinople. The power of the Church, 
throughout the Middle Ages, had a great deal to do with royal 
divorces. Kings were men of headstrong passions, who felt that 
the indissolubility of marriage was a doctrine for subjects only. 
The Church, however, could alone solemnize a marriage, and if 
the Church declared a marriage invalid, a disputed succession and 
a dynastic war were very likely to result. The Church, therefore, 
was in a very strong position in opposing royal divorces and 
irregular marriages. In England, it lost this position under Henry 
VIII, but recovered it under Edward VIII. 

When Lothar II demanded a divorce; the clergy of his kingdom 
agreed. Pope Nicholas, however, deposed the bishops who had 
acquiesced, and totally refused to admit the King's plea for divorce. 
Lothar's brother, the Emperor Louis II, thereupon inarched on 

415 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Rome with the intention of overawing the Pope; but superstitious 
terrors prevailed, and he retired. In the end, the Pope's will 
prevailed. 

The business of the Patriarch Ignatius was interesting, as 
showing that the Pope could still assert himself in the East. 
Ignatius, who was obnoxious to the Regent Bardas, was deposed, 
and Photius, hitherto a layman, was elevated to his place. The 
Byzantine government asked the Pope to sanction this proceeding. 
He sent two legates to inquire into the matter; when they arrived 
in Constantinople, they were terrorized, and gave their assent. 
For some time, the facts were concealed from the Pope, but when 
he came to know them, he took a high line. He summoned a council 
in Rome to consider the question ; he deposed one of the legates 
from his bishopric, and also the archbishop of Syracuse, who had 
consecrated Photius ; he anathematized Photius, deposed all whom 
he had ordained, and restored all who had been deposed for 
opposing him. The Emperor Michael III was furious, and wrote 
the Pope an angry letter, but the Pope replied: "The day of king- 
priests and emperor-pontiffs is past, Christianity has separated 
the two functions, and Christian emperors have need of the Pope 
in view of the life eternal, whereas popes have no need of emperors 
except as regards temporal things." Photius and the Emperor 
retorted by summoning a council, which excommunicated the 
Pope and declared the Roman Church heretical. Soon after this, 
however, Michael III was murdered, and his successor Basil 
restored Ignatius, explicitly recognizing papal jurisdiction in the 
matter. This triumph happened just after the death of Nicholas, 
and was attributable almost entirely to the accidents of palace 
revolutions. After the death of Ignatius, Photius again became 
patriarch, and the split between the Eastern and the Western 
Churches was widened. Thus it cannot be said that Nicholas's 
policy in this matter was victorious in the long run. 

Nicholas had almost more difficulty in imposing his will 
upon the episcopate than upon kings. Archbishops had come to 
consider themselves very great men, and they were reluctant to 
submit tamely to an ecclesiastical monarch. He maintained, how- 
ever, that bishops owe their existence to the Pope, and while he 
lived he succeeded, on the whole, in making this view prevail. 
There was, throughout these centuries, great doubt as to how 
bishops should be appointed. Originally they were elected by the 



THE PAPACY IN THB DARK AGES 

acclamation of the faithful in their cathedral city; then, frequently, 
by a synod of neighbouring bishops ; then, sometimes by the King, 
and sometimes by the Pope. Bishops could be deposed for grave 
causes, but it was not clear whether they should be tried by the 
Pope or by a provincial synod. All these uncertainties made the 
powers of an office dependent upon the energy and astuteness of 
its holders. Nicholas stretched papal power to the utmost limits 
of which it was then capable; under his successors, it sank again 
to a very low ebb. 

During the tenth century, the papacy was completely under the 
control of the local Roman aristocracy. There was, as yet, no fixed 
rule as to the election of Popes ; sometimes they owed their ele- 
vation to popular acclaim, sometimes to emperors or kings, and 
sometimes, as in the tenth century, to the holders of local urban 
power in Rome. Rome was, at this time, not a civilized city, as it 
had still been in the time of Gregory the Great. At times there 
were faction fights; at other times some rich family acquired 
control by a combination of violence and corruption. The disorder 
and weakness of Western Europe was so great at this period that 
Christendom might have seemed in danger of complete destruction. 
The Emperor and the King of France were powerless to curb the 
anarchy produced in their realms by feudal potentates who were 
nominally their vassals. The Hungarians made raids on Northern 
Italy. The Normans raided the French coast, until, in 911, they 
were given Normandy and in return became Christians. But the 
greatest danger in Italy and Southern France came from the 
Saracens, who could not be converted, and had no reverence for 
the Church. They completed the conquest of Sicily about the 
end of the ninth century; they were established on the River 
Garigliano, near Naples; they destroyed Monte Cassino and other 
great monasteries; they had a settlement on the coast of Provence, 
whence they raided Italy and the Alpine valleys, interrupting 
traffic between Rome and the North. 

The conquest of Italy by the Saracens was prevented by the 
Eastern Empire, which overcame the Saracens of the Garigliano 
in 9x5. But it was not strong enough to govern Rome, as it had 
done after Justinian's conquest, and the papacy became, for about 
a hundred years, a perquisite of the Roman aristocracy or of the 
counts of Tusculum. The most powerful Romans, at the beginning 
of the tenth century, were the "Senator" Theophylact and his 

Hillary of Wttto* 1'kOoiopk* 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

daughter Marozia, in whose family the papacy nearly became 
hereditary. Marozia had several husbands in succession, and an 
unknown number of lovers. One of the latter she elevated to the 
papacy, under the title of Sergius II (904-11). His and her son 
was Pope John XI (931-36); her grandson was John XII 
(955-64), who became Pope at the age of sixteen and "completed 
the debasement of the papacy by his debauched life and the orgies 
of which the Lateran palace soon became the scene." 1 Marozia 
is presumably the basis for the legend of a female "Pope Joan." 

The popes of this period naturally lost whatever influence their 
predecessors had retained in the East. They lost also the power, 
which Nicholas I had successfully exercised, over bishops north 
of the Alps. Provincial councils asserted their complete inde- 
pendence of the Pope, but they failed to maintain independence 
of sovereigns and feudal lords. Bishops, more and more, became 
assimilated to lay feudal magnates. "The Church itself thus 
appears as the victim of the same anarchy in which lay society is 
weltering; all evil appetites range unchecked, and, more than ever, 
such of the clergy as still retain some concern for religion and 
for the salvation of the souls committed to their charge mourn 
over the universal decadence and direct the eyes of the faithful 
towards the spectre of the end of the world and of the I-ast 
Judgment." 2 

It is a mistake, however, to suppose that a special dread of the 
end of the world in the year 1000 prevailed at this time, as used 
to be thought. Christians, from St. Paul onward, believed the 
end of the world to be at hand, but they went on with their 
ordinary business none the less. 

The year 1000 may be conveniently taken as marking the end 
of the lowest depth to which the civilization of Western Europe 
sank. From this point the upward movement began which con- 
tinued till 1914. In the beginning, progress was mainly due to 
monastic reform. Outside the monastic orders, the clergy had 
become, for the most part, violent, immoral, and worldly; they 
were corrupted by the wealth and power that they owed to the 
benefactions of the pious. The same thing happened, over and 
over again, even to the monastic orders; but reformers, with new 
zeal, revived their moral force as often as it had decayed. 
Another reason which makes the year 1000 a turning-point is 
1 Cambridge Medieval History, HI, 455. ' Ibid 

418 



THE PAPACY IN THE DARK AGES 

the cessation, at about this time, of conquest by both Moham- 
medans and northern barbarians, so far at least as Western Europe 
is concerned. Goths, Lombards, Hungarians, and Normans came 
in successive waves; each horde in turn was christianized, but 
each in turn weakened the civilized tradition. The Western Empire 
broke up into many barbarian kingdoms ; the kings lost authority 
over their vassals; there was universal anarchy, with perpetual 
violence both on a large and on a small scale. At last all the races 
of vigorous northern conquerors had been converted to Chris- 
tianity, and had acquired settled habitations. The Normans, who 
were the last comers, proved peculiarly capable of civilization. 
They reconquered Sicily from the Saracens, and made Italy safe 
from the Mohammedans. They brought England back into the 
Roman world, from which the Danes had largely excluded it. 
Once settled in Normandy, they allowed France to revive, and 
helped materially in the process. 

Our use of the phrase "the Dark Ages" to cover the period from 
600 to 1000 marks our undue concentration on Western Europe. 
In China, this period includes the time of the Tang dynasty, the 
greatest age of Chinese poetry, and in many other ways a most 
remarkable epoch. From India to Spain, the brilliant civilization 
of Islam flourished. What was lost to Christendom at this time 
was not lost to civilization, but quite the contrary. No one could 
have guessed that Western Europe would later become dominant, 
both in power and in culture. To us, it seems that West-European 
civilization is civilization, but this is a narrow view. Most of the 
cultural content of our civilization comes to us from the Eastern 
Mediterranean, from Greeks and Jews. As for power: Western 
Europe was dominant from the Punic Wars to the fall of Rome 
say, roughly, during the six centuries from 200 B.C. to A.O. 400. 
After that time, no State in Western Europe could compare in 
power with China, Japan, or the Caliphate. 

Our superiority since the Renaissance is due partly to science 
and scientific technique, partly to political institutions slowly built 
up during the Middle Ages. There is no reason, in the nature of 
things, why this superiority should continue. In the present war, 
great military strength has been shown by Russia, China, and 
Japan. All these combine Western technique with Eastern ideology 
Byzantine, Confucian, or Shinto. India, if liberated, will con- 
tribute another Oriental element. It seems not unlikely that, 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

during the next few centuries, civilization, if it survives, will have 
greater diversity than it has had since the Renaissance. There is 
an imperialism of culture which is harder to overcome than the 
imperialism of power. Long after the Western Empire fell indeed 
until the Reformation all European culture retained a tincture 
of Roman imperialism. It now has, for us, a West-European 
imperialistic flavour. I think that, if we are to feel at home in the 
world after the present war, we shall have to admit Asia to equality 
in our thoughts, not only politically, but culturally. What changes 
this will bring about, I do not know, but I am convinced that they 
will be profound and of the greatest importance. 



420 



] 

J\ 



Chapter VIII 
JOHN THE SCOT 

JOHN THE SCOT, or Johannes Scotus, to which is sometimes 
added Eriugena or Erigena, 1 is the most astonishing person of 
the ninth century ; he would have been less surprising if he had 
lived in the fifth or the fifteenth century. He was an Irishman, a 
Neoplatonist, an accomplished Greek scholar, a Pelagian, a pan- 
theist. He spent much of his life under the patronage of Charles 
the Bald, king of France, and though he was certainly far from 
orthodox, yet, so far as we know, he escaped persecution. He set 
reason above faith, and cared nothing for the authority of eccle- 
siastics; yet his arbitrament was invoked to settle their controversies, 
To understand the occurrence of such a man, we must turn our 
attention first to Irish culture in the centuries following St. Patrick. 
Apart from the extremely painful fact that St. Patrick was an 
Englishman, there are two other scarcely less painful circum- 
stances: first, that there were Christians in Ireland before he went 
there; second, that, whatever he may have done for Irish Chris- 
tianity, it was not to him that Irish culture was due. At the time 
of the invasion of Gaul (says a Gaulish author), first by Attila, 
then by the Goths, Vandals, and Alaric, "all the learned men on 
their side the sea fled, and in the countries beyond sea, namely 
Ireland, and wherever else they betook themselves, brought to 
the inhabitants of those regions an enormous advance in learning." 2 
If any of these men sought refuge in England, the Angles and 
Saxons and Jutes must have mopped them up ; but those who went 
to Ireland succeeded, in combination with the missionaries, in 
transplanting a great deal of the knowledge and civilization that 
was disappearing from the Continent. There is good reason to 
believe that, throughout the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, 
a knowledge of Greek, as well as a considerable familiarity with 
Latin classics, survived among the Irish. 3 Greek was known in 

1 This addition it redundant; it would make his name "Iriah John 
from Ireland.* 1 In the ninth century "Scotuft" means "Irishman." 

1 Cambridge Medieval History*, III, 501. 

* This question is discussed carefully in the Cambridge Medieval 
History, III, chap, xix, and the conclusion is in favour of Irish knowledge 
of Greek. 

431 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

England from the time of Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury 
(669-90)9 who was himself a Greek, educated at Athens ; it may 
also have become known, in the North, through Irish missionaries. 
"During the latter part of the seventh century/' says Montague 
James, "it was in Ireland that the thirst for knowledge was keenest, 
and the work of teaching was most actively carried on. There the 
Latin language (and in a less degree the Greek) was studied from 
a scholar's point of view. ... It was when, impelled in the first 
instance by missionary zeal, and later by troubled conditions at 
home, they passed over in large numbers to the Continent, that 
they became instrumental in rescuing fragments of the literature 
which they had already learnt to value." 1 Heiric of Auxerre, 
about 876, describes this influx of Irish scholars: "Ireland, 
despising the dangers of the sea, is migrating almost en masse 
with her crowd of philosophers to our, shores, and all the most 
learned doom themselves to voluntary exile to attend the bidding 
of Solomon the wise" i.e. King Charles the Bald. 2 

The lives of learned men have at many times been perforce 
nomadic. At the beginning of Greek philosophy, many of the 
philosophers were refugees from the Persians; at the end of it, 
in the time of Justinian, they became refugees to the Persians. In 
the fifth century, as we have just seen, men of learning fled from 
Gaul to the Western Isles to escape the Germans; in the ninth 
century-, they fled back from England and Ireland to escape the 
Scandinavians. In our own day, German philosophers have to fly 
even further West to escape their compatriots. I wonder whether 
it will be equally long before a return flight takes place. 

Too little is known of the Irish in the days when they were 
preserving for Europe the tradition of classical culture. This 
learning was connected with monasteries, and was full of piety, 
as their penitentials show; but it does not seem to have been much 
concerned with theological niceties. Being monastic rather than 
episcopal, it had not the administrative outlook that characterized 
Continental ecclesiastics from Gregory the Great onwards. And 
being in the main cut off from effective contact with Rome, it still 
regarded the Pope as he was regarded in the time of St. Ambrose, 
not as he came to be regarded later. Peiagius, though probably a 
Briton, is thought by some to have been an Irishman. It is likely 
that his heresy survived in Ireland, where authority could not 

1 Lor. $., pp. 507-8. Loc. '!., p. 524. 

422 



JOHN THE SCOT 

stamp it out, as it did, with difficulty, in Gaul. These circumstances 
do something to account for the extraordinary freedom and fresh- 
ness of John the Scot's speculations. 

The beginning and the end of John the Scot's life are unknown ; 
we know only the middle period, during which he was employed 
by the king of France. He is supposed to have been born about 
800, and to have died about 877, but both dates are guesswork. 
He was in France during the papacy of Pope Nicholas I, and we 
meet again, in his life, the characters who appear in connection 
with that Pope, such as Charles the Bald and the Emperor Michael 
and the Pope himself. 

John was invited to France by Charles the Bald about the year 
843, and was by him placed at the head of the court school. A 
dispute as to predestination and free will had arisen between 
Gottschalk, a monk, and the important ecclesiastic Hincmar, Arch- 
bishop of Rheims. The monk was predestinarian, the archbishop 
libertarian. John supported the archbishop in a treatise On Divine 
Predestination, but his support went too far for prudence. The 
subject was a thorny one; Augustine had dealt with it in his 
writings against Pclagius, but it was dangerous to agree with 
Augustine and still more dangerous to disagree with him explicitly. 
John supported free will, and this might have passed uncensored ; 
but what roused indignation was the purely philosophic character 
of his argument. Not that he professed to controvert anything 
accepted in theology, but that he maintained the equal, or even 
superior, authority of a philosophy independent of revelation. He 
contended that reason and revelation are both sources of truth, 
and therefore cannot conflict; but if they ever seem to conflict, 
reason is to be preferred. True religion, he said, is true philosophy; 
but, conversely, true philosophy is true religion. His work was 
condemned by two councils, in 855 and 859; the first of these 
described it as "Scots porridge." 

He escaped punishment, however, owing to the support of the 
king, with whom he seems to have been on familiar terms. If 
William of Malmesbury is to be believed, the king, when John 
was dining with him, asked: "What separates a Scot from a sot?" 
and John replied, "Only the dinner table." The king died in 877, 
and after this date nothing is known as to John. Some think that 
he also died in that year. There are legends that he was invited to 
England by Alfred the Great, that he became abbot of Malmesbury 

423 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

or Athelncy, and was murdered by the monks. This misfortune, 
however, seems to have befallen some other John. 

John's next work was a translation from the Greek of the 
pseudo-Bionysius. This was a work which had great fame in the 
early Middle Ages. When St. Paul preached in Athens, "certain 
men clave unto him, and believed : among the which was Dionysius 
the Areopagite" (Acts xvii. 34). Nothing more is now known 
about this man, but in the Middle Ages a great deal more was 
known. He had travelled to France, and founded the abbey of 
St. Denis; so at least it was said by Hilduin, who was abbot just 
before John's arrival in France. Moreover, he was the reputed 
author of an important work reconciling Neoplatonism with 
Christianity. The date of this work is unknown ; it was certainly 
before 500 and after Plotinus. It was widely known and admired 
in the East, but in the West it was not generally known until the 
Greek Emperor Michael, in 827, sent a copy to Louis the Pious, 
who gave it to the above-mentioned Abbot Hilduin. He, believing 
it to have been written by St. Paul's disciple, the reputed founder 
of his abbey, would have liked to know what its contents were ; 
but nobody could translate the Greek until John appeared. He 
accomplished the translation, which he must have done with 
pleasure, as his own opinions were in close accord with those of 
the pseudo-Dionysius, who, from that time onward, had a great 
influence on Catholic philosophy in the West. 

John's translation was sent to Pope Nicholas in 860. The Pope 
was offended because his permission had not been sought before 
the work was published, and he ordered Charles to send John to 
Rome an order which was ignored. But as to the substance, and 
more especially the scholarship shown in the translation, he had 
no fault to find. His librarian Anastasius, an excellent Grecian, to 
whom he submitted it for an opinion, was astonished that a man 
from a remote and barbarous country could have possessed such 
a profound knowledge of Greek. 

John's greatest work was called (in Greek) On the Division o] 
Nature. This book was what, in scholastic times, would have been 
termed "realist"; that is to say, it maintained, with Plato, that 
universal* are anterior to particulars. He includes in "Nature" not 
only what is, but also what is not. The whole of Nature is divided 
into four classes: (i) what creates and is not created, (2) what 
creates and is created, (3) what is created but does not create, 

4*4 



JOHN THB SCOT 

(4) what neither creates nor is created. The first, obviously, is 
God. The second is the (Platonic) ideas, which subsist in God. 
The third is things in space and time. The fourth, surprisingly, is 
again God, not as Creator, but as the End and Purpose of all things. 
Everything that emanates from God strives to return to Him; 
thus the end of all such things is the same as their beginning. The 
bridge between the One and the many is the Logos. 

In the realm of not-being he includes various things, for example, 
physical objects, which do not belong to the intelligible world, 
and sin, since it means loss of the divine pattern. That which 
creates and is not created alone has essential subsistence ; it is the 
essence of all things. God is the beginning, middle, and end of 
things. God's essence is unknowable to men, and even to angels. 
Even to Himself He is, in a sense, unknowable: "God does not 
know himself, what He is, because He is not a what\ in a certain 
respect He is incomprehensible to Himself and to every intellect." 1 
In the being of things God's being can be seen; in their order, 
His wisdom; in their movement, His life. His being is the Father, 
His wisdom the Son, His life the Holy Ghost. But Dionysius is 
right in saying that no name can be ttuly asserted of God. There 
is an affirmative theology, in which He is said to be truth, goodness, 
essence, etc., but such affirmations are only symbolically true, for 
all such predicates have an opposite, but God has no opposite. 

The class of things that both create and are created embraces 
the whole of the prime causes, or prototypes, or Platonic ideas. 
The total ot these prime causes is die Logos. The world of ideas 
is eternal, and yet created. Under the influence of the Holy Ghost, 
these prime causes give rise to the world of particular things, the 
materiality of which U illusory. When it is said that God created 
things out of "nothing," this "nothing" is to be understood as 
God Himself, in the sense in which He transcends all knowledge. 

Creation is an eternal process: the substance of all finite things 
is God. The creature is not a being distinct from God. The 
creature subsists in God, and God manifests Himself in the 
creature in an ineffable manner. "The Holy Trinity loves Itself 
in us and in Itself ; a It sees and moves Itself." 

1 Cf. Bradley on the inadequacy of all cognition. He holds that no 
truth is quite true, but the Ix>st available truth is not intellectually 
corrigible. 

9 Cf. Spinox*. 

4*5 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Sin has its source in freedom: it arose because man turned 
towards himself instead of towards God. Evil does not have its 
ground in God, for in God there is no idea of evil. Evil is not- 
being and has no ground, for if it had a ground it would be 
necessary. Evil is a privation of good. 

The Logos is the principle that brings the many back to the 
One, and man back to God; it is thus the Saviour of the world. 
By union with God, the part of man that effects union becomes 
divine. 

John disagrees with the Aristotelians in refusing substantiality 
to particular things. He calls Plato the summit of philosophers. 
But the first three of his kinds of being are derived indirectly from 
Aristotle's moving-not-moved, moving-and- moved, moved-but- 
not-moving. The fourth kind of being in John's system, that which 
neither creates nor is created, is derived from the doctrine of 
Dionysius, that all things return into God. 

The unorthodoxy of John the Scot is evident from the above 
summary. His pantheism, which refuses substantial reality to 
creatures, is contrary to Christian doctrine. His interpretation of 
the creation out of "nothing* is not such as any prudent theologian 
could accept. His Trinity, which closely resembles that of Plotinus, 
fails to preserve the equality of the Three Persons, although he 
tries to safeguard himself on this point. His independence of mind 
is shown by these heresies, and is astonishing in the ninth century. 
His Neoplatonic outlook may perhaps have been common in 
Ireland, as it was among the Greek Fathers of the fourth and fifth 
centuries. It may be that, if we knew more about Irish Christianity 
from the fifth to the ninth century, we should find him less sur- 
prising. On the other hand, it may be that most of what is heretical 
in him is to be attributed to the influence of the pseu do- Dionysius, 
who, because of his supposed connection with St. Paul, was 
mistakenly believed to be orthodox. 

His view of creation as timeless is, of course, also heretical and 
compels him to say that the account in Genesis is allegorical. 
Paradise and the fall are not to be taken literally. Like all pantheists, 
he has difficulties about sin. He holds that man was originally 
without sin, and when hfe was without sin he was without dis- 
tinction of sex. This, of course, contradicts the statement "male 
and female created he them." According to John, it was only as 
the result of sin that human beings were divided into male and 



JOHN THB SCOT 

female. Woman embodies man's sensuous and fallen nature. In 
the end, distinction of sex will again disappear, and we shall have 
a purely spiritual body. 1 Sin consists in misdirected will, in falsely 
supposing something good which is not so. Its punishment is 
natural ; it consists in discovering the vanity of sinful desires. But 
punishment is not eternal. Like Origen, John holds that even the 
devils will be saved at last, though later than other people. 

John's translation of the pseudo-Dionysius had a great influence 
on medieval thought, but his magnum opus on the division of 
Nature had very little. It was repeatedly condemned as heretical, 
and at last, in 1225, Pope Honorius III ordered all copies of it 
to be burnt. Fortunately this order was not efficiently carried out. 

1 Contrast St. Augustine. 



4*7 



Chapter IX 

ECCLESIASTICAL REFORM IN THE 
ELEVENTH CENTURY 

FOR the first time since the fall of the Western Empire, Europe, 
during the eleventh century, made rapid progress not sub- 
sequently lost. There had been progress of a sort during the 
Carolingian renaissance, but it proved to be not solid. In the 
eleventh century, the improvement was lasting and many-sided. 
It began with monastic reform; it then extended to the papacy 
and Church government ; towards the end of the century it pro- 
duced the first scholastic philosophers. The Saracens were expelled 
from Sicily by the Normans; the Hungarians, having become 
Christians, ceased to be marauders ; the conquests of the Normans 
in France and England saved those countries from further Scandi- 
navian incursions. Architecture, which had been barbaric except 
where Byzantine influence prevailed, attained sudden sublimity. 
The level of education rose enormously among the clergy, and 
considerably in the lay aristocracy. 

The reform movement, in its earlier stages, was, in the minds of 
its promoters, actuated exclusively by moral motives. The clergy, 
both regular and secular, had fallen into bad ways, and earnest 
men set to work to make them live more in accordance with their 
principles. But behind this purely moral motive there was another, 
at first perhaps unconscious, but gradually becoming more and 
more open. This motive was to complete the separation between 
clergy and laity, and, in so doing, to increase the power of the 
former. It was therefore natural that the victory of reform in the 
Church should lead straight on to a violent conflict between 
Emperor and Pope. 

Priests had formed a separate and powerful caste in Egypt, 
Babylonia, and Persia, but not in Greece or Rome. In the primitive 
Christian Church, the distinction between clergy and laity arose 
gradually; when we read of "bishops" in the New Testament, the 
word does not mean what it has come to mean to us. The separa- 
tion of the clergy from the rest of the population had two aspects, 
one doctrinal, the other political; the political aspect depended 
upon the doctrinal. The clergy possessed certain miraculous 

4*8 



ECCLESIASTICAL REFORM IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURY 

powers, especially in connection with the sacraments except 
baptism, which could be performed by laymen. Without the help 
of the clergy, marriage, absolution, and extreme unction were 
impossible. Even more important, in the Middle Ages, was tran- 
substantiation: only a priest could perform the miracle of the 
mass. It was not until the eleventh century, in 1079, that the 
doctrine of transubstantiation became an article of faith, though 
it had been generally believed for a long time. 

Owing to their miraculous powers, priests could determine 
whether a man should spend eternity in heaven or in hell. If he 
died while excommunicate, he went to hell ; if he died after a priest 
had performed all the proper ceremonies, he would ultimately go 
to heaven provided he had duly repented and confessed. Before 
going to heaven, however, he would have to spend some time 
perhaps a very long time suffering the pains of purgatory. 
Priests could shorten this time by saying masses for his soul, 
which they were willing to do for a suitable money payment. 

All this, it must be understood, was genuinely and firmly be- 
lieved both by priests and by laity; it was not merely a creed 
officially professed. Over and over again, die miraculous powers 
of the clergy gave them the victory over powerful princes at the 
head of their armies. This power, however, was limited in two 
ways: by reckless outbreaks of passion on the part of furious lay- 
men, and by divisions among the clergy. The inhabitants of Rome, 
until the time of Gregory MI, showed little respect for the person 
of the Pope. They would kidnap him, imprison him, poison him, 
or fight against him, whenever their turbulent factional strife 
tempted them to such action. How is this compatible with their 
beliefs? Partly, no doubt, the explanation lies in mere lack of self- 
control; partly, however, in the thought that one could repent on 
one's deathbed. Another reason, which operated less in Rome than 
elsewhere, was that kings could bend to their will the bishops in 
their kingdoms, and thus secure enough priestly magic to save 
themselves from damnation. Church discipline and a unified 
ecclesiastical government were therefore essential to the power 
of the clergy. These ends were secured during the eleventh century, 
as part and parcel of a moral reformation of the clergy. 

The power of die clergy as a whole could only be secured by 
very considerable sacrifices on the part of individual ecclesiastics. 
The two great evils against which all clerical reformers directed 

4*9 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

their energies were simony and concubinage. Something must be 
said about each of these. 

Owing to the benefactions of the pious, the Church had become 
rich. Many bishops had huge estates, and even parish priests had, 
as a rule, what for those times was a comfortable living. The 
appointment of bishops was usually, in practice, in the hands of 
the king, but sometimes in those of some subordinate feudal noble. 
It was customary for the king to sell bishoprics; this, in fact, 
provided a substantial pan of his income. The bishop, in turn, 
sold such ecclesiastical preferment as was in his power. There 
was no secret about this. Gerbert (Sylvester II) represented 
bishops as saying: "I gave gold and I received the episcopate; 
but yet I do not fear to receive it back if I behave as I should. I 
ordain a priest and I receive gold ; I make a deacon and I receive 
a heap of silver. Behold the gold which I gave I have once more 
unlessened in my purse. 1 ' 1 Peter Damian in Milan, in 1059, 
found that every cleric in the city, from the archbishop downwards, 
had been guilty of simony. And this state of affairs was in no way 
exceptional. 

Simony, of course, was a sin, but that was not the only objection 
to it. It caused ecclesiastical preferment to go by wealth, not merit ; 
it confirmed lay authority in the appointment of bishops, and 
episcopal subservience to secular rulers; and it tended to make the 
episcopate part of the feudal system. Moreover, when a man had 
purchased preferment, he was naturally anxious to recoup himself, 
so that worldly rather than spiritual concerns were likely to pre- 
occupy him. For these reasons, the campaign against simony was 
a necessary part of the ecclesiastical struggle for power. 

Very similar considerations applied to clerical celibacy. The 
reformers of the eleventh century often spoke of "concubinage'' 
when it would have been more accurate to speak of "marriage." 
Monks, of course, were precluded from marriage by their vow 
of chastity, but there had been no clear prohibition of marriage 
for the secular clergy. In the Eastern Church, to this day, parish 
priests are allowed to be married. In the West, in the eleventh 
century, most parish priests were married. Bishops, for their 
part, appealed to St. Paul's pronouncement: "A bishop then must 
be blameless, the husband of one wife." 1 There was not the same 

1 Cambridge Medieval History* V, chap. to. 
' I Timothy iii. 2. 

430 



ECCLESIASTICAL REFORM IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURY 

clear moral issue as in the matter of simony, but in the insistence 
on clerical celibacy there were political motives very similar to 
those in the campaign against simony. 1 

When priests were married, they naturally tried to pass on 
Church property to their sons. They could do this legally if their 
sons became priests ; therefore one of the first steps of the reform 
party, when it acquired power, was to forbid the ordination of 
priests' sons. 8 But in the confusion of the times there was still 
danger that, if priests had sons, they would find means of illegally 
alienating parts of the Church lands. In addition to this economic 
consideration, there was also the fact that, if a priest was a family 
man like his neighbours, he seemed to them less removed from 
themselves. There was, from at least the fifth century onwards, 
an intense admiration for celibacy, and if the clergy were to com- 
mand the reverence on which their power depended, it was highly 
advantageous that they should be obviously separated from other 
men by abstinence from marriage. The reformers themselves, no 
doubt, sincerely believed that the married state, though not 
actually sinful, is lower than the state of celibacy, and is only 
conceded to the weakness of the flesh. St. Paul says "If they 
cannot contain, let them marry" 3 ; but a really holy man ought to 
he able to "contain." Therefore clerical celibacy is essential to 
the moral authority of the Church. 

After these general preliminaries, let us come to the actual 
history of the reform movement in the eleventh-century Church. 

The beginning goes back to the foundation of the abbey of 
Cluny in 910 by William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine. This 
abbey was, from the first, independent of all external authority 
except that of the Pope; moreover, its abbot was given authority 
over other monasteries that owed their origin to it. Most monas- 
teries, at this time, were rich and lax; Cluny, though avoiding 
extreme asceticism, was careful to preserve decency and decorum. 
The second abbot, Odo, went to Italy, and was given control of 
several Roman monasteries. He was not always successful: 
"Farfa, divided by a schism between two rival abbots who had 

murdered their* predecessor, resisted the introduction of Cluniac 



1 Sec Henry C. Lea, The History of Sacerdotal Celibacy. 
1 In 1046, it was decreed that a clerk'i on cannot be a bishop. Later, 
it was decreed he could not be in holy orders. 
9 I Corinthians vti. 9. 

43 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

monks by Odo and got rid by poison of the abbot whom Alberic 
installed by armed force." 1 (Alberic was the ruler of Rome who 
had invited Odo.) In the twelfth century Cluny's reforming zeal 
grew* cold. St. Bernard objected to its fine architecture; like all 
the most earnest men of his time, he considered splendid 
ecclesiastical edifices a sign of sinful pride. * 

During the eleventh century, various other orders were founded 
by reformers. Romuald,an ascetic hermit, founded the Camaldolese 
Order in 1012; Peter Damian, of whom we shall speak shortly, 
was a follower of his. The Carthusians, who never ceased to be 
austere, were founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084. In 1098 the 
Cistercian Order was founded, and in 1113 it was joined by St. 
Bernard. It adhered strictly to the Benedictine Rule. It forbade 
stained-glass windows. For labour, it employed convent, or lay 
brethren. These men took the vows, but were forbidden to learn 
reading and writing; they were employed mainly in agriculture, 
but also in other work, such as architecture. Fountains Abbey, in 
Yorkshire, is Cistercian a remarkable work for men who thought 
all beauty of the Devil. 

As will be seen from the case of Farfa, which was by no means 
unique, monastic reformers required great courage and energy. 
Where they succeeded, they were supported by the secular 
authorities. It was these men and their followers who made 
possible the reformation, first of the papacy and then of the Church 
as a whole. 

The reform of the papacy, however, was, at first, mainly the 
work of the Emperor. The last dynastic Pope was Benedict IX, 
elected in 1032, and said to have been only twelve years old at 
the time. He was the son of Alberic of Tusculum, whom we hav% 
already met in connection with Abbot Odo. As he grew older, he 
grew more and more debauched, and shocked even the Romans. 
At last his wickedness reached such a pitch that he decided to 
resign the papacy in order to marry. He sold it to his godfather, 
who became Gregory VI. This man, though he acquired the papacy 
stmoniacally, was a reformer; he was a friend of Hildebrand 
(Gregory VII). The manner of his acquiring the papacy, however, 
was too scandalous to be passed over. The young Emperor 
Henry III (1039-56) was a pious reformer, who had abandoned 
simony at great cost to his revenue, while retaining the right to 
* Cambridge Medieval History, V, 66a. 

43* 



ECCLESIASTICAL REFORM IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURY 

appoint bishops. He came to Italy in 1046, at the age of twenty- 
two, and deposed Gregory VI on the charge of simony. 

Henry III retained throughout his reign the power of making 
and unmaking popes, which, however, he exercised wisely Ih the 
interests of reform. After getting rid of Gregory VI, he appointed 
a German bishop, Suidger of Bamberg; the Romans resigned the 
election rights which they had claimed and often exercised, almost 
always badly. The new Pope died next year, and the Emperor's 
next nominee also died almost immediately of poison, it was 
said. Henry III then chose a relation of his own, Bruno of Tout, 
who became Leo IX (1049-54). He was an earnest reformer, 
who travelled much and held many councils; he wished to fight 
the Normans in Southern Italy, but in this he was unsuccessful. 
Hildebrand was his friend, and might almost be called his pupil. 
At his death the Emperor appointed one more Pope, Gebhard of 
Eichstadt, who became Victor II, in 1055. But the Emperor died 
the next year, and the Pope the year after. From this point on- 
wards, the relations of Emperor and Pope became less friendly. 
The Pope, having acquired moral authority by the help of Henry 
III, claimed first independence of the Emperor, and then super- 
iority to him. Thus began the great conflict which lasted two 
hundred years and ended in the defeat of the Emperor. In the 
long run, therefore, Henry Ill's policy of reforming the papacy 
was perhaps short-sighted. 

The next Emperor, Henry IV, reigned for fifty years (1056- 
1106). At first he was a minor, and the regency 'was exercised by 
his mother the Empress Agnes. Stephen IX was Pope for one year, 
and at his death the cardinals chose one Pope while the Romans, 
reasserting the rights they had surrendered, chose another. The 
Empress sided with the cardinals, whose nominee took the name 
of Nicholas II. Although his reign only lasted three years, it was 
important. He made peace with the Normans, thereby making the 
papacy less dependent on the Emperor. In his time the manner 
in which popes were to be elected was determined by a decree, 
according to which the choice was to be made first by die cardinal 
bishops, then by the other cardinals, and last by the clergy and 
people of Rome, whose participation, one gathers, was to be 
purely formal. In effect, the cardinal bishops were to select the 
Pope. The election was to take place in Rome if possible, but 
might take place elsewhere if circumstances made election in 

433 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Rome difficult or undesirable. No part in the election was allotted 
to the Emperor. This decree, which was accepted only after a 
struggle, was an essential step in the emancipation of the papacy 
from lay control. 

Nicholas II secured a decree that, for the future, ordinations 
by men guilty of simony were not to be valid. The decree was 
not made retroactive, because to do so would have invalidated the 
great majority of ordinations of existing priests. 

During the pontificate of Nicholas II an interesting struggle 
began in Milan. The Archbishop, following the Ambrosian tradi- 
tion, claimed a certain independence of the Pope. He and his 
clergy were in alliance with the aristocracy, and were strongly 
opposed to reform. The mercantile and lower classes, on the other 
hand, wished the clergy to be pious; there were riots in support 
of clerical celibacy, and a powerful reform movement, called 
"Patarine," against the archbishop and his supporters. In 1059 
the Pope, in support of reform, sent to Milan as his legate the 
eminent St. Peter Damian. Damian was the author of a treatise 
On Divine Omnipotence, which maintained that God can do things 
contrary to the law of contradiction, and can undo the past. 
(This view was rejected by St. Thomas, arid has, since his time, 
been unorthodox.) He opposed dialectic, and spoke of philosophy 
as the handmaid of theology. He was, as we have seen, a follower 
of the hermit Romuald, and engaged with great reluctance in the 
conduct of affairs. His holiness, however, was such an asset to 
the papacy that very strong persuasion was brought to bear on 
him to help in the reform campaign, and he yielded to the Pope's 
representations. At Milan in 1050 he made a speech against simony 
to the assembled clerics. At first they were so enraged that his 
life was in danger, but at last his eloquence won them over, and 
with tears they one and all confessed themselves guilt}-. Moreover, 
they promised obedience to Rome. Under the next Pope, there 
was a dispute with the Emperor about the see of Milan, in which, 
with the help of the Patarines, the Pope was ultimately victorious. 

At the death of Nicholas II in 1961 , Henry IV being now of age, 
there was a dispute between him and the cardinals as to the suc- 
cession to the papacy. The* Emperor had not accepted the election 
decree, and was not prepared to forgo his rights in the election of 
the Pope. The dispute lasted for three years, but in the end the 
cardinals' choice prevailed, without a definite trial of strength 

434 



ECCLESIASTICAL REFORM IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURY 

between Emperor and curia. What turned the scale was the 
obvious merit of the cardinals' Pope, who was a man combining 
virtue with experience, and a former pupil of Lanfranc (afterwards 
Archbishop of Canterbury). The death of this Pope, Alexander II, 
in 1073, was followed by the election of Hildebrand (Gregory VII). 

Gregory VII (1073-85) is one of the most eminent of the 
Popes. He had long been prominent, and had great influence on 
papal policy. It was owing to him that Pope Alexander II blessed 
William the Conqueror's English enterprise; he favoured the 
Normans both in Italy and in the North. He had been a protg 
of Gregory VI, who bought the papacy in order to combat simony; 
after the deposition of this Pope, Hildebrand passed two years in 
exile. Most of the rest of his life was spent in Rome. He was not 
a learned man, but was inspired largely by St. Augustine, whose 
doctrines he learnt at second-hand from his hero Gregory the 
Great. After he became Pope, he believed himself the mouthpiece 
of St. Peter. This gave him a degree of self-confidence which, 
on a mundane calculation, was not justified. He admitted that 
the Emperor's authority was also of divine origin: at first, he 
compared Pope and Emperor to two eyes; later, when quarrelling 
with the Emperor, to the sun and moon the Pope, of course, 
being the sun. The Pope must be supreme in morals, and must 
therefore have the right to depose the Emperor if the Emperor 
was immoral. And nothing could be more immoral than resisting 
the Pope. All this he genuinely and profoundly believed. 

Gregory VII did more than any previous Pope to enforce 
clerical celibacy. In Germany the clergy objected, and on this 
ground as well as others were inclined to side with the Emperor. 
The laity, however, everywhere preferred their priests celibate. 
Gregory stirred up riots of the laity against married priests and 
their wives, in which both often suffered brutal ill-treatment. He 
called on the laity not to attend mass when celebrated by a recal- 
citrant priest. He decreed that the sacraments of married clergy 
were invalid, and that such clergy must not enter churches. All 
this roused clerical opposition and lay support; even in Rome, 
where Popes had usually gone in danger of their lives, he was 
popular with the people. 

In Gregory's time began the great dispute concerning "inves- 
titures." When a bishop was consecrated, he was invested with a 
ring and staff as symbols of his office. These had been given by 

435 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

Emperor or king (according to the locality), as the bishop's feudal 
overlord. Gregory insisted that they should be given by the Pope. 
The dispute was part of the work of detaching the ecclesiastical 
from the feudal hierarchy. It lasted a long time, but in the end 
the papacy was completely victorious. 

The quarrel which led to Canossa began over the archbishopric 
of Milan. In 1075 the Emperor, with the concurrence of the 
suffragans, appointed an archbishop; the Pope considered this 
an infringement of his prerogative, and threatened the Emperor 
with excommunication and deposition. The Emperor retaliated 
by summoning a council of bishops at Worms, where the bishops 
renounced their allegiance to the Pope. They wrote him a letter 
accusing him of adultery and perjury, and (worse than cither) 
ill-treatment of bishops. The Emperor also wrote him a letter, 
claiming to be above all earthly judgment. The Emperor and his 
bishops pronounced Gregory deposed ; Gregory excommunicated 
the Emperor and his bishops, and pronounced t/iem deposed. 
Thus the stage was set. 

In the first act, victory went to the Pope. The Saxons, who had 
before rebelled against Henry IV and then made peace with him, 
rebelled again ; the German bishops made their peace with Gre- 
gory. The world at large was shocked by the Emperor's treatment 
of the Pope. Accordingly in the following year (1077) Henry 
decided to seek absolution from the Pope. In the depth of winter, 
with his wife and infant son and a few attendants, he crossed the 
Mont Cenis pass, and presented himself as a suppliant before the 
castle of Canossa, where the Pope was. For three days the Pope 
kept him waiting, bare-foot and in penitential garb. At last he was 
admitted. Having expressed penitence and sworn, in future, to 
follow the Pope's directions in dealing with his German opponents, 
be was pardoned and received back into communion. 

The Pope's victory, however, was illusory. 1 le had been caught 
out by the rules of his own theology, one of which enjoined abso- 
lution for penitents. Strange to say, he was taken in by Henry, 
and supposed his repentance sincere. He soon discovered his 
mistake. He could no longer support Henry's German enemies, 
who felt that he had betrayed them. From this moment, tilings 
began to go against him. 

Henry's German enemies elected a rival Emperor, named 
Rudolf. The Pope, at first, while maintaining that it was for him 

436 



ECCLESIASTICAL REFORM IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURY 

to decide between Henry and Rudolf, refused to come to a decision. 
At last, in 1080, having experienced the insincerity of Henry's 
repentance, he pronounced for Rudolf. By this time, however, 
Henry had got the better of most of his opponents in Germany. 
He had an antipope elected by his clerical supporters, and with 
him, in 1084, he entered Rome. His antipope duly crowned him, 
but both had to retreat quickly before the Normans, who advanced 
to the relief of Gregory. The Normans brutally sacked Rome, and 
took Gregory away with them. He remained virtually their 
prisoner until his death the next year. 

Thus his policies appeared to have ended in disaster. But in 
fact they were pursued, with more moderation, by his successors. 
A compromise favourable to the papacy was patched up for the 
moment, but the conflict was essentially irreconcilable. Its later 
stages will be dealt with in subsequent chapters. 

It remains to say something of the intellectual re\ival in the 
eleventh century. The tenth century was destitute of philosophers, 
except for Gerbert (Pope Sylvester II, 999-1003), and even he 
was more a mathematician than a philosopher. But as the eleventh 
century advanced, men of real philosophical eminence began to 
appear. Of these, the most important were Anselm and Roscelin, 
but some others deserve mention. All were monks connected 
with the reform movement. 

Peter Damian, the oldest of them, has already been mentioned. 
Bcrengar of Tours (d. 1088) is interesting as being something of 
a rationalist. He maintained that reason is superior to authority, 
in support of which view he appealed to John the Scot, who was 
therefore posthumously condemned. Berengar denied transub- 
sta filiation, and was twice compelled to recant. His heresies were 
combated by Lanfranc in his book DC corpore ct sanguine Domini. 
Lanfranc was born at Pavia, studied law at Bologna, and became 
a first-rate dialectician. But he abandoned dialectic for theology, 
and entered the monastery of Bcc, in Normandy, where he con- 
ducted a school. William the Conqueror made him Archbishop 
of Canterbury in 1070. 

St. Anselm was, like Lanfranc, an Italian, a monk at Bee, and 
.Vrchbiahop of Canterbury (1093-1109), in which capacity he 
followed the principles of Gregory VII and quarrelled with the 
king. He is chiefly known to fame as the inventor of the "onto- 
logicaJ argument' 1 for the existence of God. As he put it, the 

437 



WESTERN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT 

argument is as follows: We define "God" as the greatest possible 
object of thought. Now if an object of thought does not exist, 
another, exactly like it, which does exist, is greater. Therefore the 
greatest of all objects of thought must exist, since, otherwise, 
another, still greater, would be possible. Therefore God exists. 

This argument has never been accepted by theologians. It was 
adversely criticized at the time; then it was forgotten till the latter 
half of the thirteenth century. Thomas Aquinas rejected it, and 
among theologians his authority has prevailed ever since. But 
among philosophers it has had a better fate. Descartes revived 
it in a somewhat amended form ; Leibniz thought that it could be 
made valid by the addition of a supplement to prove that God is 
possible. Kant considered that he had demolished it once for all. 
Nevertheless, in some sense, it underlies the system of Hegel and 
his followers, and reappears in Bradley 's principle: "What may 
be and must be, is." 

Clearly an argument with such a distinguished history is to be 
treated with respect, whether valid or not. The real question is: 
Is there anything we can think of which, by the mere fact that 
we can think of it, is shown to exist outside our thought ? Every 
philosopher would like to say yes, because a philosopher's job 
is to find out things about the world by thinking rather than 
observing. If yes is the right answer, there is a bridge from pure 
thought to things; if not, not. In this generalized form, Plato uses 
a kind of ontological argument to prove the objective reality of 
ideas. But no one before Anselm had stated the argument in its 
naked logical purity. In gaining purity, it loses plausibility; but 
this also is to Anselm's credit. 

For the rest, Anselm's philosophy is mainly derived from St. 
Augustine, from whom it acquires many Platonic elements. He 
believes in Platonic ideas, from which he derives another proof 
of the existence of God. By Neoplatonic arguments he professes 
to prove not only God, but the Trinity. (It will be remembered 
that Plotinus has a Trinity, though not one that a Christian can 
accept as orthodox.) Anselm considers reason subordinate to faith. 
"I believe in order to understand," he says; following Augustine, 
he holds that without belief it is impossible to understand. God, 
he says, is not just, but justice. It will be remembered that John 
the Scot says similar things. The common origin is in Plato. 

St Anaelm, like his predecessors in Christian philosophy, is in 

438 



ECCLESIASTICAL REFORM IN THE ELEVENTH CENTURY 

the Platonic rather than the Aristotelian tradition. For this reason, 
he has not the distinctive characteristics of the philosophy which 
is called "scholastic," which culminated in Thomas Aquinas. 
This kind of philosophy may be reckoned as beginning with 
Roscelin, who was Anselm's contemporary, being seventeen years 
younger than Anselm. Roscelin marks a new beginning, and will 
be considered in a later chapter. 

When it is said that medieval philosophy, until the thirteenth 
century, was mainly Platonic, it must be remembered that Plato, 
except for a fragment of the Timaeus, was known only at second 
or third hand. John the Scot, for example, could not have held 
the views which he did hold but for Plato, but most of what is 
Platonic in him comes from the pseudo-Dionysius. The date of 
this author is uncertain, but it seems probable that he was a 
disciple of Proclus the Neoplatonist. It is probable, also, that 
John the Scot had never heard of Proclus or read a line of Plotinus. 
Apart from the pseudo-Dionysius, the other source of Platonism 
in the Middle Ages was Boethius. This Platonism was in many 
ways different from that which a modern student derives from 
Plato's own writings. It omitted almost everything that had no 
obvious bearing on religion, and in religious philosophy it enlarged 
and emphasized certain aspects at the expense of others. This 
change in the conception of Plato had already been effected by 
Plotinus. The knowledge of Aristotle was also fragmentary, but 
in an opposite direction: all that was known of him until the 
twelfth century was Hoethius's translation of the Categories and 
/)c Emendation?. Thus Aristotle was conceived as a mere dialec- 
tician, and Plato as only a religious philosopher and the author 
of the theory of ideas During the course of the later Middle Ages, 
both these partial conceptions were gradually emended, especially 
the conception of Aristotle. But the process, as regards Plato, 
was not completed until the Renaissance. 



439 




Chapter X 
MOHAMMEDAN CULTURE AND PHILOSOPHY 

attacks upon the Eastern Empire, Africa, and Spain, 
differed from those of Northern barbarians on the West in 
two respects: first, the Eastern Empire survived till 1453, 
nearly a thousand years longer than the Western ; second, the main 
attacks upon the Eastern Empire were made by Mohammedans, 
who did not become Christians after conquest, but developed an 
important civilization of their own. 

The Hegira, 1 with which the Mohammedan era begins, took 
place in A.D. 622; Mohammed died ten years later. Immediately 
after his death the Arab conquests began, and they proceeded with 
extraordinary rapidity. In the East, Syria was invaded in 634, 
and completely subdued within two years. In 637 Persia was 
invaded; in 650 its conquest was completed. India was invaded 
in 664; Constantinople was besieged in 669 (and again in 716-17). 
The westward movement was not quite so sudden. Egypt was 
conquered by 642, Carthage not till 697. Spain, except for a small 
corner in the north-west, was acquired in 711-12. Westward 
expansion (except in Sicily and Southern Italy) was brought to a 
standstill by the defeat of the Mohammedans at the battle of 
'Fours in 732, just one hundred years after the death of the 
Prophet. (The Ottoman Turks, who finally conquered Con- 
stantinople, belong to a later period than that with which we are 
now concerned.) 

Various circumstances facilitated this expansion. Persia and the 
Eastern Empire were exhausted by their long wars. The Syrians, 
who were largely Nestorian, suffered persecution at the hands of 
the Catholics, whereas Mohammedans tolerated all sects of 
Christians in return for the payment of tribute. Similarly in 
Egypt the Monophysites, who were the hulk of the population, 
welcomed the invaders. In Africa, the Arabs allied themselves 
with the Berbers, whom the Romans had never thoroughly sub- 
dued. Arabs and Berbery together invaded Spain, where they 
were helped by the Jews, whom the Visigoths had severely 
persecuted. 

1 The Hegira wan Mohammed'* Hight from Mecca to Medina. 

440 



MOHAMMEDAN CULTURE AND PHILOSOPHY 

The religion of the Prophet was a simple monotheism, uncom- 
plicated by the elaborate theology of the Trinity and the Incarna- 
tion. The Prophet made no claim to be divine, nor did his followers 
make such a claim on his behalf. He revived the Jewish prohibition 
of graven images, and forbade the use of wine. It was the duty of 
the faithful to conquer as much of the world as possible for Islam, 
but there was to be no persecution of Christians, Jews, or Zoro- 
astrians the "people of the Book," as the Koran calls them, i.e. 
those who followed the teaching of a Scripture. 

Arabia was largely desert, and was growing less and less capable 
of supporting its population. The first conquests of the Arabs 
began as mere raids for plunder, and only turned into permanent 
occupation after experience had shown the weakness of the enemy. 
Suddenly, in the course of some twenty years, men accustomed to 
all the hardships of a meagre existence on the fringe of the desert 
found themselves masters of some of the richest regions of the 
world, able to enjoy every luxury and to acquire all the refinements 
of an ancient civilization. They withstood the temptations of this 
transformation better than most of the Northern barbarians had 
done. As they had acquired their empire without much severe 
fighting, there had been little destruction, and the civil adminis- 
tration was kept on almost unchanged. Both in Persia and in the 
Byzantine Kmpirc, the civil government had been highly organized. 
The Arab tribesmen, at first, understood nothing of its compli- 
cations, and perforce accepted the service