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many instances, to a suspicion of the futility of human knowledge ; and looking at the results reached by the successivo philosophical schools, we cannot fail to remark that there was a general tendency to scepticism. We have seen how, from the material and tangible beginnings of the Ionians, the Eleatics land us not only in a blank atheism, but in a disbelief of the existence of the world. And though it may be said that these were only the isolated results of special schools, it is not to be forgotten that they were of schools the most advanced. The time had now arrived when the name of a master was no more to usurp the place of reason, as had been hitherto the case ; when these last results of the different methods of philosophi. zing were to be brought together, a criticism of a higher order established, and conclusions of a higher order deduced.
Thus it will ever be with all human investigation. The pri. Commence. mitive philosophical elements from which we start are exa- higher
analysis. mined, first by one and then by another, each drawing his own special conclusions and deductions, and each firmly believing in the truth of his inferences. Each analyst has seen the whole subject from a particular point of view, without concerning himself with the discordances, contradictions, and incompatibilities obvious enough when his conclusions come to be compared with those of other analysts as skilful as himself. In process of time, it needs must be that a new school of examiners will arise, who, taking the results at which their predecessors have arrived from an examination of the primary elements, will institute a secondary comparison-a comparison of results with results ; a comparison of a higher order, and more likely to lead to absolute truth.
Perhaps I cannot better convey what I here mean by this Illustration secondary and higher analysis of philosophical questions than sequent by introducing, as an illustration, what took place subsequently history. in Rome through her policy of universal religious toleration. The priests and followers of every god and of every faith were permitted to pursue without molestation their special forms of worship. Of these, it may be supposed that nearly all were perfectly sincere in their adhesion to their special divinity, and, of the occasion had arisen, could have furnished unanswer
able arguments in behalf of his supremacy and of the truth of his doctrines. Yet it is very clear, that by thus bringing these several primary systems into contact, a comparison of a secondary and of a higher order, and therefore far more likely to approach to absolute truth, must needs be established between them. It is very well known that the popular result of this secondary examination was the philosophical rejection of polytheism.
So, in Athens, the result of the secondary examination of Sophists.
philosophical systems and deductions was scepticism as regards them all, and the rise of a new order of men—the Sophists— who not only rejected the validity of all former philosophical methods, but carried their infidelity to a degree plainly not warranted by the facts of the case, in this, that they not only denied that human reason had thus far succeeded in ascertaining anything, but even affirmed that it is incapable, from its very nature, as dependent on human organization, or the condition under which it acts, of determining the truth at all; nay, that even if the truth is actually in its possession, since it has no criterion by which to recognize it, it cannot so much as be certain that it is in such possession of it. From these principles it follows that since we have no standard of the true, neither can we have any standard of the good, and that our ideas of what is good and what is evil are altogether produced by education or by convention : or, to use the phrase adopted by the Sophists, “it is might that makes right.” Right and wrong are hence seen to be mere fictions created by society, having no eternal or absolute existence in nature. The will of a monarch, or of a majority in a community, declares what the law shall be; the law defines what is right and what is wrong; and these, therefore, instead of having an actual existence, are mere illusions, owing their birth to the
exercise of force. It is might that has determined and defined They reject what is right. And hence it follows that it is needless for a philosophy,
man to trouble himself with the monitions of conscience, or to morality. be troubled thereby, for conscience, instead of being anything
real, is an imaginary fiction, or, at the best, owes its origin to education, and is the creation of our social state. Hence the
wise will give himself no concern as to a meritorious act or a crime, seeing that the one is intrinsically neither better nor worse than the other; but he will give himself sedulous concern as respects his outer or external relations,--his position in society ; conforming his acts to that standard which they in their wisdom or folly, but in the exercise of their might, have declared shall be regarded as right. Or, if his occasions are such as to make it for his interest to depart from the social rule, let him do it in secrecy; or, what is far better, let him cultivate rhetoric, that noble art by which the wrong may be made to appear the right; by which he who has committed a crime may so mystify society as to delude it into the belief that he is worthy of praise; and by which he may prove that his enemy, who has really performed some meritorious deed, has been guilty of a crime. Animated by such considerations, the Sophists passed from place to place, offering to sell, for a sum of money, a knowledge of the rhetorical art, and disposed of their services in the instruction of the youth of wealthy and noble families.
What shall we say of such a system and of such a state of things ? Simply this : that it indicated a complete mental and social demoralization,-mental demoralization, for the principles of knowledge were sapped, and man persuaded that his reason was no guide; social demoralization, for he was taught that right and wrong, virtue and vice, conscience, and law, and God, are imaginary fictions; that there is no harm in the commission of sin, though there may be harm, as assuredly there is folly, in being detected therein ; that it is excellent for a man to sell his country to the Persian king, provided that the sum of money he receives is large enough, and that the transaction is so darkly conducted that the public, and particularly his enemies, can never find it out. Let him never forget that patriotism is the first delusion of a simpleton, and the last refuge of a knave.
Such were the results of the first attempt to correct the partial philosophies, by submitting them to the measure of a more universal one; such the manner in which, instead of only losing their exclusiveness and imperfections by their
contact with one another, they were wrested from their proper object, and made subservient to the purpose of deception. Nor was it alone science that was affected ; already might be discerned the foreshadowings of that conviction which many
centuries later occasioned the final destruction of polytheism They reject in Rome. Already, in Athens, the voice of philosophers was religion. heard, that among so many gods and so many different wor
ships it was impossible for a man to ascertain what was true. Already, many even of the educated were overwhelmed with the ominous suggestion, that if ever it had been the will of Heaven to reveal any form of faith to the world, such a revelation, considering its origin, must necessarily have come with such power as to override all opposition ; that if there existed only as many as two forms of faith synchronous and successful in the world, that fact would of itself demonstrate
that neither of them are true, and that there never had been Spread any revelation from an all-wise and omnipotent God. Nor of their opinions was it merely among the speculative men that these infideliamong
ties were cherished; the leading politicians and statesmen had classes.
become deeply infected with them. It was not Anaxagoras alone who was convicted of atheism ; the same charge was made against Pericles, the head of the republic,-he who had done so much for the glory of Athens,—the man who, in practical life, was, beyond all question, the first of his age. With difficulty he succeeded, by the use of what influence remained to him, in saving the life of the guilty philosopher, his friend, but in the public estimation he was universally viewed as a participator in his crime. If the foundations of philosophy and those of religion were thus sapped, the foundations of law experienced no better fate. The Sophists, who were wandering all over the world, saw that each nation had its own ideas of merit and demerit, and therefore its own system of law; that even in different towns there were contrary conceptions of right and wrong, and therefore opposing codes. It is evident that in such examinations they applied the same principles ich had guided them in their analysis of philosophy and religion, and that the result could be no otherwise than it was, to bring them to the conclusion that there is nothing abso
The Tendency of their Doctrines.
133 lute in justice or in law. To what an appalling condition has They end society arrived, when it reaches the positive conclusion that atheism. there is no truth, no religion, no justice, no virtue in the world; that the only object of human exertion is unrestrained physical enjoyment; the only standard of a man's position, wealth; that since there is no possibility of truth, whose eternal principles might serve for an uncontrovertible and common guide, we should resort to deception and the arts of persuasion, that we may dupe others to our purposes; that there is no sin in undermining the social contract; no crime in blasphemy, or rather there is no blasphemy at all, since there are no gods; that “ man is the measure of all things," as Protagoras teaches, and that “he is the criterion of existence ;" that “thought is the only relation of the thinking subject to the object thought of, and that the thinking subject, the soul, is nothing more than the sum of the different moments of thinking." It is no wonder that that Sophist who was the author of such doctrines should be condemned to death to satisfy the clamours of a populace who had not advanced sufficiently into the depths of this secondary, this higher philosophy, and that it was only by flight that he could save himself from the punishment awaiting the opening sentiment of his book : “Of the gods I cannot tell whether they are or not, for much hinders us from knowing this,—both the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of life.” It is no wonder that the social demoralization spread apace, when men like Gorgias, the disciple of Empedocles, were to be found, who laughed at virtue, made an open derision of morality, and proved, by metaphysical demonstration, that nothing at all exists.
From these statements respecting the crisis to which ancient philosophy had arrived, we might be disposed to believe that the result was unmitigated evil, for it scarcely deserves mention that the quibbles and disputes of the Sophists occasioned an extraordinary improvement of the Greek language, introducing a precision into its terms, and a wonderful dialectical skill in its use.
For us there may be extracted from these melancholy conclusions at least one instructive lesson—that it