Imágenes de páginas

Under such circumstances the Egyptian dogma formed the starting-point for a special method of philosophizing.

The manner in which that development took place illustrates the vigour of the Grecian mind. In Egypt a They consti

doctrine might exist for thousands of years, protute the start- tected by its mere antiquity from controversy Ionian philo- or even examination, and hence sink with the sophy. lapse of time into an ineffectual and lifeless state ; but the same doctrine brought into a young community full of activity would quickly be made productive and yield new results. As seeds taken from the coffins of mummies, wherein they have been shut up for thousands of years, when placed under circumstances favourable for development in a rich soil, and supplied with moisture, have forthwith, even in our own times, germinated, borne flowers, and matured new seeds, so the rude philosophy of Thales passed through a like development. Its tendency is shown in the attemptit at once made to describe the universe, even before the parts thereof had been determined.

But it is not alone the water or ocean that seems to be infinite, and capable of furnishing a supply for the origin of all other things. The air, also, appears to reach as far as the stars. On it, as Anaximenes of Miletus remarks, " the very earth itself floats like a broad leaf.” Ac

cordingly, this Ionian, stimulated doubtless by

the hope of sharing in or succeeding to the air is the first celebrity that Thales had enjoyed for a century, principle.

proposed to substitute for water, as the primitive source of things, atmospheric air. And, in truth, there seem to be reasons for bestowing upon it such a preeminence. To those who have not looked closely into the matter, it would appear that water itself is generated from it, as when clouds are formed, and from them rain-drops, and springs, and fountains, and rivers, and even the sea. He also attributes infinity to it, a dogma scarcely requiring any exercise of the imagination, but being rather the expression of an ostensible fact; for who, when he looks upward, can discern the boundary of the atmosphere. It is also the Anaximenes also held that even the human soul

itself is nothing but air, since life consists in inhaling and exhaling it, and ceases as soon as that

Anaximenes asserts that


process stops. He taught also that warmth and cold arise from mere rarefaction and condensation, and gave as a proof the fact that when we breathe with the lips drawn together the air is cold, but it becomes warm when we breathe through the widely-opened mouth. Hence he concluded that, with a sufficient rarefaction, air might turn into fire, and that this probably was the origin of the sun and stars, blazing comets, and other meteors; but if by chance it should undergo condensation, it would turn into wind and clouds, or, if that operation should be still more increased, into water, snow, hail, and, at last, even into earth itself. And since it is seen from the results of breathing that the air is a life-giving principle to man, nay, even is actually his soul, it would appear to the air is be a just inference that the infinite air is God, God. and that the gods and goddesses have sprung from it.

Such was the philosophy of Anaximenes. It was the beginning of that stimulation of activity by rival schools which played so distinguished a part in the Greek intellectual movement. Its superiority over the doctrine of Thales evidently consists in this, that it not only assigns a primitive substance, but even undertakes to show by observation and experiment how others arise from it, and transformations occur. As to the discovery of the obliquity of the ecliptic by the aid of a gnomon attributed to Anaximenes, it was merely a boast of his vainglorious countrymen, and altogether beyond the scientific grasp of one who had no more exact idea of the nature of the earth than that it was “ like a broad leaf floating in the air.”

The doctrines of Anaximenes received a very important development in the hands of Diogenes of Apollonia, who asserted that all things originate from one essence, which, undergoing continual changes, becoming different at different times, turns back again to the same state. Ho regarded the entire world as a living being, spontaneously evolving and transforming itself, and agreed with Anaximenes that the soul of man air is the soul is nothing but air, as is also the soul of the world. From this it follows that the air must be eternal, imperishable, and endowed with consciousness. “ It knows much; for without reason it would be impossible for all to

Diogenes asserts that

of the world.

" But


be arranged so duly and proportionately as that all should maintain its fitting measure, winter and summer, night and day, the rain, the wind, and fair weather; and whatever object we consider will be found to have been ordered in the best and most beautiful manner possible.” that which has knowledge is that which men call air; it is it that regulates and governs all, and hence it is the use of air to pervade all, and to dispose all, and to be in all, for there is nothing that has not part in it.”

The early cultivator of philosophy emerges with diffiDifficulty of culty from fetichism. The harmony observed rising above among the parts of the world is easily explained

on the hypothesis of a spiritual principle residing in things, and arranging them by its intelligent volition. It is not at once that he rises to the conception that all this beauty and harmony are due to the operation of law. We are so prone to judge of the process of external things from the modes of our own personal experience, our acts being determined by the exercise of our wills, that it is with difficulty we disentangle ourselves from such notions in the explanation of natural phenomena. Fetichism may be observed in the infancy of many of the natural sciences. Thus the electrical power of amber was imputed to a soul residing in that substance, a similar explanation being also given of the control of the magnet over iron. The movements of the planetary bodies, Mercury, Venus, Mars, were attributed to an intelligent principle residing in each, guiding and controlling the motions, and ordering all things for the best. It was an epoch in the history of the human mind when astronomy set an example to all other sciences of shaking off its fetichism, and showing that Astronomy

the intricate movements of the heavenly bodies and chemistry are all capable not only of being explained,

but even foretold, if once was admitted the

existence of a simple, yet universal, invariable, and eternal law.

Not without difficulty do men perceive that there is nothing inconsistent between invariable law and endlessly varying phenomena, and that it is a more noble view of the government of this world to impute its order to a penetrating primitive wisdom, which could foresee

have passed

beyond the

fetich stage.

consequences throughout a future eternity, and provide for them in the original plan at the outset, than to invoke the perpetual intervention of an ever-acting spiritual agency for the purpose of warding off misfortunes that might happen, and setting things to rights. Chemistry furnishes us with a striking example--an example very opportune in the case we are considering—of the doctrine of Diogenes of Apollonia, that the air is actually a spiritual being; for, on the discovery of several of the gases by the earlier experimenters, they were not only regarded as of a spiritual nature, but actually received the name under which they pass to this day, gheist or gas, from a belief that they were ghosts. If a labourer descended into a well and was suffocated, as if struck dead by some invisible hand ; if a lamp lowered down burnt for a few moments with a lurid flame, and was then extinguished ; if, in a coal mine, when the unwary workman exposed a light, on a sudden the place was filled with flashing flames and thundering explosions, tearing down the rocks and destroying every living thing in the way, often, too, without leaving on the dead any marks of violence; what better explanation could be given of such catastrophes than to impute them to some supernatural agent? Nor was there any want, in those times, of well-authenticated stories of unearthly faces and forms seen in such solitudes.

The modification made by Diogenes in the theory of Anaximenes, by converting it from a physical Origin of into a psychological system, is important, as psychology. marking the beginning of the special philsosophy of Greece. The investigation of the intellectual development of the universe led the Greeks to the study of the intellect itself. In his special doctrine, Diogenes imputed the changeability of the air to its mobility; a property in which he thought it excelled all other substances, because it is among the rarest or thinnest of the elements. It is, however, said by some, who are disposed to transcendentalize his doctrine, that he did not mean the common atmospheric air, but something more attenuated and warm; and since, in its purest state, it constitutes the most perfect intellect, inferior degrees of reason must be owing to an increase of its density and moisture. Upon such a

principle, the whole earth is animated by the breath of life; the souls of brutes, which differ from one another so much in intelligence, are only air in its various conditions of moisture and warmth. He explained the production of the world through condensation of the earth from air by cold, the warmth rising upward and forming the sun; in the stars he thought he recognized the respiratory organs of the world. From the preponderance of moist air in the constitution of brutes, he inferred that they are like the insane, incapable of thought, for thickness of the air impedes respiration, and therefore quick apprehension. From the fact that plants have no cavities wherein to receive the air, and are altogether unintelligent, he was led to the principle that the thinking power of man arises from the flowing of that substance throughout the body in the blood. He also explained the superior intelligence of men from their breathing a purer air than the beasts, which carry their nostrils near the ground. In these crude and puerile speculations we have the beginning of mental philosophy. I cannot dismiss the system of the Apollonian without

setting in contrast with it the discoveries of

modern science respecting the relations of the the relations air. Toward the world of life it stands in a posi

tion of wonderful interest. Decomposed into its constituents by the skill of chemistry, it is no longer looked upon as a homogeneous body; its ingredients have not only been separated, but the functions they discharge have been ascertained. From one of these, carbonic acid, all the various forms of plants arise; that substance being decomposed by the rays of the sun, and furnishing to vegetables carbon, their chief solid ingredient. All those beautifully diversified organic productions, from the mosses of the icy regions to the palms characteristic of the landscapes of the tropics—all those we cast away as worthless weeds, and those for the obtaining of which we expend the sweat of our brow-all, without any exception,

are obtained from the atmosphere by the inInter-dependence of animals fluence of the sun. And since without plants and plants. the life of animals could not be maintained, they constitute the means by which the aërial material, vivified,

Modern discoveries as to

of the air.

« AnteriorContinuar »