Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

delusion; none as respects à future state, remembering that the soul, which is nothing more than a congeries of atoms, is resolved into those constituents at death. There can be no doubt that such doctrines were very well suited tu the times in which they were introduced; for so great was the social and political disturbance, so great the uncertainty of the tenure of property, that it might well be suggested what better could a man do than enjoy his own while it was yet in his possession ? nor was the inducement to such a course lessened by extravagant dissipations when courtesans and cooks, jesters and buffoons, splendid attire and magnificent appointments had become essential to life. Demetrius Poliorcetes, who understood the condition of things thoroughly, says, “ There was not, in my time, in Athens, one great or noble mind." In such a social state, it is not at all surprising that Epicurus hau many followers, and that there were many who agreed with him in thinking that happiness is best found in a Tranowilin. tranquil indifference, and in believing that there difference is is nothing in reality good or bad ; that it is best

st for man. to decide upon nothing, but to leave affairs to chance; that there is, after all, little or no difference between life and death: that a wise man will regard philosophy as an activity of ideas and arguments which may tend to happiness; that its physical branch is of no other use than to correct superstitious fancies as to death, and remove the fear of meteors, prodigies, and other phenomena by explaining their nature; that the views of Democritus and Aristotle may be made to some extent available for the procurement of pleasure ; and that we may learn from the brutes, who pursue pleasure and avoid pain, what ought to be our course. Upon the whole, it will be found that there is a connexion between pleasure and virtue, especially if we enlarge our views and seek for pleasure, not in the gratification of the present moment, but in the aggregate offered by existence. The pleasures of the soul all originate in the pleasures of the flesh; not only those of the time being, but also those recollected in the past and anticipated in the future. The sage will therefore provide for all these, and, remembering that pain is in its nature transient, but pleasure is enduring, he will not

hesitate to encounter the former if he can be certain time it will procure him the latter ; he wilı dismiss from us mind all idle fears of the gods and of destiny, for these it l'is fictions beneficial only to women and the vulgar; yet, since they are the objects of the national superstition, it is needless to procure one's self disfavour by openly deriding them. It will therefore be better for the sage to treat them with apparent solemnity, or at least with outward respect, though he may laugh at the imposition in his heart. As to the fear of death, he will be especially careful to rid himself from it, remembering that death is only a deliverer from the miseries of life.

Under the title of Canonic Epicurus delivers his philosophical views; they are, however, of a very imperfections superficial kind. He insists that our sensuous of the Canonic

of Epicurus, impressions are the criterion of truth, and that even the sensations of a lunatic and a dreamer are true. But, besides the impressions of the moment, memory is also to be looked upon as a criterion-memory, which is the basis of experience.

In his Physics he adopts the Atomic theory of Democritus, though in many respects it ill accords with his Ethics or Canonic; but so low is his tions of his esteem of its value that he cares nothing for Physics. that. Though atoms and a void are in their nature imperceptible to the senses, he acknowledges their existence, asserting the occurrence of an infinite number of atoms of different kinds in the infinite void, which, because of their weight, precipitate themselves perpendicularly downward with an equable motion; but some of them, through an unaccountable internal force, have deviated from their perpendicular path, and, sticking together after their collision, have given rise to the world. Not much better than these vague puerilities are his notions about the size of the sun, the nature of eclipses, and other astronomical phenomena ; but he justifies his contradictions and superficiality by asserting that it is altogether useless for a man to know such things, and that the sage ought to give himself no trouble about them. As to the soul, he says that it must be of a material or corporeal nature, for this simple reason, that there is nothing incorporeal but a vacuum; he inclines to the belief that it is a rarefied body, easily movable, and somewhat of the nature of a vapour; he divides it into four activities, corresponding to the four elements entering into its constitution, and that, so far from being immortal, it is decomposed into its integral atoms, dying when the body dies. With the atomic doctrines of Democritus, Epicurus adopts the notions of that philosopher respecting sensation, to the effect that eidola or images are sloughed off from all external objects, and find access to the brain through the eye. In his theology he admits, under the circumstances we have mentioned, anthropomorphic gods, pretending to account for their origin in the chance concourse of atoms, and suggesting that they display their quietism and blessed

and contradic

ness by giving themselves no concern about man His irreligion.

or his affairs. By such derisive proniptings does Epicurus mock at the religion of his country-its rituals, sacrifices, prayers, and observances. He offers no better evidence of the existence of God than that there is a general belief current among men in support of such a notion ; but, when brought to the point, he does not hesitate to utter his disbelief in the national theology, and to declare that, in his judgment, it is blind chance that rules the world.

Such are the opinions to which the name of Epicurus has been attached; but there were Epicureans ages before that philosopher was born, and Epicureans there will be Epicureans of in all time to come.

They abound in our own modern times. days, ever characterized by the same features an intense egoism in their social relations, superficiality in their philosophical views. if the term philosophical can be justly applied to intellects so narrow; they manifest an accordance often loud and particular with the religion of their country, while in their hearts and in their lives they are utter infidels. These are they who constitute the most specious part of modern society, and are often the self-proclaimed guarilians of its interests. They are to be found in every grade of life; in the senate, in the army, in the professions, and especially in commercial pursuits, which, unhappily, tend too frequently to the development of selfishness. It is to them that society is

The Middle

indebted for more than half its corruptions, all its hypocrisy, and more than half its sins. It is they who infuse into it falsehood as respects the past, imposture as respects the present, fraud as respects the future; who teach it by example that the course of a man's life ought to be determined upon principles of selfishness; that gratitude and affection are well enough if displayed for effect, but that they should never be felt; that men are to be looked upon not as men, but as things to be used; that knowledge and integrity, patriotismu anul virtue, are the delusions of simpletons; and that wealth is the only object which is really worthy of the homage of man.

It now only remains in this chapter to speak of the later Platonism. The Old Academy, of which Plato was the founder, limited its labours to the illustration and defence of his doctrines. The Middle Academy of Academy, originating with Arcesilaus, born Arcesilaus. B.C. 316, maintained a warfare with the Stoics, developed the doctrine of the uncertainty of sensual impressions and the nothingness of human knowledge. The New Academy was founded by Carneades, born Academy of B.C. 213, and participated with the preceding in many of its fundamental positions. On the one side Carneades leans to scepticism, on the other he accepts probability as his guide. This school so rapidly degenerated that at last it occupied itself with rhetoric alone. The gradual increase of scepticism and indifference throughout tliis period is obvious enough; thus Arcesilaus said that he knew nothing, not even his own ignorance, and denied both intellectual and sensuous knowledge. Carneades, obtaining his views from the old philosophy, found therein arguments suitable for his purpose against necessity, God, soothsaying; he did not admit that there is any such thing as justice in the abstract, declaring that it is a purely conventional thing; indeed, it

The duplicity was his rhetorical display, alternately in praise of the later of justice and against it, on the occasion of his visit to Rome, that led Cato to have him expelled from the city. Though Plato had been the representative of an age of faith, a secondary analysis of all his works, implying an exposition of their contradictions, ended in

VOL. I.-9

The New

Carneades.

Academicians. The fourth and fifth Academies.

scepticism. If we may undertake to determine the precise aim of a philosophy whose representatives stood in such an attitude of rhetorical duplicity, it may be said to be the demonstration that there is no criterion of truth in this world. Persuaded thus of the impossibility of philosophy, Carneades was led to recommend his theory of the probable. “ That which has been most perfectly analyzed and examined, and found to be devoid of improbability, is the most probable idea.". The degeneration of philosophy now became truly complete, the labours of so many great men being degraded to rhetorical and artistic purposes. It was seen by all that Plato had

troyed all trust in the indications of the senses, and substituted for it the Ideal theory. Aristotle had de

stroyed that, and there was nothing left to the world but slepticism. A fourth Academy was

founded by Philo of Larissa, a fifth by Antiochus of Ascalon. It was reserved for this teacher to attach the Porch to the Academy, and to merge the doctrines of Plato in those of the Stoics. Such a heterogeneous mixture demonstrates the pass to which speculative philosophy had come, and shows us clearly that her disciples had abandoned her in despair. So ends the Greek age of Faith. low strikingly does

its history recall the corresponding period of Greek age of individual life — the trusting spirit and the

disappointment of youth. We enter on it full of confidence in things and men, never suspecting that the one may disappoint, the other deceive.

Our early experiences, if considered at all, afford only matter of surprise that we could ever have been seriously occupied in such folly, or actuated by motives now seeming so inadequate. It never occurs to us that, in our present state, though the pursuits may have changed, they are none the less vain, the objects none the less delusive.

The second age of Greek philosophy ended in sophism, the third in scepticism. Speculative philosophy strikes at last upon a limit which it can not overpass. This is its state even in our own times. It reverberates against the wall that confines it without the least chance of making its way through.

End of the

Faith.

« AnteriorContinuar »