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RISE AND DECLINE OF PHYSICAL SPECULATION.
Water, or Air, or Fire, the First Principle.- Emerging from the Stage of Sorcery, it founds Psychology, Biology, Cosmogony, Astronomy, and
ends in doubting whether there is any Criterion of Truth. ITALIAN Philosophy depends on Numbers and Harmonies. — It
reproduces the Egyptian and Hindu Doctrine of Transmigration. ELEATIC PHILOSOPHY presents a great Advance, indicating a rapid
Approach to Oriental Ideas.-It assumes a Pantheistic Aspect. RISE OF PHILOSOPHY IN EUROPEAN GREECE.-Relations and Influence of
the Mediterranean Commercial and Colonial System.-Athens attains to commercial Supremacy. Her vast Progress in Intelligence and Art.
-Her Demoralization. - She becomes the Intellectual Centre of the Mediterranean. Commencement of the Athenian higher Analysis. It is conducted by THE
SOPHists, who reject Philosophy, Keligion, and even Morality, and end
in Atheism. Political Dangers of the higher Analysis.-Illustrution from the Middle
In Chapter II. I have described the origin and decline of
yin of Greek Mythology; in this, I am to relate the Greek philo- first European attempt at philosophizing. The sophy
Ionian systems spring directly out of the contemporary religious opinions, and appear as a phase in Greek comparative theology.
Contrasted with the psychical condition of India, we cannot but be struck with the feebleness of these first European efforts. They correspond to that period in which the mind has shaken off its ideas of sorcery, but has not advanced beyond geocentral and anthropocentral conceptions. As is uniformly observed, as soon as man has
collected what he considers to be trustworthy data, he forthwith applies them to a cosmogony, and develops Its imperfecpseudo-scientific eystems. It is not until a later tions. period that he awakens to the suspicion that we have no absolute knowledge of truth.
The reader, who might, perhaps, be repelled by the apparent worthlessness of the succession of Greek opinions now to be described, will find them assume an interest, if considered in the aggregate, or viewed as a series of steps or stages of European approach to conclusions long before arrived at in Egypt and India. Far in advance of anything that Greece can offer, the intellectual history of India furnishes systems at once consistent and imposingsystems not remaining useless speculations, but becoming inwoven in social life.
Greek philosophy is considered as having originated with Thales, who, though of Phoenician descent, Commences was born at Miletus, a Greek colony in Asia in Asia Minor. Minor, about B.C. 640. At that time, as related in the last chapter, the Egyptian ports had been opened to foreigners by Psammetichus. In the civil war which that monarch had been waging with his colleagues, he owed his success to Ionian and other Greek mercenaries whom he had employed; but, though proving victor in the contest, his political position was such as to compel him to depart from the maxims followed in his country for so many thousand years, and to permit foreigners to have access to it. Hitherto the Europeans had been only known to the Egyptians as pirates and cannibals.
From the doctrine of Thales, it may be inferred that, though he had visited Egypt, he had never been Doctrine of in communication with its sources of learning, Thales but had merely mingled among the vulgar, from whom he had gathered the popular notion that the first principle is water. The state of things in Egypt suggests is derived that this primitive dogma of European philo- from Egypt. sophy was a popular notion in that country. With but little care on the part of men. the fertilizing Nile-water yielded those abundant crops which made Egypt the granary of the Old World. It might therefore be said both philosophically and facetiously, that the first principle of all things is water. The harvests depended on it, and, Importance of through them, animals and man. The governwater in Egypt. ment of the country was supported by it, for the financial system was founded on a tax paid by the proprietors of the land for the use of the public sluices and aqueducts. There was not a peasant to whom it was not apparent that water is the first principle of all things, even of taxation; and, since it was not only necessary to survey lands to ascertain the surface that had been irrigated, but to redetermine their boundaries after the subsidence of the flood, even the scribes and surveyors might concede that geometry itself was indebted for its origin to water.
If, therefore, in any part of the Old World, this doctrine had both a vulgar and a philosophical significance, that country was Egypt. We may picture to ourselves the inquisitive but ill-instructed Thales carried in some pirateship or trading-bark to the mysterious Nile, respecting which Ionia was full of legends and myths. He saw the aqueducts, canals, flood-gates, the great Lake Mæris, dug by the hand of man as many ages before his day as have elapsed from his day to ours; he saw on all sides the adoration paid to the river, for it had actually become
deified; he learned from the vulgar, with whom Thales asserts that water is alone he came in contact, their universal belief the first that all things arise from water—from the vulgar principle.
alone, for, had he ever been taught by the priests, we should have found traces in his system of the doctrines of emanation, transmigration, and absorption, which were imported into lireece in later times. We may interpret the story of Thales on the principles which would apply in the case of some intelligent Indian who should find his way to the outposts of a civilized country. Imperfectly acquainted with the language, and coming in contact with the lower class alone, he might learn their vulgar philosophy, and carry back the fancied treasure to
As to the profound meaning which some have been disposed to extract from the dogma of Thales, we shall, perhaps, be warranted in rejecting it altogether. It has been affirmed that he attempted to concentrate all
supernatural powers in one; to reduce all possible agenta to unity; in short, out of polytheism to bring forth monotheism; to determine the invariable in the variable; and to ascertain the beginning of things : that he observed how infinite is the sea ; how necessary moisture is to growth; nay, even how essential it was to the well-being of himself; “that without moisture his own body would not have been what it was, but a dry husk falling to pieces.” Nor can we adopt the opinion that the intention of Thales was to establish a coincidence between philosophy and the popular theology as delivered by Hesiod, who affirms that Oceanus is one of the parent-gods of Nature. The imputation of irreligion made against him shows at what an early period the antagonism of polytheism and scientific inquiry was recognized. But it is possible to believe that all things are formed out of one primordial substance, without denying the existence of a creative power. Or, to use the Indian illustration, the clay may not be the potter.
Thales is said to have predicted the solar eclipse which terminated a battle between the Medes and Lydians, but it has been suggestively remarked that it is not stated that he predicted the day on which it should occur. Other doctrines He had an idea that warmth originates from or of Tuales. is nourished by humidity, and that even the sun and stars derived their aliment out of the sea at the time of th ir rising and setting. Inderd, he regarded them as living beings; obtaining an argument from the phenomena of amber and the magnet, supposed by him to possess a living soul, because they have a moving force. Moreover, he taught that the whole world is an insouled thing, and that it is full of dæmons. Thales hal, ih refore, not completely passed out of the stage of sorcery.
His system obtained importance not only from its own plausibility, but because it was introduced under favourable auspices and at a favourable time. It came into Asia Minor as a portion of the wisdom of Egypt, and therefore with a prestige sufficient to assure for it an attentive re. ception. But this would have been of little avail had not the mental culture of Ionia been advanced to a degreo suitable for offering to it conditions of development,
Under such circumstances the Egyptian dogma formed the starting-point for a special me hod of philosophizing.
The manner in which that development took place illustrates the vigour of the Grecian mind. In Egypt a Thry consti- doctrine might exist for thousands of rears, protute the start- tected by its mere antiquity from controversy ing-point of lonian 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 com munity full of activity would quickly be made productive and rield new results. As seeds taken from the coffins of mummies, wherein they have been shut up for thousands of years, when placed under circum-tances favourable for development in a rich soil, and supplied with moisture, have furthwith, even in our own times, germinated, horne flowers, and matured new seeds, so the rude philosophy of Thales passed through a like development. It 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, appea's to reach as far as the stars. On it, as Anaximenes of Miletus remarks, “ the very earth itself flats like a br. ad leaf.” Ac
cordingly, this Ionian, stimulated doubtless by Anaximenes asserts that 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 pre. eminence. 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 the 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