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To illustrate the relation in which Plato stood towards his own times, we have already had occasion to draw largely on the productions of his maturer manhood. We have now to take up the broken thread of our systematic exposition, and to trace the development of his philosophy through that wonderful series of compositions which entitle him to rank among the greatest writers, the most comprehensive thinkers, and the purest religious teachers of all ages. In the presence of such glory a mere divergence of opinion must not be permitted to influence our judgment. High above all particular truths stands the principle that truth itself exists, and it was for this that Plato fought. If there were others more completely emancipated from superstition, none so persistently appealed to the logic before which superstition must ultimately vanish. If his schemes for the reconstruction of society ignore many obvious facts, they assert with unrivalled force the necessary supremacy of public welfare over private pleasure; and their avowed utilitarianism offers a common ground to the rival reformers who will have nothing to do with the mysticism of their metaphysical foundation. Those, again, who hold, like the youthful Plato himself, that the203 ultimate interpretation of existence belongs to a science transcending human reason, will here find the doctrines of their religion anticipated as in a dream. And even those who, standing aloof both from theology and philosophy, live, as they imagine, for beauty alone, will observe with interest how the spirit of Greek art survived in the denunciation of its idolatry, and 鈥榯he light that never was on sea or land,鈥 after fading away from the lower levels of Athenian fancy, came once more to suffuse the frozen steeps of dialectic with its latest and divinest rays.

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Out of this eternal unchanging divine substance, which he calls aether, are formed the heavenly bodies and the transparent spheres containing them. But there is something beyond it of an even higher and purer nature. Aristotle proves, with great subtlety, from his fundamental assumptions, that the movement of an extended substance cannot be self-caused. He also proves that motion must be absolutely continuous and without a beginning. We have, therefore, no choice but to accept the existence of an unextended, immaterial, eternal, and infinite Power on which the whole cosmos depends..
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Apart from legendary reputations, there is no name in the world鈥檚 history more famous than that of Socrates, and in the history of philosophy there is none so famous. The only thinker that approaches him in celebrity is his own disciple Plato. Every one who has heard of Greece or Athens has heard of him. Every one who has heard of him knows that he was supremely good and great. Each successive generation has confirmed the reputed Delphic oracle that no man was wiser than Socrates. He, with one or two others, alone came near to realising the ideal of a Stoic sage. Christians deem it no irreverence to compare him with the Founder of their religion. If a few dissentient voices have broken the general unanimity, they have, whether consciously or not, been inspired by the Socratic principle that we should let no opinion pass unquestioned and unproved. Furthermore, it so happens that this wonderful figure is known even to the multitude by sight as well as by name. Busts, cameos, and engravings have made all familiar with the Silenus-like physiognomy, the thick lips, upturned nose, and prominent eyes which impressed themselves so strangely on the imagination of a race who are accused of having cared for nothing but physical beauty, because they rightly regarded it as the natural accompaniment of moral loveliness. Those who wish to discover what manner of mind lay hid beneath this uninviting109 exterior may easily satisfy their curiosity, for Socrates is personally better known than any other character of antiquity. Dr. Johnson himself is not a more familiar figure to the student of literature. Alone among classical worthies his table-talk has been preserved for us, and the art of memoir-writing seems to have been expressly created for his behoof.79 We can follow him into all sorts of company and test his behaviour in every variety of circumstances. He conversed with all classes and on all subjects of human interest, with artisans, artists, generals, statesmen, professors, and professional beauties. We meet him in the armourer鈥檚 workshop, in the sculptor鈥檚 studio, in the boudoirs of the demi-monde, in the banqueting-halls of flower-crowned and wine-flushed Athenian youth, combining the self-mastery of an Antisthenes with the plastic grace of an Aristippus; or, in graver moments, cheering his comrades during the disastrous retreat from Delium; upholding the sanctity of law, as President of the Assembly, against a delirious populace; confronting with invincible irony the oligarchic terrorists who held life and death in their hands; pleading not for himself, but for reason and justice, before a stupid and bigoted tribunal; and, in the last sad scene of all, exchanging Attic courtesies with the unwilling instrument of his death.80!
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Nor is this all. After sharply distinguishing what is from what is not, and refusing to admit any intermediary between them, Aristotle proceeds to discover such an intermediary in the shape of what he calls Accidental Predication.236 An accident is an attribute not necessarily or usually inhering in its subject鈥攊n other words, a co-existence not dependent on causation. Aristotle could never distinguish between the two notions of cause and kind, nor yet between interferences with the action of some particular cause and exceptions to the law of causation in general; and so he could not frame an intelligible theory of chance. Some propositions, he tells us, are necessarily true, others are only generally true; and it is the exceptions to the latter which constitute accident; as, for instance, when a cold day happens to come in the middle341 of summer. So also a man is necessarily an animal, but only exceptionally white. Such distinctions are not uninteresting, for they prove with what difficulties the idea of invariable sequence had to contend before even the highest intellects could grasp it. There was a constant liability to confound the order of succession with the order of co-existence, the order of our sensations with the order of objective existence, and the subjection of human actions to any fixed order, with the impossibility of deliberation and choice. The earlier Greek thinkers had proclaimed that all things existed by necessity; but with their purely geometrical or historical point of view, they entirely ignored the more complex questions raised by theories about classification, logical attribution, and moral responsibility. And the modifications introduced by Epicurus, into the old physics, show us how unanswerable Aristotle鈥檚 reasonings seemed to some of his ablest successors..
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It was not, however, in any of these concessions that the Stoics found from first to last their most efficient solution for the difficulties of practical experience, but in the countenance they extended to an act which, more than any other, might have seemed fatally inconsistent both in spirit and in letter with their whole system, whether we choose to call it a defiance of divine law, a reversal of natural instinct, a selfish abandonment of duty, or a cowardly shrinking from pain. We allude, of course, to their habitual recommendation of suicide. 鈥業f you are not satisfied with life,鈥 they said,31 鈥榶ou have only got to rise and depart; the door is always open.鈥 Various circumstances were specified in which the sage would exercise the privilege of 鈥榯aking himself off,鈥 as they euphemistically expressed it. Severe pain, mutilation, incurable disease, advanced old age, the hopelessness of escaping from tyranny, and in general any hindrance to leading a 鈥榥atural鈥 life, were held to be a sufficient justification for such a step.71 The first founders of the school set an example afterwards frequently followed. Zeno is said to have hanged himself for no better reason than that he fell and broke his finger through the weakness of old age; and Cleanthes, having been ordered to abstain temporarily from food, resolved, as he expressed it, not to turn back after going half-way to death.72 This side of the Stoic doctrine found particular favour in Rome, and the voluntary death of Cato was always spoken of as his chief title to fame. Many noble spirits were sustained in their defiance of the imperial despotism by the thought that there was one last liberty of which not even Caesar could deprive them. Objections were silenced by the argument that, life not being an absolute good, its loss might fairly be preferred to some relatively greater inconvenience.73 But why the sage should renounce an existence where perfect happiness depends entirely on his own will, neither was, nor could it be, explained.
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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