CHAPTER VIII. GRECIAN PHILOSOPHY.
The ridicule and skepticism of the Sophists brought out the great powers of Socrates, to whom philosophy is probably more indebted than to any man who ever lived, not so much for a perfect system, but for the impulse he gave to philosophical inquiries, and his successful exposure of error. He inaugurated a new era. Born in Athens in the year 470 B.C., the son of a poor sculptor, he devoted his life to the search for truth, for its own sake, and sought to base it on immutable foundations. He was the mortal enemy of the Sophists, whom he encountered, as Pascal did the Jesuits, with wit, irony, puzzling questions, and remorseless logic. Like the earlier philosophers, he disdained wealth, ease, and comfort, but with greater devotion than they, since he lived in a more corrupt age, when poverty was a disgrace and misfortune a crime, when success was the standard of merit, and every man was supposed to be the arbiter of his own fortune, ignoring that Providence who so often refuses the race to the swift and the battle to the strong. He was what in our time would be called eccentric. He walked barefooted, meanly clad, and withal not over cleanly, seeking public places, disputing with every body willing to talk with him, making every body ridiculous, especially if one assumed airs of wisdom or knowledge, - an exasperating opponent, since he wove a web around a man from which he could not be extricated, and then exposed him to ridicule, in the wittiest city of the world. He attacked every body, and yet was generally respected, since it was errors and not the person, opinions rather than vices; and this he did with bewitching eloquence and irresistible fascination; so that, though he was poor and barefooted, a Silenus in appearance, with thick lips, upturned nose, projecting eyes, unwieldy belly, he was sought by Alcibiades and admired by Aspasia. Even Xantippe, a beautiful young woman, very much younger than he, a woman fond of the comforts and pleasures of life, was willing to be his wife, even if she did afterwards torment him, when theres angusta domi disenchanted her from the music of his voice and the divinity of his nature. "I have heard Pericles," said the most dissipated and voluptuous man in Athens, "and other excellent orators, but was not moved by them; while this Marsyas - this Satyr - so affects me that the life I lead is hardly worth living, and I stop my ears, as from the Syrens, and flee as fast as possible, that I may not sit down and grow old in listening to his talk." He learned his philosophy from no one, and struck out an entirely new path. He declared his own ignorance, and sought to convince other people of theirs. He did not seek to reveal truth so much as to expose error. And yet it was his object to attain correct ideas as to moral obligations. He was the first who recognized natural right, and held that virtue and vice are inseparably united. He proclaimed the sovereignty of virtue, and the immutability of justice. He sought to delineate and enforce the practical duties of life. His great object was the elucidation of morals, and he was the first to teach ethics systematically, and from the immutable principles of moral obligation. Moral certitude was the lofty platform from which he surveyed the world, and upon which, as a rock, he rested in the storms of life. Thus he was a reformer and a moralist. It was his ethical doctrines which were most antagonistic to the age, and the least appreciated. He was a profoundly religious man, recognized Providence, and believed in the immortality of the soul. From the abyss of doubt, which succeeded the speculations of the first philosophers, he would plant grounds of certitude - a ladder on which he would mount to the sublime regions of absolute truth. He did not presume to inquire into the Divine essence, yet he believed that the gods were omniscient and omnipresent, that they ruled by the law of goodness, and that, in spite of their multiplicity, there was unity - a supreme intelligence that governed the world. Hence he was hated by the Sophists, who denied the certainty of arriving at the knowledge of God. From the comparative worthlessness of the body he deduced the immortality of the soul. With him, the end of life was reason and intelligence. He proved the existence of God by the order and harmony of nature, which belief was certain. He endeavored to connect the moral with the religious consciousness, and then he proclaimed his convictions for the practical welfare of society. In this light Socrates stands out the grandest personage of pagan antiquity, - as a moralist, as a teacher of ethics, as a man who recognized the Divine.
[The mission of Socrates.]
[The great aim of the Socratic method.]