CHAPTER VIII. GRECIAN PHILOSOPHY.
Plato is very much admired by the Germans, who look upon him as the incarnation of dialectical power; but it were to be hoped that, some day, these great metaphysicians may make a clearer exposition of his doctrines, and of his services to philosophy, than they have as yet done. To me, Ritter, Brandis, and all the great authorities, are obscure. But that Plato was one of the greatest lights of the ancient world, there can be no reasonable doubt. Nor is it probable that, as a dialectician, he has ever been surpassed; while his purity of life, and his lofty inquiries, and his belief in God and immortality, make him, in an ethical point of view, the most worthy of the disciples of Socrates. He was to the Greeks what Kant was to the Germans, and these two great thinkers resemble each other in the structure of their minds and their relations to society.
The ablest part of the lectures of Archer Butler of Dublin, is devoted to the Platonic philosophy. It is a criticism and an eulogium. No modern writer has written more enthusiastically of what he considers the crowning excellence of the Greek philosophy. The dialectics of Plato, his ideal theory, his physics, his psychology, and his ethics, are most ably discussed, and in the spirit of a loving and eloquent disciple. He represents the philosophy which he so much admires as a contemplation of, and the tendency to, the absolute and eternal good. The good is enthroned by Plato in majesty supreme at the summit of the whole universe, and the sensible world is regarded as a development of supreme perfection in an inferior and transitory form. Nor are ideas abstractions, as some suppose, but archetypal conceptions of the divine mind itself - the eternal laws and reasons of things. The sensible world is regarded as an imperfect image of ideal perfection, yet the uncertainty of physical researches is candidly admitted. The discovery of theological and moral truth, is the great object even of the " Timoeus." Hence the physics of Plato have a theological character - are mathematical rather than experimental. The psychology represents the body as the prison of the soul, somewhat after the spirit of oriental theogonists, and the aim of virtue is to preserve the distinctness of both, and realize liberty in bonds. The doctrine of preexistence is maintained, as well as a future state. In the ethics, the perfection of the human soul - the perfection which it may attain - is distinctly unfolded, and also the unity of the great ideas of the beautiful, just, and good. The "Phoedo" enforces the supremacy of wisdom, and the "Philebus" the "summum bonum." Love is the aspiration after a communion with perfection. The chief excellence of the philosophy which Plato taught, consists in the immutable basis assigned to the principles of moral truth; the defects are a want of distinct apprehension of the claims of divine justice in consequence of human sin, and an indirect discouragement of active virtue.
The great disciple of Plato was Aristotle, and he carried on the philosophical movement which Socrates had started to the highest limit that it ever reached in the ancient world. He was born at Stagira B.C. 384, of wealthy parents, and early evinced an insatiable thirst for knowledge. When Plato returned from Sicily he joined his disciples, and was his pupil for seventeen years, at Athens. On the death of Plato, he went on his travels, and became the tutor of Alexander the Great, and B.C. 335, returned to Athens, after an absence of twelve years, and set up a school, and taught in the Lyceum. He taught while walking up and down the shady walks which surrounded it, from which he obtained the name of Peripatetic, which has clung to his name and philosophy. His school had a great celebrity, and from it proceeded illustrious philosophers, statesmen, historians, and orators. He taught thirteen years, during which he composed most of his greater works. He not only wrote on dialectics and logic, but also on physics in its various departments. His work on "The History of Animals" was deemed so important that his royal pupil presented him with eight hundred talents - an enormous sum - for the collection of materials. He also wrote on ethics and politics, history and rhetoric; letters, poems, and speeches, three fourths of which are lost. He was one of the most voluminous writers of antiquity, and probably the most learned man whose writings have come down to us. Nor has any one of the ancients exercised upon the thinking of succeeding ages so great an influence. He was an oracle until the revival of learning.
[Genius of Aristotle.]
"Aristotle," says Hegel, "penetrated into the whole mass, and into every department of the universe of things, and subjected to the comprehension its scattered wealth; and the greater number of the philosophical sciences owe to him their separation and commencement." [Footnote: Hagel is said to have comprehended Aristotle better than any modern writer, and the best work on his philosophy is by him.] He is also the father of the history of philosophy, since he gives an historical review of the way in which the subject has been hitherto treated by the earlier philosophers.
"Plato made the external world the region of the incomplete and bad, of the contradictory and the false, and recognized absolute truth only in the eternal immutable ideas. Aristotle laid down the proposition that the idea, which cannot of itself fashion itself into reality, is powerless, and has only a potential existence, and that it becomes a living reality, only by realizing itself in a creative manner by means of its own energy." [Footnote: Adolph Stahr, Oldenburg.]
[Vast attainments of Aristotle.]