CHAPTER VIII. GRECIAN PHILOSOPHY.
The Ionic philosophers, and the Pythagoreans, sought to find the nature or first principle of all things in the elements, or in numbers. But the Eleatics went beyond the realm of physics to pure metaphysical inquiries. This is the second stage in the history of philosophy - an idealistic pantheism, which disregarded the sensible and maintained that the source of all truth is independent of sense.
[Xenophanes. - God the first great cause.]
The founder of this school was Xenophanes, born in Colophon, an Ionian city of Asia Minor, from which, being expelled, he wandered over Sicily as a rhapsodist or minstrel, reciting his elegiac poetry on the loftiest truths; and at last came to Elea, about the year 536, where he settled. The great subject of his inquiries was God himself - the first great cause - the supreme intelligence of the universe. "From the principle ex nihilo nihil fit, he concluded that nothing could pass from non-existence to existence. All things that exist are eternal and immutable. God, as the most perfect essence, is eternally One, unalterable, neither finite nor infinite, neither movable nor immovable, and not to be represented under any human semblance." [Footnote: Tennemann, Hist. of Phil., p. 1, Section 98.] What a great stride was this! Whence did he derive his opinions? He starts with the proposition that God is an all-powerful being, and denies all beginning of being, and hence infers that God must be from eternity. From this truth he advances to deny all multiplicity. A plurality of gods is impossible. With these sublime views - the unity and eternity and omnipotence of God - he boldly attacked the popular errors of his day. He denounced the transference to the deity of the human form; he inveighed against Homer and Hesiod; he ridiculed the doctrine of migration of souls. Thus he sings, -
"Such things of the gods are related by Homer and Hesiod,
As would be shame and abiding disgrace to mankind, -
Promises broken, and thefts, and the one deceiving the other."
[Footnote: See Ritter, on Xenophanes. See note 20, in Archer Butler, series i. lect vi.]
And, again, respecting anthropomorphic representations of the Deity, -
"But men foolishly think that gods are born like as men are,
And have, too, a dress like their own, and their voice and their figure
But there's but one God alone, the greatest of gods and of mortals,
Neither in body, to mankind resembling, neither in ideas."
God seen in all the manifestations of nature.
[God seen in all manifestations of nature.]
[He sought to create a knowledge of God.]
Such were his sublime meditations. He believed in the One, which is God; but this all-pervading, unmoved, undivided being was not a personal God, nor a moral governor, but the deity pervading all space. He could not separate God from the world, nor could he admit the existence of world which is not God. He was a monotheist, but his monotheism was pantheism. He saw God in all the manifestations of nature. This did not satisfy him, nor resolve his doubts, and he therefore confessed that reason could not compass the exalted aims of philosophy. But there was no cynicism in his doubt. It was the soul-sickening consciousness that Reason was incapable of solving the mighty questions that he burned to know. There was no way to arrive at the truth, "for," as he said, "error is spread over all things." It was not disdain of knowledge, it was the combat of contradictory opinions that oppressed him. He could not solve the questions pertaining to God. What uninstructed reason can? "Canst thou by searching find out God, canst thou know the Almighty unto perfection." What was impossible to Job, was not possible to him. But he had attained a recognition of the unity and perfections of God, and this conviction he would spread abroad, and tear down the superstitions which hid the face of truth. I have great admiration of this philosopher, so sad, so earnest, so enthusiastic, wandering from city to city, indifferent to money, comfort, friends, fame, that he might kindle the knowledge of God. This was a lofty aim indeed for philosophy in that age. It was a higher mission than that of Homer, [Footnote: Lewes has some shallow remarks on this point, although spirited and readable. Ritter is more earnest.] great as his was, but not so successful.