CHAPTER VIII. GRECIAN PHILOSOPHY.
Whatever may be said of the inferiority of the ancients to the moderns in natural and mechanical science, which no one is disposed to question, or even in the realm of literature, which can be questioned, there was one department which they carried to absolute perfection, and to which we have added nothing of consequence. In the realm of art they were our equals, and probably our superiors; in philosophy they carried logical deductions to their utmost limit. They created the science. They advanced, from a few crude speculations on material phenomena, to an analysis of all the powers of the mind, and finally to the establishment of ethical principles which even Christianity did not overturn. The progress of the science, from Thales to Plato, is the most stupendous triumph of the human understanding. The reason of man soared to the loftiest flights that it has ever attained. It cast its searching eye into the most abstruse inquiries which ever tasked the famous intellects of the world. It exhausted all the subjects which dialectical subtlety ever raised. It originated and it carried out the boldest speculations respecting the nature of the soul and its future existence. It established most important psychological truths. It created a method for the solution of the most abstruse questions. It went on, from point to point, until all the faculties of the mind were severely analyzed, and all its operations were subjected to a rigid method. The Romans never added a single principle to the philosophy which the Greeks elaborated; the ingenious scholastics of the Middle Ages merely reproduced their ideas; and even the profound and patient Germans have gone round in the same circles that Plato and Aristotle marked out more than two thousand years ago. It was Greek philosophy in which noble Roman youth were educated, and hence, as it was expounded by a Cicero, a Marcus Aurelius, and an Epictetus, it was as much the inheritance of the Romans as it was of the Greeks themselves, after their political liberties were swept away, and the Grecian cities formed a part of the Roman empire. The Romans learned, or might have learned, what the Greeks created and taught, and philosophy became, as well as art, identified with the civilization which extended from the Rhine and the Po to the Nile and the Tigris. Grecian philosophy was one of the distinctive features of ancient civilization long after the Greeks had ceased to speculate on the laws of mind, or the nature of the soul, or the existence of God, or future rewards and punishments. Although it was purely Grecian in its origin and development, it cannot be left out of the survey of the triumphs of the human mind when the Romans were masters of the world, and monopolized the fruits of all the arts and sciences. It became one of the grand ornaments of the Roman schools, one of the priceless possessions of the Roman conquerors. The Romans did not originate medicine, but Galen was one of its greatest lights; they did not invent the hexameter verse, but Virgil sung to its measure; they did not create Ionic capitals, but their cities were ornamented with marble temples on the same principles as those which called out the admiration of Pericles. So, if they did not originate philosophy, and generally had but little taste for it, still its truths were systematized and explained by Cicero, and formed no small accession to the treasures with which cultivated intellects sought everywhere to be enriched. It formed an essential part of the intellectual wealth of the civilized world, when civilization could not prevent the world from falling into decay and ruin. And as it was the noblest triumph which the human mind, under pagan influences, ever achieved, so it was followed by the most degrading imbecility into which man, in civilized countries, was ever allowed to fall. Philosophy, like art, like literature, like science, arose, shined, grew dim, and passed away, and left the world in night. Why was so bright a glory followed by so dismal a shame? What a comment is this on the greatness and littleness of man!
[Commencement of Grecian speculations.]