§1. Theory and Practice 1)

 

616. The early Greek philosopher, such as we read about in Diogenes Laertius, is certainly one of the most amusing curiosities of the whole human menagerie. It seems to have been demanded of him that his conduct should be in marked contrast with the dictates of ordinary common sense. Had he behaved as other men are supposed to do his fellow-citizens would have thought his philosophy had not taught him much. I know that historians possessed of »higher criticism« deny all the ridiculous anecdotes about the Hellenic sages. These scholars seem to think that logic is a question of literary taste, and their refined perceptions refuse to accept these narratives. But in truth even were taste carried to a point of delicacy exceeding that of the German professor — which he would think was pushing it quite into that realm of imaginary quantities which lies on the other side of infinity — it still would not weigh as logic, which is a matter of strict mathematical demonstration wherein opinion is of no weight at all.

617. Now scientific logic cannot approve that historical method which leads to the absolute and confident denial of all the positive testimony that is extant, the moment that testimony deviates from the preconceived ideas of the historian. The story about Thales falling into the ditch while pointing out the different stars to the old woman is told by Plato 2) about two centuries later. But Dr. Edouard Zeller 3) says he knows better, and pronounces the occurrence quite impossible. Were you to point out that the anecdote only attributes to Thales a character common to almost all mathematicians, this would afford him a new opportunity of applying his favorite argument of objection, that the story is »too probable.« So the assertion of half a dozen classical writers that Democritus was always laughing and Heraclitus always weeping »proclaims itself,« says Zeller, »an idle fabrication,«1) notwithstanding the supports it receives from the fragments. Even Zeller admits that Diogenes of Sinope was a trifle eccentric. Being a contemporary of Aristotle and one of the best-known men of Greece, his history cannot well be denied even by Zeller, who has to content himself with averring that the stories are »grossly exaggerated.«2) There was no other philosopher whose conduct according to all testimony was quite so extravagant as that of Pyrrho. The accounts of him seem to come direct from a writing of his devoted pupil, Timon of Phlius, and some of our authorities, of whom there are a dozen, profess to use this book. Yet Zeller and the critics do not believe them; and Brandis objects that the citizens of Elis would not have chosen a half-insane man high priest — as if symptoms of that kind would not have particularly recommended him for a divine office. That fashion of writing history is, I hope, now at last passing away.

618. However, disbelieve the stories if you will; you cannot refuse to admit that they show what kind of man the narrators expected a philosopher to be — if they were imaginary legends, all the more so. Now those narrators are a cloud of the sanest and soberest minds of antiquity — Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Pliny, Plutarch, Lucian, Ælian, and so forth. The Greeks expected philosophy to affect life — not by any slow process of percolation of forms, as we may expect that researches into differential equations, stellar photometry, the taxonomy of echinoderms, and the like will ultimately affect the conduct of life — but forthwith in the person and soul of the philosopher himself, rendering him different from ordinary men in his views of right conduct. So little did they separate philosophy from esthetic and moral culture that the docti furor arduus Lucreti could clothe an elaborate cosmogony in noble verse, for the express purpose of influencing men's lives; and Plato tells us in many places how inextricably he considers the study of Dialectic to be bound up with virtuous living. Aristotle, on the other hand, set this matter right. Aristotle was not much of a Greek. That he was of full Greek blood is not likely. That he was not altogether a Greek-minded man is manifest. Though he belonged to the school of Plato, yet when he went there he was already a student, perhaps a personal pupil, of Democritus, himself another Thracian; and during his first years in Athens he cannot have had much intercourse with Plato, who was away at Syracuse a large part of the time. Above all Aristotle was an Asclepiades, that is to say, he belonged to a line every man of whom since the heroic age had, as a child, received a finished training in the dissecting-room. Aristotle was a thorough-paced scientific man such as we see nowadays, except for this, that he ranged over all knowledge. As a man of scientific instinct, he classed metaphysics, in which I doubt not he included logic, as a matter of course, among the sciences — sciences in our sense, I mean, what he called theoretical sciences — along with mathematics and natural science — natural science embracing what we call the physical sciences and the psychical sciences, generally. This theoretical science was for him one thing, animated by one spirit and having knowledge of theory as its ultimate end and aim. Esthetic studies were of a radically different kind; while morals, and all that relates to the conduct of life, formed a third department of intellectual activity, radically foreign in its nature and idea, from both the other two. Now, Gentlemen, it behooves me, at the outset of this course, to confess to you that in this respect I stand before you an Aristotelian and a scientific man, condemning with the whole strength of conviction the Hellenic tendency to mingle philosophy and practice.

 


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