Eclecticism, from ἐκλέγω, to select. The term taken generally denotes
the principle of not binding oneself to the teaching of any one school,
but accepting such doctrines of any as commend themselves to our
judgment. He would be an eclectic in philosophy who should take his
theory of the origin of ideas from Locke, of the authority of conscience
from Butler, and of the standard of right and wrong from Paley.
This may serve for an illustration, though
the particular eclecticism supposed never has, I should imagine,
been exhibited. But short of this it is quite possible to see
some good and some truth in different and even opposing schools;
nor will a mind at all enlarged refuse to do so. Eclecticism in
this sense is only a name for such mental enlargement combined
with candour. In the arts, the eclectic will be one who aims at
excellence by adopting and combining the merits of various
masters and schools. The Bolognese painters, or school of the
Caracci, were eclectic.
Eclecticism, however, in the history of philosophy denotes one particular sect which arose in
Alexandria in the second century. Its generally recognised founder was
Ammonius Saccas, who opened a school of philosophy, of which Jamblichus, Plotinus, and other men of eminence were disciples. Their
principle was that of eclecticism, borrowing from various sects, and
availing themselves of the Scriptures. Plato, however, was the chief
object of admiration, and they either took or received the name of
Neoplatonists. Their doctrines must not, however, be identified with
those of their master.