Part II. PHILOSOPHY IN THE GRECO-ROMAN
Plato and Aristotle form the two great pillars of Greek philosophy—the
master-spirits of the ancient world. In their union and contrast they constitute
the two poles of thought around which all human search for truth must revolve.
With them Greek philosophy proper may be said to cease. Greek speculation comes
forth from its isolation, and enters as a factor into the more general stream of
civilization, which was created under the Roman power by the contact and fusion
of the peoples who dwelt around the Mediterranean. This process of incorporation
began after the breaking up of the Hellenic States. The conquest of Alexander
changed the moral, as well as the political, outlook of the ancient world.
Hellenism was no longer restricted to the cities and colonies of Greece, but was
called upon to realize itself as a social and intellectual power far beyond its
own territory. With the fall of its political independence, and its absorption
into the Roman empire, the Greek nation accomplished its task of civilization,
and by its dispersion over the world its philosophy became the common possession
of mankind, and its thinkers the teachers of the nations. The three stages of
future civilization are, Hellenism, Romanism, Christianity. Its outward bond is
the Roman empire, and its inner union Christianity; while its three principal
cities of influence are Athens, and the Hellenic cities; Rome,
and its colonies; and Alexandria, the seat of oriental and Christian theology.
Philosophy brought into contact with wider
interests is no longer concerned with metaphysical problems, but
is directed to more practical aims. With the scattering of
populations and the revolution of states, the individual is
thrown in upon himself and seeks guidance in the moral affairs
of life. Philosophy is pursued not for its theoretic interests,
but chiefly for its practical results. The conduct of life
becomes the supreme problem of thought, and the aim of
philosophy is to find a complete art of living.
In the cultured world, not in Greece only, but throughout the Roman empire,
belief in the old religions was shaken, and men sought in philosophy the
consolation denied them by their faith. As a result, philosophy took the form of
ethical inquiry. Such was the character of the Stoic and Epicurean schools,
whose immediate home was Greece, but which easily accommodated themselves to
other countries. Stoicism, with its moral standards, its austere principles, and
boasted independence of all emotion and impulse, was a philosophy specially
adapted to Roman character, and it easily found among the Roman people a
But as time went on it was felt that philosophy alone, and least of all Stoic
and Epicurean philosophy, could not satisfy the deep sense of dissatisfaction
which had seized the ancient world amid all the glory of the Roman empire. Men
were thirsting after what philosophy of itself could not yield, and hence there
sprung up in Alexandria, the meeting-place of the east and the west, that fusion
of oriental religion and Greek philosophy which, under the name of Neoplatonism,
marks the last attempt of the ancient world to solve the riddle of life.
We have, therefore, to distinguish two periods under the Roman sway. A moral
period and a religious period. The centre of the first is partly in Athens and
partly in Rome; the seat of the second is Alexandria.
Chap. I. Ethical Theories
The three systems of this period are—Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Scepticism.
These different theories have this in common, that while Plato and Aristotle
subordinated the individual to the State, they emphasize the individual. Man is
an end to himself. There is a common brotherhood between men, and the ideal life
is open to everyone.
Stoicism teaches that man is a law unto himself, that happiness is not to be
sought in outward things, but in indifference to, and superiority over, all
desires, passions, and changes.
Epicureanism maintains that personal pleasure is the supreme good, but that this
pleasure lies not in self-indulgence, but in serenity of soul. Scepticism
despairs of all definite knowledge, and recommends complete resignation to our
I. Stoicism traces its ethical doctrine to Socrates through the Cynics, and
while it is influenced both by the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, it may be
regarded as a return to the standpoint of Socrates.
Its immediate founder was Zeno, a native of Cyprus. The date of his birth is
uncertain, though we may assume his time to be about 340 B.C. He came as a
merchant to Athens, but was shipwrecked, and lost his entire means. Turning to
philosophy, he became a pupil of the Cynic Crates. Thereafter he started an
independent school at
Athens, where he taught for nearly sixty years, and died at the age of 100. He
is said to have practised what he taught, and to have lived a self-denying life.
The place where he discoursed with his disciples was the "Stoa," or porch, from
which his adherents received the name of "Stoics," or the philosophers of the
Stoicism has, at its outset, a certain affinity with Cynicism. Both maintained
the fundamental tenet that "the practical knowledge which they identify with
virtue involves a condition of soul that is alone sufficient for complete human
well-being." But while the Cynics emphasize the negative side of the sage's
well-being,— its independence of bodily health and outward goods,— the Stoics
dwell on the positive side,—confidence and tranquillity of soul, undisturbed by
joy or sorrow, which inseparably attends the possessor of wisdom. Zeno, we are
told, was soon repelled by the intellectual narrowness and grossness of life of
the Cynics, and while not abating the severity of life, sought to base his
ethics on a more intellectual foundation. The immediate successors of Zeno were
Chrysippus (280-209). Chrysippus was considered the chief ornament
and support of the Stoa in his day. It used to be said that "if Chrysippus were
not, the Stoa could not be." He was so busy a writer that he is said to have
composed no fewer than 700 books, but of all his works not any have been
preserved. He closes the series of philosophers who founded the Stoa.
Among the later Stoics were Panaetius (180-110), a friend of the younger Scipio,
and Posidoneus (about 135-50), the teacher of
Under the Roman empire, where Stoicism widely prevailed, the three most
distinguished names, whose writings have come down to us, are
the slave, and Marcus Aurelius the emperor.
We shall not attempt to give a separate account of the views of each individual,
but shall content ourselves with a general outline of Stoicism as a system.
While undoubtedly the strength of Stoicism lies in its ethical principles, these
were based upon physical and psychological conceptions, a knowledge of which is
necessary to an adequate understanding of the system as a whole.
Stoicism, therefore, may be considered under four heads.
1. The Doctrine of Being. Already in the philosophy of Anaxagoras, the
conception of the νοῡς plays an important part. But with him, it was little more
than a hypothesis to account for the origin of the cosmos. The Stoics, on the
other hand, regard the νοῡς or rational principle to be, not merely prior to
matter, but immanent in matter—the conditions and motive cause of every form of
being—permeating and determining every kind of substance.
The most general and comprehensive names accorded to it are, from the physical
side, Pneuma, from the psychical, Reason, or
λόγος. But in relation to the
universe as a whole it is called sometimes Nature, World-soul, Destiny,
Necessity, Providence or Zeus. In many respects it was similar in its operation
to the Heraclitean fire as the all-pervasive cause of all being.
The material world is not merely comprehended and sustained, but at every moment
existent, only through the presence and virtue within it of the life-giving
spirit. The universe is not to be regarded as a collection of atoms held
together by accident, but as being interpenetrated and controlled by an inherent
dynamic power. This originating or dynamic force is called Pneuma. This
under certain conditions of activity, was supposed to experience a "tension,"
as the result of which it sparked into a new form of activity (Cleanthes).
According to the various degrees of tension arise the different variations of
being. At the highest grade of tension the Pneuma acts on the world-soul. At a
lower, it becomes the indwelling reason of man by which he enters into conscious
relation with the world around him; on a lower
grade still, the Pneuma expresses itself in the instincts, impulses, and
affections of animals, which Marcus Aurelius dignifies with the name of soul
(ψυχή), though devoid of man's characteristics of mind. Lower still we have
the grade of nature as evinced in vegetable life; and, lowest of all, the grade
of the inorganic, or material world, in which the Pneuma expresses itself in the
unity and cohesion of inanimate things. At every grade the permeation of the
Pneuma is conceived to be co-extensive with the existence it supplies.
2. Theology. The stoical view of the world naturally leads to Stoic theology,
which is a form of pantheism. In the order and harmony of the universe there are
abundant signs not merely of a first cause, but of a governing power. That power
must have consciousness and reason, otherwise how can we explain the existence
of conscious creatures like man and all the intricate machinery of
interconnected means and ends? As we pass up the grades of being, we come to one
whose moral and intellectual perfection must be conceived of as infinite. This
being, however, does not exist apart, but pervades the universe with his energy,
so that, in a sense, God and the world may be identified. He is the eternal
substance underlying all moods and ever passing into different forms, as the
creative work goes forward. From God all beings proceed, and to him all return
at last. From this pantheistic view it naturally follows that the Stoic regards
everything as equally divine. Nothing exists without a purpose, and even evil
belongs to the perfection of the whole. This thorough-going pantheism is often
expressed in materialistic symbols largely borrowed from Heraclitus. God is
conceived as fiery ether. He is Zeus, the primaeval fire, from which the soul of
man and the life of all animate things, as well as all being, emanate.
As a natural consequence of this pantheism, the forms of speech of the Stoics
are often fatalistic. While there may seem to be nothing but chance and caprice
us, all things really come and go in unconditional dependence on a universal
law—a principle of causality running through everything. This fate or destiny is
the reason of the world—the order of Providence—in which the deity unfolds his
latent possibilities of being, and by which he rules the world by a rigid law of
necessity. A theory which identifies the world with God and believes Him to
exist in the evil as well as in the good, might be regarded as fatal to moral
earnestness and inimical to religious fervour. Yet, as a matter of fact, Stoic
morality was stern and rigid, and often the language of its adherents glows with
intense devotion and is animated with a simple trust in a personal God,—as we
may see from the hymn of Cleanthes, as well as from the writings of Epictetus
and Marcus Aurelius.
3. Psychology. Passing from the Stoic view of nature and of God to that of man,
it is surprising that in a system of such rigid necessity there should be any
room for personal freedom or moral responsibility. Stoic psychology rests on the
pantheistic assumption that every manifestation of life and every faculty are
derived from the presence of the one world-life. The soul of man, which Epictetus calls simply "soul," but Marcus Aurelius the "master-power "
(Hegemonic), is that which distinguishes man from the lower animals and
comprises and controls all the activities of thought, emotion, sense, and life.
The purest expression of the soul, the distinctively human element, which unites
man with the highest in nature and keeps him in touch with God, is the reason or
mind (λόγος or νοῡς).
The Stoics did much for the establishment of the idea of the unity of the soul,
but in so far as they selected a single faculty or group of faculties, and
assigned to them exclusive dominion over the rest, they failed to do justice to
the emotional powers and instinctive impulses of the soul; and there was a
tendency, among the zealots of the school, to decry all forms of feeling as
from right reason, and to require from the wise man their extinction. Hence
arose the doctrine of "apathy" (άπάθεια), by which wisdom was to be realized.
For the Stoic, as for others, the problem of philosophy came to be, "How can I
know the truth without going beyond my own mind ?"—in other words, "How can I
throw a bridge from self to the outward world ?" Hence the search for a
criterion of truth, by which a man may distinguish the true from the false, is
one of the characteristic features of the Stoic psychology. All our knowledge,
they held, springs from sensation. The soul is a blank page, sensation is the
hand which covers it with writing. Thus they have an affinity with the school of
Locke. The criterion of the truth of our ideas is the irresistible conviction
with which an idea forces itself on the soul.
In connection with this theory of knowledge, they held that the only realities
were bodily objects. Virtues and vices, thoughts, emotions, were material
things. The human soul itself was, in a sense, material, for otherwise the outer
world could not act upon it.
4. Ethics. Their metaphysical and psychological views, which are somewhat crude
and naive, led to the doctrine of ethics, which is their chief contribution to
philosophy. All good, all virtue, all happiness, consist in harmony with law;
just as all evil, misery, and vice consist in violation or defiance of law.
Acquiescence in the established order of the universe or, as the Stoics put it,
"living in conformity with nature," is the sum of the moral code of the Stoics.
If we ask what this law is, conformity with which is regarded as good, the
answer is threefold: (1) To be virtuous and happy, man must conform to the law
of his own nature; (2) to the law which holds society together; and (3) to the
law of Providence.
If it be further asked by what principle the wise man is to recognise this
threefold law—the answer is, that he is able to know it by the principle of
reason, which, as we have seen, is the distinguishing faculty of man. A
man is happy and good in proportion to the degree in which, under the guidance
of reason, he accommodates himself, to the law of his nature, the law of
society, and the law of Providence. In other words, the wise man is he who
strives to live in agreement with his rational nature in all the relationships
of life. From this moral principle all the features of the Stoic system spring.
As virtue is the supreme aim of man, happiness must not be sought for itself.
Pleasure and pain are really accidents, or at least incidents, in his
experience, to be met by the wise man with indifference. All material good or
evil, wealth or poverty, can neither add to nor detract from the soul, and are,
therefore, to be despised.
If virtue is the only good, it follows that vice is the only evil. Other
things,—hardship, poverty, pain, etc., are only seeming evils, taking their
colour and character from the use to which we put them.
The wise man alone is free, for he alone can make himself independent of the
whims of fortune, and can rise superior to so-called troubles, guard himself
from care and fear and passionate desire, and enjoy the bliss of an unruffled
This passionless serenity of balanced temper is what was meant by the Stoic "apathy," so famous in the schools of Greece and Rome. It postulated not only the
absolute supremacy of reason, but its rightful claim to be the only motive force
within the soul. The Stoics elaborated a detailed system of duties, or, as they
termed it, "things meet and fit" (καθἠκοντα) for all occasions of life, and
sought further to comprehend them under one formula— conformity to that which is
"natural" in man in contradiction to mere custom and convention.
Reason in man was the counterpart of reason in God, and its realization in any
one individual was thus the common good of all rational beings as such. "The
sage could not stretch out a finger rightly without thereby benefiting all other
But virtue cannot be conceived merely as an individual thing, for the wise man
cannot be considered apart from his social relations. Man is a social animal,
and exists not for himself, but for mankind. To live in conformity with nature
signifies, therefore, to live a life of reason that is common to all. As members
of the "City of Zeus," men should observe their contracts, abstain from mutual
harm, and combine to protect each other from injury. The wise man is the true
citizen, the true kinsman and friend, because he considers the claims of others
and limits himself in justice to his fellows. The later Stoics discovered in
reason a bond of brotherhood, and they were the first to preach what is called "Cosmopolitanism." The State includes all the world. Seneca urges kindness to
slaves, and Marcus Aurelius emphasizes the doctrine of humanity.
It will thus be seen that Stoic morality is largely negative. The wise man must
rise above all passion, not by government or conquest, but by suppression. Hence
the tendency of Stoicism towards asceticism, and as a system it enjoined
self-repression, endurance, apathy, as the highest condition of the virtuous
mind. This spirit of suppression led to a series of paradoxes with which the
wits of Rome made merry. Nothing could happen contrary to the will of the wise
man. Pain is no evil. There is no difference between the vices. The bad man can
do nothing right, and he that commits one sin is guilty of all. On the other
hand, the wise man is absolutely perfect, lord of himself and master of the
Local or national ties lay lightly on the conscience of the Stoic. There were
occasions when it was his duty, or at least his right, to give up life itself if
he could no longer play his part with dignity or profit. To the wise man death
was no evil, and when brought face to face with conditions in which he could not
turn his wisdom to a good account, or when some nobler end might be
attained, he might calmly and cheerfully seek, by his own hand, freedom from
The great merit of the Stoics is that they emphasize inner moral integrity as
the one condition of all right action and all true happiness. In an age of moral
degeneracy, especially under the Roman empire, they insisted on the necessity of
virtue. As a reaction against effeminacy, Stoicism is to be commended, but in
his protest against softness the Stoic became marble. Its weakness lies in its
negativism, in so far as it taught men to resist the world rather than overcome
II. Epicureanism appeared almost contemporaneously with Stoicism, and may be
regarded as its complement. Both systems start with a criterion of knowledge;
but while Stoicism emphasizes reason, Epicureanism bases all truth upon
sensation. Stoicism aims at suppressing feeling, Epicureanism seeks, on the
contrary, to express it. They both agree in regarding happiness of one kind or
another as the end of man—the highest good of man. They also agree in holding
that a life according to nature is the only means of realizing this end. But
they differ in their view of what happiness is, and in regard to what man's true
nature is. Happiness for both lies in the satisfaction of man's true nature. But
while the Stoics maintain that thought, reason, mind, is the highest element in
man, the Epicurean holds that man's proper nature is feeling, sensation. Hence,
while happiness or virtue for the Stoic lay in a life of thought, for the
Epicurean happiness lay in a life of feeling.
Epicurus, the founder of the system, was born in the Island of Samos in 342
B.C., six years after the death of Plato. He was the contemporary of Zeno, and
taught philosophy about the same time in Athens. After various changes, he
ultimately settled in Athens and established a philosophical school in a garden
or grove near the city, over which he presided till his death in 270 B.C. This
garden became as famous as the Porch of the Stoics, as
the Academy of Plato, or the Lyceum of Aristotle. His character was pure and
amiable. He established with his disciples a social union of which gentleness
and humanity were the outstanding features. His writings were very numerous, but
nearly all have been lost, and all we know of his philosophy is from Cicero,
Plutarch, and Lucretius, whose poem, De rerum natura, is founded on the
Epicurean theory of the universe.
Although the majority of the writings of Epicurus refer to natural philosophy,
he seems to have studied nature with a moral rather than a scientific object.
While the Stoics regarded the world, as a whole, as governed and pervaded by a
living spirit, the Epicureans adopted an entirely mechanical conception of
nature, basing their views of the world on the atomic theory of Democritus. The
universe, they held, is wholly corporeal, infinite in extent, eternal in
duration. The elements of which it was composed were made up of compound and
indivisible atoms; and the world as we know it is produced by the whirling
together of these minute particles.
While the Stoics held that a supreme rational purpose governed the world, the
Epicureans sought to exclude from their explanation of nature everything that
would suggest government or law or adaptation.
While Stoicism was pantheistic in its conception of the universe, Epicureanism
was individualistic; and while the former had a certain religious or theological
aspect, the latter in its whole nature is anti-religious, conceiving the task of
science to be the emancipation of the wise man from the phantoms of superstition
which arise from fear and ignorance. At the same time, Epicurus and his
followers did not deny the existence of the gods, but they held that they have
nothing to do with the constitution of the world or the affairs of men. The
Stoic belief in Providence appeared to them but a refined illusion.
The Psychology of the Epicureans was in harmony with their physical conception
of nature. The soul, they held,
was a bodily substance, composed of fine subtle particles, and though they
employed, like the Stoics, the word "Pneuma," it meant for them a fiery
atmospheric breath introduced into the body from without, and mechanically
connected with it. In their theory of perception they followed Democritus in his
doctrine of "Eidola," or images, which are incessantly streaming off from the
surface of all bodies, and which are necessary to bring our minds into touch
with the outer world.
With the dissolution of the body there naturally follows the annihilation of the
soul, and therefore, that which man regards as the most terrible of all
evils—death, is nothing to us. "When we are, death is not, and when death is,
we are not." The sage may dismiss the thought of it.
The source and test of all ethical truth are the feelings,
which are really two, pleasure and pain. Pleasure, therefore, is the
sole ultimate good, and pain the sole evil. No pleasure is really to be
rejected, except for its painful consequences, and no pain to be chosen,
except as a means to greater pleasure. The wise man differs from the
ordinary man in this, that while they both seek pleasure, the former
knows how to forego certain enjoyments which will cause pain hereafter;
whereas the ordinary man seeks immediate and indiscriminate enjoyment.
Pleasure is really a matter of calculation and reflection, and must be
regulated by a life of moderation in harmony with nature. When we say
that pleasure is the end of life, it is obvious that the Epicurean does
not mean the pleasure of the sensualist, but rather freedom of the body
from pain and the soul from anxiety. Rightly to enjoy life, insight (φρόνησις) is needed, which
not only makes it possible to estimate the different degrees of pleasure and
pain as determined through the feelings in a particular case, but also decides
when, and how far, one should yield to or deny his individual desires. Complete
blessedness falls to the lot of him who rejoices in all good things without
stormy striving, in so far as they meet the highest and fullest wants of his
For this end Epicurus prized mental joys higher than physical pleasures, which
are connected with passionate agitation.
For the Epicurean not less than for the Stoic, happiness was to be found in
apathy, or serene undisturbed contentment. The joys of the spirit which consist
in imperturbable tranquillity, the feeling of the nobility of the soul,
superiority to the blows of fate,—these, and not the temporary pleasures of the
senses, are the elements of the philosophic life. The virtuous life in the end
is really the most happy life, not indeed because virtue is an end in itself,
but because it conduces to the serenest and most lasting happiness. Hence we
have the golden rule of "temperance." Simplicity is preferable to luxury.
Contentment with little is a great good, and wealth consists not in having large
possessions, but in having few wants.
Denying an abstract and eternal principle of right or wrong, Epicurus regards
justice not as a good in itself, but merely as a compact of
expediency to prevent mutual harm. In order to live peaceably with all
men, justice is a necessary requirement of social life. While the Stoics
held that man was already, by virtue of the relation of his soul to the
world-reason, a being constituted by nature for society, and therefore
under obligation to lead a social life, the Epicureans assumed that
individuals first exist by and for themselves and enter voluntarily into
the relations of society only for the sake of those advantages which, as
individuals, they could not obtain or preserve. Friendship, family
relationships, and political life, are based upon pure self-interest,
and all social ties are to be formed only with the end of furthering the
advantage of the individual. While Epicurus elevated and purified the
idea of pleasure, he knew nothing of a moral purpose in man. His
philosophy, though it appears in its noblest
form with him, degenerated in the hands of his followers into a pure theory of
enjoyment. While he placed happiness in wise moderation and gave the preference
to spiritual joys, recognising virtue and intelligence as the surest means of
felicity, his disciples freely advocated sensual pleasure, scorning all higher
endeavour and finding in indulgence of the senses the main object of life.
III. Scepticism as a school of philosophy arose in antagonism to the two systems
we have just considered. Its characteristic feature was a denial of all
objective knowledge or absolute truth and a consequent withdrawal of the wise
man into himself. Historically, scepticism has three stages:
1. The older Scepticism, the founder of which was
Pyrrho, a native of Elia in
the Peloponnesus. The date of his birth is uncertain, but he was a contemporary
of Zeno and Epicurus, and flourished about 300 B.C., and was thus a little later
than the early academics and peripatetics. Pyrrho has left no writings, and we
are indebted to Sextus Empericus, a physician, who lived in the third century of
the Christian era, for a record of his opinions.
According to the early Sceptics, the object of philosophy is indeed happiness,
but to acquire happiness the wise man must know what is the nature of things and
how we are related to them.
What things really are, however, lies beyond our knowledge. Neither our senses
nor our ideas teach us the truth. Every conclusion we form has a possible
opposite. Hence arise the contradictory views of men.
Suspension of judgment, complete reserve of opinion, is the only satisfactory
condition of thought, and happiness lies in a non-committal attitude of
suspense. The Sceptic alone lives a life of peace, heedless alike of good and
The Sceptics arrived at this state of apathetic reserve chiefly by means of
polemical discussion, by which, like their predecessors the Sophists, they
sought to involve
their opponents in logical contradictions. They agreed with the Stoics in
regarding man as the measure of the universe. But while the Stoics sought to
magnify the power and supremacy of man, the Sceptics sought rather to convict
him of complete ignorance by proving that his faculties were altogether
incapable of attaining to any degree of objective certainty.
The question which Pyrrho raises is,—"Are our faculties competent to give us
any certain information as to what anything is in itself and out of relation to
us?" And the answer is—Our faculties are not competent. They only declare what
a thing is in relation to other things. Moreover, our faculties so modify the
things we perceive that a knowledge of what they are in themselves is impossible
for us. We can only know phenomena, the appearance of things, but the realities
behind the appearance we cannot know.
2. The newer Academy, which claimed to be a continuation of the school of Plato,
is usually reckoned to be a form of Scepticism. In recommending suspense of
judgment, its representatives alleged that they were true to the teaching of
their master, Plato.
Of this school the principal adherents are: Arcesilaus (316-240), a man of
upright character and ready speech, and a keen opponent of Zeno the Stoic.
In opposition to the Stoic doctrine of cognition, he held that we can only form
opinions and surmises. We cannot really know anything. I may say, "so it
appears to me," but not "so it is." We can know nothing certainly, not even that
we know nothing. In practical matters probability is our only guide, and the
best way of attaining to that passionless tranquillity of soul which the Stoics
and Epicureans extol, is by a settled abstinence from all dogmatic affirmation.
Carneades (213-128), a disciple of Arcesilaus, became a popular lecturer in Rome.
Like his master, he engaged in an ardent polemic against the Stoics, and
to formulate a positive doctrine of probability. It is told of him that on the
occasion of a famous embassy of philosophers to Rome, he created a furore in the
assembly by arguing on one side one day and triumphantly refuting his own
arguments the next day.
3. Later Scepticism reappeared some centuries afterwards in the person of
Empericus, who lived about 222 A.D. He has left two writings—Outlines of Pyrrhonism, a sceptical treatise, and
Disputations against Mathematicians, which
is a systematic attack on all positive philosophy.
According to Sextus, there are ten tropes or sceptical arguments, which,
however, we may reduce to six:
(1) Those arising from the variety of human customs and laws.
(2) Those dependent on the diversities of individuals.
(3) Those flowing from the various sensations of our organism.
(4) Those resulting from the position of things and the different impressions
they make upon man.
(5) Those consequent on the fact that we can know nothing as it is in itself—but
only the appearances of things.
(6) Those which follow from the dependence of an impression upon custom—the rare
and unusual affecting us differently from the habitual and the ordinary.
These tropes or commonplaces have all to do with the relation of the subject to
the object, and in general may be reduced to one, which has reappeared in later
philosophy under the name of the "relativity of knowledge." Sextus Empericus
deserves attention as being the first who definitely stated this principle,
viz.—that we only know things in relation to other things, and above all in
relation to our own minds. To know the thing in itself became the problem of
modern philosophy. There is, indeed, a sense in which all knowledge is relative.
There can be no knowledge but that which the mind apprehends. The defect of
Sextus is the assumption that, because of this relativity, the mind of man is
incapable of ascertaining truth or of knowing what things really are.
Scepticism, with all its boasted suspense of judgment, becomes in the end but
another form of dogmatism. Absolute doubt is equivalent to absolute certainty.
It must always assume the existence of the very thing it denies. The reality of
the external world was affirmed in the very attempt of Scepticism to deny a
knowledge of it.
Greek Philosophy. Aristotle
Religious Tendencies. Roman Moralists. Alexandrian