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A SHORT HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

ARCHIBALD B. D. ALEXANDER - 1922 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Voltaire.
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.

 

A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos
Fénelon

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt

 

A SHORT HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

 

INTRODUCTION

Part I. GREEK PHILOSOPHY


Its origin and character

PHYSICAL PERIOD
MONASTIC THEORIES
PLURALISTIC THEORIES

MORAL PERIOD
THE SOPHISTS
SOCRATES. Cynics and Cyrenaics

SYSTEMATIC PERIOD
PLATO
ARISTOTLE

Part II. PHILOSOPHY IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD

ETHICAL THEORIES
Stoicism. Epicureanism
Scepticism

RELIGIOUS TENDENCIES
Roman Moralists: Seneca, Epictetus, M. Aurelius
Alexandrian Mystics: Philo, Plotinus, Proclus

Part III. PHILOSOPHY OF MIDDLE AGES

THE PATRISTIC PERIOD Augustine and Church Fathers

SCHOLASTIC PERIOD Nominalism and Realism

PLATONIC INFLUENCE
Anselm, Abelard, Peter Lombard

ARISTOTELIAN INFLUENCE
1. Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas
2. Duns Scotus, Francis of Assisi, William of Occam
 

Part IV. REVIVAL OF PHILOSOPHY

TRANSITION PERIOD
1. Revival of Learning
2. Reformation
3. Rise of Sciences
Bruno, Böhme, Montaigne

REALISTIC TENDENCY
Bacon
Gassendi
Hobbes

IDEALISTIC TENDENCY
Descartes

PANTHEISTIC TENDENCY
Geulinx, Occasionalism
Malebranche, Pantheism
Spinoza, Acosmism

Part V. PHILOSOPHY OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT

[Introduction]

SECT. I. ENLIGHTENMENT IN BRITAIN
Empiricism-Locke
Development of empiricism-Berkeley
Sceptical Conclusion-Hume

THEOLOGICAL AND ETHICAL QUESTIONS
Natural Philosophy
Theological Controversy
Ethical Theories
Scottish Philosophy

SECT. 2. ENLIGHTENMENT IN FRANCE
Earlier Rationalism
Bossuet, Fontenelle, Bayle, Montesquieu, Condillac, Helvetius
Materialistic Tendencies
Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert,  La Mettrie, Holbach, Rousseau

SECT. 3. ENLIGHTENMENT IN GERMANY
INDIVIDUAL IDEALISM—LEIBNITZ

FOLLOWERS OF LEIBNITZ
Thomasius, Tschirnhausen, Wolff

POPULAR PHILOSOPHY
Mendelssohn, Nicolai
Lessing

Part VI. GERMAN IDEALISM


SECT. I. CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY—KANT
INTRODUCTION

KANT'S THEORETIC PHILOSOPHY

KANT'S MORAL PHILOSOPHY

PHILOSOPHY OF ART AND RELIGION

SECT. 2. DEVELOPMENT OF IDEALISM

PHILOSOPHY OF FEELING
Hamann, Herder, Jacobi
Schiller and Humboldt

SUBJECTIVE IDEALISM—FICHTE
1. Science of Knowledge
2. Its Theoretic Principles
3. Its Practical Sphere

OBJECTIVE IDEALISM—SCHELLING
1. Philosophy of Nature
2. Philosophy of Identity
3. Mythology and Revelation

ROMANTIC SCHOOL
1. Novalis and Schlegel
2. Baader and Krause
3. Schleiermacher

 

SECT. 3. ABSOLUTE IDEALISM—HEGELIANISM
CONCEPTION AND METHOD
STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT
REACTION AGAINST HEGELIANISM
1. Herbart
2. Beneke
3. Schopenhauer

Part VII. MOVEMENTS SINCE HEGEL TO THE PRESENT


GERMAN THOUGHT—AFTER HEGEL
1. Influence of Hegelianism
2. Materialistic Tendency—Haeckel
3. Idealistic Tendency
Fechner, Lotze, Hartmann, Wundt
4. Modern Psychology
5. Neo-Kantianism
Dühring, Schuppe, Ritschl
6. Eucken and Activist Tendency

FRENCH THOUGHT—FROM THE REVOLUTION
1. Cousin and Eclecticism
2. Comte and Positivism
3. Religious Philosophy
4. Philosophy of Development—Taine, Renan, Fouillée

BRITISH PHILOSOPHY IN THE VICTORIAN ERA
1. Utilitarianism—Bentham and Mill
2. Evolution—Darwin and Spencer. Maurice, Newman, Martineau
3. Influence of German Idealism. Caird, Green, Bradley, etc.

THE TREND OF THOUGHT IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Anti-Conceptualism—Bergson
Pragmatism—Wm. James
Neo-Realism. Revival of Idealism in Italy. The Philosophy of the Gifford Lectures

 

CONCLUSION

 

BOOKS OF REFERENCE

 

Part I. GREEK PHILOSOPHY - Sect. I. Physical Period

Chap. I. Early Monastic Theories of Being

The conception of an Absolute principle of unity in the universe, which is deeper than any of the special forms of existence, was the earliest form of Greek philosophy. This idea, though it underlies the first attempt at reflection upon the origin of things, was not clearly grasped before Xenophanes, the founder of the Eleatic School, who first set the permanent unity of all things in opposition to their diversity and change. It is always the mystery of vicissitude and decay that first excites the wonder which, as Plato says, is the starting-point of all philosophy. When the polytheistic mythology which had personified the more striking natural phenomena was beginning to pass away, it must have seemed as if there was nowhere any abiding reality.

 

  Can it be that amid all this drift and change there is nothing eternal? It was natural, then, that gradually the question should emerge—what is that something which underlies all variety and outlasts all change—that which, ceasing to exist in one form, reappears in another? It is significant that this something is spoken of by more than one early thinker as 'deathless' and 'ageless.' Greek philosophy began, then, with the search for what was abiding in the flux of things.

The solution of this problem was attempted by different men, who may be conveniently grouped together into Schools, partly according to their birthplace and partly according to the character of the answer they gave.

1. The Milesian School. It was at Miletus that the earliest school of scientific cosmology had its home. This, the oldest and most powerful of the Ionian towns, was on account of its position of security and the leisure and refinement which resulted from its material prosperity, exceptionally suited for scientific effort. During the entire sixth century the school to which the town gave its name flourished and only perished when the city itself was laid waste by the Persians in 494.

(1) Thales is the earliest Greek philosopher of whom we have any definite information. He was horn at Miletus, in Asia Minor, about 640 B.C. He was a contemporary of Solon and Croesus. In old age he learned Geometry from the Egyptians. He is said to have predicted the eclipse of the sun. In common with many thinkers of antiquity, he took part in public affairs, and on account of his statesmanship, was placed at the head of the seven wise men. He died at the age of 90. His writings have not come down to us, and we are indebted for the meagre information we possess of him first to Herodotus, and afterwards to Diogenes Laertius and Simplicius.

With Thales, philosophy may be said to begin. He was the first to reject the myths relating to the origin of the universe and to prepare the way for a scientific interpretation.

He assumed that water existed before all else, and is, therefore, the source of all things. Everything comes from water, and to water everything returns.

By water it is probable that Thales did not mean the element as it is ordinarily presented to our senses, but some more subtle form of moisture or fluidity. It may be that he was led to this generalization by the important part moisture plays in the economy of nature. All life, animal and vegetable, depends upon this element, and without it, it is impossible to conceive of nature in its present condition. Aristotle says that Thales was led to this opinion from observing that all nourishment is moist, that heat is generated from moisture, and life is sustained by heat. It is not probable that Thales had any idea of the chemical properties of water; and what determined his choice of this agent was its mobility and apparent inner vitality.

Of all things we know water seems to take the most various shapes. It is familiar to us as a solid in the form of ice and as a vapour in the form of steam. The process of transformation is taking place everywhere before our eyes. The sun draws the water up from the earth, which again comes back in the form of rain, and finally it enters the earth and produces the manifold fruits of the soil.

Aristotle ascribes to Thales the saying, "All things are full of gods," and infers, therefore (it is admittedly but an inference), that he believed in a soul of the universe. It is thus supposed that Thales attributed a plastic life to matter, or that he believed in a Divine mind which formed all things out of water. But the view is now generally held that the saying was "but a passing expression of Thales' religious sentiment " without any organic connection with the physical doctrine of the philosopher.

The only significance which the system of Thales has for us is that he was the first to conceive of the multiplicity of nature under one principle. He was the first, moreover, to reject the authority of the senses as the criterion of truth and to substitute the conclusion reached by thought for the mere fancies of mythology.

(2) Anaximander, a younger friend of Thales, was born at Miletus about 610, and died in 547 B.C. He was the inventor of the sun-dial, and is said to have been the first philosopher who put his thoughts in writing. None of his writings have come down to us, and his chief interest lies in the fact that he assumed the infinite or unlimited,—τό ἄπειρον—as the principle of all things. This indeterminate element, not being in itself any particular thing, is capable of assuming any shape or form. It is the all-inclusive element in which all things have their being. We are not told what kind of matter, whether simple or complex, he had in view when speaking of the infinite, and many different views have been advanced. All that can be definitely affirmed is that he did not identify the infinite with any of the four elements. At the same time, he does not conceive of it as dead matter, but as a living substance possessed of eternal motion and indebted to itself for that process of separation of the warm and cold which brings the cosmos into being. Anaximander believed that there were innumerable worlds which were probably regarded as coexistent and not, as Zeller and others represent, as passing in an endless succession from 'creation to decay.' The first animals sprang from moisture, and from them the more advanced species gradually arose. Man, like other creatures, was derived from the fish. Anaximander had a crude idea of adaptation to environment, and there are those who see in his views of animal creation a foreshadowing of Darwin's theory.

Finally, the ἄπειρον is not only infinite, but original (άρχή). He describes it moreover as "without beginning, indestructible, immortal" : "encompassing and guiding all things." If we remember that the infinite to Anaximander represents the ultimate cause, and that immortality was always believed by the Greeks to be an attribute of Deity, we may see in these characterizations a tendency to identify the infinite with God.

(3) Anaximenes was born in the same Greek colony as Thales about 560-500. Almost nothing of his work remains. Rejecting water as the first cause, he conceived air to be the origin of life and the principle of all things. To its eternal motion he attributed all change. Air seemed to him to have a feature which water lacked, viz.—infinity. In selecting an element less palpable, less formed than water, yet more definite than mere infinitude, he seems to unite the principle of Thales and that of Anaximander. That of Thales was too material; that of Anaximander too indefinite. Air combined the two. Air embraces all things, and by its condensation and rarefaction all things are created. The earth and the heavenly bodies he conceived to be flat and supported by air. The world is a huge animal which breathes just as man does. "Just as our souls, being air," he says, in the only fragment that has come down to us, " holds us together, so do breath and air encompass the whole world."

In representing air as the essential and animating principle of the universe, Anaximenes prepared the way for the conception of mind or soul. About a century later Diogenes of Apollonia carried out this principle still further. Following the suggestion of Anaximenes, he reasoned that as air is the origin of all things it may be regarded as intelligent. Air was really the 'soul ' of the universe, and by participation in this ethical principle, man not only exists, but feels and thinks.

The early Ionian philosophers were students of nature who sought to account for the actual world as it presented itself to their senses. They agreed in assuming a single primitive substance, which they regarded as endowed with vitality and force. Their views were very crude and elementary. Yet we find in them the seeds of those more elaborate explanations which were afterwards attempted. In Anaximenes Milesian philosophy culminated. His theory of rarefaction and condensation was really the starting-point for the consideration of one of the most important problems of philosophy around which not only Greek, but modern thought has revolved—the problem of permanence and change—the concept of the one and the many.

2. Pythagoras and his School. Before, however, proceeding to a consideration of this antithesis as it appears in the two opposing lines of thought as represented by the school of Parmenides and Heraclitus and his followers, we have to notice a movement which took place in Southern Italy almost contemporaneous with that which had its rise in the Ionian colony. This movement was, in the first instance, an ethical one, and took the form of a religious protest. The originator of it was the semi-mythical figure of Pythagoras, who was really a religious reformer. Of the life of Pythagoras little is known. His biography has been written by Porphyry, but many of the facts of his career are apocryphal. All we know for certain is that he was born at Samos about 580 B.C., and that after many doubtful travels, and perhaps a visit to Egypt, he settled at Crotona, in Italy, where he founded a guild or brotherhood, the members of which pledged themselves to purity of life, mutual friendship and works of charity. He is said to have been a man of exalted character. He wore a white linen robe with a figure of a triangle, the symbol of his philosophical belief, upon his breast. He died at Malepontum, whither he had retired on the first signal of revolt against his influence.

It is not easy to obtain accurate information about his philosophical views. Of all the early school of philosophy, says Zeller, there is none where history is so enveloped in the mists of fable and mythology and whose doctrines are so overlaid with a mass of later accretions as that of the Pythagoreans. Aristotle never speaks of the teachings of Pythagoras, but only of the Pythagoreans.

Though the foundations of the more speculative philosophy of the Pythagoreans were no doubt laid by the originator of the School himself (mathematics and music were among the subjects cultivated by the order he founded), his aims were in the first instance of a more practical nature. Philosophy with him was not so much an enquiry into the causes of things, as a rule of life—a way of salvation. The Ascetic rules and rigid practices which he framed for the brotherhood were no doubt adopted as a protest against the widespread licence of the time. The doctrine of Transmigration, which is said to have been a conspicuous element in his teaching, gave emphasis to the fact of moral retribution and the need of expiation. Whether Pythagoras gave his sanction to the political activity of his followers or not, we cannot tell. The truth is, as the late Prof. Adam has pointed out, that philosophy, as interpreted by Pythagoras, exercised many of the functions which we are in the habit of ascribing to religion; and the Pythagorean brotherhood should be regarded as a kind of Church. It is only thus that we can understand the veneration which long continued to surround the name of Pythagoras.

With the death of the founder the religious character of the movement fell into the background, and the more philosophical and scientific aspects of it became prominent, and continued down to the time of Aristotle to exert considerable influence.

According to Aristotle, the general principle of the Pythagoreans was that number is the essence of all things. The organization of the universe in its various relations is a harmonious system of numbers. This peculiar doctrine received its development chiefly at the hands of Pythagoras' disciples, the principal of whom were Archytas and Philolaus. The latter lived about the time of Socrates, and is supposed to have been the first to commit to writing his master's tenets. Their fundamental principle seems to have been that proportion and harmony lie at the root of all things, and that order is the supreme law of the universe as well as the regulative principle of practical life. Number is the secret of all things, and it is only as chaos takes a harmonious form that we have what deserves the name of Cosmos. Here already we have a glimpse of the distinction between matter and form which played such an important part in Aristotelian philosophy. Every body is an expression of the number four : the surface is three because the triangle is the simplest of figures : the line is two because of its terminations : and the point is one, the smallest unit of space.

Not only is each body a number, but the entire universe is an arrangement of numbers, the basis of which is the perfect number, ten. All the heavenly bodies, moon, stars and earth, move in prescribed courses around the central fire from which life streams forth, vivifying and sustaining the whole world. Of the nature of the soul the early Pythagoreans taught nothing definite; although Plato introduces into his Phaedo a disciple of Philolaus, who teaches that the soul is a harmony. As we have seen, the Pythagoreans conformed their theology to the popular religious notions of their time. Their ethical system was of a religious nature. Virtue was the realization of harmony, and was to be attained by the practice of asceticism, and devotion to music, gymnastics and the study of geometry.

It is probable that this idea of form and harmony was suggested to the Pythagoreans by their mathematical and astronomical studies as well as by their theoretic investigations concerning music. If musical sounds can be reduced to numbers, why, they may have argued, may not everything else ? It may have seemed to them moreover, that in contrast to the variable things of sense mathematical conceptions possessed universal validity.

The definite nature of each individual number and the endlessness of number in general suggested to them the antithesis between the limited and the unlimited, to both of which they ascribed reality. "It is necessary," says Philolaus in a striking passage, "that everything should be either limited or unlimited. Since then things are not made up of the limited, nor of the unlimited only, it follows that each thing consists of both, and that the whole world is thus formed and adjusted out of the union of the limited and the unlimited." This antithesis manifests itself everywhere, and the world is constituted in an ascending scale of pairs—odd and even, one and many, right and left, male and female, light and dark, good and bad—of geometrical forms.

 

  The elaboration of this principle led at last to a barren symbolism, and the only valuable truth which emerges from this mystical arithmetic is the idea that amid the ever-changing phenomena of nature and life a rational order exists and that the harmony of the world lies in the union of opposites. The conception of numerical relationships was not without its influence on the atomic theory of Democritus, through whose application it became an important factor in modern science. Not only Bruno but Comte and the naturalist Oken have been strongly affected by the doctrine of number.

The chief importance of the Pythagorean movement lies in this, that it marks a deepening of the moral consciousness in Greece. As a system of philosophy it must be regarded primarily, as Aristotle describes it, as a philosophy of nature. As such, however, in so far as it attempted to emancipate itself from sense and to explain the world from the standpoint of an idea rather than a material element, it indicates a distinct advance of thought, and prepares the way for a still higher notion—that of Being. " The boldness of such an assertion," says Hegel, " impresses us as remarkable. It is an assertion which at one stroke overthrows all our ordinary ideas as to what is essential and true. It makes thought and not sense the criterion of truth."

3. The Eleatic School. The beginnings of philosophy among the Greeks, as we have seen, all take the forms of naturalism. The explanation of the world is sought in some constituent of nature; and if the Pythagoreans seemed to adopt a less physical element, we must remember that number as conceived by them was strictly a material entity, a quantitative substance. While therefore the early physicists reached a kind of unity by a method of abstraction, by seizing upon a particular element and enunciating it as the ground of being, the principle of unity was really first grasped and the idea of permanence emphasised by the Eleatics. They were impelled by the dim consciousness that rational knowledge must ever strive after completeness and unchangeableness. As we look forth upon this surging, seething world we are first indeed impressed by its constant change and variety. But our senses really deceive us. The reality which changes must all the time be one and the same reality, and what we first regard as movement has simply no existence. The Eleatics were the first to call attention to the opposition between the unity which the mind craves and the manifold variety which the senses perceive. In them the permanent alone is the really existing. The world of sense, on the contrary, is fleeting, deceptive and unreal.

The so-called Eleatic School derived its name from a small town in Southern Italy, Elea, where the three representatives of this phase of philosophy dwelt. It was an obscure, retired spot, offering a striking contrast to Miletus, a centre of luxury and commerce; and its quiet comports with the character of its reflection which was a withdrawal from all diversity and life into the realm of pure being.

(1) Xenophanes, the reputed founder of the Eleatic School, was born about 570 B.C. at Colophon, in Asia Minor, whence he fled in consequence of the Persian conquest of Ionia. After travelling through Greece as a wandering poet, he settled in Elea. He seems to have been more of a religious teacher than a philosopher, and, like Pythagoras, aimed at the moral reformation of the people. After the manner of a Hebrew prophet, he raised his voice of invective and satire against the vanities of his time, extolling an intellectual life and advocating simplicity of manners. He was the opponent of the current religious superstitions, and inveighed especially against polytheism, advocating a kind of monotheism in place of the worship of many gods taught by Homer and Hesiod. In the fragment of the poem which has come down to us he ridicules the anthropomorphism of the poets and resents the ascription of human passions to the Gods. "Mortals think that the gods are born as they are, and have perceptions like theirs, and voice and form." "If oxen and lions had hands, and could paint and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen. In place of these imaginary beings let us adore the one infinite being who bears us in his bosom, and in whom there is neither generation nor corruption, neither change nor origin." "There is one God, the greatest among gods and men, comparable to mortals neither in form or thought." We need not enter into the vexed question whether Xenophanes advocated a pure monotheism, as Adams holds, or was, as Gomperz styles him, a henotheist,—i.e. a believer in many gods, depending upon a single highest God. What Xenophanes seemed to aim at was an idea of Godhead which should be identical with the whole universe and embrace within him all minor phenomena of nature as well as all lesser forms of life. Xenophanes anticipates to a certain extent the curiously personal kind of Pantheism which we afterwards meet in the hymn of Cleanthes. When he passes to the positive attributes of God he becomes obscure. From this world-God he makes no attempt to deduce the variety of individual things, and he simply ascribes to it eternity, immutability and omniscience.

(2) Parmenides was the real head of the school. He completes the teachings of Xenophanes, and to the ideas of permanence and identity, which were largely on his part the outcome of poetic insight, he gives a more strictly philosophical form. He was born at Elea, and flourished about 504-501 B.C. It is probable that he was an associate, if not a pupil, of Xenophanes.

Parmenides was the first philosopher to expound his system in verse, fragments of which are preserved by Simplicius. The poem opens with an allegory, in which the poet represents himself going out in search of truth. He is borne along on a car by swift steeds, and the daughters of the sun point the way. He comes to a closed gate, of which Justice or wisdom keeps the keys. On the entreaty of the maidens, the doors are unfastened, and he is bidden welcome by the goddess, who says, "Meet it is that thou shouldst learn all things, as well the unshaken heart of well-rounded truth as the opinions of mortals, in which is no pure belief at all." There lie before him, as he sees, two paths—" the way of truth and the way of error—the way of reason and that of sense." The guardian bids him follow the one and avoid the other. The poem then is divided into two parts—"the way of truth" and the "way of opinion." The first discusses the notion of pure being—that which is—that which is unoriginated, imperishable, illimitable and indivisible, bounded neither by time nor space.

This pure being, this thing that is, never came into being, for it could not come from what is not. It must be eternal, underivable, unchangeable, or not at all. "Nor is it divisible since it is all alike, and there is no more of it in one place than another. Everything is full of what is... All these are but names which mortals have made —being and passing away, change of place and alteration of colour."

It is not easy at first sight to know what Parmenides means by the 'it is.' Is it God or the universe? In a sense it is both. What he really implies is that there is no such thing as empty space. The universe is a plenum, and anything beyond it is unthinkable. There is no room for anything but itself. If it is now, it is always. If sense perception seems to tell us the contrary, then the testimony of the senses must be rejected. The appearance of multiplicity, change, motion, of empty space and time are illusions. This is the apotheosis of pure being—the immutable and eternal one. He even makes the bold assertion—which sounds wonderfully modern, suggestive first, of Spinoza's two attributes of the one substance, and next, of Hegel's absolute,—that, as only what can be thought, is, Being and Thought are one. We need not follow Parmenides in tracing the second part of his poem—"the way of opinion." Historians of philosophy are far from agreed as to the value which he attached to the views he here develops. Parmenides traces the origin of all things to light and darkness, and represents a goddess throned in the centre of the world and "steering the course of all." It is known that Parmenides was once a Pythagorean, and it may be that here he is sketching the Pythagorean cosmology to show the plausible delusions into which philosophers may be led.

It is indeed a lofty system of thought which he has built up. But it strikes the beholder as cold and monotonous notwithstanding its grandeur. It may be that he himself was impressed with this feeling, and he felt impelled therefore in the second part to account at least for the phenomena of the world as they presented themselves to ordinary sense.

The views of Parmenides were carried to their ultimate consequences by his disciples, of whom the two best known are Zeno and Melissus.

Zeno of Elea (about 490-430 B.C.) sought to defend his master's position against ridicule by showing that the difficulties involved in the conception of permanence are equalled by difficulties as great in the views of those who contend for the reality of change and motion. He has been styled by Aristotle the father of dialectics, and he was the author of many of those puzzles of thought regarding motion which have baffled logicians. Numerous examples of his skill have been transmitted, of which the most noted are the so-called Achilles puzzle and the flying arrow. Movement can have no existence, seeing that each space over which a moving body passes can be divided into infinite spaces. In a race Achilles can never overtake the tortoise, if the tortoise has ever so slight a start, because he must first reach the point at which the tortoise started, but in the meantime the latter will have gained a certain amount of ground: and as Achilles must always reach first the position previously occupied by the tortoise, the tortoise must always keep ahead at every point. Of course the fallacy here is, as De Quincey and others have pointed out, that "the infinity of space in this race of subdivision is artfully run against a finite time."

Again, "a flying arrow is always at rest" : for in order that it should reach its destination it must successively occupy a series of spaces. But at any moment it is in a particular space, and therefore is at rest. And as no addition of particular points of rest can result in motion, the arrow never really moves at all. An argument of a similar kind is employed to demonstrate the impossibility of plurality. The many is an aggregate of units: but an actual unit is necessarily indivisible. What is indivisible can have no magnitude, therefore the many can have no magnitude—in other words, cannot exist. If opposite determinations are incompatible in the same subject, we are of course shut up to the paradox of Zeno. But after all, so far from opposites being incompatible, they are the necessary constituents of every subject, and it is only by the union of opposites that the world can be thought at all.

Of Melissus of Samos we know but little. Plutarch, in his life of Pericles, tells us that he was the Samian general who defeated the Athenian fleet in 440 B.C. The fragment of his writing which has been preserved by Simplicius shows that he had substantially adopted his master's views as to the nature of reality, with one exception. He held, in contrast to Parmenides, that reality was infinite in space as well as in time: for if it were limited spacially it would be limited by empty space, which is inconceivable.

The real greatness of Melissus, however, as Professor Burnet points out, consists in this, that not only was he the real systematiser of Eleatism, but he was able to see, before the pluralists themselves, the only way in which the theory that things are "a many " could be consistently worked out. In doing so he went far to destroy the validity of his master's position and to pave the way for the atomic theory, which is the only consistent pluralism.

It is impossible to deny the deep kernel of truth underlying the Eleatic principle, whether it is expressed in the theological pantheism of Xenophanes or the more metaphysical unity of Parmenides. To grasp Being as a whole and to acknowledge nothing but the eternal and the immutable, defective and one-sided as it is, is one of the great thoughts that has had an ever-recurring attraction for the human mind. Fantastic and far removed from experience as is the poem of Parmenides, it bears witness to a truth which we human beings only forget to our hurt— that after all, the way of truth is not the easy road of sense and semblance, but the far harder path of reason and thought. Compared with the world-God of Xenophanes —"all eye, all mind, all hearing"—the Being of Parmenides appears as something colourless and impersonal —"a motionless corporeal plenum." It has been consequently held that so far from being the 'father of Idealism,' as some have called him, Parmenides is really the father of Materialism. At the same time, though the reality in which he believed was clearly something material, it is not apprehended by the senses, but only by thought. It is the changeless unity—"the thing in itself," as Kant would say, which is hidden from us by the deceptive appearances of plurality and change. It may have been this strain of idealism which drew forth the high veneration in which Plato held him.

Greek Philosophy. Origin and Character     Greek Philosophy. Pluralistic Theories of Change and Multiplicity

 

 

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