TORRE DE BABEL EDICIONES

Philosophy, Psychology

and Humanities Web Site


 

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. 2. The Moral Period

Chap. I. The Sophistis

It was said of Socrates that he brought philosophy out of the seclusion of the schools into the arena of common life. This was the feature not of Socrates only, but of Greek thought generally at the period at which we have now arrived. After the victories of the Persian wars, the mental and spiritual life of the nation became intensified, and knowledge, formerly confined to the few, broadened out and became the possession of the multitude.

 

  The nation as a whole, disciplined by the stern experiences it had passed through, had entered upon its manhood. Greece had become the foremost nation in the world. At the head of the Athenian State stood Pericles, the master of oratory and statesmanship, around whom were clustered the most illustrious names in poetry, science and art. It was an era of great mental activity, rich in every form of intellectual achievement. Knowledge was coming to be valued for its practical results.

 The State now demanded light on the complex questions of government and policy. In every department of activity the man of culture and education was recognised as the most capable and the most useful, and truth was sought as a means to successful attainment. Positions in the political and social world were no longer acquired by birth or rank, but by ability, and the man who desired to gain honour found that intellectual discipline and study were indispensable. Nowhere were these tendencies so manifest as in Athens, the capital of Greece, and the centre of its political life.

This demand for education created the supply, and the Sophists came forward into public life as the teachers of the people. From all parts of Greece philosophers of different schools flocked towards Athens to expound their various doctrines. The Sophists, as these wandering teachers were called, were the inaugurators of this age of enlightenment. It became their vocation to instruct the youth in those mental accomplishments which seemed necessary to success in life. The Sophists, as Mr. Grote and others have pointed out, were not so much a philosophic sect as a professional class who taught for payment and came forward to meet a demand. As one of the primal requirements for politics was a capacity for public speaking, the Sophists became teachers of eloquence and rhetoric. These masters or teachers of wisdom would obviously not confine their teaching to the young. "They brought to the altars of rhetoric and literature," says Gomperz, "the same gifts and resources which served them in their teaching capacity." Modern life has no exact parallel to the Sophists. They resembled the journalists and men of letters of to-day in their constant readiness for the war of words. They earned a rich meed of reward no less than material success, and the enthusiasm that their foremost representatives aroused in the youth of Greece, with its keen love of beauty and culture, was immeasurable. The best known of these—Protagoras, Hippias, Prodicus and Gorgias—were men of high attainments and almost encyclopaedic learning, which they used for the highest purposes. For the most part they were men of lofty ideals, whose aim it was to inculcate virtues and practical wisdom into their pupils, and in the "choice of Hercules" by Prodicus and in Plato's dialogue of "Protagoras" we may see what their teaching was when it was at its best. Too often, however, the ends of truth were sacrificed for outward brilliancy and mere elegance of language. Philosophy underwent a change in character and spirit. Research, in so far as it was seriously pursued, turned away from the old problems of being to questions of life and ethics, investigating the inner activities of man,—his thoughts, sensations and volitions.

The danger of this condition of things was that the Sophist became content with the mere discussion of terms and the graceful presentation of ideas irrespective of the worth of truth. Gradually the question as to whether there was any universally valid truth was discarded and a general spirit of scepticism prevailed.

It would be a mistake to stigmatize the Sophists as a class as the corrupters of the youth of their times, and to charge them with undermining the morality of Greece. They were born at a time of political ferment, when new political forces were coming into conflict with old customs. The Persian wars had brought about a disintegration of society and created a general upheaval of life and thought in Athens. New radical ideas were set up in opposition to conservative beliefs. The spirit of democracy was breaking down the sanctity of law and awakening in the minds of individuals the consciousness of the rights of private judgment. Not only were the established laws of the State called in question, but the moral law, the very meaning and obligation of virtue and justice and truth, was brought to the bar of criticism. "The whole epoch," as has been said, "was penetrated with a spirit of revolution and progress." This spirit was reflected in the development of poetry, and especially of the drama. "The whole action of the drama," says Zeller, "comic as well as tragic, was based on the collision of duties and rights." The Sophists were the representatives of the spirit of the age. The Sophistic movement was not so much a cause as a symptom: its danger lay in stimulating those new tendencies to individualism and radicalism which needed control. It was only natural that they should take part in the intellectual movement of the times and become the mouthpiece of ideas which were rising into predominance. They were the critics of the period, and in general the vehicles of emancipation, though the majority of them, possibly on account of their dependence on the public, maintained an attitude of moderation, and none of them was so radical an assailer of tradition and superstition as Socrates or even Plato himself. In the eyes of the old-fashioned and conservative, the whole class was regarded with suspicion, because they set themselves in opposition to the popular religious belief and fixed conventions of the past. It is unfortunate that in forming a conception of the teaching and influence of the Sophists we are dependent almost solely for our information regarding them on their victorious opponents, Plato and Aristotle. In Plato's Protagoras we have a delineation of a Sophist congress full of irony, and in the Gorgias and the Theaetetus a serious criticism of their methods of teaching. In the dialogue, the Sophist, we have a somewhat malicious definition of their theories. Aristotle also seeks to expose their fallacies, and in general regards them with little approbation.

For a long time this depreciatory judgment of the Sophists was repeated, and the title "Sophist" was used in a disparaging sense. Hegel was the first to rehabilitate the Sophists, and he claims for them as a class that they fostered culture and scattered many fruitful seeds of thought.

The Sophists flourished from about 450 B.C. to 400 B.C. Though Sophism as a profession did not entirely disappear at the later date, after the appearance of Socrates the movement dwindled into insignificance.

The chief Sophists were Protagoras, the individualist; Gorgias, the nihilist; and Prodicus, the moralist.

1. Protagoras was born at Abdara about the year 440. He was a man of upright character, whose life was darkened by the shadows of national misfortune. Though a friend of Democritus in his youth, his thoughts were transferred from the investigation of nature to the study of human affairs. He was the first to call himself a Sophist, which meant an itinerant teacher of wisdom. He made repeated visits to Athens, where he was honoured with the friendship of Pericles and Euripides and other eminent men. As a teacher he was in great demand, and his instruction centred in a preparation for public life. He was a witness of the deadly struggle between Athens and Sparta, and of the fearful ravages of pestilence which were added to the horrors of war, and he extols the heroism of his patron, Pericles, under the calamities of his time. He himself fell a victim, like his contemporaries, Anaxagoras and Socrates, to the fanaticism of the masses. At the age of seventy he was expelled from the city on a charge of Atheism, and was said to have been drowned on the voyage to Sicily.

His work On the Gods was burned in the marketplace. It begins with the words, "Of the gods I know not whether they are or are not—many things, such as the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of life, prevent us from knowing."

He held that there is no absolute being and no universal knowledge. All truth is simply a matter of subjective feeling. Good or bad does not belong to the nature of things, but is determined solely by law and agreement. Starting from the Heraclitic thought of perpetual flux, he applied the principle to the individual. He enunciated his famous dictum that "man is the measure of all things," by which he meant that truth is relative to the individual. His feelings and desires are his only test of what is true and good, and therefore his only guide in matters of duty. The individual is the measure of the true and the good. An act that benefits one man is bad for another. Practical truth is a relative thing—a matter of taste, temperament and education.

It is impossible to prove anything but the fact of sensation, and it is still more impossible to know the ultimate causes of reality.

Let a man therefore occupy himself—as the only accessible object—with himself. Let him abandon all sterile speculations with regard to nature. Happiness is the only problem of importance. To be happy is to govern one's self. Hence philosophy is the art of being virtuous. As a means let us think correctly and speak correctly. Protagoras was thus the champion of individualism, the first agnostic and advocate of the relativity of knowledge. As a teacher he was also the earliest to introduce grammar into his curriculum, and it is remarkable that in the teaching of Greek thought there was before him not the remotest attempt to distinguish the forms of expression or to analyse the principles of speech. As a teacher of rhetoric he invented themes in which his pupils were to argue the pros and cons. Though these practices tended to produce formalism, we cannot lay the blame at the door of the man who gave the first impulse to the art of forensic oratory for which Greece has given the model to the world.

For the personal integrity of Protagoras Plato himself vouches. In the dialogue bearing his name, whenever he has to choose between a lower and a higher standard of ethics, the higher is invariably represented by Protagoras himself.

2. Gorgias (483-375) of Leontini in Sicily carried the spirit of agnosticism still further, in so far as he denied all truth and despaired of finding any standard of knowledge. He was sent by his countrymen to Athens at the head of an embassy to solicit help against Syracuse. Here he gained a great literary reputation. In old age he betook himself to Thessaly. His character and speech were said to have been marked by vulgar ostentation. In physical philosophy he was an adherent of Empedocles, but his activity lay chiefly in the domain of rhetoric, in which he rivalled Protagoras. In his chief work—On Nature or the Nonexistent, which has been preserved by Sextus Empiricus—he emphasises his three famous propositions: 1st, nothing exists; 2nd, even if anything did exist, it could not be known; 3rd, and even if it could be known, it would be incommunicable.

If Protagoras affirmed that every opinion was equally true, Gorgias declared that every opinion was equally false. Such thoroughgoing scepticism makes knowledge impossible. All is delusion. Gorgias has been called, with reason, a philosophical nihilist.

It is only necessary to mention the names of Prodicus of Chios and Hippias of Elis.

3. Prodicus discoursed upon the choice of a life-purpose, upon adversity and death. He displayed keen observation, and was characterized by purity of moral sentiment, on account of which he has been called the forerunner of Socrates. He ventured to account for religion on utilitarian principles. In early times he said men deified whatever was profitable to themselves; thus bread was worshipped as Demeter, wine as Dionysus, water as Poseidon, and so forth. He is best known on account of what might be called his moralizing essays, the most celebrated of which is entitled Hercules at the Cross-Roads, an allegory not without its influence upon early Christian literature.

 

  Of Hippias of Elis, a younger contemporary of Protagoras, it is enough to call to mind his extraordinary attainments. He was astronomer, mathematician, poet and even sculptor. He interests us chiefly on account of the famous distinction which he drew between nature and law, between what is originally binding by the constitution of things and what is of merely human enactment. Plato attributes to him the bold paradox—"Law is the tyrant of man because it prescribes many things contrary to nature." There were not wanting others who carried to their extreme consequences these revolutionary utterances.

The later Sophists were for the most part free-thinkers, and many of them became simply charlatans, who undermined all law and morals, representing the right of the strong as the law of nature, and preaching the unrestrained satisfaction of the senses. The maxim attributed to Protagoras, "man is the measure of the universe," may be accepted as the common principle of the Sophists. The meaning which they attached to this saying was that truth, goodness, beauty, are relative to the individual. There is no absolute standard of right—what a man holds to be true is true for him. This doctrine, if carried to its extreme, as it was by several of the Sophists, is the denial of all objective truth and morality. The Sophists held that the criterion of right is personal advantage. They carried this rule of expediency into every department of life, making all law and justice yield to individual interest. In assuming this position they were impelled partly by the character of the age and partly by the tendency of recent philosophy—especially the atomist theory of sensation.

In Greece at this time individualism reigned supreme, State trampled upon State. The old traditional respect for the validity of law began to waver. The frequent and sudden changes of constitution undermined the people's reverence for statute as a divine institution. The laws of the State became a subject of discussion. Losing their veneration for ancient custom, the people were not slow in violating private as well as public rights, and the question arose whether there was any primary universal standard of right and justice at all.

Not only were the Sophists influenced by the experiences of public life, but also, on the one hand, by the teaching of Anaxagoras with respect to the supremacy of the mind, and, on the other, by the atomist theory of sensation. Before the time of Anaxagoras nature was held to be greater than man, and all that came from nature,—law, government, necessity,—were regarded with unquestioning reverence. But Anaxagoras revealed a power superior to nature—the mind which controlled nature. But if mind existed anywhere it had its seat in man: so that man, possessed of intellect, was really greater than nature. Thus, argued the Sophists, instead of the universe being the measure of man, to which he must bow, man is the measure of the universe, where he may impose his power and laws.

In one sense the doctrine of the Sophists embodies a valuable truth. Man, in so far as he is sharer of the universal mind and is true to the truth as it exists for all men, is indeed the measure of the universe. But the Sophists, as we have seen, made the individual man, with his subjective feelings and desires, the standard of truth and right. They acknowledged no universal faculty in man, and were led to the conclusion that whatever appeared to any individual to be true, was to him true; and whatever ministered to his personal advantage or pleasure was for him right and good. The later Sophists indeed pushed the doctrine of Protagoras to its last consequences and taught that the individual ought to follow solely the impulses of his own nature.

There is no objective truth, and sensations are our only test of good. The free man, therefore, should not bridle his desires, but let them have their full gratification.

Greek Philosophy. Pluralistic Theories                               Greek Philosophy. Socrates. Cynics and Cyrenaics

 

 

 

© TORRE DE BABEL EDICIONES - Edition: Isabel Blanco  - Legal notice and privacy policy