Torre de Babel

A BRIEF HISTORY OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY – General Character of the Second Period in the History of Greek Philosophy


§ 25 – General Character of the Second Period in the History of Greek Philosophy

A review of Greek thought from the end of what was designated as the First Period discovers a common fundamental characteristic in the (more or less conscious) assumption that truth and reality are contained in reason, (mind, thought, νούς) regarded either as opposed or as indifferent to nature (the primary object of thought in the First Period) or as wholly above and beyond nature and phenomena generally or, finally, as above or higher than nature but embracing or at least constituting the essence of nature and phenomena generally. Hence the designation Rationalism for this period.

It is perhaps hazardous to attempt a dogmatic and precise classification of thinkers and schools on the basis thus afforded for classification, but some such one as the following appears substantially correct. The representatives of the assumption or view that reason is opposed, or at least indifferent to, phenomena taken in their universal character are the Sophists, Socrates (?), the Cynics, Cyrenaics, the early Stoics (in ethics), the Epicureans, the Sceptics, the Eclectic Stoics, Academics, and Cynics; of the assumption that reason is wholly above and beyond phenomena, the Megarians; of the assumption that reason, though higher than nature, embraces it or constitutes its essence, Plato, the leading members of the Old Academy, Aristotle, the Peripatetics, the Stoics (in physics), and the Eclectic Peripatetics, —Plato and Aristotle tending toward a supra-rationalism, and the others toward a kind of rationalistic naturalism, i.e., the identification of reason with nature. The general tendency of thought may be described as being toward the point of view of the first-named assumption, i.e., toward subjectivism, away from universalism. But because of the contradictory character of the rationalistic standpoint as thus developed by the actual course of thought, a natural step for thought is to abandon this standpoint for another, the supra-rationalistic. The position of the Megarians is allied to the supra-rationalistic in all, perhaps, but as regards name. The One of the Megarians like the Being of the Eleatics was the object of thought, or reason, not of a power above reason. In Plato and Aristotle, in the idea of the good which is above science and being, or essence, and the thought of thought, which is above the heavens —we have a distinct suggestion of a higher standpoint than the ordinary use of the term reason in the period covers.