CONCEPTION. HISTORY. DIVISION
to its definition, is the love of wisdom, and may be said to be in
general the mind's search for truth or unity. Tradition assigns the
first employment of the word to Pythagoras. With him it meant the
pursuit of knowledge, but in so far as the nature of the knowledge which
the philosopher seeks is not specified, the name is vague. Socrates
represented by the word the modesty of the truth-seeker in contrast to
the arrogant pretensions of the Sophists. Plato distinguished
philosophers as those who are able to grasp the eternal and immutable.
The Greek thinkers in general asked what is the permanent reality which
underlies the diversity and change of the visible world around us. If we
turn again to modern times we find philosophy variously defined.
calls it "the thinking consideration of things." Philosophy, he says, defines
all else, but cannot itself be defined. The philosopher aims at unity in his
conception of the universe, and seeks to discover the reality which underlies
the assumptions of the common mind, and to bring into one consistent whole the
multiplicity of the phenomena perceived by the senses.
Ferrier has defined philosophy as "the pursuit of absolute truth, that is, of
truth as it exists for all intelligences."
"By philosophy," says Windelband, "present usage understands the scientific
treatment of the general questions relating to the universe and human life."
Philosophy deals with the same material as the separate sciences. But while they
take what is given for granted, it searches to the ultimate grounds of being and
from the infinite mass of contingencies deduces one universal principle. In
other words, while the particular sciences deal with their own special provinces
of nature or life, philosophy, as the mother of the sciences, takes all
knowledge as her province and investigates the postulates which the particular
The question as to the utility of philosophy is a vain one. It is a necessary
exercise of the human mind. That which distinguishes man from the lower animals
is his power to think. But thought, just because it is thought, cannot rest. It
is ever going out of itself to find its object, and it claims all that is as its
theme. "Wonder," says Aristotle, "is the parent of philosophy." Surrounded by
the universe in its varying manifestations, confronted by life and its
ever-changing forms, man is moved with a feeling of mystery and awe, and he asks
the "why," the " wherefore" and the "whither" of things. The world of being
is a riddle to him. The attempt to answer the ever-haunting question—"What am I?" "What is this world of which I form a part?"—the desire to know things in
their reality and unity—that is philosophy.
Just because the asking of these questions is itself philosophy, there can be no
final philosophy. The mind can never call a halt and say, "the riddle of being
is solved." Philosophy advances with life and must exist as long as life. In one
sense, every thinker must begin anew, but in another, it is also true that the
ages are linked together and each generation builds on its predecessor. Just as
there exists no complete empirical science, so there is no absolute philosophy,
but only what may be called a succession of time-philosophies, which advances
with the empirical sciences, and without claiming for itself any mechanical
order, presents on the whole a recognisable intellectual development.
It may be said to be the province of the history of philosophy to set forth
those successive time-philosophies in their proper sequence and proportional
relationship. The history of philosophy does not always move steadily forward,
but has sometimes to make a seemingly retrograde movement that it may recover
some neglected phase of thought. Yet, on the whole, thought, like life, is an
evolution, the successive stages of which it is the business of the history of
philosophy to exhibit.
It was Hegel who first made of the history of philosophy an independent science,
and regarded it not simply "as a motley collection of the opinions of various
learned gentlemen about all manner of subjects, but rather a necessary logical
process in which the ' categories' of reason have successively attained distinct
consciousness and reached the form of conceptions."
This valuable principle, true in the main, has been pursued by Hegel, here as
elsewhere, at the expense of chronological order; and facts have been not seldom
distorted or at least subordinated to the necessary dialectic movement of
thought." The History of Philosophy," it has been truly said, "depends not
solely upon the thinking of 'Humanity' or even of the 'Welt-Geist,' but just
as truly upon the reflections, the needs of mind and heart, the presaging
thought and sudden flashes of insight, of philosophising individuals."
In dealing with the history of philosophy, there are therefore three principal
factors which must be taken account of in its construction.
(1) The necessary, or logical factor, according to which the problems are in the
main given. The great fundamental questions are constantly recurring and are
ever anew demanding a solution—problems which the human mind cannot escape, and
which by a logical necessity are evolved the one from the other.
(2) Along with the logical, or necessary factor, there is a second factor
contributed by the history of civilization.
Philosophy receives both its problems and the material for their solution from
the ideas of the times and from the needs of the society amid which it exists.
The results of science, the movement of religious thought, the intuitions of
art, the revolutions of social and political life, supply the impulses and mould
the tendencies of philosophy, bringing into prominence now one question, now
(3) A third factor in the shaping of the history of philosophy is the
factor. The course of philosophical thought has been undoubtedly directed by
outstanding personalities, whose life and thought have contributed elements
which have enriched its general development. While in one sense individuals are
often the product rather than the inspiration of their times, there is another
in which great minds by their originality and grasp have exercised a
far-reaching and decisive influence on philosophy.
It may be interesting to observe the external conditions under
which philosophy has been cultivated. At first, in early Greek times, it
was cultivated in closed schools. The Guilds or orders, with their
strict rules of discipline, would seem to indicate a religious origin of
In the Roman period these unions were loosened, and we find writers like Cicero,
Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, who cultivated reflection, by themselves, neither as
members of a school nor as professed teachers.
But again, in the middle ages, philosophy under the influence of the
Church had its seats principally in the Monasteries, and was pursued by
the various religious orders, such as the Dominican and Franciscan. With
the beginning of the modern period philosophy once more passed beyond
the cloisters into the open, and was carried on by the literary men of
the period. Not until the middle of the eighteenth century did
philosophy become domesticated in the Universities. This took place
first in Germany, but gradually the movement spread to Britain, France and Italy.
The share which the various nations have taken in the development of philosophy
also deserves attention. As with European civilization generally, so it is with
philosophy. It was first cultivated on Greek soil, and the creative faculty of
that gifted race gave the form and direction to the problems which have
continued down the ages to exercise the mind of man. Rome, of practical rather
than reflective genius, contributed little to the development of philosophy
proper. The Romans looked to Greece and Alexandria for their philosophy, and the
Church of Rome derived from the same sources its profoundest theories of
existence. With the Romans originality took the form of law. In creating their marvellous legal system they were impelled not by motives of literary
production, but by the instinct of social development. Thus the treasures of
Roman jurisprudence were the result of the organic growth of the State.
The scientific culture of the middle ages was international, and the
distinguished names of Scholasticism belong to various nationalities, while
Latin was the language of learning and communication.
It is with modern philosophy that the special character of the individual
nations discloses itself. Modern philosophy may be said to begin in Germany;
thence it spread to England and Scotland. Specially from the inquiries of Locke
and Hume it received a particular bias, exerting its influence both in France
and Germany. In the latter country, from the time of Kant onwards, it has been,
in a special sense at home.
It has been customary to divide the history of philosophy into three
periods—Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Philosophy. While in general we may
observe this division, it will be convenient to subdivide the entire history of
European philosophy into seven parts, as follows:
1. Greek philosophy, from Thales to Aristotle.
2. Philosophy in the Greco-Roman world.
3. Mediaeval philosophy or scholasticism, from fifth to fifteenth century.
4. The revival of philosophy or the renaissance, from fifteenth to seventeenth
5. The philosophy of the enlightenment, from Locke to Kant.
6. Philosophy of Germany, from Kant to Hegel.
7. The development of philosophy since Hegel in Europe and America to the
Greek Philosophy - Origin and Character