Man is naturally a philosopher. Brought face to face with the wonders of nature or the results of human endeavor, he is not content merely to observe the phenomena as they are offered to his senses, but feels impelled by his natural thirst for knowledge to investigate the causes through which these phenomena were produced. In this sense the story of philosophy is, as it were, lost and confused with the history of man.
By philosophy we mean, however, nor any haphazard explanation of prime causes but intelligent and reflective research into the realities of things such as will justify the position of first causes from which arise the phenomena of life. Reflective thinking (scientific or philosophic reasoning) is slow in coming into being for, as Hegel notes, "Late in the already advanced evening does the bird of Minerva seek the air."
Reflective thought begins when the period of spontaneity closes. Reflective thought needs spontaneous thinking as its starting point. Not satisfied with the elementary explanations which first intuition offers, the mind seeks to reconstruct the whole process of its labors on a new basis, the basis of reasoning. Thus Greek philosophy, which, as a product of reflective thought, begins in the sixth century before Christ with the philosophers of Miletus, presupposes another period. We might call it the early philosophic period, a period in which the proposed systems are a product more of the imagination than of reason.
The first stage of this period preceding philosophy of which we have knowledge is that of universal animism. To understand how primitive man saw in every phenomenon a genie or god which animates the entire universe and every single phenomenon, it is necessary to reconstruct for ourselves the conditions under which these men lived. They possessed only the experience of what happened in the world of man, and such experience showed them that every event is the effect of will. By a tendency to the laws of association by which we relate new experimental data to our past experiences, it happened that primitive man was induced likewise to consider every effect of nature as the product of a will which manifested itself through these phenomena. Man was placed before the great spectacles of nature, face to face with the starry sky or with the rain and the sun which regularly descended to earth, with the springtime which clothes the earth once more in grass and flowers, and with autumn which despoils it of them, stationed at the bank of a stream or gazing upon the sea which violently changes the calm level of its waters into wild waves.
And man, led by laws of association indicating that everything which he observed in the human world proceeds from a will, was induced to see also in these phenomena a will, and hence a living, voluntary being that was the cause of these phenomena. In the second stage, man, having advanced further, attempted to represent for himself the genii who were in charge of the phenomena of nature. And if he imagined them, he could not do otherwise than imagine them as men (anthropomorphism). The gods move on the same plane with men, having the same likes and the same unruly passions, although they are beings superior to men and live a higher life.
This world animated by gods forged on the human form had its poetic representation in Homer. Dawn with the roseate finger and the Sun which rises after her, the river Xanthus and Ocean of the azure depths, Night, Day, the Hours -- in a world, all the natural phenomena -- hide some divinity. Even men, whether considered individually or socially, live under the influence of these divine forces. Love and hate, war and peace, life and death move under the influence of these gods, at one time propitious, at another malevolent. Since these gods are conceived as having the same passions as men, they build the cities, make laws, construct the walls of defense and intervene in wars to aid their favorites. They infuse in men courage and astuteness, fear and terror, and punish the ungrateful by pouring out terrible evils whenever men overstep the boundaries of morals and justice. Zeus, father of the gods and of men, must give proof of all his authority in order to make himself obeyed, and he does not always achieve this end. The sovereign of all is Fate, to whom all must bow.
In the midst of this crowd of deities, an attempt was made to establish a certain order of descent, and since the rise of a god indicates also the origin of a phenomenon, the ancient story of the theogony can be considered as the first attempt at cosmological exposition. The birth of the gods includes in itself the birth of the world and of its principal aspects. We know this attempt to explain the cosmos from the poem "Works and Days" of Hesiod, poet of Boeotia who lived in the eighth century before Christ. The author writes:
"In the beginning there was Chaos; then came Gaia, the broad-bosomed earth; and, next, Eros, loveliest of the gods, who delights the senses of both mortals and immortals, and melts the strength of their limbs. Chaos engendered Darkness and Black Night; and from the union of these two came forth Air and Day -- Aether and Hemera. Gaia, by her own power, first created the starry heavens, the high mountains, and Pontus, the sea; then, wed to Uranus, she brought forth Oceanus, the stream that encircles the earth; the gods of lightening, which she called Cyclopes; Tethys, the great goddess of the sea; and many other children, some of them mighty monsters, and others than can be classified as mere allegories. From the marriage of Oceanus and Tethys came fountains and streams. The Sun-god, the Moon-goddess and the Dawn were born to two other children of Heaven and Earth. Dawn, united to her cousin Astraeus, god of the stars, gave birth to the Winds, the Morning-star, and the rest of the heavenly lights."
The poem of Hesiod can be considered as the last word of mythology. After him came the Ionic thinkers to dwell once more on the problem of the rise of the world, but in a new fashion, which indicates the departure from the period of mythology to that of philosophy.
Sometimes the impression is given by historians of philosophy that philosophical thinking began with the ancient Greeks. Many, if not most, of them consider philosophic thought before the School of Miletus to be "pre-philosophic." This essay intends to deal with that topic and correct some mistaken impressions regarding the era before the Ionian philosophers came on the scene.
Since man is by nature philosophical, it is inevitable that the earliest records of his thinking should manifest something of that human quest of ultimate causes and that human effort to make a deep unification of knowledge which we call by the name philosophy.
As soon as man begins to think he begins to think things out; he begins to speculate or reason deeply; he begins to philosophize. As soon as he records his thinking, philosophy begins, however imperfectly, to take form. Philosophy emerges the moment the mind comes to grips with reality and begins to draw conclusions and unify findings.
Some writers speak of a period of human history and of human thinking as "pre-philosophic." With all reverence for great learning, we dare to reject this term as inaccurate. It is true that the earliest records of man's thinking offer us no rounded and systematized interpretation of "all things knowable." But it is equally true that these records show a real approach to the realm of knowables. Such an approach is not pre-philosophical, but simply philosophical. There is no warrant for cramping the meaning of the word philosophical to exclude all early reasoning on the subjects of God and duty. For theology and ethics (that is, the philosophy of God, and the philosophy of duty) are as truly philosophical as cosmology or metaphysics. Hence we need not apologize for applying the high name of philosophy to the religious and moral conclusions of the ancient oriental peoples who have left us the earliest records of human thinking.
The philosophical efforts of man, from earliest to most recent, are efforts to find the true answers to one or other of certain fundamental questions. These questions may be listed as seven:
1. The Logical Question: the question of correct procedure in reasoning, in thinking things out;
2. The Epistemological Question: the question of the extent and reliability of human knowledge -- the question of the possibility and method of achieving truth and certitude;
3. The Cosmological Question: the question of the ultimate constitution of bodies, and of their nature and properties;
4. The Psychological Question: the question of the meaning of life, especially human life, and of the nature and powers of the human life-principle or soul;
5. The Theological Question: the question of the existence, nature, operations, and perfections of God;
6. The Metaphysical Question: the question of the meaning and properties of "being" as such;
7. The Ethical Question: the question of morality in human conduct, of right and wrong, of human duty and human destiny.
These seven questions delineate the field of philosophy. They frame the discussion of "all things knowable."
The Ancient Orientals
The ancient oriental peoples were the Hebrews, the Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Hindus, the Persians. To the records of these early peoples we turn to discern the emergence of philosophy. 1. The Hebrews, whose name is probably a derivation from Heber who was one of the ancestors of Abraham, had, from their earliest recorded times, a belief in one God (monotheism). They believed in the immortality of the human soul, and in a life to come which involves retribution for the good or evil practiced in this earthly existence. Evidence for these statements is found in the most ancient books of Holy Scripture.
After the 6th century B.C., distinct groups of religious philosophers appeared among the Hebrews:
(a) The Pharisees held the doctrines already mentioned (one God; immortality of the soul; rewards and punishments of a life to come), and they claimed to be the only authorized interpreters of the moral and ceremonial law.
(b) The Sadducees denied the existence of anything spiritual (materialism), and they acknowledged the existence of God but denied His government and providence in the world (deism). They found the true goal of human life in earthly pleasures and enjoyments (hedonism).
(c) The Essenes were a cloistered group who held the necessity of self-denial to loose the soul from its body-prison into the happiness of heaven. They taught that the soul existed before it was joined to the body (preexistence of souls), and that it was imprisoned in the body for some fault.
The Hebrew philosophy deserves its name; it must not be brushed aside as pre-philosophical. It deals, however brokenly, with the theological question, the psychological question, and the ethical question.
1. An important point to notice is that this early philosophy had the idea of one only God; that is, it held the doctrine of monotheism. Here we see that monotheism is a really primitive doctrine, and not the development of cruder beliefs as some materialists and evolutionists of our day would like us to think.
2. The Chaldeans (that is to say, the Babylonians and the Assyrians) at first held by monotheism; they believed in one supreme God called El. Later they degraded this pure belief into a system of polytheism, that is, a theory of a plurality of gods.
They held that man exists for the worship and service of divinity; to fulfill his destiny he must practice virtue, he must be a lover of peace, and must be just in his dealings with his fellows. Again we find monotheism, that pure and elevated doctrine, as a really primitive form of belief, indeed of reasoned knowledge. Evolutionists would like to have it that crude and polytheistic beliefs were gradually refined into monotheism, but history has not a single instance of such a refinement. Monotheism precedes polytheism, and, among peoples not protected from the lapse, monotheism degenerates into polytheism. Notice that the Chaldeans dealt with the theological question and the ethical question.
3. The Ancient Egyptians were, at first, monotheists; they lapsed into polytheism at an early period of their history, and deified the elements and parts of the universe. About the 7th century B.C. there was a mighty religious revival among the Egyptians, and the very animals of sacrifice came to be worshipped. But animal worship (zoolatry) was unknown to the most ancient Egyptians.
The Egyptians believed in the immortality of the soul, and, about the 7th century B.C., they came to believe in the transmigration of souls (metempsychosis). They taught the necessity of virtuous living as the means to happiness in a life to come. Here we find the elements of a philosophy which dealt with the theological question, the psychological question, and the ethical question.
4. The Ancient Chinese believed in one God called Shang-ti, a personal deity, distinct from the world, and all powerful. This pure belief quickly degenerated, especially after the 12th century B.C., when ancestor worship came strongly into vogue. Worship of the sun, moon, and stars (sabaeism) also appeared.
After the 6th century B.C., the Chinese were much influenced in thought and conduct by their philosophers, especially Kun-fu-tse (Confucius) and Lao-tse. Confucius preached faithful observance of ancestral customs; he discouraged the natural tendency of men to pry into causes and reasons; his was a philosophy to kill philosophy. Lao-tse taught the existence of a Supreme Being called Tao (hence his doctrine is called Taoism) who produced the world. Tao is ever serene, untroubled; man must model himself on Tao; man must cultivate serenity of mind, caring nothing for riches or honors, or even for learning or for laws; man must follow quietly and unexcitedly his own natural bent. The ancient Chinese dealt with the theological question, and, in a measure, with the psychological question; their great philosophers were concerned chiefly with the ethical question.
5. The Ancient Hindus had sacred books called Veda, that is, science. These show traces of an original monotheism, but only traces, however plain. Polytheism came into being among the Hindus at an early period.
The Hindu philosophy is very vague, but it contains unmistakable evidence of some belief in human immortality, in man's duty to worship divinity and to avoid sin. Between the 8th and 5th century B.C. certain books (called Brahmanas and Upanishads) were written to explain the Vedas. These hint at a supreme and personal God called Prajapati, but this notion is quickly submerged in a welter of polytheistic doctrine. The theory developed in the Brahmanas is that the world and all things in it are maya or illusion. There is only one reality called Brahma. Man must rid himself of the deceiving idea that he exists as an individual; he must strive to merge himself consciously in Brahma with whom all things are really one (pantheism). Aligned with this doctrine of Brahma is Buddhism which holds the world unreal and illusory and teaches man to seek changelessness and peace in a state of Nirvana in which all desire is dead, all emotion extinguished. The Hindu philosophy deals slightly with the theological question, largely with the ethical question. Notice that it is pessimistic in character; it holds that man's lot is one of deception and pain, and teaches him that his sole ethical effort is to be rid of pain.
6. The Ancient Persians were monotheists at the first, but about the 8th century B.C. there appeared a mighty teacher called Zarates or Zarathustra (whom the Greeks called Zoroaster) who taught the existence of two warring gods (religious dualism); one of these was the Supreme God, the other the Supreme Evil.
The good deity was called Ahura-Mazda (the Greeks named him Ormuzd or Ormazd); to him we attribute all good things, fire, light, stars and planets, summer, fertility, the human race. The evil deity was called Angra-Mainyu (the Greeks made the name Ahriman); to him are to be attributed all evil things, darkness, cold, bad spirits, disease, death, poisonous plants, ferocious animals, storms, and all destructive forces. These two divinities wage ceaseless war. One of the followers of Ahura-Mazda is the great spirit Mithras who will captain the forces of good to the final defeat of Angra-Mainyu. Perhaps, after the evil divinity and his followers have been hurled into the pit of punishment, Mithras will intercede for them, and they will ultimately be admitted to the paradise of delights in which Ahura-Mazda reigns, -- Man was created pure by Ahura-Mazda; he ate certain forbidden fruits and, in consequence, lost the love of his creator and was numbered with the hosts of Angra-Mainyu. Human nature was thus soiled at its source, and each individual feels within himself the war of good and evil. Man must rid himself of the evil and seek his original perfection. Man's soul is immortal; it will be brought to purification and happiness either by strong efforts for virtue in this life or by suffering hereafter.
The ancient Persians discussed the theological question and the ethical question with incidental discussion of the psychological question. We notice in their strange melange of doctrines some vestiges of the primitive revelation in the somewhat distorted account of man's creation and original sin.
The Early Greeks
Most accounts of philosophy begin with the speculation (that is, the deep philosophical studies) of the Greeks, dismissing the ancient orientals as pre-philosophic. We have noticed the unfairness of this practice. The Greeks had a natural liking for things of the mind. They were inclined to dwell upon what they saw in the world about them and to think out causes and reasons. Among the Greeks, far more than among any other pre-Christian people, philosophy was steadily cultivated. It reached a state of rounded development in the Golden Age of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The earliest Greek philosophers attacked the cosmological question; they sought the explanation of the bodily world. Other questions of philosophy were only incidental to their studies.
For convenience, we group the philosophers of this period into schools, that is, classifications of philosophers who studied the same matters or held similar views. The schools we are to notice are: the Ionians, the Pythagoreans, the Eleatics, the Atomists, and the Sophists.
1. The Ionians, taking up the cosmological question, asked what is the original matter of which the bodily world is made.
(a) Thales, of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., taught that the world-stuff is water, for the world is a mixture of solids, liquids, and gases, and water is the only substance which we commonly find in all three forms.
(b) Anaximander, of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., thought the original world-stuff is a kind of spray or mist which is an infinite and living substance (he called it "the Boundless"). Out of this substance all bodily things emerge, and, under the action of heat which is inherent in it, they merge into it again, and this process goes on continuously (theory of an infinite series of worlds). The earth is a cylinder poised in the center of the universe. All matter is alive (hylozoism); plants and animals come by progressive upward stages from the slime of the heated earth (evolution or transformism).
(c) Anaximenes, of the 6th century B.C., regarded the original world-stuff as a kind of vapor, infinite and alive, which, by thickening and thinning (condensation and rarefaction) causes different things to emerge; these bodies float in the infinite vapor like leaves in an autumn breeze.
(d) Heraclitus, of the 6th century B.C., made the primal world-stuff a kind of fire, infinite, alive, intelligent. This fire is not a mass of matter but a kind of all-pervading reason which operates by its inherent power (dynamism) to produce bodies; the production of bodies goes on by blind necessity (determinism).
(e) Empedocles, of the 5th century B.C., held that the world-stuff is a compound of air, earth, water, fire; these four elements, by their various comminglings, make up the bodily world and all things in it. Two forces play upon the elements, a unifying force called love and a separating and diversifying force called hate. The bodily world is alive (hylozoism), and has the power of sensing.
(f) Anaxagoras, of the 5th century B.C., taught that the world-stuff is a mass of particles of every kind of body found in the universe. This mass was motionless and inert; it was put into a whirling movement by the action of a Divine Mind which is no part of the mass of matter. The whirling motion caused different bodies to "separate out." The Divine Mind knows all and rules all.
In general, the Ionians taught a cosmogony, or theory of the emergence of the world, rather than a cosmology, or theory of the nature of the world; still, they dealt proximately (and not philosophically) with the constitution of the bodily universe, and hence deserve to be called cosmologists. Their doctrine is hylozoistic, dynamistic, evolutionistic, deterministic, and sometimes (as in Heraclitus) pantheistic. Of all the philosophers of this school Anaxagoras is by far the most notable, for he alone achieved the idea of an independent Divine Mind as the original mover and ruler of the world.
2. The Pythagoreans (called so from their leader Pythagoras who lived in the 6th century B.C.) were of mathematical mind; they were charmed by the order and harmony of the universe, by its regularity and proportion. They felt that the world is not only expressible in mathematical terms, but that the it is mathematical in nature. They taught that all things are numbers, and number is expressed in harmony.
The Pythagoreans believed in an all-pervading divinity. They taught that man's soul (which is a number) is imprisoned in the flesh for some primordial sin; unless it be purified by virtuous living, it will pass, when a man dies, into another body, and into another and another, until purification is attained or the soul is found hopelessly vile. Here we have the first appearance among the Greeks of metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls. The Pythagoreans are a step higher than the Ionians. The Ionians achieved a physical idea to explain the world; the Pythagoreans a mathematical idea. This idea is very vague, but it is more abstract than that of the Ionians, and hence more suitable to serve as a focussing-point for a philosophy of the world. Philosophy could not come into its own, however, until man had achieved a metaphysical idea (the idea of being as such); this was first set forth and satisfactorily discussed by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C.
3. The Eleatics (called so from the city of Elea where notable members of this group lived and taught) were impressed by the variety and changeability of the world. They concluded that change is incompatible with substantial reality. Hence they taught that there really is no change; all change is illusion. "All is; nothing becomes." All bodies are of the same essential nature.
The Eleatics (important among whom were Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, Melissus of Samos, of the 6th to 4th century B.C.) were monists, that is, they taught that there is only one kind of bodily substance. By implication they were pantheists, for they made the matter of the world self-explaining, hence necessary and eternal, and therefore divine.
4. The Atomists thought of the world-stuff as a great mass of particles like a dust storm. All the particles have the same nature (monism); they differ only in shape, size, and weight. The particles do not cling together; they are held apart by vacuoles or intervals of vacuum. They are eternal, and have been in motion from eternity. Out of their motion come various arrangements of differently shaped atoms which we know as bodies.
Man has knowledge of sense and of thought. The atom-constituted bodies throw off images of themselves, like shells, and these somehow enter man's senses and produce sense-knowledge. This knowledge is not trustworthy. The knowledge of thought is reliable. Man must find his true good in tranquillity of soul; he is to obtain this by cultivating pure thought and by using all material things with great moderation. The Atomists were materialists for they acknowledged no reality but the bodily world. They were monists for they taught that matter is "all of a piece." They were mechanicists (or mechanists) for they explained the variety and multiplicity of the world by mechanical movement of atoms. By implication, they were pantheists, for if matter is all, then matter is self-existing and divine. In addition to the cosmological question, the Atomists discussed the epistemological question (nature and reliability of man's knowledge), and the ethical question (man's purpose in existing, the means he is to use). Notable Atomists were Leucippus, whose times are doubtful, and Democritus who lived in the 5th century B.C.
5. The Sophists (in Greek, sophoi or "the wise ones") took up the epistemological question. They concluded that no one can know anything with certainty (skepticism).
(a) Protagoras, of the 5th century B.C., said that everything is in a state of becoming; there is no stable being. Man's knowledge is never absolute; it is relative to the subject, that is, the person who possesses it (relativism and subjectivism), so that what is regarded as true for one person at one time may be false to another person or to the same person at another time. The individual man is thus the measure of truth; "man is the measure of things."
(b) Gorgias, of the 5th century B.C., declared that nothing exists, and if anything did exist it could not be known with certitude (nihilism and skepticism).
The Sophists were skeptics, and their influence degraded the philosophical effort. They have to their credit, however, that they raised the epistemological question.
We have investigated the earliest records of human thinking to discover the sources of philosophy. We have noticed the doctrines -- inaccurately called pre-philosophic -- of the ancient Hebrews, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Chinese, Hindus, and Persians. In the records of all these people we have discovered one constant note -- monotheism. Thus we see that the evolutionists are wrong when they try to persuade us that the pure idea of one supreme God is a progressive development and growth out of cruder notions. Monotheism definitely came first; polytheism and other religious philosophies came later as a lapse and retrogression due to man's intellectual weakness.
We have noticed various groups or schools of early Greek thinkers among whom philosophy began to take more perfect form. We have discussed the Ionians, the Pythagoreans, the Eleatics, the Atomists, and the Sophists. We have seen that the chief interest of the early Greeks centered on the world about us; their main discussion turned upon the cosmological question.
The philosophy of the early Greeks was dominated by the search for the One Principle, or cause which should explain phenomena. No distinction was made between matter and spirit. The first speculations were made by the early Ionian physicists known as the "School of Miletus.
I. The Ionians
As Greece is a mountainous and rather barren country, its inhabitants have been obliged from remote times to seek new lands that would offer them work and prosperity. At the beginning of the sixth century before Christ, we find one winding series of coastal colonies, extending from the coast of Asia Minor to Africa, to Spain and to southern Italy. Here the Greeks were so numerous that they outnumbered the inhabitants of Greece properly so called, and hence the name Magna Graecia was given to this far-flung territory. The colonies, favored by democratic liberties and economic well-being, and moreover having contact with a greatly advanced civilization, had an opportunity to develop their natural sense of culture. Among the Grecian stocks which have contributed greatly to the formation of philosophy is the Ionian strain, which was spread through Asia Minor, the islands of the Aegean Sea (Ionia), and southern Italy and Sicily. It is among the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor that the story of philosophy takes its beginning, because it was in the flourishing city of Miletus that the first three Western philosophers were born and lives: Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes.
The problem which claims the attention of the thinkers of Miletus is for the most part cosmological. Nature, as presented to our senses, is a continuous "becoming" - a passage from one state to another, from birth to death. However, this transition is not arbitrary; it happens according to a fixed law; everything repeats itself or flows in cycles - day, night, the seasons, etc. What is that first principle whence things draw their origin at birth, and whereto are all things resolved in death? This is the problem of the Ionians; the search for this principle which is the first reason for all succession in the world of nature. It is the principle which the Ionians believed they could discover in a natural element; by means of this element they attempted to explain nature through nature. The principle which they assign becomes conceived of as divine. Thus the Ionian thinkers are pantheists in so far as they do not distinguish God from nature.
Thales (picture) was born at Miletus about the year 640 B.C. and lived until about 550 B.C. He was a mathematician, astronomer, and businessman. He is attributed with many voyages and many discoveries. The more probable of these discoveries is that he was the first to foretell an eclipse.
"The principle of all things is water; all comes from water, and to water all returns."
For Thales, the principle of things is water, or moisture, which should not be considered exclusively in a materialistic and empirical sense. Indeed it is considered that which has neither beginning nor end - an active, living, divine force. It seems that Thales was induced to proffer water as the first principle by the observation that all living things are sustained by moisture and perish without it. Thales affirms that the world is "full of gods." It it not easy to see how this second affirmation agrees with the first. It may be that he was induced by the popular belief in polytheism to admit the multiplicity of gods.
"The principle of all things is infinite atmosphere, which has a perpetual vitality of its own, produces all things, and governs all things."
Anaximander (picture) was born at Miletus about the year 611 B.C. and died about 547 B.C. Anaximander was probably a disciple of Thales and he was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet. He was the author of a poem entitled "Peri Physeos," of which only a fragment is extant. For Anaximander, the first principle of all things is the "indeterminate" - apeiron. There are no historical data to enlighten us as to what Anaximander may have meant by the "indeterminate"; perhaps it was the Chaos or Space of which physicists speak today. Whatever may be the answer to this question, it is necessary to keep in mind that the problem consists in the search for a metaphysical principle which would give an account of the entire empirical world, and hence the apeiron is not to be confused with any empirical element. All things originate from the Unlimited, because movement causes within that mysterious element certain quakes or shocks which in turn bring about a separation of the qualities contained in the Unlimited. The first animals were fish, which sprang from the original humidity of the earth. Fish came to shore, lost their scales, assumed another form and thus gave origin to the various species of animals. Man thus traces his origin from the animals. Because of this, Anaximander has come to be considered the first evolutionist philosopher.
"The first principle of all things is air."
Anaximenes was born toward the end of the sixth century B.C., and died about 524 B.C. He was probably a disciple of Anaximander and he composed a treatise of unknown title. According to Anaximenes the first principle from which everything is generated is air. Air, through the two opposite processes of condensation and rarefaction, which are due to heat and cold, has generated fire, wind, clouds, water, heaven and earth. He reduces the multiplicity of nature to a single principle, animated and divine, which would be the reason for all empirical becoming.
The Positive Contributions of the Ionic School
to the Perennial Philosophy
The problem which claims the attention of the thinkers of Miletus is for the most part cosmological. Nature, as presented to our senses, is a continuous "becoming," a passage from one state to another, from birth to death. However, this transition is not arbitrary; it happens according to a fixed law; everything repeats itself or flows in cycles -- day, night, the seasons, etc. What is that first principle whence things draw their origin at birth, and whereto are all things resolved in death? The problem consists in the search for a metaphysical principle which would give an account of the entire empirical world.
With Anaximenes the School of Miletus closes, for the turn of events in this city ranked as one of the principal causes of the Graeco-Persian wars and Miletus was destroyed in 494 B.C. Its inhabitants were dispersed throughout the Greek world, and one of them was to reach Elea, a city of southern Italy, and there found the school which was to be called the Eleatic School, after the city of its origin.
II. The Pythagorean School
Pythagoras (picture), founder of the Pythagorean School, was concerned with scientific, religious and political matters. He held that the arche of reality is represented by numbers, that is, by mathematical relationships. The Pythagoreans explained the multiplicity of realities by the contrast of opposites, by even and odd numbers. This contrast is nullified in the mathematical harmony which govern the entire reality, either material or moral. "Everything is reduced to Number, hence Number is the essence of the world."
Pythagoras was born in Samos about 570 B.C. and died in 497 or 498 B.C. His life is surrounded by legend and many voyages - one of them to Egypt - are attributed to him. It is certain that about the age of forty years he came to Italy in Magna Graecia, and in Croton, the Doric colony, founded a school with scientific, religious and political leanings. Youths of both sexes of the high aristocracy were admitted to this school and they were divided into various sections according to the grade of initiation to learning. The political aims of the school raised up much opposition, and in a popular uprising in 497, the school was given to the flames. Pythagoras seems to have removed himself to Metapontum before this uprising and died there either in the same or the following year. Pythagoras left no writings and the doctrine which is known under his name must be attributed to him and to his disciples, especially to Philolaus, who lived until the time of Socrates.
The Mathematical Solution to the Mystery of Order
The Pythagoreans cultivated the mathematical sciences and the study of mathematics led them to the observation that everything could be represented through a number. The number appears not as an abstraction, but as a real being, the generator of all things. They concluded that the number should be retained as the essence, the principle of reality.
Through a long theory on numbers, the Pythagoreans attempted to explain the multiple and the notion of becoming. Numbers are divided into even and odd; the even numbers unlimited, the odd ones limited. Since everything is a number, the constitutive elements of things are the evens and the odds, the unlimited and the limited, the worse and the better. This radical opposition would give the explanation of all the world of multiplicity, even its moral aspects: justice is represented by the square (even multiplied by even); love and friendship, because they indicate perfect harmony, were identified with the number eight; health with the number seven. Even and odd numbers originated from the "One." It is from the One that all the other numbers, which are the constitutives of multiplicity, proceed. Multiplicity hence is reduced to unity, and it is in unity that all differences and contrasts are annulled, and the harmony of the multiple ends in silence.
The Perfect and Sacred Number
The perfect and sacred number for the Pythagoreans is ten, which results from the principal combinations: 1, 2, 3, 4 - these are identified as the point, line, surface and volume, and when added, they result in the number ten. For the Pythagoreans there are ten heavens. To make up this number, they add to the traditional nine a tenth, which they call "antiterra." The heavens all revolve around one central point which is called "Fire."
For the Pythagoreans the soul is harmony. Descended to earth through some mysterious fault, it passed through various bodies, even those of animals, by successive births to restablish primitive harmony and to return to the place where it lived in happiness.
The Positive Contributions of the Pythagorean School
to the Perennial Philosophy
It is from the One that all the other numbers, which are the constitutives of multiplicity, proceed. Multiplicity hence is reduced to unity, and it is in unity that all differences and contrasts are annulled. Pythagoreanism indicates progress over the Ionic School. It is elevated from a natural element found in the Ionic School to a conceptual one, such as number.
Pythagoreanism indicates progress over the Ionic School. The First Principle is elevated from a natural element found in the Ionic School to a conceptual one, such as number. The Pythagoreans also affirmed the sphericity of the earth and of the other heavenly bodies, and the revolution of the heavenly bodies around a central Fire. The concept of the soul and its purification induced the Pythagoreans to ascetical practices although, of course, these were not shorn of superstitions. The preceding thinkers of Ionia and of Italy had sought to reach a principle distinct from becoming and from multiplicity, a principle which at the same time would be the ultimate reason for that same becoming and multiplicity. For Heraclitus this search for a principle distinct from becoming is vain, for becoming is itself the first principle of reality, the essence of things.
"All things flow, everything runs, as the waters of a river, which seem to be the same but in reality are never the same, as they are in a state of continuous flow."
Heraclitus (picture) was born in Ephesus in 540 B.C. and died in 480 B.C. Of royal or noble stock, he lived alone and deprecated vulgar knowledge and vulgar methods. He was called the Obscure because of his manner of expressing his thoughts in a paradoxical and enigmatic form. He wrote one work, "Peri Physeos, in verse, of which only large fragments are extant.
The Philosophy of Universal Flux
"Becoming" is itself the first principle of reality, the essence of things. Everything that exists, including man himself, exists because it is in a continuous process of passage from one state to another. If this passage should cease, reality would be annulled. Everything is in a state of universal or continual flux.
The Process of Becoming
The process of becoming finds its origin in Fire, an animated and primordial element, not to be confused with empirical fire. Because of its unstable nature Fire most closely corresponds to becoming. The process which this primordial element underlies is the so-called stairway down and the stairway upward. Thus Fire is changed into water and this latter into earth (descending steps). Through the Great Year (of unknown duration) the earth will be transformed into water and the water into Fire (ascending stairway).
The Laws of Becoming
The laws of becoming are antitheses, the passage from one state to its contrary. "Struggle is the rule of the world, and war is the common mother and mistress of all things." We would not wake up if first we did not sleep, and vice versa, and the same is true of everything that exists. Construction and destruction, destruction and construction - this is the law which extends to every sphere of life and of nature. Just as the same universe arose from the primordial Fire, so must it return to it again. The root of this teaching is found in the double process of life and death, of death and life, which forever is developed and developing.
Soul and Nature
Since everything originates from Fire, the human soul is a small particle of this Fire, and in the universal palingenesis (rebirth) will return to Fire. Nature is animated because the first principle, Fire, is animated (Hylozoism).
IV. The Eleatic School
The Doctrine of Permanence, changelessness. The Eleatic School resumed discussion of the problem of being and becoming and attacked the opposition between sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge. The problem can be summed up:
Reality in a logical manner appears to us under two different aspects - accordingly as it is presented to our senses, or as it is presented to our mind. Our senses perceive the multiplicity, the becoming, while our mind perceives the unity. Now the characteristics of unity are opposed to those of multiplicity. To which of the two must our consent be given for the ultimate reality?
Heraclitus had answered that the only reality is becoming; the Eleatics say the opposite, that unity alone is being and that multiplicity is non-being, an illusion, considered both from the viewpoint of logic and metaphysics. The representatives of the Eleatic School are Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, and Melissus.
"There is one God, sovereign alike over gods and men, unlike man either in appearance or in thought. He sees all things entirely, hears all things entirely, and thinks all things entirely."
Xenophanes was born at Colophon in Asia Minor about 590 B.C. and died at the age of more than ninety years. From his youth he was a soldier and had taken part in the defense of the Greek Ionian colonies against the Persian invasion. When these fell to the Persians, Xenophanes, in order not to submit to the conqueror, took up the life of a minstrel and went about singing the stories of the gods and heroes in the public squares. Finally he stopped in the Ionic colony of Elea in southern Italy, whence his school took its name. He was the author of a poem of which only a few fragments remain, was a poet-philosopher who sought to draw the attention of men away from coarse anthropomorphism to the highest concept of divinity.
As a speculative theologian, Xenophanes revolted against the polytheism of his day and presented the doctrine of the One Indivisible God, resembling Hebrew monotheism. To represent the gods as men is to alter their nature in order to make them similar to us. These errors are due to the imaginations of men. But the "Optimus" is one, and bears no resemblance to no one. It does seem, however, to some commentators on his philosophy that Xenophanes confused God with space and with the universe taken in its totality.
"Nothing can be but what can be thought.
Being is. Non-being is not."
The most noted thinker of the Eleatic School is Parmenides (picture), who was born at Elea about 540 B.C. He was called "the Great" by Plato. He was author of a poem about nature which he divides into two parts: "Voices of Truth" and "Voices of Opinion" of which a few fragments remain.
Xenophanes' criticism of popular religion and anthropomorphism was taken up and transferred by Parmenides to cosmic nature. We find ourselves face to face with Unity, which is the totality of reality. There is but one path which is the beginning of Being and it is indestructible, without beginning or end, infinite, changeless, without parts and lacking nothing. Thought is Being, therefore Thought and Being are One. We cannot think non-Being, therefore it does not exist. Parmenides relies on his own consciousness for his conception Being. God dwells in the depths of the human mind as Truth and Reason, like an altar light within the temple. Being is infinite in Space and is changeless. Parmenides influenced Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, all of whom had great respect for him.
c. Zeno of Elea
A chosen disciple of Parmenides, Zeno (picture) was born in Elea about the year 500 B.C. Aristotle called him the first dialectician because he assumed the task of proving with arguments how much of paradox there was in the doctrine of his master. Parmenides had reduced becoming to non-being and to illusion. Zeno attempted to prove just what exactly is becoming.
To understand the arguments of Zeno it is necessary to remember that becoming signifies movement. If the movement were not real but illusory, it would follow that becoming also has no other consistency save that of illusion; this is the task which Zeno assumed. His arguments are four, but they follow the same pattern; for they all begin with the supposition that space (the line) is composed of infinite parts, and that it is impossible to cross these infinite parts of which space is composed. As a consequence, all that to us seems to move does not move in reality, for movement is an illusion.
The Argument of Achilles
The hero of the winged foot can never overtake the turtle (a symbol of slowness) because the hero gives the turtle the handicap of space. Let us suppose that this interval between Achilles and the turtle is twenty feet, and while the her runs twenty feet, the turtle advances one foot. Achilles cannot reach his running mate, because while he runs twenty feet the animal moves one foot, and while he runs a foot, his rival will one-twentieth of a foot, and successively, while Achilles runs one-twentieth of a foot, the animal will have traveled one-twentieth of a twentieth of a foot, and so on, ad infinitum.
The Argument of the Arrow
The arrow will never reach its target. Before striking the target, the arrow must traverse half the distance, and before it reaches half this space it must traverse one-half of this half, ad infinitum. Thus the arrow remains ever at the same place, no matter how much it may seem to be displaced. Such Sophistic arguments, as Aristotle later noted, are based on a false prejudgment that space is made up of an infinite number of parts.
Melissus raised theological innovations to the dignity of a metaphysic and interprets Being materialistically. Melissus was born at Samos and lived during the fifth century B.C. He accepts and defends Parmenides' doctrine of being, but unlike his master, he maintains that being is infinite, because it cannot be limited, neither by another being, in so far as being is one, nor by non-being, which does not exist. In agreement with Parmenides, he maintains that change and motion do not exist in nature, for both imply an absurd transition from being to non-being.
The Positive Contributions of the Eleatic School
to the Perennial Philosophy
The Eleatic School had the merit of calling the attention of philosophers to the concept of being and becoming, of motion, of time, of space, and of continuity. Its importance is such that all succeeding thought represented a victory over the one-sided and apparently contradictory conceptions held by Parmenides (unchanging being) and Heraclitus (successive becoming).
V. The Pluralists
The Pluralists are those philosophers who, putting to themselves the problem of being (Parmenides) and of becoming (Heraclitus), attempt a reconciliation between the two factions by having recourse to more primordial elements. They attempt on the one side the being of Parmenides, but they break it up into various parts, so that the root of things would be found in various elements. The composition and decomposition of these original elements would give the explanation of the becoming of Heraclitus. Thus the Pluralists believe that they have overcome the opposition between being and non-being. The chief philosophers of this group are Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the Atomists. The Atomists will be treated separately.
There are four qualitative elements: earth, air, fire, water, which are united by attraction and repelled by repulsion. Empedocles (picture) lived from approximately 490 to 430 B.C. Of Doric origin, he was a physician, naturalist, poet, philosopher, and wonder-worker. He wrote two book, "Physics" and "Purifications" of which large fragments remain. It is said that the people revered him as a worker of wonders and that he died on an exploration of Mount Etna in Sicily.
Like Parmenides, Empedocles admits that being is not born nor does it die, because it is eternal. Unlike Parmenides, he says that being is quadruple: land, water, air, and fire. These four elements are the roots of things, the latter being only different combinations of these elements. To explain the process of these combinations, he has recourse to two forces, primitive and fundamental - love and strife. From the beginning, since elements were regulated by love, they were an indistinct whole and formed the sphere. In the process of time, strife, which circulated about the sphere, penetrated and divided the elements. Thus they came to form the stars (zone of fire, ether (air), the oceans, and the earth; and from the earth came forth all things, including plants and men. An alternating balance of hate and of love destroys men until, by a natural reaction of love, hatred will be banished and everything will return to form once more the ancient sphere, to begin again a new period of hate and love similar to the first. That part of Empedocles' theory dealing with the four elements endured longest, and fell into decline only with the advent of modern chemistry.
Of Ionic origin, Anaxagoras was born about 500 B.C., and died in 428 B.C. Invited by Pericles, he went to Athens, where he remained about thirty years. Accused of impiety, he was obliged to leave the city in 431 B.C., and went to Lampsacus, where he founded a school. He wrote a work entitled "Peri Physeos," of which large fragments are extant.
Parmenides' "being" is constituted, according to Anaxagoras, of an infinite number of particles, homogeneous but qualitatively different. (Aristotle called this agglomerate "homoeomeries," that is, homogeneous parts.) They enter to make part of every becoming, and the prevalence of a given quality of particles over another is the reason for the qualitative difference of things. Such particles are endowed with an immanent intelligence, which Anaxagoras designated with the name "Nous." The "Nous" gathers and distinguishes the "homoeomeries" of the original Chaos; for this reason the "Nous" is the cause of their distinctions and groupings. No matter how often Anaxagoras had admitted that to give a reason for the distinctions and groupings of an infinite number of particles it was necessary to have recourse to intelligence, every time he explains becoming he fails to make us of the "Nous" and runs to the conduct of natural laws. Hence he is reproved by Plato and Aristotle for not having known how to use his discoveries in the determination of final causes.
VI. The Atomists
The Atomists contend for more simple elements than earth, air, fire, and water. They look to invisible atoms which are impenetrable, invisible spatial entities differing only in form, weight, and size. The Atomist School was founded by Leucippus, but the major representative of his school is his disciple, Democritus.
There exist invisible atoms which are impenetrable, invisible spatial entities differing only in form, weight, size. Democritus (picture) was born about 460 B.C. and lived about ninety years. He was a physician, a naturalist, and an avid searcher for knowledge. He journeyed into many regions to increase his notions, and many fragments of his works remain.
Democritus declared that nature and the organization of matter is the homogeneity of all bodies, and that indeterminate matter is divided into an infinite number of molecules (atoms) differing in size and form but endowed with perpetual motion which is derived from their essence. Because atoms are endowed with motion, Democritus admits a second primordial element, the void, that is, infinite space which surrounds the atoms and gives them the possibility of movement. The differences in gravity cause the atoms to whirl into motion, thus giving origin to the formation of things. Every union of atoms indicates a birth, just as every separation of atoms indicates a death. Thus from the primitive void have come the stars and the earth and all beings, including man. The soul also is formed of light atoms similar to those of fire, and with death it is resolved into atoms.
On the Gods
Democritus does not deny the gods, but even they, he says, are subject to the universal mechanism. They arose from the composition of atoms, and will be reduced to their component parts by decomposition. They live in interastral space, happy and not concerned with the destiny of men. The wise man does not fear them because they are powerless to do either good or evil.
Democritus admits only sensitive cognition, a product of the motion of atoms, which in a light form separate themselves from the body, penetrate the empty spaces of our organism and set in motion the atoms of our sensitive faculties. The movement produces cognition. Not everything that comes to us through the senses is really outside the sensitive faculty. Democritus distinguishes the objective properties which are real in bodies - such as form, size, movement, etc.; and the subjective qualities which are due to the reactions of our faculties - for example, odor, color, taste, etc. These are in the objects only as a point of origin; in the subject they exist as specific qualities.
A Mechanical System
The system of Democritus, the model upon which all the materialistic systems will more or less be re-formed, presents to us a world regulated by mechanics (motion) and by the natural laws which act in the picture of cosmic necessity. No rationality is possible in this world of mechanical forces and hence no finality or purpose. Thus are formed and are broken up the heavens and earth. Thus human generations succeed one another, without there being a reason for their birth or for their decomposition; they are unconscious effects of unconscious causes. Life and death have no value, and everything is swallowed up in the night of atoms, whence everything took its origins. A system like that of Democritus does not solve, but aggravates the problem of life, and inclines man to despair without comfort.
The Positive Contributions of the Atomic School
to the Perennial Philosophy
Democritus distinguishes the objective properties which are real in bodies -- such as form, size, movement, etc.; and the subjective qualities which are due to the reactions of our faculties -- for example, odor, color, taste, etc. These are in the objects only as a point of origin; in the subject they exist as specific qualities.
The problem which claimed the attention of the first philosophers was a cosmological question: What is the first principle which determines the origin and the end of things? This question was answered in a variety of ways as has been seen above. This ends the period of the Naturalists. The next period is called the Metaphysical Period, and includes Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
I. The Ionians
As Greece is a mountainous and rather barren country, its inhabitants have been obliged from remote times to seek new lands that would offer them work and prosperity. At the beginning of the sixth century before Christ, we find one winding series of coastal colonies, extending from the coast of Asia Minor to Africa, to Spain and to southern Italy. Here the Greeks were so numerous that they outnumbered the inhabitants of Greece properly so called, and hence the name Magna Graecia was given to this far-flung territory. The colonies, favored by democratic liberties and economic well-being, and moreover having contact with a greatly advanced civilization, had an opportunity to develop their natural sense of culture.
Among the Grecian stocks which have contributed greatly to the formation of philosophy is the Ionian strain, which was spread through Asia Minor, the islands of the Aegean Sea (Ionia), and southern Italy and Sicily. It is among the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor that the story of philosophy takes its beginning, because it was in the flourishing city of Miletus that the first three Western philosophers were born and lived: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes. The problem which claims the attention of the thinkers of Miletus is for the most part cosmological. Nature, as presented to our senses, is a continuous "becoming" -- a passage from one state to another, from birth to death. However, this transition is not arbitrary; it happens according to a fixed law: everything repeats itself or flows in cycles -- day, night, the seasons, etc. What is that first principle whence things draw their origin at birth, and whereto are all things resolved in death? This is the problem of the Ionians: the search for this principle which is the first reason for all succession in the world of nature. It is the principle which the Ionians believed they could discover in a natural element; by means of this element they attempted to explain nature through nature. The principle which they assign becomes conceived of as divine. Thus the Ionian thinkers are pantheists in so far as they do not distinguish God from nature.
Thales (picture) was born at Miletus about the year 624 B.C., and lived until about 546. Mathematician, astronomer, businessman -- to him are attributed many voyages and many discoveries. The more probable of these is that he was the first to foretell an eclipse. For Thales the principle of things is water, which should not be considered exclusively in a materialistic and empirical sense. Indeed it is considered that which has neither beginning nor end -- and active, living, divine force. It seems that Thales was induced to proffer water as the first principle by the observation that all living things are sustained by moisture and perish without it. Further, Thales affirms that the world is "full of gods." It is not easy to see how this second affirmation agrees with the first. It may be that he was induced by the popular belief in polytheism to admit the multiplicity of gods.
Anaximander (picture) was born at Miletus about the year 611 B.C., and died about 547. Probably a disciple of Thales, he also was a mathematician and astronomer, philosopher and poet. He was the author of a poem entitled Peri physeos, of which only a fragment is extant. For Anaximander the first principle of all things is the "indeterminate" -- apeiron. There are no historical data to enlighten us as to what Anaximander may have meant by the "indeterminate"; perhaps it was the Chaos or Space of which physicists speak today. Whatever may be the answer to the this question, it is necessary to keep in mind that the problem consists in the search for a metaphysical principle which would give an account of the entire empirical world, and hence the apeiron is not to be confused with any empirical element. All things originate from the Unlimited, because movement causes within that mysterious element certain quakes or shocks which in turn bring about a separation of the qualities contained in the Unlimited. The first animals were fish, which sprang from the original humidity of the earth. Fish came to shore, lost their scales, assumed another form and thus gave origin to the various species of animals. Man thus traces his origin from the animals. Because of this, Anaximander has come to be considered the first evolutionist philosopher.
Anaximenes also was born at Miletus toward the end of the sixth century B.C., and died about 524 B.C. Probably a disciple of Anaximander, he composed a treatise of unknown title. For Anaximenes, the first principle from which everything is generated is aid. Air, through the two opposite processes of condensation and rarefaction, which are due to heat and cold, has generated fire, wind, clouds, water, heaven and earth. Thus Anaximenes, like Thales and Anaximander, reduces the multiplicity of nature to a single principle, animated (hylozoism) and divine, which would be the reason for all empirical becoming.
With Anaximenes the School of Miletus closes, for the turn of events in this city ranked as one of the principal causes of the Graeco-Persian wars and Miletus was destroyed in 494 B.C. Its inhabitants were dispersed throughout the Greek world, and one of them was to reach Elea, a city of southern Italy, and there found the school which was to be called Eleatic, after the city of its origin.
II. The Pythagoreans
Pythagoras (picture), founder of the Pythagorean School, was born at Samos about 570 B.C. His life is surrounded by legend. Many voyages -- one of them to Egypt -- are attributed to him. It is certain that at about the age of forty years he came to Italy in Magna Graecia, and in Croton, the Doric colony, founded a school with scientific, religious, and political leanings. To this school were admitted youths of both sexes of the high aristocracy who were divided into various sections according to the grade of initiation to learning. The political aims of the school raised up much opposition, and in a popular uprising in 497 the school was given to the flames. Pythagoras seems to have removed himself to Metapontum before this uprising and died there either in the same or the following year. Pythagoras left no writings, and the doctrine which is known under his name must be attributed to him and to his disciples, especially to Philolaus, who lived until the time of Socrates.
The Pythagoreans cultivated the mathematical sciences and the study of mathematics led them to the observation that everything could be represented through a number. The number appears not as an abstraction, but as a real being, the generator of all things: they concluded that the number should be retained as the essence, the principle of reality. This passing from the abstract order of number to the actual order of being today seems simple-minded and silly. It was not, however, so considered by the Pythagoreans, for they were the first to observe that number applied not
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