« AnteriorContinua »
cred fountain has sometimes been supposed, and it may be nec cessary to extract the comprehensive view of the question in the work before us.
• The opinion, that Plato derived his philosophy originally from the Hebrews, and consequently from divine revelation, was commonly embraced by the fathers of the Christian church, and has been adopted by many learned divines. The chief grounds, upon which this opinion rests, are 1. The authority of the Jewish writers, Josephus and Ariftobulus, and of the Christian fathers, Justin Martyr, Clemens Alexandrinus, Eusebius, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, Ambrose, and others; 2. The opinion that a Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures appeared in Egypt be. fore the time of Plato, which he might have seen and read, as Clemens Alexandrinus and Eusebius, on the tefiimony of Aristobulus, assert; 3. The presumption, that the Egyptians borrows. ed many of their tenets from the Israelites, and communicated" them to Plato; and 4. The agreement of the doctrines of Plato with those of the Hebrews. But these arguments will not, we apprehend, appear satisfactory to those who are not inclined to pay implicit respect to ancient authority. For, 1. The testimony of the Christian fathers is, in the present question, of little value: for they had recourse to no authentic memorials or impartial witnesies; but gave credit to the suggestions of certain Jewish writers, who, several centuries after the time of Plato, to gratify their own vanity, and that of their countrymen, pretended that all Gentile wisdom had been originally derived from Moses; and particularly, that Plato, curing his residence in Egypt, had been instructed in the Hebrew school. This notion was eagerly embraced by several learned Platonists, who, in the second century were converted to Christianity, but still retained an attachment to their former master : and from this time it hecame a common practice, among those who affected the credit of Greck erudition, to maintain, that whatever opinions Plato and his followers held, fimilar to the doctrines of revelation, had been borrowed either from the Hebrews or the Christians. 2. A Greck version of the Hebrew scriptures, prior to the time of Alexander, never existed, but in the brain of Ariftobulus, as will more fully appear when we come to trez: of the Jewish philosophy. Neither the author, for the occasion, of this version can be produced; nor does any such work appear to those who might have been acquainted with it, and whose interest it would have been to have read it. Sepa. rated as the Jews were, before the time of Alexander, from all intercourse with other nations, and carefully as they concealed the irmysteries and sacred books from gentile strangers; it is not easy to conceive how such a version could have been made; not to urge, that Greek literature was firft introduced into Egypt by Alexander. 3. Equally onsupported is the assertion, that the Egyptians, and even Plato bimself, conversed with the Jews on theological subjects. Upon this question, learned men have confounded the time, when the Greeks poflefied Egypt, with a preceding period, in which it would not be easy to prove, that any such intercourse took place between the Egyptians and Jews. Nor is it at all probable, that the small remnant of the Jewith nation, who after the captivity went with Jeremiah into Egypt, would appear of so much confequence, as to engage the attention of all Egypt and Greece to their religious customs and tenets. Lastly, no proof of the point in question can arise from the supposed agree ment between the Mosaic and Platonic doctrines: for either the agreement is imaginary, or, it consists in such particulars as might easily be discovered by the light of reason. Befides, it has not been sufficiently attended to, that the true doctrine of Plato was, in the Alexandrian school, so far adulterated, and blended with other fyltems, that those fathers of the Christian church, who had fudied Platonism in this school, might easily imagine a greater harmony between the Platonic do&rine and their own creed than in reality existed. The Chriftian fathers seem to have thought the suppofition, that heathen philosophy had been the result of the natural powers of the human mind, derogatory to the honour of revelation. But its grounds and principles are now too well understood, to render it necessary to borrow any part of its cre. dit and authority from Plato.'
From the school of Megara he is said to have borrowed his Dialectics: the principles of natural philosophy our author supposes that he learnt from Hermogenes and Cratylus in the Eleatic school; mathematics and astronomy from that of Cyrene; from Socrates and Pythagoras the purity of his moral doctrines, and the visionary fancies which pervade the greater part of his system. From the misfortunes of Socrates, from his residence at the court of the suspicious Dionyfius, and from the esoteric system of Pythagoras, he learned probably the art of concealment, and he has wonderfully improved it, by feeming to explain every thing, and fully teaching only those doctrines which are less dangerous. The doctrines of Plato were supported with undiminished splendor by his successors in the old academy, particularly by Xenocrates, whose calm, steady meditation, and amiable temper, were adınirably qualified to connect and arrange the wilder fancies of Plato, and to render them more generally pleasing. Notwithstanding he was the successful antagonist of Ariitotle, a man in whom every mental faculty was probably more perfect than in any other person previous to the Christian æra, he must challenge the esteem of every rational enquirer, and hold a distinguished rank in the
history of philosophy, though no one improvement can be fair. ly attributed to him.
The first schism in the school of Plato was occasioned by a circumstance which forms a remarkable æra in the history of · philosophy, and should have been noticed more particularly.
The fallacy of judging from the senses was early known, and the distinction of popular and concealed doctrines always kept in view. The attempts of Socrates to employ philosophy in the service of morality were only for a time popular; and Plato, in his eclectic system, revived the opinion of the fallacious judgment of the senses, and taught that ideas were the only objects of fcience. Two new sečts soon after his time arose, the Pyrrhonic, which taught that every thing was uncertain; and that of Zeno, which rested on the absolute certainty of human knowledge. Arcesilaus, at that time in the chair of Plato, distracted probably by contending tenets, and unwilling to displease either party, was particularly cautious and reserved in speaking of these very doubtful points, and, in the excess of his caution, verged almost to the Pyrrhonic philofophy, by teaching that, though there is a real certainty in the nature of things, every thing is uncertain to the human understanding. In this very doubtful state the academy remained, an object of reproach to philosophers, and of suspicion to government, as thefe tenets might render even the foundations of virtue and policy uncertain, when the popular and more conciliating talents of Carneades produced a revolution of doctrines and of terms: the school of Plato was then styled the new academy.
It was the doctrine of the new academy, that the senses, the understanding, and the imagination, frequently deceive us, and therefore cannot be infallible judges of truth ; but that, from the impressions which we perceive to be produced on the mind, by means of the senses, we infer appearances of truth, or probabi. lities. These impressions Carneades called phantasies or images, He maintained, that they do not always correspond to the real na. ture of things, and that there is no infallible method of detes. inining when they are crue or false, and consequently that they afford no certain criterion of truth. Nevertheless, with respect to the conúuct of life, and the pursuit of happiness, Carneades held, that probable appearances are a sufficient guide, bccause it is unreasonable not to allow some degree of credit to those witnesies who commonly give a true report. Probabilities he divided into three classes ; fimple, uncontradicted, and, confirmed by accurate examination. The lowelt degree of probability takes place, where the mind, in the casual occurrence of any single image, perceives in it nothing contrary to truth and nature; the fecond degree of probability arises, when, contemplating any ob
ject in connection with all the circumsances associated with it, we discover no appearance of inconsistency or incongruity, to lead us to suspect, that our fenses have given a false report ; as, when we conclude, from comparing the image of any individual man, with our remembrance of that man, that he is the person we fuppored him to be. The highest degree of probability is produced, when, after an accurate examination of every circumstance, which might be supposed to create ur certainty, we are able to discover no tallacy in the report of our senses. The judgments arising from this operation of the mind are, according to the doctrine of the new academy, not science, but opinion, which is all the knowledge that the human mind is capable of attaining,
"This doctrine of Carneades, concerning truth, may serve to Thew, in what sense we are to understand an assertion, which has been advanced respecting this philosopher and his sect, that they would not allow it to be certain, that things which are equal or fimilar to the same thing, are equal or fimilar to one another. They did not, probably, deny this axiom, considered as an abItract truih; but merely maintained, that in its application to any particular case, some uncertainty must arise, from our imperfect knowledge of the things which are brought into comparison, so that it is impossible to prove the absolute equality of any two things to a third, or to one another. It appears, moreover, that the chief point of difference between Arcesilaus and Carneades, or between the middle and she new academy was, that the latter taught the doctrine of uncertainty, in less exceptionable terms than the former. Arcesilaus, through his earnest defire of overturning all other sects, gave his opponents some pretence for charging him with having undermined the whole foundation of morals; Carneades, by leaving the human understanding in pof. Session of probability, afforded sufficient scope for the use of praca tical principles of condu&t. Arcesilaus was chiefly employed in oppoging the doctrines of other philosophers in logic and physics, and paid little attention to ethics : Carneades, at the same time that he tanght the necessity of suspence in speculative researches, prescribed rules for the direction of life and manners.'
The school of the Peripatetics was founded by Aristotle, a name singularly and deservedly famous. Aristotle was a fola lower of Plato, but disgusted that Xenocrates had succeeded this venerable philosopher, he became the author of a new fect; and, as he taught in the Lyceum, a grove in the suburbs of Athens, discourfing with his disciples in his walks, the philofophy has been styled the peripatetic. Aristotle pofTefied a comprehension peculiarly acute and accurate: in his hands, dialectics was no longer a contest of words, but an admirable clue to conduct the mind, by the accuracy of its distinctions,
through the most intricate investigations. A comprehension fo just and lively, regulated by the most exact reasoning, could not fail to detect errors in Plato, and to extend human knowledge in other subjects, so far as the uninspired intellect could probably penetrate; and, if he had held the station of Xenocrates, he would probably have produced the same revolutions in philofophy, which he effected in the Lyceum. The events of his life are sufficiently known: it is said, that he retired to Colchis where he died, to avoid the persecution and fatal end of Socrates, which he is supposed to have provoked by his doctrines on fate.
His works have reached us in a very imperfect state, from various causes, among which, we have had occasion to observe, may be reckoned probably, a designed obscurity. Those which we postess lead us, however, severely to lament those that are loit; for even at this time, when idolatry and blind admiration are no more, it may be said that, on each subject treated of, if we except only the operations and productions of nature, Aristotle has scarcely left any thing to be added. Both on account of his reasoning and his oblervations, it were well if he were more generally studied by modern authors. We must not, however, be blind to his faults: they are, in this history, exaggerated and multiplied: but the studied obscurity of his own doctrines, an eagerness too often displayed, and sometimes dilingenuously pursued, to detract from the merits of his predectfiors, and the apparently unfinished state of some of his writings, are errors which his admirers must with to diminit), or inattentions which they must regret. Aristotle believed in one great author and mover of the universe; an opinion that his followers, Strato and Dæarchus, profefiedly excluded from their systems. A very short and imperfect abract of Aristotle's opinions is added. Demetrius Pialereus and Theophrastus were the most conipicuous of the ucce:Tors of the Stagyrite.
The personal temperance, abitemiousness, and virtue of the greater number of the ancient philosophers is sufficiently evinced, not only by the concurrent testimony of antiquity, but their advanced age. It will, however, be obvious, that the refinements of Plato had led away philosophers from the morality of the Socratic system ; and, though these fancies in the works of Aristotle have been converted into wholesome aliment, the whole was still distant from their great master's object. Every one was not, however, fascinated in this way. Antisthenes, a cotemporary of Plato, and a disciple of Socrates, continued to teach, that vircuc, a moral rectitude of manners, and a proper command over the appetites and propensitics, was the great purpose of philosophy. As usual, this deviation was carried