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PHILOSOPHY is the science of estimating values. The superiority of any state or substance over another is determined by philosophy. By assigning a position of primary importance to what remains when all that is secondary has been removed, philosophy thus becomes the true index of priority or emphasis in the realm of speculative thought. The mission of philosophy a priori is to establish the relation of manifested things to their invisible ultimate cause or nature.
"Philosophy," writes Sir William Hamilton, "has been defined [as]: The science of things divine and human, and of the causes in which they are contained [Cicero]; The science of effects by their causes [Hobbes]; The science of sufficient reasons [Leibnitz]; The science of things possible, inasmuch as they are possible [Wolf]; The science of things evidently deduced from first principles [Descartes]; The science of truths, sensible and abstract [de Condillac]; The application of reason to its legitimate objects [Tennemann]; The science of the relations of all knowledge to the necessary ends of human reason [Kant];The science of the original form of the ego or mental self [Krug]; The science of sciences [Fichte]; The science of the absolute [von Schelling]; The science of the absolute indifference of the ideal and real [von Schelling]--or, The identity of identity and non-identity [Hegel]." (See Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic.)
The six headings under which the disciplines of philosophy are commonly classified are: metaphysics, which deals with such abstract subjects as cosmology, theology, and the nature of being; logic, which deals with the laws governing rational thinking, or, as it has been called, "the doctrine of fallacies"; ethics, which is the science of morality, individual responsibility, and character--concerned chiefly with an effort to determine the nature of good; psychology, which is devoted to investigation and classification of those forms of phenomena referable to a mental origin; epistemology, which is the science concerned primarily with the nature of knowledge itself and the question of whether it may exist in an absolute form; and æsthetics, which is the science of the nature of and the reactions awakened by the beautiful, the harmonious, the elegant, and the noble.
Plato regarded philosophy as the greatest good ever imparted by Divinity to man. In the twentieth century, however, it has become a ponderous and complicated structure of arbitrary and irreconcilable notions--yet each substantiated by almost incontestible logic. The lofty theorems of the old Academy which Iamblichus likened to the nectar and ambrosia of the gods have been so adulterated by opinion--which Heraclitus declared to be a falling sickness of the mind--that the heavenly mead would now be quite unrecognizable to this great Neo-Platonist. Convincing evidence of the increasing superficiality of modern scientific and philosophic thought is its persistent drift towards materialism. When the great astronomer Laplace was asked by Napoleon why he had not mentioned God in his Traité de la Mécanique Céleste, the mathematician naively replied: "Sire, I had no need for that hypothesis!"
In his treatise on Atheism, Sir Francis Bacon tersely summarizes the situation thus: "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." The Metaphysics of Aristotle opens with these words: "All men naturally desire to know." To satisfy this common urge the unfolding human intellect has explored the extremities of imaginable space without and the extremities of imaginable self within, seeking to estimate the relationship between the one and the all; the effect and the cause; Nature and the groundwork of Nature; the mind and the source of the mind; the spirit and the substance of the spirit; the illusion and the reality.
An ancient philosopher once said: "He who has not even a knowledge of common things is a brute among men. He who has an accurate knowledge of human concerns alone is a man among brutes. But he who knows all that can be known by intellectual energy, is a God among men." Man's status in the natural world is determined, therefore, by the quality of his thinking. He whose mind is enslaved to his bestial instincts is philosophically not superior to the brute-, he whose rational faculties ponder human affairs is a man; and he whose intellect is elevated to the consideration of divine realities is already a demigod, for his being partakes of the luminosity with which his reason has brought him into proximity. In his encomium of "the science of sciences" Cicero is led to exclaim: "O philosophy, life's guide! O searcher--out of virtue and expeller of vices! What could we and every age of men have been without thee? Thou hast produced cities; thou hast called men scattered about into the social enjoyment of life."
In this age the word philosophy has little meaning unless accompanied by some other qualifying term. The body of philosophy has been broken up into numerous isms more or less antagonistic, which have become so concerned with the effort to disprove each other's fallacies that the sublimer issues of divine order and human destiny have suffered deplorable neglect. The ideal function of philosophy is to serve as the stabilizing influence in human thought. By virtue of its intrinsic nature it should prevent man from ever establishing unreasonable codes of life. Philosophers themselves, however, have frustrated the ends of philosophy by exceeding in their woolgathering those untrained minds whom they are supposed to lead in the straight and narrow path of rational thinking. To list and classify any but the more important of the now recognized schools of philosophy is beyond the space limitations of this volume. The vast area of speculation covered by philosophy will be appreciated best after a brief consideration of a few of the outstanding systems of philosophic discipline which have swayed the world of thought during the last twenty-six centuries. The Greek school of philosophy had its inception with the seven immortalized thinkers upon whom was first conferred the appellation of Sophos, "the wise." According to Diogenes Laertius, these were Thales, Solon, Chilon, Pittacus, Bias, Cleobulus, and Periander. Water was conceived by Thales to be the primal principle or element, upon which the earth floated like a ship, and earthquakes were the result of disturbances in this universal sea. Since Thales was an Ionian, the school perpetuating his tenets became known as the Ionic. He died in 546 B.C., and was succeeded by Anaximander, who in turn was followed by Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, and Archelaus, with whom the Ionic school ended. Anaximander, differing from his master Thales, declared measureless and indefinable infinity to be the principle from which all things were generated. Anaximenes asserted air to be the first element of the universe; that souls and even the Deity itself were composed of it.
Anaxagoras (whose doctrine savors of atomism) held God to be an infinite self-moving mind; that this divine infinite Mind, not inclosed in any body, is the efficient cause of all things; out of the infinite matter consisting of similar parts, everything being made according to its species by the divine mind, who when all things were at first confusedly mingled together, came and reduced them to order." Archelaus declared the principle of all things to be twofold: mind (which was incorporeal) and air (which was corporeal), the rarefaction and condensation of the latter resulting in fire and water respectively. The stars were conceived by Archelaus to be burning iron places. Heraclitus (who lived 536-470 B.C. and is sometimes included in the Ionic school) in his doctrine of change and eternal flux asserted fire to be the first element and also the state into which the world would ultimately be reabsorbed. The soul of the world he regarded as an exhalation from its humid parts, and he declared the ebb and flow of the sea to be caused by the sun.
After Pythagoras of Samos, its founder, the Italic or Pythagorean school numbers among its most distinguished representatives Empedocles, Epicharmus, Archytas, Alcmæon, Hippasus, Philolaus, and Eudoxus. Pythagoras (580-500? B.C.) conceived mathematics to be the most sacred and exact of all the sciences, and demanded of all who came to him for study a familiarity with arithmetic, music, astronomy, and geometry. He laid special emphasis upon the philosophic life as a prerequisite to wisdom. Pythagoras was one of the first teachers to establish a community wherein all the members were of mutual assistance to one another in the common attainment of the higher sciences. He also introduced the discipline of retrospection as essential to the development of the spiritual mind. Pythagoreanism may be summarized as a system of metaphysical speculation concerning the relationships between numbers and the causal agencies of existence. This school also first expounded the theory of celestial harmonics or "the music of the spheres." John Reuchlin said of Pythagoras that he taught nothing to his disciples before the discipline of silence, silence being the first rudiment of contemplation. In his Sophist, Aristotle credits Empedocles with the discovery of rhetoric. Both Pythagoras and Empedocles accepted the theory of transmigration, the latter saying: "A boy I was, then did a maid become; a plant, bird, fish, and in the vast sea swum." Archytas is credited with invention of the screw and the crane. Pleasure he declared to be a pestilence because it was opposed to the temperance of the mind; he considered a man without deceit to be as rare as a fish without bones.
The Eleatic sect was founded by Xenophanes (570-480 B.C.), who was conspicuous for his attacks upon the cosmologic and theogonic fables of Homer and Hesiod. Xenophanes declared that God was "one and incorporeal, in substance and figure round, in no way resembling man; that He is all sight and all hearing, but breathes not; that He is all things, the mind and wisdom, not generate but eternal, impassible, immutable, and rational." Xenophanes believed that all existing things were eternal, that the world was without beginning or end, and that everything which was generated was subject to corruption. He lived to great age and is said to have buried his sons with his own hands. Parmenides studied under Xenophanes, but never entirely subscribed to his doctrines. Parmenides declared the senses to be uncertain and reason the only criterion of truth. He first asserted the earth to be round and also divided its surface into zones of hear and cold.
Melissus, who is included in the Eleatic school, held many opinions in common with Parmenides. He declared the universe to be immovable because, occupying all space, there was no place to which it could be moved. He further rejected the theory of a vacuum in space. Zeno of Elea also maintained that a vacuum could not exist. Rejecting the theory of motion, he asserted that there was but one God, who was an eternal, ungenerated Being. Like Xenophanes, he conceived Deity to be spherical in shape. Leucippus held the Universe to consist of two parts: one full and the other a vacuum. From the Infinite a host of minute fragmentary bodies descended into the vacuum, where, through continual agitation, they organized themselves into spheres of substance.
The great Democritus to a certain degree enlarged upon the atomic theory of Leucippus. Democritus declared the principles of all things to be twofold: atoms and vacuum. Both, he asserted, are infinite--atoms in number, vacuum in magnitude. Thus all bodies must be composed of atoms or vacuum. Atoms possessed two properties, form and size, both characterized by infinite variety. The soul Democritus also conceived to be atomic in structure and subject to dissolution with the body. The mind he believed to be composed of spiritual atoms. Aristotle intimates that Democritus obtained his atomic theory from the Pythagorean doctrine of the Monad. Among the Eleatics are also included Protagoras and Anaxarchus.
Socrates (469-399 B.C.), the founder of the Socratic sect, being fundamentally a Skeptic, did not force his opinions upon others, but through the medium of questionings caused each man to give expression to his own philosophy. According to Plutarch, Socrates conceived every place as appropriate for reaching in that the whole world was a school of virtue. He held that the soul existed before the body and, prior to immersion therein, was endowed with all knowledge; that when the soul entered into the material form it became stupefied, but that by discourses upon sensible objects it was caused to reawaken and to recover its original knowledge. On these premises was based his attempt to stimulate the soul-power through irony and inductive reasoning. It has been said of Socrates that the sole subject of his philosophy was man. He himself declared philosophy to be the way of true happiness and its purpose twofold: (1) to contemplate God, and (2) to abstract the soul from corporeal sense.
The principles of all things he conceived to be three in number: God, matter, and ideas. Of God he said: "What He is I know not; what He is not I know." Matter he defined as the subject of generation and corruption; idea, as an incorruptible substance--the intellect of God. Wisdom he considered the sum of the virtues. Among the prominent members of the Socratic sect were Xenophon, Æschines, Crito, Simon, Glauco, Simmias, and Cebes. Professor Zeller, the great authority on ancient philosophies, has recently declared the writings of Xenophon relating to Socrates to be forgeries. When The Clouds of Aristophanes, a comedy written to ridicule the theories of Socrates, was first presented, the great Skeptic himself attended the play. During the performance, which caricatured him seated in a basket high in the air studying the sun, Socrates rose calmly in his seat, the better to enable the Athenian spectators to compare his own unprepossessing features with the grotesque mask worn by the actor impersonating him.
The Elean sect was founded by Phædo of Elis, a youth of noble family, who was bought from slavery at the instigation of Socrates and who became his devoted disciple. Plato so highly admired Phædo's mentality that he named one of the most famous of his discourses The Phædo. Phædo was succeeded in his school by Plisthenes, who in turn was followed by Menedemus. Of the doctrines of the Elean sect little is known. Menedemus is presumed to have been inclined toward the teachings of Stilpo and the Megarian sect. When Menedemus' opinions were demanded, he answered that he was free, thus intimating that most men were enslaved to their opinions. Menedemus was apparently of a somewhat belligerent temperament and often returned from his lectures in a badly bruised condition. The most famous of his propositions is stated thus: That which is not the same is different from that with which it is not the same. This point being admitted, Menedemus continued: To benefit is not the same as good, therefore good does not benefit. After the time of Menedemus the Elean sect became known as the Eretrian. Its exponents denounced all negative propositions and all complex and abstruse theories, declaring that only affirmative and simple doctrines could be true.
The Megarian sect was founded by Euclid of Megara (not the celebrated mathematician), a great admirer of Socrates. The Athenians passed a law decreeing death to any citizen of Megara found in the city of Athens. Nothing daunted, Euclid donned woman's clothing and went at night to study with Socrates. After the cruel death of their teacher, the disciples of Socrates, fearing a similar fate, fled to Megara, where they were entertained with great honor by Euclid. The Megarian school accepted the Socratic doctrine that virtue is wisdom, adding to it the Eleatic concept that goodness is absolute unity and all change an illusion of the senses. Euclid maintained that good has no opposite and therefore evil does not exist. Being asked about the nature of the gods, he declared himself ignorant of their disposition save that they hated curious persons.
The Megarians are occasionally included among the dialectic philosophers. Euclid (who died 374? B.C.) was succeeded in his school by Eubulides, among whose disciples were Alexinus and Apollonius Cronus. Euphantus, who lived to great age and wrote many tragedies, was among the foremost followers of Eubulides. Diodorus is usually included in the Megarian school, having heard Eubulides lecture. According to legend, Diodorus died of grief because he could not answer instantly certain questions asked him by Stilpo, at one time master of the Megarian school. Diodorus held that nothing can be moved, since to be moved it must be taken out of the place in which it is and put into the place where it is not, which is impossible because all things must always be in the places where they are.
The Cynics were a sect founded by Antisthenes of Athens (444-365? B.C.), a disciple of Socrates. Their doctrine may be described as an extreme individualism which considers man as existing for himself alone and advocates surrounding him by inharmony, suffering, and direst need that be may thereby be driven to retire more completely into his own nature. The Cynics renounced all worldly possessions, living in the rudest shelters and subsisting upon the coarsest and simplest food. On the assumption that the gods wanted nothing, the Cynics affirmed that those whose needs were fewest consequently approached closest to the divinities. Being asked what he gained by a life of philosophy, Antisthenes replied that he had learned how to converse with himself.
Diogenes of Sinopis is remembered chiefly for the tub in the Metroum which for many years served him as a home. The people of Athens loved the beggar-philosopher, and when a youth in jest bored holes in the tub, the city presented Diogenes with a new one and punished the youth. Diogenes believed that nothing in life can be rightly accomplished without exercitation. He maintained that everything in the world belongs to the wise, a declaration which he proved by the following logic: "All things belong to the gods; the gods are friends to wise persons; all things are common amongst friends; therefore all things belong to the wise." Among the Cynics are Monimus, Onesicritus, Crates, Metrocles, Hipparchia (who married Crates), Menippus, and Menedemus.
The Cyrenaic sect, founded by Aristippus of Cyrene (435-356? B.C.), promulgated the doctrine of hedonism. Learning of the fame of Socrates, Aristippus journeyed to Athens and applied himself to the teachings of the great Skeptic. Socrates, pained by the voluptuous and mercenary tendencies of Aristippus, vainly labored to reform the young man. Aristippus has the distinction of being consistent in principle and practice, for he lived in perfect harmony with his philosophy that the quest of pleasure was the chief purpose of life. The doctrines of the Cyrenaics may be summarized thus: All that is actually known concerning any object or condition is the feeling which it awakens in man's own nature. In the sphere of ethics that which awakens the most pleasant feeling is consequently to be esteemed as the greatest good. Emotional reactions are classified as pleasant or gentle, harsh, and mean. The end of pleasant emotion is pleasure; the end of harsh emotion, grief; the end of mean emotion, nothing.
Through mental perversity some men do not desire pleasure. In reality, however, pleasure (especially of a physical nature) is the true end of existence and exceeds in every way mental and spiritual enjoyments. Pleasure, furthermore, is limited wholly to the moment; now is the only time. The past cannot be regarded without regret and the future cannot be faced without misgiving; therefore neither is conducive to pleasure. No man should grieve, for grief is the most serious of all diseases. Nature permits man to do anything he desires; he is limited only by his own laws and customs. A philosopher is one free from envy, love, and superstition, and whose days are one long round of pleasure. Indulgence was thus elevated by Aristippus to the chief position among the virtues. He further declared philosophers to differ markedly from other men in that they alone would not change the order of their lives if all the laws of men were abolished. Among prominent philosophers influenced by the Cyrenaic doctrines were Hegesias, Anniceris, Theodorus, and Bion.
The sect of the Academic philosophers instituted by Plato (427-347 B.C.) was divided into three major parts--the old, the middle, and the new Academy. Among the old Academics were Speusippus, Zenocrates, Poleman, Crates, and Crantor. Arcesilaus instituted the middle Academy and Carneades founded the new. Chief among the masters of Plato was Socrates. Plato traveled widely and was initiated by the Egyptians into the profundities of Hermetic philosophy. He also derived much from the doctrines of the Pythagoreans. Cicero describes the threefold constitution of Platonic philosophy as comprising ethics, physics, and dialectics. Plato defined good as threefold in character: good in the soul, expressed through the virtues; good in the body, expressed through the symmetry and endurance of the parts; and good in the external world, expressed through social position and companionship. In The Book of Speusippus on Platonic Definitions, that great Platonist thus defines God: "A being that lives immortally by means of Himself alone, sufficing for His own blessedness, the eternal Essence, cause of His own goodness. According to Plato, the One is the term most suitable for defining the Absolute, since the whole precedes the parts and diversity is dependent on unity, but unity not on diversity. The One, moreover, is before being, for to be is an attribute or condition of the One.
Platonic philosophy is based upon the postulation of three orders of being: that which moves unmoved, that which is self-moved, and that which is moved. That which is immovable but moves is anterior to that which is self-moved, which likewise is anterior to that which it moves. That in which motion is inherent cannot be separated from its motive power; it is therefore incapable of dissolution. Of such nature are the immortals. That which has motion imparted to it from another can be separated from the source of its an animating principle; it is therefore subject to dissolution. Of such nature are mortal beings. Superior to both the mortals and the immortals is that condition which continually moves yet itself is unmoved. To this constitution the power of abidance is inherent; it is therefore the Divine Permanence upon which all things are established. Being nobler even than self-motion, the unmoved Mover is the first of all dignities. The Platonic discipline was founded upon the theory that learning is really reminiscence, or the bringing into objectivity of knowledge formerly acquired by the soul in a previous state of existence. At the entrance of the Platonic school in the Academy were written the words: "Let none ignorant of geometry enter here."
After the death of Plato, his disciples separated into two groups. One, the Academics, continued to meet in the Academy where once he had presided; the other, the Peripatetics, removed to the Lyceum under the leadership of Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Plato recognized Aristotle as his greatest disciple and, according to Philoponus, referred to him as "the mind of the school." If Aristotle were absent from the lectures, Plato would say: "The intellect is not here." Of the prodigious genius of Aristotle, Thomas Taylor writes in his introduction to The Metaphysics:
"When we consider that he was not only well acquainted with every science, as his works abundantly evince, but that he wrote on almost every subject which is comprehended in the circle of human knowledge, and this with matchless accuracy and skill, we know not which to admire most, the penetration or extent of his mind."
Of the philosophy of Aristotle, the same author says: "The end of Aristotle's moral philosophy is perfection through the virtues, and the end of his contemplative philosophy an union with the one principle of all things."
Aristotle conceived philosophy to be twofold: practical and theoretical. Practical philosophy embraced ethics and politics; theoretical philosophy, physics and logic. Metaphysics he considered to be the science concerning that substance which has the principle of motion and rest inherent to itself. To Aristotle the soul is that by which man first lives, feels, and understands. Hence to the soul he assigned three faculties: nutritive, sensitive, and intellective. He further considered the soul to be twofold--rational and irrational--and in some particulars elevated the sense perceptions above the mind. Aristotle defined wisdom as the science of first Causes. The four major divisions of his philosophy are dialectics, physics, ethics, and metaphysics. God is defined as the First Mover, the Best of beings, an immovable Substance, separate from sensible things, void of corporeal quantity, without parts and indivisible. Platonism is based upon a priori reasoning; Aristotelianism upon a posteriori reasoning. Aristotle taught his pupil, Alexander the Great, to feel that if he had not done a good deed he had not reigned that day. Among his followers were Theophrastus, Strato, Lyco, Aristo, Critolaus, and Diodorus.
Of Skepticism as propounded by Pyrrho of Elis (365-275 B.C.) and by Timon, Sextus Empiricus said that those who seek must find or deny they have found or can find, or persevere in the inquiry. Those who suppose they have found truth are called Dogmatists; those who think it incomprehensible are the Academics; those who still seek are the Skeptics. The attitude of Skepticism towards the knowable is summed up by Sextus Empiricus in the following words: "But the chief ground of Skepticism is that to every reason there is an opposite reason equivalent, which makes us forbear to dogmatize." The Skeptics were strongly opposed to the Dogmatists and were agnostic in that they held the accepted theories regarding Deity to be self-contradictory and undemonstrable. "How," asked the Skeptic, "can we have indubitate knowledge of God, knowing not His substance, form or place; for, while philosophers disagree irreconcilably on these points, their conclusions cannot be considered as undoubtedly true?" Since absolute knowledge was considered unattainable, the Skeptics declared the end of their discipline to be: "In opinionatives, indisturbance; in impulsives, moderation; and in disquietives, suspension."
The sect of the Stoics was founded by Zeno (340-265 B.C.), the Cittiean, who studied under Crates the Cynic, from which sect the Stoics had their origin. Zeno was succeeded by Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Zeno of Tarsis, Diogenes, Antipater, Panætius, and Posidonius. Most famous of the Roman Stoics are Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. The Stoics were essentially pantheists, since they maintained that as there is nothing better than the world, the world is God. Zeno declared that the reason of the world is diffused throughout it as seed. Stoicism is a materialistic philosophy, enjoining voluntary resignation to natural law. Chrysippus maintained that good and evil being contrary, both are necessary since each sustains the other. The soul was regarded as a body distributed throughout the physical form and subject to dissolution with it. Though some of the Stoics held that wisdom prolonged the existence of the soul, actual immortality is not included in their tenets. The soul was said to be composed of eight parts: the five senses, the generative power, the vocal power, and an eighth, or hegemonic, part. Nature was defined as God mixed throughout the substance of the world. All things were looked upon as bodies either corporeal or incorporeal.
Meekness marked the attitude of the Stoic philosopher. While Diogenes was delivering a discourse against anger, one of his listeners spat contemptuously in his face. Receiving the insult with humility, the great Stoic was moved to retort: "I am not angry, but am in doubt whether I ought to be so or not!"
Epicurus of Samos (341-270 B.C.) was the founder of the Epicurean sect, which in many respects resembles the Cyrenaic but is higher in its ethical standards. The Epicureans also posited pleasure as the most desirable state, but conceived it to be a grave and dignified state achieved through renunciation of those mental and emotional inconstancies which are productive of pain and sorrow. Epicurus held that as the pains of the mind and soul are more grievous than those of the body, so the joys of the mind and soul exceed those of the body. The Cyrenaics asserted pleasure to be dependent upon action or motion; the Epicureans claimed rest or lack of action to be equally productive of pleasure. Epicurus accepted the philosophy of Democritus concerning the nature of atoms and based his physics upon this theory. The Epicurean philosophy may be summed up in four canons:
"(1) Sense is never deceived; and therefore every sensation and every perception of an appearance is true. (2) Opinion follows upon sense and is superadded to sensation, and capable of truth or falsehood, (3) All opinion attested, or not contradicted by the evidence of sense, is true. (4) An opinion contradicted, or not attested by the evidence of sense, is false." Among the Epicureans of note were Metrodorus of Lampsacus, Zeno of Sidon, and Phædrus.
Eclecticism may be defined as the practice of choosing apparently irreconcilable doctrines from antagonistic schools and constructing therefrom a composite philosophic system in harmony with the convictions of the eclectic himself. Eclecticism can scarcely be considered philosophically or logically sound, for as individual schools arrive at their conclusions by different methods of reasoning, so the philosophic product of fragments from these schools must necessarily be built upon the foundation of conflicting premises. Eclecticism, accordingly, has been designated the layman's cult. In the Roman Empire little thought was devoted to philosophic theory; consequently most of its thinkers were of the eclectic type. Cicero is the outstanding example of early Eclecticism, for his writings are a veritable potpourri of invaluable fragments from earlier schools of thought. Eclecticism appears to have had its inception at the moment when men first doubted the possibility of discovering ultimate truth. Observing all so-called knowledge to be mere opinion at best, the less studious furthermore concluded that the wiser course to pursue was to accept that which appeared to be the most reasonable of the teachings of any school or individual. From this practice, however, arose a pseudo-broadmindedness devoid of the element of preciseness found in true logic and philosophy.
The Neo-Pythagorean school flourished in Alexandria during the first century of the Christian Era. Only two names stand out in connection with it--Apollonius of Tyana and Moderatus of Gades. Neo-Pythagoreanism is a link between the older pagan philosophies and Neo-Platonism. Like the former, it contained many exact elements of thought derived from Pythagoras and Plato; like the latter, it emphasized metaphysical speculation and ascetic habits. A striking similarity has been observed by several authors between Neo-Pythagoreanism and the doctrines of the Essenes. Special emphasis was laid upon the mystery of numbers, and it is possible that the Neo-Pythagoreans had a far wider knowledge of the true teachings of Pythagoras than is available today. Even in the first century Pythagoras was regarded more as a god than a man, and the revival of his philosophy was resorted to apparently in the hope that his name would stimulate interest in the deeper systems of learning. But Greek philosophy had passed the zenith of its splendor; the mass of humanity was awakening to the importance of physical life and physical phenomena. The emphasis upon earthly affairs which began to assert itself later reached maturity of expression in twentieth century materialism and commercialism, even though Neo-Platonism was to intervene and many centuries pass before this emphasis took definite form.
ÆNEAS AT THE GATE OF HELL.
Although Ammonius Saccus was long believed to be the founder of Neo-Platonism, the school had its true beginning in Plotinus (A.D. 204-269?). Prominent among the Neo-Platonists of Alexandria, Syria, Rome, and Athens were Porphyry, Iamblichus, Sallustius, the Emperor Julian, Plutarch, and Proclus. Neo-Platonism was the supreme effort of decadent pagandom to publish and thus preserve for posterity its secret (or unwritten) doctrine. In its teachings ancient idealism found its most perfect expression. Neo-Platonism was concerned almost exclusively with the problems of higher metaphysics. It recognized the existence of a secret and all-important doctrine which from the time of the earliest civilizations had been concealed within the rituals, symbols, and allegories of religions and philosophies. To the mind unacquainted with its fundamental tenets, Neo-Platonism may appear to be a mass of speculations interspersed with extravagant flights of fancy. Such a viewpoint, however, ignores the institutions of the Mysteries--those secret schools into whose profundities of idealism nearly all of the first philosophers of antiquity were initiated.
When the physical body of pagan thought collapsed, an attempt was made to resurrect the form by instilling new life into it by the unveiling of its mystical truths. This effort apparently was barren of results. Despite the antagonism, however, between pristine Christianity and Neo-Platonism many basic tenets of the latter were accepted by the former and woven into the fabric of Patristic philosophy. Briefly described, Neo-Platonism is a philosophic code which conceives every physical or concrete body of doctrine to be merely the shell of a spiritual verity which may be discovered through meditation and certain exercises of a mystic nature. In comparison to the esoteric spiritual truths which they contain, the corporeal bodies of religion and philosophy were considered relatively of little value. Likewise, no emphasis was placed upon the material sciences.
The term Patristic is employed to designate the philosophy of the Fathers of the early Christian Church. Patristic philosophy is divided into two general epochs: ante-Nicene and post-Nicene. The ante-Nicene period in the main was devoted to attacks upon paganism and to apologies and defenses of Christianity. The entire structure of pagan philosophy was assailed and the dictates of faith elevated above those of reason. In some instances efforts were made to reconcile the evident truths of paganism with Christian revelation. Eminent among the ante-Nicene Fathers were St. Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Justin Martyr. In the post-Nicene period more emphasis was placed upon the unfoldment of Christian philosophy along Platonic and Neo-Platonic lines, resulting in the appearance of many strange documents of a lengthy, rambling, and ambiguous nature, nearly all of which were philosophically unsound. The post-Nicene philosophers included Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril of Alexandria. The Patristic school is notable for its emphasis upon the supremacy of man throughout the universe. Man was conceived to be a separate and divine creation--the crowning achievement of Deity and an exception to the suzerainty of natural law. To the Patristics it was inconceivable that there should ever exist another creature so noble, so fortunate, or so able as man, for whose sole benefit and edification all the kingdoms of Nature were primarily created.
Patristic philosophy culminated in Augustinianism, which may best be defined as Christian Platonism. Opposing the Pelasgian doctrine that man is the author of his own salvation, Augustinianism elevated the church and its dogmas to a position of absolute infallibility--a position which it successfully maintained until the Reformation. Gnosticism, a system of emanationism, interpreting Christianity in terms of Greek, Egyptian, and Persian metaphysics, appeared in the latter part of the first century of the Christian Era. Practically all the information extant regarding the Gnostics and their doctrines, stigmatized as heresy by the ante-Nicene Church Fathers, is derived from the accusations made against them, particularly from the writings of St. Irenæus. In the third century appeared Manichæism, a dualistic system of Persian origin, which taught that Good and Evil were forever contending for universal supremacy. In Manichæism, Christ is conceived to be the Principle of redeeming Good in contradistinction to the man Jesus, who was viewed as an evil personality.
The death of Boethius in the sixth century marked the close of the ancient Greek school of philosophy. The ninth century saw the rise of the new school of Scholasticism, which sought to reconcile philosophy with theology. Representative of the main divisions of the Scholastic school were the Eclecticism of John of Salisbury, the Mysticism of Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Bonaventura, the Rationalism of Peter Abelard, and the pantheistic Mysticism of Meister Eckhart. Among the Arabian Aristotelians were Avicenna and Averroes. The zenith of Scholasticism was reached with the advent of Albertus Magnus and his illustrious disciple, St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomism (the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, sometimes referred to as the Christian Aristotle) sought to reconcile the various factions of the Scholastic school. Thomism was basically Aristotelian with the added concept that faith is a projection of reason.
Scotism, or the doctrine of Voluntarism promulgated by Joannes Duns Scotus, a Franciscan Scholastic, emphasized the power and efficacy of the individual will, as opposed to Thomism. The outstanding characteristic of Scholasticism was its frantic effort to cast all European thought in an Aristotelian mold. Eventually the Schoolmen descended to the level of mere wordmongers who picked the words of Aristotle so clean that nothing but the bones remained. It was this decadent school of meaningless verbiage against which Sir Francis Bacon directed his bitter shafts of irony and which he relegated to the potter's field of discarded notions.
The Baconian, or inductive, system of reasoning (whereby facts are arrived at by a process of observation and verified by experimentation) cleared the way for the schools of modern science. Bacon was followed by Thomas Hobbes (for some time his secretary), who held mathematics to be the only exact science and thought to be essentially a mathematical process. Hobbes declared matter to be the only reality, and scientific investigation to be limited to the study of bodies, the phenomena relative to their probable causes, and the consequences which flow from them under every variety of circumstance. Hobbes laid special stress upon the significance of words, declaring understanding to be the faculty of perceiving the relationship between words and the objects for which they stand.
Having broken away from the scholastic and theological schools, Post-Reformation, or modern, philosophy experienced a most prolific growth along many diverse lines. According to Humanism, man is the measure of all things; Rationalism makes the reasoning faculties the basis of all knowledge; Political Philosophy holds that man must comprehend his natural, social, and national privileges; Empiricism declares that alone to be true which is demonstrable by experiment or experience; Moralism emphasizes the necessity of right conduct as a fundamental philosophic tenet; Idealism asserts the realities of the universe to be superphysical--either mental or psychical; Realism, the reverse; and Phenomenalism restricts knowledge to facts or events which can be scientifically described or explained. The most recent developments in the field of philosophic thought are Behaviorism and Neo-Realism. The former estimates the intrinsic characteristics through an analysis of behavior; the latter may be summed up as the total extinction of idealism.
Baruch de Spinoza, the eminent Dutch philosopher, conceived God to be a substance absolutely self-existent and needing no other conception besides itself to render it complete and intelligible. The nature of this Being was held by Spinoza to be comprehensible only through its attributes, which are extension and thought: these combine to form an endless variety of aspects or modes. The mind of man is one of the modes of infinite thought; the body of man one of the modes of infinite extension. Through reason man is enabled to elevate himself above the illusionary world of the senses and find eternal repose in perfect union with the Divine Essence. Spinoza, it has been said, deprived God of all personality, making Deity synonymous with the universe.
German philosophy had its inception with Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz, whose theories are permeated with the qualities of optimism and idealism. Leibnitz's criteria of sufficient reason revealed to him the insufficiency of Descartes' theory of extension, and he therefore concluded that substance itself contained an inherent power in the form of an incalculable number of separate and all-sufficient units. Matter reduced to its ultimate particles ceases to exist as a substantial body, being resolved into a mass of immaterial ideas or metaphysical units of power, to which Leibnitz applied the term monad. Thus the universe is composed of an infinite number of separate monadic entities unfolding spontaneously through the objectification of innate active qualities. All things are conceived as consisting of single monads of varying magnitudes or of aggregations of these bodies, which may exist as physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual substances. God is the first and greatest Monad; the spirit of man is an awakened monad in contradistinction to the lower kingdoms whose governing monadic powers are in a semi-dormant state.
Though a product of the Leibnitzian-Wolfian school, Immanuel Kant, like Locke, dedicated himself to investigation of the powers and limits of human understanding. The result was his critical philosophy, embracing the critique of pure reason, the critique of practical reason, and the critique of judgment. Dr. W. J. Durant sums up Kant's philosophy in the concise statement that he rescued mind from matter. The mind Kant conceived to be the selector and coordinator of all perceptions, which in turn are the result of sensations grouping themselves about some external object. In the classification of sensations and ideas the mind employs certain categories: of sense, time and space; of understanding, quality, relation, modality, and causation; and the unity of apperception. Being subject to mathematical laws, time and space are considered absolute and sufficient bases for exact thinking. Kant's practical reason declared that while the nature of noumenon could never be comprehended by the reason, the fact of morality proves the existence of three necessary postulates: free will, immortality, and God. In the critique of judgment Kant demonstrates the union of the noumenon and the phenomenon in art and biological evolution. German superintellectualism is the outgrowth of an overemphasis of Kant's theory of the autocratic supremacy of the mind over sensation and thought. The philosophy of Johann Gottlieb Fichte was a projection of Kant's philosophy, wherein he attempted to unite Kant's practical reason with his pure reason. Fichte held that the known is merely the contents of the consciousness of the knower, and that nothing can exist to the knower until it becomes part of those contents. Nothing is actually real, therefore, except the facts of one's own mental experience.
Recognizing the necessity of certain objective realities, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, who succeeded Fichte in the chair of philosophy at Jena, first employed the doctrine of identity as the groundwork for a complete system of philosophy. Whereas Fichte regarded self as the Absolute, von Schelling conceived infinite and eternal Mind to be the all-pervading Cause. Realization of the Absolute is made possible by intellectual intuition which, being a superior or spiritual sense, is able to dissociate itself from both subject and object. Kant's categories of space and time von Schelling conceived to be positive and negative respectively, and material existence the result of the reciprocal action of these two expressions. Von Schelling also held that the Absolute in its process of self-development proceeds according to a law or rhythm consisting of three movements. The first, a reflective movement, is the attempt of the Infinite to embody itself in the finite. The second, that of subsumption, is the attempt of the Absolute to return to the Infinite after involvement in the finite. The third, that of reason, is the neutral point wherein the two former movements are blended.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel considered the intellectual intuition of von Schelling to be philosophically unsound and hence turned his attention to the establishment of a system of philosophy based upon pure logic. Of Hegel it has been said that he began with nothing and showed with logical precision how everything had proceeded from it in logical order. Hegel elevated logic to a position of supreme importance, in fact as a quality of the Absolute itself. God he conceived to be a process of unfolding which never attains to the condition of unfoldment. In like manner, thought is without either beginning or end. Hegel further believed that all things owe their existence to their opposites and that all opposites are actually identical. Thus the only existence is the relationship of opposites to each other, through whose combinations new elements are produced. As the Divine Mind is an eternal process of thought never accomplished, Hegel assails the very foundation of theism and his philosophy limits immortality to the everflowing Deity alone. Evolution is consequently the never-ending flow of Divine Consciousness out of itself; all creation, though continually moving, never arrives at any state other than that of ceaseless flow.
Johann Friedrich Herbart's philosophy was a realistic reaction from the idealism of Fichte and von Schelling. To Herbart the true basis of philosophy was the great mass of phenomena continually moving through the human mind. Examination of phenomena, however, demonstrates that a great part of it is unreal, at least incapable of supplying the mind with actual truth. To correct the false impressions caused by phenomena and discover reality, Herbart believed it necessary to resolve phenomena into separate elements, for reality exists in the elements and not in the whole. He stated that objects can be classified by three general terms: thing, matter, and mind; the first a unit of several properties, the second an existing object, the third a self-conscious being. All three notions give rise, however, to certain contradictions, with whose solution Herbart is primarily concerned. For example, consider matter. Though capable of filling space, if reduced to its ultimate state it consists of incomprehensibly minute units of divine energy occupying no physical space whatsoever.
The true subject of Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy is the will; the object of his philosophy is the elevation of the mind to the point where it is capable of controlling the will. Schopenhauer likens the will to a strong blind man who carries on his shoulders the intellect, which is a weak lame man possessing the power of sight. The will is the tireless cause of manifestation and every part of Nature the product of will. The brain is the product of the will to know; the hand the product of the will to grasp. The entire intellectual and emotional constitutions of man are subservient to the will and are largely concerned with the effort to justify the dictates of the will. Thus the mind creates elaborate systems of thought simply to prove the necessity of the thing willed. Genius, however, represents the state wherein the intellect has gained supremacy over the will and the life is ruled by reason and not by impulse. The strength of Christianity, said Schopenhauer, lay in its pessimism and conquest of individual will. His own religious viewpoints resembled closely the Buddhistic. To him Nirvana represented the subjugation of will. Life--the manifestation of the blind will to live--he viewed as a misfortune, claiming that the true philosopher was one who, recognizing the wisdom of death, resisted the inherent urge to reproduce his kind.
Of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche it has been said that his peculiar contribution to the cause of human hope was the glad tidings that God had died of pity! The outstanding features of Nietzsche's philosophy are his doctrine of eternal recurrence and the extreme emphasis placed by him upon the will to power--a projection of Schopenhauer's will to live. Nietzsche believed the purpose of existence to be the production of a type of all-powerful individual, designated by him the superman. This superman was the product of careful culturing, for if not separated forcibly from the mass and consecrated to the production of power, the individual would sink back to the level of the deadly mediocre. Love, Nietzsche said, should be sacrificed to the production of the superman and those only should marry who are best fitted to produce this outstanding type. Nietzsche also believed in the rule of the aristocracy, both blood and breeding being essential to the establishment of this superior type. Nietzsche's doctrine did not liberate the masses; it rather placed over them supermen for whom their inferior brothers and sisters should be perfectly reconciled to die. Ethically and politically, the superman was a law unto himself. To those who understand the true meaning of power to be virtue, self-control, and truth, the ideality behind Nietzsche's theory is apparent. To the superficial, however, it is a philosophy heartless and calculating, concerned solely with the survival of the fittest.
Of the other German schools of philosophic thought, limitations of space preclude detailed mention. The more recent developments of the German school are Freudianism and Relativism (often called the Einstein theory). The former is a system of psychoanalysis through psychopathic and neurological phenomena; the latter attacks the accuracy of mechanical principles dependent upon the present theory of velocity.
René Descartes stands at the head of the French school of philosophy and shares with Sir Francis Bacon the honor of founding the systems of modern science and philosophy. As Bacon based his conclusions upon observation of external things, so Descartes founded his metaphysical philosophy upon observation of internal things. Cartesianism (the philosophy of Descartes) first eliminates all things and then replaces as fundamental those premises without which existence is impossible. Descartes defined an idea as that which fills the mind when we conceive a thing. The truth of an idea must be determined by the criteria of clarity and distinctness. Hence Descartes, held that a clear and distinct idea must be true. Descartes has the distinction also of evolving his own philosophy without recourse to authority. Consequently his conclusions are built up from the simplest of premises and grow in complexity as the structure of his philosophy takes form.
The Positive philosophy of Auguste Comte is based upon the theory that the human intellect develops through three stages of thought. The first and lowest stage is theological; the second, metaphysical; and the third and highest, positive. Thus theology and metaphysics are the feeble intellectual efforts of humanity's child-mind and positivism is the mental expression of the adult intellect. In his Cours de Philosophie positive, Comte writes:
"In the final, the positive state, the mind has given over the vain search after Absolute notions, the origin and destination of the universe, and the causes of phenomena, and applies itself to the study of their laws,--that is, their invariable relations of succession and resemblance. Reasoning and observation, duly combined, are the means of this knowledge." Comte's theory is described as an "enormous system of materialism." According to Comte, it was formerly said that the heavens declare the glory of God, but now they only recount the glory of Newton and Laplace.
Among the French schools of philosophy are Traditionalism (often applied to Christianity), which esteems tradition as the proper foundation for philosophy; the Sociological school, which regards humanity as one vast social organism; the Encyclopedists, whose efforts to classify knowledge according to the Baconian system revolutionized European thought; Voltairism, which assailed the divine origin of the Christian faith and adopted an attitude of extreme skepticism toward all matters pertaining to theology; and Neo-Criticism, a French revision of the doctrines of Immanuel Kant.
Henri Bergson, the intuitionalist, undoubtedly the greatest living French philosopher, presents a theory of mystic anti-intellectualism founded upon the premise of creative evolution, His rapid rise to popularity is due to his appeal to the finer sentiments in human nature, which rebel against the hopelessness and helplessness of materialistic science and realistic philosophy. Bergson sees God as life continually struggling against the limitations of matter. He even conceives the possible victory of life over matter, and in time the annihilation of death.
Applying the Baconian method to the mind, John Locke, the great English philosopher, declared that everything which passes through the mind is a legitimate object of mental philosophy, and that these mental phenomena are as real and valid as the objects of any other science. In his investigations of the origin of phenomena Locke departed from the Baconian requirement that it was first necessary to make a natural history of facts. The mind was regarded by Locke to be blank until experience is inscribed upon it. Thus the mind is built up of received impressions plus reflection. The soul Locke believed to be incapable of apprehension of Deity, and man's realization or cognition of God to be merely an inference of the reasoning faculty. David Hume was the most enthusiastic and also the most powerful of the disciples of Locke.
Attacking Locke's sensationalism, Bishop George Berkeley substituted for it a philosophy founded on Locke's fundamental premises but which he developed as a system of idealism. Berkeley held that ideas are the real objects of knowledge. He declared it impossible to adduce proof that sensations are occasioned by material objects; he also attempted to prove that matter has no existence. Berkeleianism holds that the universe is permeated and governed by mind. Thus the belief in the existence of material objects is merely a mental condition, and the objects themselves may well be fabrications of the mind. At the same time Berkeley considered it worse than insanity to question the accuracy of the perceptions; for if the power of the perceptive faculties be questioned man is reduced to a creature incapable of knowing, estimating, or realizing anything whatsoever.
In the Associationalism of Hartley and Hume was advanced the theory that the association of ideas is the fundamental principle of psychology and the explanation for all mental phenomena. Hartley held that if a sensation be repeated several times there is a tendency towards its spontaneous repetition, which may be awakened by association with some other idea even though the object causing the original reaction be absent. The Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, Archdeacon Paley, and James and John Stuart Mill declares that to be the greatest good which is the most useful to the greatest number. John Stuart Mill believed that if it is possible through sensation to secure knowledge of the properties of things, it is also possible through a higher state of the mind--that is, intuition or reason--to gain a knowledge of the true substance of things.
Darwinism is the doctrine of natural selection and physical evolution. It has been said of Charles Robert Darwin that he determined to banish spirit altogether from the universe and make the infinite and omnipresent Mind itself synonymous with the all-pervading powers of an impersonal Nature. Agnosticism and Neo-Hegelianism are also noteworthy products of this period of philosophic thought. The former is the belief that the nature of ultimates is unknowable; the latter an English and American revival of Hegel's idealism.
Dr. W. J. Durant declares that Herbert Spencer's Great Work, First Principles, made him almost at once the most famous philosopher of his time. Spencerianism is a philosophic positivism which describes evolution as an ever-increasing complexity with equilibrium as its highest possible state. According to Spencer, life is a continuous process from homogeneity to heterogeneity and back from heterogeneity to homogeneity. Life also involves the continual adjustment of internal relations to external relations. Most famous of all Spencer's aphorisms is his definition of Deity: "God is infinite intelligence, infinitely diversified through infinite time and infinite space, manifesting through an infinitude of ever-evolving individualities." The universality of the law of evolution was emphasized by Spencer, who applied it not only to the form but also to the intelligence behind the form. In every manifestation of being he recognized the fundamental tendency of unfoldment from simplicity to complexity, observing that when the point of equilibrium is reached it is always followed by the process of dissolution. According to Spencer, however, disintegration took place only that reintegration might follow upon a higher level of being.
The chief position in the Italian school of philosophy should be awarded to Giordano Bruno, who, after enthusiastically accepting Copernicus' theory that the sun is the center of the solar system, declared the sun to be a star and all the stars to be suns. In Bruno's time the earth was regarded as the center of all creation. Consequently when he thus relegated the world and man to an obscure corner in space the effect was cataclysmic. For the heresy of affirming a multiplicity of universes and conceiving Cosmos to be so vast that no single creed could fill it, Bruno paid the forfeit of his life.
Vicoism is a philosophy based upon the conclusions of Giovanni Battista Vico, who held that God controls His world not miraculously but through natural law. The laws by which men rule themselves, Vico declared, issue from a spiritual source within mankind which is en rapport with the law of the Deity. Hence material law is of divine origin and reflects the dictates of the Spiritual Father. The philosophy of Ontologism developed by Vincenzo Gioberti (generally considered more as a theologian than a philosopher) posits God as the only being and the origin of all knowledge, knowledge being identical with Deity itself. God is consequently called Being; all other manifestations are existences. Truth is to be discovered through reflection upon this mystery.
The most important of modern Italian philosophers is Benedetto Croce, a Hegelian idealist. Croce conceives ideas to be the only reality. He is anti-theological in his viewpoints, does not believe in the immortality of the soul, and seeks to substitute ethics and aesthetics for religion. Among other branches of Italian philosophy should be mentioned Sensism (Sensationalism), which posits the sense perceptions as the sole channels for the reception of knowledge; Criticism, or the philosophy of accurate judgment; and Neo-Scholasticism, which is a revival of Thomism encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church.
The two outstanding schools of American philosophy are Transcendentalism and Pragmatism. Transcendentalism, exemplified in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, emphasizes the power of the transcendental over the physical. Many of Emerson's writings show pronounced Oriental influence, particularly his essays on the Oversoul and the Law of Compensation. The theory of Pragmatism, while not original with Professor William James, owes its widespread popularity as a philosophic tenet to his efforts. Pragmatism may be defined as the doctrine that the meaning and nature of things are to be discovered from consideration of their consequences. The true, according to James, "is only an expedient in the way of our thinking, just as 'the right' is only an expedient in the way of our behaving." (See his Pragmatism.) John Dewey, the Instrumentalist, who applies the experimental attitude to all the aims of life, should be considered a commentator of James. To Dewey, growth and change are limitless and no ultimates are postulated. The long residence in America of George Santayana warrants the listing of this great Spaniard among the ranks of American philosophers. Defending himself with the shield of skepticism alike from the illusions of the senses and the cumulative errors of the ages, Santayana seeks to lead mankind into a more apprehending state denominated by him the life of reason.
(In addition to the authorities already quoted, in the preparation of the foregoing abstract of the main branches of philosophic thought the present writer has had recourse to Stanley's History of Philosophy; Morell's An Historical and Critical View of the Speculative Philosophy of Europe in the Nineteenth Century; Singer's Modern Thinkers and Present Problems; Rand's Modern Classical Philosophers; Windelband's History of Philosophy; Perry's Present Philosophical Tendencies; Hamilton's Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic; and Durant's The Story of Philosophy.)
Having thus traced the more or less sequential development of philosophic speculation from Thales to James and Bergson, it is now in order to direct the reader's attention to the elements leading to and the circumstances attendant upon the genesis of philosophic thinking. Although the Hellenes proved themselves peculiarly responsive to the disciplines of philosophy, this science of sciences should not be considered indigenous to them. "Although some of the Grecians," writes Thomas Stanley, "have challenged to their nation the original of philosophy, yet the more learned of them have acknowledged it [to be] derived from the East." The magnificent institutions of Hindu, Chaldean, and Egyptian learning must be recognized as the actual source of Greek wisdom. The last was patterned after the shadow cast by the sanctuaries of Ellora, Ur, and Memphis upon the thought substance of a primitive people. Thales, Pythagoras, and Plato in their philosophic wanderings contacted many distant cults and brought back the lore of Egypt and the inscrutable Orient.
From indisputable facts such as these it is evident that philosophy emerged from the religious Mysteries of antiquity, not being separated from religion until after the decay of the Mysteries. Hence he who would fathom the depths of philosophic thought must familiarize himself with the teachings of those initiated priests designated as the first custodians of divine revelation. The Mysteries claimed to be the guardians of a transcendental knowledge so profound as to be incomprehensible save to the most exalted intellect and so potent as to be revealed with safety only to those in whom personal ambition was dead and who had consecrated their lives to the unselfish service of humanity. Both the dignity of these sacred institutions and the validity of their claim to possession of Universal Wisdom are attested by the most illustrious philosophers of antiquity, who were themselves initiated into the profundities of the secret doctrine and who bore witness to its efficacy.
The question may legitimately be propounded: If these ancient mystical institutions were of such "great pith and moment," why is so little information now available concerning them and the arcana they claimed to possess? The answer is simple enough: The Mysteries were secret societies, binding their initiates to inviolable secrecy, and avenging with death the betrayal of their sacred trusts. Although these schools were the true inspiration of the various doctrines promulgated by the ancient philosophers, the fountainhead of those doctrines was never revealed to the profane. Furthermore, in the lapse of time the teachings became so inextricably linked with the names of their disseminators that the actual but recondite source--the Mysteries--came to be wholly ignored.
Symbolism is the language of the Mysteries; in fact it is the language not only of mysticism and philosophy but of all Nature, for every law and power active in universal procedure is manifested to the limited sense perceptions of man through the medium of symbol. Every form existing in the diversified sphere of being is symbolic of the divine activity by which it is produced. By symbols men have ever sought to communicate to each other those thoughts which transcend the limitations of language. Rejecting man-conceived dialects as inadequate and unworthy to perpetuate divine ideas, the Mysteries thus chose symbolism as a far more ingenious and ideal method of preserving their transcendental knowledge. In a single figure a symbol may both reveal and conceal, for to the wise the subject of the symbol is obvious, while to the ignorant the figure remains inscrutable. Hence, he who seeks to unveil the secret doctrine of antiquity must search for that doctrine not upon the open pages of books which might fall into the hands of the unworthy but in the place where it was originally concealed.
Far-sighted were the initiates of antiquity. They realized that nations come and go, that empires rise and fall, and that the golden ages of art, science, and idealism are succeeded by the dark ages of superstition. With the needs of posterity foremost in mind, the sages of old went to inconceivable extremes to make certain that their knowledge should be preserved. They engraved it upon the face of mountains and concealed it within the measurements of colossal images, each of which was a geometric marvel. Their knowledge of chemistry and mathematics they hid within mythologies which the ignorant would perpetuate, or in the spans and arches of their temples which time has not entirely obliterated. They wrote in characters that neither the vandalism of men nor the ruthlessness of the elements could completely efface, Today men gaze with awe and reverence upon the mighty Memnons standing alone on the sands of Egypt, or upon the strange terraced pyramids of Palanque. Mute testimonies these are of the lost arts and sciences of antiquity; and concealed this wisdom must remain until this race has learned to read the universal language--SYMBOLISM.
The book to which this is the introduction is dedicated to the proposition that concealed within the emblematic figures, allegories, and rituals of the ancients is a secret doctrine concerning the inner mysteries of life, which doctrine has been preserved in toto among a small band of initiated minds since the beginning of the world. Departing, these illumined philosophers left their formulæ that others, too, might attain to understanding. But, lest these secret processes fall into uncultured hands and be perverted, the Great Arcanum was always concealed in symbol or allegory; and those who can today discover its lost keys may open with them a treasure house of philosophic, scientific, and religious truths.
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