Page images
PDF
EPUB

die. Death cannot destroy these atoms, because the atom is indivisible and therefore indestructible; it destioys their temporary union in a body, and, consequently, the individuality formed by such a union. Since feeling does not belong to isolated atoms, but is produced only by a combination of atoms in the brain and in other organs, death puts an end to feeling and destroys the personality.

The gods are more powerful beings than man, but their immortality is not absolute. Since they are composed of atoms, like mortals, they eventually succumb to the common fate of all, though they live longer than human beings. In the eternal universe, no one has any absolute privileges. Since the gods are more powerful and wiser than ourselves, we should venerate them. We may assume that they come into relation with us, - in dreams for example; but we

should free ourselves from all superstitious fears concerning them, and not forget that above these beings, however powerful they may be, there is one still more powerful than they, — Necessity, the supreme, impersonal, and impartial law which governs the heavens and the earth. To this law, which nature imposes upon all beings alike, we must submit with joyous hearts. Our happiness depends upon it.1

Atomistic materialism culminates in scepticism in Protagoras of Abdera, the philosophy of Heraclitus in Cratylus, and the Eleatic doctrine in Gorgias. This period forms a fruitful crisis in the history of Greek philosophy. Though temporarily discouraged by the examination of her resources for knowing the truth, philosophy emerged from the darkness, strengthened and exalted, conscious of her powers, and enriched by a series of studies that had, until then, never been pursued; I mean the intellectual and moral sciences.

1 See Burchard, Fragmente der Moral des Abderiten Demokritus, Minden, 1834. For the points of contact between Democritus and modern positivism, see Aristotle, Phys., VIII., 1, 27.

SECOND PERIOD

AGE OF CRITICISM OR PHILOSOPHY OF MIND

§ 13. Protagoras PROTAGORAS, a fellow-countryman and friend of Demo critus, acquired fame through the eloquent lectures which he delivered in Sicily and at Athens. He was no longer a

. φιλόσοφος, but a σοφιστής, that is, a teacher of philosophy who received pay for his lessons. His example was followed by a number of talented men, who undertook to acquaint the educated public with the conceptions of the philosophers, which had hitherto been restricted to the narrow confines of the schools. The laxness of their moral principles and their unbelief in polytheism caused these clever popularizers of knowledge to be stigmatized as Sophists. Their work, however, ranks in importance with that of the Humanists and Encyclopedists. Pampered as he was by the cultured, wealthy, and sceptical youths of the age, but detested by the common people, who remained passionately attached to the religion of their forefathers, Protagoras, like his contemporaries Anaxagoras and Socrates, fell a victim to the fanaticism of the masses and the hypocrisy of the great. He was banished, and his writings burned in the market-place (411). We may assign as the immediate cause of his condemnation, the doubts which he expressed concerning the existence of the gods in his book περί θεών.

1 The Themtetus of Plato; Diog. L., IX. ; Sext. Emp., Hypolyp., I., 217; Adv. math., VII. ; (Mullach, vol. II., lviii., pp. 130 ff.]; Ritter and Preller, pp. 183 ff.; Vitringa, De Protagoræ vita et philosophia, Groeningen, 1852; (Natorp, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Erkenntnissproblems (see above, page 55); Harpf, Die Ethik des Protagoras, Heidelberg, 1884. For the Sophists in general, see Grote, History of Greece, vol. VIII. ; Hegel; Hermann, Geschichte und System der platonischen Philosophie, pp. 179 ff., 296 ff.; J. Geel, Historia critica sophista. rum, etc., Utrecht, 1823; Valat, Essai historique sur les sophistes grecs (Investigateur, Paris, 1859); Schanz, Beiträge zur vorsokratischen Philo. sophie, I.; Die Sophisten, Göttingen, 1867; Blass, Die attische Bered sam. keit von Gorgias bis zu Lysias, Leipsic, 1868; H. Sidgwick, The Sophists (Journal of Philology, IV., 1872, pp. 288–306; V., 1873, pp. 66–80): Siebeck Untersuchungen zur Philosophie ler Griechen (I.: l'eber Su krates' Verhältniss zur Sophistik), 2d ed., Freiburg, 1888.– Tr.).

The scepticism of Protagoras represents the conclusion of a syllogism of which the trávta peî of Heraclitus forms the major, and the sensualism of Democritus, the minor premise. The sensible world is a perpetual metamorphosis; the senses show only the things that pass away; they do not reveal the immutable, necessary, and universal. Hence, if we would know the truth, we must derive it from a better source than our deceptive senses; we must appeal to reflection, to reason. But, according to Democritus, reflection is simply the continuation of sensation, from which it does not essentially differ. Consequently, if sensation is changeable, uncertain, and illusory, and is at the same time the only source of knowledge, it necessarily follows that all knowledge is uncertain. No one knows anything but his own sensations. Things that are not given to us in sensation do not exist for us. Whatever we feel exists for us.

Since the atoms of Democritus are not perceived by the senses, they are merely hypotheses without any real value, and the importance which the philosopher attaches to them is inconsistent with his doctrine. The same may be said of the germs of Anaxagoras, the elements of Empedocles, the principles of the school of Miletus; they are all purely hypothetical theories, and cannot be demonstrated. There is no truth for man except in what he perceives, feels, and experiences. And as sensations differ for different individuals, a thing seeming green to one and blue to another, large to one and small to another, it follows that there are as many truths' as individuals; that the individual is the measure of the true and the false (πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον άνθρωπος, των μεν όντων ως έστι, των δ' ούκ όντων ως ουκ έστιν); that there are no universally valid truths or principles, or, at least, that we have no certain criterion (kpitýplov) by which to recognize the absolute truth of a metaphysical or moral proposition. The individual is the measure of the true and the good. An act that benefits one man harms another; it is good for the former, bad for the latter. Practical truth, like theoretical truth, is a relative thing, a matter of taste, temperament, and education. Metaphysical controversies are therefore utterly vain. It is not possible for us to prove anything but the particular fact of sensation; still more impossible s it to know the causes or ultimate conditions of reality, which escape all sense-perception.

Let man, therefore, occupy himself with the only really accessible object, with himself! Let him abandon his sterile" speculations concerning ultimate causes, and concentrate his attention upon what is, after all, the only problem of importance, — the question concerning the conditions of happiness. Happiness consists in governing one's self and others; to govern one's self means to be virtuous; hence philosophy is the art of being virtuous. In order to govern others — in a society that is captivated by the beauties of language and always ready to sacrifice the matter to the form — it behooves one to be eloquent, that is, to think correctly and to speak correctly. Hence, philosophy is the art of thinking correctly and of speaking correctly. It consists of the following three branches: practical ethics, dialectics, and rhetoric.

These doctrines, in which the subject and the object are for the first time opposed to each other, exaggerate a

1 Diog. L., IX., 51.

.

a

a

highly important truth: the truth that reality is not some. thing external to the thinking and feeling subject; that the feeling and thinking subject is a coefficient in the production of the phenomenon; in a word, that thought whether it be transformed sensation or something else - is one of the principles of things, one of those primary conditions of reality for which philosophy has been seeking, a principle which it divined in the Tóyos of Heraclitus, the ev of Pythagoreanism, and the volls of Anaxagoras. Thought not only strives to reduce things to a unity, it is the unifying principle itself (év), that which unifies and measures reality. It is, indeed, Trávtwv xpnuátwv pét pov, and in so far as it is not conscious of itself except in man, Protagoras and the Sophists were perfectly right in saying: TÁVTWV χρημάτων μέτρον άνθρωπος xpnuátwv métpov å vopwtos. This maxim is no less epochmaking in the history of ancient philosophy than the yvôli geautóv of Socrates. It demolishes the past in order to σεαυτόν . make room for new and sounder theories based upon the consciousness of self, and inaugurates the age of criticism.

The criticism of Protagoras and the Sophists yields many fruitful results.

It destroys the mental foundations of polytheism and prepares the way for the religion of Socrates, Plato, and the Stoics. In the second place, it destroys the naïve dogmatism of fantastic speculation; and its dialectical extravagances and sophistries compel thought to give an account of itself, its mechanism, its methods, and its laws. For several centuries, philosophy had used its reasoning powers without accounting for the nature and the forms of the syllogism; it had made its inferences and deductions without investigating the inductive and deductive methods. In this respect it resembled the millions of creatures who see and hear without having the slightest notion of the mechanism of sight and hearing. Sophisticism, even though it abuses the laws of thought.

« PreviousContinue »