History of philosophy

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S. A. Byk, Die vorsokratische Philosophic der Griechen in ihrer organischen

Gliederung. 2 Parts. Leips. 1875-77.

[J. Biirnet, Early Greek Philosophy. Lond. 1892.]

THE immediate background for the beginnings of Greek philoso

phy was formed by the cosmogonic poetry, which aimed to present

in mythical garb the story of the prehistoric ages of the given

world, and so, in the form of narratives of the origination of the

universe, made use of prevailing ideas as to the constant mutations

of things. The more freely individual views developed in this pro

cess, the more the time factor in the myth retreated in favour of the

emphasising of these abiding relations; and the question finally

emerged : " What is then the original ground of things, which out

lasts all temporal change, and how does it change itself into these

particular things, or change these things back into itself ? "
The solution of this question was first attempted in the sixth

century by the Milesian School of natural philosophy, of which

Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes are known to us as the

three chief representatives. Information of many kinds, which had

long been publicly accumulating in the practical experience of the

sea-faring lonians, stood at their disposal, as well as many true

observations, often of an acute sort. They kept in touch, also, no

doubt, with the experience of the Oriental peoples, especially the

Egyptians, with whom they stood in so close relation. 1 Knowledge

from these various sources was brought together with youthful zeal.

The chief interest fell upon physical questions, particularly upon
1 The influence of the Orient upon the beginnings of Greek philosophy has

been overestimated by Glabisch (Die Religion und die Philosophic in ihrer

weltgeschichtlichen Entwicklung, Breslau, 1852) and Roth (Geschichte unserer

abendldndischen Philosophic, 2 Vols., Mannheim, 1858 ff.). In the case of

information upon particular fields such influence is certainly to be recognised ;

on the other hand, the scientific conceptions are throughout independent works

of Greek thought.

28 The Philosophy of the Greeks. [PART I.

the great elementary phenomena, to explain which many hypotheses

were thought out. Besides this, interest turned chiefly to geo

graphical and astronomical problems, such as the form of the earth,

its relation to the sidereal heavens, the nature of the sun, moon,

and planets, and the manner and cause of their motion. On the

other hand, there are but feeble indications of a zeal for knowledge

applied to the organic world and man.
Such were the objects of experience studied by the first "philosophy." It

stood quite far removed from medical science, which, to be sure, was limited to

technical information and proficiency in the art, and was handed down as a

secret doctrine, guarded in priest-like fashion in orders and schools, such as

those of Rhodes, Gyrene, Crotona, Cos, and Cnidus. Ancient medicine, which

aimed expressly to be an art and not a science (so Hippocrates), came into

contact with philosophy when this was an all-embracing science, only at a late

period and quite transiently. Cf. Haser, Lehrbuch dcr Geschichte der Medicin,

I. (2d ed., Jena, 1875).
So also the beginnings of mathematics go along independently beside those of

ancient philosophy. The propositions ascribed to the Milesians make the im

pression of individual pieces of information picked up and put together, rather

than of results of genuine research, and are quite out of relation with their

doctrines in natural science and philosophy. In the circles of the Pythagoreans,

also, mathematical studies were at first evidently pursued for their own sake, to

be drawn all the more vigorously into the treatment of general problems. Cf.

G. Cantor, Geschichte der Mathematik, I. (Leips. 1880).

The efforts of the Milesians to determine the nature of the one

world-ground had already in the case of Anaximander led beyond

experience to the construction of a metaphysical conception to be

used for explanation, viz. the Sjrupov, and thereby drew science away

from the investigation of facts to the consideration of conceptions.

While Xenophanes, the founder of the Eleatic School, drew the con

sequences which result for the religious consciousness from the

philosophical conception of the unity of the world, Heraditus, in

hard struggle with ideas that were obscure and religiously coloured,

analysed destructively the presupposition of an abiding substance,

and allowed only a law of change to stand as ultimate content of

knowledge. All the more sharply, on the other hand, did the Eleatic

School, in its great representative, Parmenides, shape out the con

ception of Being until it reached that regardless boldness of formu

lation which, in the following generation of the School, was defended

by Zeno, and softened down in some measure only by Melissus.

Very soon, however, a series of efforts appeared, which brought

anew into the foreground the interest in explanatory natural science

that had been thrust aside by this development of the first meta

physical antitheses. In behalf of this interest more comprehensive

efforts were made toward an enrichment of knowledge ; this time,

more than in the case of previous observations, questions and

hypotheses from the organic and physiological realms were kept in

CHAP. 1.] The Cosmological Period. 29

mind ; and the attempt was made to mediate with explanatory

theories between the opposing conceptions of Heraclitus and Par-

Out of these needs arose, about the middle of the fifth century,

side by side, and with many reciprocal relations, positive and polem

ical, the theories of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Leucippus, founder

of the Atomistic School of Abdera. The number of these theories

and their well-known dependence upon one another prove that in

spite of the distance by which individual men and schools found

themselves separated, there was already a great vigour in exchange

of thought and in literary activity. The picture of this life takes

on a much fuller form as we reflect that tradition, in sifting its

material, has obviously preserved only the memory of what was

most important, and that each of the names remaining known to

us indicates, in truth, an entire circle of scientific activity-

The Pythagoreans, during this same period, occupied a peculiar

position at one side. They also took up the metaphysical problem

given by the opposition between Heraclitus and the Eleatics, but

hoped to find its solution by the aid of mathematics, and, by their

theory of numbers, as whose first literary representative Philolaus is

known, added a number of most important factors to the further

movement of thought. The original purpose or tendency of their

league made itself felt in their doctrines, in that, in fixing these,

they conceded a considerable influence to considerations of (ethical

or aesthetic) worth. They indeed attempted a scientific treatment

of ethical questions as little as did the entire philosophy of this

period, but the cosmology which they based upon their astronomical

ideas, already widely developed with the help of mathematics, is

yet at the same time permeated by aesthetic and ethical motives.

Of the Milesian School only three names Thales, Anaximander, and An-

aximenes have been handed down to us. From this it appears that the school

flourished in what was then the Ionic capital during the entire sixth century,

and perished with the city itself, which was laid waste by the Persians in 494,

after the battle of Lade.
Thales, sprung from an old merchant family, is said to have predicted the

solar eclipse in 585, and survived the invasion of the Persians in the middle of

the sixth century. He had perhaps seen Kgypt, and was not deficient in mathe

matical and physical knowledge. So early an author as Aristotle did not know

writings from him.
Anaximander seems to have been little younger. Of his treatise vepl ^tfo-eojs

a curious fragment only is preserved. Of. Neuhiiuser (Bonn, 1883). Biisgen,

Ueber das lirtipov des A. (Wiesbaden, 1867).
It is difficult to determine the period of Anaximenes. It falls probably about

560-500. Almost nothing of his work irepl 0i/o-eojs remains.

Aside from that given by Aristotle (in the beginning of the Metaphysics) we

owe our meagre information concerning the theories of the Milesians chiefly to

the Commentary of Simplicius. Cf. H. Hitter, Geschirhte der jonischen Philos-

ophie (Berlin, 1821) ; K. Seydel, Der Fortschritt der Metaphysik unter den altes-

ten jonischen Philosophen (Leips. 1861).

30 The Greeks: Cosmological Period. [PART I.

At the head of the Eleatic School, Xenophanes, who at all events was

concerned in its establishment, is generally placed. Born about 570 in Colophon,

he fled in 540, in consequence of the Persian conquest of Ionia, and gained a

living as wandering poet. At last, in Elea, founded by the lonians who fled into

Magna Grsecia, he found a permanent dwelling. He died after 480. The frag

ments of his partly gnomic, partly philosophical, sayings have been collected by

Karsten (Amsterdam, 1835). Concerning him see Fr. Kern (Naumburg, 1804,

Oldenburg, 1807, Danzig, 1871, Stettin, 1874 and 1877) and J. Freudenthal (Bres-

lau, 1880).
Parmenides, an Eleatic of renowned family, who was not a stranger to the

Pythagorean society, wrote about 470. The fragments of his didactic poem

have been collected by Peyron (Leips. 1810) and H. Stein (Leips. 1864). [Met.

tr. in Jour. Spec. Phil, IV.] The lost treatise of Zeno (about 490-430) was

probably the first which was separated into chapters and arranged dialectically.

He, too, came from Elea.

Melissos, on the contrary, was the Samian general who conquered the Athe

nians in 442. Concerning his personal connection with the Eleatic school nothing

io Known. A. Pabst, De M. j ruyweutiK ^iioiiu, iSb9;.
The unimportant fragments of the Eleatics are in a measure supplemented by

the accounts of Aristotle, Simplicius, and others. The pseudo-Aristotelian work,

De Xenephone, Zenone, Gorgia (Arist., Berl. ed., 974 ff.), which must be used

with great discretion, gives an account in the first chapter probably of Melissos ;

in the second, from confusedly intermingling sources, of Zeno ; in the third, of


Heraclitus of Ephesus ("the Obscure"), about 530-470, disgusted with the

ever-growing power of the democracy, gave up the high position which was his

by birth, and in the moody leisure of the last decade of his life, wrote a treatise

which was pronounced difficult of comprehension even by the ancients, while

the fragments of it which we possess are often very ambiguous. Collected and

edited by P. Schuster (Leips. 1873) and J. By water (Oxford, 1877). Cf. Fr.

Schleiermacher (Ges. W-, III. Abth., Bd. 2, pp. 1-146); J. Bernays ( Ges. Abhand-

Inngen, Bd. I., 1885); F. Lasalle (2 Bde., Berlin, 1858); E. Pfleiderer (Berlin,

1880). [G. T. W. Patrick, Heraclitus in Am. Jour. Psy., I., 1888, contains trans,

of the Fr. ]

The first Dorian in the history of philosophy is Empedocles of Agrigentum,

about 490-430, a priestly and prophetic personality, much regarded in his char

acter as statesman, physician, and worker of miracles. He had, too, relations

with the Sicilian school of orators, of which the names of Korax and Tisias are

familiar ; and besides his Ka.Oa.piJ.oL (Songs of Purification) has left a didactic

poem, the fragments of which have been published by Sturz (Leips. 1805),

Karsten (Amsterdam, 1838), and Stein (Bonn, 1852).
Anaxagoras of Klazomene (500 till after 430) settled, toward the middle

of the fifth century, in Athens, where he made friends with Pericles. In 434

he was accused of impiety and obliged to leave the city, and founded a school

in Lampsacus. Schaubach (Leips. 1827) and Schorn (Bonn, 1829) have col

lected the fragments of his treatise, irepi <j>taew. Cf. Breier (Berlin, 1840),

Zevort (Paris, 1843).

So little is known of the personality of Leucippus, that even in ancient

times his very existence was doubted. The great development of the atomistic

theory by Democritus (see ch. 3) had completely overshadowed its founder.

But traces of Atomism are to be recognised with certainty in the entire structure

of thought after Parmenides. Leucippus, if not born in Abdera, yet active

there as head of the school out of which Protagoras and Democritus went later,

must have been contemporary with Empedocles and Anaxagoras, even though

somewhat older. Whether he wrote anything is uncertain. Cf. Diels, Verh.

der Stett. Philol. Vers. (1886). A Brieger, Die Urbewegung der Atome (Halle,

1884); II. Liepmann, Die Mechanik der leucipp-demokritischen Atome (Leips.

The Pythagorean Society first appeared in the cities of Magna Graecia as

a religious-political association toward the end of the sixth century. Its founder

was Pythagoras, of Samos, who, born about 580, after long journeys, which

probably led him toward Egypt also, made the aristocratic city of Crotona the

starting-point of a reform movement which had for its aim a moral and religious

CHAP. 1, 4.] Conceptions of Being. 31

purification. We are first apprised of the internal relations of the society

through subsequent narratives (Jamblichus, De Vita Pythagorica, and Porphyrius,

De Vita Pythagorce published by Kiesling (Leips. 1815-16), whose trustworthiness

is doubtful. It seems, however, to be certain that already the old society imposed

definite duties upon its members, even for private life, and introduced tlie prac

tice of working in common at intellectual pursuits, especially at music and

mathematics. In consequence of its political position (in regard to which

B. Krische, Gottingen, 1830) the external conditions of the society assumed at

first a very favourable form, inasmuch as, after the plunder of the democratic

Sybaris, 509, Crotona won a kind of hegemonic influence in Magna Gnecia.

In time, however, the Pythagoreans became the losers in the bitter party

struggles of the cities, and often suffered bitter persecution, by which the

society was finally destroyed in the fourth century.
To Pythagoras himself, who died about 500, we can trace back no philosoph

ical writings, although the subsequent myth-making process sought so strenu

ously to make him the idol of all Hellenic wisdom. (E. Zeller in Vortr. u.

Abhandl., I., Leips. 1865.) Plato and Aristotle knew only of a, philosophy of

the Pythagoreans. Philolaus, who seems to have been somewhat younger than

Empedocles and Anaxagoras, appears as the most prominent representative of

this philosophy. Almost nothing is known of the circumstances of his life, and

the fragments of his treatise (ed. by Boeckh, Berlin, 1819 ; cf. C. Schaar-

schmidt, Bonn, 1864) lie under considerable suspicion.
Of the remaining adherents of the society, only the names are known. The

latest representatives came into so close relations with the Platonic Academy

that, as regards their philosophy, they may almost be said to have belonged to

it. Among them Archytas of Tarentum, the well-known savant and statesman,

should be mentioned. Concerning the very doubtful fragments attributed to

him, cf. G. Hartenstein (Leips. 1833), Fr. Petersen (Zeitschr. f. Alterthumsk ;

1836), O. Gruppe (Berlin, 1840), Fr. Beckman (Berlin, 1844).
The reports concerning the teaching of the Pythagoreans, especially in the later

accounts, are clouded by so many additions from foreign sources, that perhaps

at no point in ancient philosophy is it so difficult to determine the actual facts

in the case as here, even if we sift out the most trustworthy, namely Aristotle

and his best taught commentators, notably Simplicius, many dark points and

contradictory statements remain, particularly in details. The reason for this

lies probably in the fact that in the school, which for a time was widely extended,

various trends of thought ran side by side, and that among these the general fun

damental thought first brought forward perhaps by Philolaus, was worked out

in different ways. It would be of great service to attempt such a separation.

H. Ritter, Geschichte der pythagoreischen Philosophic (Hamburg, 1826) ;

Rothenbucher, Das System der Pt/thagoreer nach Aristoteles (Berlin, 1867) ;

E. Chaignet, Pythagore et la philosophic pythaqoricienne (2 vols., Paris,


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