"The Evolution of Human Thought"
Thomas Parker Boyd
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The Oriental Foundation of Thought
A study of the work of the Indo-European mind reveals its tendency was toward the "other" side of life. The sources of all Philosophical Principles are found there. India has had hundreds of schools, all teaching the way of the One Idea, Brahm, or "That," or God, and other terms for the Absolute Being. Most of these schools owe their existence to the various ways of explaining the phenomenal world in its relation to the "noumenon" or "That."
India, the fountainhead of philosophical thought, contains the whole history of philosophy in brief. The Vedas and Upanishads reference every philosophical conception that the Western mind has evolved.
Spinoza reproduced almost exactly the conception of Hindu philosophy. They had worked out his ideas 2,000 years before him. They taught evolution more than 2,500 years before Darwin. Pythagoras, a father of philosophy, sojourned in India, and based his whole scheme of thought upon their system. Plato was full of Eastern thought, while Neo-Platonism and Christian Gnosticism owe much to India. The great thinkers of the past twenty-five centuries have gone over the same ground the Hindu thinkers canvassed more than thirty centuries ago.
To understand Eastern philosophical thinking, one must remember that much of their thought exists only in oral teaching, and "reading between the lines" in printed books, which contain fundamental oppositions between the basic Hindu conceptions and those of the Christian Theologian.
To the Eastern mind, "Creation" is unthinkable, since it involves the making of something out of nothing, and to them nothing comes from nothing. Everything that is, is either an eternal thing, or else it is a form, manifestation, appearance, emanation or phase of some eternal thing. Therefore they could see evolution as the only method of bringing the universe into appearance, because everything evolved was first involved.
Again, a mortal thing can never become immortal by any means. An immortal thing must have always been immortal, or it can never become so. So that which begins must end. That which is born must die sometime, and everything that dies has been born sometime.
Eternity must exist on both sides of the now, in fact now is but a point in eternity. So the Hindu concedes immortality to the soul only when they concede previous immortality.
The Western tendency is to publish abroad every detail of its thought, even before leading minds accept them. The Eastern tendency is exactly opposite, and the sage or wise man reserved for himself and his close circle of students and followers the cream of the idea, deeming it too important to broadcast to an unthinking, unappreciative public. Their great body of inner teachings has grown in this way. The Western mind tends to take philosophy as a matter of intellectual diversion, which he does not bother to live up to, while the Easterner takes philosophy in the sense of religion itself, which he must live out in everyday life.
The Hindu confines his speculation to the "other side of Life," deeming it the only real one, while the physical and material world is essentially illusion, a thing of a moment, which begins to pass away while it is being formed. The Western mind tends to emphasize the material side of life, to promote material advancement and prosperity. In other words, the tendency of each is to be one-sided. The East leans to the "I AM" side, ignoring the "I DO" side. The West depends on the "I DO" side, almost entirely ignoring the "I AM" phase. The one regards the side of Being and ignores the side of Action. The other regards Action as the essential thing, ignoring the vital importance of Being.
In India, the veil between the Visible and the Invisible is much thinner than in Western lands. The consequent mental and psychic atmosphere produces all sorts of growth, good and bad. The best philosophy and spiritual unfoldment dwells side by side with superstition, credulity, devil worship and frightful debasement of thought and practice. The noxious weeds grow in a tropical climate with fruits and flowers.
Surprise and wonder fills us at the speculative achievement of those people, running back 100 centuries. Unquestionably they are the progenitors of the Aryan or Indo-European race, but legend shrouds their origin. One is that they are remnants of a high civilization in the region of the North pole, from where a cataclysm drove them, which changed it from a tropical to a polar climate.
Another legend is that they are remnants of a high civilization in the great continent of Lemuria, now sunk in the Pacific Ocean. The legend states that many of them, under prophetic direction, took refuge in the higher altitudes, which in the cataclysm became islands, where they lived for centuries before finally migrating to the mainland. They found India inhabited by another people, also driven there by earth’s upheaval.
Through all the centuries these people have survived. In this new world, like all pioneers, they lost much of the veneer of the old civilization. The old truths and knowledge were largely lost, and in its place tradition, legends, they handed down, as vague memories of the old teachings from one generation to another.
They had gods and demigods, etc., but they never entirely lost the main idea of their philosophy: A great Universal One Absolute Being from whom all else emanated, and from whom the individual souls proceeded "as sparks rising from the blazing fire." They taught the immortality of the soul, which was never born, which could never die, which was subject to rebirth, under a Universal Law of Cause and Effect.
Even the idea of the One was at times dimmed under the conception of a great Nature Spirit, of which they were a part in some mysterious way. In spite of the variations, we are indebted to them for the Master Key to all philosophy, namely: The Reality and Being of One Universal Spirit Principle, from which all other life, being and principles were manifested by emanation, reflection or otherwise, which manifestations had their only Real Being in the One Source.
Some 5,000 years before the Christian era, philosophical thought in India underwent a great revival of interest, under the leadership of really great thinkers of the time, called sages, or wise men. The Hindus claim that these were the reincarnations of ancient Masters. They laid the foundation for a philosophy of pure Reason, doing their work so well that while many philosophies have come and gone, the foundation of the sages remains, sound and unhurt, and is still the base upon which we build all philosophy, ancient or modern.
The outline of their work follows:
First, the sages bade their students to observe that nothing is constant, abiding, fixed and imperishable in the phenomenal aspect of nature and the universe. That is, it was not "real" in the sense we use the word, as in "real estate, real property" or "realty." The phenomenal universe was not "real" in the philosophical sense of the word.
Second, they bid the students recognize that something Real and substantial must lie underneath all the changing manifestations of the phenomenal universe, below the face or surface of that which occurred – the constant play of nature, force, and life, as the clouds passed before the blue sky or the wave upon the face of the ocean. They held that pure Reason must convince any rational mind that something Real and substantial must be under and behind the phenomenal universe, else the latter could not exist, even in appearance. A background of Reality or a foundation of Substance must exist. They did not speak or think of this substance as matter, but as the underlying or existing essence. This Universal Substance must be Real, and in its totality, it was necessarily the only Reality.
Third, was the recognition that this substantiality must be but One in its essential being, otherwise that continuity and orderly trend of manifestation as seen in the Phenomenal Universe could not exist. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is ONE Lord."
Fourth, in logical reasoning, this Ultimate Reality must be above all phenomenal attributes and qualities, including those of man. Consequently, its Inner Nature as Essential Being was beyond the cognition, knowledge, or even the imagination of man, and was beyond definition or name. The sages styled this Ultimate Reality by the Sanscrit word "TAT" or That, referring to something understood, but having no qualities, attributes or name. Similar terms are "Brahman," the "Absolute," "That, as in "I am THAT I am."
Fifth, they applied the Hindu Axiom: "Something can never be caused by, or proceed from, nothing." Since nothing other than That is in Real Existence, or which could have caused it, and since Reality could not have been self-created from nothing, it follows that "TAT" must always have existed and must be eternal. Since "Something cannot be dissolved into nothing," "TAT" cannot cease to be, and must be everlasting.
Sixth. Since there was nothing outside of TAT with which or by which it could be defined, bounded, determined, affected, caused or influenced, it must be held that That is Infinite.
Seventh. Since That was the only Reality, nothing else could act as a Cause in the phenomenal universe. That must be its only official and sufficient Cause – the causeless Cause, the only real cause, from which proceeds the cause and effect in the phenomenal world, in which each object or event is both a cause and an effect. Working by this law, the movements of the phenomenal universe are continuous, regular, uniform, arising from That, the only Real Cause.
Eighth. The next step was to recognize that That was necessarily unchangeable, there being nothing to change it, nothing into which it could be changed, nothing it could change itself into, and even That could not change itself into any reality other than that which it is. By the same reasoning, That was not divisible and is essentially One. Therefore they held that That was Unchangeable and Indivisible.
Ninth. The next step was the truth that as all that truly is, must be real, and that as That, being all that is Real, must be all that is, therefore it follows that other than That, there can be nothing that is.
We must base all truth regarding the universe upon this basic proposition. That could not have created the phenomenal universe or the undivided souls from nothing, nor could That have "created" anything from its own substance or essence, nor was there anything outside of itself that That could have used to create anything. It therefore follows that nothing had been or could have been really "created," so the phenomenal universe and all that it contained, including individual souls, must have "emanated from," or been "manifested by" That, in some manner or by means of processes beyond the mind of men to determine, although not beyond his power to imagine.
This was the sum of their reasoning. And it is the basis of all Hindu philosophy. These are the basic principles of all Hindu Philosophy. Upon them they have constructed several great systems of philosophy.
The Sankhya System: First among these is the Sankhya System formulated by Kapila about 700 B.C. His basic proposition is that there exists in the universe two active principles whose interaction accounts for all that appears. We know them as Prakriti, the primordial Substance or Energy, and Purusha, the Spirit principle, embodied in Prakriti, producing everything from atoms to man. They held that both were emanations of That, or thought-forms in the Mind of the One.
Kapila taught that Purusha is to be thought of, not as one great world Spirit or world Principle of Spirit in the sense of Undivided Unity, but rather as a countless myriad of spirit atoms, bound together by filaments of attraction, giving them harmony, yet individual freedom.
He taught that Purusha is pure Spirit, unaffected by pleasure or pain or other emotions, until it becomes embodied in Prakriti. This in turn produces the "Soul" or as some term it, the subconscious, in which it becomes subject to Samsara, "the cycle of existence," with its chain of Cause and Effect, karmic results and rebirths. Out of this, Purusha struggles to return to its first state of freedom and bliss.
Prakriti, he taught was the cosmic primordial Energy or Substance from which the Universe is evolved. It is a subtle, ethereal Substance, carrying our Western idea of Universal Ether, higher. He taught that it was atomless or continuous, until invaded by Purusha, when it took an atomic form. Out of this conjunction of Spirit and Substance, Chitta, or Mind stuff arose.
Purusha was pictured as a "lame man, possessed of eyesight and the other senses," and Prakriti, as "a man in whom the senses of seeing and hearing, etc., had been omitted, but who possessed a good pair of legs." So they made a combination, and the lame man (Purusha) mounts up on the shoulders of the blind man (Prakriti) and together they move along briskly and intelligently, whereas separately they could make no progress.
It was here that Ernest Haeckel, the German scientist, found his "soul of the atom," and Schopenhauer found his "Will," and Spencer his "Universal Matrix," whence issued all appearance. Kapila taught that true knowledge and right living alone could enable man to grasp the nature of Purusha and Prakriti, and through that understanding to find liberation or freedom.
Happiness sought in material things is a will-o-the-wisp, which man never overtakes. It is found only in the renunciation of material things, and setting the face toward the land of the soul’s desire, Spirit.
Kapila taught that atoms were simply centers of force in the Prakriti Substance, established by the presence of Purusha "Spirit." He set forth the law of "love and hate" of atoms, thus explaining the attraction and repulsion of particles evident in the physical universe, and which action and reaction accounted for the greater part of material phenomena. From this he formulated the doctrine of evolution. He made Spirit the active cause of evolution rather than any inherent quality in Prakriti (Substance) itself.
His is the first recorded attempt to answer the questions of the origin of the world, the nature and relations of man and his future destiny. It differs from our idea of creation. When the great outpouring took place, the Absolute projected its Spirit into the manifestation called matter, from which evolution and the individual consciousness proceeded.
The Vedanta System: The other great Hindu system is called the Vedanta, meaning "the last of the Vedas or what we know as the Upanishads." The Vedas were concerned with ceremonies, ritual, worship, etc. The Upanishads concerns itself with questions of "the inquiry into Brahm," or the Absolute and the Manifestations of the latter in the phenomenal universe. It is a philosophy of pure Reason. It brushed aside all previous conceptions, including Kapila with his Purusha and Prakriti as being nothing in themselves, but merely reflections of the One. In fact it was the first great school of Ideal philosophy.
The One Brahman, the Absolute Substance, is beyond qualities or attributes, subject or object, is the source of Being, Intelligence, Bliss, The Cause of the Universe in all its manifestations. It is both creator and created, doer and deed, cause and effect, etc., nothing outside itself. Since it cannot be divided into parts, or be subject to change, it must follow that the self of each of us must be in some way identical with the Self of the One, instead of being an emanation of it. The Self of Spirit in us must be the identical Spirit of the One, undivided and whole.
Here the system divides, and one part expressed their idea of "manifestation" in symbols. Individual souls were "sparks rising from the fires and returning thereto, being always within the heat-waves of the fire." Other symbols included the perfume of the flower, which is of it, the rays of the Sun, which seemingly apart, are still of it. Others believed that all is a reflection.
The main school reaches the limit of speculative thought. Brahman is all, and nothing else is. Brahman itself imagining itself separated into countless souls building an imaginary universe of the senses. Maya, or the world of appearances, is purely imaginary, yet it must be of Brahman, for He is all.
Right here, this school of Hindu philosophy faces the ultimate question, "Why did God create the universe, since He is not bound by necessity or desire, since it can accomplish nothing, since nothing can be that has not always been, whether the universe is illusion or reality – why was it created? For it they had no answer.
Most of the innumerable systems of Hindu Philosophy hold to the conception of seven "principles" or "husks" of the individual soul.
1. Physical body
2. Prana or vital force
3. Astral body
4. Animal soul
5. Human Soul
6. Spiritual Soul
7. Atman or Spirit
We find these seven principles in all forms of Hindu thought. Sometimes they applied the same idea to Brahman and His emanations. It would require many volumes to give even an outline of the various schools of Indian Philosophy. Yet after reading them, then studying the course of philosophical thought from the Greeks until today, one is struck by the presence of these ideas in every age.
The Yoga System: Following the Sankhya System of Kapila, with its Purusha and Prakriti, and the Vedanta System with its pure Reason and Idealism, we have the third great school of Philosophy, the Yoga System, meaning yoking or joining. Its central idea is advancement through mental control. Patanjali founded the Yoga System about 200 B.C., based on the system of Kapila with the addition of a Personal God, or World Purusha. There are many forms of Yoga teaching and practice. A yogi or yogin is a practitioner of Yoga methods, one who seeks union, realization and attainment by means of Wisdom, Divine Love, Action or Control, or by all together.
The Gnani Yoga, or the Yoga of Wisdom, was preferred by the Vedantists, who strive for attainment or emancipation by means of Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge, acquired by the exercise of Pure Reason and Right Thinking.
The Rajah Yoga (Royal), or the Yoga of Absolute Concentration. Its central ideas are mental control, psychic development and the unfoldment of latent forces. Rajah Yoga has eight steps. 1. Self control. 2 Religious duty. 3. Postures. 4. Control of prana or vital force. 5. Control of the senses. 6. Control of the mind. 7. Meditation. 8. Transcendental contemplation, or ecstacy.
They taught the Eight Superior Powers. 1. Power of shrinking to the size of an atom, or invisibility. 2. Power of becoming very light, or levitation. 3. Power of becoming very heavy, or gravitation. 4. Unlimited extension of perception, clairvoyance, clairaudience, etc. 5. Irresistible power of Will. 6. Unlimited dominion over everything. 7. Control over the Powers of Nature. 8. Transporting oneself anywhere at will.
Karma Yoga, followed by the religious sects and cults, is the Yoga of Work, Duty, Action, Devotion, etc., the Path of Right Living and Devotion to Duty and God.
Hatha Yoga is the Yoga of Breath, Physical Well-being or Physical Perfection.
In addition to these three great schools of Hindu thought there were three minor schools: The Vaisheshika of Kanada, the Purva Mimansa of Jaimini, and the Nyaya of Gautama.
The Vaisheshika System: Kanada lived prior to the Christian era. He taught the doctrine of atomic individualities. The phenomenal universe is composed of six categories or final classes. The aim is the science of deliverance from material life by the perception of the true nature of the soul, and the unreality of matter. Categories:
1. Drava, the innermost Cause of the collective Effect, the Substratum of Phenomena. Drava, or Substance, is nine-fold – earth, water, light, air, ether, time, space, Soul or Self (the Atman) Mind.
2. Gunas, or Qualities: seventeen, such as color, taste, odor, touch, number, dimension, understanding, pleasure, pain, desire, aversion, volition, gravity. Later teachers added seven others. These qualities are inherent in the substance of the soul, as well as in the substances of matter.
3. Karma, or Action: Upward, downward, contraction, expansion, change of position.
4. Samanya: The principle of generality or genus, or species.
5. Vishesha, atomic individuality of the nine-fold substance: Atomic souls, atomic substance, air, water, etc., scientific.
6. Samavaya, the Principle of Coherence: Explaining the relations, parts and whole, action and agent, atoms and substance, subject and object.
Kanada taught that Understanding was the Guna or Quality of the Soul, and that the instruments of understanding were perception and inference. He included a personal God in his teaching, not a substitute for TAT, but made up of the countless souls who have mastered the flesh, and are become one great World Spirit.
The Purva Mimansa System: The Purva Mimansa System consists of attainment of freedom through observance of rites and ceremonies, and the practice of the Yoga methods. They are the Fundamentalists of the Hindus. The Sutras of Jaimini enquire into and expound law and the duties of ordinary life. A form of predestinationism, the sect claims for the Vedas what Western Fundamentalists claim for the Bible.
The Nyaya System: The Nyaya System is primarily concerned with the conditions of correct knowledge and the means of receiving this knowledge. Nyaya is predominantly based on reasoning and logic. Because this system analyzes the nature and source of knowledge and its validity and nonvalidity, it is also referred to as "the science of critical study." Using systematic reasoning, this school attempts to discriminate valid knowledge from invalid knowledge. Gautama was the Aristotle of the Hindus, using the most minute methods for reasoning.
Review of the Ancient Thinkers: The Greek Masters
The Milesian (Ionian) Physicists
The Ionian school (named Milesian because they originated in Miletus) made the first, and radical step from mythological to scientific explanation of natural phenomena. They discovered the scientific principles of the permanence of substance, the natural evolution of the world, and the reduction of quality to quantity. These philosophers sought the one, unchanging material principle of all things, and evolved physical theories to explain all existence in terms of primary matter.
Thales of Miletus (624-547 B.C.) is considered the founder of Greek Philosophy. Among the first teachers of mathematics in Hellas, he disputed the attribution of all phenomena to the activities of gods and goddesses, and contended that some fundamental principle must be behind all the flux and change about us, some single primitive substance from which all reality has sprung. Having observed that moisture is necessary to life and motion and that "water is the essential principle whereby moist is moist," he concluded that all things, even the gods, consist of water.
His thought marks the first attempt to separate science and theology, and to explain the world without reference to myth or religion. It is the first statement of the view that natural phenomena are not the products of divine caprice, but are referable to a material principle, the fundamental postulate upon which we base all modern science.
Anaximander (611-547 B.C.) was a mathematician who first calculated the size and distance of various planets, wrote a book on geometry, and invented the sundial. He also thought of life as always and inseparably connected with matter. He traced the universe’s origin to an infinite and indeterminate material called the Boundless, "which surrounds all things and animates all things." The world is a vast cylinder and was originally in a fluid state. All life was generated in sea-slime, and all animals, including man, descended from the fishes. All things at last return to that origin.
Anaximenes (550-528 B.C.) was the third great Milesian. He taught that all substances consist of air, and differ only in the degree of their condensation. The human soul is composed of highly rarified air, and life consists simply in inhaling and exhaling. When this movement ceases, death ensues. The same idea holds concerning the world. Air "differs in essence in accordance with its rarity or density. When it is thinned, it becomes fire, while when it is condensed it becomes wind, then cloud, when still more condensed it becomes water, then earth, then stones. Everything else comes from these."
Diogenes (550 B.C.) taught that an underlying unity must exist in all matter, else how is it that plants convert water into plant tissue, while animals eat the plants and turn them into flesh and bone. He regarded air as the primal element of all things, and the universe as issuing from an intelligent principle, which gave it life and order, a rational, sensitive soul. Yet he did recognize any distinction between matter and mind. At last, all things return to air or vapor, from which all things arise by condensation and rarefaction.
The Eleatics: The Philosophers of Elea
A reflection of the Upanishads, the Eleatics held that the true explanation of things lies in the conception of a Universal Unity of Being. It is by thought alone that we can pass beyond the false appearances of sense and arrive at the knowledge of being, at the fundamental truth that "the All is One." There can be no creation, for being cannot come from not-being; a thing cannot arise from that which is different from it. The Eleatics, being concerned with the problem of logical consistency, laid the basis for the development of the science of logic.
Xenophanes (570-480 B.C.) ridiculed the popular religion and said that man created God in his own image. "Each man represents God as he himself is. The Ethiopian as black and snub nosed, the Thracian as red-haired and blue-eyed, and if horses and oxen could paint, they would no doubt depict the gods as horses and oxen." He reduced the gods of mythology to meteorological phenomena, and especially to clouds. He maintained there was only one god, namely, the world. God is one incorporeal eternal being, and, like the universe, spherical in form, "a vast unchanging, all-embracing sphere, all eye, all ear, all understanding."
He was the father of pantheism and doctrine of the One. God is of the same nature with the universe, comprehending all things within himself, is intelligent, and pervades all things, but bears no resemblance to human nature either in body or mind. He regarded petrified marine animals in the mines in Syracuse as evidence that the sea once covered the land, and from this fact evolved the theory that alternate mixtures and separations of water and earth produced the whole visible universe.
Parmenides (540-480 B.C.) developed the idea of the Unity of God into a systematic Philosophy, contending that Reality or Being is one, immutable and eternal, in the form of a well-rounded sphere, and that the notions of plurality, motion and change are illusions of the senses. He reasoned that since Being is, and non-being is not, being is necessarily a unity. Being is eternal, for how could it have a beginning? It certainly was not produced by the nonexistent, nor by the existent, because being itself is the existent.
His famous argument against motion goes something like this: Empty space is simply nothing and as nothing can be said to exist, space is an illusion. An object could not move without occupying first one space and then another, therefore since there is no space for it to occupy, there is no such thing as motion.
Zeno of Elea (488-425 B.C.) held the same
philosophy, and devoted himself to refuting the views of the opponents
of Parmenides. He used the reduction ad absurdum, which means
tentatively using the opposing thesis, then draws some preposterous
conclusions from it. The flying arrow, said he, does not really move at
all, because at any particular moment it must be in one particular
place. Now if an arrow is in one particular place, it is at rest, and
if an arrow is at rest during each moment of its flight, when
does it move? ["The more precisely the position is determined,
the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice
versa." -- Heisenberg, uncertainty paper, 1927, Center for History of
Physics of the American Institute of Physics]
Melissus of Samos (490-430 B.C.) used the idea that nothing comes from nothing. In the beginning he said, everybody must admit either that things exist or they do not exist. If they do not exist, further argument is profitless, but if they do exist, we may proceed to the conclusion that they always existed or else contend that they have been produced. If things have been produced, then they must have come from being or non-being. Nothing can possibly come from non-being, and if we say that being arose from being, we must admit that being was before being came to be, which is nonsense. Therefore we must conclude that all being is eternal – everything that it has always been and always will be. Being is also infinite, changeless, immovable unity. All else is foolishness.
Pythagoras and his disciples comprised an eclectic blend of philosophy, mathematic and religious mysticism. The Pythagoreans believed that the soul is a prisoner of the body; that it is released from the body at death, and reincarnated in a higher or lower form of life, depending on the degree of virtue achieved.
Pythagoras of Samos (569-475 B.C.) was semi-mythical, viewed as a philosopher, mathematician and mystic. It was said that he studied in Egypt and in India, worked miracles, and claimed to remember several previous incarnations or lives.
Pythagoras coined the term philosophia, Greek for "love of wisdom." He discovered the relation between the length of a string and the tone it produces, which led to the discovery of the musical scale. He was the first to postulate that earth was a sphere orbiting around a "central fire." He taught that the natural order could be expressed in numbers, and is known for the Pythagorean theorem.
He wrote nothing, nor did any of his immediate disciples. Theirs was a secret teaching and was memorized by each initiate. All order and system was based upon numbers and vibration, and nothing else existed. They talked about the "music of the spheres" and thought the universe was a sort of lyre, each planet strung on a different length of string, and the swing of the planets on the different lengths or intervals produced the music of the spheres.
Philolaus (480-? B.C.), a contemporary of Socrates, first published an exposition of the sacred doctrines of Pythagoras. Everything is number, and we may reduce all natural laws to numerical relations. God is the Unity that rules the world. From the Unity sprang arithmetical numbers, then geometrical magnitudes, then material objects and finally life, love and intelligence. The world soul comes from the Central Fire around which the earth revolves daily, and spreads everywhere, and invented the concept of a counter-earth for numerological reasons.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (536-470 B.C.) taught that there is no such thing as a changeless motionless Being. The world is a perpetual flux and reflux. Every particle of matter is in constant motion. Nothing is, but all is becoming. Nothing is permanent but the law of change. Fire is the fundamental pattern of existence. Everything comes from fire by a process of condensation and returns to fire by a process of rarefaction. Earth, air and water, are but fire in different forms. Man himself is "kindled and put out like a candle in the nighttime." Fire and heat are always associated with life. Fire is the basis of virtue. The drunkard is wicked because his soul is too moist; warm, dry souls are the best. Everywhere there is duality, being and not-being, truth and falseness, good and evil. It is the conflict of the opposites that brings always into existence. Nothing is permanent.
The Pluralists developed a philosophy which replaced the assumption of a single primary substance with a plurality of such substances.
Empedocles (492-432 B.C.) believed that all things are composed of four immortal elements, earth, air, fire, and water. A uniting force, called love or attraction, builds up combinations of these elements, and a disintegrating force, called hate or repulsion, breaks them down. Originally the elements were all mixed together in a gigantic sphere in which love and hate did not operate. Finally love and hate entered and the elements became separated and the conflict between the two forces brought individual things into existence. The first living thing to spring from the earth were plants, then animals in monstrous forms incapable of surviving. Those now existing are the descendants of those that did survive because of their fitness and adaptability, (including men), which is Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest, taught 2,000 years earlier. Thought was a recent development generated by the blood’s activity.
Anaxagoras (500-430 B.C.) was the first teleologist. There are not merely four elements but an unlimited number. All substances, except mind, are mixtures containing all sorts of atoms, or "elementary seeds." Mind is unmixed passionless matter, the thinnest and purest of things, which gives motion and order to all other material. Faith or chance does not govern the world, but Divine Reason, and according to intelligent purpose or design.
Atomism is a theory which proposed that all matter
is composed of tiny, indivisible particles differing only in simple
Leucippus of Elea (480-420 B.C.) formulated the philosophy of Atomism. He stated that atoms are "imperceptible, individual particles that differ only in shape and position." The mixing of these particles produces the world we experience. He was the first philosopher to affirm the existence of empty space, really a vacuum. The solitary fragment of Leucippus that remains, says "Naught happens for nothing, but all things from a ground (logos) and of necessity."
Democritus of Abdera (460-362 B.C.) was a bald materialist. Nothing exists but matter and space. The full is no more real than the empty. The world is made up of atoms and the void and there is no third thing. Atoms are eternal and uncaused and differ only in size, shape and arrangement. As to quality, they are alike. Atoms are brought together not by fortune or divine intelligence but by Natural Necessity. There is no free will in man, and no plan or purpose in the Universe. Everything happens through a cause and of necessity. The human soul consists of very small, smooth, round atoms, like those in fire, and are distributed to every part of the body. Rational thought is a higher kind of perception and is sealed in the brain. Anger is located in the heart, while desire is a function of the liver. All knowledge comes to use through the senses and these are a modification of the sense of touch. Death is a scattering of the Soul atoms.
Specializing in rhetoric, the Sophists were more professional educators than philosophers. The whole Sophistic tendency of thought, which identifies knowledge with sense-perception, ignores the rational element. They acquired a reputation for deceit, insincerity, and demagoguery. Thus, the word sophistry has come to signify these moral faults.
Protagoras of Abdera (490-420 B.C.) was a dialectician, the first to distinguish between the different modes of the verb. He held that logic was the right use of words. Later (425 B.C.) he was condemned for impiety and banished from Athens. Agnostic, he believed that man is the measure of all things, and denied the existence of any absolute or objective truth or absolute standards of value. His teaching that all depends on the viewpoint, led to the position that knowledge is relative to the knower. Expediency is the only factor to be considered in belief or conduct. Metaphysics, to him, was a total failure, and logic a collection of theoretical tricks.
Gorgias (483-375 B.C.) His philosophical studies ended in nihilism, the denial of all existence. All statements are equally false and differ only in plausibility. We can sum his position up in three propositions: (1) Nothing exists; (2) If anything existed, it could not be known; (3) If anything did exit, and could be known, it could not be communicated.
Hippias, Prodicus and Critias were all famous Sophists.
The Philosophy of Socrates
Socrates (354-399 B.C.) believed himself appointed of the gods to expose ignorance and pretension wherever found, and to awaken in his followers desire for genuine knowledge. So he gave up stone cutting and devoted his time to heckling teachers and orators. So great was his skill that he discomfitted them all. He wrote nothing and did not fit his doctrines into a definite philosophical system.
To him, ethics was the only subject worth studying. The supreme good for humanity is happiness, the only way to be happy is to be virtuous, and the only way to be virtuous is to be wise. Virtue is identical unto knowledge and ignorance is the only vice. Virtue is not innate but must be taught like arithmetic, etc. To be happy one must become relatively independent of physical needs. Happiness is not found in the mere possession of worldly goods. It is best for a man to worship the gods of his own city. Polytheistic. He regarded the phenomenon of adaptation in animal life, and the intricate harmony of the physical universe, as evidence that some sort of Divine Intelligence governs the world.
Euclides of Megara (430-360 B.C.) held that mind and not matter is the ultimate reality, which makes his system the connecting link between Socrates and Plato.
Plato (427-348) was a pupil of Socrates, the founder of Idealism. He believed that general concepts or ideas are more real and true than anything else in the world. All changing things exist only as they resemble ideas. (His contributions will be discussed more fully under Aristotle.)
Aristippus (435-390 B.C.), a pupil of Socrates, carried Socrates’ idea that happiness is the supreme good to the idea that it is the only good possible for mankind. In fact, he builds his whole philosophy upon hedonism, the gospel of pleasure.
Theodorus (465-398 B.C.) carried out the gospel of pleasure to its limit; that to avoid the ills of life one should commit suicide and obtain peace.
Following Socrates and his pupils, the Cynic School arose.
Antisthenes (441-371 B.C.) and Diogenes of Sinope (404-323 B.C.): The essence of their teaching was that virtue is the only thing that matters, and the virtuous man is always happy because he cares for nothing and fears nobody. The philosopher should reduce the number of his desires as far as possible because the less a man wants, the more apt he is to get it.
Greek philosophers who followed the principles of Aristotle, so-named because they learned from the master while strolling about (Gk. peripate) in the covered walkways of the Lyceum.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) condemned Plato’s subjectivism and based his philosophy on sensation rather than reason or intuition. He believed that one must proceed from the particular to the general (which is the modern scientific method). The general truth of Idea exists in the particular object and not apart from it. Each individual thing is a combination of form (the idea), and matter, except God who is pure form (or Idea). He summarized the scientific knowledge of his time, pointed out the importance of Observation and inductive reasoning and rescued philosophy from the introspective method of Socrates and Plato.
His was a colossal mind, and we find most terms of science and philosophy in his writings. He covered the whole range of human thought from the beginning until now. Yet crudities fill his astronomy, logic, biology, botany, and metaphysics, which we could not understand unless we know the limitations under which he lived and worked.
He was "compelled to fix time without a watch, to compare degrees of heat without a thermometer, to observe the heavens without a telescope and the weather without a barometer." Of all our mathematical, optical and physical instruments, he possessed only the rule and compass and a few imperfect substitutes for others. Chemical analysis, correct measurements and weights, and a thorough application of mathematics to physics, were unknown.
One of his greatest achievements was the overthrow of Plato’s idea of "universals." Plato held that man the individual did not really exist, but that man the universal was the only reality. Aristotle held that man the individual was the idea embodied and that man, the universal, was a handy mental abstraction. Plato loved the universal to such an extent that in his "Republic" he destroyed the individual to make a perfect state.
Aristotle met Plato’s communism with such a statement as this. Individual quality, privacy and liberty are above social efficiency and power. He would not care to call every contemporary, "brother or sister," nor every elderly person, "father or mother." If all are your brothers, none is. How much better it is to be the real cousin to somebody than to be a son after Plato’s fashion (i.e., not know who your father was). In a state having women and children in common, love will be watery. Neither of the two qualities that inspire regard and affection that a thing is your own, and that it awakens real love in you, can exist in such a state as Plato’s.
Aristotle was the creator of the syllogism. A trio of propositions of which the third (the conclusion) follows from the conceded truth of the other two, e.g., man is a rational animal. Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is a rational animal. Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.
His biology is illuminating. "In the midst of this bewildering richness of structure certain things stand out convincingly. That life has grown steadily in complexity and power; that intelligence has grown in correlation with complexity of structure and mobility of form; that there has been an increasing specialization of function and a continuous centralization of physiological control. Slowly life created for itself a nervous system and a brain and mind moved resolutely onward toward the mastery of its environment."
In his metaphysics, Divine Providence coincides completely with the operation of natural causes. Development is not accidental or haphazard, but everything is guided in a certain direction from within by its structure, nature and inner purpose. The egg of the hen is internally designed or destined to become not a duck but a chick. The acorn becomes not a willow but an oak. The design is internal and arises from the type, function and purpose of the thing.
God does not create but He moves the world, moves it not as a mechanical force, but as the total motive of all operations in the world. God moves the world as the beloved object moves the lover. He is the final cause of nature, the drive and purpose of things, the form of the world, the principle of its life, the sum of its vital processes and powers, the inherent goal of its growth, the energizing purpose of the whole.
His psychology is fascinating. We cannot directly will to be different from what we are, but we can choose what we shall be, by choosing now the environment that shall mold us, so we are free in the sense that we mold our own characters by our choice of friends, books, occupations and amusements.
His ethics seem as fresh as if thought out yesterday. The best in life consists in happiness through fulfillment. The chief condition of happiness is the life of reason. Virtue or excellence will depend on clear judgment, self-control, symmetry of desire, artistry of means. Life’s best is found in the means and not the extremes. Between cowardice and rashness is courage, between stinginess and extravagance is liberality, between sloth and greed is ambition, between humility and pride is modesty, between secrecy and loquacity is honesty, between moroseness and buffoonery is good humor, between quarrelsomeness and flattery is friendship. Between Hamlet’s indecisiveness and Quixote’s impulsiveness, is self-control.
Right in the ethical sense is the same as right in mathematics. We do not act right because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have these because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Virtue is not then an act but a habit. It is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day, or act, or short time that makes a man blessed and happy.
Aristotle’s Ideal Man does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since he cares for few things sufficiently. Yet he is willing in a great crisis to give his life, knowing that under certain circumstances it is not worthwhile to live. He is disposed to do men service, though he is ashamed to have a service done him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority, to receive one is a mark of subordination. He does not take part in public displays, he is open in his likes and dislikes, he talks and acts frankly because of his contempt for men and things. He is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes. He cannot live in complaisance with others, except it be a friend, for complaisance is the characteristic of slaves. He never feels malice and always forgets and passes over injuries. He is not fond of talking. It is no concern of his that he should be praised or that others should be blamed. He does not speak evil of others, even his enemies, unless it be to themselves. His carriage is sedate, his voice deep, his speech measured. He is not given to hurry, for he is concerned only about a few things. He is not prone to vehemence, for he thinks nothing very important. A shrill voice and hasty steps come to a man through care. He bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of his circumstances. He is his own best friend and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy and is afraid of solitude. This is the superman of Aristotle.
His statements in the realm of political economy, sociology, domestic life, birth control, and a hundred other subjects still challenge the thought of the world. True inventions and betterment of the means of the observation and analysis have changed a few incidentals, but Aristotle’ s creation of a true discipline of thought and his firm establishment of its essential lines, remain among the lasting achievements of mind. His categories or metaphysical classifications, somewhat worked over by Kant, are still the standards of human thinking.
Theoprastus (373-287 B.C.) held fast to the teachings of Aristotle, but placed a greater emphasis on the natural sciences, particularly botany. He also softened Aristotle’s rigid moral code, conceding that violating the laws of the land may be right at times.
Strato of Lampsacus (340-270 B.C.) succeeded Theophrastus and laid the emphasis on materialistic science. There is no mind or intelligence apart from the body. He was the first to note that falling bodies accelerate. His main interest was physics, and he described methods for forming a vacuum.
The Epicureans, like the Stoics, recognized only that knowledge which originates and stops in the senses as valid. All other cognition is only the result of sensations and combinations of many sensations.
Epicurus (342-270 B.C.) His ethical doctrines were those of Aristippus: Pleasure, and he adopted the physical science of the Atomists. There is no plan or purpose behind the world. Science is valuable only as it makes people happier by destroying their fear of death and the gods. Virtue is an asset only as far as it is pleasure to be virtuous. Honesty is the best policy, not because stealing is wrong, but because punishment is painful. He did not favor marriage or the rearing of children.
Lucretius (98-55 B.C.) was a Roman Epicurean who taught that religion is the cause of all human suffering, and the only fight worthwhile is the struggle against fear of the gods.
Horace (65 B.C.), a Roman poet, was also an Epicurean. His was a philosophy of take things as they come. Don’t worry about tomorrow, be happy, young or old. Death is the ultimate boundary of our woes, and a man can die whenever he pleases.
Stoicism is essentially a system of ethics, guided by a logic as theory of method, and rests upon physics as foundation. Their view of morality is stern, living a life in accord with nature and controlled by virtue. It is an ascetic system, teaching perfect indifference to everything external, for nothing external could be either good or evil. Both pain and pleasure, poverty and riches, sickness and health, were equally unimportant.
Zeno (340-265 B.C.) was a Jewish merchant from Cyprus, founder of the school that met in the Stoa or porch in the marketplace in Athens. He was a materialist. The world is a rational animal and God is the soul or reason of the world. What is to be will be. Everything is ordained by fate or the Divine Reason that knows all things. He was succeeded by
Cleanthes (300- 225 B.C.) was an ex-pugilist, who sought to rationalize Ethics. All individual acts are sinful. To move a finger without sufficient reason is as wicked as murder.
Chrysippus (282-209 B.C.) was a dialectic and logician, who refined and restated the precepts of Zeno.
Panaetus (180-111 B.C.) abandoned many philosophical doctrines and moral precepts of the earlier Stoics.
Seneca (3 B.C.-A.D. 65) His philosophy was a system of moral maxims, such as "There is but one way of getting into this world, but many ways of getting out of it."
Epictetus (AD 55?-135?) was a Phrygian-born philosopher who popularized the Stoic ethical doctrine of limiting one's desires, believing that one should act in life as at a banquet by taking a polite portion of all that is offered.
Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180) was a Roman Emperor, the last of the great Stoics, and a man of sterling character, intent on leading a good life and trying to live up to his position. He loved a quiet and studious career, but couldn’t follow it. His view in his "Meditations" was rather pessimistic.
Skepticism maintains that human being can never arrive at a certain knowledge, because there is no such thing as certainty in knowledge, and that most knowledge is only probably true. The modern word for this is agnosticism.
Pyrrho of Elis (360-270 B.C.), according to his disciple Timon, declared that "(1) things are equally indifferent, unmeasurable and inarbitrable. For this reason (2) neither our sensations nor our opinions tell us truths or falsehoods. Therefore, for this reason we should not put our trust in them, but we should be unopinionated, uncommitted and unwavering, saying concerning each individual thing that it no more is than is not, or it both is and is not, or it neither is nor is not. (3) The outcome for those who actually adopt this attitude will be first speechlessness, and then freedom from disturbance."
Timon of Philas (325-235 B.C.) showed his agnosticism by saying that people need only know three things: What is the nature of things, how we are related to them, and what we can gain from them. However, since our knowledge of things must always be subjective and unreal, we can only live in a state of suspended judgment.
Arcesilaus (318-243 B.C.) who was the sixth head of Plato’s Academy, was responsible for turning it into a form of skepticism.
Carneades of Cyrene (213-129 B.C.) developed a wider array of skeptical arguments against any possible dogmatic position.
The Skeptical movement killed rational philosophy in Greece. Men began to suspect that some unseen spiritual world might be just as real and true as anything else, so they abandoned reason, and took up Neo-Platonism or one of the new Christian cults. Faith alone ruled for 1,000 years of darkness.
"The Evolution of Human Thought"
Thomas Parker Boyd
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