S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
And here I cannot but mention an observation which I have often made, upon reading the lives of the philosophers, and comparing them with any series of kings or great men of the same number. If we consider these ancient sages, a great part of whose philosophy consisted in a temperate and abstemious course of life, one would think the life of a philosopher and the life of a man were of two different dates. For we find that the generality of these wise men were nearer a hundred than sixty years of age, at the time of their respective deaths.
As Simonides has exposed the vicious part of women from the doctrine of pre-existence, some of the ancient philosophers have satirized the vicious part of the human species from a notion of the souls post-existence.
The road to true philosophy is precisely the same with that which leads to true religion; and from both one and the other, unless we would enter in as little children, we must expect to be totally excluded.
In philosophy, the contemplations of man do either penetrate unto God, or are circumferred to nature, or are reflected or reverted upon himself. Out of which several inquiries there do arise three knowledges: divine philosophy, natural philosophy, and human philosophy, or humanity.
The empirical philosophers are like pismires: they only lay up and use their store. The rationalists are like the spiders: they spin all out of their own bowels. But give me a philosopher who, like the bee, hath a middle faculty, gathering from abroad, but digesting that which is gathered by his own virtue.
Some great men of the last age, before the mechanical philosophy was revived, were too much addicted to this nugatory art: when occult quality, and sympathy and antipathy, were admitted for satisfactory explications of things.
Nor truly do I think the lives of these, or of any other, were ever correspondent, or in all points conformable, unto their doctrines. It is evident that Aristotle transgressed the rule of his own ethics: the Stoics that condemn passion, and command a man to laugh in Phalaris his bull, could not endure without a groan a fit of the stone or colic. The Sceptics that affirmed they knew nothing, even in that opinion confute themselves, and thought they knew more than all the world beside. Diogenes I hold to be the most vainglorious man of his time, and more ambitious in refusing all honours than Alexander in rejecting none. Vice and the devil put a fallacy upon our reasons, and, provoking us too hastily to run from it, entangle and profound us deeper in it the philosopher [Apollonius Tyaneus] that threw his money into the sea to avoid avarice, was a notorious prodigal.
Rest not in the high-strained paradoxes of old philosophy, supported by naked reason and the reward of mortal felicity; but labour in the ethics of faith, built upon heavenly assistance, and the happiness of both beings. Understand the rules, but swear not unto the doctrines, of Zeno or Epicurus. Look beyond Antoninus, and terminate not thy morals in Seneca or Epictetus. Let not the twelve, but the two tables be thy law: let Pythagoras be thy remembrancer, not thy textuary and final instructor; and learn the vanity of the world rather from Solomon than Phocylides. Sleep not in the dogmas of the Peripatus, Academy, or Porticus. Be a moralist of the Mount, an Epictetus in the faith, and Christianize thy notions.
The characters of nature are legible, it is true; but they are not plain enough to enable those who run, to rend them. We must make use of a cautious, I had almost said, a timorous method of proceeding. We must not attempt to fly, when we can scarcely pretend to creep. In considering any complex matter, we ought to examine every distinct ingredient in the composition, one by one; and reduce everything to the utmost simplicity; since the condition of our nature binds us to a strict law and very narrow limits. We ought afterwards to re-examine the principles by the effect of the composition, as well as the composition by that of the principles. We ought to compare our subject with things of a similar nature, and even with things of a contrary nature; for discoveries may be, and often are, made by the contrast, which would escape us on the single view. The greater number of the comparisons we make, the more general and the more certain our knowledge is likely to prove, as built upon a more extensive and perfect induction.
If an inquiry thus carefully conducted should fail at last of discovering the truth, it may answer an end perhaps as useful, in discovering to us the weakness of our own understanding. If it does not make us knowing, it may make us modest. If it does not preserve us from error, it may at least from the spirit of error; and may make us cautious of pronouncing with positiveness or with haste, when so much labour may end in so much uncertainty.
The use of such inquiries may be very considerable. Whatever turns the soul inward on itself tends to concentre its forces, and to fit it for greater and stronger flights of science. By looking into physical causes our minds are opened and enlarged; and in this pursuit, whether we take or whether we lose our game, the chase is certainly of service. Cicero, true as he was to the academic philosophy, and consequently led to reject the certainty of physical, as of every other kind of knowledge, yet freely confesses its great importance to the human understanding: Est animorum ingeniorumque nostrorum naturale quoddam quasi pabulum consideratio contemplatioque naturæ. If we can direct the lights we derive from such exalted speculations upon the humbler field of the imagination, whilst we investigate the springs and trace the courses of our passions, we may not only communicate to the taste a sort of philosophical solidity, but we may reflect back on the severer sciences some of the graces and elegances of taste, without which the greatest proficiency in those sciences will always have the appearance of something illiberal.
These philosophers are fanatics: independent of any interest, which, if it operated alone, would make them much more tractable, they are carried with such an headlong rage towards every desperate trial that they would sacrifice the whole human race to the slightest of their experiments. I am better able to enter into the character of this description of men than the noble Duke can be. I have lived long and variously in the world. Without any considerable pretensions to literature in myself, I have aspired to the love of letters. I have lived for a great many years in habitudes with those who professed them. I can form a tolerable estimate of what is likely to happen from a character chiefly dependent for fame and fortune on knowledge and talent, as well in its morbid and perverted state as in that which is sound and natural. Naturally men so formed and finished are the first gifts of Providence to the world. But when they have once thrown off the fear of God, which was in all ages too often the case, and the fear of man, which is now the case, and when in that state they come to understand one another, and to act in corps, a more dreadful calamity cannot arise out of hell to scourge mankind.
Edmund Burke: Letter to a Noble Lord on the Attacks upon his Pension, 1796.
There are three modes of bearing the ills of life: by indifference, which is the most common; by philosophy, which is the most ostentatious; and by religion, which is the most effectual. It has been acutely said that Philosophy readily triumphs over past or future evils, but that present evils triumph over philosophy. Philosophy is a goddess, whose head indeed is in heaven, but whose feet are upon earth: she attempts more than she accomplishes, and promises more than she performs; she can teach us to hear of the calamities of others with magnanimity; but it is religion only that can teach us to bear our own with resignation.
We are men of secluded habits, with something of a cloud upon our early fortunes; whose enthusiasm, nevertheless, has not cooled with age; whose spirit of romance is not yet quenched; who are content to ramble through the world in a pleasant dream, rather than ever waken again to its harsh realities. We are alchemists, who would extract the essence of perpetual youth from dust and ashes, tempt coy Truth in many light and fairy forms from the bottom of her well, and discover one crumb of comfort, or one grain of good, in the commonest and least regarded matter that passes through our crucible. Spirits of past times, creatures of imagination, and people of to-day, are alike the objects of our seeking; and, unlike the objects of search with most philosophers, we can injure their coming at our command.
Let Epicurus give indolency as an attribute to his gods, and place in it the happiness of the blest: the Divinity which we worship has given us not only a precept against it, but his own example to the contrary.
When philosophy has gone so far as she is able, she arrives at Almightiness, and in that labyrinth is lost; where not knowing the way, she goes on by guess, and cannot tell whether she is right or wrong; and like a petty river is swallowed up in the boundless ocean of Omnipotency.
The categories of Aristotle are both logical and metaphysical, and apply to things as well as words. Regarded logically, they are reducible to two, substance and attribute; regarded metaphysically, they are reducible to being and accident. The categories of Kant are quantity, quality, relation, and modality.
Man first examines phenomena, but he is not satisfied till he has reduced them to their causes, and when he has done so, he asks to determine the value of the knowledge he has attained. This is philosophy, properly so called, the mother and governing science, the science of sciences.
In the philosophy of Kant our judgments are reduced under the four heads of quantity, quality, relation, and modality . The category of modality includes possibility and impossibility, existence and non-existence, necessity or contingency.
What I have observed with regard to natural philosophy I would extend to every other science whatsoever. We should teach them as many of the facts as were possible, and defer the causes until they seemed of themselves desirous of knowing them. A mind thus leaving school, stored with all the simple experiences of science, would be the fittest in the world for the college course; and though such a youth might not appear so bright or so talkative as those who had learned the real principles and causes of some of the sciences, yet he would make a wiser man, and would retain a more lasting passion for letters, than he who was early burdened with the disagreeable institution of effect and cause.
An inquiry into the sources of great events, an attempt to develop the more hidden causes which influence, under God, the destiny of nations, is an exercise of the mental powers more noble than almost any other, inasmuch as it embraces the widest field, and grasps a chain whose links are the most numerous, complicated, and subtle. The most profound political speculations, however, the most refined theories of government, though they establish the fame of their authors, will be found, perhaps, to have had very little influence on the happiness of nations.
Robert Hall: Sentiments Proper to the Present Crisis.
Philosophy has been defined:the science of things divine and human, and the causes in which they are contained;the science of effects by their causes;the science of sufficient reasons;the science of things possible, inasmuch as they are possible;the science of things evidently deduced from their first principles;the science of truths sensible and abstract;the application of reason to its legitimate objects;the science of the relations of all knowledge to the necessary ends of human reason;the science of the original form of the ego, or mental self;the science of science;the science of the absolute;the science of the absolute indifference of the ideal and real.
In the philosophy of mind, subjective denotes what is to be referred to the thinking subject, the ego; objective what belongs to the object of thought, the non ego. Philosophy being the essence of knowledge, and the science of knowledge supposing, in its most fundamental and thorough-going analysis, the distinction of the subject and object of knowledge, it is evident that to philosophy the subject of knowledge would be by pre-eminence the subject, and the object of knowledge the object. It was therefore natural that the object and objective, the subject and subjective, should be employed by philosophers as simple terms, compendiously to denote the grand discrimination about which philosophy was constantly employed, and which no others could be found so precisely and promptly to express.
Previous to the publication of the Novum Organon of Bacon, natural philosophy, in any legitimate and extensive use of the word, could hardly be said to exist. Among the Greek philosophers, of whose attainments in science alone we have any positive knowledge, and that but a very limited one, we are struck with the remarkable contrast between their powers of acute and subtile disputation, their extraordinary success in abstract reasoning, and their intimate familiarity with subjects purely intellectual, on the one hand, and, on the other, with their loose and careless consideration of external nature, their grossly illogical deductions of sweeping generality from few and ill-observed facts, in some cases; and their reckless assumption of abstract principles having no foundation but in their own imagination, in others: mere forms of words with nothing corresponding to them in nature, from which, as from mathematical definitions, postulates, and axioms, they imagined that all phenomena could be derived, all the laws of nature deduced.
Many persons of late have been injured by the imposing name of PHILOSOPHY. Philosophy, when it is employed in promoting good morals, in cultivating liberal arts, in strengthening social union, in contemplating the works of creation, and thus leading man to acknowledge and adore the Supreme Being, is a noble science: it is noble, because true; and true, because consistent and corresponding with the nature of man and with the relations he bears to his fellow-creatures and to his Maker. But that which assumes the name of philosophy, and under this mask injures morals, dissuades from mental improvement, disunites society, discerns not the wisdom of God, either in the earth or the heavens, and discourages men from paying the tribute of gratitude to their universal Father, such a system of doctrines is detestable, because false,and false, because contrary to the nature of man and his several relations to society and God. Real philosophy we should cherish and love: it is the friend of man, being the source of wisdom, the origin of many comforts, and the handmaid of religion. That which comes under its borrowed name, which puts on a semblance of what in fact it is not, and which if we are compelled to call philosophy we must, if we would speak properly, term false philosophythat is the evil against which we are to guard, that the credulous and innocent may not he betrayed by the deceits, the forgeries, and enchantments of this visored impostor.
The systems of natural philosophy that have obtained are to be read more to know the hypotheses, than with hopes to gain there a comprehensive, scientifical, and satisfactory knowledge of the works of nature.
The philosophers of old did in vain enquire, whether the summum bonum consisted in riches, bodily delights, virtue, or contemplation: they might as reasonably have disputed whether the best relish were in apples, plums, or nuts.
All our simple ideas are adequate; because, being nothing but the effects of certain powers in things, fitted and ordained by God to produce such sensations in us, they cannot but be correspondent and adequate to those powers.
Malebranche having shewed the difficulties of the other ways, and how unsufficient they are to give a satisfactory account of the ideas we have, erects this, of seeing all things in God, upon their ruin, as the tree.
This seeing all things, because we can desire to see all things, Malebranche makes a proof that they are present to our minds; and if they be present, they can no ways be present but by the presence of God, who contains them all.
He who, with Plato, shall place beatitude in the knowledge of God, will have his thoughts raised to other contemplations than those who looked not beyond this spot of earth and those perishing things in it.
Like most other friends, the Imagination is capricious, and forsakes us often at the moment in which we most need its aid. As we grow older we begin to learn that, of the two, our more faithful and steadfast comforter isCustom. But I should apologize for this sudden and unseasonable indulgence of a momentary weaknessit is but for a moment. With returning health returns also that energy without which the soul were given us in vain, and which enables us calmly to face the evils of our being, and resolutely to fulfil its objects. There is but one philosophy (though there are a thousand schools), and its name is Fortitude:
To Bear Is To Conquer Our Fate!
Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii, last Note.
The chief peculiarity of Bacons philosophy seems to us to have been this, that it aimed at things altogether different from those which his predecessors had proposed to themselves. This was his own opinion. Finis scientiarum, says he, a nemine adhuc bene positus est. And again, Omnium gravissimus error in deviatione ab ultimo doctrinarum fine consistit. Nec ipsa meta, says he elsewhere, adhuc ulli, quod sciam, mortalium posita est et defixa. The more carefully his works are examined, the more clearly, we think, it will appear that this is the real clue to his whole system, and that he used means different from those used by other philosophers, because he wished to arrive at an end altogether different from theirs.
What then was the end which Bacon proposed to himself? It was, to use his own emphatic expression, fruit. It was the multiplying of human enjoyments and the mitigating of human sufferings. It was the relief of mans estate. It was commodis humanis inservire. It was efficaciter operari ad sublevanda vitæ humanæ incommoda. It was dotare vitam humanam novis inventis et copiis. It was genus humanum novis operibus et potestatibus continuo dotare. This was the object of all his speculations in every department of science, in natural philosophy, in legislation, in politics, in morals.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Lord Bacon, July, 1837.
The ancient philosophy disdained to be useful, and was content to be stationary. It dealt largely in theories of moral perfection, which were so sublime that they never could be more than theories; in attempts to solve insoluble enigmas; in exhortations to the attainment of unattainable frames of mind. It could not condescend to the humble office of ministering to the comfort of human beings. All the schools contemned that office as degrading; some censured it as immoral. Once indeed Posidonius, a distinguished writer of the age of Cicero and Cæsar, so far forgot himself as to enumerate among the humble blessings which mankind owed to philosophy the discovery of the principle of the arch and the introduction of the use of metals. This eulogy was considered as an affront, and was taken up with proper spirit. Seneca vehemently disclaims these insulting compliments. Philosophy, according to him, has nothing to do with teaching men to rear arched roofs over their heads. The true philosopher does not care whether he has an arched roof or any roof. Philosophy has nothing to do with teaching men the uses of metals. She teaches us to be independent of all material substances, of all mechanical contrivances. The wise man lives according to nature. Instead of attempting to add to the physical comforts of his species, he regrets that his lot was not cast in that golden age when the human race had no protection against the cold but the skins of wild beasts, no screen from the sun but a cavern. To impute to such a man any share in the invention or improvement of a plough, a ship, or a mill, is an insult. In my own time, says Seneca, there have been inventions of this sort, transparent windows, tubes for diffusing warmth equally through all parts of a building, short-hand, which has been carried to such a perfection that a writer can keep pace with the most rapid speaker. But the inventing of such things is drudgery for the lowest slaves; philosophy lies deeper. It is not her office to teach men how to use their hands. The object of her lessons is to form the soul. Non est, inquam, instrumentorum ad usus necessarios opifex. If the non were left out, this last sentence would be no bad description of the Baconian philosophy, and would, indeed, very much resemble several expressions in the Novum Organum. We shall next be told, exclaims Seneca, that the first shoemaker was a philosopher. For our own part, if we are forced to make our choice between the first shoemaker and the author of the three books On Anger, we pronounce for the shoemaker. It may be worse to be angry than to be wet. But shoes have kept millions from being wet; and we doubt whether Seneca ever kept anybody from being angry.
It is very reluctantly that Seneca can be brought to confess that any philosopher had ever paid the smallest attention to anything that could possibly promote what vulgar people would consider as the well-being of mankind. He labours to clear Democritus from the disgraceful imputation of having made the first arch, and Anacharsis from the charge of having contrived the potters wheel. He is forced to own that such a thing might happen; and it may also happen, he tells us, that a philosopher may be swift of foot. But it is not in his character of philosopher that he either wins a race or invents a machine. No, to be sure. The business of a philosopher was to declaim in praise of poverty, with two millions sterling out at usury, to meditate epigrammatic conceits about the evils of luxury, in gardens which moved the envy of sovereigns, to rant about liberty, while fawning on the insolent and pampered freedmen of a tyrant, to celebrate the divine beauty of virtue with the same pen which had just before written a defence of the murder of a mother by a son.
The spirit which appears in the passage of Seneca to which we have referred tainted the whole body of the ancient philosophy from the time of Socrates downwards, and took possession of intellects with which that of Seneca cannot for a moment be compared. It pervades the dialogues of Plato. It may be distinctly traced in many parts of the works of Aristotle. Bacon has dropped hints from which it may be inferred that, in his opinion, the prevalence of this feeling was in a great measure to be attributed to the influence of Socrates. Our great countryman evidently did not consider the revolution which Socrates effected in philosophy as a happy event, and constantly maintained that the earlier Greek speculators, Democritus in particular, were, on the whole, superior to their more celebrated successors.
Assuredly, if the tree which Socrates planted and Plato watered is to be judged of by its flowers and leaves, it is the noblest of trees. But if we take the homely test of Bacon, if we judge of the tree by its fruits, our opinion of it may perhaps be less favourable. When we sum up all the useful truths which we owe to that philosophy, to what do they amount? We find, indeed, abundant proofs that some of those who cultivated it were men of the first order of intellect. We find among their writings incomparable specimens both of dialectical and rhetorical art. We have no doubt that the ancient controversies were of use, in so far as they served to exercise the faculties of the disputants; for there is no controversy so idle that it may not be of use in this way. But when we look for something more, for something which adds to the comforts or alleviates the calamities of the human race, we are forced to own ourselves disappointed. We are forced to say with Bacon that this celebrated philosophy ended in nothing but disputation, that it was neither a vineyard nor an olive-ground, but an intricate wood of briers and thistles, from which those who lost themselves in it brought back many scratches and no food.
We readily acknowledge that some of the teachers of this unfruitful wisdom were among the greatest men that the world has ever seen. If we admit the justice of Bacons censure, we admit it with regret, similar to that which Dante felt when he learned the fate of those illustrious heathens who were doomed to the first circle of Hell.
But in truth the very admiration which we feel for the eminent philosophers of antiquity forces us to adopt the opinion that their powers were systematically misdirected. For how else could it be that such powers should effect so little for mankind? A pedestrian may show as much muscular vigour on a treadmill as on the highway road. But on the road his vigour will assuredly carry him forward; and on the treadmill he will not advance an inch. The ancient philosophy was a treadmill, not a path. It was made up of revolving questions, of controversies which were always beginning again. It was a contrivance for having much exertion and no progress. We must acknowledge that more than once, while contemplating the doctrines of the Academy and the Portico, even as they appear in the transparent splendour of Ciceros incomparable diction, we have been tempted to mutter with the surly centurion in Persius, Cur quis non prandeat hoc est? What is the highest good, whether pain be an evil, whether all things be fated, whether we can be certain of anything, whether we can be certain that we are certain of nothing, whether a wise man can be unhappy, whether all departures from right be equally reprehensible, these, and other questions of the same sort, occupied the brains, the tongues, and the pens of the ablest men in the civilized world during several centuries. This sort of philosophy, it is evident, could not be progressive. It might indeed sharpen and invigorate the minds of those who devoted themselves to it; and so might the disputes of the orthodox Lilliputians and the heretical Blefuscudians about the big ends and the little ends of eggs. But such disputes could add nothing to the stock of knowledge. The human mind accordingly, instead of marching, merely marked time. It took as much trouble as would have sufficed to carry it forward; and yet remained on the same spot. There was no accumulation of truth, no heritage of truth acquired by the labour of one generation and bequeathed to another, to be again transmitted with large additions to a third. Where this philosophy was in the time of Cicero, there it continued to be in the time of Seneca, and there it continued to be in the time of Favorinus. The same sects were still battling with the same unsatisfactory arguments about the same interminable questions. There had been no want of ingenuity, of zeal, of industry. Every trace of intellectual cultivation was there, except a harvest. There had been plenty of ploughing, harrowing, reaping, threshing. But the garners contained only smut and stubble.
The ancient philosophers did not neglect natural science; but they did not cultivate it for the purpose of increasing the power and ameliorating the condition of man. The taint of barrenness had spread from ethical to physical speculations. Seneca wrote largely on natural philosophy, and magnified the importance of that study. But why? Not because it tended to assuage suffering, to multiply the conveniences of life, to extend the empire of man over the material world; but solely because it tended to raise the mind above low cares, to separate it from the body, to exercise its subtilty in the solution of very obscure questions. [Seneca, Nat. Quæst., præf., lib. 3.] Thus natural philosophy was considered in the light merely of a mental exercise. It was made subsidiary to the art of disputation; and it consequently proved altogether barren of useful discoveries.
There was one sect which, however absurd and pernicious some of its doctrines may have been, ought, it should seem, to have merited an exception from the general censure which Bacon has pronounced on the ancient schools of wisdom. The Epicurean, who referred all happiness to bodily pleasure, and all evil to bodily pain, might have been expected to exert himself for the purpose of bettering his own physical condition and that of his neighbours. But the thought seems never to have occurred to any member of that school. Indeed, their notion, as reported by their great poet, was, that no more improvements were to be expected in the arts which conduce to the comfort of life.
This contented despondency, this disposition to admire what has been done, and to expect that nothing more will be done, is strongly characteristic of all the schools which preceded the school of Fruit and Progress. Widely as the Epicurean and the Stoic differed on most points, they seem to have quite agreed in their contempt for pursuits so vulgar as to be useful. The philosophy of both was a garrulous, declaiming, canting, wrangling philosophy. Century after century they continued to repeat their hostile war-cries, Virtue and Pleasure; and in the end it appeared that the Epicurean had added as little to the quantity of pleasure as the Stoic to the quantity of virtue. It is on the pedestal of Bacon, not on that of Epicurus, that those noble lines ought to be inscribed:
There cannot be a stronger proof of the degree in which the human mind had been misdirected than the history of the two greatest events which took place during the middle ages. We speak of the invention of Gunpowder and of the invention of Printing. The dates of both are unknown. The authors of both are unknown. Nor was this because men were too rude and ignorant to value intellectual superiority. The invention of gunpowder appears to have been contemporary with Petrarch and Boccaccio. The invention of printing was certainly contemporary with Nicholas the Fifth, with Cosmo de Medici, and with a crowd of distinguished scholars. But the human mind still retained that fatal bent which it had received two thousand years earlier. George of Trebisond and Marsilio Ficino would not easily have been brought to believe that the inventor of the printing-press had done more for mankind than themselves, or than those ancient writers of whom they were the enthusiastic votaries.
At length the time arrived when the barren philosophy which had, during so many ages, employed the faculties of the ablest of men, was destined to fall. It had worn many shapes. It had mingled itself with many creeds. It had survived revolutions in which empires, religions, languages, races, had perished. Driven from its ancient haunts, it had taken sanctuary in that Church which it had persecuted, and had, like the daring fiends of the poet, placed its seat
Many causes predisposed the public mind to a change. The study of a great variety of ancient writers, though it did not give a right direction to philosophical research, did much towards destroying that blind reverence for authority which had prevailed when Aristotle ruled alone. The rise of the Florentine sect of Platonists, a sect to which belonged some of the finest minds of the fifteenth century, was not an unimportant event. The mere substitution of the Academic for the Peripatetic philosophy would indeed have done little good. But anything was better than the old habit of unreasoning servility. It was something to have a choice of tyrants. A spark of freedom, as Gibbon has justly remarked, was produced by this collision of adverse servitude.
Other causes might be mentioned. But it is chiefly to the great reformation of religion that we owe the great reformation of philosophy. The alliance between the Schools and the Vatican had for ages been so close that those who threw off the dominion of the Vatican could not continue to recognize the authority of the Schools. Most of the chiefs of the schism treated the Peripatetic philosophy with contempt, and spoke of Aristotle as if Aristotle had been answerable for all the dogmas of Thomas Aquinas. Nullo apud Lutheranos philosophiam esse in pretio, was a reproach which the defenders of the Church of Rome loudly repeated, and which many of the Protestant leaders considered as a compliment. Scarcely any text was more frequently cited by the reformers than that in which St. Paul cautions the Colossians not to let any man spoil them by philosophy. Luther, almost at the outset of his career, went so far as to declare that no man could be at once a proficient in the school of Aristotle and in that of Christ. Zwingle, Bucer, Peter Martyr, Calvin, held similar language. In some of the Scotch universities the Aristotelian system was discarded for that of Ramus. Thus, before the birth of Bacon, the empire of the scholastic philosophy had been shaken to its foundations. There was in the intellectual world an anarchy resembling that which in the political world often follows the overthrow of an old and deeply-rooted government. Antiquity, prescription, the sound of great names, had ceased to awe mankind. The dynasty which had reigned for ages was at an end; and the vacant throne was left to be struggled for by pretenders.
The first effect of this great revolution was, as Bacon most justly observed [De Augmentis, lib. i.], to give for a time an undue importance to the mere graces of style. The new breed of scholars, the Aschams and Buchanans, nourished with the finest compositions of the Augustan age, regarded with loathing the dry, crabbed, and barbarous diction of respondents and opponents. They were far less studious about the matter of their writing than about the manner. They succeeded in reforming Latinity; but they never even aspired to effect a reform in philosophy.
To sum up the whole, we should say that the aim of the Platonic philosophy was to exalt man into a god. The aim of the Baconian philosophy was to provide man with what he requires while he continues to be man. The aim of the Platonic philosophy was to raise us far above vulgar wants. The aim of the Baconian philosophy was to supply our vulgar wants. The former aim was noble; but the latter was attainable. Pinto drew a good bow; but, like Acestes in Virgil, he aimed at the stars; and therefore, though there was no want of strength or skill, the shot was thrown away. His arrow was indeed followed by a track of dazzling radiance, but it struck nothing.
Volans liquidis in nubibus arsit arundo,
Signavitque viam flammis, tenuesque recessit
Consumpta in ventos.
Bacon fixed his eye on a mark which was placed on the earth, and within bow-shot, and hit it in the white. The philosophy of Plato began in words and ended in words,noble words indeed, words such as were to be expected from the finest of human intellects exercising boundless dominion over the finest of human languages. The philosophy of Bacon began in observations and ended in arts.
The boast of the ancient philosophers was that their doctrine formed the minds of men to a high degree of wisdom and virtue. This was indeed the only practical good which the most celebrated of those teachers even pretended to effect; and undoubtedly, if they had effected this, they would have deserved far higher praise than if they had discovered the most salutary medicines or constructed the most powerful machines. But the truth is that, in those very matters in which alone they professed to do any good to mankind, in those very matters for the sake of which they neglected all the vulgar interests of mankind, they did nothing, or worse than nothing. They promised what was impracticable; they despised what was practicable; they filled the world with long words and long beards; and they left it as wicked and as ignorant as they found it.
An acre in Middlesex is better than a principally in Utopia. The smallest actual good is better than the most magnificent promises of impossibilities. The wise man of the Stoics would, no doubt, be a grander object than a steam-engine. But there are steam-engines. And the wise man of the Stoics is yet to be born. A philosophy which should enable a man to feel perfectly happy while in agonies of pain would be better than a philosophy which assuages pain. But we know that there are remedies which will assuage pain; and we know that the ancient sages liked the toothache just as little as their neighbours. A philosophy which should extinguish cupidity would be better than a philosophy which should devise laws for the security of property. But it is possible to make laws which shall, to a very great extent, secure property. And we do not understand how any motives which the ancient philosophy furnished could extinguish cupidity. We know, indeed, that the philosophers were no better than other men. From the testimony of friends as well as of foes, from the confessions of Epictetus and Seneca, as well as from the sneers of Lucian and the fierce invectives of Juvenal, it is plain that these teachers of virtue had all the vices of their neighbours, with the additional vice of hypocrisy.
Some people may think the object of the Baconian philosophy a low object, but they cannot deny that, high or low, it has been attained. They cannot deny that every year makes an addition to what Bacon called fruit. They cannot deny that mankind have made, and are making, great and constant progress in the road which he pointed out to them. Was there any such progressive movement among the ancient philosophers? After they had been declaiming eight hundred years, had they made the world better than when they began? Our belief is that, among the philosophers themselves, instead of a progressive improvement there was a progressive degeneracy. An abject superstition which Democritus or Anaxagoras would have rejected with scorn added the last disgrace to the long dotage of the Stoic and Platonic schools. Those unsuccessful attempts to articulate which are so delightful and interesting in a child shock and disgust us in an aged paralytic; and, in the same way, those wild mythological fictions which charm us when we hear them lisped by Greek poetry in its infancy excite a mixed sensation of pity and loathing when mumbled by Greek philosophy in its old age.
Suppose that Justinian, when he closed the schools of Athens, had called on the last few sages who still haunted the Portico, and lingered round the ancient plane-trees, to show their title to public veneration: suppose that he had said, A thousand years have elapsed since, in this famous city, Socrates posed Protagoras and Hippias; during those thousand years a large proportion of the ablest men of every generation has been employed in constant efforts to bring to perfection the philosophy which you teach; that philosophy has been munificently patronized by the powerful; its professors have been held in the highest esteem by the public; it has drawn to itself almost all the sap and vigour of the human intellect: and what has it effected? What profitable truth has it taught us which we should not equally have known without it? What has it enabled us to do which we should not have been equally able to do without it? Such questions, we suspect, would have puzzled Simplicius and Isidore. Ask a follower of Bacon what the new philosophy, as it was called in the time of Charles the Second, has effected for mankind, and his answer is ready: It has lengthened life; it has mitigated pain; it has extinguished diseases; it has increased the fertility of the soil; it has given new securities to the mariner; it has furnished new arms to the warrior; it has spanned great rivers and estuaries with bridges of form unknown to our fathers; it has guided the thunder-bolt innocuously from heaven to earth; it has lighted up the night with the splendour of the day; it has extended the range of the human vision; it has multiplied the power of the human muscles; it has accelerated motion; it has annihilated distance; it has facilitated intercourse, correspondence, all friendly offices, all dispatch of business; it has enabled man to descend to the depths of the sea, to soar into the air, to penetrate securely into the noxious recesses of the earth, to traverse the land in cars which whirl along without horses, and the ocean in ships which run ten knots an hour against the wind. These are but a part of its fruits, and of its first fruits. For it is a philosophy which never rests, which has never attained, which is never perfect. Its law is progress. A point which yesterday was invisible is its goal to-day, and will be its starting-post to-morrow.
Cicero says, that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare a mans self to die. The reason of which is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us and deprive us of our souls, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of learning to die, and a resemblance of death; or else because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world does in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die. And to say the truth, either our reason does grossly abuse us, or it ought to have no other aim but our contentment only, nor to endeavour any thing but in turn to make us live well, and as the holy Scripture says, at our ease. All the opinions of the world agree in this.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xix.
The soul that entertains philosophy ought to be of such a constitution of health as to render the body in like manner healthfull to; she ought to make her tranquillity and satisfaction shine so as to appear without, and her contentment ought to fashion the outward behaviour to her own mould, and consequently to fortifie it with a graceful confidence, an active carriage, and with a serene and contented countenance. The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual chearfulness; her estate is like that of things in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene! Tis Baraco and Baralipton that render their disciples so dirty and ill favourd, and not she: they do not so much as know her but by hear-say. It is she that calms and appeases the storms and tempests of the soul, and who teaches famine and fevers to laugh and sing; and that, not by certain imaginary epicycles, but by natural and manifest reasons. She has vertue for her end; which is not, as the schoolmen say, situate upon the summit of a perpendicular rock, and an inaccessible precipice. Such as have approachd her find it quite contrary, to be seated in a fair, fruitful, and flourishing plain, from whence she easily discovers all things subjected to her: to which place any one may however arrive, if he knows but the easiest and the nearest way, through shady, green, and sweetly flourishing walks and avenues, by a pleasant, easie, and smooth descent, like that of the clestial arches.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxv.
All philosophy is divided into three kinds. All her design is to seek out Truth, knowledge, and certainty. The peripateticks, epicureans, stoicks, and others, have thought they have found it. These have established the sciences, and have treated of them as of certain knowledges. Clitomachus, Carneades, and the Academicks, have despaired in their quest, and concluded the truth could not be conceivd by our understandings. The result of these are weakness and human ignorance. This sect has had the most, and most noble followers. Pyrrho and other scepticks, whose doctrines were held by many of the ancients, taken from Homer, the seven sages, Archilochus, Euripides, Zeno, Democritus, and Xenophon, say that they are yet upon the search of truth. These conclude that the other, who think they have found it out, are infinitely deceivd; and that it is too daring a vanity in the second sort to determine that human reason is not able to attain unto it. For this establishing a standard of our power to know and judge the difficulty of things is a great and extream knowledge, of which they doubt whether or no man can be capable.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lxix.
There is even room for philosophy in the courts of princes, but not for that speculative philosophy that makes everything to be alike fitting at all times; but there is another philosophy that is more pliable, that knows its proper scene, accommodates itself to it, and teaches a man, with propriety and decency, to act that part which has fallen to his share.
The main business of natural philosophy is to argue from phenomena without feigning hypotheses, and to deduce causes from effects till we come to the very first cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the mechanism of the world, but chiefly to resolve these, and to such like questions.
To derive two or three general principles of motion from phenomena, and afterwards to tell us how the properties and actions of all corporeal things follow from those manifest principles, would be a very great step in philosophy.
Philosophy can hold an easy triumph over the misfortunes which are past and to come; but those which are present triumph over her. By philosophy we are taught to dismiss our regrets for the past and our apprehensions of future evils; but the immediate sense of suffering she cannot teach us to subdue.
Adam, in the state of innocence, came into the world a philosopher, which sufficiently appealed by his writing the natures of things upon their names: he could view essences in themselves, and read forms without the comment of their respective properties.
As in many things the knowledge of philosophers was short of the truth, so almost in all things their practice fell short of their knowledge: the principles by which they walked were as much below those by which they judged as their feet were below their head.
Philosophy is of two kinds: that which relates to conduct, and that which relates to knowledge. The first teaches us to value all things at their real worth, to be contented with little, modest in prosperity, patient in trouble, equal-minded at all times. It teaches us our duty to our neighbour and ourselves. But it is he who possesses both that is the true philosopher. The more he knows, the more he is desirous of knowing; and yet the farther he advances in knowledge the better he understands how little he can attain, and the more deeply he feels that God alone can satisfy the infinite desires of an immortal soul. To understand this is the height and perfection of philosophy.
Lipsius was a great studier of the Stoical philosophy: upon his death-bed his friend told him that he needed not use arguments to persuade him to patience; the philosophy which he had studied would furnish him: he answers him, Lord Jesus, give me Christian patience!