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Another method by which Aristotle strove to overcome the antithesis between life as a mechanical arrangement and life as a metaphysical conception, was the newly created study of comparative anatomy. The variations in structure and function which accompany variations in the environment, though statically and not dynamically conceived, bring us very near to the truth that biological phenomena are subject to the same general laws of causation as all other phenomena; and it is this truth which, in the science of life, corresponds to the identification of terrestrial with celestial physics in the science of general mechanics. Vitality is not an individualised principle stationed in the heart and serving only to balance opposite forces against one another; but it is diffused through all the tissues, and bestows on them that extraordinary plasticity which responds to the actions of the environment by spontaneous variations capable of being summed up in any direction, and so creating entirely new organic forms without the intervention of any supernatural agency..
So far we have contrasted the Apologia with the Memorabilia. We have now to consider in what relation it stands to Plato鈥檚 other writings. The constructive dogmatic Socrates, who is a principal spokesman in some of them, differs widely from the sceptical Socrates of the famous Defence, and the difference has been urged as an argument for the historical authenticity of the latter.85 Plato, it is implied, would not115 have departed so far from his usual conception of the sage, had he not been desirous of reproducing the actual words spoken on so solemn an occasion. There are, however, several dialogues which seem to have been composed for the express purpose of illustrating the negative method supposed to have been described by Socrates to his judges, investigations the sole result of which is to upset the theories of other thinkers, or to show that ordinary men act without being able to assign a reason for their conduct. Even the Republic is professedly tentative in its procedure, and only follows out a train of thought which has presented itself almost by accident to the company. Unlike Charles Lamb鈥檚 Scotchman, the leading spokesman does not bring, but find, and you are invited to cry halves to whatever turns up in his company..
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There must, one would suppose, be some force in the Epicurean philosophy of death, for it has been endorsed by no less a thinker and observer than Shakspeare. To make the great dramatist responsible for every opinion uttered by one or other of his characters would, of course, be absurd; but when we find personages so different in other respects as Claudio, Hamlet, and Macbeth, agreeing in the sentiment that, apart from the prospect of a future judgment, there is nothing to appal us in the thought of death, we cannot avoid the inference that he is here making them the mouthpiece of his own convictions, even, as in Hamlet鈥檚 famous soliloquy, at the expense of every dramatic propriety. Nevertheless, the answer of humanity to such sophisms will always be that of Homer鈥檚 Achilles, 鈥μ? δ? μοι θ?νατ?ν γε παρα?δα鈥欌斺楾alk me not fair of death!鈥 A very simple process of reasoning will make this clear. The love of life necessarily involves a constant use of precautions against its loss. The certainty of death means the certainty that these precautions shall one day prove unavailing; the consciousness of its near approach means the consciousness that they have actually failed. In both cases the result must be a sense of baffled or arrested effort, more or less feeble when it is imagined, more or less acute when it it is realised. But this diversion of the conscious energies from their accustomed channel, this turning back of the feelings on themselves, constitutes the essence of all emotion; and where the object of the arrested energies was to avert a danger, it constitutes the emotion of fear. Thus, by an inevitable law, the love of life has for its reverse side the dread of death. Now the love of life is guaranteed by the survival of the fittest; it must last as long as the human race, for91 without it the race could not last at all. If, as Epicurus urged, the supreme desirability of pleasure is proved by its being the universal object of pursuit among all species of animals,177 the supreme hatefulness of death is proved by an analogous experience; and we may be sure that, even if pessimism became the accepted faith, the darkened prospect would lead to no relaxation of our grasp on life. A similar mode of reasoning applies to the sorrow and anguish, mortis comites et funeris atri, from which the benevolent Roman poet would fain relieve us. For, among a social species, the instinct for preserving others is second only to the instinct of self-preservation, and frequently rises superior to it. Accordingly, the loss of those whom we love causes, and must always cause us, a double distress. There is, first, the simple pain due to the eternal loss of their society, a pain of which Lucretius takes no account. And, secondly, there is the arrest of all helpful activity on their behalf, the continual impulse to do something for them, coupled with the chilling consciousness that it is too late, that nothing more can be done. So strong, indeed, is this latter feeling that it often causes the loss of those whose existence was a burden to themselves and others, to be keenly felt, if only the survivors were accustomed, as a matter of duty, to care for them and to struggle against the disease from which they suffered. Philosophy may help to fill up the blanks thus created, by directing our thoughts to objects of perennial interest, and she may legitimately discourage the affectation or the fostering of affliction; but the blanks themselves she cannot explain away, without forfeiting all claim on our allegiance as the ultimate and incorruptible arbitress of truth.!
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But a profounder analysis of experience is necessary before we can come to the real roots of Plato鈥檚 scheme. It must be remembered that our philosopher was a revolutionist of the most thorough-going description, that he objected not to this or that constitution of his time, but to all existing consti254tutions whatever. Now, every great revolutionary movement, if in some respects an advance and an evolution, is in other respects a retrogression and a dissolution. When the most complex forms of political association are broken up, the older or subordinate forms suddenly acquire new life and meaning. What is true of practice is true also of speculation. Having broken away from the most advanced civilisation, Plato was thrown back on the spontaneous organisation of industry, on the army, the school, the family, the savage tribe, and even the herd of cattle, for types of social union. It was by taking some hints from each of these minor aggregates that he succeeded in building up his ideal polity, which, notwithstanding its supposed simplicity and consistency, is one of the most heterogeneous ever framed. The principles on which it rests are not really carried out to their logical consequences; they interfere with and supplement one another. The restriction of political power to a single class is avowedly based on the necessity for a division of labour. One man, we are told, can only do one thing well. But Plato should have seen that the producer is not for that reason to be made a monopolist; and that, to borrow his own favourite example, shoes are properly manufactured because the shoemaker is kept in order by the competition of his rivals and by the freedom of the consumer to purchase wherever he pleases. Athenian democracy, so far from contradicting the lessons of political economy, was, in truth, their logical application to government. The people did not really govern themselves, nor do they in any modern democracy, but they listened to different proposals, just as they might choose among different articles in a shop or different tenders for building a house, accepted the most suitable, and then left it to be carried out by their trusted agents.
We may also suspect that Plato was dissatisfied not only with the positive results obtained by Socrates, but also with the Socratic method of constructing general definitions. To rise from the part to the whole, from particular instances to general notions, was a popular rather than a scientific process; and sometimes it only amounted to taking the current explanations and modifying them to suit the exigencies of ordinary experience. The resulting definitions could never be more than tentative, and a skilful dialectician could always upset them by producing an unlooked-for exception, or by discovering an ambiguity in the terms by which they were conveyed.
The problem, then, which Spinoza set himself was, first, to account for the fundamental assumptions of all science, and more particularly of geometry, by deducing them from a single self-evident principle; and then to use that principle for the solution of whatever problems seemed to stand most in need of its application. And, as usually happens in such adventurous enterprises, the supposed answer of pure reason was obtained by combining or expanding conceptions borrowed without criticism from pre-existing systems of philosophy.
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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