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It was in perfect accordance with the spirit of Greek philosophy, and more particularly of Platonism, that a connecting link should be interposed between earth and heaven, the human and the divine, especially when, as at this time, the supreme creator had come to be isolated in solitary splendour from the rest of existence; but it would be a mistake to suppose that the daemons were invented for the purpose to which they were applied. We find them mentioned by Hesiod;393 and they probably represent an even older phase of religious thought than the Olympian gods, being, in fact, a survival of that primitive psychism which peopled the whole universe with life and animation. This becomes still clearer when we consider that they are described, both under their earliest and their latest Greek form, as being, in part at least, human souls raised after death to a higher sphere of253 activity. Among these, Maximus Tyrius includes the demi-gods of mythology, such as Ascl锚pius and Heracles, who, as we have seen, were objects of particular veneration under the empire.394 Thus daemon-worship combined three different elements or aspects of the supernaturalist movement:鈥攖he free play given to popular imagination by the decay or destruction of the aristocratic organisation of society and religion, the increasing tendency to look for a perpetuation and elevation of human existence, and the convergence of philosophical speculation with popular faith..
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My obligations to other writers have been acknowledged throughout this work, so far as I was conscious of them, and so far as they could be defined by reference to specific points. I take the present opportunity for mentioning in a more general way the valuable assistance which I have derived from Schwegler鈥檚 Geschichte der Griechischen Philosophie, Lange鈥檚 Geschichte des Materialismus, and Dühring鈥檚 Geschichte der Philosophie. The parallel between Socrates, Giordano Bruno, and Spinoza was probably suggested to mexxiv by Dühring, as also were some points in my characterisation of Aristotle. As my view of the position occupied by Lucretius with respect to religion and philosophy differs in many important points from that of Prof. Sellar, it is the more incumbent on me to state that, but for a perusal of Prof. Sellar鈥檚 eloquent and sympathetic chapters on the great Epicurean poet, my own estimate of his genius would certainly not have been written in its present form and would probably not have been written at all.?
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The explanation of this anomaly is, we believe, to be found in the fact that Catholicism did, to a great extent, actually spring from a continuation of those widely different tendencies which Epicurus confounded in a common assault. It had an intellectual basis in the Platonic and Stoic philosophies, and a popular basis in the revival of those manifold superstitions which, underlying the brilliant civilisations of Greece and Rome, were always ready to break out with renewed violence when their restraining pressure was removed. The revival of which we speak was powerfully aided from without. The same movement that was carrying Hellenic culture into Asia was bringing Oriental delusions by a sort of back current into the Western world. Nor was this all. The relaxation of all political bonds, together with the indifference of the educated classes, besides allowing a rank undergrowth of popular beliefs to spring up unchecked, surrendered the regulation of those beliefs into the hands of a78 profession which it had hitherto been the policy of every ancient republic to keep under rigid restraint鈥攖he accredited or informal ministers of religion.154 Now, the chief characteristic of a priestly order has always and everywhere been insatiable avarice. When forbidden to acquire wealth in their individual capacity, they grasp at it all the more eagerly in their corporate capacity. And, as the Epicureans probably perceived, there is no engine which they can use so effectually for the gratification of this passion as the belief in a future life. What they have to tell about this is often described by themselves and their supporters as a message of joy to the weary and afflicted. But under their treatment it is very far from being a consolatory belief. Dark shades and lurid lights predominate considerably in their pictures of the world beyond the grave; and here, as we shall presently show, they are aided by an irresistible instinct of human nature. On this subject, also, they can speak with unlimited confidence; for, while their other statements about the supernatural are liable to be contradicted by experience, the abode of souls is a bourne from which no traveller returns to disprove the accuracy of their statements..
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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.
Such, so far as they can be ascertained, are the most important facts in the life of Plotinus. Interwoven with these, we find some legendary details which vividly illustrate the superstition and credulity of the age. It is evident from his childish talk about the numbers six and nine that Porphyry was imbued with Pythagorean ideas. Accordingly, his whole account of Plotinus is dominated by the wish to represent that philosopher under the guise of a Pythagorean saint. We have already alluded to the manner in which he exalts his hero鈥檚 remarkable sagacity into a power of supernatural prescience and divination. He also tells us, with the most unsuspecting good faith, how a certain Alexandrian philosopher whose jealousy had been excited by the success of his illustrious countryman, endeavoured to draw down the malignant influences of the stars on the head of Plotinus, but was obliged to desist on finding that the attack recoiled on himself.421 On another occasion, an Egyptian priest, by way of exhibiting his skill in magic, offered to conjure up the daemon or guardian spirit of Plotinus. The latter readily consented, and the Temple of Isis was chosen for the scene of the operations, as, according to the Egyptian, no other spot sufficiently pure for the purpose could be found in Rome. The incantations were duly pronounced, when, much to the admiration of those present, a god made his appearance instead of the expected daemon. By what particular marks the divinity of the apparition was determined, Porphyry omits to mention. The philosopher was congratulated by his countryman on the possession of such a distinguished patron, but the celestial visitor vanished before any questions could be put to him. This mishap was attributed to a friend281 鈥榳ho, either from envy or fear, choked the birds which had been given him to hold,鈥 and which seem to have played a very important part in the incantation, though what it was, we do not find more particularly specified.422
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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