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It had been urged against hedonism that pleasure is a process, a movement; whereas the supreme good must be a completed product鈥攁n end in which we can rest. Against sensual enjoyments in particular, it had been urged that they are caused by the satisfaction of appetite, and, as such, must result in a mere negative condition, marking the zero point of pleasurable sentiency. Finally, much stress had been laid on the anti-social and suicidal consequences of that selfish grasping at power to which habits of unlimited self-indulgence must infallibly lead. The form given to hedonism by Epicurus is a reaction against these criticisms, a modification imposed on it for the purpose of evading their force. He seems to admit that bodily satisfaction is rather the removal of a want, and consequently of a pain, than a source of positive pleasure. But the resulting condition of liberation from uneasiness is, according to him, all that we can desire; and by extending the same principle to every other good, he indirectly brings back the mental felicity which at first sight his system threatened either to exclude or to reduce to a mere shadow of sensual enjoyment. For, in calculating the elements of unhappiness, we have to deal, not only with present discomfort, but also, and to a far greater extent, with the apprehension of future evil. We dread the loss of worldly goods, of friends, of reputation, of life itself. We are continually exposed to pain, both from violence and from disease. We are haunted by visions of divine vengeance, both here and hereafter. To get rid of all such terrors, to possess our souls in peace, is the highest good鈥攁 permanent, as distinguished from a transient state of consciousness鈥攁nd the proper business of philosophy is to show us how that consummation may be attained.65 Thus we are brought back to that blissful self-contemplation of mind which Aristotle had already declared to be the goal of all endeavour and the sole happiness of God.

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Our survey of Plato鈥檚 first period is now complete; and we have to enter on the far more arduous task of tracing out the circumstances, impulses, and ideas by which all the scattered materials of Greek life, Greek art, and Greek thought were shaped into a new system and stamped with the impress of an imperishable genius. At the threshold of this second period the personality of Plato himself emerges into greater distinctness, and we have to consider what part it played in an evolution where universal tendencies and individual leanings were inseparably combined..
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So far as he can be said to have studied science at all, the motive of Epicurus was hatred for religion far more than love for natural law. He seems, indeed, to have preserved that aversion for Nature which is so characteristic of the earlier Greek Humanists. He seems to have imagined that by refusing to tie himself down to any one explanation of external phenomena, he could diminish their hold over the mind of man. For when he departs from his usual attitude of suspense and reserve, it is to declare dogmatically that the heavenly bodies are no larger than they appear to our senses, and perhaps smaller than they sometimes appear.170 The only88 arguments adduced on behalf of this outrageous assertion were that if their superficial extension was altered by transmission, their colour would be altered to a still greater degree; and the alleged fact that flames look the same size at all distances.171 It is evident that neither Epicurus nor Lucretius, who, as usual, transcribes him with perfect good faith, could ever have looked at one lamp-flame through another, or they would have seen that the laws of linear perspective are not suspended in the case of self-luminous bodies鈥攁 fact which does not tell much for that accurate observation supposed to have been fostered by their philosophy.172 The truth is, that Epicurus disliked the oppressive notion of a sun several times larger than the earth, and was determined not to tolerate it, be the consequences to fact and logic what they might.!
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鈥極n earth there is nothing great but man,.
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Closely connected with the materialism of the Stoics, and equally adverse to the principles of Plato and Aristotle, was their fatalism. In opposition to this, Plotinus proceeds to develop the spiritualistic doctrine of free-will.438 In the previous discussion, we had to notice how closely his arguments resemble those employed by more modern controversialists. We have here to point out no less wide a difference between the two. Instead of presenting free-will as a fact of consciousness which is itself irreconcilable with the dependence of mental on material changes, our philosopher, conversely, infers that the soul must be free both from the conditions of mechanical causation and from the general interdependence of natural forces, because it is an individual substance.439 In truth, the phenomena of volition were handled by the ancient philosophers with a vagueness and a feebleness offering the most singular contrast to their powerful and discriminating grasp of other psychological problems. Of necessarianism, in the modern sense, they had no idea. Aristotle failed to see that, quite apart from external restraints, our choice may conceivably be determined with the utmost rigour by an internal motive; nor could he understand that the circumstances which make a man responsible for his actions do not amount to a release of his conduct from the law of universal causation. In this respect, Plato saw somewhat deeper than his disciple, but created298 fresh confusion by identifying freedom with the supremacy of reason over irrational desire.440 Plotinus generally adopts the Platonist point of view. According to this, the soul is free when she is extricated from the bonds of matter, and determined solely by the conditions of her spiritual existence. Thus virtue is not so much free as identical with freedom; while, contrariwise, vice means enslavement to the affections of the body, and therefore comes under the domain of material causation.441 Yet, again, in criticising the fatalistic theories which represent human actions as entirely predetermined by divine providence, he protests against the ascription of so much that is evil to so good a source, and insists that at least the bad actions of men are due to their own free choice.442
It may be said that the One is itself a mystical conception, involving a reversal of all our ordinary beliefs. The universe is a vast multiplicity of objects, held together, if you will, by some secret bond of union possibly related to the personal unity of consciousness, but still neither lost nor confused in its identity. Precisely; but Plotinus himself fully admits as much. His One is the cause of existence, not existence itself. He knows just as well as we do, that the abstract idea of unity has no reality apart from the mind. But if so, why should he associate it, in the true mystical style, with the transports of amorous passion? The question is pertinent, but it might be addressed to other Greek systems as well. We must remember that Plotinus is only commenting and enlarging on Plato. In the Republic also, the Idea of Good is described as transcending the existence and the knowledge which it produces,465 and in the Symposium, the absolute self beautiful, which seems to be the Good under another name, is spoken of in terms not less passionately enthusiastic than any applied by Plotinus to the vision of the One.466 Doubtless the practical sense of the great Attic master did not desert him even here: the object of all thought, in its widest sweep and in its highest flight, is to find room for every possible expansion of knowledge, for every possible elevation of life. Plotinus was a stranger to such broad views; but in departing from Plato, as usual he follows Aristotle. The absolute self-thinking thought of the Stagirite is, when we examine it closely, only one degree less chimerical than the Neo-Platonic unification. For it means consciousness of self without the314 correlative consciousness of a not-self, and as such, according to Aristotle, it affords an eternal felicity equal or superior to the best and happiest moments of our sensitive human life. What Plotinus does is to isolate personal identity from reason and, as such, to make it at once the cause and the supreme ideal of existence. This involves two errors: first a false abstraction of one subjective phenomenon from the sum total of conscious life; and, secondly, an illegitimate generalisation of this abstraction into an objective law of things. But in both errors, Aristotle had preceded him, by dissociating reason from all other mental functions, and by then attributing the whole cosmic movement to the love which this isolated faculty of reason, in its absolute self-existence, for ever inspires. And he also set the example of associating happiness, which is an emotional state, with an intellectual abstraction from which emotion is necessarily excluded.
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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