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Aristotle鈥檚 work on reproduction is supposed by many to contain a reference to his distinction between the two Reasons, but we are convinced that this is a mistake. What we are told is that at the very first formation of a new being, the vegetative soul, being an exclusively corporeal function, is precontained in the elements furnished by the female; that the sensitive soul is contributed by the male (being, apparently, engendered in the semen by the vital heat of the parent organism); and, finally, that the rational soul, although entirely immaterial, is also carried in with the semen, into which it has first been introduced from without, but where, or when, or how is not more particularly specified.260 But even were the genetic theory in question perfectly cleared up, it would still throw no light on the distinction between active and passive reason, as the latter alone can be understood by the rational soul to which it refers. For we are expressly informed鈥攚hat indeed hardly required to be stated鈥攖hat the embryonic souls exist not in act but in potency.261 It seems, therefore, that Mr. Edwin Wallace is doubly mistaken when he quotes a sentence from this passage in justification of his statement, that 鈥楢ristotle would seem almost to identify鈥 the creative reason 鈥榳ith God as the eternal and omnipresent thinker;鈥262 first, because it does not refer to the creative Nous at all; and, secondly, because, if it did, the words would not stand the meaning which he puts upon them.263

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Were this intellectual despondency to issue in a permanent suspense of judgment, it would be bad enough; but practically its consequences are of a much more mischievous character. The human mind is so constituted that it must either go forward or fall back; in no case can it stand still. Accordingly, the lazy sceptic almost always ends by conforming to the established creeds and customs of his age or of the society in which he lives; thus strengthening the hands of authority in its conflict with the more energetic or courageous enquirers, whose object is to discover, by the unaided efforts of reason, some new and positive principle either of action or of belief. And the guardians of orthodoxy are so well aware of the profit to be reaped from this alliance that, when debarred from putting down their opponents by law or by public opinion, they anxiously foster false scepticism where it is already rampant, and endeavour to create it where it does not exist. Sometimes disinterested morality is the object of their attack, and at other times the foundations of inductive science. Their favourite formula is that whatever objections may be urged against their own doctrines, others equally strong may be urged against the results of free thought; whereas the truth is that such objections, being applicable to all systems alike, exactly balance one another, leaving the special arguments against irrationalism to tell with as much force as before. And they also lay great stress on the internal dissensions of their assailants鈥攄issensions which only bring out into more vivid relief the one point on which all are agreed, that, whatever else may be true, the traditional opinions are demonstrably false..
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The Epicurean philosophy was, in fact, the first to gain a footing in Rome; and it thereby acquired a position of comparative equality with the other schools, to which it was not really entitled, but which it has ever since succeeded in maintaining. The new doctrine fell like a spark on a mass of combustible material. The Romans were full of curiosity about Nature and her workings; full of contempt for the degrading Etruscan superstitions which hampered them at every turn, and the falsity of which was proving too much even for the official gravity of their state-appointed interpreters; full of impatience at the Greek mythology which was beginning to substitute itself for the severe abstractions of their own more spiritual faith;265 full of loathing for the Asiatic orgies which were being introduced into the highest society of their own city. Epicureanism offered them a complete and easily intelligible theory of the world, which at the same time came as a deliverance from supernatural terrors. The consequence was that its different parts were thrown out of perspective, and their relative importance almost reversed. Originally framed as an ethical system with certain physical and theological implications, it was interpreted by Lucretius, and apparently also by his Roman predecessors,266 as a scientific and anti-religious system, with certain references to conduct neither very prominently brought forward nor very distinctly conceived.168 And we know from the contents of the papyrus rolls discovered at Herculaneum, that those who studied the system in its original sources paid particular attention to the voluminous physical treatises of Epicurus, as well as to the theological works of his successors. Nor was this change of front limited to Epicureanism, if, as we may suspect, the rationalistic direction taken by Panaetius was due, at least in part, to a similar demand on the side of his Roman admirers.!
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In England, the most generally accepted method seems to be that followed by Grote. This consists in taking the Platonic Apologia as a sufficiently faithful report of the defence actually made by Socrates on his trial, and piecing it on to the details supplied by Xenophon, or at least to as many of them as can be made to fit, without too obvious an accommodation of their meaning. If, however, we ask on what grounds a greater historical credibility is attributed to the Apologia than to the Republic or the Phaedo, none can be offered except the seemingly transparent truthfulness of the narrative itself, an argument which will not weigh much with those who remember how brilliant was Plato鈥檚 talent for fiction, and how unscrupulously it could be employed for purposes of edification. The Phaedo puts an autobiographical statement into the mouth of Socrates which we only know to be imaginary because it involves the acceptance of a theory unknown to the real Socrates. Why, then, may not Plato have thought proper to introduce equally fictitious details into the speech delivered by his master before the dicastery, if, indeed, the speech, as we have it, be not a fancy composition from beginning to end?.
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In some respects, Aristotle began not only as a disciple but as a champion of Platonism. On the popular side, that doctrine was distinguished by its essentially religious character, and by its opposition to the rhetorical training then in vogue. Now, Aristotle鈥檚 dialogues, of which only a few fragments have been preserved, contained elegant arguments in favour of a creative First Cause, and of human immortality; although in the writings which embody his maturer views, the first of these theories is considerably modified, and the second is absolutely rejected. Further, we are informed that Aristotle expressed himself in terms of rather violent contempt for Isocrates, the greatest living professor of declamation; and284 opened an opposition school of his own. This step has, curiously enough, been adduced as a further proof of disagreement with Plato, who, it is said, objected to all rhetorical teaching whatever. It seems to us that what he condemned was rather the method and aim of the then fashionable rhetoric; and a considerable portion of his Phaedrus is devoted to proving how much more effectually persuasion might be produced by the combined application of dialectics and psychology to oratory. Now, this is precisely what Aristotle afterwards attempted to work out in the treatise on Rhetoric still preserved among his writings; and we may safely assume that his earlier lectures at Athens were composed on the same principle..
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Above all, he exclaims, we must not fail to notice what effect this doctrine has on the minds of those whom they have persuaded to despise the world and all that it contains. Of the two chief methods for attaining the supreme good, one has sensual pleasure for its end, the other virtue, the effort after which begins and ends with God. Epicurus, by his denial of providence, leaves us no choice but to pursue the former. But this doctrine [Gnosticism], involving as it does a still more insolent denial of divine order and human law, laughs to scorn what has always been the accepted ideal of conduct, and, in its rage against beauty, abolishes temperance and justice鈥攖he justice that is associated with natural feeling and perpetuated by discipline and reason鈥攁long with every other ennobling virtue. So, in the absence of true morality, they are given over to pleasure and utility and selfish isolation from other men鈥攗nless, indeed, their nature is better than their principles. They have an ideal that nothing here below can satisfy, and so they put off the effort for its attainment to a future life, whereas they should begin at once, and prove that they are of divine race by fulfilling the duties of their present state. For virtue is the condition of every higher aspiration, and only to those who disdain sensual enjoyment is it given to understand the divine. How far our opponents are from realising this is proved by their349 total neglect of ethical science. They neither know what virtue is, nor how many virtues there are, nor what ancient philosophy has to teach us on the subject, nor what are the methods of moral training, nor how the soul is to be tended and cleansed. They tell us to look to God; but merely saying this is useless unless they can tell us what the manner of the looking is to be. For it might be asked, what is to prevent us from looking to God, while at the same time freely indulging our sensual appetites and angry passions. Virtue perfected, enlightened, and rooted in the soul, will reveal God to us, but without it he will remain an empty name.521
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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