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It has not commonly been the lot of philosophers, as it is of great poets, that their names should become household words. We should hardly call an Englishman well read if he had not heard the name of Sophocles or Molière. An educated man is expected to know at least who these great writers were, and to understand an allusion to the Antigone or Le Misanthrope. But we call a man well read if his mind is stored with the verse of poets and the prose of historians, even though he were ignorant of the name of Descartes or Kant. Yet there are a few philosophers whose influence on thought and language has been so extensive that no one who reads can be ignorant of their names, and that every man who speaks the language of educated Europeans is constantly using their vocabulary. Among this few Aristotle holds not the lowest place. We have all heard of him, as we have all heard of Homer. He has left his impress so firmly on theology that many of the formulae of the Churches are unintelligible without acquaintance with his conception of the universe. If we are interested in the growth of modern science we shall readily discover for ourselves that some knowledge of Aristotelianism is necessary for the understanding of Bacon and Galileo and the other great anti-Aristotelians who created the "modern scientific" view of Nature. If we turn to the imaginative literature of the modern languages, Dante is a sealed book, and many a passage of Chaucer and Shakespeare and Milton is half unmeaning to us unless we are at home in the outlines of Aristotle's philosophy. And if we turn to ordinary language, we find that many of the familiar turns of modern speech cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the doctrines they were first forged to express. An Englishman who speaks of the "golden mean" or of "liberal education," or contrasts the "matter" of a work of literature with its "form," or the "essential" features of a situation or a scheme of policy with its "accidents," or "theory" with "practice," is using words which derive their significance from the part they play in the vocabulary of Aristotle. The unambitious object of this little book is, then, to help the English reader to a better understanding of such familiar language and a fuller comprehension of much that he will find in Dante and Shakespeare and Bacon...
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LIFE AND WORKS
THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE SCIENCES: SCIENTIFIC METHOD
IT HAS NOT COMMONLY been the lot of philosophers, as it is of great poets, that their names should become household words. We should hardly call an Englishman well read if he had not heard the name of Sophocles or Molière. An educated man is expected to know at least who these great writers were, and to understand an allusion to the Antigone or Le Misanthrope. But we call a man well read if his mind is stored with the verse of poets and the prose of historians, even though he were ignorant of the name of Descartes or Kant. Yet there are a few philosophers whose influence on thought and language has been so extensive that no one who reads can be ignorant of their names, and that every man who speaks the language of educated Europeans is constantly using their vocabulary. Among this few Aristotle holds not the lowest place. We have all heard of him, as we have all heard of Homer. He has left his impress so firmly on theology that many of the formulae of the Churches are unintelligible without acquaintance with his conception of the universe. If we are interested in the growth of modern science we shall readily discover for ourselves that some knowledge of Aristotelianism is necessary for the understanding of Bacon and Galileo and the other great anti-Aristotelians who created the “modern scientific” view of Nature. If we turn to the imaginative literature of the modern languages, Dante is a sealed book, and many a passage of Chaucer and Shakespeare and Milton is half unmeaning to us unless we are at home in the outlines of Aristotle’s philosophy. And if we turn to ordinary language, we find that many of the familiar turns of modern speech cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the doctrines they were first forged to express. An Englishman who speaks of the “golden mean” or of “liberal education,” or contrasts the “matter” of a work of literature with its “form,” or the “essential” features of a situation or a scheme of policy with its “accidents,” or “theory” with “practice,” is using words which derive their significance from the part they play in the vocabulary of Aristotle. The unambitious object of this little book is, then, to help the English reader to a better understanding of such familiar language and a fuller comprehension of much that he will find in Dante and Shakespeare and Bacon.
Life of Aristotle.—The main facts of Aristotle’s life may be briefly told. He was born in 385-4 B.C. at Stagirus, a little city of the Chalcidic peninsula, still called, almost by its ancient name, Chalcis, and died at the age of sixty-two at Chalcis in Euboea. Thus he is a contemporary of Demosthenes, his manhood witnessed the struggle which ended in the establishment of the Macedonian monarchy as the dominant power in Hellas, and his later years the campaigns in which his pupil Alexander the Great overthrew the Persian Empire and carried Greek civilisation to the banks of the Jumna. In studying the constitutional theories of Aristotle, it is necessary to bear these facts in mind. They help to explain certain limitations of outlook which might otherwise appear strange in so great a man. It throws a great deal of light on the philosopher’s intense conviction of the natural inferiority of the “barbarian” intellect and character to remember that he grew up in an outlying region where the “barbarian” was seen to disadvantage in the ordinary course of life. Hence the distinction between Greek and “barbarian” came to mean for him much what the “colour-line” does to an American brought up in a Southern State. So, again, when we are struck by his “provincialism,” his apparent satisfaction with the ideal of a small self-contained city-state with a decently oligarchical government, a good system of public education, and no “social problems,” but devoid alike of great traditions and far-reaching ambitions, we must remember that the philosopher himself belonged to just such a tiny community without a past and without a future. The Chalcidic cities had been first founded, as the name of the peninsula implies, as colonies from the town of Chalcis in Euboea; Corinth had also been prominent in establishing settlements in the same region. At the height of Athenian Imperial prosperity in the age of Pericles the district had fallen politically under Athenian control, but had been detached again from Athens, in the last years of the Archidamian war, by the genius of the great Spartan soldier and diplomat Brasidas. Early in the fourth century the Chalcidic cities had attempted to form themselves into an independent federation, but the movement had been put down by Sparta, and the cities had fallen under the control of the rising Macedonian monarchy, when Aristotle was a baby. A generation later, a double intrigue of the cities with Philip of Macedon and Athens failed of its effect, and the peninsula was finally incorporated with the Macedonian kingdom. It is also important to note that the philosopher belonged by birth to a guild, the Asclepiadae, in which the medical profession was hereditary. His father Nicomachus was court physician to Amyntas II., the king for whose benefit the Spartans had put down the Chalcidic league. This early connection with medicine and with the Macedonian court explains largely both the predominantly biological cast of Aristotle’s philosophical thought and the intense dislike of “princes” and courts to which he more than once gives expression. At the age of eighteen, in 367-6, Aristotle was sent to Athens for “higher” education in philosophy and science, and entered the famous Platonic Academy, where he remained as a member of the scientific group gathered round the master for twenty years, until Plato’s death in 347-6. For the three years immediately following Aristotle was in Asia Minor with his friend and fellow-student Hermeias, who had become by force of sheer capacity monarch of the city of Atarneus in the Troad, and was maintaining himself with much energy against the Persian king. Pythias, the niece of Hermeias, became the philosopher’s wife, and it seems that the marriage was happy. Examination of Aristotle’s contributions to marine biology has shown that his knowledge of the subject is specially good for the Aeolic coast and the shores of the adjacent islands. This throws light on his occupations during his residence with Hermeias, and suggests that Plato had discerned the bent of his distinguished pupil’s mind, and that his special share in the researches of the Academy had, like that of Speusippus, Plato’s nephew and successor in the headship of the school, been largely of a biological kind. We also know that, presumably shortly after Plato’s death, Aristotle had been one of the group of disciples who edited their teacher’s unpublished lectures. In 343 Hermeias was assassinated at the instigation of Persia; Aristotle honoured his memory by a hymn setting forth the godlikeness of virtue as illustrated by the life of his friend. Aristotle now removed to the Macedonian court, where he received the position of tutor to the Crown Prince, afterwards Alexander the Great, at this time (343 B.C.) a boy of thirteen. The association of the great philosopher and the great king as tutor and pupil has naturally struck the imagination of later ages; even in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander we meet already with the full-blown legend of the influence of Aristotle’s philosophical speculations on Alexander. It is, however, improbable that Aristotle’s influence counted for much in forming the character of Alexander. Aristotle’s dislike of monarchies and their accessories is written large on many a page of his Ethics and Politics; the small self-contained city-state with no political ambitions for which he reserves his admiration would have seemed a mere relic of antiquity to Philip and Alexander. The only piece of contemporary evidence as to the relations between the master and the pupil is a sentence in a letter to the young Alexander from the Athenian publicist Isocrates who maliciously congratulates the prince on his preference for “rhetoric,” the art of efficient public speech, and his indifference to “logic-choppers.” How little sympathy Aristotle can have had with his pupil’s ambitions is shown by the fact that though his political theories must have been worked out during the very years in which Alexander was revolutionising Hellenism by the foundation of his world-empire, they contain no allusion to so momentous a change in the social order. For all that Aristotle tells us, Alexander might never have existed, and the small city-state might have been the last word of Hellenic political development. Hence it is probable that the selection of Aristotle, who had not yet appeared before the world as an independent thinker, to take part in the education of the Crown Prince was due less to personal reputation than to the connection of his family with the court, taken together with his own position as a pupil of Plato, whose intervention in the public affairs of Sicily had caused the Academy to be regarded as the special home of scientific interest in politics and jurisprudence. It may be true that Alexander found time in the midst of his conquests to supply his old tutor with zoological specimens; it is as certain as such a thing can be that the ideals and characters of the two men were too different to allow of any intimate influence of either on the other.
When Alexander was suddenly called to the Macedonian throne by the murder of his father in 336 B.C., Aristotle’s services were no longer needed; he returned to Athens and gave himself to purely scientific work. Just at this juncture the presidency of the Academy was vacant by the death of Speusippus, Aristotle’s old associate in biological research. Possibly Aristotle thought himself injured when the school passed him over and elected Xenocrates of Chalcedon as its new president. At any rate, though he appears never to have wholly severed his connection with the Academy, in 335 he opened a rival institution in the Lyceum, or gymnasium attached to the temple of Apollo Lyceus, to which he was followed by some of the most distinguished members of the Academy. From the fact that his instruction was given in the peripatos or covered portico of the gymnasium the school has derived its name of Peripatetic. For the next twelve years he was occupied in the organisation of the school as an abode for the prosecution of speculation and research in every department of inquiry, and in the composition of numerous courses of lectures on scientific and philosophical questions. The chief difference in general character between the new school and the Academy is that while the scientific interests of the Platonists centred in mathematics, the main contributions of the Lyceum to science lay in the departments of biology and history.
Towards the end of Alexander’s life his attention was unfavourably directed on his old teacher. A relative of Aristotle named Callisthenes had attended Alexander in his campaigns as historiographer, and had provoked disfavour by his censure of the King’s attempts to invest his semi-constitutional position towards his Hellenic subjects with the pomp of an Oriental despotism. The historian’s independence proved fatal. He was accused of instigating an assassination plot among Alexander’s pages, and hanged, or, as some said, thrown into a prison where he died before trial. Alexander is reported to have held Aristotle responsible for his relative’s treason, and to have meditated revenge. If this is so, he was fortunately diverted from the commission of a crime by preoccupation with the invasion of India.
On the death of Alexander in 323 a brief but vigorous anti-Macedonian agitation broke out at Athens. Aristotle, from his Macedonian connections, naturally fell a victim, in spite of his want of sympathy with the ideals of Philip and Alexander. Like Socrates, he was indicted on the capital charge of “impiety,” the pretext being that his poem on the death of Hermeias, written twenty years before, was a virtual deification of his friend. This was, however, only a pretext; the real offence was political, and lay in his connection with the Macedonian leader Antipater. As condemnation was certain, the philosopher anticipated it by withdrawing with his disciples to Chalcis, the mother city of his native Stagirus. Here he died in the following year, at the age of sixty-two or sixty-three.
The features of Aristotle, familiar to us from busts and intaglios, are handsome, but indicate refinement and acuteness rather than originality, an impression in keeping with what we should expect from a study of his writings. The anecdotes related of him reveal a kindly, affectionate character, and show little trace of the self-importance which appears in his work. His will, which has been preserved, exhibits the same traits in its references to his happy family life and its solicitous care for the future of his children and servants. He was twice married, first to Pythias, and secondly to a certain Herpyllis, by whom he left a son Nicomachus and a daughter. The “goodness” of Herpyllis to her husband is specially mentioned in the clauses of the will which make provision for her, while the warmth of the writer’s feelings for Pythias is shown by the direction that her remains are to be placed in the same tomb with his own. The list of servants remembered and the bequests enumerated show the philosopher to have been in easier circumstances than Plato.
The Works of Aristotle.—The so-called works of Aristotle present us with a curious problem. When we turn from Plato to his pupil we seem to have passed into a different atmosphere. The Discourses of Socrates exhibit a prose style which is perhaps the most marvellous of all literary achievements. Nowhere else do we meet with quite the same combination of eloquence, imaginative splendour, incisive logic, and irresistible wit and humour. The manner of Aristotle is dry and formal. His language bristles with technicalities, makes little appeal to the emotions, disdains graces of style, and frequently defies the simplest rules of composition. Our surprise is all the greater that we find later writers of antiquity, such as Cicero, commending Aristotle for his copious and golden eloquence, a characteristic which is conspicuously wanting in the Aristotelian writings we possess. The explanation of the puzzle is, however, simple. Plato and Aristotle were at once what we should call professors and men of letters; both wrote works for general circulation, and both delivered courses of lectures to special students. But while Plato’s lectures have perished, his books have come down to us. Aristotle’s books have almost wholly been lost, but we possess many of his lectures. The “works” of Aristotle praised by Cicero for their eloquence were philosophical dialogues, and formed the model for Cicero’s own compositions in this kind. None of them have survived, though some passages have been preserved in quotations by later writers. That the “works” are actually the MSS. of a lecturer posthumously edited by his pupils seems clear from external as well as from internal evidence. In one instance we have the advantage of a double recension. Aristotle’s Ethics or Discourses on Conduct have come down to us in two forms—the so-called Nicomachean Ethics, a redaction by the philosopher’s son, Nicomachus, preserving all the characteristics of an oral course of lectures; and a freer and more readable recast by a pupil, the mathematician Eudemus, known as the Eudemian Ethics. In recent years we have also recovered from the sands of Egypt what appears to be our one specimen of a “work” of Aristotle, intended to be read by the public at large, the essay on the Constitution of Athens. The style of this essay is easy, flowing, and popular, and shows that Aristotle could write well and gracefully when he thought fit.
PHILOSOPHY, AS UNDERSTOOD BY Aristotle, may be said to be the organised whole of disinterested knowledge, that is, knowledge which we seek for the satisfaction which it carries with itself, and not as a mere means to utilitarian ends. The impulse which receives this satisfaction is curiosity or wonder, which Aristotle regards as innate in man, though it does not get full play until civilisation has advanced far enough to make secure provision for the immediate material needs of life. Human curiosity was naturally directed first to the outstanding “marvellous works” of the physical world, the planets, the periodicity of their movements, the return of the seasons, winds, thunder and lightning, and the like. Hence the earliest Greek speculation was concerned with problems of astronomy and meteorology. Then, as reflection developed, men speculated about geometrical figure, and number, the possibility of having assured knowledge at all, the character of the common principles assumed in all branches of study or of the special principles assumed in some one branch, and thus philosophy has finally become the disinterested study of every department of Being or Reality. Since Aristotle, like Hegel, thought that his own doctrine was, in essentials, the last word of speculation, the complete expression of the principles by which his predecessors had been unconsciously guided, he believes himself in a position to make a final classification of the branches of science, showing how they are related and how they are discriminated from one another. This classification we have now to consider.
Classification of the Sciences.—To begin with, we have to discriminate Philosophy from two rivals with which it might be confounded on a superficial view, Dialectic and Sophistry. Dialectic is the art of reasoning accurately from given premisses, true or false. This art has its proper uses, and of one of these we shall have to speak. But in itself it is indifferent to the truth of its premisses. You may reason dialectically from premisses which you believe to be false, for the express purpose of showing the absurd conclusions to which they lead. Or you may reason from premisses which you assume tentatively to see what conclusions you are committed to if you adopt them. In either case your object is not directly to secure truth, but only to secure consistency. Science or Philosophy aims directly at truth, and hence requires to start with true and certain premisses. Thus the distinction between Science and Dialectic is that Science reasons from true premisses, Dialectic only from “probable” or “plausible” premisses. Sophistry differs from Science in virtue of its moral character. It is the profession of making a living by the abuse of reasoning, the trick of employing logical skill for the apparent demonstration of scientific or ethical falsehoods. “The sophist is one who earns a living from an apparent but unreal wisdom.” (The emphasis thus falls on the notion of making an “unreal wisdom” into a trade. The sophist’s real concern is to get his fee.) Science or Philosophy is thus the disinterested employment of the understanding in the discovery of truth.
We may now distinguish the different branches of science as defined. The first and most important division to be made is that between Speculative or Theoretical Science and Practical Science. The broad distinction is that which we should now draw between the Sciences and the Arts (i.e. the industrial and technical, not the “fine” arts). Speculative or Theoretical Philosophy differs from Practical Philosophy in its purpose, and, in consequence, in its subject-matter, and its formal logical character. The purpose of the former is the disinterested contemplation of truths which are what they are independently of our own volition; its end is to know and only to know
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