Page images
PDF
EPUB

makes provision for raising promising boys from the lower class into the higher. Probably Aristotle thought that the disaffection of citizens was likely to be more dangerous than that of slaves or Metoeci, who were sure to recognize their own unfitness to rule. The philosophic disbelief in the possibility of virtue, i.e. of thoughtfulness and a sense of honour, in artizans and labourers (Otes and βάναυσοι), becomes more remarkable when we remember that inany of the philosophers themselves belonged to this class, from the time of Protagoras the porter, and the Socratics Aeschines and Simon, down to the time of the slave Epictetus. Again Aristotle, no less than Plato, is open to the charge of making regulations tapa púoiv, when he sanctions abortion and exposure of infants.

The contrast between Aristotle's philosophy of Man and his philosophy of Nature, between the richness of ideas, the exhaustive analysis, the firm grasp of fact, the sound judgment, which characterize the former, and the barren notionalism which is too prevalent in the latter, is a striking justification of Socrates' resolve to keep clear of physics. Aristotle indeed is unfortunate even as compared with other ancient writers on the same subject. While Parmenides and Plato, as we have seen, profess to give nothing more than guesses as to the nature of the Universe, Aristotle puts forward his views with an air of scientific precision which makes his mistakes seem all the more absurd; and he often deliberately rejects anticipations of later science which may be found in the writings of his predecessors. Thus Pythagoras having guessed that the earth was a planet moving round the central fire of the Universe, Aristotle rebukes him for not squaring his causes and theories with the apparent facts, but en

a

deavouring to force facts to suit his fancies (De Caelo, 11. 13). So Democritus had already exploded the doctrine of the four elements, substituting for it the more scientific conception of atoms; similarly he had explained circular movement as a resultant of various rectilinear movements; and Epicurus afterwards distinctly controverted the attribution of a natural upward movement to air and fire", as well as the Aristotelian limitation of Space.

And yet, if we hold Plato right in describing the philosopher as one who is enamoured of all truth and all knowledge, we can hardly blame Aristotle either for

“ his boundless curiosity in seeking to ascertain facts and causes, or for his endeavour to harmonize all facts, whether of inner or outer experience, and so to build up one all-embracing body of science.

No doubt he, like his predecessors, thought the human microcosm to be a truer mirror of the macrocosm than it really is, and was disposed to assume as a law of the objective universe whatever appeared to satisfy our subjective needs and tastes; and yet he made a decided advance by insisting on the importance of observation, and on the necessity of testing theory by comparison with the actual phenomena”. Again it is no doubt true that when he ventured into the province of Physical Science, Aristotle was endeavouring to map out a terra incognita which he had no means for exploring. He had neither the methods nor the instruments which were needed: but were men to wait for the microscope and telescope, or for the full development of the various branches of mathematical and physical science, before formulating any ideas on the general character of the universe in which they were placed ? Now, that we know that Aristotle was following a blind path in his endless refinements on the meaning of 'motion' and similar terms, we may find his physical treatises 'inexpressibly fatiguing and unfruitful';' but the question is, whether it was not worth while to make some attempt at a working hypothesis which might supply men with a framework in which to arrange their thoughts and feelings with regard to the nature of the world around them. There is a value in the prophet's vision as well as in the historian's narrative; and men may be thankful to the philosopher who gives wings to their imagination and extends the limit of their mental horizon, however much he may have failed to anticipate the revelations of modern science.

1 It is probable, however, that, in this criticism, Aristotle is thinking chiefly of the Anti-Chthon, invented for the purpose of making up the sacred number Ten.

2 See Lucr. II 185.
3 Lucr. I 958.
4 Rep. V. 475.

5 See Gen. An. III. 10. § 25. 'From our reasoning and from the apparent facts, such would seem to be the truth about the bees; but the facts have not yet been fully ascertained : when they have been, then we must trust observation more than theory, and only trust our theory if it gives results corresponding to the phenomena,' tois λόγους πιστευτέον εάν ομολογούμενα δεικνύωσι τοις φαινομένοις. Com. pare a multitude of similar passages in Bonitz's Index under φαινόμενα.

To turn now to the history of Aristotle's writings. All readers of Aristotle have had to complain of the defective arrangement and the general abstruseness of his works. This has been accounted for, partly, by the supposition that the treatises which have come down to us under his name, consist of notes for lectures hastily revised by himself, or edited after his death by his disciples, and partly by the story, reported by Strabo and others, of their concealment for nearly 150 years in the cellar of Neleus. According to this story, the Library and MSS. of Aristotle passed, at the death of his successor Theophrastus, into the hands of Neleus, a pupil of the latter, and were taken by him to Scepsis, a city which was then under the rule of the kings of Pergamus. These kings appear to have paid little regard to the rights of property in their desire to augment the royal library, which was almost as renowned as that of the Ptolemies; and the descendants of Neleus could only preserve their treasures by hiding them in a cellar where they suffered much from worms and damp. When the last Attalus left his kingdom to the Romans in 133 B.C., the then owner of the MSS. brought them out from their concealment and sold them to Apellicon, a Peripatetic residing at Athens, who at once had copies made, and endeavoured, not very succesfully, to restore the text where it was defective. The library of Apellicon was seized by Sulla on his conquest of Athens .in 86 B.C., and transported to Rome, where the Aristotelian MSS. once more fell into the hands of a competent reader in the person of the Rhodian Andronicus, who brought out a new edition in which the treatises were rearranged and the text much improved. This edition is considered to be the foundation of our existing text of Aristotle. There seems no doubt that somehow or other the abstruser works of Aristotle had been lost to common use not many years after his death. Strabo

i Lewes Aristotle, p. 127.

a

tells us that only a few of the more popular treatises were in the possession of the Peripatetic school at Athens, and this is what we might infer from the manner in which Cicero speaks of the style of Aristotle, using expressions which are certainly anything but appropriate to the books which have come down to us,—as well as from the comparative frequency of his references to the lost Dialogues. Again we find in Diogenes Laertius a list taken probably from the catalogue of the Alexandrine Library, containing the names of 146 separate Aristotelian treatises, of which more than twenty are dialogues. This would represent Aristotle as he was known at the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. Our existing Aristotle consists of 46 treatises, very few of which appear in the list of Diogenes.

As a specimen of the more popular style by which Aristotle was best known during the interval from Theophrastus to Andronicus I insert here a translation of a passage from his dialogue De Philosophia preserved by Cicero (N. D. 11. 95).

'Imagine a race of men who had always lived under ground in beautiful houses adorned with pictures and statues and every luxury of wealth. Suppose that some dim rumour of a divine being had reached them in their subterranean world. Then suppose that the earth were to open and they ascended up from their dark abodes and saw before them all the wonders of this world. Could they doubt, when they beheld the earth and the sea and the sky with its gathering clouds and its mighty winds, and the glory and majesty of the sun as he floods the heaven with the light of day, and then the starry

1 See Acad. 11. 119, veniet flumen orationis aureum fundens Aristoteles, and the other passages cited in Grote's Aristotle, 1. 43.

« PreviousContinue »