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THE readers whom I have chiefly had in my mind, in writing the following sketch of Ancient Philosophy, are Undergraduates at the University or others who are commencing the study of the philosophical works of Cicero or Plato or Aristotle in the original language. has been my wish to supply to them, what I remember vainly seeking when I was in their position, something which may help them to find their bearings in the new world into which they are plunged on first making acquaintance with such books as Cicero's De Finibus or the Republic of Plato. The only helps which I had in similar circumstances some thirty years ago were a translation of Schleiermacher's Introduction to the Dialogues of Plato, of which I could make nothing, and Lewes' small Biographical History of Philosophy, of which the aim, as far as I could judge, was to show that, as philosophy was moonshine, it was mere waste of time to read what the philosophers had written. Things have changed since then. The noblest defence of ancient philosophy which has ever appeared, is contained in the chapters on the Sophists and Socrates written by one, who might have been supposed to be himself more or less a sympathizer with Lewes, and in the elaborate examination of the speculations of the Ancients contained in the same Author's Plato and Aristotle. During the same interval the charm and the wit and the irony of Plato have for the first time been made intelligible to English readers by Mr Jowett's admirable translations; and the excellent German histories of philosophy by Zeller, Ueberweg and Schwegler have been translated into English. None of these however, nor any others which might be named, seem to me exactly to meet the wants of the case. They are too long, too full, too hard, too abstract, or too vague, for a first sketch. What is wanted is something to combine conciseness with accuracy and clearness, something which will be easy and interesting to readers of ordinary intelligence, and will leave no doubt in their minds as to the author's meaning. It is for others to judge how far this object has been accomplished in the present book, which is the outcome of various courses of lectures delivered on the same subject during the last quarter of a century.
But, though I write in the first instance for Classical scholars, and have therefore thought myself at liberty to quote the original Greek and Latin, wherever it seemed expedient to do so; I am not without hopes that what I have written may be found interesting and useful by educated readers generally, not merely as an introduction to the formal history of philosophy, but as supplying a
key to our present ways of thinking and judging in regard to matters of the highest importance. For Greece is in everything the starting-point of modern civilization. Homer is not more the fountain-head of Western poetry, than Socrates of Western philosophy. Allowing as much as we will to Semitic and Teutonic influences, it remains true that for Art and Science and Law, for the Philosophy of thought and of action, nay even for Theology itself, as far as the form is concerned, we are mainly indebted to Greece, and to Rome as the interpreter of Greece. Even that which we call 'common sense' consists of little more than the worn fragments of older systems of thought, just as the common soil of our gardens is composed, in great part, of the detritus of primeval rocks. As we trace backwards the '
march of civilization, we find extraordinary contrasts in the degrees of progress made in its different departments. In some departments, as for instance in the inductive sciences and in mechanical inventions, the early stages have only a historical value: in others, as in geometry, we still use text-books written two thousand years ago. So in the arts : while in sculpture we despair of approaching Greece, in music we have far surpassed her, and in poetry we may claim equality at least, if not superiority. How stands it with regard to philosophy? Here too we find the same variety. While the fanciful speculations of the ancients as to the constitution and laws of the external universe, have for the most part vanished away before the touch of reality, and given place to the solid edifice of modern physical science; while the loose induction of Socrates and of Aristotle has been reduced in our own day into a definite system of Inductive Logic; while immense additions have thus been made to our knowledge of the external universe and of man as a part of the universe, that is, of the anatomy, the physiology and the habits of the human animal, there has been far less advance in the knowledge of man as a moral and intellectual being. Thus, Deductive Logic remains in its essentials the same as when it was first given to the world by Aristotle, and neither in Psychology nor in Ethics can it be said that the ancient systems have been finally superseded by any generally accepted system of modern times. No doubt many new facts have been observed and new explanations have been offered in reference to such subjects as comparative psychology, the association of ideas, the influence of heredity, the influence of nature on man, the laws of human progress, and so on. Above all, Christianity has imparted a far deeper feeling of the complexity of life, a sense of moral responsibility, of man's weakness and sinfulness, and of the regenerating powers of faith and love, such as was never dreamt of by the ancients. And yet, in spite of all this, is there any modern work of systematic morality which could be compared with Aristotle's Ethics for its power of stimulating moral thought? Most moderns appear to write under the consciousness that they are uttering truisms; or, if they
; escape from this, it is by running off from the main highway of morality into by-paths of psychology or physiology or sociology. Again, they are hampered by the suspicion that whatever concerns moral practice is more impressively and effectively treated of by religion; or else they consign, what, supposing it to be true, is the most important part of morality, to the region of the unknown and unknowable. The ancient moralists knew no such restrictions. Aristotle's, and still more Plato's, theory of conduct was no stale repetition of other men's thoughts; it was the full expression of their own highest aspirations and discoveries in regard to the duty, the hopes, and the destiny of man. And thus there is a freshness and a completeness about the ethics of the Ancients which we seek in vain in the Moderns. Even if it were otherwise, the comparison between pre-Christian and post-Christian systems of morality must always be full of interest and importance in reference to our view of Christianity itself.
One word more as to the general use of the history of philosophy. It was a saying of Democritus that a fool has to be taught everything by his own personal experience, while a wise man draws lessons from the experience of others. History of whatever kind supplies us with the means of thus gaining experience by proxy, and in the history of philosophy above all we have the concentrated essence of all human experience. For the philosopher is, no more than the poet, an isolated phenomenon.
As the latter expresses the feeling, so the former expresses in its purest form the thought of his time, summing up the past, interpreting the present, and fore