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Whether Plato ever succeeded in making the idea of Good quite clear to others, or even to himself, is more than we can tell. In the Republic he declines giving further explanations on the ground that his pupils have not passed through the necessary mathematical initiation. Whether quantitative reasoning was to furnish the form or the matter of transcendent dialectic is left undetermined. We are told that on one occasion a large audience assembled to hear Plato lecture on229 the Good, but that, much to their disappointment, the discourse was entirely filled with geometrical and astronomical investigations. Bearing in mind, however, that mathematical science deals chiefly with equations, and that astronomy, according to Plato, had for its object to prove the absolute uniformity of the celestial motions, we may perhaps conclude that the idea of Good meant no more than the abstract notion of identity or indistinguishable likeness. The more complex idea of law as a uniformity of relations, whether coexistent or successive, had not then dawned, but it has since been similarly employed to bring physics into harmony with ethics and logic..
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Nevertheless, after all has been said, we are conscious of a great change in passing from the Greek moralist to the Roman poet. We seem to be breathing a new atmosphere, to find the old ideas informed with an unwonted life, to feel ourselves in the presence of one who has a power of stamping his convictions on us not ordinarily possessed by the mere imitative disciple. The explanation of this difference, we think, lies in the fact that Lucretius has so manipulated the Epicurean doctrines as to convert them from a system into a picture; and that he has saturated this picture with an emotional tone entirely wanting to the spirit of Epicureanism as it was originally designed. It is with the latter element that we may most conveniently begin.?
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It was at this juncture that the voluntary withdrawal of an older fellow-pupil placed Arcesilaus at the head of the Academy. The date of his accession is not given, but we are told that he died 241 or 240 B.C. in the seventy-fifth year of his age. He must, therefore, have flourished a generation later than Zeno and Epicurus. Accomplished, witty, and generous, his life is described by some as considerably less austere than that of the excellent nonentities whom he succeeded. Yet its general goodness was testified to by no less an authority than his contemporary, the noble Stoic, Cleanthes. 鈥楧o not blame Arcesilaus,鈥 exclaimed the latter146 to an unfriendly critic; 鈥榠f he denies duty in his words, he affirms it in his deeds.鈥 鈥榊ou don鈥檛 flatter me,鈥 observed Arcesilaus. 鈥業t is flattering you,鈥 rejoined Cleanthes, 鈥榯o say that your actions belie your words.鈥230 It might be inferred from this anecdote that the scepticism of the new teacher, like that of Carneades after him, was occasionally exercised on moral distinctions, which, as then defined and deduced, were assuredly open to very serious criticism. Even so, in following the conventional standard of the age, he would have been acting in perfect consistency with the principles of his school. But, as a matter of fact, his attacks seem to have been exclusively aimed at the Stoic criterion of certainty. We have touched on this difficult subject in a former chapter, but the present seems a more favourable opportunity for setting it forth in proper detail.!
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This preference of pure abstract speculation to beneficent290 action may be traced to the influence of Aristotle. Some of the most enthusiastic expressions used by Plotinus in speaking of his supreme principle seem to have been suggested by the Metaphysics and the last book of the Nicomachean Ethics. The self-thinking thought of the Stagirite does not, indeed, take the highest rank with him. But it is retained in his system, and is only relegated to a secondary place because, for reasons which we shall explain hereafter, it does not fulfil equally well with Plato鈥檚 Idea of Good, the condition of absolute and indivisible unity, without which a first principle could not be conceived by any Greek philosopher. But this apparent return to the standpoint of the Republic really involves a still wider departure from its animating spirit. In other words, Plotinus differs from Aristotle as Aristotle himself had differed from Plato; he shares the same speculative tendency, and carries it to a greater extreme..
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Thus we have, in all, five gradations: the One, Nous, Soul, the sensible world, and, lastly, unformed Matter. Taken together, the first three constitute a triad of spiritual principles, and, as such, are associated in a single group by Plotinus.467 Sometimes they are spoken of as the Alexandrian Trinity. But the implied comparison with the Trinity of Catholicism is misleading. With Neo-Platonism, the supreme unity is, properly speaking, alone God and alone One. Nous is vastly inferior to the first principle, and Soul, again, to Nous. Possibly the second and third principles are personal; the first most certainly is not, since self-consciousness is expressly denied to it by Plotinus. Nor is it likely that the idea of a supernatural triad was suggested to Neo-Platonism by Christianity. Each of the three principles may be traced to its source in Greek philosophy. This has been already shown in the case of the One and of the Nous. The universal soul is to be found in Plato鈥檚 Timaeus; it is analogous, at least in its lower, divided part, to Aristotle鈥檚 Nature; and it is nearly identical with the informing spirit of Stoicism. As to the number three, it was held in high esteem long before the Christian era, and was likely to be independently employed for the construction of different systems at a time when belief in the magical virtue of particular numbers was more widely diffused than at any former period of civilised history..
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It is to the second theory that Plotinus evidently leans. However closely his life may have been conformed to the Pythagorean model鈥攁 point with respect to which we have306 nothing better than the very prejudiced statements of Porphyry to rely on鈥攖here is no trace of Pythagorean asceticism in his writings. Hereafter we shall see how hostile he was to Gnostic pessimism. In the preceding essay, he had already specified admiration for physical beauty as a first and necessary step in the soul鈥檚 ascent to a contemplation of spiritual realities;451 and now it is under the guidance of Plato鈥檚 later speculations that he proceeds to account for her descent from that higher world to the restraints of matter and of sense.
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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