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If we interpret this doctrine, after the example of some of the ancients, to mean that any wrong-doing would be innocent and good, supposing it escaped detection, we shall probably be misconstruing Epicurus. What he seems to allude to is rather the case of strictly legal enactments, where, previously to law, the action need not have been particularly moral or immoral; where, in fact, the common agreement has established a rule which is not completely in harmony with the 鈥榡ustice of nature.鈥 In short, Epicurus is protesting against the conception of injustice, which makes it consist in disobedience to political and social rules, imposed and enforced by public and authoritative sanctions. He is protesting, in other words, against the claims of the State upon the citizens for their complete obedience;71 against the old ideas of the divine sanctity and majesty of law as law; against theories like that maintained by contemporaries of Socrates, that there could be no such thing as an unjust law.143.
It would appear that even in the Pythagorean school there had been a reaction against a doctrine which its founder had been the first to popularise in Hellas. The Pythagoreans had always attributed great importance to the conceptions of harmony and numerical proportion; and they soon came to think of the soul as a ratio which the different elements of the animal body bore to one another; or as a musical concord resulting from the joint action of its various members, which might be compared to the strings of a lute. But.
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And turned their savage life to civil ways;?
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This code Plato set himself to construct in his last and longest work, the Laws. Less than half of that Dialogue, however, is occupied with the details of legislation. The remaining portions deal with the familiar topics of morality, religion, science, and education. The first book propounds a very curious theory of asceticism, which has not, we believe, been taken up by any subsequent moralist. On the principle of in vino veritas Plato proposes that drunkenness should be systematically employed for the purpose of testing self-control. True temperance is not abstinence, but the power of resisting temptation; and we can best discover to what extent any man possesses that power by surprising him when off his guard. If he should be proof against seductive influences even when in his cups, we shall be doubly sure of his constancy at other times. Prof. Jowett rather maliciously suggests that a personal proclivity may have suggested this extraordinary apology for hard drinking. Were it so, we should be reminded of the successive revelations by which indulgences of another kind were permitted to Mohammed, and of the one case in which divorce was sanctioned by Auguste Comte. We should also remember that the Christian Puritanism to which Plato approached so near has always been singularly lenient to this disgraceful vice. But perhaps a somewhat higher order of considerations will help us to a better under270standing of the paradox. Plato was averse from rejecting any tendency of his age that could possibly be turned to account in his philosophy. Hence, as we have seen, the use which he makes of love, even under its most unlawful forms, in the Symposium and the Phaedrus. Now, it would appear, from our scanty sources of information, that social festivities, always very popular at Athens, had become the chief interest in life about the time when Plato was composing his Laws. According to one graceful legend, the philosopher himself breathed his last at a marriage-feast. It may, therefore, have occurred to him that the prevalent tendency could, like the amorous passions of a former generation, be utilised for moral training and made subservient to the very cause with which, at first sight, it seemed to conflict.!
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We must now bring this long and complicated, but it is hoped not uninteresting, study to a close. We have accompanied philosophy to a point where it enters on a new field, and embraces themes sufficiently important to form the subject of a separate chapter. The contributions made by its first cultivators to our positive knowledge have already been summarised. It remains to mention that there was nothing of a truly transcendental character about their speculations. Whatever extension we may give to that terrible bugbear, the Unknowable, they did not trespass on its domain. Heracleitus and his compeers, while penetrating far beyond the horizon of their age and country, kept very nearly within the limits of a possible experience. They confused some conceptions which we have learned to distinguish, and separated others which we have learned to combine; but they were the lineal progenitors of our highest scientific thought; and they first broke ground on a path where we must continue to advance, if the cosmos which they won for us is not to be let lapse into chaos and darkness again..
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In conclusion, a few words may profitably be devoted to the question whether the rationalistic movement of our own age is likely to be followed by such another supernaturalist reaction as that which made itself so powerfully felt during the first centuries of Roman imperialism. There is, no doubt, a certain superficial resemblance between the world of the Caesars and the world in which we live. Everywhere we see aristocracies giving way to more centralised and equitable forms of government, the authority of which is sometimes concentrated in the hands of a single absolute ruler. Not only are the interests and wishes of the poorer and less educated classes consulted with increasing anxiety, but the welfare of women is engrossing the attention of modern legislators to an even greater extent than was the case with the imperial jurists. Facilities for travelling, joined to the far-reaching combinations of modern statesmanship and modern strategy, are every day bringing Europe into closer contact with the religious life of Asia. The decay of traditional and organised theology is permitting certain forms of spontaneous and unorganised superstition to develope themselves once more, as witness the wide diffusion of spiritism, which is probably akin to the demonology and witchcraft of earlier ages, and would, no doubt, be similarly persecuted by the priests,鈥攚ho, as it is, attribute spiritualistic manifestations to diabolical agency,鈥攈ad they sufficient power for the purpose. Lastly, corresponding to the syncretism of the Roman empire, we may observe a certain mixture and combination of religious principles, Catholic ideas being avowedly adopted by even the most latitudinarian Protestants, and Protestant influences entering into Catholicism, much more imperceptibly it is true, but probably to an equal extent.
Meanwhile, hedonism had been temporarily taken up by Plato, and developed into the earliest known form of utilitarianism. In his Protagoras, he endeavours to show that every virtue has for its object either to secure a greater pleasure by the sacrifice of a lesser pleasure, or to avoid a greater pain by the endurance of a lesser pain; nothing being taken into account but the interests of the individual agent concerned. Plato afterwards discarded the theory sketched in the Protagoras for a higher and more generous, if less distinctly formulated morality; but while ceasing to be a hedonist he remained a utilitarian; that is to say, he insisted on judging actions by their tendency to promote the general welfare, not by the sentiments which they excite in the mind of a conventional spectator.
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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