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at their fountains only, or was exerted over their whole course, and over waters which were not parts of rivers, he would have been led to reject his hypothesis; for he would have found, by observations sufficiently obvious, that the sun's Attraction, as shown in such cases, is a tendency to lessen all expanded and open collections of moisture, whether flowing from a spring or not; and it would then be seen that this influence, operating on the whole surface of the Nile, must diminish it as well as other rivers, in summer, and therefore could not be the cause of its overflow. He would thus have corrected his first loose conjecture by a real study of nature, and might, in the course of his meditations, have been led to available notions of Evaporation, or other natural actions. And, in like manner, in other cases, the rude attempts at explanation, which the first exercise of the speculative faculty produced, might have been gradually concentrated and refined, so as to fall in, both with the requisitions of reason and the testimony of sense.
But this was not the direction which the Greek speculators took. On the contrary; as soon as they had introduced into their philosophy any abstract and general conceptions, they proceeded to scrutinize these by the internal light of the mind alone, without any longer looking abroad into the world of sense. They took for granted that philosophy must result from the relations of those notions which are involved in the common use of language, and they
proceeded to seek their philosophical doctrines by studying such notions. They ought to have reformed and fixed their usual conceptions by Observation; they only analyzed and expanded them by Reflection: they ought to have sought by trial, among the Notions which passed through their minds, some one which admitted of exact application to Facts; they selected arbitrarily, and, consequently, erroneously, the Notions according to which Facts should be assembled and arranged: they ought to have collected clear Fundamental Ideas from the world of things by inductive acts of thought; they only derived results by Deduction from one or other of their familiar Conceptions (B).
When this false direction had been extensively adopted by the Greek philosophers, we may treat of it as the method of their Schools. Under that title we must give a further account of it.
THE GREEK SCHOOL PHILOSOPHY.
Sect. 1.—The general Foundation of the Greek
HE physical philosophy of the Greek Schools
was formed by looking at the material world through the medium of that common language which men employ to answer the common occasions of life; and by adopting, arbitrarily, as the grounds of comparison of facts, and of inference from them, notions more abstract and large than those with which men are practically familiar, but not less vague and obscure. Such a philosophy, however much it might be systematized, by classifying and analyzing the conceptions which it involves, could not overcome the vices of its fundamental principle. But before speaking of these defects, we must give some indications of its character.
The propensity to seek for principles in the common usages of language may be discerned at a very early period. Thus we have an example of it in a saying which is reported of Thales, the founder of Greek philosophy! When he was asked “What is
. the greatest thing?” he replied, “ Place; for all other things are in the world, but the world is in it.” In Aristotle we have the consummation of this mode of speculation. The usual point from which he starts in his inquiries is, that we say thus or thus in common language. Thus, when he has to discuss the question, whether there be, in any part of the universe, a Void, or space in which there is nothing, he inquires first in how many senses we say
| Plut. Conv. Sept. Sap. Diog. Laert. i. 35.
that one thing is in another. He enumerates many of these?; we say the part is in the whole, as the finger is in the hand; again we say, the species is in the genus, as man is included in animal; again, the government of Greece is in the king; and various other senses are described or exemplified, but of all these the most proper is when we say a thing is in a vessel, and generally, in place. He next examines what place is, and comes to this conclusion, that “if about a body there be another body including it, it is in place, and if not, not.” A body moves when it changes its place; but he adds, that if water be in a vessel, the vessel being at rest, the parts of the water may still move, for they are included by each other; so that while the whole does not change its place, the parts may change their places in a circular order. Proceeding then to the question of a void, he, as usual, examines the different senses in which the term is used, and adopts, as the most proper, place without matter; with no useful result, as we shall soon see.
Physic. Ausc. iv. 3.
Again?, in a question concerning mechanical action, he says,
“When a man moves a stone by pushing it with a stick, we say both that the man moves the stone, and that the stick moves the stone, but the latter more properly.”
Again, we find the Greek philosophers applying themselves to extract their dogmas from the most general and abstract notions which they could detect; for example, from the conception of the Universe as One or as Many things. They tried to determine how far we may, or must, combine with these conceptions that of a whole, of parts, of number, of limits, of place, of beginning or end, of full or void, of rest or motion, of cause and effect, and the like. The analysis of such conceptions with such a view, occupies, for instance, almost the whole of Aristotle's Treatise on the Heavens.
The Dialogue of Plato, which is entitled Parmenides, appears at first as if its object were to show the futility of this method of philosophizing; for the philosopher whose name it bears, is represented as arguing with an Athenian named Aristotle, (c) and, by a process of metaphysical analysis, reducing him at least to this conclusion, “that whether One exist, or do not exist, it follows that both it and other things, with reference to themselves and to each other, all and in all respects, both are and are not, both appear and appear not.” Yet the method of Plato, so far as concerns truth of that
Physic. Ausc. vii. 5.