Riddles of Philosophy
II. The World Conception of the Greek Thinkers
With Pherekydes of Syros, who lived in the sixth century B.C., a personality appears in the Greek intellectual-spiritual life in whom one can observe the birth of what will be called in the following presentation, “a world and life conception.” What he has to say about the problems of the world is, on the one hand, still like the mythical symbolic accounts of a time that lies before the striving for a scientific world conception; on the other hand, his imagination penetrates through the picture, through the myth, to a form of reflection that wants to pierce the problems of man's existence and of his position in the world by means of thoughts. He still imagines the earth in the picture of a winged oak around which Zeus wraps the surface land, oceans, rivers, etc., like a woven texture. He thinks of the world as permeated by spiritual beings of which Greek mythology speaks.
But Pherekydes also speaks of three principles of the world: Of Chronos, of Zeus and of Chthon.
Throughout the history of philosophy there has been much discussion as to what is to be understood by these three principles. As the historical sources on the question of what Pherekydes meant to say in his work, Heptamychos, are contradictory, it is quite understandable that present-day opinions also do not agree. If we reflect on the traditional accounts of Pherekydes, we get the impression that we can really observe in him the beginning of philosophical thought but that this observation is difficult because his words have to be taken in a sense that is remote from the thought habits of the present time; its real meaning is yet to be determined. 1This book, which is to give a picture of the world and life conceptions of the nineteenth century is, in its second edition, supplemented by a brief account of the preceding philosophies insofar as they are based on an intellectual conception of the world. I have done this because I feel that the ideas of the last century are better shown in their inner significance if they are not taken by themselves, but if the highlights of thought of the preceding ages fall on them. In such an “introduction” not all the “documentary materials” can be given that must form the basis of this short sketch. If I should have the opportunity to develop the sketch into an independent book, it would become clear that the appropriate basis really exists. I also have no doubt that others who want to see in this sketch a suggestion for new viewpoints will find the documentary evidence in the historical sources that have been traditionally handed down to us.
Pherekydes arrives at his world picture in a different way from that of his predecessors. The significant fact is that he feels man to be a living soul in a way different from earlier times. For the earlier world view, the word, “soul,” did not yet have the meaning that it acquired in later conceptions of life, nor did Pherekydes have the idea of the soul in the sense of later thinkers. He simply feels the soul-element of man, whereas the later thinkers want to speak clearly about it (in the form of thought) and they attempt to characterize it in intellectual terms. Men of earlier times do not as yet separate their own soul experience from the life of nature. They do not feel that they stand as a special entity beside nature. They experience themselves in nature as they experience lightning and thunder in it, the drifting of the clouds, the course of the stars or the growth of plants. What moves man's hand on his own body, what places his foot on the ground and makes him walk, for the prehistoric man, belongs to the same sphere of world forces that also causes lightning, cloud formations and all other external events. What he at this stage feels, can be expressed by saying, “Something causes lightning, thunder, rain, moves my hand, makes my foot step, moves the air of my breath within me, turns my head.” If one expresses what is in this way experienced, one has to use words that at first hearing seem to be exaggerated. But only through these exaggerations will it be possible to understand what is intended to be conveyed.
A man who holds a world picture as it is meant here, experiences in the rain that falls to the ground the action of a force that we at the present time must call “spiritual” and that he feels to be of the same kind as the force he experiences when he is about to exert a personal activity of some kind or other. It should be of interest that this view can be found again in Goethe in his younger years, naturally in a shade of thought that it must assume in a personality of the eighteenth century. We can read in Goethe's essay, Nature:
She (nature) has placed me in life; she will also lead me out of it. I trust myself into her care. She may hold sway over me. She will not hate her work. It was not I who spoke about her. Nay, what is true and what is false — everything has been spoken by her. Everything is her fault, everything her merit.
To speak as Goethe speaks here is only then possible if one feels one's own being imbedded in nature as a whole and then expresses this feeling in thoughtful reflection. As Goethe thought, so man of an earlier time felt without transforming his soul experience into the element of thought. He did not as yet experience thought; instead of thought there unfolded within his soul a symbolic image. The observation of the evolution of mankind leads back to a time in which thought-like experiences had not yet come into being but in which the symbolic picture rose in the soul of man when he contemplated the events of the world. Thought life is born in man at a definite time. It causes the extinction of the previous form of consciousness in which the world is experienced in pictures.
For the thought habits of our time it seems acceptable to imagine that man in archaic times had observed natural elements — wind and weather, the growth of seeds, the course of the stars — and then poetically invented spiritual beings as the active creators of these events. It is, however, far from the contemporary mode of thinking to recognize the possibility that man in older times experienced those pictures as he later experienced thought, that is, as an inner reality of his soul life.
One will gradually come to recognize that in the course of the evolution of mankind a transformation of the human organization has taken place. There was a time when the subtle organs of human nature, which make possible the development of an independent thought life, had not yet been formed. In this time man had, instead, organs, that represented for him what he experienced in the world of pictures.
As this gradually comes to be understood, a new light will fall on the significance of mythology on the one hand, and that of poetic production and thought life on the other. When the independent inner thought experience began, it brought the picture-consciousness to extinction. Thought emerged as the tool of truth. This is only one branch of what survived of the old picture-consciousness that had found its expression in the ancient myth. In another branch the extinguished picture-consciousness continued to live, if only as a pale shadow of its former existence, in the creations of fantasy and poetic imagination. Poetic fantasy and the intellectual view of the world are the two children of the one mother, the old picture-consciousness that must not be confused with the consciousness of poetic imagination.
The essential process that is to be understood is the transformation of the more delicate organization of man. It causes the beginning of thought life. In art and poetry thought as such naturally does not have an effect. Here the picture continues to exert its influence, but it has now a different relation to the human soul from the one it had when it also served in a cognitive function. As thought itself, the new form of consciousness appears only in the newly emerging philosophy. The other branches of human life are correspondingly transformed in a different way when thought begins to rule in the field of human knowledge.
The progress in human evolution that is characterized by this process is connected with the fact that man from the beginning of thought experience had to feel himself in a much more pronounced way than before, as a separated entity, as a “soul.” In myth the picture was experienced in such a way that one felt it to be in the external world as a reality. One experienced this reality at the same time, and one was united with it. With thought, as well as with the poetic picture, man felt himself separated from nature. Engaged in thought experience, man felt himself as an entity that could not experience nature with the same intimacy as he felt when at one with thought. More and more, the definite feeling of the contrast of nature and soul came into being.
In the civilizations of the different peoples this transition from the old picture-consciousness to the consciousness of thought experience took place at different times. In Greece we can intimately observe this transition if we focus our attention on the personality of Pherekydes of Syros. He lived in a world in which picture-consciousness and thought experience still had an equal share. His three principal ideas — Zeus, Chronos and Chthon — can only be understood in such a way that the soul, in experiencing them, feels itself as belonging to the events of the external world. We are dealing here with three inwardly experienced pictures and we find access to them only when we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by anything that the thought habits of our time are likely to imagine as their meaning.
Chronos is not time as we think of it today. Chronos is a being that in contemporary language can be called “spiritual” if one keeps in mind that one does not thereby exhaust its meaning. Chronos is alive and its activity is the devouring, the consumption of the life of another being, Chthon. Chronos rules in nature; Chronos rules in man; in nature and man Chronos consumes Chthon. It is of no importance whether one considers the consumption of Chthon through Chronos as inwardly experienced or as external events, for in both realms the same process goes on. Zeus is connected with these two beings. In the meaning of Pherekydes one must no more think of Zeus as a deity in the sense of our present day conception of mythology, than as of mere “space” in its present sense, although he is the being through whom the events that go on between Chronos and Chthon are transformed into spatial, extended form.
The cooperation of Chronos, Chthon and Zeus is felt directly as a picture content in the sense of Pherekydes, just as much as one is aware of the idea that one is eating, but it is also experienced as something in the external world, like the conception of the colors blue or red. This experience can be imagined in the following way. We turn our attention to fire as it consumes its fuel. Chronos lives in the activity of fire, of warmth. Whoever regards fire in its activity and keeps himself under the effect, not of independent thought but of image content, looks at Chronos. In the activity of fire, not in the sensually perceived fire, he experiences time simultaneously. Another conception of time does not exist before the birth of thought. What is called “time” in our present age is an idea that has been developed only in the age of intellectual world conception.
If we turn our attention to water, not as it is as water but as it changes into air or vapor, or to clouds that are in the process of dissolving, we experience as an image content the force of Zeus, the spatially active “spreader.” One could also say, the force of centrifugal extension. If we look on water as it becomes solid, or on the solid as it changes into fluid, we are watching Chthon. Chthon is something that later in the age of thought-ruled world conception becomes “matter,” the stuff “things are made of”; Zeus has become “ether” or “space,” Chronos changes into “time.”
In the view of Pherekydes the world is constituted through the cooperation of these three principles. Through the combination of their action the material world of sense perception — fire, air, water and earth — come into being on the one hand, and on the other, a certain number of invisible supersensible spirit beings who animate the four material worlds. Zeus, Chronos and Chthon could be referred to as “spirit, soul and matter,” but their significance is only approximated by these terms. It is only through the fusion of these three original beings that the more material realms of the world of fire, air, water and earth, and the more soul-like and spirit-like (supersensible) beings come into existence. Using expressions of later world conceptions, one can call Zeus, space-ether; Chronos, time-creator; Chthon, matter-producer — the three “mothers of the world's origin.” We can still catch a glimpse of them in Goethe's Faust, in the scene of the second part where Faust sets out on his journey to the “mothers.”
As these three primordial entities appear in Pherekydes, they remind us of conceptions of predecessors of this personality, the so-called Orphics. They represent a mode of conception that still lives completely in the old form of picture consciousness. In them we also find three original beings: Zeus, Chronos and Chaos. Compared to these “primeval mothers,” those of Pherekydes are somewhat less picture-like. This is so because Pherekydes attempts to seize, through the exertion of thought, what his Orphic predecessors still held completely as image-experience. For this reason we can say that he appears as a personality in whom the “birth of thought life” takes place. This is expressed not so much in the more thought-like conception of the Orphic ideas of Pherekydes, as in a certain dominating mood of his soul, which we later find again in several of his philosophizing successors in Greece. For Pherekydes feels that he is forced to see the origin of things in the “good” (Arizon). He could not combine this concept with the “world of mythological deities” of ancient times. The beings of this world had soul qualities that were not in agreement with this concept. Into his three “original causes” Pherekydes could only think the concept of the “good,” the perfect.
Connected with this circumstance is the fact that the birth of thought life brought with it a shattering of the foundations of the inner feelings of the soul. This inner experience should not be overlooked in a consideration of the time when the intellectual world conception began. One could not have felt this beginning as progress if one had not believed that with thought one took possession of something that was more perfect than the old form of image experience. Of course, at this stage of thought development, this feeling was not clearly expressed. But what one now, in retrospect, can clearly state with regard to the ancient Greek thinkers was then merely felt. They felt that the pictures that were experienced by our immediate ancestors did not lead to the highest, most perfect, original causes. In these pictures only the less perfect causes were revealed; we must raise our thoughts to still higher causes from which the content of those pictures is merely derived.
Through progress into thought life, the world was now conceived as divided into a more natural and a more spiritual sphere. In this more spiritual sphere, which was only now felt as such, one had to conceive what was formerly experienced in the form of pictures. To this was added the conception of a higher principle, something thought of as superior to the older, spiritual world and to nature. It was to this sublime element that thought wanted to penetrate, and it is in this region that Pherekydes meant to find his three “Primordial Mothers.” A look at the world as it appears illustrates what kind of conceptions took hold of a personality like Pherekydes. Man finds a harmony in his surroundings that lies at the bottom of all phenomena and is manifested in the motions of the stars, in the course of the seasons with their blessings of thriving plant-life, etc. In this beneficial course of things, harmful, destructive powers intervene, as expressed in the pernicious effects of the weather, earthquakes, etc. In observing all this one can be lead to a realization of a dualism in the ruling powers, but the human soul must assume an underlying unity. It naturally feels that, in the last analysis, the ravaging hail, the destructive earthquake, must spring from the same source as the beneficial cycle of the seasons. In this fashion man looks through good and evil and sees behind it an original good. The same good force rules in the earthquake as in the blessed rain of spring. In the scorching, devastating heat of the sun the same element is at work that ripens the seed. The “good Mothers of all origin” are, then, in the pernicious events also. When man experiences this feeling, a powerful world riddle emerges before his soul. To find the solution, Pherekydes turns toward his Ophioneus. As Pherekydes leans on the old picture conception, Ophioneus appears to him as a kind of “world serpent.” It is in reality a spirit being, which, like all other beings of the world, belongs to the children of Chronos, Zeus and Chthon, but that has later so changed that its effects are directed against those of the “good mother of origin.” Thus, the world is divided into three parts. The first part consists of the “Mothers,” which are presented as good, as perfect; the second part contains the beneficial world events; the third part, the destructive or the only imperfect world processes that, as Ophioneus, are intertwined in the beneficial effects.
For Pherekydes, Ophioneus is not merely a symbolic idea for the detrimental destructive world forces. Pherekydes stands with his conceptive imagination at the borderline between picture and thought. He does not think that there are devastating powers that he conceives in the pictures of Ophioneus, nor does such a thought process develop in him as an activity of fantasy. Rather, he looks on the detrimental forces, and immediately Ophioneus stands before his soul as the red color stands before our souls when we look at a rose.
Whoever sees the world only as it presents itself to image perception does not, at first, distinguish in his thought between the events of the “good mothers” and those of Ophioneus. At the borderline of a thought-formed world conception, the necessity of this distinction is felt, for only at this stage of progress does the soul feel itself to be a separate, independent entity. It feels the necessity to ask what its origin is. It must find its origin in the depths of the world where Chronos, Zeus and Chthon had not as yet found their antagonists. But the soul also feels that it cannot know anything of its own origin at first, because it sees itself in the midst of a world in which the “Mothers” work in conjunction with Ophioneus. It feels itself in a world in which the perfect and the imperfect are joined together. Ophioneus is twisted into the soul's own being.
We can feel what went on in the souls of individual personalities of the sixth century B.C. if we allow the feelings described here to make a sufficient impression on us. With the ancient mythical deities such souls felt themselves woven into the imperfect world. The deities belonged to the same imperfect world as they did themselves.
The spiritual brotherhood, which was founded by Pythagoras of Samos between the years 549 and 500 B.C. in Kroton in Magna Graecia, grew out of such a mood. Pythagoras intended to lead his followers back to the experience of the “Primordial Mothers” in which the origin of their souls was to be seen. It can be said in this respect that he and his disciples meant to serve “other gods” than those of the people. With this fact something was given that must appear as a break between spirits like Pythagoras and the people, who were satisfied with their gods. Pythagoras considered these gods as belonging to the realm of the imperfect. In this difference we also find the reason for the “secret” that is often referred to in connection with Pythagoras and that was not to be betrayed to the uninitiated. It consisted in the fact that Pythagoras had to attribute to the human soul an origin different from that of the gods of the popular religion. In the last analysis, the numerous attacks that Pythagoras experienced must be traced to this “secret.” How was he to explain to others than those who carefully prepared themselves for such a knowledge that, in a certain sense, they, “as souls,” could consider themselves as standing even higher than the gods of the popular religion? In what other form than in a brotherhood with a strictly regulated mode of life could the souls become aware of their lofty origin and still find themselves deeply bound up with imperfection? It was just through this feeling of deficiency that the effort was to be made to arrange life in such a way that through the process of self-perfection it would be led back to its origin. That legends and myths were likely to be formed about such aspirations of Pythagoras is comprehensible. It is also understandable that scarcely anything has come down to us historically about the true significance of this personality. Whoever observes the legends and mythical traditions of antiquity about Pythagoras in an all-encompassing picture will nevertheless recognize in it the characterization that was just given.
In the picture of Pythagoras, present-day thinking also feels the idea of the so-called “transmigration of souls” as a disturbing factor. It is even felt to be naive that Pythagoras is reported to have said that he knew that he had already been on earth in an earlier time as another human being. It may be recalled that that great representative of modern enlightenment, Lessing, in his Education of the Human Race, renewed this idea of man's repeated lives on earth out of a mode of thinking that was entirely different from that of Pythagoras. Lessing could conceive of the progress of the human race only in such a way that the human souls participated repeatedly in the life of the successive great phases of history. A soul brought into its life in a later time as a potential ability what it had gained from experience in an earlier era. Lessing found it natural that the soul had often been on earth in an earthly body, and that it would often return in the future. In this way, it struggles from life to life toward the perfection that it finds possible to obtain. He pointed out that the idea of repeated lives on earth ought not to be considered incredible because it existed in ancient times, and “because it occurred to the human mind before academic sophistry had distracted and weakened it.”
The idea of reincarnation is present in Pythagoras, but it would be erroneous to believe that he — along with Pherekydes, who is mentioned as his teacher in antiquity — had yielded to this idea because he had by means of a logical conclusion arrived at the thought that the path of development indicated above could only be reached in repeated earthly lives. To attribute such an intellectual mode of thinking to Pythagoras would be to misjudge him. We are told of his extensive journeys. We hear that he met together with wise men who had preserved traditions of oldest human insight. When we observe the oldest human conceptions that have come down to us through posterity, we arrive at the view that the idea of repeated lives on earth was widespread in remote antiquity. Pythagoras took up the thread from the oldest teachings of humanity. The mythical teachings in picture form appeared to him as deteriorated conceptions that had their origin in older and superior insights. These picture doctrines were to change in his time into a thought-formed world conception, but this intellectual world conception appeared to him as only a part of the soul's life. This part had to be developed to greater depths. It could then lead the soul to its origins. By penetrating in this direction, however, the soul discovers in its inner experience the repeated lives on earth as a soul perception. It does not reach its origins unless it finds its way through the repeated terrestrial lives. As a wanderer walking to a distant place naturally passes through other places on his path, so the soul on its path to the “mothers” passes the preceding lives through which it has gone during its descent from its former existence in perfection, to its present life in imperfection. If one considers everything that is pertinent in this problem, the inference is inescapable that the view of repeated earth lives is to be attributed to Pythagoras in this sense as his inner perception, not as something that was arrived at through a process of conceptual conclusion.
Now the view that is spoken of as especially characteristic of the followers of Pythagoras is that all things are based on numbers. When this statement is made, one must consider that the school of Pythagoras was continued into later times after his death. Philolaus, Archytas and others are mentioned as later Pythagoreans. It was about them especially that one in antiquity knew they “considered things as numbers.” We can assume that this view goes back to Pythagoras even if historical documentation does not appear possible. We shall, however, have to suppose that this view was deeply and organically rooted in his whole mode of conception, and that it took on a more superficial form with his successors.
Let us think of Pythagoras as standing before the beginning of intellectual world conception. He saw how thought took its origin in the soul that had, starting from the “mothers,” descended through its successive lives to its state of imperfection; Because he felt this he could not mean to ascend to the origins through mere thought. He had to seek the highest knowledge in a sphere in which thought was not yet at home. There he found a life of the soul that was beyond thought life. As the soul experiences proportional numbers in the sound of music, so Pythagoras developed a soul life in which he knew himself as living in a connection with the world that can be intellectually expressed in terms of numbers. But for what is thus experienced, these numbers have no other significance than the physicist's proportional tone numbers have for the experience of music.
For Pythagoras the mythical gods must be replaced by thought. At the same time, he develops an appropriate deepening of the soul life; the soul, which through thought has separated itself from the world, finds itself at one with the world again. It experiences itself as not separated from the world. This does not take place in a region in which the world-participating experience turns into a mythical picture, but in a region in which the soul reverberates with the invisible, sensually imperceptible cosmic harmonies. It brings into awareness, not its own thought intentions, but what cosmic powers exert as their will, thus allowing it to become conception in the soul of man.
In Pherekydes and Pythagoras the process of how thought-experienced world conception originates in the human soul is revealed. Working themselves free from the older forms of conception, these men arrive at an inwardly independent conception of the “soul” distinct from external “nature.” What is clearly apparent in these two personalities — the process in which the soul wrests its way out of the old picture conceptions — takes place more in the undercurrents of the souls of the other thinkers with whom it is customary to begin the account of the development of Greek philosophy. The thinkers who are ordinarily mentioned first are Thales of Miletos (640–550 B.C.), Anaximander (born 610 B.C.), Anaximenes (flourished 600 B.C.) and Heraclitus (born 500 B.C. at Ephesus).
Whoever acknowledges the preceding arguments to be justified will also find a presentation of these men admissible that must differ from the usual historical accounts of philosophy. Such accounts are, after all, always based on the unexpressed presupposition that these men had arrived at their traditionally reported statements through an imperfect observation of nature. Thus the statement is made that the fundamental and original being of all things was to be found in “water,” according to Thales; in the “infinite,” according to Anaximander; in “air,” according to Anaximenes; in “fire,” in the opinion of Heraclitus.
What is not considered in this treatment is the fact that these men are still really living in the process of the genesis of intellectual world conception. To be sure, they feel the independence of the human soul in a higher degree than Pherekydes, but they have not yet completed the strict separation of the life of the soul from the process of nature. One will, for instance, most certainly construct an erroneous picture of Thales's way of thinking if it is imagined that he, as a merchant, mathematician and astronomer, thought about natural events and then, in an imperfect yet similar way to that of a modern scientist, had summed up his results in the sentence, “Everything originates from water.” To be a mathematician or an astronomer, etc., in those ancient times meant to deal in a practical way with the things of these professions, much in the way a craftsman makes use of technical skills rather than intellectual and scientific knowledge.
What must be presumed for a man like Thales is that he still experienced the external processes of nature as similar to inner soul processes. What presented itself to him like a natural event, as did the process and nature of “water” (the fluid, mudlike, earth-formative element), he experienced in a way that was similar to what he felt within himself in soul and body. He then experienced in himself and outside in nature the effect of water, although to a lesser degree than man of earlier times did. Both effects were for him the manifestation of one power. It may be pointed out that at a still later age the external effects in nature were thought of as being akin to the inner processes in a way that did not provide for a “soul” in the present sense as distinct from the body. Even in the time of intellectual world conception, the idea of the temperaments still preserves this point of view as a reminiscence of earlier times.
One called the melancholic temperament, the earthy; the phlegmatic, the watery; the sanguinic, the airy; the choleric, the fiery. These are not merely allegorical expressions. One did not feel a completely separated soul element, but experienced in oneself a soul-body entity as a unity. In this unity was felt the stream of forces that go, for instance, through a phlegmatic soul, to be like the forces in external nature that are experienced in the effects of water. One saw these external water effects to be the same as what the soul experienced in a phlegmatic mood. The thought habits of today must attempt an empathy with the old modes of conception if they want to penetrate into the soul life of earlier times.
In this way one will find in the world conception of Thales an expression of what his soul life, which was akin to the phlegmatic temperament, caused him to experience inwardly. He experienced in himself what appeared to him to be the world mystery of water. The allusion to the phlegmatic temperament of a person is likely to be associated with a derogatory meaning of the term. Justified as this may be in many cases, it is nevertheless also true that the phlegmatic temperament, when it is combined with an energetic, objective imagination, makes a sage out of a man because of its calmness, collectedness and freedom from passion. Such a disposition in Thales probably caused him to be celebrated by the Greeks as one of their wise men.
For Anaximenes, the world picture formed itself in another way. He experienced in himself the sanguine temperament. A word of his has been handed down to us that immediately shows how he felt the air element as an expression of the world mystery. “As our soul, which is a breath, holds us together, so air and breath envelop the universe.”
The world conception of Heraclitus will, in an unbiased contemplation, be felt directly as a manifestation of his choleric inner life. A member of one of the most noble families of Ephesus, he became a violent antagonist of the democratic party because he had arrived at certain views, the truth of which was apparent to him in his immediate inner experience. The views of those around him, compared with his own, seemed to him to prove directly in a most natural way, the foolishness of his environment. Thus, he got into such conflicts that he left his native city and led a solitary life at the Temple of Artemis. Consider these few of his sayings that have come down to us. “It would be good if the Ephesians hanged themselves as soon as they grew up and surrendered their city to those under age.” Or the one about men, “Fools in their lack of understanding, even if they hear the truth, are like the deaf: of them does the saying bear witness that they are absent when present.”
The feeling that is expressed in such a choleric temperament finds itself akin to the consuming activity of fire. It does not live in the restful calm of “being.” It feels itself as one with eternal “becoming.” Such a soul feels stationary existence to be an absurdity. “Everything flows,” is, therefore, a famous saying of Heraclitus. It is only apparently so if somewhere an unchanging being seems to be given. We are lending expression to a feeling of Heraclitus if we say, “The rock seems to represent an absolute unchanging state of being, but this is only appearance; it is inwardly in the wildest commotion; all its parts act upon one another.” The mode of thinking of Heraclitus is usually characterized by his saying, “One cannot twice enter the same stream, for the second time the water is not the same.” A disciple of Heraclitus, Cratylus, goes still further by saying that one could not even enter the same stream once. Thus it is with all things. While we look at what is apparently unchanging, it has already turned into something else in the general stream of existence.
We do not consider a world conception in its full significance if we accept only its thought content. Its essential element lies in the mood it communicates to the soul, that is, in the vital force that grows out of it. One must realize how Heraclitus feels himself with his own soul in the stream of becoming. The world soul pulsates in his own human soul and communicates to it of its own life as long as the human soul knows itself as living in it. Out of such a feeling of union with the world soul, the thought originates in Heraclitus, “Whatever lives has death in itself through the stream of becoming that is running through everything, but death again has life in itself. Life and death are in our living and dying. Everything has everything else in itself; only thus can eternal becoming flow through everything.” “The ocean is the purest and impurest water, drinkable and wholesome to fishes, to men undrinkable and pernicious.” “Life and death are the same, waking and sleeping, young and old; the first changes into the second and again into the first.” “Good and evil are one.” “The straight path and the crooked . . . are one.”
Anaximander is freer from the inner life, more surrendered to the element of thought itself. He sees the origin of things in a kind of world ether, an indefinite formless basic entity that has no limits. Take the Zeus of Pherekydes, deprive him of every image content that he still possesses and you have the original principle of Anaximander: Zeus turned into thought. A personality appears in Anaximander in whom thought life is borne out of the mood of soul that still has, in the preceding thinkers, the color of temperament. Such a personality feels united as a soul with the life of thought, and thereby is not so intimately interwoven with nature as the soul that does not yet experience thought as an independent element. It feels itself connected with a world order that lies above the events of nature. When Anaximander says that men lived first as fishes in the moist element and then developed through land animal forms, he means that the spirit germ, which man recognizes through thinking as his true being, has gone through the other forms only as through preliminary stages, with the aim of giving itself eventually the shape that has been appropriate for him from the beginning.
The thinkers mentioned so far are succeeded historically by Xenophanes of Kolophon (born 570 B.C.); Parmenides (460 B.C., living as a teacher in Athens), younger and inwardly related to Xenophanes; Zenon of Elea (who reached his peak around 500 B.C.); Melissos of Samos (about 450 B.C.).
The thought element is already alive to such a degree in these thinkers that they demand a world conception in which the life of thought is fully satisfied; they recognize truth only in this form. How must the world ground be constituted so that it can be fully absorbed within thinking? This is their question.
Xenophanes finds that the popular gods cannot stand the test of thought; therefore, he rejects them. His god must be capable of being thought. What the senses perceive is changeable, is burdened with qualities not appropriate to thought, whose function it is to seek what is permanent. Therefore, God is the unchangeable, eternal unity of all things to be seized in thought.
Parmenides sees the Untrue, the Deceiving, in sense-perceived, external nature. He sees what alone is true in the Unity, the Imperishable that is seized by thought. Zeno tries to come to terms with, and do justice to, the thought experience by pointing out the contradictions that result from a world view that sees truth in the change of things, in the process of becoming, in the multiplicity that is shown by the external world. One of the contradictions pointed out by Zeno is that the fastest runner (Achilles) could not catch up with a turtle, for no matter how slowly it moved, the moment Achilles arrived at the point it had just occupied, it would have moved on a little. Through such contradictions Zeno intimates how a conceptual imagination that leans on the external world is caught in self-contradiction. He points to the difficulty such thought meets when it attempts to find the truth.
One will recognize the significance of this world conception, which is called the “eleatic view” (Parmenides and Zeno are from Elea), if one considers that those who hold this view have advanced with the development of thought experience to the point of having transformed it into a special art, the so-called dialectic. In the “art of thought” the soul learns to feel itself in its self-dependence and its inward self-sufficiency. With this step, the reality of the soul is felt to be what it is through its own being. It experiences itself through the fact that it no longer, as in earlier times, follows the general world experience with its life, but unfolds independent thought experience within itself. This experience is rooted in itself and through it, it can feel itself planted into a pure spiritual ground of the world. At first, this feeling is not expressed as a distinctly formulated thought but, in the esteem it enjoyed, it can be sensed vividly as a feeling in this age. According to a Dialogue of Plato, the young Socrates is told by Parmenides that he should learn the “art of thought” from Zeno; otherwise, truth would be unattainable for him. This “art of thought” was felt to be a necessity for the human soul intending to approach the spiritual fundamental grounds of existence.
Whoever does not see how, in the progress of human development toward the stage of thought experience, real experiences — the picture experiences — came to an end with the beginning of this thought life, will not see the special quality of the Greek thinkers from the sixth to the fourth pre-Christian centuries in the light in which they must appear in this presentation. Thought formed a wall around the human soul, so to speak. The soul had formerly felt as if it were within the phenomena of nature. What it experienced in these natural phenomena, like the activities of its own body, presents itself to the soul in the form of images that appeared in vivid reality. Through the power of thought this entire panorama was now extinguished. Where previously images saturated in content prevailed, thought now expanded through the external world. The soul could experience itself in the surroundings of space and time only if it united itself with thought.
One senses such a mood of soul in Anaxagoras of Clazomenae in Asia Minor (born 500 B.C.). He found himself deeply bound up in his soul with thought life. His thought life encompassed what is extended in space and time. Expanded like this, it appears as the nous, the world reason. It penetrates the whole of nature as an entity. Nature, however, presents itself as composed only of little basic entities. The events of nature that result from the combined actions of these fundamental entities are what the senses perceive after the texture of imagery has vanished from nature. These fundamental entities are called homoiomeries. The soul experiences in thought the connection with the world reason (the nous) inside its wall. Through the windows of the senses it watches what the world reason causes to come into being through the action of the homoiomeries on each other.
Empedocles (born 490 B.C. in Agrigent) was a personality in whose soul the old and the new modes of conception clash as in a violent antagonism. He still feels something of the old mode of being in which the soul was more closely interwoven with external existence. Hatred and love, antipathy and sympathy live in the human soul. They also live outside the wall that encloses it. The life of the soul is thus homogeneously extended beyond its boundaries and it appears in forces that separate and connect the elements of external nature — air, fire, water and earth — thereby causing what the senses perceive in the outer world.
Empedocles is, as it were, confronted with nature, which appears to the senses to be deprived of life and soul, and he develops a soul mood that revolts against this extirpation of nature's animation. His soul cannot believe that nature really is what thought wants to make of it. Least of all can it admit that it should stand in such a relation to nature as it appears according to the intellectual world conception. We must imagine what goes on in a soul that senses such a discord in all its harshness, suffering from it. We shall then be capable of entering into the experience of how, in this soul of Empedocles, the old mode of conception is resurrected as the power of intimate feeling but is unwilling to raise this fact into full consciousness. It thus seeks a form of existence in a shade of experience hovering between thought and picture that is reechoed in the sayings of Empedocles. These lose their strangeness if they are understood in this way. The following aphorism is attributed to him. “Farewell. A mortal no longer, but an immortal god I wander about . . . and as soon as I come into the flourishing cities I am worshipped by men and women. They follow me by the thousands, seeking the path of their salvation with me, some expecting prophecies, others, curative charms for many diseases.”
In such a way, a soul that is haunted by an old form of consciousness through which it feels its own existence as that of a banished god who is cast out of another form of existence into the soul-deprived world of the senses, is dazed. He therefore feels the earth to be an “unaccustomed place” into which he is cast as in punishment. There are certainly other sentiments also to be found in the soul of Empedocles because significant flashes of wisdom shine in his aphorisms. His feeling with respect to the “birth of the intellectual world conception” is characterized, however, by the thought mood mentioned above.
The thinkers who are called the atomists regarded what nature had become for the soul of man through the birth of thought in a different way. The most important among them is Democritus (born 460 B.C. in Abdera). Leucippus is a kind of forerunner to him.
With Democritus, the homoiomeries of Anaxagoras have become, to a considerable degree, more material. In Anaxagoras, one can still compare the entities of the basic parts with living germs. With Democritus, they become dead indivisible particles of matter, which in their different combinations make up the things of the outer world. They mix freely as they move to and fro; thus, the events of nature come to pass. The world reason (nous) of Anaxagoras, which has the world processes grow out of the combined action of the homoiomeries like a spiritual (incorporeal) consciousness, with Democritus, turns into the unconscious law of nature (ananke). The soul is ready to recognize only what it can grasp as the result of simple thought combinations. Nature is now completely deprived of life and soul; thought has paled as a soul experience into the inner shadow of inanimate nature. In this way, with Democritus, the intellectual prototype of all more or less materialistically colored world conceptions of later times has made its appearance.
The atom world of Democritus represents an external world, a nature in which no trace of soul life can be found. The thought experiences in the soul, through which the soul has become aware of itself, are mere shadow experiences in Democritus. Thus, a part of the fate of thought experiences is characterized. They bring the human soul to the consciousness of its own being, but they fill it at the same time with uncertainty about itself. The soul experiences itself in itself through thought, but it can at the same time feel that it lost its anchorage in the independent spiritual world power that used to lend it security and inner stability. This emancipation of the soul was felt by the group of men in Greek intellectual life known as “Sophists.” The most important among them is Protagoras of Abdera (480–410 B.C.). Also to be noted besides him are Gorgias, Critias, Hippias, Thrasymachus and Prodicus.
The sophists are often presented as men who superficially played with their thinking. Much has been contributed to this opinion by the manner in which Aristophanes, the playwright of comedies, treated them, but there are many things that can lead to a better appreciation of the sophists. It is noteworthy that even Socrates, who to a certain limited extent thought of himself as a pupil of Prodicus, is said to have described him as a man who had done much for the refinement of the speech and thinking of his disciples.
Protagoras's view is expressed in the famous statement, “Man is the measure of all things, of those that are, that they are; of those that are not, that they are not.” In the sentiment underlying this statement the thought experience feels itself sovereign. It does not sense any connection with an objective world power. If Parmenides is of the opinion that the senses supply man with a world of deception, one could go further and add, “Why should not thinking, although one experiences it, also deceive?” Protagoras, however, would reply to this, “Why should it be man's concern if the world outside him is not as he perceives and thinks it? Does he imagine it for anyone else but himself? No matter how it may be for another being, this should be of no concern to man. The contents of his mind are only to serve him; with their aid he is to find his way through the world. Once he achieves complete clarity about himself, he cannot wish for any thought contents about the world except those that serve him.” Protagoras means to be able to build on thinking. For this purpose he intends to have it rest exclusively on its own sovereign power.
With this step, however, Protagoras places himself in contradiction to the spirit that lives in the depths of Greek life. This spirit is distinctly perceptible in the Greek character. It manifests itself in the inscription, “Know Thyself,” at the temple of Delphi. This ancient oracle wisdom speaks as if it contained the challenge for the progress of world conceptions that advances from the conception in images to the form of consciousness in which the secrets of the world are seized through thought. Through this challenge man is directed to his own soul. He is told that he can hear the language in his soul through which the world expresses its essence. He is thereby also directed toward something that produces uncertainties and insecurities for itself in its experience. The leading spirits of Greek civilization were to conquer the dangers of this self-supporting soul life. Thus, they were to develop thought in the soul into a world conception.
In the course of this development the sophists navigated in dangerous straits. In them the Greek spirit places itself at an abyss; it means to produce the strength of equilibrium through its own power. One should, as has been pointed out, consider the gravity and boldness of this attempt, rather than lightly condemn it even though condemnation is certainly justified for many of the sophists.
This attempt of the sophists takes place at a natural turning point of Greek life. Protagoras lived from 480 to 410 B.C. The Peloponnesian War, which occurred at this turning point of Greek civilization, lasted from 431 to 404 B.C. Before this war the individual member of Greek society had been firmly enclosed by his social connections. Commonwealth and tradition provided the measuring stick for his actions and thinking. The individual person had value and significance only as a member of the total structure. Under such circumstances the question, “What is the value of the individual human being?” could not be asked. The sophists, however, do ask this question, and in so doing introduce the era of Greek Enlightenment. Fundamentally, it is the question of how man arranges his life after he has become aware of his awakened thought life.
From Pherekydes (or Thales) to the sophists, one can observe how emaciated thought in Greece, which had already been born before these men, gradually finds its place in the stream of philosophical development. The effect thought has when it is placed in the service of world conception becomes apparent in them. The birth of thought, however, is to be observed in the entire Greek life. One could show much the same kind of development in the fields of art, poetry, public life, the various crafts and trades, and one would see everywhere how human activity changes under the influence of the form of human organization that introduces thought into the world conception. It is not correct to say that philosophy “discovers” thought. It comes into existence through the fact that the newly born thought life is used for the construction of a world picture that formerly had been formed out of experiences of a different kind.
While the sophists led the spirit of Greece, expressed in the motto, “Know Thyself,” to the edge of a dangerous cliff, Socrates, who was born in Athens about 470 and was condemned to death through poison in 399 B.C., expressed this spirit with a high degree of perfection.
Historically, the picture of Socrates has come down to us through two channels of tradition. In one, we have the figure that his great disciple, Plato (427–347 B.C.), has drawn of him. Plato presents his philosophy in dialogue form, and Socrates appears in these dialogues as a teacher. He is shown as the “sage” who leads the persons around him through intellectual guidance to high stages of insight. A second picture has been drawn by Xenophon in his Memorabilia of Socrates. At first sight it seems as if Plato had idealized the character of Socrates and as if Xenophon had portrayed him more directly as he had been. But a more intimate inspection would likely show that both Plato and Xenophon each drew a picture of Socrates as they saw him from a special point of view. One is justified, therefore, in considering the question as to how these pictures supplement and illuminate each other.
The first thing that must appear significant here is that Socrates' philosophy has come down to posterity entirely as an expression of his personality, of the fundamental character of his soul life. Both Plato and Xenophon present Socrates in such a way that in him his personal opinion speaks everywhere. This personality carries in itself the awareness that, whoever expresses his personal opinion out of the true ground of the soul, expresses something that is more than just human opinion, something that is a manifestation of the purposes of the world order through human thinking. By those who think they know him, Socrates is taken as the living proof for the conviction that truth is revealed in the human soul through thinking if, as was the case with Socrates, this soul is grounded in its own substance. Looking on Socrates, Plato does not teach a doctrine that is asserted by contemplative thought, but the thought has a rightly developed human being speak, who then observes what he produces as truth. Thus, the manner in which Plato behaves toward Socrates becomes an expression for what man is in his relation to the world. What Plato has advanced about Socrates is significant and also the way in which he, in his activity as a writer, has placed Socrates in the world of Greek spiritual life.
With the birth of thought man was directed toward his “soul.” The question now arises as to what this soul says when it begins to speak, expressing what the world forces have laid into it. Through the attitude Plato takes with respect to Socrates, the resulting answer is that in the human soul the reason of the world speaks what it intends to reveal to man. The foundation is laid with this step for the confidence expressed in the revelations of the human soul insofar as it develops thought in itself. The figure of Socrates appears in the sign of this confidence.
In ancient times the Greek consulted the oracles in the most important questions of life. He asked for prophecy, the revelation of the will and the opinion of the spiritual powers. Such an arrangement is in accord with the soul experience in images. Through the image man feels himself bound to the powers holding sway over the world. The oracle, then, is the institution by means of which somebody who is especially gifted in that direction finds his way to the spiritual powers better than other people. As long as one did not experience one's soul as separated from the outer world, the feeling was natural that this external world was able to express more through a special institution than through everyday experience. The picture spoke from without. Why should the outer world not be capable of speaking distinctly at a special place? Thought speaks to the inner soul. With thought, therefore, the soul is left to its own resources; it cannot feel united with another soul as with the revelations of a priestly oracle. To thought, one had to lend one's own soul. One felt of thought that it was a common possession of all men.
World reason shines into thought life without especially established institutions. Socrates felt that the force lives in the thinking soul that used to be sought in the oracles. He experienced the “daimonion” in himself, the spiritual force that leads the soul. Thought has brought the soul to the consciousness of itself. With his conception of the daimonion speaking in him that, always leading him, told him what to do, Socrates meant to say, “The soul that has found its way to the thought life is justified to feel as if it communicated in itself with the world reason. It is an expression of the high valuation of what the soul possesses in its thought experience.”
“Virtue,” under the influence of this view, is placed in a special light. Because Socrates values thought, he must presuppose that true virtue in human life reveals itself in the life of thought. True virtue must be found in thought life because it is from thought life that man derives his value. “Virtue is teachable.” In this way is Socrates' conception most frequently expressed. It is teachable because whoever really seizes thought life must be in its possession. What Xenophon says about Socrates is significant in this respect. Socrates teaches a disciple about virtue and the following dialogue develops.
Do you believe there is a doctrine and science of justice, just as there is a doctrine of grammar?
Yes, I do.
Whom do you consider now as better versed in grammar, the one who intentionally writes and reads incorrectly, or the one who does so without intention?
I should think the one who does it intentionally, for if he meant to, he could also do it correctly.
Does it not seem to you that the one who intentionally writes incorrectly knows how to write, but the other one does not?
Who now understands more of justice, he who intentionally lies or cheats, or he who does so inadvertently?
Socrates attempts to make clear to the disciple that what matters is to have the right thoughts about virtue. So also what Socrates says about virtue aims at the establishment of confidence in a soul that knows itself through thought experience. The right thoughts about virtue are to be trusted more than all other motivations. Virtue makes man more valuable when he experiences it in thought.
Thus, what the pre-Socratic age strove for becomes manifest in Socrates, that is, the appreciation of what humanity has been given through the awakened thought life. Socrates' method of teaching is under the influence of this conception. He approaches man with the presupposition that thought in life is in him; it only needs to be awakened. It is for this reason that he arranges his questions in such a way that the questioned person is stimulated to awaken his own thought life. This is the substance of the Socratic method.
Plato, who was born in Athens in 427 B.C., felt, as a disciple of Socrates, that his master had helped him to consolidate his confidence in the life of thought. What the entire previous development tended to bring into appearance reaches a climax in Plato. This is the conception that in thought life the world spirit reveals itself. The awareness of this conception sheds, to begin with, its light over all of Plato's soul life. Nothing that man knows through the senses or otherwise has any value as long as the soul has not exposed it to the light of thought. Philosophy becomes for Plato the science of ideas as the world of true being, and the idea is the manifestation of the world spirit through the revelation of thought. The light of the world spirit shines into the soul of man and reveals itself there in the form of ideas; the human soul, in seizing the idea, unites itself with the force of the world spirit. The world that is spread in space and time is like the mass of the ocean water in which the stars are reflected, but what is real is only reflected as idea. Thus, for Plato, the whole world changes into ideas that act upon each other. Their effect in the world is produced through the fact that the ideas are reflected in hyle, the original matter. What we see as the many individual things and events comes to pass through this reflection. We need not extend knowledge to hyle, the original matter, however, for in it is no truth. We reach truth only if we strip the world picture of everything that is not idea. For Plato, the human soul is living in the idea, but this life is so constituted that the soul is not a manifestation of its life in the ideas in all its utterances. Insofar as it is submerged in the life of ideas, it appears as the "rational soul” (thought-bearing soul), and as such, the soul appears to itself when it becomes aware of itself in thought perception. It must also manifest itself in such a way that it appears as the "non-rational soul” (not-thought-bearing soul), As such, it again appears in a twofold way as courage-developing, and as appetitive soul. Thus, Plato seems to distinguish three members or parts in the human soul: The rational soul, the courage-like (or will-exertive) soul and the appetitive soul. We shall, however, describe the spirit of his conceptional approach better if we express it in a different way. According to its nature, the soul is a member of the world of ideas, but it acts in such a way that it adds an activity to its life in reason through its courage life and its appetitive life. In this threefold mode of utterance it appears as earthbound soul. It descends as a rational soul through physical birth into a terrestrial existence, and with death again enters the world of ideas. Insofar as it is rational soul, it is immortal, for as such it shares with its life the eternal existence of the world of ideas.
Plato's doctrine of the soul emerges as a significant fact in the age of thought perception. The awakened thought directed man's attention toward the soul. A perception of the soul develops in Plato that is entirely the result of thought perception. Thought in Plato has become bold enough not only to point toward the soul but to express what the soul is, as it were, to describe it. What thought has to say about the soul gives it the force to know itself in the eternal. Indeed, thought in the soul even sheds light on the nature of the temporal by expanding its own being beyond this temporal existence. The soul perceives thought. As the soul appears in its terrestrial life, it could not produce in itself the pure form of thought. Where does the thought experience come from if it cannot be developed in the life on earth? It represents a reminiscence of a pre-terrestrial, purely spiritual state of being. Thought has seized the soul in such a way that it is not satisfied by the soul's terrestrial form of existence. It has been revealed to the soul in an earlier state of being (preexistence) in the spirit world (world of ideas) and the soul recalls it during its terrestrial existence through the reminiscence of the life it has spent in the spirit.
What Plato has to say about the moral life follows from this soul conception. The soul is moral if it so arranges life that it exerts itself to the largest possible measure as rational soul. Wisdom is the virtue that stems from the rational soul; it ennobles human life. Fortitude is the virtue of the will-exertive soul; Temperance is that of the appetitive soul. These virtues come to pass when the rational soul becomes the ruler over the other manifestations of the soul. When all three virtues harmoniously act together, there emerges what Plato calls, Justice, the direction toward the Good, Dikaiosyne.
Plato's disciple, Aristotle (born 384 B.C. in Stageira, Thracia, died 321 B.C.), together with his teacher, represents a climax in Greek thinking. With him the process of the absorption of thought life into the world conception has been completed and come to rest. Thought takes its rightful possession of its function to comprehend, out of its own resources, the being and events of the world. Plato still uses his conceptual imagination to bring thought to its rightful authority and to lead it into the world of ideas. With Aristotle, this authority has become a matter of course. It is now a question of confirming it everywhere in the various fields of knowledge. Aristotle understands how to use thought as a tool that penetrates into the essence of things. For Plato, it had been the task to overcome the thing or being of the external world. When it has been overcome, the soul carries in itself the idea of which the external being had only been overshadowed, but which had been foreign to it, hovering over it in a spiritual world of truth. Aristotle intends to submerge into the beings and events, and what the soul finds in this submersion, it accepts as the essence of the thing itself. The soul feels as if it had only lifted this essence out of the thing and as if it had brought this essence for its own consumption into the thought form in order to be able to carry it in itself as a reminder of the thing. To Aristotle's mind, the ideas are in the things and events. They are the side of the things through which these things have a foundation of their own in the underlying material, matter (hyle).
Plato, like Aristotle, lets his conception of the soul shed its light on his entire world conception. In both thinkers we describe the fundamental constitution of their philosophy as a whole if we succeed in determining the basic characteristics of their soul conceptions. To be sure, for both of them many detailed studies would have to be considered that cannot be attempted in this sketch. But the direction their mode of conception took is, for both, indicated in their soul conceptions.
Plato is concerned with what lives in the soul and, as such, shares in the spirit world. What is important for Aristotle is the question of how the soul presents itself for man in his own knowledge. As it does with other things, the soul must also submerge into itself in order to find what constitutes its own essence. The idea, which, according to Aristotle, man finds in a thing outside his soul, is the essence of the thing, but the soul has brought this essence into the form of an idea in order to have it for itself. The idea does not have its reality in the cognitive soul but in the external thing in connection with its material (hyle). If the soul submerges into itself, however, it finds the idea as such in reality. The soul in this sense is idea, but active idea, an entity exerting action, and it behaves also in the life of man as such an active entity. In the process of germination of man it lays hold upon material existence.
While idea and matter constitute an inseparable unity in an external thing, this is not the case with the human soul and its body. Here the independent human soul seizes upon the corporeal part, renders the idea ineffective that has been active in the body before and inserts itself in its place. In Aristotle's view, a soul-like principle is active already in the bodily element with which the human soul unites itself, for he sees also in the bodies of the plants and of animals, soul-like entities of a subordinate kind at work. A body that carries in itself the soul elements of the plant and animal is, as it were, fructified by the human soul. Thus, for the terrestrial man, a body-soul entity is linked up with a spirit-soul entity. The spirit-soul entity suppresses the independent activity of the body-soul element during the earth life of man and uses the body-soul entity as an instrument. Five soul manifestations come into being through this process. These, in Aristotle, appear as five members of the soul: The plant-like soul (threptikon), the sentient soul (aisthetikon), the desire-developing soul (orektikon), the will-exerting soul (kinetikon) and the spirit-soul (dianoetikon). Man is spiritual soul through what belongs to the spiritual world and what, in the process of germination, links itself up with the body-soul entity. The other members of the soul come into being as the spiritual soul unfolds itself in the body and thereby leads its earth life.
With Aristotle's focus on a spiritual soul the perspective toward a spiritual world in general is naturally given. The world picture of Aristotle stands before our contemplative eye in such a way that we see below the life of things and events, thus presenting matter and idea; the higher we lift our eye, the more we see vanish whatever bears a material character. Pure spiritual essence appears, representing itself to man as idea, that is, the sphere of the world in which deity as pure spirituality that moves everything has its being. The spiritual soul of man belongs to this world sphere; before it is united with a body-soul entity, it does not exist as an individual being but only as a part of the world spirit. Through this connection it acquires its individual existence separated from the world spirit and continues to live after the separation from the body as a spiritual being. Thus, the individual soul entity has its beginning with the human earthly life and then lives on as immortal. A preexistence of the soul before earth life is assumed by Plato but not by Aristotle. The denial of the soul's preexistence is as natural to Aristotle, who has the idea exist in the thing, as the opposite view is natural to Plato, who conceives of the idea as hovering over the thing. Aristotle finds the idea in the thing, and the soul acquires in its body what it is to be in the spirit world as an individuality.
Aristotle is the thinker who has brought thought to the point where it unfolds to a world conception through its contact with the essence of the world. The age before Aristotle led to the experience of thought; Aristotle seizes the thoughts and applies them to whatever he finds in the world. The natural way, peculiar to Aristotle, in which he lives in thought as a matter of course, leads him also to investigate logic, the laws of thought itself. Such a science could only come into being after the awakened thought had reached a stage of great maturity and of such a harmonious relationship to the things of the outer world as we find it in Aristotle.
Compared with Aristotle, the other thinkers of antiquity who appear as his contemporaries or as his successors seem to be of much less significance. They give the impression that their abilities lack a certain energy that prevents them from attaining the stage of insight Aristotle had reached. One gets the feeling that they disagree with him because they are stating opinions about things they do not understand as well as he. One is inclined to explain their views by pointing to the deficiency that led them to utter opinions that have already been disproved essentially in Aristotle's work.
To begin with, one can receive such an impression from the Stoics and the Epicureans. Zeno of Kition (342–270 B.C.), Kleanthes (born 200 B.C.), Chrysippus (282– 209 B.C.), and others belong to the Stoics, whose name was derived from the Hall of Columns in Athens, the Stoa. They accept what appears reasonable to them in earlier world conceptions, but they are mainly concerned with finding out what man's position is in the world by contemplation of it. They want to base on this, their decision as to how to arrange life in such a way that it is in agreement with the world order, and also in such a way that man can unfold his life in this world order according to his own nature. According to them, man dulls his natural being through desire, passion and covetousness. Through equanimity and freedom from desire, he feels best what he is meant to be and what he can be. The ideal man is the “sage” who does not hamper the process of the inner development of the human being by any vice.
As the thinkers before Aristotle were striving to obtain the knowledge that, after him, becomes accessible to man through the ability to perceive thoughts in the full consciousness of his soul, with the Stoics, reflection concentrates on the question as to what man is to do in order to express his nature as a human being in the best way.
Epicurus (born 324 B.C., died 270 B.C.) developed in his own way the elements that had already been latent in the earlier atomistic thinkers. He builds a view of life on this foundation that can be considered to be an answer to the question: As the human soul emerges as the blossom of world processes, how is it to live in order to shape its separate existence, its self-dependence in accordance with thinking guided by reason? Epicurus could answer this question only by a method that considered life only between birth and death, for nothing else can, with perfect intellectual honesty, be derived from the atomistic world conception. The fact of pain must appear to such a conception as a peculiar enigma of life. For pain is one of those facts that drive the soul out of the consciousness of its unity with the things of the world. One can consider the motion of the stars and the fall of rain to be like the motion of one's own hand, as was done in the world conception of more remote antiquity. That is to say, one can feel in both kinds of events the same uniform spirit-soul reality. The fact that events can produce pain in man but cannot do so in the external world, however, drives the soul to the recognition of its own special nature. A doctrine of virtues, which, like the one of Epicurus, endeavors to live in harmony with world reason, can, as may easily be conceived, appreciate an ideal of life that leads to the avoidance of pain and displeasure. Thus, everything that does away with displeasure becomes the highest Epicurean life value.
This view of life found numerous followers in later antiquity, especially among Roman gentlemen of cultural aspiration. The Roman poet, T. Lucretius Carus (95–52 B.C.), has expressed it in perfect artistic form in his poem, De Rerum Natura.
The process of perceiving thoughts leads the soul to the recognition of its own being, but it can also occur that the soul feels powerless to deepen its thought experience sufficiently to find a connection with the grounds of the world through this experience. The soul then finds itself torn loose from these grounds through its own thinking. It feels that thinking contains its own being, but it does not find a way to recognize in its thought life anything but its own statement. The soul can then only surrender to a complete renunciation of any kind of true knowledge. Pyrrho (360–270 B.C.) and his followers, whose philosophical belief is called scepticism, were in such a situation. Scepticism, the philosophy of doubt, attributes no other power to the thought experience than the formation of human opinions about the world. Whether or not these opinions have any significance for the world outside man is a question about which it is unwilling to make a decision. [A true skeptic is agnostic on a subject. Doubt denotes an opinion for which a burden of proof is needed. Skepticism should be neutral – e.Ed]
In a certain sense, one can see a well-rounded picture in the series of Greek thinkers. One will have to admit, of course, that such an attempt to connect the views of the individual thinkers only too easily brings out irrelevant aspects of secondary significance. What remains most important is still the contemplation of the individual personalities and the impressions one can gain concerning the fact of how, in these personalities, the general human element is brought to manifestation in special cases. One can observe a process in this line of Greek thinkers that can be called the birth, growth and life of thought: in the pre-Socratic thinkers, the prelude; in Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the culmination; after them, a decline and a kind of dissolution of thought life.
Whoever contemplates this development can arrive at the question as to whether thought life really has the power to give everything to the soul toward which it has led it by bringing it to the complete consciousness of itself. For the unbiased observer, Greek thought life has an element that makes it appear “perfect” in the best sense of the word. It is as if the energy of thought in the Greek thinkers had worked out everything that it contains in itself. Whoever judges differently will notice on closer inspection that somewhere in his judgment an error is involved. Later world conceptions have produced accomplishments through other forces of the soul. Of the later thoughts as such, it can always be shown that with respect to their real thought content they can already be found in some earlier Greek thinker. What can be thought and how one can doubt about thinking and knowledge, all enters the field of consciousness in Greek civilization, and in the manifestation of thought the soul takes possession of its own being.
Has Greek thought life, however, shown the soul that it has the power to supply it with everything that it has stimulated in it? The philosophical current called Neo-Platonism, which in a way forms an aftermath of Greek thought life, was confronted with this question. Plotinus (205–270 A.D.) was its chief representative. Philo, who lived at the beginning of the Christian era in Alexandria, could be considered a forerunner of this movement. He does not base his effort to construct a world conception on the creative energy of thought. Rather, he applies thought in order to understand the revelation of the Old Testament. He interprets what is told in this document as fact in an intellectual, allegorical manner. For him, the accounts of the Old Testament turn into symbols for soul events to which he attempts to gain access intellectually.
Plotinus does not regard thought experience as something that embraces the soul in its full life. Behind thought life another life of the soul must lie, a soul life that would be concealed rather than revealed by the action of thought. The soul must overcome the life in thought, must extinguish it in itself and only after this extinction can it arrive at a form of experience that unites it with the origin of the world. Thought leads the soul to itself; now it must seize something in itself that will again lead it out of the realm into which thought has brought it. What Plotinus strives for is an illumination that begins in the soul after it has left the realm to which it has been carried by thought. In this way he expects to rise up to a world being that does not enter into thought life. World reason, therefore, toward which Plato and Aristotle strive, is not, according to Plotinus, the last reality at which the soul arrives. It is rather the outgrowth of a still higher reality that lies beyond all thinking. From this reality beyond all thought, which cannot be compared with anything that could be a possible object of thought, all world processes emanate.
Thought, as it could manifest itself in Greek spiritual life, has, as it were, gone through a complete revolution and thereby all possible relationships of man to thought seem to be exhausted. Plotinus looks for sources other than those given in thought revelation. He leaves the continuing evolution of thought life and enters the realm of mysticism. It is not intended to give a description of the development of mysticism here, but only the development of thought life and what has its origin in this process is to be outlined. There are, however, at various points in the spiritual development of mankind connections between intellectual world conceptions and mysticism. We find such a point of contact in Plotinus. His soul life is not ruled only by thinking. He has a mystical experience that presents an inner awareness without the presence of thoughts in his soul. In this experience he finds his soul united with the world foundation. His way of presenting the connection of the world with its ground, however, is to be expressed in thoughts. The reality beyond thought is the most perfect; what proceeds from it is less perfect. In this way, the process continues down into the visible world, the most imperfect. Man finds himself in this world of imperfection. Through the act of perfecting his soul, he is to cast off what the world in which he finds himself can give him, and is thus to find a path of development through which he becomes a being that is of one accord with the perfect origin.
We see a personality in Plotinus who feels the impossibility to continue Greek thought life. He cannot find anything that would grow as a further branch of world conception out of thought itself. If one looks for the sense in which the evolution of philosophy proceeds, one is justified in saying that the formation of picture conception has turned into that of thought conceptions. In a similar way, the production of thought conception must change again into something else, but the evolution of the world conception is not ready for this in the age of Plotinus. He therefore abandons thought and searches outside thought experience. Greek thoughts, however, fructified by his mystical experiences, develop into the evolutionary ideas that present the world process as a sequence of stages proceeding in a descending order, from a highest most perfect being to imperfect beings. In the thinking of Plotinus, Greek thoughts continue to have their effect. They do not develop as an organic growth of the original forces, however, but are taken over into the mystical consciousness. They do not undergo a transformation through their own energies but through nonintellectual forces.
Ammonius Sakkas (175–242), Porphyrius (232–304), Iamblichus (who lived in the fourth century A.D.), Proclus (410–485), and others are followers and expounders of this philosophy.
In a way similar to that of Plotinus and his successors, Greek thinking in its more Platonic shade continued under the influence of a nonintellectual element. Greek thought in its Pythagorean nuance is treated by Nigidius Figulus, Apollonius of Tyana, Moderatus of Gades, and others.