Philosophy. It is the object of the following article to give some account (I) of that development of thought among the Jews which answered to the philosophy of the West; (II) of the systematic progress of Greek philosophy as forming a complete whole; and (III) of the contact of Christianity with philosophy.
I. The Philosophic Discipline of the Jews.—Philosophy, if we limit the word strictly to describe the free pursuit of knowledge of which truth is the one complete end, is essentially of western growth. In the East the search after wisdom has always been connected with practice. The history of the Jews offers no exception to this remark: there is no Jewish philosophy, properly so called. The method of Greece was to proceed from life to God; the method of Israel (so to speak) was to proceed from God to life. The axioms of one system are the conclusions of the other. The one led to the successive abandonment of the noblest domains of science which man had claimed originally as his own, till it left bare systems of morality; the other, in the fullness of time, prepared many to welcome the Christ—the Truth. The philosophy of the Jews, using the word in a large sense, is to be sought for rather in the progress of the national life than in special books. Step by step the idea of the family was raised into that of the people; and the kingdom furnished the basis of those wider promises which included all nations in one kingdom of heaven. The social, the political, the cosmical relations of man were traced out gradually in relation to God. The philosophy of the Jews is thus essentially a moral philosophy, resting on a definite connection with God. The doctrines of Creation and Providence, of an infinite divine person and of a responsible human will, which elsewhere form the ultimate limits of speculation, are here assumed at the outset. The Psalms, which, among the other infinite lessons which they convey, give a deep insight into the need of a personal apprehension of truth, everywhere declare the absolute sovereignty of God over the material and the moral world. One man among all is distinguished among the Jews as “the wise man.” The description which is given of his writings serves as a commentary on the national view of philosophy. 1 Kings 4:30-33. The lesson of practical duty, the full utterance of “a large heart,” ibid. 29, the careful study of God’s creatures—this is the sum of wisdom. Yet, in fact, the very practical aim of this philosophy leads to the revelation of the most sublime truth. Wisdom was gradually felt to be a person, throned by God and holding converse with men. Prov. 8. She was seen to stand in open enmity with “the strange woman,” who sought to draw them aside by sensuous attractions; and thus a new step was made toward the central doctrine of Christianity—the incarnation of the Word. Two books of the Bible, Job and Ecclesiastes, of which the latter at any rate belongs to the period of the close of the kingdom, approach more nearly than any others to the type of philosophical discussions. But in both the problem is moral and not metaphysical. The one deals with the evils which afflict “the perfect and upright”; the other with the vanity of all the pursuits and pleasures of earth. The captivity necessarily exercised a profound influence upon Jewish thought. The teaching of Persia seems to have been designed to supply important elements in the education of the chosen people. But it did yet more than this. The contact of the Jews with Persia thus gave rise to a traditional mysticism. Their contact with Greece was marked by the rise of distinct sects. In the third century b.c. the great Doctor Antigonus of Socho bears a Greek name, and popular belief pointed to him as the teacher of Sadoc and Boethus, the supposed founders of Jewish rationalism. At any rate, we may date from this time the twofold division of Jewish speculation. The Sadducees appear as the supporters of human freedom in its widest scope; the Pharisees of a religious Stoicism. At a later time the cycle of doctrine was completed, when by a natural reaction the Essenes established a mystic Asceticism.
II. The Development of Greek Philosophy.—The various attempts which have been made to derive western philosophy from eastern sources have signally failed. It is true that in some degree the character of Greek speculation may have been influenced, at least in its earliest stages, by religious ideas which were originally introduced from the East; but this indirect influence does not affect the real originality of the Greek teachers. The very value of Greek teaching lies in the fact that it was, as far as is possible, a result of simple reason, or, if faith asserts its prerogative, the distinction is sharply marked. Of the various classifications of the Greek schools which have been proposed, the simplest and truest seems to be that which divides the history of philosophy into three great periods, the first reaching to the era of the Sophists, the next to the death of Aristotle, the third to the Christian era. In the first period the world objectively is the great centre of inquiry; in the second, the “ideas” of things, truth, and being; in the third, the chief interest of philosophy falls back upon the practical conduct of life. After the Christian era philosophy ceased to have any true vitality in Greece, but it made fresh efforts to meet the changed conditions of life at Alexandria and Rome.
1. The pre-Socratic schools.—The first Greek philosophy was little more than an attempt to follow out in thought the mythic cosmogonies of earlier poets. What is the one permanent element which underlies the changing forms of things?—this was the primary inquiry, to which the Ionic school endeavored to find an answer. Thales (cir. b.c. 639–543) pointed to moisture (water) as the one source and supporter of life. Anaximenes (cir. b.c. 520–480) substituted air for water. At a much later date (cir. b.c. 450) Diogenes of Apollonia represented this elementary “air” as endowed with intelligence. 2. The Socratic schools.—In the second period of Greek philosophy the scene and subject were both changed. A philosophy of ideas, using the term in its widest sense, succeeded a philosophy of nature. In three generations Greek speculation reached its greatest glory in the teaching of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The famous sentence in which Aristotle characterizes the teachings of Socrates (b.c. 468–399) places his scientific position in the clearest light. There are two things, he says, which we may rightly attribute to Socrates—inductive reasoning and general definition. By the first he endeavored to discover the permanent element which underlies the changing forms of appearances and the varieties of opinion; by the second he fixed the truth which he had thus gained. But, besides this, Socrates rendered another service to truth. Ethics occupied in his investigations the primary place which had hitherto been held by Physics. The great aim of his induction was to establish the sovereignty of Virtue. He affirmed the existence of a universal law of right and wrong. He connected philosophy with action, both in detail and in general. On the one side he upheld the supremacy of Conscience, on the other the working of Providence. 3. The post-Socratic schools.—After Aristotle, philosophy took a new direction. Speculation became mainly personal. Epicurus (b.c. 352–270) defined the object of philosophy to be the attainment of a happy life. The pursuit of truth for its own sake he regarded as superfluous. He rejected dialectics as a useless study, and accepted the senses, in the widest acceptation of the term, as the criterion of truth. But he differed widely from the Cyrenaics in his view of happiness. The happiness at which the wise man aims is to be found, he said, not in momentary gratification, but in life-long pleasure. All things were supposed to come into being by chance, and so pass away. The individual was left master of his own life. While Epicurus asserted in this manner the claims of one part of man’s nature in the conduct of life, Zeno of Citium (cir. b.c. 280), with equal partiality, advocated a purely spiritual (intellectual) morality. The opposition between the two was complete. The infinite, chance-formed worlds of the one stand over against the one harmonious world of the other. On the one side are gods regardless of material things, on the other a Being permeating and vivifying all creation. This difference necessarily found its chief expression in Ethics.
III. Christianity in Contact with Ancient Philosophy.—The one direct trace of the contact of Christianity with western philosophy in the New Testament is in the account of St. Paul’s visit to Athens, Acts 17:18; and there is nothing in the apostolic writings to show that it exercised any important influence upon the early Church. Comp. 1 Cor. 1:22-24. But it was otherwise with eastern speculation, which penetrated more deeply through the mass of the people. The “philosophy” against which the Colossians were warned, Col. 2:8, seems undoubtedly to have been of eastern origin, containing elements similar to those which were afterward embodied in various shapes of Gnosticism, as a selfish asceticism, and a superstitious reverence for angels, Col. 2:16-23; and in the Epistles to Timothy, addressed to Ephesus, in which city St. Paul anticipated the rise of false teaching, Acts 20:30, two distinct forms of error may be traced in addition to Judaism, due more or less to the same influence. The writings of the sub-apostolic age, with the exception of the famous anecdote of Justin Martyr (Dial. 2-4), throw little light upon the relations of Christianity and philosophy. Christian philosophy may be in one sense a contradiction in terms, for Christianity confessedly derives its first principles from revelation, and not from simple reason; but there is no less a true philosophy of Christianity, which aims to show how completely these meet the instincts and aspirations of all ages. The exposition of such a philosophy would be the work of a modern Origen.