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THE ARISTOTELIAN PHILOSOPHY AND CHRISTIANITY 1887
In the history of Greek philosophy, Socrates was the man of action, Plato the man of literature, and Aristotle the man of science. They were, of course, all philosophers, but in the progress of culture they specially represented the phases mentioned. Socrates went about as a preacher of righteousness to all, Plato handled language so artistically as to become a general favorite, but Aristotle came with the dissecting-knife in his hand and addressed himself to those who were willing to make special dissections for the sake of knowledge. He was preeminently a man of science, and has left us the means of expressing many of our ordinary thoughts. When we say that a man is in an unfortunate predicament, we are using the nomenclature of Aristotle. Had it not been for this great Greek thinker modern scientists would be compelled to express many of their thoughts differently.
Aristotle, the greatest of the world's scientific men, was born in Stagira, a Greek colony of Macedonia, in 384 B.C., and died at Chalcis, on the island of Euboea, in 322. The name of his birthplace clung to him in the title by which he was always called-"the Stagirite philosopher." The father of this great philosopher was a physician at the court of the Macedonian king, and is said to have written several works on medicine. This is thought to have exercised a great influence over the studies of his illustrious son. The boy's thirst for knowledge was such that at the early age of seventeen he repaired to the city of Athens, at that time the university of the world, and became a pupil of the distinguished Plato. His progress was such that Plato called him the intellect of his school. He remained a student of this great school for twenty years, and might have remained longer had it not been for the death of Plato. This ought to be a lesson for those who claim to acquire a University education in three or four years. While Aristotle greatly loved his world-renowned teacher, his mental characteristics greatly differed from those of Plato. Plato was poetic and ideal, Aristotle was prosaic and systematic; Plato was intuitive and synthetical, Aristotle was logical and analytical. Such are some of the mental characteristics of the two men, and it is natural to suppose that Aristotle would develop a new system, anu give a different direction to philosophic thought.
About the year 343 B.C., Philip, of Macedon, invited Aristotle to become the teacher of his son Alexander, who was then thirteen years of age. His influence over Alexander was very great, and when the son of Philip became the conqueror of Asia, Aristotle was invited to accompany him upon several of his expeditions. Whenever Alexander found anything he thought would be of scientific interest to his great teacher, he immediately sent it. He is said also to have presented Aristotle with great sums of money with which to prosecute his investigations. About the year 335 B.C., Aristotle returned to Athens, and established -a new school of philosophy. In the forenoon he taught his esoteric class in the deep mysteries of philosophy, and the afternoon he gave to the instruction of those not so far advanced. His school has acquired the name of Peripatetic, on account of his habit of walking while he was giving instruction. He continued to teach until the Athenians, suspecting him of partisanship for Macedonia, caused him to flee to Chalcis, where he died.
In the Aristotelian organon we have exactly the reverse of the Platonic. Plato by logical analysis drew from the depth of consciousness certain fundamental ideas inherent in the mind. These he takes as starting points from which to pass beyond the sensible world to God himself. After having attained to universal and necessary ideas by abstraction, he descends to the sensible world, and from these ideas he constructs his intellectual theory of the universe. Aristotle reverses the process; he commences with sensation, and proceeds by induction from the known to the unknown.
According to Aristotle the repetition of sensations produces recollection, recollection produces experience, and experience science. It is only by means of experience that men can be scientists and artists. While experience is the knowledge of individual things, art is the knowledge of universals. Aristotle taught that there are principles in the mind not derived from experience, and his teachings on the subject are much more philosophic and truthful than the one-sided views of modern utilitarians.
Aristotle was the founder of Logic, and according to Kant and Hegel, the most distinguished of German philosophers, it has made no progress from that time to the present. What he undertook, he made thorough, and it appears that Logic was about perfect when it came from his productive brain. He invented the categories, and limited their number to ten, and he also devised the syllogistics, the science of forming correct conclusions. Our great author is also the father of modern Psychology, and his Psychological system should be carefully studied by all who desire to fully understand his philosophical position. From the fact that he claims that all knowledge begins with individual objects, and these objects are objects of sense, modern sensationalists are disposed to place him at the head of their school. They are, however unfair in this, for Aristotle certainly taught that every science has fundamental principles that can not be proved and depend not upon experience. He employed the terms sensation and experience in a very different sense from which they are employed by modern materialists. He uses sensation in its lowest sense as the excitation of the soul through the body; and, in its highest sense, he makes it synonymous with intuition, and comprehends all immediate intuitive perceptions, whether of sense, consciousness, or reason. Intelligence proper, or the faculty of first principles, is, in some respects, a sense, for it is the source of certain truths which, like the perceptions of the senses, are immediately revealed as facts, to be accepted upon their own evidence. It is about the same as the "sensus communis" of Cicero, and the "common sense" of the Scottish school. John Locke uses the term "reflection" in precisely the sense in which Aristotle uses the word "experience."
The reasoning of Aristotle on the question of causation is perfectly marvelous, and his Theology is certainly an important preparation for Christianity. He reduced his material, formal, efficient, and final causes to two-matter and form. Matter at first has a potential existence, and is without form. It can be brought into shape only by the Eternal Substance, who alone has pure Form. The Eternal Substance was with Aristotle God himself; so the universe could not have had its present form without the omnipotent power of God. Aristotle understood that matter could not move itself, and placed back of it an eternal actuality. As matter could not move itself, the actuality which moved it was of course not matter, and therefore Spirit. Modern Theology is very largely founded upon the Ontological, Cosmological, and Moral proofs given by Aristotle of the existence of one true God.
While Aristotle was the greatest of scientists, he was also a practical man. The Greek mind was eminently practical. If this great thinker had, like so many learned Germans, shut himself up in his library or laboratory, instead of walking out into the realm of common life, he would never have wielded such a powerful influence upon mankind in general. In his works on Ethics and Politics, he has entered into competition with Socrates and Plato as a teacher in social morals and a guide in civil affairs. Many persons oppose Aristotle because they do not understand him.
Lord Bacon was certainly right in opposing those baseless methods of speculation in his day, which stood in the way of truth and claimed for their unfruitful methods the authority of Aristotle. He was, however, wrong in supposing that Aristotle ever taught anything of the kind, or that Aristotle failed to use induction in his reasoning. Good old Martin Luther raved against Aristotle, but it was no more the true Aristotle than the Pope of Rome was the first Apostle. It was doubtless necessary for the false Aristotle to be driven away before the true one could take his proper place. While the French Revolution shook up things in general, it set men to thinking, and prepared the way for the restoration of both Plato and Aristotle to their true position in the history of Ethics.
It has been said to the praise of Aristotle that his system of Ethics contains nothing that a Christian can afford to dispense with, no precept of life which is not an element of Christian character; and that its teachings fail only in elevating the heart and the mind to objects of Divine Revelation. Our great author properly emphasizes the influence of habit upon life, and it is certain that habit has a good deal to do with religion. If certain evil habits are acquired it is very difficult to make a man religious. What is true happiness for man? Aristotle would make it the full satisfaction of the highest elements of his nature. It is certainly the object of Christianity to develop the highest elements of man's nature. There has been a good deal of discussion about the golden mean taught by Aristotle. It must be remembered that Aristotle's view was thoroughly Greek, and based on the analogy of Art. When a Greek would speak of right or wrong, he would speak of it as beautiful or ugly. The object of the Greek was to avoid the too much and the too little, and, in this way, to attain to perfection. Temperance was the mean between greediness and indifference, and liberality was the mean between prodigality and stinginess. While the Aristotelian system of Ethics was by no means perfect, it was certainly an important preparation for that system which is absolutely perfect. Christianity presents the perfect ideal, which can make this world a Paradise.
It appears to me that the great mistake with modern Utilitarians is the fact that they have ignored the past. Hume, Bentham and James Mill persistently ignore the great truths handed down for the use of all ages by the master minds of antiquity. The disciples of Bentham claim that his discovery of the principle of utility was as great an era in moral science as was the discovery of the principle of gravitation in physical science. The word utility is not distinctive to this school, for it had been appropriated more than a thousand years before the days of Bentham, and everything valuable in Bentham's theory had been taught by others. The school that now calls itself Utilitarian is thoroughly materialistic. It denies the moral virtue of the inner soul, and it is a system of externalism. A school boy who has never seen a mountain looks upon a hill as very high; so persons may look upon modern Utilitarians as giants in thought, until they become acquainted with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. J. W. LOWBER.
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