Friday, June 30, 2017


 Heraclitus (540 BCE - 480 BCE) is certainly the most important and influential pre-Socratic philosopher. His significance is undisputable even though all we have of his work is a few more than a hundred sentences. This relative scarcity and fragmentation of material in no way consigns his thoughts to a mere collection of unconnected and tangent ideas. Heraclitus’ philosophy has a clear essence and focus. That ‘everything is flux’, that ‘all things are one’, and the ‘unification of opposites’, are the fundamental and lasting ideas of Heraclitus, as well as the very heart of his philosophy of dynamic equilibrium.

Heraclitus argued that there was an objective truth about everything, an underlying current flowing across a time, and on to the next one. This constancy he called Logos, which was not a personal subjective thought of his, rather, he thought of himself as merely conduit of it. Logos, for Heraclitus, was the world’s rationale, its determining formula, the truth, and thus the key to everythings nature. Logos, as such, was accessible because it was within everything, even that derogatorily called ‘common’ or ‘public’. The gap between realizing Logos and raveling in the banality of opinions was not a matter of something other, but of a different perspective on the same ‘common’ reality. Heraclitus, therefore, was understandably opposed to the naïve empiricism of his time, and pleaded that men come to discover the ‘depth of the soul’s own logos’. The obscurity and ambiguity of Heraclitus’ style is widely acknowledged as intentional, that is, it is believed that Heraclitus’ style was intended to provoke his audience to discover the logos in and by themselves.
What the exact topic of Heraclitus’ philosophy is, is a question debated since his contemporaries, and a question which has seemingly found no decision to this day. Claims range from saying that he was a moralist, a psychologist, an ontologist, a critic of society, cosmologist, or that his philosophy concerned itself with everything from the universe to theology to politics.

The central idea of Heraclitus’ thought is undoubtedly the unity of opposites. Moreover, Heraclitus claimed that all things are one. This ‘unity of all things’ is based on the fact that there is a common formula, i.e. logos, which is at work in everything to which we attribute temporal and spatial identity and continuity. Heraclitus should not be misunderstood as denying the phenomenal difference between day and night, hot and cold, up and down, and even death and life, rather, his claim is that each opposite is inseparable from its other, and that they depend on one another for their own identity. In other words, if one of the pair is removed the other immediately disappears.
Heraclitus’ famous phrase that ‘you can’t step in the same river twice’ should be understood as the claim that things which seem to have a stable identity, in fact depend upon a continual interchange or succession of their constitutive parts, or outright antagonistic forces, for their identity. The statement that ‘all things are one’, has two particular consequences: first, from a divine perspective, the contrary evaluations accorded to sets of opposites are transcended, and second, that human discrimination between pairs of opposites are ultimately arbitrary. The first of these consequences was certainly endorsed by Heraclitus, the second however, was held only with qualification, namely, that the point is that humans must adjust those of their views which are purely subjective, and bring them into accord with the objective truth of the way things are. In short, people must come to realize the dynamic interplay of opposing forces as the essence of all things, both natural and cultural. Moreover, conflicting forces as the structure of the world, and our awareness of them as constitutive of all things, is essential to both order and balance.

Although Heraclitus, as judging from the fragments, did not focus on cosmology, many of his ancient interprets, including Aristotle, claimed that this was his main focus. The basis for such a reading of Heraclitus is in virtue of his repeated reference to fire, for example All things are an exchange for fire, and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods’, or ‘ever-living fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures’. In short, Heraclitus continually refers to an ‘ever-living fire’ which is not only transformative of all else, but functions almost like a universal currency. From such pronouncements, interpreters have induced that Heraclitus proposed the following doctrines: that fire is the underlying principle of everything, i.e. all things; or, that the world as a whole is a endlessly repeating process of temporal cycles, all of which begin from and end in fire; or, that particular phenomena are both constituted by and determined into fire by condensation or rarefaction. Regardless of which of these, if any, are correct inductions of Heraclitus’ thought, it is next to impossible to deny that fire held the dominant position in Heraclitus’ thought, as the primary principle or element, or the most explanatory phenomenon. Fire, for Heraclitus is not only the most dynamic element, but also the most self-regulating one. It consumes all the material surrounding it, and by consuming it, it also changes it. As such we can say that fire lives by destroying another, or that it destroys itself in creating something else. Fire, as such, is therefore more than a river the most emblematic example of both ‘all things are one’ and ‘everything is in flux’, but also perhaps of logos and the ‘unity of opposites’.

The question which often arises regarding Heraclitus is whether he identified fire with the god he occasionally referred to, and moreover, whether either or both of these were material manifestations of Logos. The Stoics believed that Heraclitus both identified fire with god, and saw them as manifestations of logos. Consequently, we can think of Heraclitus as perhaps the first to think the universe as an automatic field of counterbalancing forces, and yet still affirm the existence of some teleology.

Prior to Socrates and Plato, Heraclitus proposed that cultivation of the psyche was the prerequisite for the good life; where psyche is understood as not merely as the life of human being, but as signifying mind and intelligence. To live authentically, Heraclitus taught, one must interpret empirical phenomena correctly, namely, as an expression of logos. Moreover, the full use of the psyche’s capacity involved that one also ‘inquires into oneself’. Therefore, for Heraclitus there was an inside-outside relationship between logos and psyche, that is, there was an intimate relationship of identity between the formula of nature’s processes and the mind’s thinking through and understanding that formula.

Heraclitus forges a relation between these two manifestations of logos, by referring to fire in his comments on the psyche. While fire and dryness are related to life, excellence and intelligence, death and drunkenness are related to water and moisture, as he states: it is ‘death for souls to be come water’, while a drunk ‘has a soul that is moist’. He, therefore, again arrives at the conclusion that fire is most the constitutive of nature and understanding. The vitality of life, moreover, is also drawn from the ever-living fire, and a soul of fire contributes not mere life to humanity, but ‘light and intelligence’.

Heraclitus’ aim is, as mentioned before, to awaken drunken souls and entice them to rethink their beliefs about religion, society, death and life. He also makes a firm distinction between those who seek and attain immortal fame, and those who revel in mindless satisfactions. Heraclitus also stresses man general inability to come to terms with his own mortality, that is, with death. In accordance with these diagnoses, Heraclitus prescribes the realization that men are intelligent but mortal instances of the cosmic life of ever-lasting and ever-changing fire. The influence of Heraclitus’ though is rather extensive, especially in, but not restricted to, the ancient world. His influence is felt in Parmenides, Cratylus, Plato, Aristotle, and even the Stoics. In more recent times, perhaps the greatest influence of Heraclitus can be found in the Young Hegelians of the 19th century.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Political Philosophy

The Social Contract


Rousseau begins The Social Contract with the most famous words he ever wrote: “Men are born free, yet everywhere are in chains.” From this provocative opening, Rousseau goes on to describe the myriad ways in which the “chains” of civil society suppress the natural birthright of man to physical freedom. He states that the civil society does nothing to enforce the equality and individual liberty that were promised to man when he entered into that society. For Rousseau, the only legitimate political authority is the authority consented to by all the people, who have agreed to such government by entering into a social contract for the sake of their mutual preservation.

Rousseau describes the ideal form of this social contract and also explains its philosophical underpinnings. To Rousseau, the collective grouping of all people who by their consent enter into a civil society is called the sovereign, and this sovereign may be thought of, metaphorically at least, as an individual person with a unified will. This principle is important, for while actual individuals may naturally hold different opinions and wants according to their individual circumstances, the sovereign as a whole expresses the general will of all the people. Rousseau defines this general will as the collective need of all to provide for the common good of all.

For Rousseau, the most important function of the general will is to inform the creation of the laws of the state. These laws, though codified by an impartial, noncitizen “lawgiver,” must in their essence express the general will. Accordingly, though all laws must uphold the rights of equality among citizens and individual freedom, Rousseau states that their particulars can be made according to local circumstances. Although laws owe their existence to the general will of the sovereign, or the collective of all people, some form of government is necessary to carry out the executive function of enforcing laws and overseeing the day-to-day functioning of the state.

Rousseau writes that this government may take different forms, including monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, according to the size and characteristics of the state, and that all these forms carry different virtues and drawbacks. He claims that monarchy is always the strongest, is particularly suitable to hot climates, and may be necessary in all states in times of crisis. He claims that aristocracy, or rule by the few, is most stable, however, and in most states is the preferable form.

Rousseau acknowledges that the sovereign and the government will often have a frictional relationship, as the government is sometimes liable to go against the general will of the people. Rousseau states that to maintain awareness of the general will, the sovereign must convene in regular, periodic assemblies to determine the general will, at which point it is imperative that individual citizens vote not according to their own personal interests but according to their conception of the general will of all the people at that moment. As such, in a healthy state, virtually all assembly votes should approach unanimity, as the people will all recognize their common interests. Furthermore, Rousseau explains, it is crucial that all the people exercise their sovereignty by attending such assemblies, for whenever people stop doing so, or elect representatives to do so in their place, their sovereignty is lost. Foreseeing that the conflict between the sovereign and the government may at times be contentious, Rousseau also advocates for the existence of a tribunate, or court, to mediate in all conflicts between the sovereign and the government or in conflicts between individual people.


Rousseau’s central argument in The Social Contract is that government attains its right to exist and to govern by “the consent of the governed.” Today this may not seem too extreme an idea, but it was a radical position when The Social Contract was published. Rousseau discusses numerous forms of government that may not look very democratic to modern eyes, but his focus was always on figuring out how to ensure that the general will of all the people could be expressed as truly as possible in their government. He always aimed to figure out how to make society as democratic as possible. At one point in The Social Contract, Rousseau admiringly cites the example of the Roman republic’s comitia to prove that even large states composed of many people can hold assemblies of all their citizens.

Just as he did in his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau borrows ideas from the most influential political philosophers of his day, though he often comes to very different conclusions. For example, though his conception of society as being akin to an individual person resonates with Hobbes’s conception of the Leviathan (see chapter 7, Thomas Hobbes ), Rousseau’s labeling of this metaphorical individual as the sovereign departs strongly from Hobbes, whose own idea of the sovereign was of the central power that held dominion over all the people. Rousseau, of course, believed the sovereign to be the people and to always express their will. In his discussion of the tribunate, or the court that mediates in disputes between governmental branches or among people, Rousseau echoes ideas about government earlier expressed by Locke. Both Locke’s and Rousseau’s discussions of these institutions influenced the system of checks and balances enshrined in the founding documents of the United States.

The Social Contract is one of the single most important declarations of the natural rights of man in the history of Western political philosophy. It introduced in new and powerful ways the notion of the “consent of the governed” and the inalienable sovereignty of the people, as opposed to the sovereignty of the state or its ruler(s). It has been acknowledged repeatedly as a foundational text in the development of the modern principles of human rights that underlie contemporary conceptions of democracy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Stoic Ethics - Theory

In many ways, Aristotle's ethics provides the form for the adumbration of the ethical teaching of the Hellenistic schools. One must first provide a specification of the goal or end (telos) of living. This may have been thought to provide something like the dust jacket blurb or course description for the competing philosophical systems—which differed radically over how to give the required specification.

A bit of reflection tells us that the goal that we all have is happiness or flourishing (eudaimonia). But what is happiness? The Epicureans' answer was deceptively straightforward: the happy life is the one which is most pleasant. (But their account of what the highest pleasure consists in was not at all straightforward.) Zeno's answer was “a good flow of life” (Arius Didymus, 63A) or “living in agreement,” and Cleanthes clarified that with the formulation that the end was “living in agreement with nature” (Arius Didymus, 63B). Chrysippus amplified this to (among other formulations) “living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature;” later Stoics inadvisably, in response to Academic attacks, substituted such formulations as “the rational selection of the primary things according to nature.” The Stoics' specification of what happiness consists in cannot be adequately understood apart from their views about value and human psychology.

The best way into the thicket of Stoic ethics is through the question of what is good, for all parties agree that possession of what is genuinely good secures a person's happiness. The Stoics claim that whatever is good must benefit its possessor under all circumstances. But there are situations in which it is not to my benefit to be healthy or wealthy. (We may imagine that if I had money I would spend it on heroin which would not benefit me.) Thus, things like money are simply not good, in spite of how nearly everyone speaks, and the Stoics call them ‘indifferents’ (Diog. Laert., 58A)—i.e., neither good nor bad. The only things that are good are the characteristic excellences or virtues of human beings (or of human minds): prudence or wisdom, justice, courage and moderation, and other related qualities. These are the first two of the ‘Stoic paradoxes’ discussed by Cicero in his short work of that title: that only what is noble or fine or morally good (kalon) is good at all, and that the possession (and exercise) of the virtues is both necessary and sufficient for happiness. But the Stoics are not such lovers of paradox that they are willing to say that my preference for wealth over poverty in most circumstances is utterly groundless. They draw a distinction between what is good and things which have value (axia). Some indifferent things, like health or wealth, have value and therefore are to be preferred, even if they are not good, because they are typically appropriate, fitting or suitable (oikeion) for us.

Impulse, as noted above, is a movement of the soul toward an object. Though these movements are subject to the capacity for assent in fully rational creatures, impulse is present in all animate (self-moving) things from the moment of birth. The Stoics argue that the original impulse of ensouled creatures is toward what is appropriate for them, or aids in their self-preservation, and not toward what is pleasurable, as the Epicureans contend. Because the whole of the world is identical with the fully rational creature which is God, each part of it is naturally constituted so that it seeks what is appropriate or suitable to it, just as our own body parts are so constituted as to preserve both themselves and the whole of which they are parts. The Stoic doctrine of the natural attachment to what is appropriate (oikeiôsis) thus provides a foundation in nature for an objective ordering of preferences, at least on a prima facie basis. Other things being equal, it is objectively preferable to have health rather than sickness. The Stoics call things whose preferability is overridden only in very rare circumstances “things according to nature.” As we mature, we discover new things which are according to our natures. As infants perhaps we only recognised that food and warmth are appropriate to us, but since humans are rational, more than these basic necessities are appropriate to us. The Greek term ‘oikeion’ can mean not only what is suitable, but also what is akin to oneself, standing in a natural relation of affection. Thus, my blood relatives are—or least ought to be—oikeioi. It is partly in this sense that we eventually come to the recognition—or at least ought to—that other people, insofar as they are rational, are appropriate to us. Cicero's quotation of Terence's line ‘nothing human is alien to me’ in the context of On Duties I.30 echoes this thought. It is not only other rational creatures that are appropriate to us, but also the perfection of our own rational natures. Because the Stoics identify the moral virtues with knowledge, and thus the perfection of our rational natures, that which is genuinely good is also most appropriate to us. So, if our moral and intellectual development goes as it should, we will progress from valuing food and warmth, to valuing social relations, to valuing moral virtue. Ideally, we'll have the recognition that the value that moral virtue has is of a different order to those things that we were naturally attracted to earlier. We then come to see that virtue is the only good.

Is that all there is to Stoic ethics? Some writers, such as Annas (1993), suppose that Stoic moral philosophy largely floats free of Stoic metaphysics, and especially from Stoic theology. Other writers, such as Cooper (1996, and 2012), suppose that Stoic moral philosophy is intimately intertwined with Stoic metaphysics. The latter reading draws our attention to the fact that the unfolding of God's providential plan is rational (and therefore beneficial) through and through, so that in some sense what will in fact happen to me in accordance with that plan must be appropriate to me, just like food, warmth, and those with whom I have intimate social relations.

When we take the rationality of the world order into consideration, we can begin to understand the Stoic formulations of the goal or end. “Living in agreement with nature” is meant to work at a variety of levels. Since my nature is such that health and wealth are appropriate to me (according to my nature), other things being equal, I ought to choose them. Hence the formulations of the end by later Stoics stress the idea that happiness consists in the rational selection of the things according to nature. But, we must bear in mind an important caveat here. Health and wealth are not the only things which are appropriate to me. So are other rational beings and it would be irrational to choose one thing which is appropriate to me without due consideration of the effect of that choice on other things which are also appropriate to me. This is why the later formulations stress that happiness consists in the rational selection of the things according to nature. But if I am faced with a choice between increasing my wealth (something which is prima facie appropriate to my nature) and preserving someone else's health (which is something appropriate to something which is appropriate to me, i.e. another rational being), which course of action is the rational one? The Stoic response is that it is the one which is ultimately both natural and rational: that is, the one that, so far as I can tell from my experience with what happens in the course of nature (see Chrysippus' formula for the end cited above, 63B), is most in agreement with the unfolding of nature's rational and providential plan. Living in agreement with nature in this sense can even demand that I select things which are not typically appropriate to my nature at all—when that nature is considered in isolation from these particular circumstances. Here Chrysippus' remark about what his foot would will if it were conscious is apposite.

    As long as the future is uncertain to me I always hold to those things which are better adapted to obtaining the things in accordance with nature; for God himself has made me disposed to select these. But if I actually knew that I was fated now to be ill, I would even have an impulse to be ill. For my foot too, if it had intelligence, would have an impulse to get muddy. (Epictetus, 58J)

We too, as rational parts of rational nature, ought to choose in accordance with what will in fact happen (provided we can know what that will be, which we rarely can—we are not gods; outcomes are uncertain to us) since this is wholly good and rational: when we cannot know the outcome, we ought to choose in accordance with what is typically or usually nature's purpose, as we can see from experience of what usually does happen in the course of nature. In extreme circumstances, however, a choice, for example, to end our lives by suicide can be in agreement with nature.

So far the emphasis has been on just one component of the Stoic formulation of the goal or end of life: it is the “rational selection of the things according to nature.” The other thing that needs to be stressed is that it is rational selection—not the attainment of—these things which constitutes happiness. (The Stoics mark the distinction between the way we ought to opt for health as opposed to virtue by saying that I select (eklegomai) the preferred indifferent but I choose (hairoûmai) the virtuous action.) Even though the things according to nature have a kind of value (axia) which grounds the rationality of preferring them (other things being equal), this kind of value is still not goodness. From the point of view of happiness, the things according to nature are still indifferent. What matters for our happiness is whether we select them rationally and, as it turns out, this means selecting them in accordance with the virtuous way of regarding them (and virtuous action itself). Surely one motive for this is the rejection of even the limited role that external goods and fortune play in Aristotelian ethics. According to the Peripatetics, the happy life is one in which one exercises one's moral and theoretical virtues. But one can't exercise a moral virtue like liberality (Nic. Eth. IV.1) without having some, even considerable, money. The Stoics, by contrast, claim that so long as I order (and express) my preferences in accordance with my nature and universal nature, I will be virtuous and happy, even if I do not actually get the things I prefer. Though these things are typically appropriate to me, rational choice is even more appropriate or akin to me, and so long as I have that, then I have perfected my nature. The perfection of one's rational nature is the condition of being virtuous and it is exercising this, and this alone, which is good. Since possession of that which is good is sufficient for happiness, virtuous agents are happy even if they do not attain the preferred indifferents they select.

One is tempted to think that this is simply a misuse of the word ‘happiness’ (or would be, if the Stoics had been speaking English). We are inclined to think (and a Greek talking about eudaimonia would arguably be similarly inclined) that happiness has something to do with getting what you want and not merely ordering one's wants rationally regardless of whether they are satisfied. People are also frequently tempted to assimilate the Stoics' position to one (increasingly contested) interpretation of Kant's moral philosophy. On this reading, acting with the right motive is the only thing that is good—but being good in this sense has nothing whatsoever to do with happiness.

With respect to the first point, the Stoic sage typically selects the preferred indifferents and selects them in light of her knowledge of how the world works. There will be times when the circumstances make it rational for her to select something that is (generally speaking) contrary to her nature (e.g., cutting off one's own hand in order to thwart a tyrant). But these circumstances will be rare and the sage will not be oppressed by the additional false beliefs that this act of self-mutilation is a genuinely bad thing: only vice is genuinely bad. For the most part, her knowledge of nature and other people will mean that she attains the things that she selects. Her conditional positive attitude toward them will mean that when circumstances do conspire to bring it about that the object of her selection is not secured, she doesn't care. She only preferred to be wealthy if it was fated for her to be wealthy. These reflections illustrate the way in which the virtuous person is self-sufficient (autarkês) and this seems to be an important component of our intuitive idea of happiness. The person who is genuinely happy lacks nothing and enjoys a kind of independence from the vagaries of fortune. To this extent at least, the Stoics are not just using the word ‘happiness’ for a condition that has nothing at all to do with what we typically mean by it. With respect to the second point, the Stoic sage will never find herself in a situation where she acts contrary to what Kant calls inclination or desire. The only thing she unconditionally wants is to live virtuously. Anything that she conditionally prefers is always subordinate to her conception of the genuine good. Thus, there is no room for a conflict between duty and happiness where the latter is thought of solely in terms of the satisfaction of our desires. Cicero provides an engaging, if not altogether rigorous, discussion of the question of whether virtue is sufficient for happiness in Tusculan Disputations, book V.

How do these general considerations about the goal of living translate into an evaluation of actions? When I perform an action that accords with my nature and for which a good reason can be given, then I perform what the Stoics call (LS) a ‘proper function’ (kathêkon, Arius Didymus, 59B)—something that it “falls to me” to do. It is important to note that non-rational animals and plants perform proper functions as well (Diog. Laert., 59C). This shows how much importance is placed upon the idea of what accords with one's nature or, in another formulation, “activity which is consequential upon a thing's nature.” It also shows the gap between proper functions and morally right actions, for the Stoics, like most contemporary philosophers, think that animals cannot act morally or immorally—let alone plants.

Most proper functions are directed toward securing things which are appropriate to nature. Thus, if I take good care of my body, then this is a proper function. The Stoics divide proper functions into those which do not depend upon circumstances and those that do. Taking care of one's health is among the former, while mutilating oneself is among the latter (Diog. Laert., 59E). It appears that this is an attempt to work out a set of prima facie duties based upon our natures. Other things being equal, looking after one's health is a course of action which accords with one's nature and thus is one for which a good reason can be given. However, there are circumstances in which a better reason can be given for mutilating oneself—for instance, if this is the only way you can prevent Fagin from compelling you to steal for him.

Since both ordinary people and Stoic wise men look after their health except in very extraordinary circumstances, both the sage and the ordinary person perform proper functions. A proper function becomes a fully correct action (katorthôma) only when it is perfected as an action of the specific kind to which it belongs, and so is done virtuously. In the tradition of Socratic moral theory, the Stoics regard virtues like courage and justice, and so on, as knowledge or science within the soul about how to live. Thus a specific virtue like moderation is defined as “the science (epistêmê) of what is to be chosen and what is to be avoided and what is neither of these” (Arius Didymus, 61H). More broadly, virtue is “an expertise (technê) concerned with the whole of life” (Arius Didymus, 61G). Like other forms of knowledge, virtues are characters of the soul's commanding faculty which are firm and unchangeable. The other similarity with Socratic ethics is that the Stoics think that the virtues are really just one state of soul (Plutarch , 61B, C; Arius Didymus, 61D). No one can be moderate without also being just, courageous and prudent as well—moreover, “anyone who does any action in accordance with one does so in accordance with them all” (Plutarch, 61F). 

When someone who has any virtue, and therefore all the virtues, performs any proper function, he performs it in accordance with virtue or virtuously (i.e. with all the virtues) and this transforms it into a right action or a perfect function. The connection here between a perfect function and a virtuous one is almost analytic in Greek ethical theorizing. Virtues just are those features which make a thing a good thing of its kind or allow it to perform its function well. So, actions done in accordance with virtue are actions which are done well. The Stoics draw the conclusion from this that the wise (and therefore virtuous) person does everything within the scope of moral action well (Arius Didymus, 61G). This makes it seem far less strange than it might at first appear to say that virtue is sufficient for happiness. Furthermore, because virtue is a kind of knowledge and there is no cognitive state between knowledge and ignorance, those who are not wise do everything equally badly. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as moral progress for the Stoics (if that means progress within morality), and they give the charming illustration of drowning to make their point: a person an arm's length from the surface is drowning every bit as surely as one who is five hundred fathoms down (Plutarch, 61T). Of course, as the analogy also suggests, it is possible to be closer or farther from finally being able to perform proper functions in this perfected way. In that sense, progress is possible.

We are finally in a position to understand and evaluate the Stoic view on emotions, since it is a consequence of their views on the soul and the good. It is perhaps more accurate to call it the Stoic view of the passions, though this is a somewhat dated term. The passions or pathê are literally ‘things which one undergoes’ and are to be contrasted with actions or things that one does. Thus, the view that one should be ‘apathetic,’ in its original Hellenistic sense, is not the view that you shouldn't care about anything, but rather the view that you should not be psychologically subject to anything—manipulated and moved by it, rather than yourself being actively and positively in command of your reactions and responses to things as they occur or are in prospect. It connotes a kind of complete self-sufficiency. The Stoics distinguish two primary passions: appetite and fear. These arise in relation to what appears to us to be good or bad. They are associated with two other passions: pleasure and distress. These result when we get or fail to avoid the objects of the first two passions. What distinguishes these states of soul from normal impulses is that they are “excessive impulses which are disobedient to reason” (Arius Didymus, 65A). Part of what this means is that one's fear of dogs may not go away with the rational recognition that this blind, 16 year old, 3 legged Yorkshire terrier poses no threat to you. But this is not all. The Stoics call a passion like distress a fresh opinion that something bad is present (Andronicus, 65B): you may have been excitedly delighted when you first saw you'd won the race, but after a while, when the impression of the victory is no longer fresh, you may calm down. Recall that opinion is assent to a false impression. Given the Stoics' view about good and bad, as against merely indifferent things, the only time that one should assent to the impression that something bad is present is when there is something which might threaten one's virtue, for this and this alone is good. Thus all passions involve an element of false value-judgement. But these are false judgements which are inseparable from physiological changes in the pneuma which constitutes one's commanding faculty. The Stoics describe these changes as shrinkings (like fear) or swellings (like delight), and part of the reason that they locate the commanding faculty in the heart (rather than the head, as Plato in the Timaeus and many medical writers did) is that this seems to be where the physical sensations which accompany passions like fear are manifested. Taking note of this point of physiology is surely necessary to give their theory any plausibility. From the inside a value-judgement—even one like “this impending dog bite will be bad”—might often just not feel like such an emotional state as fear. But when the judgement is vivid and so the commanding faculty is undergoing such a change, one can readily enough see that the characteristic sensations might inexorably accompany the judgement.

Another obvious objection to the Stoic theory is that someone who fears, say pigeons, may not think that they are dangerous. We say that she knows rationally that pigeons are harmless but that she has an irrational fear. It might be thought that in such a case, the judgement which the Stoics think is essential to the passion is missing. Here they resort to the idea that a passion is a fluttering of the commanding faculty. At one instant my commanding faculty judges (rightly) that this pigeon is not dangerous, but an instant later assents to the impression that it is and from this assent flows the excessive impulse away from the pigeon which is my fear. This switch of assent occurs repeatedly and rapidly so that it appears that one has the fear without the requisite judgement but in fact you are making it and taking it back during the time you undergo the passion (Plutarch, 65G).

It is important to bear in mind that the Stoics do not think that all impulses are to be done away with. What distinguishes normal impulses or desires from passions is the idea that the latter are excessive and irrational. Galen provides a nice illustration of the difference (65J). Suppose I want to run, or, in Stoic terminology, I have an impulse to run. If I go running down a sharp incline I may be unable to stop or change direction in response to a new impulse. My running is excessive in relation to my initial impulse. Passions are distinguished from normal impulses in much the same way: they have a kind of momentum which carries one beyond the dictates of reason. If, for instance, you are consumed with lust (a passion falling under appetite), you might not do what under other circumstances you yourself would judge to be the sensible thing.

Even in antiquity the Stoics were ridiculed for their views on the passions. Some critics called them the men of stone. But this is not entirely fair, for the Stoics allow that the sage will experience what they call the good feelings (eupatheiai, Diog. Laert. 65F). These include joy, watchfulness and wishing and are distinguished from their negative counterparts (pleasure, fear and appetite) in being well-reasoned and not excessive. Naturally there is no positive counterpart to distress. The species under wishing include kindness, generosity and warmth. A good feeling like kindness is a moderate and reasonable stretching or expansion of the soul presumably prompted by the correct judgement that other rational beings are appropriate to oneself.

Criticisms of the Stoic theory of the passions in antiquity focused on two issues. The first was whether the passions were, in fact, activities of the rational soul. The medical writer and philosopher Galen defended the Platonic account of emotions as a product of an irrational part of the soul. Posidonius, a 1st c. BCE Stoic, also criticised Chrysippus on the psychology of emotions, and developed a position that recognized the influence in the mind of something like Plato's irrational soul-parts. The other opposition to the Stoic doctrine came from philosophers in the Aristotelian tradition. They, like the Stoics, made judgement a component in emotions. But they argued that the happy life required the moderation of the passions, not their complete extinction. Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, books III and IV take up the question of whether it is possible and desirable to rid oneself of the emotions.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Anaximenes of Miletus

Anaximenes of Miletus was a Pre-Socratic Philosopher, (585 BCE - 528 BCE). Like all Pre-Socratics, little remains of the work by Anaximenes and little is known in regards to the details of his life. It has been postulated that the philosopher was born around 585 BCE and died around 528 BCE. He is considered, after Thales and Anaximander, the third philosopher from what has come to be known as the Milesian school of philosophy, operating in the ancient Greek land of Ionia, or present day Turkey. Like his predecessors, Anaximenes was preoccupied with cosmology, searching for the world’s origin in which he is most known for his assertion that air is the most basic and originary material and the source of all things. In addition to this main concentration, Anaximenes also made studies in meteorology.

In the Milesian tradition, in which the members of the school are often referred to as being “material monists," Anaximenes sought to articulate one particular substance as responsible for all things. This of course diverts from Anaximander, presumably the young philosopher’s teacher, who postulated the notion of aperion—that which is indefinite and boundless—as the origin of the cosmos. Anaximenes disagreed with this notion of “an indefinite stuff" and believed that there must be a particular substance and that substance was air. Interestingly enough, his observation and understanding of air and it’s transformative properties actually positions his interpretation of the origin of the world in between that of Anaximander and Thales, the latter of whom considered water to be the essential element, rather then in direct opposition to either.

Air is the nearest to an immaterial thing; for since we are generated in the flow of air, it is necessary that it should be infinite and abundant, because it is never exhausted.

For Anaximenes, air was the essential element because it was, like Anaximander’s aperion, neutral and because it was infinite and always in motion. Air was everywhere, and everywhere it was transformable. It could transform into every other basic element, and hence everything else in the world. And this notion was an empirical one for Anaximander; he based his election of “air" on the observable fact that it transforms and his belief that it was the originary substance to transform into the other elements from which everything else could then be generated.

“[Air] differs in essence in accordance with its rarity or density. When it is thinned it becomes fire, while when it is condensed it becomes wind, then cloud, when still more condensed it becomes water, then earth, then stones. Everything else comes from these.”

Air, because it has such varying properties, is distinct and ideal as the candidate for an essential element according to Anaximenes. And, as he postulated, it was due to the fact that it has an innate means for transformation—condensation and rarefaction—that the element of air can produce and thus produces everything else. In effect, everything exists from varying densities of air itself. When air is condensed it becomes precipitation then water then earth then stone; when air is rarefied it becomes fire, which further rarefied becomes air, then wind, which can then precipitate again.

Interestingly, the oppositional aspects of hot and cold are present as in the Milesian tradition, but not as outside forces or things. Anaximenes was very dependent, and even radically dependent, on ‘empirical evidence’ regardless of how substantial. In defense of his theory for air as archê, Anaximenes observed that when one blows air through one’s mouth with pursed—condensed—lips, the air is cool (as in the case with hot food); when one blows air through one’s mouth with relaxed—rarefied—lips, the air is warm (as in the case of a ‘sigh’ or when warming cold hands). Thus hot and cold are present yet are ‘merely’ dependent upon the mode of transformation—condensation or rarefication.

While empirical evidence was essential in Anaximenes’ work, the less evidentiary notions of the divine remained apparent as well. Perhaps in line with early Greek literature that rendered air as the soul, as in the ‘breath of life,’ Anaximenes relates air with god and the divine, according to the accounts of Aetius. The qualities of air, that has similar attributes as the qualities of Anaximander’s aperion, are those of the divine and the eternal. It is posited, by Aetius and later by Cicero, that there is a strong correlation between the notion of air as an originary principle element and the notion of air and breath as the divine and eternal substance of the soul and of god.

Worldly and/or otherworldly, Anaximenes applied his theory of air to the cosmos as well. In his thinking, air formed the earth through a process similar to that of “felting" producing a flat disk that floated on air like a leaf. From evaporation, air was exhaled from the earth rarefied, which enabled it to become ignited producing the fiery celestial bodies of the stars. The moon and the sun were considered to be made up of air more condensed than rarefied, like earth. The sun’s fire was believed by Anaximenes to be a product of its high-speed motion rather then its composition of air. The celestial bodies were understood as floating, like earth, and imaged like a felt cap that could be pivoted around the head. In Anaximenes’ view, the sun’s setting was not attributed to its passing under the earth rather it was simply a case of it being obscured by higher parts of the earth’s form as the sun pivots around it.

Anaximenes elaborated on his theory to account for various other phenomena relating to more meteorological instances from rainbows to earthquakes. Rainbows were considered to be the result of the rays of the sun touching dense condensed air, essentially clouds. The severance of clouds by winds was thought to produce thunder and the flash of lightening. Earthquakes, Anaximenes surmised, were caused by an abundance of evaporation leaving the earth so dry it would crack or the opposite, an abundance of moisture causing cracks in the earth’s surface. He also provided a fairly accurate description of hail—frozen rainwater.

In particular, Anaximenes was quite influential being picked up by Heraclitus and critiqued by Parmenides. Anaxagoras will pull from his theory of materials while Plato will come to admire his understanding of change. Whether directly related or not, Diogenes of Apollonia will consider air as the principle element in his monistic theory.

While there are commentaries that claim Anaximenes and the Milesian school to be material monists presupposing Aristotle, a more accurate understanding of the Milesian tradition concludes that this is not the case. Anaximenes and the Milesian school were pre-occupied with discovering a particular element at the origin of the world yet it was not sought for or understood with the complexity that resulted from Aristotle’s metaphysics. It has been argued that the Milesian preoccupation with a singular originary material ‘stuff’ was related more to a material issue of powers than to a metaphysical issue of what substance is and how transformation relies on continuing causal substances that gain and lose properties. The latter is considered too advanced and complex for the kind of thinking and theorizing that the Pre-Socratics engaged it. Yet, Anaximenes, along with his predecessors, certainly paved the way for such thinking and philosophizing to occur. They are rather collectively the fathers of western philosophy.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Epictetus on the Perishing of Pots and People


Epictetus (c. AD 50 – 135) was a Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey) and lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece for the rest of his life. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses and Enchiridion.


Concerning each of those things that are alluring or have any usefulness or you are fond of, remember to say, what type it is, even beginning from the smallest things: If you are fond of a pot, that, “I am fond of a pot.”  For if it breaks you will not suffer.  If you kiss your very own little child or wife, that you are kissing a human: because if they die, you will not suffer. Epictetus, Enchiridion I.3

ἐφ᾽ ἑκάστου τῶν ψυχαγωγούντων ἢ χρείαν παρεχόντων ἢ στεργομένων μέμνησο ἐπιλέγειν, ὁποῖόν ἐστιν, ἀπὸ τῶν σμικροτάτων ἀρξάμενος: ἂν χύτραν στέργῃς, ὅτιχύτραν στέργω.’ κατεαγείσης γὰρ αὐτῆς οὐ ταραχθήσῃ: ἂν παιδίον σαυτοῦ καταφιλῇς ἢ γυναῖκα, ὅτι ἄνθρωπον καταφιλεῖς: ἀποθανόντος γὰρ οὐ ταραχθήσῃ.

Epictetus has thus far lead us to believe that things either are or are not in our control, and that the former only properly belong to the domain of our concerns.  Chiefly, if not exclusively among those “things” in our power, are our mental states: hupolepsis– plan; horme– desire; oreksis– volition; and ekklisis– avoidance (the opposite of choice).

The practical takeaway amounts to this: If I love a thing I am to tell myself that I love a thing.  But what exactly does this mean?  Epictetus has just introduced three categories of “things” as they relate to us: the alluring, the useful and those things we are fond of.  A pot then, we are to remind ourself, fits into one of these three categories.  Epictetus places it into the “fond of” category.*  Note, not uncoincidentally, that it is we who are to remind ourselves.  If we told other people or vice versa, about this self-reflective protocol, we would in fact be transgressing Epictetus’ injunction to concern ourselves only with what is in our power.  If anything is not in our power, it is certainly the thoughts of other men.  For our own part however, conjuring up the thought, or perhaps even audibly voicing the words, “I am fond of a pot” is not necessarily supposed to sef-consciously evoke the brute absurdity of the utterance.  What I understand Epictetus to be doing is that when we say, “I am fond of a cup” we are to mentally categorize the object, the cup, into one of the three previous categories.  Either it is alluring, useful or loved.  It is the third, and after this recognition we are to note that if either of the two elements out our control, ourself (including our body) or the cup, is taken out of the equation, whether through destruction, theft, or injury, then we are immediately dealing with a concern not properly our own.  We can and must engage only with that in our control.  A destroyed pot, out of our control, is by definition something we should not concern ourselves with.  We should not say of a non-existing pot, “I am fond of a pot” just as we could not say, “I am fond of a pot” if we ourselves were to cease to be.

*(“Be fond of”, translated in three different places above, is here from the verb stergo, a term not normally associated with erotic love nor love for a friend, but often concerns the mutual love of parents and children.)

Concerning each of those things that are alluring or have any usefulness or you are fond of, remember to say, what type it is, even beginning from the smallest things: If you are fond of a pot, that, “I am fond of a pot.”  For if it breaks you will not suffer.  If you kiss your very own little child or wife, that you are kissing a human: because if they die, you will not suffer. Epictetus, Enchiridion I.3

ἐφ᾽ ἑκάστου τῶν ψυχαγωγούντων ἢ χρείαν παρεχόντων ἢ στεργομένων μέμνησο ἐπιλέγειν, ὁποῖόν ἐστιν, ἀπὸ τῶν σμικροτάτων ἀρξάμενος: ἂν χύτραν στέργῃς, ὅτι ‘χύτραν στέργω.’ κατεαγείσης γὰρ αὐτῆς οὐ ταραχθήσῃ: ἂν παιδίον σαυτοῦ καταφιλῇς ἢ γυναῖκα, ὅτι ἄνθρωπον καταφιλεῖς: ἀποθανόντος γὰρ οὐ ταραχθήσῃ.

On my last post on Epictetus, I discussed the therapeutic protocol one is to undertake when encountering an “object” in the world.  It is unclear thus far if Epictetus intends for this mental procedure to be a comprehensive categorization of everything in the world which one could desire.  But it does, consistent with the all-inclusive calculus of a Stoic, include the seemingly least important (pots) all the way up to the most important “objects” (wives and children).

An interpreter could choose to focus on the subjective element of the choice in Epictetus: It is I, this self, that is choosing to love this pot.  And we could, in accord with this view, draw conclusions about foisting our choices promiscuously upon a new object of choice, after the old one has been taken from us. I do not believe this is Epictetus’ view.

Against our expectations of a philosopher who said, in the slanderous paraphrase of the Bard, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”* Epictetus makes it quite clear that we are to focus on “what” our object is (ὁποῖόν ἐστιν).  So when it comes to forefending the grief associated with the loss of a wife, we are to remember that she IS a human, but we merely THINK she is our wife.  We must disabuse ourselves of erroneous dispositions about the actual world, not, as goes the Stoic caricature, mentally grunt it away.

M.A.D Moore 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Philosophical Categories

A system of categories is a complete list of highest kinds or genera. Traditionally, following Aristotle, these have been thought of as highest genera of entities (in the widest sense of the term), so that a system of categories undertaken in this realist spirit would ideally provide an inventory of everything there is, thus answering the most basic of metaphysical questions: “What is there?” Skepticism about the possibilities for discerning the different categories of ‘reality itself’ has led others to approach category systems not with the aim of cataloging the highest kinds in the world itself, but rather with the aim of elucidating the categories of our conceptual system. Thus Kant makes the shift to a conceptualist approach by drawing out the categories that are a priori necessary for any possible cognition of objects. Since such categories are guaranteed to apply to any possible object of cognition, they retain a certain sort of ontological import, although this application is limited to phenomena, not the thing in itself.

 After Kant, it has been common to approach the project of categories in a neutral spirit that Brian Carr (1987, 7) calls “categorial descriptivism”, as describing the categorial structure that the world would have according to our thought, experience, or language, while refraining from making commitments about whether or not these categories are occupied. Edmund Husserl approaches categories in something like this way, since he begins by laying out categories of meanings, which may then be used to draw out ontological categories (categories of possible objects meant) as the correlates of the meaning categories, without concern for any empirical matter about whether or not there really are objects of the various ontological categories discerned.

A system of ontological categories drawn out in any of these modes has the potential for a great many uses in philosophy, but those who would offer such systems of categories also face a variety of difficulties. They must address the issue of what the proper methods are by means of which categories are to be distinguished, how many categories there are and what they are, whether or not there is a single summum genus subsuming all other categories, and whether we should distinguish a single system of categories or multiple dimensions of categories—issues on which there has been little agreement.

Over the past hundred years, skepticism about the possibility of offering a uniquely true and complete system of ontological categories has led discussion of categories to shift from attempts to offer complete systems of categories to attempts merely to draw particular distinctions, especially among our conceptual or linguistic categories. Work on category differences, unlike that on category systems, does not generally purport to answer deep metaphysical questions about what things or kinds of things exist; instead, category differences are articulated as a way of diagnosing and avoiding various philosophical problems and confusions. Nonetheless, even those who merely argue for category differences owe an account of the conditions under which two concepts, terms, or objects belong to different categories.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Plato : Late dialogues

The Parmenides demonstrates that the sketches of forms presented in the middle dialogues were not adequate; this dialogue and the ones that follow spur readers to develop a more viable understanding of these entities. Thus, the approach to genera and species recommended in the Sophist, the Statesman, and the Philebus (and already discussed in the Phaedrus) represents the late version of Plato’s theory of forms. The Philebus proposes a mathematized version, inspired by Pythagoreanism and corresponding to the cosmology of the Timaeus.

But Plato did not neglect human issues in these dialogues. The Phaedrus already combined the new apparatus with a compelling treatment of love; the title topics of the Sophist and the Statesman, to be treated by genus-species division, are important roles in the Greek city; and the Philebus is a consideration of the competing claims of pleasure and knowledge to be the basis of the good life. (The Laws, left unfinished at Plato’s death, seems to represent a practical approach to the planning of a city.) If one combines the hints (in the Republic) associating the Good with the One, or Unity; the treatment (in the Parmenides) of the One as the first principle of everything; and the possibility that the good proportion and harmony featured in the Timaeus and the Philebus are aspects of the One, it is possible to trace the aesthetic and ethical interests of the middle dialogues through even the most difficult technical studies.

The Theaetetus considers the question “What is knowledge?” Is it perception, true belief, or true belief with an “account”? The dialogue contains a famous “digression” on the difference between the philosophical and worldly mentalities. The work ends inconclusively and may indeed be intended to show the limits of the methods of the historical Socrates with this subject matter, further progress requiring Plato’s distinctive additions.

The Parmenides is the key episode in Plato’s treatment of forms. It presents a critique of the super-exemplification view of forms that results from a natural reading of the Symposium, the Phaedo, and the Republic and moves on to a suggestive logical exercise based on a distinction between two kinds of predication and a model of the forms in terms of genera and species. Designed to lead the reader to a more sophisticated and viable theory, the exercise also depicts the One as a principle of everything (see The theory of forms).

The leader of the discussion in the Sophist is an “Eleatic stranger.” Sophistry seems to involve trafficking in falsity, illusion, and not-being. Yet these are puzzling in light of the brilliant use by the historical Parmenides (also an Eleatic) of the slogan that one cannot think or speak of what is not. Plato introduces the idea that a negative assertion of the form “A is not B” should be understood not as invoking any absolute not-being but as having the force that A is other than B. The other crucial content of the dialogue is its distinction between two uses of “is,” which correspond to the two kinds of predication introduced in the Parmenides. Both are connected with the genus-species model of definition that is pervasive in the late dialogues, since the theoretically central use of “is” appears in statements that are true in virtue of the relations represented in genus-species classifications. The dialogue treats the intermingling of the five “greatest kinds”: Being, Sameness, Difference, Motion, and Rest. Although these kinds are of course not species of each other, they do partake of each other in the ordinary way. The Statesman discusses genus-species definition in connection with understanding its title notion.

The Timaeus concerns the creation of the world by a Demiurge, initially operating on forms and space and assisted after he has created them by lesser gods. Earth, air, fire, and water are analyzed as ultimately consisting of two kinds of triangles, which combine into different characteristic solids. Plato in this work applies mathematical harmonics to produce a cosmology. The Critias is a barely started sequel to the Timaeus; its projected content is the story of the war of ancient Athens and Atlantis.

The Philebus develops major apparatuses in methodology and metaphysics. The genus-species treatment of forms is recommended, but now foundational to it is a new fourfold division: limit, the unlimited, the mixed class, and the cause. Forms (members of the mixed class) are analyzed in Pythagorean style as made up of limit and the unlimited. This occurs when desirable ratios govern the balance between members of underlying pairs of opposites—as, for example, Health results when there is a proper balance between the Wet and the Dry.

The very lengthy Laws is thought to be Plato’s last composition, since there is generally accepted evidence that it was unrevised at his death. It develops laws to govern a projected state and is apparently meant to be practical in a way that the Republic was not; thus the demands made on human nature are less exacting. This work appears, indirectly, to have left its mark on the great system of Roman jurisprudence.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Influence of Aristotle

After Sulla removed Aristotle’s esoteric writings to Rome, they were edited and published by the peripatetic philosopher Andronicus of Rhodes. By late antiquity they had almost fallen out of circulation, hampered by the rise of the Church and of neo-Platonism, the fall of Rome, and the loss of the Greek language amongst educated people. In the early sixth century, the Christian philosopher Boethius translated Aristotle’s works on logic into Latin, and, for centuries to come, these were the only significant portions of Aristotle’s writings (or indeed of Greek philosophy) available in the Occident. However, the study of Aristotle continued unabated in the Orient, in the Byzantine Empire and more particularly in the Abbasid Caliphate, where Persian and Arab philosophers such as Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes wrote extensive commentaries on Aristotle, whom they referred to deferentially as The First Teacher.

In the twelfth century, this Aristotelian fervour spilt over into Christian Europe. In the Condemnations of 1210–1277, the Bishops of Paris prohibited Aristotle’s physical writings on the grounds of heterodoxy, but without too much success. In the thirteenth century William of Moerbeke produced a Latin translation of Aristotle’s writings from the original Greek text rather than from Arabic translations, the first complete Latin translation faithful both to the spirit and to the letter of Aristotle. At around the same time, Albert the Great and his pre-eminent student Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Angelus, sought to reconcile Christian thought with Aristotle, whom they and other scholastic thinkers referred to simply as The Philosopher. Under the aegis of the Church, Aristotelian ideas achieved such prominence and such propriety as to be assimilated to God-given gospel, to be overturned only centuries later by pioneers like Galileo, Descartes, and Newton.

Aristotle is without a doubt one of the greatest philosophers of all time, and, along with Plato, one of the most influential people in Western history. Raphael’s Renaissance masterpiece, The School of Athens, depicts Plato and Aristotle walking side by side, surrounded by a number of other philosophers and personalities of antiquity. An elderly Plato is holding a copy of his Timaeus and pointing vertically to the lofty vault above their heads, whilst a younger Aristotle is holding a copy of the Nicomachean Ethics and gesturing horizontally towards the descending steps at their feet. Plato was chiefly interested in moral philosophy, and held natural philosophy, that is, science, to be an inferior and unworthy type of knowledge. His idealism culminated in the Theory of the Forms, according to which knowledge of the truth cannot be acquired through the sense experience of imperfect particulars, but only through the rational contemplation of their universal essences or Forms. Aristotle flatly rejected the Theory of the Forms and emphasised that all philosophy should be grounded in the simple observation of particulars. In so doing, he laid the foundations for the scientific method, and his meticulous zoological observations remained unsurpassed for several centuries. His moral philosophy prevailed throughout the ancient and mediaeval periods, exerting a profound influence on Christian thought, and returned to due prominence in the twentieth century with the resurgence of virtue ethics. His extant works, to say nothing of those that have been lost, cover such a wide range of topics, from aesthetics to astronomy and from politics to psychology, as to constitute a quasi encyclopaedia of Greek knowledge. Some of his most important works are Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, On the Soul, Poetics, and, of course, the Organon, with which he created the field of logic and dominated it so thoroughly and for so long that even Kant in the eighteenth century thought that he had said the last word upon it.

More than any other figure in Western history, Aristotle is the embodiment of knowledge and of learning. His ideas have shaped centuries of thought and are still keenly pored over by all those who seek to understand Western civilisation, or simply to inhabit one of the greatest minds of all time.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Letter to Herodotus from Epicurus

Epicurus summarizes the key doctrines from “On Nature” (of which only a few fragments have been recovered) in this letter to Herodotus. At a time when most philosophers still endorsed what amounted to a magical world-view, Epicurus squarely places himself in the atomistic/materialistic tradition of Democritus. Epicurus also adds some brilliant and daring insights of his own, notably in his explanation of mental function in terms of the movements of specialized neural atoms and his suggestion that the universe is filled with other worlds where extraterrestrial life is possible. Another important theme of this letter is the role of physical knowledge in promoting human happiness and negating skepticism and superstition.


Epicurus to Herodotus, greetings:

For those who are unable to study carefully all my physical writings or to go into the longer treatises at all, I have myself prepared an epitome of the whole system, Herodotus, to preserve in the memory enough of the principal doctrines, to the end that on every occasion they may be able to aid themselves on the most important points, so far as they take up the study of Physics. Those who have made some advance in the survey of the entire system ought to fix in their minds under the principal headings an elementary outline of the whole treatment of the subject. For a comprehensive view is often required, the details but seldom.

To the former, then—the main heads—we must continually return, and must memorize them so far as to get a valid conception of the facts, as well as the means of discovering all the details exactly when once the general outlines are rightly understood and remembered; since it is the privilege of the mature student to make a ready use of his conceptions by referring every one of them to elementary facts and simple terms. For it is impossible to gather up the results of continuous diligent study of the entirety of things, unless we can embrace in short formulas and hold in mind all that might have been accurately expressed even to the minutest detail.

Hence, since such a course is of service to all who take up natural science, I, who devote to the subject my continuous energy and reap the calm enjoyment of a life like this, have prepared for you just such an epitome and manual of the doctrines as a whole.

In the first place, Herodotus, you must understand what it is that words denote, in order that by reference to this we may be in a position to test opinions, inquiries, or problems, so that our proofs may not run on untested ad infinitum, nor the terms we use be empty of meaning. For the primary signification of every term employed must be clearly seen, and ought to need no proving; this being necessary, if we are to have something to which the point at issue or the problem or the opinion before us can be referred.

Next, we must by all means stick to our sensations, that is, simply to the present impressions whether of the mind or of any criterion whatever, and similarly to our actual feelings, in order that we may have the means of determining that which needs confirmation and that which is obscure.

When this is clearly understood, it is time to consider generally things which are obscure. To begin with, nothing comes into being out of what is non-existent For in that case anything would have arisen out of anything, standing as it would in no need of its proper germs. And if that which disappears had been destroyed and become non-existent, everything would have perished, that into which the things were dissolved being non-existent. Moreover, the sum total of things was always such as it is now, and such it will ever remain. For there is nothing into which it can change. For outside the sum of things there is nothing which could enter into it and bring about the change.

Further, the whole of being consists of bodies and space. For the existence of bodies is everywhere attested by sense itself, and it is upon sensation that reason must rely when it attempts to infer the unknown from the known. And if there were no space (which we call also void and place and intangible nature), bodies would have nothing in which to be and through which to move, as they are plainly seen to move. Beyond bodies and space there is nothing which by mental apprehension or on its analogy we can conceive to exist. When we speak of bodies and space, both are regarded as wholes or separate things, not as the properties or accidents of separate things.

Again, of bodies some are composite, others the elements of which these composite bodies are made. These elements are indivisible and unchangeable, and necessarily so, if things are not all to be destroyed and pass into non-existence, but are to be strong enough to endure when the composite bodies are broken up, because they possess, a solid nature and are incapable of being anywhere or anyhow dissolved. It follows that the first beginnings must be indivisible, corporeal entities.

Again, the sum of things is infinite. For what is finite has an extremity, and the extremity of anything is discerned only by comparison with something else. Now the sum of things is not discerned by comparison with anything else: hence it has no extremity, it has no limit; and, since it has no limit, it must be unlimited or infinite.

Moreover, the sum of things is unlimited both by reason of the multitude of the atoms and the extent of the void. For if the void were infinite and bodies finite, the bodies would not have stayed anywhere but would have been dispersed in their course through the infinite void, not having any supports or counter-checks to send them back on their upward rebound. Again, if the void were finite, the infinity of bodies would not have anywhere to be.

Furthermore, the atoms, which have no void in them—out of which composite bodies arise and into which they are dissolved—vary indefinitely in their shapes; for so many varieties of things as we see could never have arisen out of a recurrence of a definite number of the same shapes. The like atoms of each shape are absolutely infinite; but the variety of shapes, though indefinitely large, is not absolutely infinite.

The atoms are in continual motion through all eternity. Some of them rebound to a considerable distance from each other, while others merely oscillate in one place when they chance to have got entangled or to be enclosed by a mass of other atoms shaped for entangling.

This is because each atom is separated from the rest by void, which is incapable of offering any resistance to the rebound; while it is the solidity of the atom which makes it rebound after a collision, however short the distance to which it rebounds, when it finds itself imprisoned in a mass of entangling atoms. Of all this there is no beginning, since both atoms and void exist from everlasting.

The repetition at such length of all that we are now recalling to mind furnishes an adequate outline for our conception of the nature of things.

Moreover, there is an infinite number of worlds, some like this world, others unlike it. For the atoms being infinite in number, as has just been proved, are borne ever further in their course. For the atoms out of which a world might arise, or by which a world might be formed, have not all been expended on one world or a finite number of worlds, whether like or unlike this one. Hence there will be nothing to hinder an infinity of worlds.

Again, there are outlines or films, which are of the same shape as solid bodies, but of a thinness far exceeding that of any object that we see. For it is not impossible that there should be found in the surrounding air combinations of this kind, materials adapted for expressing the hollowness and thinness of surfaces, and effluxes preserving the same relative position and motion which they had in the solid objects from which they come. To these films we give the name of “images” or “idols.” Furthermore, so long as nothing comes in the way to offer resistance, motion through the void accomplishes any imaginable distance in an inconceivably short time. For resistance encountered is the equivalent of slowness, its absence the equivalent of speed.

Not that, if we consider the minute times perceptible by reason alone, the moving body itself arrives at more than one place simultaneously (for this too is inconceivable), although in time perceptible to sense it does arrive simultaneously, however different the point of departure from that conceived by us. For if it changed its direction, that would be equivalent to its meeting with resistance, even if up to that point we allow nothing to impede the rate of its flight. This is an elementary fact which in itself is well worth bearing in mind. In the next place the exceeding thinness of the images is contradicted by none of the facts under our observation. Hence also their velocities are enormous, since they always find a void passage to fit them. Besides, their incessant effluence meets with no resistance or very little, although many atoms, not to say an unlimited number, do at once encounter resistance.

Besides this, remember that the production of the images is as quick as thought. For particles are continually streaming off from the surface of bodies, though no diminution of the bodies is observed, because other particles take their place. And those given off for a long time retain the position and arrangement which their atoms had when they formed part of the solid bodies, although occasionally they are thrown into confusion, Sometimes such films a are formed very rapidly in the air, because they need not have any solid content; and there are other modes in which they may be formed. For there is nothing in all this which is contradicted by sensation, if we in some sort look at the clear evidence of sense, to which we should also refer the continuity of particles in the objects external to ourselves.

We must also consider that it is by the entrance of something coming from external objects that we see their shapes and think of them. For external things would not stamp on us their own nature of color and form through the medium of the air which is between them and use or by means of rays of light or currents of any sort going from us to them, so well as by the entrance into our eyes or minds, to whichever their size is suitable, of certain films coming from the things themselves, these films or outlines being of the same color and shape as the external things themselves. They move with rapid motion; and this again explains why they present the appearance of the single continuous object, and retain the mutual interconnection which they had in the object, when they impinge upon the sense, such impact being due to the oscillation of the atoms in the interior of the solid object from which they come. And whatever presentation we derive by direct contact, whether it be with the mind or with the sense-organs, be it shape that is presented or other properties, this shape as presented is the shape of the solid thing, and it is due either to a close coherence of the image as a whole or to a mere remnant of its parts. Falsehood and error always depend upon the intrusion of opinion when a fact awaits confirmation or the absence of contradiction, which fact is afterwards frequently not confirmed or even contradicted following a certain movement in ourselves connected with, but distinct from, the mental picture presented—which is the cause of error.

For the presentations which, for example, are received in a picture or arise in dreams, or from any other form of apprehension by the mind or by the other criteria of truth, would never have resembled what we call the real and true things, had it not been for certain actual things of the kind with which we come in contact. Error would not have occurred, if we had not experienced some other movement in ourselves, conjoined with, but distinct from, the perception of what is presented. And from this movement, if it be not confirmed or be contradicted, falsehood results; while, if it be confirmed or not contradicted, truth results.

And to this view we must closely adhere, if we are not to repudiate the criteria founded on the clear evidence of sense, nor again to throw all these things into confusion by maintaining falsehood as if it were truth.

Again, hearing takes place when a current passes from the object, whether person or thing, which emits voice or sound or noise, or produces the sensation of hearing in any way whatever. This current is broken up into homogeneous particles, which at the same time preserve a certain mutual connection and a distinctive unity extending to the object which emitted them, and thus, for the most part, cause the perception in that case or, if not, merely indicate the presence of the external object. For without the transmission from the object of a certain interconnection of the parts no such sensation could arise. Therefore we must not suppose that the air itself is molded into shape by the voice emitted or something similar; for it is very far from being the case that the air is acted upon by it in this way. The blow which is struck in us when we utter a sound causes such a displacement of the particles as serves to produce a current resembling breath, and this displacement gives rise to the sensation of hearing.

Again, we must believe that smelling, like hearing, would produce no sensation, were there not particles conveyed from the object which are of the proper sort for exciting the organ of smelling, some of one sort, some of another, some exciting it confusedly and strangely, others quietly and agreeably.

Moreover, we must hold that the atoms in fact possess none of the qualities belonging to things which come under our observation, except shape, weight, and size, and the properties necessarily conjoined with shape. For every quality changes, but the atoms do not change, since, when the composite bodies are dissolved, there must needs be a permanent something, solid and indissoluble, left behind, which makes change possible: not changes into or from the non-existent. but often through differences of arrangement, and sometimes through additions and subtractions of the atoms. Hence these somethings capable of being diversely arranged must be indestructible, exempt from change, but possessed each of its own distinctive mass and configuration. This must remain.

For in the case of changes of configuration within our experience the figure is supposed to be inherent when other qualities are stripped of, but the qualities are not supposed, like the shape which is left behind, to inhere in the subject of change, but to vanish altogether from the body. Thus, then, what is left behind is sufficient to account for the differences in composite bodies, since something at least must necessarily be left remaining and be immune from annihilation.

Again, you should not suppose that the atoms have any and every size, lest you be contradicted by facts; but differences of size must be admitted; for this addition renders the facts of feeling and sensation easier of explanation. But to attribute any and every magnitude to the atoms does not help to explain the differences of quality in things; moreover, in that case atoms large enough to be seen ought to have reached us, which is never observed to occur; nor can we conceive how its occurrence should be possible, in other words that an atom should become visible.

Besides, you must not suppose that there are parts unlimited in number, be they ever so small, in any finite body. Hence not only must we reject as impossible subdivision ad infinitum into smaller and smaller parts, lest we make all things too weak and, in our conceptions of the aggregates, be driven to pulverize the things that exist, in other words the atoms, and annihilate them; but in dealing with finite things we must also reject as impossible the progression ad infinitum by less and less increments.

For when once we have said that an infinite number of particles, however small, are contained in anything, it is not possible to conceive how it could any longer be limited or finite in size. For clearly our infinite number of particles must have some size; and then, of whatever size they were, the aggregate they made would be infinite. And, in the next place, since what is finite has an extremity which is distinguishable, even if it is not by itself observable, it is not possible to avoid thinking of another such extremity next to this. Nor can we help thinking that in this way, by proceeding forward from one to the next in order, it is possible by such a progression to arrive in thought at infinity.

We must consider the minimum perceptible by sense as not corresponding to that which is capable of being traversed, that is to say is extended, nor again as utterly unlike it, but as having something in common with the things capable of being traversed, though it is without distinction of parts. But when from the illusion created by this common property we think we shall distinguish something in the minimum, one part on one side and another part on the other side, it must be another minimum equal to the first which catches our eye. In fact, we see these minima one after another, beginning with the first, and not as occupying the same space; nor do we see them touch one another's parts with their parts, but we see that by virtue of their own peculiar character (as being unit indivisibles) they afford a means of measuring magnitudes: there are more of them, if the magnitude measured is greater; fewer of them, if the magnitude measured is less.

We must recognize that this analogy also holds of the minimum in the atom; it is only in minuteness that it differs from that which is observed by sense, but it follows the same analogy. On the analogy of things within our experience we have declared that the atom has magnitude; and this, small as it is, we have merely reproduced on a larger scale. And further, the least and simplest things must be regarded as extremities of lengths, furnishing from themselves as units the means of measuring lengths, whether greater or less, the mental vision being employed, since direct observation is impossible. For the community which exists between them and the unchangeable parts (the minimal parts of area or surface) is sufficient to justify the conclusion so far as this goes. But it is not possible that these minima of the atom should group themselves together through the possession of motion.

Further, we must not assert “up” and “down” of that which is unlimited, as if there were a zenith or nadir. As to the space overhead, however, if it be possible to draw a line to infinity from the point where we stand, we know that never will this space—or, for that matter, the space below the supposed standpoint if produced to infinity—appear to us to be at the same time “up” and “down” with reference to the same point; for this is inconceivable. Hence it is possible to assume one direction of motion, which we conceive as extending upwards ad infinitum, and another downwards, even if it should happen ten thousand times that what moves from us to the spaces above our heads reaches the feet of those above us, or that which moves downwards from us the heads of those below us. None the less is it true that the whole of the motion in the respective cases is conceived as extending in opposite directions ad infinitum.

When they are traveling through the void and meet with no resistance, the atoms must move with equal speed. Neither will heavy atoms travel more quickly than small and light ones, so long as nothing meets them, nor will small atoms travel more quickly than large ones, provided they always find a passage suitable to their size. and provided also that they meet with no obstruction. Nor will their upward or their lateral motion, which is due to collisions, nor again their downward motion, due to weight, affect their velocity. As long as either motion obtains, it must continue, quick as the speed of thought, provided there is no obstruction, whether due to external collision or to the atoms' own weight counteracting the force of the blow.

Moreover, when we come to deal with composite bodies, one of them will travel faster than another, although their atoms have equal speed. This is because the atoms in the aggregates are traveling in one direction a during the shortest continuous time, albeit they move in different directions in times so short as to be appreciable only by the reason, but frequently collide until the continuity of their motion is appreciated by sense. For the assumption that beyond the range of direct observation even the minute times conceivable by reason will present continuity of motion is not true in the case before us. Our canon is that direct observation by sense and direct apprehension by the mind are alone invariably true.

Next, keeping in view our perceptions and feelings (for so shall we have the surest grounds for belief), we must recognize generally that the soul is a corporeal thing, composed of fine particles, dispersed all over the frame, most nearly resembling wind with an admixture of heat, in some respects like wind, in others like heat. But, again, there is the third part which exceeds the other two in the fineness of its particles and thereby keeps in closer touch with the rest of the frame. And this is shown by the mental faculties and feelings, by the ease with which the mind moves, and by thoughts, and by all those things the loss of which causes death. Further, we must keep in mind that soul has the greatest share in causing sensation. Still, it would not have had sensation, had it not been somehow confined within the rest of the frame. But the rest of the frame, though it provides this indispensable conditions for the soul, itself also has a share, derived from the soul, of the said quality; and yet does not possess all the qualities of soul. Hence on the departure of the soul it loses sentience. For it had not this power in itself; but something else, congenital with the body, supplied it to body: which other thing, through the potentiality actualized in it by means of motion, at once acquired for itself a quality of sentience, and, in virtue of the neighborhood and interconnection between them, imparted it (as I said) to the body also.

Hence, so long as the soul is in the body, it never loses sentience through the removal of some other part. The containing sheaths may be dislocated in whole or in part, and portions of the soul may thereby be lost; yet in spite of this the soul, if it manage to survive, will have sentience. But the rest of the frame, whether the whole of it survives or only a part, no longer has sensation, when once those atoms have departed, which, however few in number, are required to constitute the nature of soul. Moreover, when the whole frame is broken up, the soul is scattered and has no longer the same powers as before, nor the same notions; hence it does not possess sentience either.

For we cannot think of it as sentient, except it be in this composite whole and moving with these movements; nor can we so think of it when the sheaths which enclose and surround it are not the same as those in which the soul is now located and in which it performs these movements.

There is the further point to be considered, what the incorporeal can be, if, I mean, according to current usage the term is applied to what can be conceived as self-existent. But it is impossible to conceive anything that is incorporeal as self-existent except empty space. And empty space cannot itself either act or be acted upon, but simply allows body to move through it. Hence those who call soul incorporeal speak foolishly. For if it were so, it could neither act nor be acted upon. But, as it is, both these properties, you see, plainly belong to soul.

If, then, we bring all these arguments concerning soul to the criterion of our feelings and perceptions, and if we keep in mind the proposition stated at the outset, we shall see that the subject has been adequately comprehended in outline: which will enable us to determine the details with accuracy and confidence.

Moreover, shapes and colors, magnitudes and weights, and in short all those qualities which are predicated of body, in so far as they are perpetual properties either of all bodies or of visible bodies, are knowable by sensation of these very properties: these, I say, must not be supposed to exist independently by themselves (for that is inconceivable), nor yet to be non-existent, nor to be some other and incorporeal entities cleaving to body, nor again to be parts of body. We must consider the whole body in a general way to derive its permanent nature from all of them, though it is not, as it were, formed by grouping them together in the same way as when from the particles themselves a larger aggregate is made up, whether these particles be primary or any magnitudes whatsoever less than the particular whole. All these qualities, I repeat, merely give the body its own permanent nature. They all have their own characteristic modes of being perceived and distinguished, but always along with the whole body in which they inhere and never in separation from it; and it is in virtue of this complete conception of the body as a whole that it is so designated.

Again, qualities often attach to bodies without being permanent concomitants. They are not to be classed among invisible entities nor are they incorporeal. Hence, using the term “accidents” in the commonest sense, we say plainly that “accidents” have not the nature of the whole thing to which they belong, and to which, conceiving it as a whole, we give the name of body, nor that of the permanent properties without which body cannot be thought of. And in virtue of certain peculiar modes of apprehension into which the complete body always enters, each of them can be called an accident. But only as often as they are seen actually to belong to it, since such accidents are not perpetual concomitants. There is no need to banish from reality this clear evidence that the accident has not the nature of that whole—by us called body—to which it belongs, nor of the permanent properties which accompany the whole. Nor, on the other hand, must we suppose the accident to have independent existence (for this is just as inconceivable in the case of accidents as in that of the permanent properties); but, as is manifest, they should all be regarded as accidents, not as permanent concomitants, of bodies, nor yet as having the rank of independent existence. Rather they are seen to be exactly as and what sensation itself makes them individually claim to be.

There is another thing which we must consider carefully. We must not investigate time as we do the other accidents which we investigate in a subject, namely, by referring them to the preconceptions envisaged in our minds; but we must take into account the plain fact itself, in virtue of which we speak of time as long or short, linking to it in intimate connection this attribute of duration. We need not adopt any fresh terms as preferable, but should employ the usual expressions about it. Nor need we predicate anything else of time, as if this something else contained the same essence as is contained in the proper meaning of the word “time” (for this also is done by some). We must chiefly reflect upon that to which we attach this peculiar character of time, and by which we measure it. No further proof is required: we have only to reflect that we attach the attribute of time to days and nights and their parts, and likewise to feelings of pleasure and pain and to neutral states, to states of movement and states of rest, conceiving a peculiar accident of these to be this very characteristic which we express by the word “time.”

After the foregoing we have next to consider that the worlds and every finite aggregate which bears a strong resemblance to things we commonly see have arisen out of the infinite. For all these, whether small or great, have been separated off from special conglomerations of atoms; and all things are again dissolved, some faster, some slower, some through the action of one set of causes, others through the action of another.

And further, we must not suppose that the worlds have necessarily one and the same shape. For nobody can prove that in one sort of world there might not be contained, whereas in another sort of world there could not possibly be, the seeds out of which animals and plants arise and all the rest of the things we see.

Again, we must suppose that nature too has been taught and forced to learn many various lessons by the facts themselves, that reason subsequently develops what it has thus received and makes fresh discoveries, among some tribes more quickly, among others more slowly, the progress thus made being at certain times and seasons greater, at others less.

Hence even the names of things were not originally due to convention, but in the several tribes under the impulse of special feelings and special presentations of sense primitive man uttered special cries. The air thus emitted was molded by their individual feelings or sense-presentations, and differently according to the difference of the regions which the tribes inhabited. Subsequently whole tribes adopted their own special names, in order that their communications might be less ambiguous to each other and more briefly expressed. And as for things not visible, so far as those who were conscious of them tried to introduce any such notion, they put in circulation certain names for them, either sounds which they were instinctively compelled to utter or which they selected by reason on analogy according to the most general cause there can be for expressing oneself in such a way.

Nay more: we are bound to believe that in the sky revolutions, solstices, eclipses, risings and settings, and the like, take place without the ministration or command, either now or in the future, of any being who it the same time enjoys perfect bliss along with immortality. For troubles and anxieties and feelings of anger and partiality do not accord with bliss, but always imply weakness and fear and dependence upon one's neighbors. Nor, again, must we hold that things which are no more than globular masses of fire, being at the same time endowed with bliss, assume these motions at will. Nay, in every term we use we must hold fast to all the majesty which attaches to such notions as bliss and immortality, lest the terms should generate opinions inconsistent with this majesty. Otherwise such inconsistency will of itself suffice to produce the worst disturbance in our minds. Hence, where we find phenomena invariably recurring, the invariability of the recurrence must be ascribed to the original interception and conglomeration of atoms whereby the world was formed.

Further, we must hold that to arrive at accurate knowledge of the cause of things of most moment is the business of natural science, and that happiness depends on this (viz. on the knowledge of celestial and atmospheric phenomena), and upon knowing what the heavenly bodies really are, and any kindred facts contributing to exact knowledge in this respect.

Further, we must recognize on such points as this no plurality of causes or contingency, but must hold that nothing suggestive of conflict or disquiet is compatible with an immortal and blessed nature. And the mind can grasp the absolute truth of this.

But when we come to subjects for special inquiry, there is nothing in the knowledge of risings and settings and solstices and eclipses and all kindred subjects that contributes to our happiness; but those who are well-informed about such matters and yet are ignorant—what the heavenly bodies really are, and what are the most important causes of phenomena, feel quite as much fear as those who have no such special information—nay, perhaps even greater fear, when the curiosity excited by this additional knowledge cannot find a solution or understand the subordination of these phenomena to the highest causes.

Hence, if we discover more than one cause that may account for solstices, settings and risings, eclipses and the like, as we did also in particular matters of detail, we must not suppose that our treatment of these matters fails of accuracy, so far as it is needful to ensure our tranquillity and happiness. When, therefore, we investigate the causes of celestial and atmospheric phenomena, as of all that is unknown, we must take into account the variety of ways in which analogous occurrences happen within our experience; while as for those who do not recognize the difference between what is or comes about from a single cause and that which may be the effect of any one of several causes, overlooking the fact that the objects are only seen at a distance, and are moreover ignorant of the conditions that render, or do not render, peace of mind impossible—all such persons we must treat with contempt. If then we think that an event could happen in one or other particular way out of several, we shall be as tranquil when we recognize that it actually comes about in more ways than one as if we knew that it happens in this particular way.

There is yet one more point to seize, namely, that the greatest ,anxiety of the human mind arises through the belief that the heavenly bodies are blessed and indestructible, and that at the same time they have volition and actions and causality inconsistent with this belief; and through expecting or apprehending some everlasting evil, either because of the myths, or because we are in dread of the mere insensibility of death, as if it had to do with us; and through being reduced to this state not by conviction but by a certain irrational perversity, so that, if men do not set bounds to their terror, they endure as much or even more intense anxiety than the man whose views on these matters are quite vague. But mental tranquillity means being released from all these troubles and cherishing a continual remembrance of the highest and most important truths.

Hence we must attend to present feelings and sense perceptions, whether those of mankind in general or those peculiar to the individual, and also attend to all the clear evidence available, as given by each of the standards of truth. For by studying them we shall rightly trace to its cause and banish the source of disturbance and dread, accounting for celestial phenomena and for all other things which from time to time befall us and cause the utmost alarm to the rest of mankind.

Here then, Herodotus, you have the chief doctrines of Physics in the form of a summary. So that, if this statement be accurately retained and take effect, a man will, I make no doubt, be incomparably better equipped than his fellows, even if he should never go into all the exact details. For he will clear up for himself many of the points which I have worked out in detail in my complete exposition; and the summary itself, if borne in mind, will be of constant service to him.

It is of such a sort that those who are already tolerably, or even perfectly, well acquainted with the details can, by analysis of what they know into such elementary perceptions as these, best prosecute their researches in physical science as a whole; while those, on the other hand, who are not altogether entitled to rank as mature students can in silent fashion and as quick as thought run over the doctrines most important for their peace of mind.