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After the time of Aristotle, philosophy declined with accelerating rapidity, degenerating more and more into a shallow popular moralizing, loosely grouped around a few superficial foundation-thoughts, and consisting, for the most part, simply in unconnected observations on isolated topics. The decline of thought manifests itself in a constantly growing inappreciation of the objective significancy and validity of the moral idea, which latter assumes more and more an individually-subjective character, even in cases where it seemingly subordinates the subject to 127itself, as in Stoicism,—or subordinates the same to nature, as in Epicureanism,—and the decline reaches its lowest point in the total doing away with all general and objective significancy of the moral idea, in Skepticism.

The moral theories that rise after Aristotle are in no sense vigorous and truly philosophical products of thought; they are but feeble out-shoots of the antecedent, more vigorous spirit-life, without bloom and without fruit. Moreover they stand less closely connected with Plato and Aristotle than with certain other tendencies of thought that sprang from the influence of Socrates. On the basis of the Cyrenaics sprang up Epicureanism; on that of the Cynics, Stoicism; while the last form of Greek philosophy, also in the sphere of ethics, namely, Skepticism, may be regarded as a further development of the tendency of the Sophists.

By Socrates this much was gained, that the moral, rational subject was recognized in his freedom and rights, that the moral idea in general had come to consciousness. With Plato and Aristotle, however, this freedom and this idea are not of a merely individual, subjective character, but they are brought into relation to the living whole of rational reality. A course of action is not good for the reason that I regard it as such, but I must regard it as good because it is good per se; the moral has essentially a general and objective validity. The later philosophy holds one-sidedly fast to the position. gained by Socrates,—makes of the subjective consciousness the highest criterion of truth, even in moral things, and that too in its individual, absolutely self-dependent character, apart from any organic union with the rational whole. The good is good because I recognize it as such. In this subjectivistic tendency, philosophy turns away from Aristotle and falls into the channel rather of the earlier schools, but with a still stronger emphasizing of the subject. Hence also the interest for general and for natural philosophy grows less, and attention is concentrated on the subjective, on morality, and this consists now essentially in subjective opinions; lacking in fundamental ideas, it becomes feeble, lax, shallow; it 128comes into the hands of the masses, and, in this marsh-like out-spreading, it becomes stagnant and spiritless; in the place of philosophical schools proper we find hostile parties, as it were, confessional sects of the mass of the cultured, a party spirit which supplies for these sects the place of their already-vanished religion; every cultured person sought to belong to some such philosophical. sect, and he selected and molded it according to his own taste, and. the choice itself of the school became really simply a matter of taste.—The original antithesis of Greek philosophy, as Materialism and Spiritualism, as Ionic and Eleatic philosophy, which appeared later as the antithesis of the Cyrenaics and the Cynics, repeats itself, especially in the sphere of ethics, as Epicureanism and Stoicism; the former regards the spirit as determined by nature; the latter, nature as determined by the spirit.

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