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We have now reached the great point on which the Stoic ethics differed from that of Plato and Aristotle. The two latter, while upholding virtue as the highest good, allowed external advantages like pleasure and exemption from pain to enter into their definition of perfect happiness; nor did they demand the entire suppression of passion, but, on the contrary, assigned it to a certain part in the formation of character. We must add, although it was not a point insisted on by the ancient critics, that they did not bring out the socially beneficent character of virtue with anything like the distinctness of their successors. The Stoics, on the other hand, refused to admit that there was any good but a virtuous will, or that any useful purpose could be served by irrational feeling. If the passions agree with virtue they are superfluous, if they are opposed to it they are mischievous; and once we give them the rein they are more likely to disagree with than to obey it.5222 The severer school had more reason on their side than is commonly admitted. Either there is no such thing as duty at all, or duty must be paramount over every other motivethat is to say, a perfect man will discharge his obligations at the sacrifice of every personal advantage. There is no pleasure that he will not renounce, no pain that he will not endure, rather than leave them unfulfilled. But to assume this supremacy over his will, duty must be incommensurable with any other motive; if it is a good at all, it must be the only good. To identify virtue with happiness seems to us absurd, because we are accustomed to associate it exclusively with those dispositions which are the cause of happiness in others, or altruism; and happiness itself with pleasure or the absence of pain, which are states of feeling necessarily conceived as egoistic. But neither the Stoics nor any other ancient moralists recognised such a distinction. All agreed that public and private interest must somehow be identified; the only question being, should one be merged in the other, and if so, which? or should there be an illogical compromise between the two. The alternative chosen by Zeno was incomparably nobler than the method of Epicurus, while it was more consistent than the methods of Plato and Aristotle. He regarded right conduct exclusively in the light of those universal interests with which alone it is properly concerned; and if he appealed to the motives supplied by personal happiness, this was a confusion of phraseology rather than of thought.Attention has already been called to the fact that Epicurus, although himself indifferent to physical science, was obliged, by the demands of the age, to give it a place, and a very large place, in his philosophy. Now it was to this very side of Epicureanism that the fresh intellect of Rome most eagerly attached itself. It is a great mistake to suppose that the Romans, or rather the ancient Italians, were indifferent to speculations about the nature of things. No one has given more eloquent expression to the enthusiasm excited by such enquiries than Virgil. Seneca devoted a volume to physical questions, and regretted that worldly distractions should prevent them from being studied with the assiduity they deserved. The elder Pliny lost his life in observing the eruption of Vesuvius. It was probably the imperial despotism, with its repeated persecutions of the Mathematicians, which alone prevented Italy from entering on the great scientific career for which she was predestined in after ages. At any rate, a spirit of active curiosity was displaying itself during the last days of the republic, and we are told that nearly all the Roman Epicureans applied themselves particularly to the physical side of their masters doctrine.202 Most of all was Lucretius distinguished by a veritable passion for science, which haunted him even in his dreams.203 Hence, while Epicurus regarded the knowledge of Nature simply as a means for overthrowing religion, with his disciple the speculative interest seems to precede every other consideration, and religion is only introduced afterwards as an obstacle to be removed from the enquirers path. How far his natural genius might have carried the poet in this direction, had he fallen into better hands, we cannot tell. As it was, the gift of what seemed a complete and infallible interpretation of physical phenomena relieved him from the necessity of independent investigation, and induced him to accept the most preposterous conclusions as demonstrated truths. But we can see how105 he is drawn by an elective affinity to that early Greek thought whence Epicurus derived whatever was of any real value in his philosophy.
"And you know all about her early haunts?"Yet if Platos theology, from its predominantly rational character, seemed to neglect some feelings which were better182 satisfied by the earlier or the later faiths of mankind, we cannot say that it really excluded them. The unfading strength of the old gods was comprehended in the self-existence of absolute ideas, and moral goodness was only a particular application of reason to the conduct of life. An emotional or imaginative element was also contributed by the theory that every faculty exercised without a reasoned consciousness of its processes and aims was due to some saving grace and inspiration from a superhuman power. It was thus, according to Plato, that poets and artists were able to produce works of which they were not able to render an intelligent account; and it was thus that society continued to hold together with such an exceedingly small amount of wisdom and virtue. Here, however, we have to observe a marked difference between the religious teachers pure and simple, and the Greek philosopher who was a dialectician even more than he was a divine. For Plato held that providential government was merely provisional; that the inspired prophet stood on a distinctly lower level than the critical, self-conscious thinker; that ratiocination and not poetry was the highest function of mind; and that action should be reorganised in accordance with demonstrably certain principles.118
"Who told you that it was a portrait of--I mean where did you----"The good man's face became quite cheerful, he grasped my hand, deeply moved, and, pressing it warmly, said:
"Now where does this come in?" he asked himself. "There isn't a grate in the house that has been touched for years. And this cake is not quite dry yet. And a bit of yellow soap in the tray over the sink that would be as hard as a chip if it had been here since the people left. But it hasn't. Murderer may have washed his hands, which is exceedingly likely, but what did he want blacklead for?"
We are told that when his end began to approach, the dying philosopher was pressed to choose a successor in the headship of the School. The manner in which he did this is289 characteristic of his singular gentleness and unwillingness to give offence. It was understood that the choice must lie between his two most distinguished pupils, Theophrastus of Lesbos, and Eudmus of Rhodes. Aristotle asked for specimens of the wine grown in those islands. He first essayed the Rhodian vintage, and praised it highly, but remarked after tasting the other, The Lesbian is sweeter, thus revealing his preference for Theophrastus, who accordingly reigned over the Lyceum in his stead.179