Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


Sources. Besides our primary sources, consisting of treatises and commentaries of the philosophers of Aristotle's school, we have, as secondary sources, the works of Diogenes Laertius and the references made by Cicero, who, it should be said, is more trustworthy when he mentions the Peripatetics than when he speaks of the pre-Socratic philosophers.

Theophrastus of Lesbos was born about the same year as Aristotle. He seems to have become Aristotle's disciple even before the death of Plato. After Aristotle's death he ruled the Peripatetic school as scholarch for about thirty-five years. He wrote many works, of which the best known are two treatises on botany and his Ethical Characters, the latter consisting of lifelike delineations of types of human character. He extended and completed Aristotle's philosophy of nature, devoting special attention to the science of botany. In his ethical doctrines he insisted on the choregia secured to virtue by the possession of external goods.{1}

Of the life of Eudemus of Rhodes little is known except that he and Theophrastus were disciples of Aristotle at the same time. It is probable that he continued to belong to the school when Theophrastus became scholarch. He is the author of the Eudemian Ethics, which, however, is merely a redaction of Aristotle's notes, or at most a treatise intended to supplement Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.{2} In his writings and doctrines Eudemus shows far less originality and independence than does Theophrastus.

Aritoxenus of Tarentum, known as the Musician, introduced into the Peripatetic philosophy many of the ideas of the Pythagoreans, attaching especial importance to the notion of harmony.

Strato of Lampsacus, the Physicist, succeeded Theophrastus as scholarch ip 288 B.C., and continued to preside over the school for eighteen years. Like his predecessor, he devoted his attention to the study of nature, manifesting, however, a tendency to discard from natural philosophy the teleological concept and the idea of the incorporeal.

Demetrius of Phalerus and others of the earlier Peripatetics confined their literary labors to general history and the history of opinions.

Among the later Peripatetics mention must be made of Andronicus of Rhodes, who edited the works of Aristotle (about 70 B.C.). To the second century of our era belong Alexander of Aphrodisiae, the Exegete, and Aristocles of Messene. To the third century belongs Porphyry, and to the sixth century Philoponus and Simpliclus. All these, though they belonged to Neo-Platonic or Eclectic schools, enriched the literature of the Peripatetic school by their commentaries on Aristotle. The physician Galen, born about 131 A.D., is also reckoned among the interpreters of Aristotle.

Retrospect. The second period of Greek philosophy has been characterized as subjectivo-objective. Compared with the preceding period, it is subjective, -- that is, it diverts the mind of the inquirer from the problems of nature to those of thought. Compared with the period immediately following, it is objective, -- that is, it is not concerned solely with ethical problems and the problems of the value of knowledge; it is not wholly subjective. Historically the period is short, not extending over more than three generations. Yet in that brief space of time much was accomplished. It is, perhaps, because the period was so short, and because it was dominated by three men, each of whom stood to his predecessor in the relation of personal disciple, that there exists so perfect an organic unity among the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The philosophy of Socrates was the philosophy of the concept, -- it was concerned with the inquiry into the conditions of scientific knowledge and the basis of ethics. The philosophy of Plato was the philosophy of the Idea, -- it claimed to be a scientific study of reality, a system of metaphysics. The philosophy of Aristotle was centered around the notion of essence, and essence implies the fundamental dualism of matter and form. It is in Aristotle's philosophy, therefore, that the objective and subjective are united in the highest and most perfect synthesis; for organic unity is compatible with growth in organic complexity. The concept is the simplest expression of the union of subject and object; next in complexity is the Idea, which is a form of being and knowing existing apart from what is and what is known, while highest in complexity is the essence, which is in part the matter and in part the form existing in the reality and also in the object of knowledge. From Socrates to Aristotle there is, therefore, a true development, the historical formula of which is ideally compact, -- concept, Idea, and essence.

{1} Cf. Cic., Tusculanae Disputationes, V, 8.

{2} Cf. Zeller's Arist., etc., Vol. I, p. 97, n.

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