JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Part First. History of Ancient Philosophy.

General View. Division.

§ 2.

1. In any general view of the history of the pre-Christian period, our attention is first drawn to the East, the cradle of human civilization. The history of Philosophy will therefore begin with an exposition of the Philosophy of the Eastern nations. Generally speaking, however, Philosophy, among these nations, is not met with as an independent science, standing apart from systems of religious teaching. Among them, philosophical theories are, as a rule, identified with doctrines of religion. In India alone do we find a system of strictly philosophical doctrines; but even here Philosophy stands in close relation to Religion. It is either a speculative development of religious doctrines, or it is framed in antagonism to a religious system whose principles it directly or indirectly combats. The history of Eastern Philosophy will, therefore, do no more than, firstly, bring into prominence the philosophical elements of the several Oriental religions; and secondly, give an account of those more strictly philosophical systems which, in India, took their place beside the doctrines of Religion. Oriental Philosophy, as we have said, does not exhibit the characteristics of a philosophy in the strict sense of the term; but it cannot, for this reason, be left out of sight altogether. As we shall show further on, an attempt was made at a later date to blend together certain notions derived from the East with certain conceptions of the Greek mind, and the attempt gave rise to peculiar systems of Philosophy.

2. From the East we turn to the West, and first of all to Greece. Here we come upon the birthplace of Philosophy strictly so called -- Philosophy which is no longer a body of religious doctrines. The Eastern mind, with its innate tendency to inactive Quietism, did not possess that mobility and energy which the construction of strictly philosophical systems demanded. But these gifts were abundantly possessed by the Greeks. To them genuine Philosophy owes its origin. The history of ancient Pbiosophy is, therefore, mainly concerned with the creations of the Greek mind. To the Greeks we are indebted for those great and strikingly original systems which mark the highest level of philosophic thought in antiquity, and which, for this reason, have exercised an incalculable influence upon succeeding ages. The Philosophy of the Romans was an offshoot from the Greek, not a development of it. The Romans adopted the ideas and systems current in Greece, explaining or modifying them after their fashion. But they have given us no philosophical system of their own creation.

3. Later, about the time when the Christian Revelation was first preached to the world, in the city of Alexandria, which under the Ptolemies and the Romans had become a great centre of intellectual activity, there arose a philosophical school which strove to unite the religious doctrines of the East with the teachings of Greek Philosophy. "From the philosophical systems of the Greeks and the religious doctrines which had obtained currency chiefly in the East it chose out what seemed likely to meet the moral and intellectual needs of mankind." Its procedure was purely eclectic -- a method by which it hoped to reach the goal of perfect knowledge. The movement lasted far into the Christian period; not before the sixth century of our era did it come finally to an end. It is, nevertheless, to be treated as belonging to ancient Philosophy. It lay without the sphere of Christianity; the Christian doctrines seem to have exerted no influence on the authors of the systems that belong to it.

4. We thus perceive that the ancient Philosophy did not at once make way for the Christian Revelation. Just as Paganism did not disappear as soon as Christianity was preached, but yielded slowly before it; so was it with the ancient Philosophy. Though it had fallen from its high estate, and had degenerated partly into Scepticism, partly into Materialism, it gathered all its remaining energies together in the effort to make head against the might of Christianity, and to maintain its hold on the minds of men. The effort, it is true, ended in failure; the old Philosophy paled before the light of the Gospel, and perished at last from the sheer weakness of age. But, for all this, it played an important part in the history of the early ages of Christianity, and the writer of a History of Philosophy must not omit to take notice of it as it appeared in its latest phases.

5. The history of ancient Philosophy, then, may be divided into three sections: --

The first section deals with Oriental Philosophy, whether embodied in religious systems or developed in close relation with them.

The second section comprises the history of Greek Philosophy and of the Roman Philosophy which arose out of it, and follows both as far as they extend into the Christian period.

The third section embraces the Graeco-Oriental Philosophy, its rise in Alexandria out of the blending of Oriental religion with Greek Philosophy, and its course through the ages that followed till its final extinction in the sixth century.

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