In 347 Plato died, leaving his nephew Speusippus to succeed him in the headship of the Academy. Aristotle then left Athens, accompanied by another Platonist, Xenocrates, a circumstance tending to prove that his relations with the school continued to be of a cordial character. The two settled in Atarneus, at the invitation of its tyrant Hermeias, an old fellow-student from the Academy. Hermeias was a eunuch who had risen from the position of a slave to that of vizier, and then, after his master’s death, to the possession of supreme power. Three years subsequently a still more abrupt turn of fortune brought his adventurous career to a close. Like Polycrates, he was treacherously seized and crucified by order of the Persian Government. Aristotle, who had married Pythias, his deceased patron’s niece, fled with her to Mitylênê. Always grateful, and singularly enthusiastic in his attachments, he celebrated the memory of Hermeias in a manner which gave great offence to the religious sentiment of Hellas, by dedicating a statue to him at Delphi, and composing an elegy, still extant, in which he compares the eunuch-despot to Heracles, the Dioscuri, Achilles, and Ajax; and promises him immortality from the Muses in honour of Xenian Zeus.All these, however, are mere questions of detail. It is on a subject of the profoundest philosophical importance that Aristotle differs most consciously, most radically, and most fatally from his predecessors. They were evolutionists, and he was a stationarist. They were mechanicists, and he was a teleologist. They were uniformitarians, and he was a dualist. It is true that, as we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Mr. Edwin Wallace makes him ‘recognise the genesis of things by evolution and development,’ but the meaning of this phrase requires to be cleared up. In one sense it is, of course, almost an identical proposition. The genesis of things must be by genesis of some kind or other. The great question is, what things have been evolved, and how have they been evolved? Modern science tells us, that not only have all particular aggregates of matter and motion now existing come into being within a finite period of time, but also that the specific types under which we arrange those aggregates have equally been generated; and that their characteristics, whether structural or functional, can only be understood by tracing out their origin and history. And it further teaches us that the properties of every aggregate result from the properties of its ultimate elements, which, within the limits of our experience, remain absolutely unchanged. Now, Aristotle taught very nearly the contrary of all this. He believed that the cosmos, as we now know it, had existed, and would continue to exist, unchanged through all eternity. The sun, moon, planets, and stars, together with the orbs containing them, are composed of an absolutely ungenerable, incorruptible substance. The earth, a cold, heavy, solid sphere, though liable to superficial changes, has always occupied its present position in the centre of the universe.317 The specific forms of animal life—except a few which are produced spontaneously—have, in like manner, been preserved unaltered through an infinite series of generations. Man shares the common lot. There is no continuous progress of civilisation. Every invention and discovery has been made and lost an infinite number of times. Our philosopher could not, of course, deny that individual living things come into existence and gradually grow to maturity; but he insists that their formation is teleologically determined by the parental type which they are striving to realise. He asks whether we should study a thing by examining how it grows, or by examining its completed form: and Mr. Wallace quotes the question without quoting the answer.203 Aristotle tells us that the genetic method was followed by his predecessors, but that the other method is his. And he goes on to censure Empedocles for saying that many things in the animal body are due simply to mechanical causation; for example, the segmented structure of the backbone, which that philosopher attributes to continued doubling and twisting—the very same explanation, we believe, that would be given of it by a modern evolutionist.204 Finally, Aristotle assumes the only sort of transformation which we deny, and which Democritus equally denied—that is to say, the transformation of the ultimate elements into one another by the oscillation of an indeterminate matter between opposite qualities.swap
Ghastly reminders of their former feasts.192After much searching, we have not been able to find the originals of the two passages quoted by Sir A. Grant. We have, however, found others setting forth the doctrine of Natural Realism with a clearness which leaves nothing to be desired. Aristotle tells us that former naturalists were wrong when they said that there could be no black or white without vision, and no taste without tasting; that is, they were right about the actuality, and wrong about the possibility; for, as he explains, our sensations are produced by the action of external bodies on the appropriate organs, the activity being the same while the existence is different. A sonorous body produces a sound in our hearing; the sound perceived and the action of the body are identical, but not their existence; for, he adds, the hearer need not be always listening, nor the sonorous body sounding; and so with all the other senses.267 Chris Down In defence of swap: common misconceptions CC BY-SA 4.0 CC BY-SA 4.0
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It may safely be assumed that the prejudices once entertained against Epicureanism are now extinct. Whatever may have been the speculative opinions of its founder, he had as good a right to them as the Apostles had to theirs; nor did he stand further aloof from the popular religion of any age than Aristotle, who has generally been in high favour with theologians. His practical teaching was directed towards the constant inculcation of virtue; nor was it belied by the conduct either of himself or of his disciples, even judged by the standard of the schools to which they were most opposed. And some of his physical theories, once rejected as self-evidently absurd, are now proved to be in harmony with the sober conclusions of modern science. At any rate, it is not in this quarter, as our readers will doubtless have already perceived, that the old prejudices, if they still exist, are likely to find an echo. Just now, indeed, the danger is not that Epicurus should be depreciated, but that his merits should obtain far more than their proper meed of recognition. It seems to be forgotten that what was best in his physics he borrowed from others, and that what he added was of less than no value; that he was ignorant or careless of demonstrated truths; that his avowed principles of belief were inconsistent with any truth rising above the level of vulgar apprehension; and finally, that in his system scientific interests were utterly subordinated to practical interests.
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