Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER I

THE IONIAN PHILOSOPHY, AND ITS DIVISIONS.

The origin of philosophy, as a science, is involved in obscurity, not less from the contradictory traditions relative to its earliest sources, than from the impossibility to assign a commencement to a pursuit resulting from the. desire of the soul itself to arrive at truth. In this respect, children who are especially observant of every change in the material world may be said to philosophize. There is no doubt, however, but that the Divine revelation made to the Hebrews, the most ancient people of whom we have any clear history, was the source whence logical and ethical contemplation was derived.

Aristotle, in his notice of the Chaldean magi, places them prior to the Egyptian priests, or before the time of Moses; yet their science, which was chiefly astronomical, their method,

and the general idea of their cosmogony, prove that early truth in some degree remained, notwithstanding the darkness of tradition, and those abuses of priestcraft and superstition which tended to introduce idolatry. They taught that all things in the beginning consisted of darkness and water, that a superhuman power divided this humid mass, and that the mind of man is an emanation from the nature of God. Again, high antiquity is ascribed to the Indian doctrines, in which we trace a further mystification arising from the division of the nation into castes, and from the priests retaining the key of knowledge, which they delivered only to the initiated. Thus gross delusions were instilled into the minds of the people by the use of symbols, subsequently confounded with the proper objects of worship, and this mental darkness was naturally encouraged by artful and selfish teachers, who abused the superstition of their countrymen to the increase of their own power.

Unrenewed by grace, the mind arrogates independence, and claims a despotic sway over the hearts of others; indeed, the “pious frauds" (as they are termed) and gross deceits of popery prove this evil disposition to be just as rife and

vigorous as the endeavour of Indian priests to establish the errors of their system. The better portion of it consisted in the belief of the existence of the Spirit of God, whom they styled Brahm, omnipotent and omniscient, without decay or passion, Author of intellectual and natural life, the source of the human soul; but with this they held the doctrine of the metempsychosis, or that the soul, after many transmigrations into other bodies, was finally absorbed in its parent substance. As it is quaintly expressed in the Geeta : "Throw• ing aside his old clothes, the man puts on others that are new; thus our life, quitting the old, go to other newer animals." Mathematical astronomy appears to have been scientifically cultivated by them; but their physical notion of the world was most extravagant, for they conceived a system of fourteen spheres, the earth being one, with seven below and six above it; the former full of monsters, the latter a series of successively increasing scenes of happiness.

The Greeks derived their learning from Egypt, in which country, according to Herodotus, the immortality and pre-existence of the soul were first asserted ; and Thoth, called by the Greeks Hermes, and by the Romans Mercury-according to Diodorus Siculus, the chief minister to Osiris — is acknowledged as the founder of Egyptian learning. The world, as he taught, was formed from chaos by an intelligent energy; it tends, however, constantly to decay, and after undergoing a periodical conflagration, is restored to its original form, to pass again through successive changes. Yet, notwithstanding the assertion of Plutarch, that the doctrines of Thales, the father of Greek philosophy, were received from the Egyptian priests, and of Herodotus, that the Greek gods were of Egyptian origin, there is great doubt whether the earliest Grecian philosophy sprang from the east, except with at least as much error as original truth. This doubt is corroborated by several circumstances. Plato mentions Egyptian philosophy with contempt; the haughty Greek was, of all men, the most indisposed to receive instruction from those whom he considered barbarians; the distinct character of their two mythologies, the former embodying divinity in beautiful, the latter in brutal, emblems; the reluctance of the priests to communicate secret learning to strangers ; these are cogent reasons for the

supposition that eastern philosophy did not migrate into Greece, except under the most debased development.

The earliest instructors of the Greeks were Cecrops, Cadmus, and Orpheus ; the last of whom introduced a general polytheism ; and although his visit into Egypt had evidently instilled into his mind the acknowledgment of one self-existent God or Life, yet this doctrine was considerably disguised by fable. In fact, polytheism itself results in the same manner as we trace the modes of it in the worship of the modern savage, who bows down to a stock or stone, from the erroneous opinion, entertained alike by ancient priests and by modern objectors to the doctrine of particular providence, that the Deity is too great to be approached, or to take cognisance directly of human circumstances; and hence God's works are deified to meet the low apprehensions of the people. Hence, also, the early worship of the nomad tribes embodied the idea of the Almighty Creator as typified by the sun ; yet amongst all these tortuous windings we may frequently recognise traces of a better knowledge. Not that we are to conceive that polytheism erased all notion of the Deity, or that

« VorigeDoorgaan »