A History of Philosophy in Epitome Part 1

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A History of Philosophy in Epitome.

by Albert Schwegler.



The History of Philosophy, by Dr. Albert Schwegler, is considered in Germany as the best concise manual upon the subject from the school of Hegel. Its account of the Greek and of the German systems, is of especial value and importance. It presents the whole history of speculation in its consecutive order. Though following the method of Hegel's more extended lectures upon the progress of philosophy, and though it makes the system of Hegel to be the ripest product of philosophy, yet it also rests upon independent investigations. It will well reward diligent study, and is one of the best works for a text-book in our colleges, upon this neglected branch of scientific investigation.

The translation is made by a competent person, and gives, I doubt not, a faithful rendering of the original.




Schwegler's History of Philosophy originally appeared in the "_Neue Encyklopadie fur Wissenschaften und Kunste_." Its great value soon awakened a call for its separate issue, in which form it has attained a very wide circulation in Germany. It is found in the hands of almost every student in the philosophical department of a German university, and is highly esteemed for its clearness, conciseness, and comprehensiveness.

The present translation was commenced in Germany three years ago, and has been carefully finished. It was undertaken with the conviction that the work would not lose its interest or its value in an English dress, and with the hope that it might be of wider service in such a form to students of philosophy here. It was thought especially, that a proper translation of this manual would supply a want for a suitable text-book on this branch of study, long felt by both teachers and students in our American colleges.

The effort has been made to translate, and not to paraphrase the author's meaning. Many of his statements might have been amplified without diffuseness, and made more perceptible to the superficial reader without losing their interest to the more profound student, but he has so happily seized upon the germs of the different systems, that they neither need, nor would be improved by any farther development, and has, moreover, presented them so clearly, that no student need have any difficulty in apprehending them as they are. The translator has therefore endeavored to represent faithfully and clearly the original history. As such, he offers his work to the American public, indulging no hope, and making no efforts for its success beyond that which its own merits shall ensure.

J. H. S.

SCHENECTADY, N. Y., _January, 1856_.



To philosophize is to reflect; to examine things, in thought.

Yet in this is the conception of philosophy not sufficiently defined.

Man, as thinking, also employs those practical activities concerned in the adaptation of means to an end; the whole body of sciences also, even those which do not in strict sense belong to philosophy, still lie in the realm of thought. In what, then, is philosophy distinguished from these sciences, _e. g._ from the science of astronomy, of medicine, or of rights? Certainly not in that it has a different material to work upon. Its material is precisely the same as that of the different empirical sciences. The construction and disposition of the universe, the arrangement and functions of the human body, the doctrines of property, of rights and of the state-all these materials belong as truly to philosophy as to their appropriate sciences. That which is given in the world of experience, that which is real, is the content likewise of philosophy. It is not, therefore, in its material but in its form, in its method, in its mode of knowledge, that philosophy is to be distinguished from the empirical sciences. These latter derive their material directly from experience; they find it at hand and take it up just as they find it. Philosophy, on the other hand, is never satisfied with receiving that which is given simply as it is given, but rather follows it out to its ultimate grounds; it examines every individual thing in reference to a final principle, and considers it as one link in the whole chain of knowledge. In this way philosophy removes from the individual thing given in experience, its immediate, individual, and accidental character; from the sea of empirical individualities, it brings out that which is common to all; from the infinite and orderless ma.s.s of contingencies it finds that which is necessary, and throws over all a universal law. In short, philosophy examines the _totality_ of experience in the form of an _organic system_ in harmony with the laws of thought. From the above it is seen, that philosophy (in the sense we have given it) and the empirical sciences have a reciprocal influence; the latter conditioning the former, while they at the same time are conditioned by it. We shall, therefore, in the history of the world, no more find an absolute and complete philosophy, than a complete empirical science (_Empirik_). Rather is philosophy found only in the form of the different philosophical systems, which have successively appeared in the course of history, advancing hand in hand with the progress of the empirical sciences and the universal, social, and civil culture, and showing in their advance the different steps in the development and improvement of human science. The history of philosophy has, for its object, to represent the content, the succession, and the inner connection of these philosophical systems.

The relation of these different systems to each other is thus already intimated. The historical and collective life of the race is bound together by the idea of a spiritual and intellectual progress, and manifests a regular order of advancing, though not always continuous, stages of development. In this, the fact harmonizes with what we should expect from antecedent probabilities. Since, therefore, every philosophical system is only the philosophical expression of the collective life of its time, it follows that these different systems which have appeared in history will disclose one organic movement and form together one rational and internally connected (_gegliedertes_) system. In all their developments, we shall find one constant order, grounded in the striving of the spirit ever to raise itself to a higher point of consciousness and knowledge, and to recognize the whole spiritual and natural universe, more and more, as its outward being, as its reality, as the mirror of itself.

_Hegel_ was the first to utter these thoughts and to consider the history of philosophy as a united process, but this view, which is, in its principle, true, he has applied in a way which would destroy the freedom of human actions, and remove the very conception of contingency, _i. e._ that any thing should be contrary to reason. Hegel's view is, that the succession of the systems of philosophy which have appeared in history, corresponds to the succession of logical categories in a system of logic. According to him, if, from the fundamental conceptions of these different philosophical systems, we remove that which pertains to their outward form or particular application, &c., so do we find the different steps of the logical conceptions (_e. g._ being, becoming, existence, being _per se_ (_fursichseyn_) quant.i.ty, &c.). And on the other hand, if we take up the logical process by itself, we find also in it the actual historical process.

This opinion, however, can be sustained neither in its principle nor in its historical application. It is defective in its principle, because in history freedom and necessity interpenetrate, and, therefore, while we find, if we consider it in its general aspects, a rational connection running through the whole, we also see, if we look solely at its individual parts, only a play of numberless contingencies, just as the kingdom of nature, taken as a whole, reveals a rational plan in its successions, but viewed only in its parts, mocks at every attempt to reduce them to a preconceived plan. In history we have to do with free subjectivities, with individuals capable of originating actions, and have, therefore, a factor which does not admit of a previous calculation. For however accurately we may estimate the controlling conditions which may attach to an individual, from the general circ.u.mstances in which he may be placed, his age, his a.s.sociations, his nationality, &c., a free will can never be calculated like a mathematical problem. History is no example for a strict arithmetical calculation. The history of philosophy, therefore, cannot admit of an apriori construction; the actual occurrences should not be joined together as ill.u.s.trative of a preconceived plan; but the facts, so far as they can be admitted, after a critical sifting, should be received as such, and their rational connection be a.n.a.lytically determined. The speculative idea can only supply the law for the arrangement and scientific connection of that which may be historically furnished.

A more comprehensive view, which contradicts the above-given Hegelian notion, is the following. The actual historical development is, very generally, different from the theoretical. Historically _e. g._ the State arose as a means of protection against robbers, while theoretically it is derived from the idea of rights. So also, even in the actual history of philosophy, while the logical (theoretical) process is an ascent from the abstract to the concrete, yet does the historical development of philosophy, quite generally, descend from the concrete to the abstract, from intuition to thought, and separates the abstract from the concrete in those general forms of culture and those religious and social circ.u.mstances, in which the philosophizing subject is placed. A _system_ of philosophy proceeds synthetically, while the _history_ of philosophy, _i. e._ the history of the thinking process proceeds a.n.a.lytically. We might, therefore, with great propriety, adopt directly the reverse of the Hegelian position, and say that what in reality is the first, is for us, in fact, the last. This is ill.u.s.trated in the Ionic philosophy. It began not with being as an abstract conception, but with the most concrete, and most apparent, _e. g._ with the material conception of water, air, &c. Even if we leave the Ionics and advance to the being of the Eleatics or the becoming of the Herac.l.i.tics, we find, that these, instead of being pure thought determinations, are only unpurified conceptions, and materially colored intuitions. Still farther, is the attempt impracticable to refer every philosophy that has appeared in history to some logical category as its central principle, because the most of these philosophies have taken, for their object, the idea, not as an abstract conception, but in its realization as nature and mind, and, therefore, for the most part, have to do, not with logical questions, but with those relating to natural philosophy, psychology and ethics. Hegel should not, therefore, limit his comparison of the historical and systematic process of development simply to logic, but should extend it to the whole system of philosophical science. Granted that the Eleatics, the Herac.l.i.tics and the Atomists may have made such a category as the centre of their systems, and we may find thus far the Hegelian logic in harmony with the Hegelian history of philosophy. But if we go farther, how is it? How with Anaxagoras, the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle? We cannot, certainly, without violence, press one central principle into the systems of these men, but if we should be able to do it, and could reduce _e. g._ the philosophy of Anaxagoras to the conception of "the end," that of the Sophists to the conception of "the appearance," and the Socratic Philosophy to the conception of "the good,"-yet even then we have the new difficulty that the historical does not correspond to the logical succession of these categories. In fact, Hegel himself has not attempted a complete application of his principle, and indeed gave it up at the very threshold of the Grecian philosophy. To the Eleatics, the Herac.l.i.tics and the Atomists, the logical categories of "being,"

"becoming," and being _per se_ may be successively ascribed, and so far, as already remarked, the parallelism extends, but no farther. Not only does Anaxagoras follow with the conception of reason working according to an end, but if we go back before the Eleatics, we find in the very beginning of philosophy a total diversity between the logical and historical order. If Hegel had carried out his principle consistently, he should have thrown away entirely the Ionic philosophy, for matter is no logical category; he should have placed the Pythagoreans after the Eleatics and the Atomists, for in logical order the categories of quant.i.ty follow those of quality; in short, he would have been obliged to set aside all chronology. Unless this be done, we must be satisfied with a theoretical reproduction of the course which the thinking spirit has taken in its history, only so far as we can see in the grand stages of history a rational progress of thought; only so far as the philosophical historian, surveying a period of development, actually finds in it a philosophical acquisition,-the acquisition of a new idea: but we must guard ourselves against applying to the transition and intermediate steps, as well as to the whole detail of history, the postulate of an immanent conformity to law, or an organism in harmony with our own thoughts. History often winds its way like a serpent in lines which appear retrogressive, and philosophy, especially, has not seldom withdrawn herself from a wide and already fruitful field, in order to settle down upon a narrow strip of land, the limits even of which she has sought still more closely to abridge. At one time we find thousands of years expended in fruitless attempts with only a negative result;-at another, a fulness of philosophical ideas are crowded together in the experience of a lifetime. There is here no sway of an immutable and regularly returning law, but history, as the realm of freedom, will first completely manifest itself at the end of time as the work of reason.



A few words will suffice to define our problem and cla.s.sify its elements. Where and when does philosophy begin? Manifestly, according to the a.n.a.lysis made in -- I., where a final philosophical principle, a final ground of being is first sought in a philosophical way,-and hence with the Grecian philosophy. The Oriental-Chinese and Hindoo-so named philosophies,-but which are rather theologies or mythologies,-and the mythic cosmogonies of Greece, in its earliest periods, are, therefore, excluded from our more definite problem. Like Aristotle, we shall begin the history of philosophy with Thales. For similar reasons we exclude also the philosophy of the Christian middle ages, or Scholasticism. This is not so much a philosophy, as a philosophizing or reflecting within the already prescribed limits of positive religion. It is, therefore, essentially theology, and belongs to the science of the history of Christian doctrines.

The material which remains after this exclusion, may be naturally divided into two periods; viz:-ancient-Grecian and Graeco-Romanic-and modern philosophy. Since a preliminary comparison of the characteristics of these two epochs could not here be given without a subsequent repet.i.tion, we shall first speak of their inner relations, when we come to treat of the transition from the one to the other.

The first epoch can be still farther divided into three periods; (1.) The pre-Socratic philosophy, _i. e._ from Thales to the Sophists inclusive; (2.) Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; (3.) The post-Aristotelian philosophy, including New Platonism.



1. The universal tendency of the pre-Socratic philosophy is to find some principle for the explanation of nature. Nature, the most immediate, that which first met the eye and was the most palpable, was that which first aroused the inquiring mind. At the basis of its changing forms,-beneath its manifold appearances, thought they, lies a first principle which abides the same through all change. What then, they asked, is this principle? What is the original ground of things? Or, more accurately, what element of nature is the fundamental element? To solve this inquiry was the problem of the _Ionic_ natural philosophers.

One proposes as a solution, water, another, air, and a third, an original chaotic matter.

2. The _Pythagoreans_ attempted a higher solution of this problem. The proportions and dimensions of matter rather than its sensible concretions, seemed to them to furnish the true explanation of being.

They, accordingly, adopted as the principle of their philosophy, that which would express a determination of proportions, _i. e._ numbers.

"Number is the essence of all things," was their position. Number is the mean between the immediate sensuous intuition and the pure thought.

Number and measure have, to be sure, nothing to do with matter only in so far as it possesses extension, and is capable of division in s.p.a.ce and time, but yet we should have no numbers or measures if there were no matter, or nothing which could meet the intuitions of our sense. This elevation above matter, which is at the same time a cleaving to matter, const.i.tutes the essence and the character of Pythagoreanism.

3. Next come the _Eleatics_, who step absolutely beyond that which is given in experience, and make a complete abstraction of every thing material. This abstraction, this negation of all division in s.p.a.ce and time, they take as their principle, and call it pure being. Instead of the sensuous principle of the Ionics, or the symbolic principle of the Pythagoreans, the Eleatics, therefore, adopt an intelligible principle.

4. Herewith closes the a.n.a.lytic, the first course in the development of Grecian philosophy, to make way for the second, or synthetic course. The Eleatics had sacrificed to their principle of pure being, the existence of the world and every finite existence. But the denial of nature and the world could not be maintained. The reality of both forced itself upon the attention, and even the Eleatics had affirmed it, though in guarded and hypothetical terms. But from their abstract being there was no pa.s.sage back to the sensuous and concrete; their principle ought to have explained the being of events, but it did not. To find a principle for the explanation of these, a principle which would account for the becoming, the event was still the problem. _Herac.l.i.tus_ solved it, by a.s.serting that, inasmuch as being has no more reality than not being, therefore the unity of the two, or in other words the becoming, is the absolute principle. He held that it belonged to the very essence of finite being that it be conceived in a continual flow, in an endless stream. "Every thing flows." We have here the conception of original energy, instead of the Ionic original matter; the first attempt to explain being and its motion from a principle a.n.a.lytically attained.

From the time of Herac.l.i.tus, this inquiry after the cause of the becoming, remained the chief interest and the moving spring of philosophical development.

5. Becoming is the unity of being and not-being, and into these two elements is the Herac.l.i.tic principle consciously a.n.a.lyzed by the _Atomists_. Herac.l.i.tus had uttered the principle of the becoming, but only as a fact of experience. He had simply expressed it as a law, but had not explained it. The necessity for this universal law yet remained to be proved. WHY is every thing in a perpetual flow-in an eternal movement? From the dynamical combination of matter and the moving force, the next step was to a consciously determined distinction, to a mechanical division of the two. Thus Empedocles combining the doctrines of Herac.l.i.tus and Parmenides, considered matter as the abiding being, while force was the ground of the movement. But the Atomists still considered the moving mythic energies as forces; Empedocles regarded them as love and hate; and Democritus as unconscious necessity. The result was, therefore, that the becoming was rather limited as a means for the mechanical explanation of nature, than itself explained.

6. Despairing of any merely materialistic explanation of the becoming, _Anaxagoras_ next appears, and places a world-forming Intelligence by the side of matter. He recognized mind as the primal causality, to which the existence of the world, together with its determined arrangement and design (_zweckma.s.sigkeit_) must be referred. In this, philosophy gained a great principle, viz.-an ideal one. But Anaxagoras did not know how to fully carry out his principles. Instead of a theoretical comprehension of the universe-instead of deriving being from the idea, he grasped again after some mechanical explanation. His "world-forming reason"

serves him only as a first impulse, only as a moving power. It is to him a _Deus ex machina_. Notwithstanding, therefore, his glimpse of something higher than matter, yet was Anaxagoras only a physical philosopher, like his predecessors. Mind had not yet appeared to him as a true force above nature, as an organizing soul of the universe.

7. It is, therefore, a farther progress in thought, to comprehend accurately the distinction between mind and nature, and to recognize mind as something higher and contra-distinguished from all natural being. This problem fell to the _Sophists_. They entangled in contradictions, the thinking which had been confined to the object, to that which was given, and gave to the objective world which had before been exalted above the subject, a subordinate position in the dawning and yet infantile consciousness of the superiority of subjective thinking. The Sophists carried their principle of subjectivity, though at first this was only negative, into the form of the universal religious and political changing condition (_Aufklarung_).[1] They stood forth as the destroyers of the whole edifice of thought that had been thus far built, until _Socrates_ appeared, and set up against this principle of _empirical_ subjectivity, that of the _absolute_ subjectivity,-that of the spirit in the form of a free moral will, and the thought is positively considered as something higher than existence, as the truth of all reality. With the Sophist closes our first period, for with these the oldest philosophy finds its self-destruction (_Selbstauflosung_).

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A History of Philosophy in Epitome Part 1 summary

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