Page images

for any kind of authority or tradition—no deference to respectability or public opinion. It recoils from no consequence of its principles. At the same time, it is manifestly a very poor and ignoble kind of philosophy. It is the theory of men who wish to dispense with all thoughts of God and of a moral government, in order that they may feel free to indulge in a selfish and sensuous life.”


Philosophy began its wonderful career in Greece by attempting to resolve all the phenomena of the universe into a single material first principle, such as water, or air, or fire ; or rather, it began by conjecturing how all things might have been evolved from such a principle. And yet it was not merely materialistic, for matter was supposed to be filled by other than material powers-by spontaneity, by life, by intelligence. The first system of Greek materialism, properly so called, was that wrought out by Leucippus, and especially by Democritus, in the fifth century before Christ. The materialism of the present day is substantially the materialism of Democritus. This explains why some recent German writers, favourable to materialism, have extolled Democritus as a speculative and scientific genius of the very highest

See Appendix VII. j.


order, equal or superior to Plato and Aristotle.' For such an opinion the fragmentary sentences which are all that remain of his numerous works supply no warrant. At the same time, Democritus was undoubtedly a man of great knowledge for the age in which he lived, a clear and consistent if not very profound thinker, and endowed with remarkable aptitudes for mathematical and physical investigation. There is, further, no reason to question that the high reputation which he gained for moral worth—for modesty, disinterestedness, integrity, for cheerful wisdom, for love of truthwas well merited. The views of moral life which he inculcated are the very best that one can conceive associated with materialistic and atheistic principles. He held that the sovereign good of man was not to be found in the pleasures of sense, in wealth, in honours, or power—not in external things, nor in what depends on accident or on others—but in tranquillity of mind, in a wellregulated, pure, and peaceful soul. There are true and beautiful thoughts in his fragments on veracity, on courage, on prudence, on justice, on the restraint of passion, the regulation of desire, respect for reason, obedience to law, &c.

Democritus explained the universe by means of space and atoms—the empty and the full. The atoms, infinite in number, moving in infinite space, give rise to infinite worlds. These atoms are eter

nal, and they are imperishable. There is no real creation and no real destruction; nothing comes from nothing, and what is ultimate in anything never ceases to be; what is called creation is merely combination, what is called destruction is merely separation. The quantity of matter in the world, and consequently the quantity of forcefor force is merely matter in motion-can neither be increased nor diminished, but must be ever the same. The atoms, he further held, have in themselves no qualitative differences, but merely quantitative ; they differ from one another only in shape, arrangement, and position. All the apparently qualitative differences in objects are due simply to the quantitative differences of the atoms which compose them. Water differs from iron merely because the atoms of the former are smooth and round, and do not fit into but roll over each other; while those of the latter are jagged and uneven and densely packed together. In thus resolving all qualitative differences into quantitative differences, the system of Democritus involved a distinct and marked advance over Chinese and Hindu materialism, or any of the previous Greek philosophies which had attempted to explain the world by physical principles. The soul Democritus regarded as only a body within the body, made of more delicate atoms; thought as only a more refined and pure sensation; and

sensations as the impressions produced by images which emanated from external objects.

He could not, of course, overlook the obvious question, Why do the atoms move, and how do they so combine as to give rise to a world at once so orderly and varied ? He answered that nothing happened at random, but everything according to law and necessity; that the atoms were infinite in number and endlessly diversified in form; and that in falling through boundless space they dashed against each other, since the larger ones moved more rapidly than the smaller; and that, rebounding and whirling about, they formed aggregates, vortices, worlds, without number. He thus sought to banish from nature every notion of a final cause and supreme ordaining Mind, and to substitute for them a purely mechanical, unconscious, aimless necessity. He referred the popular conceptions of Deity partly to an incapacity to understand fully the phenomena of which we are witnesses, and partly to the impressions occasioned by atmospheric and stellar phenomena. He thus laid the foundation and drew the plan of a system of atheistical materialism which is sometimes presented to us as the most important creation of modern science.

A system like this manifestly contains in itself the germs of its own contradiction and destruction. It tends necessarily to sensationalism and scepti

cism, and both of these devour, as it were, the mother which begat them. If matter be the sole source and substance of the universe, sensation must be due to the impression of matter on matter, and thought must be but an elaboration of sensation, with no truth or reality in it beyond what it derives from sensation. But in that case what do we know of matter? Nothing at all : we know merely our own sensations of colour, of hearing, of smell, &c., and conjecture, for some mysterious reason or other, that these are the results of material objects acting on a material subject. Democritus saw this,—that there was no heat or cold out of relation to feeling, no bitter or sweet out of relation to the sense of taste, no colour independent of the sense of sight, or sound independent of that of hearing. He granted that all that our senses inform us about things is purely relative to the senses of the individual-is not what things are in themselves, but what they appear to be to the particular person whose senses are affected. He supposed only space and the atoms to be real. But what evidence had he as a materialist and sensationalist for his atoms ? None of his senses could apprehend them; and although sense was so little to be trusted, there was nothing on his principles, and can be nothing on materialistic principles, equally to be trusted, or, indeed, to be trusted at all, apart from it. Thus Demo

« PreviousContinue »