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critus was virtually affirming that there was all truth in sensation, and that there was no truth in it. No wonder that he said truth lay at the bottom of a well and was hard to find. No wonder that men came after him who said that there was no such thing as truth; that there was nothing for reason save appearance and opinion, and no higher law of life than worldly prudence.
The speculations of Democritus, it cannot be doubted, contributed not a little to the inauguration of the era of the Sophists. The men who are known in history under this designation are now generally admitted to have been until recently represented as even worse than they were. They may certainly be credited with having rendered service to logic, and still more to rhetoric —with having awakened a critical and inquiring spirit-and with having contributed very considerably to the increase of ideas and the spread of intellectual culture. Whatever merits, however, we may thus assign to them, will not warrant us to reverse or do more than unessentially modify the verdict which history so long unhesitatingly pronounced against them. They were not men who sought or found, who believed in or loved truth. Their fundamental principles, so far as they had any, were that sense is the source of all
1 See Appendix VIII.
thought—that man is the measure of all things
—that nothing is by nature true or false, good or bad, but only by convention. It seemed to Socrates and to Plato that these principles were erroneous, and must involve in ruin, reason, virtue, and religion, the individual soul and society; and they made it their mission in life to refute them, and to prove that directly contrary principles are to be held ;—that thought underlies sense—that the soul is better than the body—that there are for all men who would search for them, a truth and goodness which are not individual and conventional, but universal and eternal-that the search for them is the prime duty of man—and that the finding of them is his distinctive dignity and glory.
The idea which Anaxagoras had introduced into Greek philosophy—the idea, that the order in the universe could only be accounted for by the working of an Eternal Reason — was welcomed by Socrates, and shaped with admirable art into the theistic argument which is most offensive to materialism,—the design argument for the existence of God from the evidences of design in nature, and especially in the animal frame. Plato strove to show that all phenomena presupposed eternal ideas, and that these gradually led up to the Supreme Idea—the highest good-God. Aristotle was scarcely less opposed to materialism than Plato, and in his theory of causes he constructed a .
i fortress which all the forces of materialism have, down to this day, assailed in vain. Unfortunately, neither Plato nor Aristotle was able to raise himself to the sublime thought which seems to us so simple—the thought of absolute creation, of creation out of nothing by an act of God's omnipotent will. Both granted to matter a certain independence of God; both believed it to be in itself uncreated. Both failed, in consequence, to gain a complete and decisive victory over materialism. Perhaps, also, their philosophies were too large and many-sided to find a lodgment in ordinary minds. Certain it is that they were followed by greatly inferior systems, which, owing in part, perhaps, to their very superficiality and narrowness, acquired no small popularity.
One of these systems was substantially just the philosophy of Democritus revived and developed. Epicurus, its author, was by no means what he boasted himself to be-a “self-taught man,” an original thinker—but he had the qualities which enabled him to render his views widely popular. In his lifetime he gathered around him multitudes of friends. His memory was cherished by his followers with extraordinary veneration; in fact, they paid to him the same sort of idolatrous homage which Comte yielded to Madame Clothilde de Vaux, J. S. Mill to his wife, and certain Comtists to their master. Worship is natural to man, and when cut
off from the true object of his worship he will lavish his affections on objects unworthy of them. The philosophy of Epicurus was materialism in the most finished form which it acquired in the ancient world. It had the great good fortune also to find in the Roman poet Lucretius an expositor of marvellous genius — the brightest star by far in the constellation of materialists. The atomic materialism of the present day is still substantially the materialism which Epicurus and Lucretius propounded. It seems necessary, therefore, and may not be without present interest, to consider briefly the principles and pretensions of the materialism maintained by the famous Greek philosopher and the still more famous Roman poet.
It is a theory, I may remark, which originated in a practical motive. Epicurus avowedly did not seek truth for truth's sake. He sought it, and taught others to seek it, only so far as it appeared to be conducive to happiness. Truth, like virtue, was in his eyes, and in the eyes of his followers, to be cultivated merely as a means of avoiding pain and procuring pleasure. The Epicureans sought, therefore, an explanation of the universe which would free men from religious fears, and from religious beliefs so far as these caused fear. Such an explanation they found in the theory of Democritus, and hence they adopted it. The great reason why Lucretius glories in the Epicurean
theory is, that it emancipates the mind from all dread of the Divine anger, and all belief in a future world. Now, it may fairly be doubted, I think, if a system which springs from such a motive can be other than very defective. I grant that there was considerable excuse for the motive in the evils which superstition had caused, and which Lucretius has so powerfully described. In judging either Epicurus or Lucretius, it would be most unjust and uncharitable to forget that the religion with which they were familiar was so fearfully corrupt and degrading as naturally to occasion disbelief in, and aversion to, all religion. But none the less is it true that those whose chief interest in the study of nature is the hope of finding the means of destroying or dispelling religion are almost certain to fall into grave mistakes in their attempts to explain nature. The Epicureans did so. At the same time, the motive, such as it was, induced them to study nature more intensely than they would otherwise have done, or than the rest of their contemporaries did; and physical science profited from this in no small measure. With all its defects the atomic doctrine is the most valuable theory, falling within the sphere of physical science, which modern times have inherited from antiquity. That all physical things at least may be resolved into atomic elements; that these elements can neither be created nor