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ledge. Nay, we may say that the sober earnest which marks the great Materialistic systems of antiquity is perhaps more suited than an enthusiastic Idealism, which only too easily results in its own bewilderment, to keep the soul clear of all that is low and vulgar, and to lend it a lasting effort after worthy objects.
Religious traditions, whose origin may be traced to high ideal elevation, are sometimes easily polluted in the course of centuries with the material and low sentiments of the masses, quite apart from the Materialism of dogma,' which may be found in every firmly-rooted orthodox system, so soon as the bare substance of religious doctrines is more highly valued than the spirit which has produced them. The mere decomposition, however, of tradition does not better this fault; since a religion will rarely have so petrified that no spark of ideal life will, from its higher forms, fall upon the soul; and, on the other hand, the progress of enlightenment does not make the masses into philosophers.
But the true notion of ethical Materialism is, of course, quite different: we must understand by it a moral doctrine which makes the moral action of man rise from the particular emotions of his spirit, and which determines the object of action, not by an unconditionally ruling idea, but by the effort after a desired condition. Such an ethical system may be named Materialistic, because, like theoretical Materialism, it starts from matter as opposed to form; only, that here is meant, not the matter of external bodies, not even the quality of sensation as matter of theoretical consciousness, but the elementary matter of practical conduct, the impulses and the feelings of pleasure and its opposite. We may say that this is only an analogy, that there is no obvious unity of tendency, but history shows us almost universally that this analogy is powerful enough to determine the connection of the systems.
A fully-developed ethical Materialism of this sort is not only not ignoble, but it seems by a sort of internal neces
sity to lead to noble and elevated forms of life, and to a love of those forms that rises far above the commonplace demand for happiness; just as, on the other hand, an idealistic ethical system in its full development cannot help being anxious for the happiness of individuals and the harmony of their impulses.
But we are concerned, in the historical development of nations, not with a purely ideal ethic, but with thoroughly fixed traditional forms of morality, the stability of which is disturbed and shaken by any new principle, because they do not rest upon the abstract reflection of the man himself, but on a taught and inherited product of the collective life of many generations. And thus our experience hitherto seems to teach us that all Materialistic morality, pure as it may otherwise be, operates especially in periods of transformation and transition, as a powerful solvent, while all great and decisive revolutions and reforms first break out in the shape of new ethical ideas.
Such new ideas were introduced in antiquity by Plato and Aristotle, but they could neither penetrate to the masses, nor gain over to their objects the old forms of the national religion. All the deeper on this account was the influence of these products of Hellenic philosophy upon the later development of mediaeval Christianity.
When Protagoras was driven from Athens for having begun his book on the gods with the words, “As to the gods, I do not know whether they exist or not,” it was already too late for the salvation of the conservatism for which Aristophanes vainly set to work all the forces of the stage, and even the sacrifice of Sokrates could no longer stay the progress of the Spirit of the Times. .
As early as the Peloponnesian war, soon after the death of Perikles, the great revolution in the whole life of the Athenians was decided ; and of this revolution the especial promoters were the Sophists.
This rapid process of dissolution is unique in history: no people has ever lived so fast as the Athenians. And
instructive as may be this turning-point of their history, the danger is proportionately great of our drawing false conclusions from it.
So long as a state, as in the case of Athens before Perikles, steadily develops, and holds fast to old traditions, all its citizens feel themselves held together by a common interest as against other states. On the other hand, the philosophy of the Sophists and that of the Cyrenaics had a cosmopolitan colouring.
The thinker embraces in a short series of conclusions results which history requires thousands of years to realise; and so the cosmopolitan idea may be in general quite right, and yet in the particular case prejudicial, because it destroys the interest of the citizens in their country, and in consequence cripples the country's vital force.
So long as men adhere to their traditions, there are certain ultimate limits set to the ambition and the talents of the individual. All these limits are removed by the principle that each individual man has in himself the measure of all things. The only security against this is the merely conventional; but the conventional is the unreasonable, because thought always impels us to new developments.
This was soon understood by the Athenians, and not the philosophers only, but even their most zealous opponents, learnt to argue, to criticise, to dispute, and to make projects. The Sophists created even an art of demagogy; for they taught rhetoric with the express object of understanding how one may turn the masses in the direction suitable to one's own interest.
Since contradictory assertions are equally true, many an imitator of Protagoras cared only to establish his own personal view, and so a kind of right of moral force was introduced. At all events, the Sophists must have possessed, in the art of influencing men’s minds, great skill and deep psychological insight, or they could not have received an income which, compared with the fees of our
own days, stands at least in the relation of principal to interest. And, moreover, the underlying idea was not that of a reward for trouble, but that of the purchase of an art which was the making of its possessor.
Aristippos, who flourished in the fourth century, was a true cosmopolitan. The courts of the tyrants were his favourite resort, and at that of Dionysius of Syracuse he not unfrequently met with his intellectual opposite, Plato. Dionysius valued him beyond all other philosophers, because he knew how to make something out of every moment; also, of course, because he humoured all the tyrant's caprices. In the principle that nothing natural is blamable, Aristippos agreed with the 'dog' Diogenes; and hence he also was named by the popular wit the 'royal dog.' This is not a casual coincidence, but a similarity of principles, which exists in spite of the difference of the consequences drawn from them. Aristippos, too, had no necessities ; for he had always what he needed, and felt just as secure and happy when wandering in rags as when living in regal splendour.
But the example of the philosophers, who were fond of foreign courts, and found it absurd to serve consistently the narrow interests of a single state, was soon followed by the political envoys of Athens and other republics, and no Demosthenes could avail to save the freedom of Greece.
As to religious beliefs, it deserves notice that simultaneously with the weakening of beliefs, which spread from the theatre through the influence of Euripides among the people, there appeared a number of new mysteries.
History has but too frequently shown that if the educated men begin to laugh at the gods, or to resolve their existence into philosophical abstractions, immediately the half-educated masses, becoming unsteady and unquiet, seize upon every folly in order to exalt it into a religion.
Asiatic cults, with fantastic, even immoral practices, found most favour. Kybele and Kotytto, Adonis-worship and Orphic prophecies, based upon impudently fabricated sacred books, became popular in Athens as well as in the rest of Greece. And so was prepared that great commingling of religions which connected the East and West after the campaign of Alexander, and which was so important in preparing the way for the later propagation of Christianity.
Upon art and science also the Sensationalistic doctrines exercised a great transforming influence. The materials of the empirical sciences were popularised by the Sophists. They were for the most part men of great learning, who were fully masters of their stores of solid knowledge, and had them always ready for practical use; but they were in the natural sciences not inquirers, but only popularisers. On the other hand, we owe to their efforts the foundation of grammar and the development of an admirable prose, such as was demanded by the progress of the times, instead of the narrow forms of poetry, and above all the great development of rhetoric. Poetry under their influence sank gradually from its ideal height, and in tone and contents approached the character of the modern. Plot, effort, wealth of wit and emotion, became more and more important.
No history shows more plainly than that of Hellas that, by a natural law of human development, there is no unbroken persistence of the good and the beautiful. It is the transitional points in the ordered movements from one principle to another that conceal within them the greatest sublimity and beauty. And therefore we have no right to complain of a worm-eaten blossom: the very law of blossoming it is that leads to decay; and in this respect Aristippos was at the highest point of his time when he taught that it is the present moment only that can alone bring happiness.