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Initiation Into Philosophy
Various Schools
by Faguet, Émile


The Development in Various Schools of the General Ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
THE SCHOOL OF PLATO; THEOPHRASTUS.--The school of Plato (not regarding Aristotle as belonging entirely to that school) was continued by Speusippus, Polemo, Xenocrates, Crates, and Crantor. Owing to a retrograde movement, widely different from that of Aristotle, it dabbled in the Pythagorean ideas, with which Plato was acquainted and which he often appreciated, but not blindly, and to which he never confined himself.

The most brilliant pupil of Aristotle was Theophrastus, naturalist, botanist, and moralist. His great claim to fame among posterity, which knows nothing of him but this, is the small volume of Characters which served as a model for La Bruyère, and before him to the comic poets of antiquity, and which is full of wit and flavour, and--to make use of a modern word exactly applicable to this ancient work--"humour."

SCHOOLS OF MEGARA AND OF ELIS.--We may just mention the very celebrated schools which, owing to lack of texts, are unknown to us--that of Megara, which was called the Eristic or "wrangling" school, so marked was its predilection for polemics; and that of Elis, which appears to have been well versed in the sophistic methods of Zeno of Elea and of Gorgias.

THE CYNIC SCHOOL; ANTISTHENES; DIOGENES.--Much more important is the Cynic school, because a school, which was nothing less than Stoicism itself, emanated or appeared to emanate from it. As often happens, the vague commencements of Stoicism bore a close resemblance to its end. The Stoics of the last centuries of antiquity were a sort of mendicant friars, ill-clothed, ill-fed, of neglected appearance, despising all the comforts of life; the Cynics at the time of Alexander were much the same, professing that happiness is the possession of all good things, and that the only way to possess all things is to know how to do without them. It was Antisthenes who founded this school, or rather this order. He had been the pupil of Socrates, and there can be no doubt that his sole idea was to imitate Socrates by exaggeration. Socrates had been poor, had scorned wealth, had derided pleasure, and poured contempt on science. The cult of poverty, the contempt for pleasures, for honours, for riches, and the perfect conviction that any knowledge is perfectly useless to man--that is all the teaching of Antisthenes. That can lead far, at least in systematic minds. If all is contemptible except individual virtue, it is reversion to savage and solitary existence which is preached: there is no more civilization or society or patriotism. Antisthenes in these ideas was surpassed by his disciples and successors; they were cosmopolitans and anarchists. The most illustrious of this school--illustrious especially through his eccentricity--was Diogenes, who rolled on the ramparts of Corinth the tub which served him as a house, lighted his lantern in broad daylight on the pretext of "searching for a man," called himself a citizen of the world, was accused of being banished from Sinope by his fellow-countrymen and replied, "It was I who condemned them to remain," and said to Alexander, who asked him what he could do for him: "Get out of my sunshine; you are putting me in the shade."

CRATES; MENIPPUS; ARISTIPPUS.--Crates of Thebes is also mentioned, less insolent and better-mannered, yet also a despiser of the goods of this world; and Menippus, the maker of satires, whom Lucian, much later, made the most diverting interlocutor of his amusing dialogues. In an opposite direction, at the same epoch, Aristippus, a pupil of Socrates, like Antisthenes, founded the school of pleasure, and maintained that the sole search worthy of man was that of happiness, and that it was his duty to make himself happy; that in consequence, it having been sufficiently proved and being even self-evident, that happiness cannot come to us from without, but must be sought within ourselves, it is necessary to study to know ourselves thoroughly (and this was from Socrates) in order to decide what are the states of the mind which give us a durable, substantial, and, if possible, a permanent happiness. Now the seeker and the finder of substantial happiness is wisdom, or rather, there is no other wisdom than the art of distinguishing between pleasure and choosing, with a very refined discrimination, those which are genuine. Wisdom further consists in dominating misfortunes by the mastery of self so as not to be affected by them, and in dominating also pleasures even whilst enjoying them, so that they may not obtain dominion over us; "possessing without being possessed" was one of his mottoes which Horace thus translated: "I strive to subject things to myself, not myself to things." This eminently practical wisdom, which is only a highly-developed egoism, is that of Horace and Montaigne, and was expressed by Voltaire in verses that were sometimes felicitous.

THE SCHOOL OF CYRENE.--Aristippus had for successor in the direction of his school, first his daughter Arete, then his grandson. The Aristippists, or Cyrenaics (the school being established in Cyrene), frankly despised the gods, regarding them as inventions to frighten women and little children. One of them, Euhemerus, invented the theory, which in part is false and in part accurate, that the gods are simply heroes, kings, great men deified after their death by the gratitude or terror of the populace. As often happens, philosophic theories being essentially plastic and taking the form of the temperament which receives them, a certain Cyrenaic (Hegesias) enunciated the doctrine that the supreme happiness of man was suicide. In fact, if the object of man is happiness, since life affords far fewer joys than sorrows, the philosophy of happiness is to get rid of life, and the sole wisdom lies in suicide. It does not appear that Hegesias gave the only proof of sincere belief in this doctrine which can be given by anyone professing it.

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