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History of Philosophy
Post-Aristotelian Philosophy
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


The death of Aristotle marks the end of the Golden Age of Greek philosophy. From Thales to Socrates was the period of beginnings; from Socrates to Aristotle, the period of highest perfection; with the opening of the post-Aristotelian period begins the age of decay and dissolution. To this third period belong the pantheism of the Stoics, the materialism of the Epicureans, and the final relaxation of all earnest philosophical thought, culminating in the absolute scepticism of the Pyrrhonists. The period of highest perfection in philosophy was also the period of the political greatness of Greece, and the causes which brought about the political downfall of Greece are in part accountable for the decay of Greek philosophy.

Sixteen years before the death of Aristotle, the battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.) was fought, -- the battle in which the doom of Greece was sealed. There followed a series of unsuccessful attempts to shake off the Macedonian yoke. In vain did Demosthenes strive to arouse in the breasts of the Athenians the spirit of the days of Marathon and Thermopylae; the iron hand of military despotism crushed the last manifestations of patriotism. Then the Roman came, to succeed the Macedonian, and Greece, the fair home of philosophy in the West, was made a province of a vast military and commercial empire.

The loss of political freedom was followed by a period of torpor of the creative energies of the Greek mind. [1] Speculation, in the highest sense of constructive effort, was no longer possible and philosophy became wholly practical in its aims. Theoretical knowledge was valued not at all, or only in so far as it contributed to that bracing and strengthening of the moral fiber which men began to seek in philosophy, and for which alone philosophy began to be studied. Philosophy thus came to occupy itself with ethical problems, and to be regarded as a refuge from the miseries of life. When men ceased to count it an honor to be a citizen of Hellas, they turned to philosophy in order to become citizens of the world; and so philosophy assumed a more cosmopolitan character. Imported into the Roman Empire, it failed at first to take root on Roman soil because in the Latin contempt of the Graeculus was included a contempt for all things Greek. Gradually, however, philosophy gained ascendency over the Roman mind, while in turn the Roman love of the practical asserted its influence on Greek philosophy.
[1] This opinion of Zeller and others is controverted by Benn, The Greek Philosophers, Vol. 1, p. xi.
All these influences resulted in (1) a disintegration of the distinctively Greek spirit of philosophy and the substitution of a cosmopolitan spirit of eclecticism; (2) a centering of philosophical thought around the problems of human life and human destiny; and (3) the final absorption of Greek philosophy in the reconstructive efforts of the Greco-Oriental philosophers of Alexandria.

But, while metaphysics and physics were neglected in this anthropocentric movement of thought, the mathematical sciences, emancipating themselves from philosophy, began to flourish with new vigor. The astronomers of Sicily and later those of Alexandria stand out of the general gloom of the period as worthy representatives of the Greek spirit of scientific inquiry.

The principal schools of this period are: (1) the Stoics, (2) the Epicureans, (3) the Sceptics, (4) the Eclectics, (5) the mathematicians and astronomers. A separate chapter will be devoted to The Philosophy of the Romans.

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