Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

LEWES'S ARISTOTLE.

MR. LEWES is known to every selves willing or able to read criti. studious reader by his ‘Biographical cally the original Greek of a by no History of Philosophy,' by his phy. means captivating writer, some such siological writings, by his “Life of work as this was absolutely neces. Goethe,' and by a host of miscellane- sary. Aristotle as a logician is ous papers, all displaying the same known, or presumed to be known, tact, the same clear vision and lucid to all educated men; at all events, style. Remarkable for a distinct and there are works enough in our lanrapid development of difficult and in- guage to which to refer the eager tricate subjects, he has proved him. student thirsting for syllogism, or self one of the happiest expositors of the categories, or even for whatever those metaphysical subtleties which the ancient sage may have taught he, at the same time, describes and of rhetoric, or politics, or poetry. discards; while in that branch of But if any one, bewildered by the science to which he has sedulously contradictory estimates thrown out devoted himself, he has been, if not by eloquent lecturers, or other disa discoverer, yet much more than tinguished men, desired to know an expounder, for he has introduced what really Aristotle taught on into it an accuracy of thought, a scientific subjects--on the inorgan. distinctness in the reasoning or ic and organic world before us, theorising upon known facts, which on the great mechanism, in short the readers of physiological works of nature-there was no book in our must often have felt the want of language, nor, as Mr. Lewes assures Having paid his homage, his fare- us, in any modern language, which well tribute to philosophy, the part would have given him the materials ing guest, whom he “slightly shakes for a calm and sober judgment. On by the hand," he, as a true son of the one hand, we hear the most un. the nineteenth century, turns to sparing contempt thrown upon the wards science,

science of Aristotle; and till lately * And with his arms outstretched as he would all popular lecturers, in their extra

vagant eulogies upon Bacon, were Graspa’in the comer.

accustomed to tell their credulous It is now apparently his design to audience that, till the lord of Veru. do for the history of science what lam arose, no one understood that he bad formerly done for that of the knowledge of nature was built metaphysics-to describe the course on the observation of nature. On of its development, to give what he the other hand, there have been has called "the embryology of eminent men who were not satisfied science;" and the present volume with proving that Aristotle knew is a chapter from this projected as well, and had stated as distinctwork. It is a chapter wbich may ly as any of his successors, the very well constitute & distinct and paramount necessity of observation separate treatise, what our neigh, and an accurate collection of facts, bours have taught us to call a mo. but that he had really observed and nograph. We have Aristotle brought reasoned upon facts in so miraculdistinctly before us as the man of ous a manner as to have been able science.

--standing, as it were, at the very To all who felt a curiosity in es- starting point of science-to have timating Aristotle from this point anticipated many of those disof view, and who were not them- coveries to which the moderns

* Aristotle: A Chapter from the History of Science, including Analyses of Aris. totle's Scientific Writings.', By George Henry Lewes.

VOL. XCVI.-XO. DLXXXVI.

had slowly attained by the labours into the calm and clear-sighted criof successive generations. If this tic. On the whole, the work will conwere true, it would be, as we have firm and render distinct the vague intimated, nothing short of miracul- impressions which most of us have ous. It would be as if Eclipse not received of the science of Aristotle ; only distanced all competitors in the that it was all that could be expected race, but was gifted with a faculty from mortal man living at the period by which he could reach the goal of Aristotle, but that, regarded from without passing over the interme- our present position, it can have no diate ground. For science is knowvalue except to those who are curiledge built on knowledge; it is not an ous to trace the progress of the affair of intuition. Neither is a hap- human mind. py guess, figuring perhaps amidst And indeed it is from this point a crowd of vagrant fancies, to be of view that Mr. Lewes invites us dignified with the name of a scien- to the study of the scientific works tific truth. There is no such thing of Aristotle. A mere history of as the anticipation of a discovery, past blunders is the dreariest thing unless the intermediate steps also imaginable. We are too anxious to have been anticipated, by which learn something of real science, and alone it becomes a discovery, or is there is too much on every side to distinguished from a random guess. be learnt, to allow us time for studyAmidst such opposite estimates as ing, merely for their own sake, the these, such unqualified detraction inevitable mistakes and errors of on the one hand, such inordinate the past. And remember that in and impossible praise on the other, science the past error is utterly exMr. Lewes offers himself as our tinct - dead beyond all possibility guide. He has given us an analy- of revival. It is otherwise in phisis of Aristotle's scientific writings losophy, The old quarrels here are quite ample enough for the pur- always capable of being rekindled. pose at which he aims. Had it Often they are the same disputes been more complete, the patience which agitate the living generation; of the reader would have broken nay, it has happened that a specudown; had it been briefer than it lation in philosophy, after having is, we should have complained that been given over to mere ridicule as materials enough had not been given a flagrant folly of the past, has been for an independent judgment. He revived, and taught, with some mohimself holds the balance with im- difications, as a profound truth. partiality, or at least, with the evi- We should not wonder if the very dent effort to be impartial. Between age we live in took to the belief in the careless detractor who echoes & the transmigration of souls. When contempt which had become con- souls inhabit the legs of tables, or ventional, and the lover of paradox, creep under chairs and paw us or the pedantic devotee of whatever about the knees, this old fancy of is ancient and whatever is Greek, the East must surely seem a most Mr. Lewes steers his middle course. respectable article of faith. There He is, perhaps, more successful, is no folly of this kind that may

more completely convincing, when not be revived. But a scientific The combats the exaggerated praise hypothesis, once fairly supplanted,

of certain admirers of Aristotle, is extinct for ever; its place can than when he himself becomes eu- know it no more; there, where it logistic. Desirous of assuming the stood, and where alone it could more agreeable attitude of bestowing stand, another growth has occupied praise, he, on two occasions, opens the soil. The transmigration of the chapter with a rather startling souls might be revived to-morrow; note of admiration, but the extracts phlogiston is dead for ever. Philoin which follow hardly support his own sophical speculations are like the eulogium. He gradually relapses clouds of heaven, which may rise to

77.22100% IOT 307

[graphic]

D

day and disperse to-morrow, just as them. And Mr. Lewes has shown they rose and dispersed a thousand in the present volume that he well yesterdays ago. Science is like the understands the art of mingling totree which grows from the seed, and gether the moderti truth of science from a seedling extends its branches and the ancient guess-work, so that into the air, but goes never back by their contrast they may throw into the seed again. To write a light upon each other. Of course, Darrative, therefore, of the errors of when we speak of the truth of modthe past, that had no other object ern science, we do not forget that than simply to record such errors, many of our truths may be destined would be the most wearisome 'and to figure as pardonable errors in the useless of tasks. But, in fact, it is pages of some future historian of not in this barren spirit of narra- science. tive that Mr. Lewes, or any philoso. A brief account of the life of phical writer, would invite us to Aristotle naturally precedes the survey the mistakes and tentatives criticism upon his philosophy, or of the past. It is as part of the rather, we should here say, upon history of that living human mind his science. This relates, in a short which is still with us, and is still compass, all, we believe, that, is ours, that this narrative of its past known of Aristotle's personal hiswanderings becomes valuable. Phlo. tory. As the few facts that bear giston and the like are dead, and the stamp of credibility are fauníliar let them be buried so far as they to most readers, or at least lie open are individually concerned; but to every one in the pages of biograthat human spirit from which phical dictionaries, we need not science grew is with us still, and repeat them here. But in this our we would study this its faculty of critical age the following list of the growth, and trace the method of its authorities on which all these acprogress. From this point of view counts are founded will be accepta history of scientific errors becomes able. It will be seen how remote a history of the development of we are from any thing like contemthe human mind. We highly ap- porary evidence. prove of Mr. Lewes's undertaking to write what he terms the embry. “What, then, are the dates, or thereology of science ; nor deed we sug abouts ? Aristotle 'was born B.C. 384. gest to a writer of his tact and dis. Diogenes Laertius, , whose narrative is crimination that it would be useless

Jose the fullest, the best, and the most geneto load his pages with a multitude

moliltnda rully followed, was born, at the earliest,

* nearly six centuries later-.e., A.D. 200 ; of errors of the same kind. We have

ve and it is even supposed that he was as read histories of medicine. where late as Constantine. The next on our the philosophical lesson which list is Ammonius, (if the work be really might be learnt from past errors his,) who comes eight centuries after his was quite lost sight of in the multi- hero, in A.D. 460; and that these eight tude of instances given of absurd centuries have not been profitably emhypotheses and miserable nostrums. ployed in sifting tradition and bringing it The attention was fatigued by the nearer to accuracy, may be gathered from mere enumeration of fantastic specu- a single detail noticed by Buble, that Arlations, which were followed, alas | istotle is made a pupil of Socrates, who by very real sufferings to the pa died just fifteen years before the Statient in the shape of cruel and dis.

girite was born. The nearest biograpber gusting remedies. On the other in point of time is Dionysius of Harlicar

nassus, (B.C. 50,) and this gives a gap of band, there is no more effective

three centuries ; moreover, one meagre manner of expounding the latest

page comprises all he has to say. Hesy. tenets or discoveries of science than chias was born a.d. 500, nearly nine cenby a judicious account of the errors turies too late ; the date of Suidas is unand mistakes which preceded them, certain, but probably not earlier than and which often led the way to the eleventh century of our era.

“These writers contradict each other has no friends,' which profoundly touches on separate points. . What means have the very core of the subject, and may be We for deciding between them? They paired off with this other saying of his, may have had contemporary documents A friend is one soul and two bodies. as their authorities; but what guarantee When asked how we should behave to have we for the accuracy of these docu- wards friends ? he said, “ As we should ments? It is but just three hundred years wish them to behave towards us.'" since Shakespeare was born; through One of the last and most, conout this period he has been prized and spicuous incidents of his life apwritten about; compilers have done their Forst upon this subject; yet what do we pears to corroborate this impres

sion of his affectionate chapter. authentically know of his life ? Above all

, what value do we attach to the earli- When, upon the death of Alexanest biography, that of Rowe?"

der, the Macedonian party in Athens

lost their power, and Aristotle, who What can a modern Englishman do belonged to this party, was exposed but accept such of the facts as appear to the malice of his enemies, the to him probable and coherent? That worst charge these could bring Aristotle was, in the language of our against him was, that he had paid times, a gentleman of birth and for- divine honours to his wife and to tune, who, simply from an ardent his friend. He had burned the one love of knowledge, devoted himself and raised a statue to the other in to philosopy; that, born at Stagira, a a too sacred manner, or too sacred town of northern Greece, situated in locality - thus infringing on the what is now called the Gulf of Con- rights and privileges of the gods. tezza, he migrated to Athens, the in- In liberal and enlightened Athens, tellectual capital of Greece and of the if a man was to be destroyed, the world, where Plato was then teach- surest way was to represent him as a ing; that, after many years of labo. profane persona despiser of the rious application, his reputation was gods; to accuse him, in fact, of irresuch that it brought an invitation ligion, or heresy of some kind. An from Philip of Macedon to under- incautious or too ambitious testitake the education of the young mony of affection was the impiety Alexander-are facts, we presume, alleged against our philosopher. that we may accept without dis- He retired, we are told, before the trust. There is one trait of charac- coming storm. Mindful of the death ter ascribed to Aristotle, which we of Socrates, he refused to the Athehope also we may believe in: this nians a second opportunity of disgreat thinker, one of the most in- gracing the republic. defatigable and powerful of the class that has lived upon the earth, science of Aristotle with the following

Mr. Lewes opens his criticism on the was a tender and warm-hearted man, capable of love and of ardent general account of his physics :

“The physical writings of Aristotle friendship.

still extant are the eight books of Phy“ His health," says Mr. Lewes in that sics,' the four books On the Heavens, general summary of personal details the two books on Generation and Corrupwhich make up for us the picture of a tion, with the Meteorology' and the man,“ was, like that of most ardent Mechanical Problems. The contents of brain-workers, delicate. He was short these works very slightly correspond with and slender in person; he had small their titles, according to modern concepeyes and an affected lisp. Somewhat tions. The sciences which we class under given to sarcasm in conversation, he the heads of Physics and Astronomy are made, of course, many enemies. On in no sense represented in them. There is hearing that some one had vituperated no attempt to sketch the laws of Statics, him in his absence, he humorously. said, Dynamics, Optics, Acoustics, Thermo* If he pleases, he may beat me too~in tics, or Electricity. There is nothing my absence. His heart was kind, as was beyond metaphysical disquisitions sugmanifest in certain acts, and is expressed gested by certain physical phenomena ; in this saying, 'He who has many friends wearisome disputes about motion, space,

[graphic]

infinity, and the like ; verbal distinc. thought, or false method, which tions, loose analogies, unhesitating as. Aristotle and his contemporaries sumptions, ' inexpressibly fatiguing and brought to the study of nature. unfruitful. They have furnished matter Men of acute intellect, eager to give for centuries of idle speculation, but

an explanation of all things, applied few beams of steady light to aid the groping endeavours of science. We

at once to the phenomena before cannot say that in every point he is

them some abstraction or generalaltogether wrong on some points he

isation ready made in the language was assuredly right; but these are few, of daily use, They should have occur isolated, without bearing on the rest of pied themselves, we are apt to say, his speculations, and without influence with the collection of facts; they on research. I shall therefore analyse should have formed generalisations these works much more rapidly and from this careful observation of facts, briefly than the works on Biology." and then proceeded to reason on these We are thus inducted into some

generalisations, verifying their in

ferences at each step by fresh apof those earlier doctrines, or methods of thinking upon physical

peals to observation and experitopics, which belong not exclu

ment. Such is the true method

of science. But we perceive very sively, indeed, to Aristotle, but to the age in which he lived. We are

clearly that the generalisations from

which the man of science permits taught the principle of Contraries,

himself to reason deductively (be. once a theme of learned disquisi

cause originally formed from caretion throughout Europe

ful induction) were not then in exist“There are," says Aristotle, “three ence, and could not have been then principles : Matter, Form, and Priva- in existence. Were these men to be tion. 'In every phenomenon we can dis- silent? If it is said they should tinguish the substance and its form; but have occupied themselves with obas the form can be only one of two con- servation and experiment, the antraries, and as only one of these two can swer is at hand: Nomen ever did, exist at each moment, we are forced to or could pursue to advantage a admit the existence of a third principle, train of observation or experiment, Privation, to account for the contrary

unless under the guidance of some which is absent. Thus a man must be either a musician or a' non-musician; nypo

hypothesis or conjecture. There is he cannot be both at the same time: some guess of their own they seek and that which prevents his being one to establish, or guess of others they of these is the privation of the form." seek to overthrow. Conjecture and

experiment must at all times proThen we have a definition of na- ceed together. These early sages ture as "the principle of Motion were to blame, not so much for what and Rest;" and of Movements it is they did, as what they left undone. added, that “those are called na- They conjectured much and experi. tural which are self-moved.” Fur- mented little : but it was somether on we are told that there are thing to conjecture; the rest of two great classes of movements the world neither observed nor con1. The natural; and, 2. The violent or jectured. unnatural. Fire ascends and a stone The false method of the Greek descends by natural movement. A philosopher did not consist in any stone may be made to ascend, but theoretical neglect of observation. this is owing to violence. Some He knew the value of a fact as well external motor causes it to ascend; as his modern successor ; but he by its natural movement the stone lived at a time when those generalisa. would never rise,' but always fall. tions formed by careful observation For a similar reason, fire may be had not yet been made. He him. made to descend; but, left to its na- self might be helping to make them, tural movement, it will only ascend. but as yet they were not. What

We have in these few passages could he do but avail himself of à fair specimen of that mode of such ideas or generalisations as an

« AnteriorContinuar »