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“THE Classical Moralists” is a companion volume in the field of ethics, to the author's “Modern Classical Philosophers” in the domain of philosophy. The book is virtually a history of ethics, based not upon the ordinary description of systems, but upon selections from the original sources and upon translations of the authors themselves. It is sought, so far as is practicable, to present by means of the case method the most distinctive and constructive features in the ethical systems of the successive moralists. The evolution of ethical thought is thereby revealed, stripped of its controversial material, from Socrates to Martineau. Such a work, it is hoped, will prove indispensable as a text-book of required reading, alike for the historical and for the systematic study of ethics in the universities. The general reader, and more especially any one, whether among the clergy or the laity, desirous of acquiring knowledge of the different ethical systems, will find here a volume containing the original material of the great ethical masters, from the earliest to the most recent times.
Since Socrates may justly be regarded as the founder of ethics, this work begins with selections from Xenophon's “Memorabilia of Socrates," which centre about his doctrine of true knowledge as the source of right conduct and the application of the Socratic method to the identification of wisdom and virtue. The book then sets forth the lofty idealism of Plato. For this purpose is chosen his greatest work, “The Republic,” since the virtues of the state and of the individual are regarded as identical. In Plato's subordination of the non-rational impulses to reason there is revealed the triple division of the soul, upon which he bases his four kinds of excellence, later styled the cardinal virtues: 1, wisdom; 2, courage; 3, temperance; and 4, justice. His beautiful allegory of the cave is also added, as used to teach the true dialectical process and the value of philosophy. The passages from
the “Nicomachean Ethics" of Aristotle present the end of human action as the good, pleasure as the natural concomitant of virtuous activity, and virtue as a settled habit formed by a due observance of the mean in a course of conduct. The post-Aristotelian ethics of the Stoics and Epicureans is based upon the account contained in Diogenes Laertius' “Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.” The chosen representatives are Zeno, the follower of Aristippus the Cynic, and Epicurus, the follower of Antisthenes the Cyrenaic. The former reverts to the original Socratic identification of virtue and knowledge, and also seeks the highest good in a life conformable to nature; the latter places the root of pleasure in a freedom of the body from pain and the soul from disquietude, but likewise clearly points out that the supreme object of life can be attained only through an intellectual happiness that is identical with virtue. The transfer of Hellenic philosophy to Rome finds illustration from the Epicurean Lucretius, author of the didactic poem on “The Nature of Things,” in the two passages where he treats of the "tranquillity of the philosopher,” and of “the fear of death dispelled.” It was in Stoicism, however, that the Roman mind reacted most fully on Greek speculation, and to it abundant expression is given by “Discourses” of Epictetus and “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius. The first development of Neo-Platonism in systematic form is contained in the “Enneades” of Plotinus, from which extracts here show how in pure intellectual existence the soul escapes from the evils due to its bodily environment, and how it reaches its most exalted state, when in pure contemplation it apprehends the “One” or the “Good.”
In the mediæval period it is difficult to present ethics apart from the great body of theological doctrines, except by means of a collection of isolated passages. Chapters from Augustine's "City of God," Peter Abelard's “Ethics, or Know Thyself, and Thomas Aquinas' “Summa Theologiae” have, however, been chosen, as it is believed that these works embody the most sustained and representative ethical speculation in mediæval thought.
The starting-point of modern ethics is to be found in the