Grekisk världsbild och människosyn:

"The Cradle of Western Thought"

av Fredrick Copleston

The birthplace of Greek philosophy was the sea-board of Asia Minor, and the early Greek philosophers were Ionians. While Greece itself was in a state of comparative chaos or barbarism, consequent (som en följd av) on the Dorian invasions of the eleventh Century B.C. which submerged the old Aegean culture, Ionia served the spirit of the older civilisation, and it was to the Ionian world that Homer belonged, even if the Homeric poems enjoyed the patronage (beskydd) of the new Achaean aristocracy.

While the Homeric poems cannot indeed be called a philosophical work (they are, of course, of great value their revelation of certain stages of the Greek way of life, and  their educational influence on Greeks of later times should not be underestimated), since the isolated philosophical ideas that occur in the poems are very far from being systematised (considerably less so than in the poems of Hesiod, the epic writer of mainland Greece, who portrays in his work his pessimistic view of history, conviction of the reign of law in the animal world and his calm passion for justice among men), it is significant that greatest poet of Greece and the first beginnings of systematic philosophy both belong to Ionia.

But these two great productions of Ionian genius, the poems of Homer and the Ionian cosmology, did not merely follow on one another; at least, whatever view one holds of the authorship, composition and date or dates of the Homeric poems, it is clear that the society reflected in those poems was not that of the period of the Ionian cosmology, but belonged to a more primitive era.

Again, the society depicted by Hesiod, the later of the "two" great epic poets, is a far cry from that of the Greek Polis, for between the two had occurred the breakdown of the power of the noble aristocracy, a breakdown that made possible the free growth of city life in mainland Greece.

Neither the heroic life depicted in the Iliad nor the domination of the landed nobility ( den landägande adeln) depicted in the poems of Hesiod was the setting in which Greek philosophy grew up: on the contrary, early Greek philosophy, though naturally the work of individuals, was also the product of the City and reflected to a certain extent the reign of law and the conception of law  which the pre-Socratics systematically extended to the whole universe in their cosmologies.

Thus in a sense there is a certain continuity between the Homeric conception of an ultimate law or destiny or will governing both gods and men, the Hesiodic view of the world and the poet's moral demands, and the early Ionian cosmology. When social life was settled, men could turn to rational reflection, and in the period of philosophy's childhood it was Nature as a whole which first occupied their attention. From the psychological standpoint this is  what one would expect.

Thus, although it is understandable that Greek world view among a people whose civilisation went back to the prehistoric times of Greece, what we call early Greek philosophy was "early" only in relation to subsequent Greek philosophy and the flowering of Greek thought and culture on the mainland; in relation to the preceding centuries of Greek development it may be looked on rather as the fruit of a mature civilisation, marking the closing period of lonian greatness on the one hand and ushering in on the other hand the splendor of Hellenic, particularly of Athenian, culture.

We have represented early Greek philosophic thought as the ultimate product of the ancient lonian civilisation; but it must be remembered that Ionia forms, as it were, the meeting-place of West and East, so that the question may be raised whether or not Greek philosophy was due to Oriental influences, whether, for instance, it was borrowed from Babylon or Egypt. This view has been maintained, but has bad to be abandoned. The Greek  knew nothing of the Oriental religion and civilization - and the Oriental origin theory is due mainly to Alexandrian writers, from whom it was taken over by Christian apologists.

The Egyptians of Hellenistic times, for instance, interpreted their myths according to the ideas of Greek philosophy, and then asserted that their myths were the origin of the Greek philosophy. But this is simply an instance of allegorizing on the part of the Alexandrians: it has no more objective value than the jewish notion that Plato drew his wisdom from the Old Testament. There would, of course, be difficulties in explaining how Egyptian thought could be transmitted to the Greeks (traders are not the sort of people we would expect to convey philosophic notions), but, as has been remarked by Burnet, it is practically a waste of time to inquire whether the philosophical ideas of this Great Eastern people could be communicated to the Greeks or not, unless we have first ascertained that the people in question really possessed a philosophy.

That the Egyptians had a philosophy to communicate has never been shown, and it is out of the question to suppose that Greek philosophy came from India or from China. But there is a further point to be considered. Greek philosophy was closely bound up with mathematics, and it has been maintained that the Greeks derived their mathematics from Egypt and their astronomy from Babylonia.

Now, that Greek mathematics were influenced by Egypt and Greek astronomy by Babylon is more than probable: for one thing Greek science and philosophy began to develop in that very region where interchange with the East was most to be expected. But that is not the same as saying that Greek scientific mathematics derive from Egypt or their astronomy from Babylon. Detailed arguments left aside, let it suffice to point out that Egyptian mathematics consisted of empirical (erfarenhetsbaserad, bygger på sinnena) rough and ready methods of obtaining a practical result.

Thus Egyptian geometry largely consisted of practical methods of marking out afresh the fields after the inundation of the river Nile. Scientific geometry was not developed by them, but it was developed by the Greeks.

Similarly Babylonian astronomy was pursued with a view to divination: it was mainly astrology, but among the Greeks it became a scientific pursuit. So even if we grant that the practical gardener mathematics of the Egyptians and the astronomical observations of Babylonian astrologers influenced the Greeks and supplied them with preliminary material, this admission is in no way prejudicial to the originality of the Greek genius. Science and Thought, as distinct from mere practical calculation and astrological lore, were the result of the Greek genius and were due neither to the Egyptians nor to the Babylonians.

The Greeks, then, stand as the uncontested original thinkers and scientists of Europe. They first sought knowledge for its own sake, and pursued knowledge in a scientific, free and unprejudiced spirit. Moreover, owing to the character of Greek religion, they were free from any priestly class that might have strong traditions and unreasoned doctrines of their own, tenaciously held and imparted only to a few, which might hamper (dämpa) the development of free science.

The great philosopher Hegel, in his history of philosophy, dismisses Indian philosophy rather briskly, on the ground that it is identical with Indian religion. While admitting the presence of philosophical notions, be maintains that these do not take the form of thought, but are couched in poetical form, and have, like religion, the practical purpose of freeing men from the confusions and unhappiness of life rather than knowledge for its own sake.

Without committing oneself to agreement with Hegel's view of Indian philosophy (which has been far more clearly presented to the Western world in its purely philosophic aspects since the time of Hegel), one can agree with him that Greek philosophy was from the first thought pursued in the spirit of free science. It may with some have tended to take the place of religion, both from the point of view of belief and conduct; yet this was due to the inadequacy (otillräcklighet) of Greek religion rather than to any mythological or mystical character in Greek philosophy.

This is not meant, of course, to belittle the place and function of myth in Greek thought, nor yet the tendency of philosophy at certain times to pass into religion, e.g. with Plotinus. Indeed as regards myth. In the earlier cosmologies of the Greek physicists the mythical and the rational elements interpenetrate in an as yet undivided unity.

One should emphasize the impartiality of the Greeks as they regarded the world about them, which in combination with their sense of reality and power of abstraction enabled them at a very early date to recognize their religious ideas for what they actually were - creations of an artistic imagination. This, of course, would scarcely hold good for the Greek people at large - the non-philosophical majority.

From the moment when the proverbial wisdom of the Wise Men and the myths of the poets were succeeded by the half-scientific, half-philosopic reflections and investigations of the ionian cosmologists, art may be said to have been succeeded (logically, at any rate) by philosophy, which was to reach a splendid culmination in Plato and Aristotle, and at length in Plotinus to reach up to the heights where philosophy is transcended, not in mythology, but in mysticism.

Yet there was no abrupt transition from "myth" to philosophy; one might even say that the Hesiodic theogony, for example, found a successor in ionian cosmogonic speculation, the myth-element retreating before growing rationalization yet not disappearing.

Indeed it is present in the Greek view of the world even in post Socratic times.  The splendid achievement of Greek thought was cradled in Ionia; and if Ionia was the cradle of Greek philosophy, Miletus was the cradle of Ionian philosophy. For it was at Miletus that Thales, the earliest ionian philosopher, flourished.

The Ionian thinkers were profoundly impressed with the fact of change, of birth and growth, decay and death. Spring and Autumn in the external world of nature, childhood and old age in the life of man, coming into being and passing away these were the obvious and inescapable facts of the universe. It is a great mistake to suppose that the Greeks were happy and careless children of the sun, who only wanted to lounge in the porticoes of the cities and gaze at the magnificent works of art or at the achievements of their athletes.

They were very conscious of the dark side of our existence on this planet, for against the background of sun and joy they saw the uncertainty and insecurity of man's life, the certainty of death, the darkness of the future. "The best for man were not to have been born and not to have seen the light of the sun; but, if once born (the second best for him is) to pass through the gates of death as speedily as may be," declares Theognis,' reminding us of the words of Calderón (so dear to Schopenhauer), "El mayor delito del hombre, Es haber nacido.' And the words of Theognis are re-echoed in the words of Sophoeles in the Oedipus Coloneus, "Not to have


been born exceeds every reckoning" . . . [Å@ <povat -rbv änowta vty,@ ?,6yov." Moreover, although the Grecks certainly bad their ideal of moderation, they were constantly being lured away from it by the wiH tc> power. The constant fighting of the Greck cities among themselves, even at the heyday of Greek culture, and even when it was te their obvious interest to unite together against a common foe, the constant uprisings within the cities, whether led by an ambition oligarch or a dem~atie demagogue, the venality of so many public men in Greck political life-even when the -~ and honc>ur of their city was at stakeall manifest thé wfil to power which was so strong in the Greck. The Creck adinired efficieney, be admired the ideal of the s~g m'ån@ whc> knows what be wants and has the power to get it; his conception of äpF-TI was largely that of ability to achieve success. As Professor De Burgh remarks, "The Greck would have regarded Napoleon as a man of preeminent aréte.' 9 For a very frank, ar rather blatant, acknowledgment of the unserupulous wifl to power, we have only to read the report that Thucydides gives of the conference between the representatives of Athens and those of Melos.

The Athenians declare:

"But you and we should say what we really think, and aim only at what is possible, for we both alike know that into the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where the pressure of necessity is equal, and that the powerful take what they can, and the weak grant what they must."

Similarly in the celebrated words:

"For of the Gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a law of their nature wherever they can rule they will. This law was not made by us, and we are not the first who have acted upon it; we did but inherit it, and shall bequeath it to all time, and we know that you and all mankind, if you were as strong as we are, would do as we do."

We could hardly ask for a more unashamed avowal of "arete", the will to power, and Thucydides gives no indication that be disapproved of the Athenian conduct. It is to be recalled that when the Melians eventully had to surrender, the Athenians put to death all those who were of adult age, they enslaved the women and children, and colonised the islands with their own settlers and all this at the zenith of Athenian splendour and artistic achievement.

In connection with the will to power stands the conception of "hybris". The man who goes too far, who endeavours to be and to have more than Fate destines for him, will inevitably incur divine jealousy and come to ruin. The man or the nation who is possessed by the unbridled lust for self-assertion is driven headlong into reckless selfconfidence and so to destruction.

Blind passion breeds selfconfidence, and too much selfconfidence ends in ruin. It is as well to realise this side of the Greek character: Socrates and Plato's condemnation of the "Might is Right" theory becomes then all the more remarkable. While not agreeing, of course, with Nietzsche's valuations, we cannot but admire his perspicacity in seeing the relation between the Greek culture and the will to power. Not, of course, that the dark side of Greek culture is the only side - far from it. If the drive of the will to power is a fact, so is the Greek ideal of moderation and harmony a fact, perhaps the most important one!

We must realise that there are two sides to the Greek character and culture:

1 there is the side of moderation, of art, of Apollo and the Olympian deities, and

2 there is the side of excess, unbridled egoistic selfassertion, of Dionysian frenzy, is seen portrayed in the Bacchae of Euripides.

As beneath the splendid achievements of Greek culture we see the abyss of slavery, so beneath the dream-world of Olympian religion and Olympian art we see the abyss of Dionysian frenzy, of pessimism and of all manner of lack of moderation. It may, after all, not be entirely fanciful to suppose, inspired by the thought of Nietzsche, that there can be seen in much of the Olympian religion a selfimposed check on the part of the Dionysian Greek.

Driven on by the will to power to self-destruction, the Greek creates the Olympian dreamworld, the gods  watching over the world with jealousy to see that man does not transgress the limits of human ambition. In this ways the greeks express their consciousness that the tumultuous forces in his soul would be ultimately ruinous to life. (This interpretation is not of course offered as an account of the origin of the Greek Olympian religion from the scientific viewpoint of the historien of religion: it is only meant to suggest psychological factors or the provisions of "Nature," if you like, that may have been operativa, even if unconsciously, in the soul of the Greek.)

To return from this digression. In spite of the dark melancholic side of the Greek, his perception of the constant processof change, of transition from life to death and from death to life, helped to lead him, in the person of the Ionian philosophers, to a beginning of a philosopic view of the world; for these wise men saw that, in spite of all the change and transition, there must be something permanent. Why? Because the change is from something into something else. There must be something which is primary, which persists, which takes various forins and undergoes a process of change. Change cannot be merely a conflict of opposites; they  were convinced that there was something behind these opposites, something that was primary.

The Ionian philosophic view of the world, their cosmology is therefore mainly an attempt to deeide what this primitive element or Urstoff" of all things is, one philosopher deciding for one element, another for another element.

What particular element each philosopher decided on as his suggestion of primary element is not so important as the fact that they had in common this idea of Unity. The fact of change, of motion in the Aristtelian sense, suggested to them the notion of unity, though, as Aristotle says, they did not explain motion. The Ionians differed as to the character of their Urstoff, but they all held it to be material -Thales plumping for water, Anaximenes for air, Heraelitus for fire as preliminary symbols for the one uniting principle of the universe.

The antithesis between spirit and matter had not yet been grasped; so that, although they were de facto materialists in that they assigned a form of matter as the principle of unity and primitive element of all things, they can scarcely be termed materialists in our sense of the word. It is not as though they conceived a clear distinetion between spirit and matter, and then denied it; they were not fully conscious of the distinction, or at least they did not realise its implications. One might be tempted, therefore, to say that the Ionian thinkers were not philosophers so much as primitiva scientists, trying to account for the material and extemal world.

But it must be remembered that they did not stop short at sense, but went beyond appearance to thought. Whether water or air or fire be assigned as the Urstoff, it certainly does not appear as such, i.e. as the ultimate element. In order to arrive at the conception of any of these as the ultimate element of all things it is necessary to go beyond appearance and sense. And they did not arrive at their conclusion  through a scientific, experimental approach, but by means of the philosophic and logical reasoning: the unity posited is indeed a material unity, but it is a unity posited by logic and thought.  Moreover, it is abstract, that is to say, abstracting from the data of appearance, even if materialist.

Consequently we might perhaps call the Ionian cosmologies instances of abstract materialism: we can already see in them the notion of unity in difference and of difference as entering into unity: and this is a philosophic notion. In addition the Ionian thinkers were convinced of the reign of law in the universe. In the life of the individual person, creating inbalance by the overstepping of what is right and proper for man - "hybris" - brings ruin in its train, conflict, disharmony, the ionian way of describing "sin"; so, by extension to the universe, cosmic law reigns, the preservation of a balance and the prevention of chaos and anarchy. Behind the caotic changes of the natural world there is a perfect state of balance and harmony, "apeiron" - as in the life of the individual person.

This conception of a law-governed universe, a universe that is no plaything of mere caprice or lawless spontaneity, no mere field for lawless and "egoistic' domination of one element over another, formed a basis for a scientific cosmology as opposed to fanciful mythology. From another point of view, however, we may say that with the Ionians science and philosophy are not yet distinguished.

The early Ionian thinkers or wise men pursued all sorts of scientific considerations, astronomy, cosmology, for instance, and these were not elearly separated from philosophy. They were Wise Men, who might make astronomical observations for the sake of navigation, try to find out the one primary element of the universe, plan out feats of engineering, etc and all without making any clear distinction between their various activities. Only that mixture of history and geography, which was known as "istoria", was  separated off from the philosphic-scientific activities, and not always very elearly.

Yet as real philosophic notions and real speculative ability appear among them, as since they form a stage in the development of the classical Greek philosophy of the world and of life, they cannot be omitted from the history of philosophy as though they were mere children whose innocent babblings are unworthy of serious attention. The first beginnings of European philosophy cannot be a matter of indifference to the student of philosophy.