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The Platonic system makes the perfection of morality to consist in living in conformity to the will of God, the only author of true felicity; and teaches that our highest good consists in the contemplation and knowledge of the supreme Being, whom he emphatically styles ro 2,200, the good.* The end of this knowledge is to make men resemble the Deity as much as is compatible with human nature. This likeness consists in the possession and practice of all the moral virtues...}
After the death of Plato many of his disciples deviated from his doctrines. His school was then divided into the old, the middle, and the new academy. The
old academy strictly adhered to his tenets. The mid
dle academy receded from his system, without entirely deserting it. The new academy, founded by Carneades, an African by birth, almost entirely relinquished the original doctrines of Plato, and verged towards the sentiments which were taught by the Sceptic philosophy.
* Plato certainly believed that in the divine nature there are two, and probably that there are three hypostases, whom he called ro or and ro v, vov; and Jovy”. The first he considered as self-existent, and elevated far above all mind and all knowledge; calling him, by way of eminence, the Being, or the One. The only attribute which he acknowledged in this person was goodness; and therefore he frequently styles him the roaya.0or, the good, or essential goodness. The second he considered as mind, the wisdom or reason of the first, and the maker of the world; and therefore he styles him yovo, Aoyos, and Masovoyos. The third he always speaks of as the soul of the world; and hence calls him ovzn, or ovXn row Koop.ov. He taught that the second is a necessary emanation from the first, and the third from the second, or perhaps from the first and second. In treating of the eternal emanation of the second and third hypostases from the first, Plato, and the philosophers of his academy, compare them to light and heat proceeding from the sun. Encyc. vol. xviii. p. 43.
t Dacier's Plato, vol. i. p. 7, 8,
The Sceptic or Pyrrhonic sect of philosophers derive their name from Pyrrho, a Grecian philosopher, who flourished at Peloponnesus in the hundred and ninth olympiad. This denomination was in little esteem till the time of the Roman emperors; then it began to increase, and made a considerable figure. Every advance which Pyrrho made in the study of o: involved him in fresh uncertainty. Hence he left the school of the dogmatists, and established a school of his own on the principles of universal scepticism.* - a On account of the similarity of the opinions of this sect, and those of the Platonic school, in the middle and new academy, many of the real followers of Pyrrho chose to screen themselves from the reproach of universal scepticism, by calling themselves Academics.t. Pyrrho and his followers rather endeavoured to demolish every other philosophical structure, than to erect one of their own. They asserted nothing; but proposed positions merely by way of enunciation, without deciding on which side, in any disputed question, the truth lay, or even presuming to assert that one proposition was more probable than another. On the subject of morals, the Sceptics suspended their judgment concerning the ground of the distinction admitted by the Stoics and others, between things in their nature good, evil, or indifferent.: The chief points of difference between the Pyrrhonists and Academics are these :---The Academics laid it down as an axiom that nothing can be known with certainty: the Pyrrhonists maintained that even this ought not to be positively asserted. The Acade
* Pyrrho found some reasons to affirm and deny every thing; and there: fore suspended his assent, aster he had well examined the arguments pro and con, and reduced his conclusion to, “Let the matter be further enquired into,”
t The Academics derived their name from the circumstance of Plato's teaching in a grove near Athens, which was consecrated to the memory of Academicus, an Athenian hero,
mics admitted the real existence of good and evil: the Pyrrhonists suspended their judgment on this point. The Academics, especially the followers of Carneades, allowed different degrees of probability in opinion; but the Sceptics rejected all speculative conclusions, drawn either from the testimony of the senses, or from reasoning; and concluded that we can have no good ground for affirming or denying any proposition, or embracing any one opinion rather than another.” The Electic philosophy was in a flourishing state at Alexandria when our Saviour was upon earth. Its founders formed the design of selecting from the doctrines of all former philosophers such opinions as seemed to approach nearest the truth, and of combining them into one system. They held Plato in the highest esteem; but they did not scruple to join with his doctrines whatever they thought conformable to reason in the tenets of other philosophers. Potamo, a Platonist, appears to have been the first projector of this plan. The Electic system was brought to perfection by Ammonias Saccas, who blended christianity with the tenets of philosophy. The moral doctrine of the Alexandrian school was as follows:—The mind of man, originally a portion of the divine Being, having fallen into a state of darkness and defilement by its union with the body, is to be gradually emancipated from the chain of matter, and rise by contemplation to the knowledge and vision of God. The end of philosophy, therefore, is the liberation of the soul from its corporeal imprisonment. For this purpose the Electic philosophy recommends abstinence, with other voluntary mortifications, and religious exercises.t. In the infancy of the Alexandrian school, not a few of the professors of christianity were led by the pretensions of the Electic sect to imagine that a coalition might, with great advantage, be formed between its system and that of christianity. This union appeared the more desirable, as several philosophers of this sect became converts to the christian faith. The consej. was, that pagan ideas and opinions were by egrees mixed with the pure and simple doctrines of the gospel. The oriental philosophy was popular in several nations at the time of Christ's appearance. Before the commencement of the christian aera it was taught in the east, whence it gradually spread through the Alexandrian, Jewish, and Christian schools.” The oriental philosophers endeavoured to explain the nature and origin of all things by the principle of emanation from an eternal fountain of being. The forming of the leading doctrines of this philosophy into a regular system has been attributed to Zoroaster, an ancient Persian philosopher. He adopted the principle generally held by the ancients, that from nothing nothing can be produced. He supposed spirit and matter, light and darkness, to be emanations from one eternal source. The active and passive principles he conceived to be perpetually at variance ; the former tending to produce good, the latter evil: but that i. the intervention of the supreme Being the contest would at last terminate in favour of the good principle. According to Zoroaster, various orders of spiritual beings, gods, or demons, have proceeded from the Deity, which are more or less perfect, as they are at a greater or less distance in the course of emanation from the eternal fountain of intelligence, among which the human soul is a particle of divine light, which will return to its source and partake of its immortality: and matter is the last, or most distant emanation from the first source of being, which, on account of its distance from the fountain of light, becomes opaque and inert, and whilst it remains in
* Enfield. # Ibid.
that state is the cause of evil: but, being gradually refined, it will at length return to the fountain from whence it flowed.* Those who professed to believe the oriental philosophy, were divided into three leading sects, which were subdivided into others. Some imagined two eternal principles, from whence all things proceeded; the one presiding over light, the other over matter, and by their perpetual conflict explaining the mixture of good and evil that appears in the universe. Others maintained that the being which presided over matter was not an eternal principle, but a subordinate intelligence; one of those which the supreme God produced from himself. They supposed that this being was moved by a sudden impulse to reduce to order the rude mass of matter which lay excluded from the mansions of the Deity, and also to create the human race. A third sect entertained the idea of a triumvirate of beings, in which the supreme Deity was distinguished both from the material evil principle, and from the Creator of this sublunary world.—That these divisions did really subsist, is evident from the history of the christian sects which embraced this philosophy.t From blending the doctrines of i. oriental philo, sophy with christianity, the Gnostic sects, which were so numerous in the first centuries, derive their origin. Other denominations arose which aimed to unite Judaism with Christianity. Many of the pagan philosophers who were converted to the christian religion, exerted all their art and ingenuity to accommodate the doctrines of the gospel to their own schemes of philosophy. In each age of the church new systems were introduced, till, in process of time, we find the christian world divided into that prodigious variety of sentiment which is exhibited in the following pages.