The highest intellect is that which discovers, or evolves knowledge; next to that is the intellect capable of giving a wide and effective diffusion to knowledge already existing. In this latter category, we must include the author of the work before us. To some fancy and imagination he adds much. Rhetorical freshness and ability, which gives a certain charm to his lectures. If he has cast a particle of originality on any part of his subject, it is that which treats of Greek philosophy as represented by Plato.
In fact, he is himself organically a Platonist. His thoughts are rather rich in their verbal clothing than in their naked reality. He is better qualified to talk about what other men have thought and written, than to show how their thoughts have grown out of the past, and how they are destined to germinate into the future, through their vitality in the present. As an academician, Professor Butler had his merit as a lecturer to young men; but as a philosopher, addressing men of thought, experience, and cerebral maturity, we cannot rank him very high.
Greece had already some elements prophetic of civilization. She was singularly free from the contracting institutions of the East, and by some early essays of maritime communication she had learned to import thought as well as wealth. A religion, diversified and practical in its forms, already gave occupation to the fancy; the names of Orpheus, Linus, Musaai.s, belong alike to the religion and the poetry of antiquity. The Argonautic expedition (whatever its duration and exient), the great national movement against Troy, must have increased the stores of thought, though attended, it would seem, with much domestic calamity ; and the latter attests the progress of the Grecian states to the great principle of national unity, one of the most fertile sources of civilization.
Interest in medieval philosophy, while largely developed through the neo-Thomistic movement in Belgium, England, and elsewhere, is by no means confined to this new-old stream of thought. M. de Wulf's book could not otherwise be now in its third French edition and also translated into English. As the second edition was extensively reviewed, we need call attention here only to the changes found in the third. "The relations between philosophy and theology down to the twelfth century have been reconsidered; also the realist and anti-realist systems of that century and the classification of the theological schools. The divisions of philosophy in the thirteenth century have been modified. A new section has been devoted to the neo-Platonic current of thought, represented mainly by Witelo and Theoderic of Freiburg." It is perhaps worthy of comment that the author gives not a little attention to the extra-philosophical setting of the great medieval systems. Scholastic methods of teaching are described lucidly.
The philosophical literature accessible to the scholastics is pretty fully catalogued. And, in his account of the sources of the philosophical Renaissance, M. de Wulf incorporates an interesting page or two on the rise of the universities and the influence of the great mendicant orders on the intellectual life of the day. A criticism of M. de Wulf's interpretations on any of these or other points involves, of course, an evaluation of the whole orthodox Roman attitude-something quite uncalled for here.
Waiving all the crucial questions this underlying one involves, the reviewer finds the volume an admirable specimen of the historian's art. Immense learning and a keen sense of exposition are visible on every page. Cross-references have been worked out at great length, and bibliographies, while not presuming to be exhaustive, cover their respective fields thoroughly. The translator has done his work well. Quarrel as one may with this honestly and openly biased history, one must admit that it supplies information on an obscure, neglected, but rich field of philosophy as no other volume does.
Modern philosophy is altogether different. This latter does not find the ground free nor can it provide itself with its own law. While the ancient wisdom was crumbling away, religion was gaining a hold on the souls of men, either satisfying or awakening moral needs almost unknown to the ancient Greeks. Hence forth man no longer contents himself with forming one in spirit with nature and contemplating that supreme thought on which the world is founded. He regards na ture as corrupt, and would like to break the bonds that bind him thereto. His will is to know a supernatural world whose regenerating influence he receives during this lifetime. In it he deserves to live forever after death.
The consciousness of his sin and wretchedness besets him ; while in this state he is tortured by the desire for endless perfection and happiness. Life must of necessity be the means of proceeding from hell to heaven; the Supreme Being must be a Father who has pity on his creatures. Religion alone means to answer these needs which itself has called forth or nurtured. Concerning things above, religion has received illumination that transcends reason; it is in possession both of purifying pardon and of trans forming grace. It gives this world over to reason?which forms part thereof?in order to reign alone in the next, man's true home, compared with which the present world is as nothing. Here, then, we have philosophy removed from the in visible world, dispossessed of the supreme control of the human soul. Will it, at least, remain in possession of the visible world? This was the case during the whole of the Middle Ages, when, as religion itself acknowledged, the explanation of natural phenomena was sought for in Aristotle's Physics.
The sixteenth century, however, witnessed the birth of a rival power with principles of its own and claiming that it alone could interpret nature, and this power was science. It is not the qualitative element in things, the object of metaphysics, said the scientist, that is able to explain phenomena: they are explained as being dependent on numbers, magnitudes and mathematical prop erties which are clear in themselves and have no need of verification by philosophers. What we have to do is to observe phenomena, try to discover inductively their more or less constant relations to one another, and finally to reduce these relations or laws, which are still obscure and contingent, to mathematical formulas, disentangled of all sensible or metaphysical matter and thereby exclusive of all ind?termination; by this means, man really acquires that mental representation of the universe and empire over things that is the supreme goal of his ambition on earth.
Still uncertain of its independence in the days of Coper nicus, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes and Newton, science, find ing its material in observation and experimentation, as it found its form in mathematics, speedily became emanci pated; nowadays it stands on its own feet. And whereas at first it limited its ambition to explaining astronomical or purely physical phenomena, and only in a spirit of audacity which it knew not how to justify, challenged the mani festations of life, it has gradually, by a process of continual advance, entered realms which it was forbidden to ap proach, and now we find no single element of reality that has any right to close the door upon it. With these two powers, science and religion, modern philosophy came into contrast.