Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy  by Ernest Thompson


Chapter 1

What is the use of Philosophy?

What is Philosophy? Philosophy is an outlook on life.

Each one of us, as we look out upon the Universe, formulates a general theory of existence, which produces a certain attitude to life.

What is the use of philosophy? The answer is that as a person acts according to his thoughts, whatever attitude those thoughts are conditioned by is of paramount importance to the life of the individual. For instance if one person holds the attitude that Right is Might and another that Might is Right they will behave in entirely different ways when faced with a given social problem; for one represents unselfishness and the other selfishness. These two opposing viewpoints have their origin in the evolution of man from his pre-existence as an animal to the attainment of the highest spiritual standards of civilisation. “Might is Right” arises from the inbred “survival of the fittest” material tendency which has been established in our psyche by our primitive ancestry, whereas the ideal of “Right is Might” arises from the inherent Spiritual Divinity which is potential in every man, and towards which man instinctively struggles, in accordance with the Divine laws of evolution and progress.

Idealism and Realism

What is the essence of selfishness? It is to exploit the world for self. This produces an outlook that regards the world in ideas, which are related to self. The self-centred man will shut his eyes to the unpleasant facts of life, poverty and murder, upholding only those ideas of life which point to his own advantage. What is the essence of unselfishness? It is to become conscious of the needs of others and to render service to those who are less fortunate in life. The unselfish man will therefore entertain ideas not related to self, but to the objective facts and the stark realities of social life, and will sacrifice self-interests, and even business opportunities, to serve mankind. The question of the relation between ideas and reality is the fundamental question of the whole of philosophy, and the answers which philosophers have given to this question have split them into two principal schools of thought. Those who have regarded ideas as being of primary importance, and facts of secondary importance, are te idealists. Those who have regarded facts as of primary importance, and ideas of secondary importance, are the realists.

Idealist Orthodoxy

This does not mean that a realist never has ideals, or that he never postulates unproven theories. The point is that as soon as the situation renders his ideals unpractical, and his theories untenable, he will change them in the light of new facts and adopt a new approach. A classical religious example of the idealist attitude to life is provided by the Orthodox Church will, in spite of the changes which have taken place in the world, still clings to outmoded creeds and superstitions, and in the face of modern scientific knowledge still believes in miracles.

This attitude has a selfish origin. Without the dictatorship of creeds and dogmas, and the miraculous element, the priests would lose their power over the people. That is why they


Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy

- 5 -

oppose Spiritualism - because of its power to free the people from the shackles of ignorance. Spiritualism means the destruction of Materialism, which places an emphasis on the importance of material possessions, but these mean a great deal to the Church. The Church follows a penniless prophet, yet is the richest landlord in the world. This is the great contradiction of Orthodoxy. Idealism is the source of contradictions, because of the divergence between ideas and reality, and is therefore a misleading approach to life and the cause of error.

Idealist Theosophy

The philosophical school of realism holds that ideas are derived from natural phenomena having objective reality apart from the mind. The viewpoint of philosophical idealism is that all natural phenomena are merely the production of the mind. This attitude of philosophical idealism is the basis of Theosophy. Paul Brunton, a modern exponent of theosophical philosophy, writes: “Mind and nothing else contributes the elements of its experiences. Mentalism derives it’s name from its fundamental principle that mind is the only reality, the only substance, the only existence, things being our ideas, and ideas finding their support in our mind. Mentalism, in short, is the doctrine that in the last analysis there is nothing but mind.” Part of the results of such a philosophy is the complete denial of returning spirit intelligences and of the reality of spirit communications, with the substitution of fantastic and contradictory conceptions of human destiny.

Realistic Spiritualism

Contrast this with the clear realism of the Harmonial Philosophy of Modern Spiritualism, which was given to us by Andrew Jackson Davis. “God exists, the universe exists, man exists, and all besides these plain affirmations of the soul must necessarily be relative secondary or demonstrative and mainly inferential, deductive, inductive, probable and possible. God is everlastingly spiritual. Nature is everlastingly material. God is the active or moving principle. Law is an outer manifestation of the modes of the infinite Mind. A full synopsis of man’s creations may be obtained by simply interrogating nature, for she points to the eternal Mind which instituted laws that manifest themselves throughout her unfolding and bids us consider the principles of association, progression and development.” The appeal here is direct to the objective facts of natural phenomena, in order to discover what is real - the Truths of the Universe, which exist independently of the mind of any interrogator. The foundations of Modern Spiritualism have been built upon scientific research into natural phenomena. Without the demonstration and proof of the existence of independent objective spirit intelligences, and objective physical phenomena associated with those intelligences, Spiritualism would not survive. The mind of an investigator may give him the idea that a spirit is present, but Spiritualism holds that this is not enough. Proof of its objective existence is the only basis for the acceptance of facts. If the facts oppose the mental impression then the latter is valueless. Such is the realistic philosophical basis of Modern Spiritualism.


We have seen how important philosophy is to the life of the individual, and have discussed the two principal philosophical attitudes of idealism and realism. The next important aspect of philosophy to consider is the creation of ideals. As philosophy is a product of thought it follows that correct thinking is important for the production of a practical and useful philosophy. The first great philosophers were the Greeks and it is interesting to note that the


Ernest Thompson MSNU

- 6 -

first science of thinking was developed by those famous Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato. In those ancient times the method of thinking, employed in formulating philosophical ideas, was the dialectical method. Dialectics comes for the Greek word dialego, to discourse, to debate. The Greek method of developing a discussion on any given problem was for each to try to disclose the contradictions in the argument of the other and then to overcome those contradictions in an effort to arrive at truth. Dialectics is a method of eliminating error from thought with the objective of leaving only that which is truth. The dialectical method was later applied to the phenomena of nature by the German philosophers Kant and Hegel, who studied things in their motions and development.

Law of Motion

They realised, when forming their Ideas, that it was Important to remember certain universal laws of development as a guide to the interpretation of truth. First and foremost was the law of universal motion in all natural phenomena. All things are in a constant state of motion. This is the basis of all change, development and life. The nebulae whirl in their mighty orbits, thus determining the form of the universe. In the tiny atom the revolving electrons preserve the character of each material element. Orbital motion forms matter, being its internal or static form of motion. Kinetic motion conveys matter, being its external or directional form of motion. It is important therefore, when thinking about the phenomena of nature, to realise that all aspects of it are in a constant state of motion. The life of the individual and of society is constantly changing because of this inherent motion in all things. This motion attains its most complex and wonderful form in the spirit of the individual. The World of Spirit, in the Ether of Space, contains the higher frequencies of motion or energy waves. The radiation of the ‘thought’ waves of all human spirits, and the ‘form’ waves of all human souls are transmitted by the ether to the super-normal senses of the individual.

Law of Interdependence

The motions and changes of a given object cannot however be considered in isolation, but in their interdependence with other objects in their environment. All things are interdependent upon each other. This is the basis of the grand unity of all things. In all movements there is a process of action and reaction, which is equal and opposite. If one object collides with another the reaction of the second body is equal to the action of the first. The movement of a planet is dependent upon the gravitational field of the sun. Events in America have their effects at our dining tables. A hasty word will influence another person’s life. Our spiritual futures are dependent upon our present actions. “We reap what we sow”. “There is compensation and retribution hereafter for all the good and evil deeds done on earth”. Relatively few people realise however, how interdependent are the world of spirit and the world of matter. We are guided, both consciously and unconsciously, by spirit friends and we in turn often help lost spirits. The people of the earth are the future citizens of heaven. What happens here ultimately affects society in spirit. Finally all spirits are interrelated units of the Supreme Spirit of the Universe and we are therefore organically connected with and interdependent upon each other in a common spiritual brotherhood.

Law of Contradiction

In the motions, which occur in nature, contradictions and opposing forces develop. In turn all developments and changes arise from the conflict of contradictions and the struggle of opposing forces. In the realm of physics, the rotating motion of the earth upon its axis opposes


Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy

- 7 -

the gravitational forces arising from its revolving orbital motion around the Sun, with the result that all objects weigh heavier at the poles. Poverty and riches, old and new, ignorance and wisdom, hatred and love are some of the common contradictions of life. The advent of popular education produced one of the greatest social contradictions in the history of man, the contradiction of scientific knowledge and religious beliefs. In the conflict, which ensued, a new development took place producing a unity of these opposites. Education enabled man to realise the religious implications of a scientific investigation of psychical phenomena. Arising from these investigations a new spiritual revelation came to society - the revelation of Modern Spiritualism. This in turn came into contradiction with and in opposition to the Materialism produced.

Law of Change

Finally, it is important to realise that these changes, arising from the contradictions of nature, take place in definite ways. They proceed by means of gradual, slow and quantitative changes, which accumulate until their existing forms, are no longer capable of sustaining the conflict, which is then resolved by a relatively sudden qualitative change producing a new phenomenon. This is the dynamic method of all evolutionary changes. The octaves of light, sound, sensation and consciousness abruptly end and start when passing from one lower octave to a higher one. After a gradual application of heat, water will suddenly turn to steam. The embryo of the human being takes months to develop but only a short time to become an independent individual.

The Spirit World had for centuries made its impact upon our own, but Hydesville 1848, marked an abrupt change in those relationships, and intelligent communications rapidly spread all over the world. The development of mediumship often takes months before the first psychic perception is experienced. Death suddenly terminates our material life and begins an ethereal one. The spheres of the Spirit World are quite distinct, and reference to different and higher stages of spiritual consciousness have often been referred to in communications from inhabitants of the Spirit World. We are told that long preparation precedes each promotion. The present conflict upon with Spiritualism is engaged with Materialism and Orthodoxy, will some day be triumphantly resolved and society will then, in a relatively short space of time, pass into a “New Spiritual Age.”

It will be seen from the above dialectical laws of natural development that they provide an excellent guide to the interrogation of nature, and are a scientific and reliable method of revealing truth - the basis of all true philosophy.


The history of philosophy can be divided into four main periods. The first great school of philosophers was that of Ancient Greece which lasted 1,000 years. Indeed we owe both philosophy and its name to the Greeks.

Early Greek speculation dates from Thales of Miletus (585 BC).

Over nine hundred years later (AD 325) Constantine, Roman Emperor, convened the Council of Nicaea; the creeds were established and the Church became part of the state. Roman Catholic dictation of thought maintained the darkness of the ages, which followed. Then in AD 529, the Emperor Justinian put an end to all independent thought by closing the schools of Athens, confiscating their property and silencing their professors. The Roman Empire was


Ernest Thompson MSNU

- 8 -

then decadent and practically at an end. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages, which lasted a further thousand years.

Then came the Renaissance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which transformed Europe from the medieval order to the modern order. This revival of learning was responsible for the emancipation of the mind from the trammels of dogmas. The reformation, under Luther’s leadership, came almost simultaneously in 1517.

The industrial revolution introduces us to the fourth period of modern nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy and the struggle between Materialism and Spiritualism.

First Philosophical Principles

As we take up the story of philosophy with Thales (585 BC) we must appreciate that human thought had already developed to a great extent in many important directions. The first civilisation had been established in Babylon about 6,000 BC and by the time of Thales, Man had a rudimentary knowledge of astronomy, geometry, engineering and statesmanship. Thales’ first philosophical principle was that water was the basis of all natural phenomena. It is conjectured that he came to the decision because life owed its nutriment to its presence and that so many things disappeared when dissolved in water. Anaximander succeeded Thales with the Idea that the Universe originated in the infinite and in somewhat mystical phraseology stated, “into that from which all things take their rise they pass away once more.” He also taught that the earth had passed from a fluid to a solid state and that human beings had been evolved from an aquatic animal. Then came the idea that air was the universal element from which all things were made, which was introduced by Anaximenes 546 BC. He stipulated however that in rarefied form it appeared as fire, and when condensed as water and earth.

The Principle of Opposites

The name of Pythagoras introduces us to one of the greatest of the Greek philosophers, with whom we all associate the religious revival, which was a feature of sixth century Hellenic life and thought. Immortality in particular took a foremost place among the Pythagorean doctrines, being held under the form of metempsychosis, or the migration of the animating principle, after death, from animals and plants to human bodies and vice versa. This was a development of a very primitive animistic conception, which from the earliest times had included the notion of the reincarnation of spirits. The Pythagoreans held, in opposition to Ionian materialism, that numbers were the very substances of which things were made. The Pythagorean system of opposites was however the most important contribution and the foundation of Greek dialectics. A table of antithetical couples was drawn up, the most notable of which were: The Limit and the Unlimited; The One and the Many; Rest and Motion; Light and Darkness; Good and Evil. This idea of an all pervading antithesis in nature had a very powerful influence on the subsequent development of Greek thought. It was the basis of the idea of motion, contradiction and struggle, which was so characteristic of the highest Greek philosophy.

Xenophanes wrote in poetry, and considered that earth was the primordial element. He introduced the Pantheistic conception of God, as being the Spirit or Consciousness of matter, and regarded Earth and God as synonymous. So far, three elements, water, air, and earth had been chosen; Heraclitus of Ephesus (502 BC) however, gave the place of honour to fire. “This


Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy

- 9 -

universe, the same for all, was not made by any god or any man, but was and is and ever shall be an ever living fire, kindled and quenched by measure.” He recognised the reign of force and of law. We find him denouncing Homer for the prayer that strife might perish from among the gods and men, for he claimed, “war is common to all, and strife is justice, and all things come into being and pass away through strife.” Parmenides, in opposition to the idea of motion, struggle and strife proclaimed the world to be continuous, homogeneous and eternally at rest. He gave his case away however by constructing a popular cosmology in which he reinstated plurality, motion and negation. In his philosophy the antithesis of “appearance” and “reality” made its first appearance on the stage of philosophy.

Early Idealism and Materialism

From these early Greeks we pass on to Empedocles, who introduced a new force in nature, under the name of Love, which was not only responsible for the pairing of animals but for all the unifying processes now going on throughout the Universe. God was “a sacred and unutterable mind flashing through the whole world with rapid thoughts.” Empedocles was a psychic healer. Leucippus gave us the notion of the atom. Democritus gave us a philosophy of morality. “Not the words, but the works of virtue should be practised.”

Anaxagoras conceived the present order of things as having been evolved from a primordial chaos. These were the most distinguished of the earlier Greek philosophers who prepared the way for the Father of all philosophy - Socrates (469-399 BC). One interesting aspect of this early history is the appearance of the two distinct schools of Idealism and Materialism.

Note the contrasting ideas between the material principles of Water, Air, Earth and Fire and the more abstract ideas of lnfinitism, Numerology, Love and Morality. Later we note the more basic contradictions between motion and rest, appearance and reality. Some philosophers appealed direct to material phenomena, others to pure ideas.


The Father of Philosophy was Socrates (469-399 BC). As we look back over some two thousand three hundred and fifty odd years we can picture that great philosopher, clad in his Greek tunic, walking leisurely through the market place in Athens, gathering the young and learned around him in some shady nook of the temple porticoes, and discussing all sorts of problems with them.

Discussion was life to that select group. All the fundamental problems of existence, which are debated today, were thrashed out by that little band of thinkers. Socrates was so immersed in his thinking that it is recorded he even neglected his family. He never worked, and took no thought of the morrow. Xanthippe, his wife, loved to talk too; in fact it is recorded that she made his home life wretched by her quarrelsome tongue. He was the world’s greatest agnostic and he summed up his position by saying, “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” To doubt one’s beliefs was the essence of philosophy to him, and he held that it was important to turn the process of self-criticism upon oneself. “Know thyself,” said Socrates.

The Dialectical Method

Many of his predecessors had turned their thoughts to the phenomena of nature, but Socrates considered the mind of man more important. What is man, and what can be come? Were his great questions. When his friends discoursed on such subjects as justice, honour, virtue,


Ernest Thompson MSNU

- 10 -

morality, etc., he would press them to define their terms. He would criticise their answers, reveal their contradictions until, by this Socratic method, this dialectical procedure, they arrived as near as possible to truth. He bequeathed to philosophy two very definite answers to two of our most difficult problems - What is the meaning of virtue? And what is the best state? His answers caused his death, but gave him immortal fame. He fought against the orthodox Polytheism of his day and championed the conception of Monotheism. He strove to establish a lasting moral code that would withstand the vicissitudes of religion; a code of ethics which would be as valid for the atheist as for the pietist.

Virtue and the State

His idea was to teach men to appreciate and realise their true interests, to foresee the ultimate effects of their work, and strive to achieve purposive and creative lives; in other words, a “good life” was the product of intelligence; to be virtuous one needed wisdom. Was not sin, error? All men inherited the same violent, selfish, and unsocial impulses, but the intelligent man could control them better, reflect fewer of his animal tendencies, and therefore sin less. In regard to the state, he considered the most perfect state was one, which returned to the individual, in wide opportunities, more than it took from him in restricted liberty. In such a state it would be to advantage of every citizen to obey the social law, and only intelligence would be required to ensure justice, happiness and peace. Without intelligent leadership in government however, it is difficult to persuade the individual to obey the laws. There is chaos where there is no intelligence, and the masses decide in haste and in ignorance; they are swayed by emotion, and repent at leisure in desolation. The management of the state should be left to its wisest men he concluded. “Virtue is knowledge and vice ignorance,” was his famous doctrine.

First Martyr of Free Thought

This aristocratic philosophy was criticised and opposed by the popular Democratic Party in Athens, and as the wealthy and lettered minority was plotting a revolution, the teachings of Socrates had to be silenced. The revolution came, but the Democratic Party won. Socrates, the intellectual leader of the revolting party, the originator of the hated aristocratic ideology, the “corrupter of youths,” was condemned to death. The whole world knows the wonderful story of his courageous defence, in which the first martyr of philosophy proclaimed the rights and necessity of free thought, upheld his conceptions of the perfect state, and refused to beg for mercy from the mob he had always despised. His theory was confirmed when the judges wished to let him go, whilst the crowd clamoured for his death. Woe to him who teaches men faster than they can learn! It was decreed that he should drink hemlock, and as he was now seventy, perhaps he thought that martyrdom would serve a useful purpose.

Survival after Death

Socrates was a Spiritualist, and from childhood was visited by experiences, which he described as the warnings of a “spiritual voice.” These spirit messages were always prohibitions. He also occasionally went into trance. He believed that the soul was divine, and immortal, and was released at death. The following extract, from Plato’s Phaedo reveals Socrates’ solid conviction of survival after death. “How shall we bury you?” asked his friend Crito, as Socrates was about to drink the hemlock. “Just as you please, if only you can catch me, and I do not escape you,” replies Socrates.


Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy

And then smiling quietly, and turning to us, he said “Why my friends, I cannot convince Crito that I am this Socrates, the one who talks with you and argues at length. He thinks that I am that other whom presently he shall see lying dead, and so he asks how he shall bury me. All the words I have spoken to show that when I drink the poison I shall I no longer remain with you, but shall go away to some blessed region of the happy dead, all my words of comfort for you and for myself are thrown away on him... Dear Crito, bear the matter more lightly. Be not troubled at my supposed sufferings when you see my body burned or interred, nor say at the funeral that you are laying out Socrates, or carrying Socrates to the grave, or burying him... Be brave, and say you are burying my body.”


One of the young men who were attracted to the Socratic group of students in Athens was Plato (427-347 BC) who found particular pleasure in Socrates’ game of dialectics in which dogmas were destroyed and ideas pulled to pieces upon the rack of their own contradictions. He became a great lover of wisdom and particularly of his master. “I thank God... I was born in the age of Socrates,” he said. When Socrates died he was only twenty-eight and the cause of his master’s death filled him with a scorn of democracy and a determination that it must be destroyed and replaced with the rule of the wisest. We know now of course that the world was obviously not then ready for a popular democracy and that the Feudal period was the next stage through which society had to pass. Athens became unsafe for Plato and he decided that it was an opportune moment to see the world. For twelve years he wandered from country to country accumulating wisdom from his many and varied experiences, studying the teachings of the scholars of various nations and investigating the numerous religious creeds and beliefs of those early times.

Justice Depends on Social Organisation

At the age of forty he returned to Athens, full of the wisdom of many lands, now both a poet and a philosopher, and created for himself, as a medium of expression, the dialogue. The Dialogues remain one of the priceless treasures of the world, the most famous of which is the Republic. One of the fundamental problems of ethics was raised by the following statement. “You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question for equals in power, the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” Here is the great issue of moral conduct. Which is the basis of justice, might or right? Socrates, who, in the dialogues, serves as the mouthpiece of Plato, answers that as justice is a relation among individuals, and therefore depends upon social organisation, it is better studied in relation to the structure of the community than as a quality of personal conduct. If, he suggested, we can picture a just state then we can describe a just individual. This reveals the great breadth of vision of our philosopher who saw, in those primitive times, the relativity of the issue, and the interrelationship between the citizen and the state; one being the product of the other.

Two Cities - Rich and Poor

Why is it that we do not have a just state? He answered - because of greed and materialism. Men are acquisitive, competitive, ambitious and jealous. One group encroaches upon the preserves of another and war ensues. Trade and finance bring class divisions. “Any ordinary city is in fact two cities, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich, each at war with the other.” (423). Then revolution comes, “the poor overcome their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing the rest; and give to the people an equal share of freedom and power.” (557).

Ernest Thompson MSNU

- 12 -

Democracy however also ruins itself by excess the people are not sufficiently educated to choose the best leaders. “As to the people they have no understanding and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them.” (Protagoras 317). To ensure that a proposition is accepted or rejected it is only necessary to praise it or ridicule it. Mob rule is a rough sea for the ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course. The inevitable result is that the most unscrupulous flatterer, posing as the leader, rises to supreme power. The remedy is to seek only the wisest and best rulers.

What is Useful, is Good

In defining what was meant by justice and temperance, Plato would not admit that they implied the sacredness of property and marriage, but boldly identifying the good with the useful, regarded justice as the assignment of each class to its proper function. The industrial class should be occupied with the business of providing the material requirements of life, the soldiers to protect the nation and the rulers to teach and govern. The masses should not interfere with the state affairs, but the rulers should not use their power for their personal material gain. In studying these philosophical ideas of Plato we should not set ourselves to criticise them, but rather to try and understand them. For instance, we must remember that Plato’s denunciations of democracy were directed against the Athenian constitution, which was the direct government of the state by a mass vote of the whole assembled people, and the huge irresponsible law courts, where often innocent people were condemned to death as an excuse for confiscating their property. His attacks would not therefore apply to modern democracy such as we know it in Britain.

The Passion for Truth

For Plato, reason was the supreme faculty. He did not claim, however, that it was the sole avenue to truth, but the test to which all truth must be submitted before acceptance. Plato taught that the philosophic impulse was, at its origin, akin to sexual love. Both were stimulated by beauty and had as their objective birth in beauty - the propagation of beauty everywhere; but whereas physical passion concerns itself with sensible forms and individuals, philosophic love - the passion for truth - rises by successive stages of thought from appearance to reality, sense to spirit, body to soul, the individual to society and from the one to the all. In the sphere of religious beliefs Plato was quite convinced that the human spirit was immortal, contending that it lived for ever, and after death had a continuous existence in a new body which migrated to a higher or lower existence in the after life. There was a state of rewards and punishments after death, but to make people lead good lives by bribes and threats was not in his opinion the true path to salvation. He considered that a religion should be embodied as part of the social order. The ideal of a perfect society was of course his great objective in writing the Republic, which was really a design for a perfect state.

(Reference numbers refer to marginal numbered sections of the Republic unless otherwise stated.)


Friedrich Schlegel once remarked that every man is born a Platonist, or an Aristotelian. In other words he meant by this contrast in philosophical outlooks that we are either idealists or realists. We have seen Plato’s idealism fully expressed in his famous work the Republic, in which he sets out his conception of the ideal state. Aristotle’s approach to the interpretation of


Spiritualism in the Evolution of Philosophy

- 13 -

existence and nature was realistic. His ideas arose from direct observation of the world, as he knew it. Aristotle (384-322 BC) became a pupil of Plato in his eighteenth year and remained in his school until his master’s death - a period of twenty years. Later, Philip, King of Macedon, the greatest monarch of the time, asked Aristotle, now the greatest philosopher of his day, to become the tutor of his son, Alexander, who was destined to become the master of the then known world. Aristotle was a great naturalist, a collector of knowledge, a collector of books and the first great collector of specimens of natural phenomena. It is recorded that Alexander instructed his hunters, gamekeepers, fishermen and gardeners to supply Aristotle with all he required for his collections, which enabled him to organise the first greet zoological garden that the world has ever seen.

Conquest of the World

The great amount of knowledge arising from studies of his vast collections and books enabled him to supply the world with the fundamentals of science, and a test book of knowledge which became the basis of future progress during the ensuing two thousand years.

His writings were prolific, some records crediting him with 4000 volumes, others with a thousand. What remains is but a fraction. His works on logic and the science of thought are collected under the title of Organon. A second group covers his scientific works - physics, astronomy, biology, etc., a third includes his aesthetic writings, and a fourth his contributions to philosophy - ethics, politics and metaphysics. They constituted the first greet encyclopaedia - it was indeed a greater conquest of the world than that of his pupil - Alexander. Science became the foundation of his philosophical writings. Instead of giving us brilliant literature containing philosophy as Plato did, he gave the world science and arising from it a scientific philosophy, which is the essence of realism.


Whilst Aristotle and Plato developed, quite naturally, the dialectical mode of thought, it was one of Aristotle’s great distinctions that he created the science of logic. Correct thinking and fruitful discussion rest to a great extent upon defining terms or objects. Aristotle held that a definition should have two parts. Firstly, an object should be placed in a class or group whose general characteristics are its own. Man, for instance, is first of all an animal. Secondly, the definition should indicate special characteristics; how the object differs from other members of its group. Man, is therefore according to this system of definitions, a rational animal. In the Platonic demand for definitions there was a tendency away from things and facts to theories and ideas, from particulars to generalities, from science to scholasticism. With Plato his generalities tended to determine his facts, and he was so concerned with ideas that they began to define and select his facts. In the Republic he destroyed the individual to perfect the state. Aristotle was diametrically opposed to this outlook and criticised Plato’s idealism. He preferred to deal with objective reality, the ‘unwithered face of nature’ - the facts as revealed by observation and experiment.

Scientific Work

“Socrates” says Renan, “gave philosophy to mankind and Aristotle gave it science.” His greatest contribution was in the sphere of biology, arising from his studies in the great zoological gardens provided by Alexander. Because of this great collection he was able to visualise something of the grand cavalcade of evolution in the minute gradations from the


Ernest Thompson MSNU

- 14 -

lowest forms to the highest. He noticed for instance that “nature makes so gradual a transition from the inanimate to the animate kingdom that the boundary lines which separate them are indistinct and doubtful.” Some species had not evolved to either plants or animals, and from such lowly stages life had grown steadily in complexity and power. Intelligence has progressed in correlation with mobility and complexity of structure. He noted the ultimate development of the nervous system and the brain. His researches were so comprehensive it is really surprising that he never formulated the theory of evolution. He discovered that characters common to the genus appear in the developing organism before characters common to the species or those peculiar to itself.

The Soul

He also noted that individuation varies inversely according to genesis, which means that when a species becomes highly developed the offspring decrease in number. He was also on the verge of discovering the science of genetics, having noted how a certain woman had married a Negro, and how her children were all whites, yet blacks appeared in the next generation. Where had the blackness been hidden he asked. Of greater importance was his theory of teleology which appeared in De Anima, and which asserts that not only in human life, but also in animal life there is an indwelling soul preserving the body from decay, and determining its growth towards completion. In man, this principle appeared in its highest form as mind. Soul was the efficient cause and the end of the physical organism, and was the explanation of organic life as a development from the merely potential to the actual. Aristotle realised that all life was due to motion.

God was the moving principle in nature. God does not create but moves the world; not as a mechanical force but as the total motive of all operations in the world, the drive and purpose of things, the principle of life. Divine providence and natural causes are synonymous.


Aristotle contended that the aim of life was not goodness for its own sake but happiness. To him the fife of reason - the specific glory and power of man - was happiness. Like Socrates, virtue was the direct fruit of wisdom and could only be the achievement of a fully developed man. There was no specific guide to this achievement, beyond the “golden mean” between extremes. The “golden mean” was not however the exact average of two extremes, but fluctuate in each given situation, and could only be discovered by mature and flexible reason. Excellence does not develop except from training. We do good deeds, not because of virtues, but are virtuous because of good deeds; “these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions.” He extended his governing principle of the “golden mean” to politics, and rejected all extreme social and political programmes. It is impossible to convey in the space available, any adequate conception of the work of this great philosopher, who contributed possibly more than any other man to the knowledge and wisdom of the world.

Chapter 2 Modern Philosophy