1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Indian Philosophy. Early Greek Physicists.

(Part 8)


Indian Philosophy.—Passing from mythology to speculation properly so called, we find in the early systems of philosophy of India theories of emanation which approach in some respects the idea of evolution. Brahma is conceived as the eternal self-existent being, which on its material side unfolds itself to the world by gradually condensing itself to material objects through the gradations of ether, fire water, earth, and the elements. At the same time this eternal being is conceived as the all-embracing world soul from which emanates the history of individual souls. In the later system of emanation of Sankhja there is a more marked approach to a materialistic doctrine of evolution. If, we are told, we follow the action the chain of causes far enough back we reach unlimited eternal creative nature or matter. Out of this "principal thing" or "original nature" all material and spiritual existence issues, and into it will return. Yet this primordial creative nature is endowed with volition with regard to its own development. Its first emanation as plastic nature contains the original soul or deity out of which all individual souls issue.

Early Greek Physicists.—Passing by Buddhism, which, though teaching the periodic destruction of our world by fire, &c., does not seek to determine the ultimate origin of the cosmos, we come to those early Greek physical philosophers who distinctly set themselves to eliminate the idea of divine interference with the world by representing its origin and changes as a natural process. The early Ionian physicists, including Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, seek to explain the world as generated out of a primordial matter which is at the same time the universal support of things. This substance is endowed with a generative or transmutative force1 by virtue of which is passes into a succession of forms. They thus resemble modern evolutionists, since they regard the world with its infinite variety of forms as issuing from a simple mode of matter. More especially the cosmology of Anaximander resembles the modern doctrine of evolution in its conception of the indeterminate (GREEK) out of which the particular forms of the cosmos are differentiated. Again, Anaximander may be said to prepare the way for more modern conceptions of material evolution by regarding his primordial substance as eternal and by looking on all generation as alternating with destruction, each step of the process being of course simply a transformation of the indestructible substance. Once more, the notion that this indeterminate body contains potentially in itself the fundamental contraries—hot, cold, &c.,—by the excretion or evolution of which definite substances were generated, is clearly a forecasting of that antithesis of potentiality and actually which from Aristotle downwards has been made the basis of so many theories of development. In conclusion, it is noteworthy that though resorting to utterly fanciful hypotheses respecting the order of the development of the world, Anaximader agrees with modern evolutionists in conceiving the heavenly bodies as arising out of the aggregation of diffused, matter and in assigning to organic life an origin in its inorganic materials of the primitive earth (pristine mud). The doctrine of Anaximenes, who unites the conceptions of a determinate and indeterminate original substance adopted by Thales and Anaximander in the hypothesis of a primordial and all generating air, is a clear advance on these theories, inasmuch as it introduced the scientific idea of condensation and rarefaction as the great generating agencies. For the rest, his theory is chiefly important as emphasizing the vital character of the original substance. The primordial air is conceived as animated. Anaximenes seems to have inclined to a view of cosmic evolution as throughout involving a quasi-spiritual factor. This idea of the air as the original principle and source of life and intelligence is much more clearly expressed by a later writer, Diogenes of Apollonia. Diogenes made this conception of a vital and intelligent air the ground of a teleological view of climatic and atmospheric phenomena. It is note worthy that he sought to establish the identity to organic and inorganic matter by help of the facts of vegetal and animal nutrition. Diogenes distinctly taught that the world is of finite duration, and will be renewed out of primitive substance.

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