1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: The Stoics. The Epicureans - Lucretius. Neo-Platonists. The Fathers.

(Part 13)


The Stoics.—In the cosmology of the Stoics we have the germ of a monistic and pantheistic conception of evolution. All things are said to be developed out of an original being, which is at once material (fire) and spiritual (the Deity), and in turn they will dissolve back into this primordial source. At the same time the world as a developed whole is regarded as an organism which is permeated with the divine Spirit, and so we may say that the world-process is a self-realization of the divine Bieng. The formative principle or force of the world is said to contain the several rational germinal forms of things. Individual things are supposed to arise out of the original being, as animals and plants out of seeds. Individual souls are an efflux from the all-compassing world-soul. The necessity in the world’s order is regarded by the Stoics as identical with the divine reason, and this idea is used as the basis of a teleological and optimistic view of nature. Very curious, in relation to modern evolutional ideas, is the Stoical doctrine that our world is but one of a series of exactly identical ones, all of which are destined to be burnt up and destroyed.

The Epicureans—Lucretius.—The Epicureans differed from the Stoics by adopting a purely mechanical view of the world-process. Their fundamental conception is that of Democritus ; they seek to account for the formation of the cosmos, with its order and regularity, by setting out with the idea of an original (vertical) motion of the atoms, which somehow or other results in movement towards and from one another. Our world is but one of an infinite number of others, and all the harmonies and adaptations of the universe are regarded as a special case of the infinite possibilities of mechanical events. Lucretius regards the primitive atoms (first beginnings or first bodies) as seeds out of which individual things are developed. All living and sentient things are formed out of insentient atoms (e.g., worms spring out of dung). The peculiarity of organic and sentient bodies is due to the minuteness and shape of their particles, and to their special motions and combinations. So, too, mind consists but of extremely fine particles of matter, and dissolves into air when the body dies. Lucretius traces, in the fifth book of his poem, the progressive genesis of vegetal and animal forms out of the mother-earth. He vaguely anticipates the modern idea of the world as a survival of the fittest when he says that many races may have lived and died out, and that those which still exist have been protected either by craft, courage, or speed. Lucretius touches on the development of man out of a primitive, hardly, beast-like condition. Pregnant hints are given respecting a natural development of language which has its germs in sounds of quadrupeds and birds, of religious ideas out of dreams and waking hallucinations, and of the art of music by help of the suggestion of natural sounds. Lucretius thus recognizes the whole range of existence to which the doctrine of evolution may be applied.

Neo-Platonists.—in the doctrines of the Neo-Platonists, of whom Plotinus is the most important, we have the world process represented after the example of Plato as series of descending steps, earth being less perfect than its predecessors, since it is further removed from the cause.4 The system of Plotinus, Zeller remarks, is not strictly speaking one of emanation, since there is no communication of the divine essence to the created world ; yet it resembles emanation inasmuch as the genesis of the world is conceived as a necessary physical effect, and not as the result of volition. In Proclus we find this conception of an emanation of the world out of the Deity, or the absolute, made more exact, the process being regarded as threefold—(1) persistence of cause in effect, (2) the departure of effect from cause, and (3) the tendency of effect to revert to its cause.

The Fathers.—The speculations of the fathers respecting the origin and course of the world seek to combine Christian ideas of the Deity with doctrines of Greek philosophy. The common idea of the origin of things is that of an absolute creation of matter and mind alike. The course of solute creation of matter and mind alike. The course of human history is regarded by those writers who are most concerned to refute Judaism as a progressive divine education. Among the Gnostics we meet with the hypothesis of emanation, as, for example, in the curious cosmic theory of Valentinus.

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