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NEOLITHIC, or LATER STONE AGE (Gr. vE...

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Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 374 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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NEOLITHIC, or LATER STONE AGE (Gr. vEOr, new, and XLOos, stone), a term employed first by Lord Avebury and since generally accepted, for the period of highly finished and polished stone implements, in contrast with the rude workmanship of those of the earlier Stone Age (Palaeolithic). Knowledge of Neolithic times is derived principally from four sources, Tumuli or ancient burial-mounds, the Lake-dwellings of Switzerland, the Kitchenmiddens of Denmark and the Bone-Caves. No trace of metal on the knowledge they repudiated; but the masses were trained to a superstition with which the Christian church, as the executor of Neoplatonism, had to reckon and contend. By a fortunate coincidence, at the very moment when this bankruptcy of the old culture must have become apparent, the stage of history was occupied by barbaric peoples. This has obscured the fact that the inner history of antiquity, ending as it did in despair of this world, must in any event have seen a recurrence of barbarism. The present world was a thing that men would neither enjoy nor master nor study. A new world was discovered, for the sake of which everything else was abandoned; to make sure of that world insight and intelligence were freely sacrificed; and, in the light that streamed from beyond, the absurdities of the present became wisdom, and its wisdom became foolishness. Such is Neoplatonism. The pre-Socratic philosophy took its stand on natural science, to the exclusion of ethics and religion. The systems of Plato and Aristotle sought to adjust the rival claims of physics and ethics (although the supremacy of the latter was already acknowledged); but the popular religions were thrown overboard. The post - Aristotelian philosophy in all its branches makes withdrawal from the objective world its starting-point. It might seem, indeed, that Stoicism indicates a falling off from Plato and Aristotle towards materialism, but the ethical dualism, which was the ruling tendency of the Stoa, could not long endure its materialistic physics, and took refuge in the metaphysical dualism of the Platonists. But this originated no permanent philosophical creation. From one-sided Platonism issued the various forms of scepticism, the attempt to undermine the trustworthiness of empirical knowledge. Neoplatonism, coming last, borrowed something from all the schools. First, it stands in the line of post-Aristotelian systems; it is, in fact, as a subjective philosophy, their logical completion. Secondly, it is founded on scepticism; for it has neither interest in, nor reliance upon, empirical knowledge. Thirdly, it can justly claim the honour of Plato's name, since it expressly goes back to him for its metaphysics, directly combating those of the Stoa. Yet even on this point it learned something from the Stoics; the Neoplatonic conception of the action of the Deity on the world and of the essence and origin of matter can only be explained by reference to the dynamic pantheism of the Stoa. Fourthly, the study of Aristotle also exercised an influence on Neoplatonism. This appears not only in its philosophical method, but also—though less prominently—in its metaphysic. And, fifthly, Neoplatonism adopted the ethics of Stoicism; although it was found necessary to supplement them by a still higher conception of the functions of the spirit. Thus, with the exception of Epicureanism—which was always treated by Neoplatonism as its mortal enemy—there is no out-standing earlier system which did not contribute something to the new philosophy. And yet Neoplatonism cannot be described as an eclectic system, in the ordinary sense of the word. For, in the first place, it is dominated by one all-pervading interest—the religious; and in the second place, it introduced a new first principle into philosophy, viz. the supra-rational, that which lies beyond reason and beyond reality. This principle is not to be identified with the "idea" of Plato or with the "form" of Aristotle. Neoplatonism perceived that neither sense perception nor rational cognition is a sufficient basis or justification for religious ethics; consequently it broke away from rationalistic ethics as decidedly as from utilitarian morality. It had therefore to find out a new world and a new spiritual function, in order first to establish the existence of what it desiderated, and then to realize and describe what it had proved to exist. Man, how-ever, cannot transcend his psychological endowment. If he will not allow his thought to be determined by experience, he falls a victim to his imagination. In other words, thought, which will not stop, takes to mythology; and in the place of reason we have superstition. Still, as we cannot allow every fancy of the subjective reason to assert itself, we require some new and potent principle to keep the imagination within bounds. This is foundin the authority of a sound tradition. Such authority must be superhuman, otherwise it can have no claim on our respect; it must, therefore, be divine. The highest sphere of knowledge—the supra-rational—as well as the very possibility of knowledge, must depend on divine communications—that is, on revelations. In short, philosophy as represented by Neoplatonism, its sole interest being a religious interest, and its highest object the supra-rational, must be a philosophy of revelation. This is not a prominent feature in Plotinus or his immediate disciples, who still exhibit full confidence in the subjective pre-suppositions of their philosophy. But the later adherents of the school did not possess this confidences; they based their philosophy on revelations of the Deity, and they found these in the religious traditions and rites of all nations. The Stoics had taught them to overstep the political boundaries of states and nationalities, and rise from the Hellenic to a universal human consciousness. Through all history the spirit of God has breathed; everywhere we discover the traces of His revelation. The older any religious tradition or mode of worship is, the more venerable is it, the richer in divine ideas. Hence the ancient religions of the East had a peculiar interest for the Neoplatonist. In the interpretation of myths Neoplatonism followed the allegorical method, as practised especially by the Stoa; but the importance it attached to the spiritualized myths was unknown to the Stoic philosophers. The latter interpreted the myths and were done with them; the later Neoplatonists treated them as the proper material and the secure foundation of philosophy. Neoplatonism claimed to be not merely the absolute philosophy, the keystone ,of all previous systems, but also the absolute religion, reinvigorating and transforming all previous religions. It contemplated a restoration of all the religions of antiquity, by allowing each to retain its traditional forms, and at the same time making each a vehicle for the religious attitude and the religious truth embraced in Neoplatonism; while every form of ritual was to become a stepping-stone to a high morality worthy of mankind. In short, Neoplatonism seizes on the aspiration of the human soul after a higher life, and treats this psychological fact as the key to the interpretation of the universe. Hence the existing religions, after being refined and spiritualized, were made the basis of philosophy.' A Neoplatonism thus represents a stage in the history of religion; indeed this is precisely where its historical importance lies. In the progress of science and enlightenment it has no positive significance, except as a necessary transition which the race had to make in order to get rid of nature-religion, and that under-valuing of the spiritual life which formed an insuperable obstacle to the advance of human knowledge. Neoplatonism, however, failed as signally in its religious enterprise as it did in its philosophical. While seeking to perfect ancient philosophy, it really extinguished it; and in like manner its attempted reconstruction of ancient religions only resulted in their destruction. For in requiring these religions to impart certain prescribed religious truths, and to inculcate the highest moral tone, it burdened them with problems to which they were unequal. And further, by inviting them to loosen, though not exactly to dissolve, their political allegiance—the very thing that gave them stability—it removed the foundation on which they rested. But might it not then have placed them on a broader and firmer foundation? Was not the universal empire of Rome ready at hand, and might not the new religion have stood to it in the same relation of dependence which the earlier religions had held to the smaller nations and states? This was no longer possible. It is true that the political and spiritual histories of the peoples on the Mediterranean run in parallel lines, the one leading up to the universal monarchy of Rome, the other leading up to monotheism and universal human morality. But the spiritual development had shot far ahead of the political; even the Stoa occupied a height far beyond the reach of anything in the political sphere. It is also true that Neoplatonism sought to come to an understanding s Porphyry wrote a book, lrspt -rits As aoy sw 4 tX000¢fas, but this was before he became a pupil of Plotinus; as a philosopher he was independent of the X6yi.a. with the Byzantine Roman empire; Julian perished in the pursuit of this project. But even before his day the shrewder Neoplatonists had seen that their lofty religious philosophy could not stoop to an alliance with the despotic world-empire, because it could not come in contact with the world at all. To Neoplatonism political affairs are at bottom as indifferent as all other earthly things. The idealism of the new philosophy was too heavenly to be naturalized in the Byzantine empire, which stood more in need of police officials than of philosophers. Important and instructive, therefore, as are the attempts made from time to time by the state and by individual philosophers to unite Neoplatonism and the universal monarchy, their failure was a foregone conclusion. There is one other question which we are called upon to raise here. Why did not Neoplatonism set up an independent religious community? Why did it not provide for its mixed multitude of divinities by founding a universal church, in which all the gods of all nations might be worshipped along with the one ineffable Deity? The answer to this question involves the answer to another—Why was Neoplatonism defeated by Christianity? Three essentials of a permanent religious foundation were wanting in Neoplatonism; they are admirably indicated in Augustine's Confessions (vii. 18-21). First, and chiefly, it lacked a religious founder; second, it could not tell how the state of inward peace and blessedness could become permanent; third, it had no means to win those who were not endowed with the speculative faculty. The philosophical discipline which it recommended for the attainment of the highest good was beyond the reach of the masses; and the way by which the masses could attain the highest good was a secret unknown to Neoplatonism. Thus it remained a school for the " wise and prudent "; and when Julian tried to enlist the sympathies of the common rude man for the doctrines and worship of this school, he was met with scorn and ridicule. It is not as a philosophy, then, nor as a new religion, that Neoplatonism became a decisive factor in history, but, if one may use the expression, as a " mood." The instinctive certainty that there is a supreme good, lying beyond empirical experience, and yet not an intellectual good—this feeling, and the accompanying conviction of the utter vanity of all earthly things, were produced and sustained by Neoplatonism. Only it could not describe the nature of this highest good; and there-fore it had to abandon itself to imagination and aesthetic impressions. It changed thought into an emotional dream; it plunged into the ocean of sentiment; it treated the old world of fable as the reflection of a higher reality, and transformed reality into poetry; and after all these expedients, to borrow a phrase of Augustine's, it only saw afar off the land of its desire. Yet the influence of Neoplatonism on the history of our ethical culture is immeasurable, above all because it begot the consciousness that the only blessedness which can satisfy the heart must be sought higher even than the sphere of reason. That man shall not live by bread alone, the world had learned before Neoplatonism; but Neoplatonism enforced the deeper truth—a truth which the older philosophy had missed—that man shall not live by knowledge alone. And, besides the propaedeutic importance which thus belongs to it, another fact has to be taken into account in estimating the influence of Neoplatonism. It is to this day the nursery of that whole type of devotion which affects renunciation of the world, which strives after an ideal, without the strength to rise above aesthetic impressions, and is never able to form a clear conception of the object of its own aspiration. Origin.—As forerunners of Neoplatonism we may regard, on the one hand, those Stoics who accepted the Platonic distinction between the sensible world and the intelligible, and, on the other hand, the so-called Neopythagoreans and religious philosophers like Plutarch of Chaeronea and especially Numenius of Apamea. But these cannot be considered the actual pro-genitors of Neoplatonism; their philosophic method is quite elementary as compared with the Neoplatonic, their fundamentalprinciples are uncertain, and unbounded deference is still paid to the authority of Plato. The Jewish and Christian thinkers of the first two centuries approach considerably nearer than Numenius to the later Neoplatonism .1 Here we have Philo, to begin with. Philo, who translated the Old Testament religion into the terms of Hellenic thought, holds as an inference from his theory of revelation that the divine Supreme Being is " supra-rational," that He can be reached only through " ecstasy ", and that the oracles of God supply the material of moral and religious knowledge. The religious ethics of Philo—a compound of Stoic, Platonic and Neopythagorean elements—already bear the peculiar stamp which we recognize in Neoplatonism. While his system assigns the supremacy to Greek philosophy over the national religion of Israel, it exacts from the former, as a sort of tribute to the latter, the recognition of the elevation of God above the province of reason. The claim of positive religion to be something more than the intellectual apprehension of the reason in the universe is thus acknowledged. Religious syncretism is also a feature of Philo's system, but it differs essentially from what we find in later Neoplatonism. For Philo pays no respect to any cultus except the Jewish; and he believed that all the fragments of truth to be found amongst Greeks and Romans had been borrowed from the books of Moses. The earliest Christian philosophers, particularly Justin and Athenagoras, likewise prepared the way for the speculations of the Neoplatonists—partly by their attempts to connect Christianity with Stoicism and Platonism, partly by their ambition to exhibit Christianity as " hyperplatonic." In the introduction to his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin follows a method which bears a striking resemblance to the later method of Neoplatonism: he seeks to base the Christian knowledge of God—that is, the knowledge of the truth—on Platonism, Scepticism and " Revelation." A still more remarkable parallel to the later Neoplatonism is afforded by the Christian Gnostics of Alexandria,_ especially Valentinus and the followers of Basilides? Like the Neoplatonists, the Basilidians believed, not in an emanation from the Godhead, but in a dynamic manifestation of its activity. The same is true of Valentinus, who also placed an unnameable being at the apex of his system, and regarded matter, not as a second principle, but as a product of the one divine principle. It must be added that the dependence of Basilides and Valentinus on Zeno and Plato is beyond dispute. But the method observed by these Gnostics in thinking out the plan and the history of the universe is by no means thoroughgoing. Ancient myths are admitted without undergoing analysis; the most naive realism alternates with daring efforts at spiritualizing. Philosophically considered, therefore, the Gnostic systems are very unlike the rigorous self-consistency of Neoplatonism; although they certainly contain almost all the elements which enter into the Neoplatonic theory of the universe. But were the oldest Neoplatonists really acquainted with the speculations of Philo, or Justin, or Valentinus, or Basilides? Did they know the Oriental religions, Judaism and Christianity in particular? And, if so, did they really derive anything from these sources? To these questions we cannot give decided, still less definite and precise, answers. Since Neoplatonism originated in Alexandria, where Oriental modes of worship were accessible to every one, and since the Jewish philosophy had also taken its place in the literary circles of Alexandria, we may safely assume that even the earliest of the Neoplatonists possessed The resemblance would probably be still more apparent if we thoroughly understood the development of Christianity at Alexandria in the 2nd century; but unfortunately we have only very meagre fragments to guide us here. 2 The dogmas of the Basilidians, as given by Hippolytus, read almost like passages from Neoplatonic works: 7rEt oh v iv, ohx Om,
End of Article: NEOLITHIC, or LATER STONE AGE (Gr. vEOr, new, and XLOos, stone)
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