Online Encyclopedia

NEOPLATONISM

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 372 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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NEOPLATONISM, the name given specially to the last school of pagan philosophy, which grew up mainly among the Greeks of Alexandria from the 3rd century onwards. The term has also been applied to the Italian humanists of the Renaissance, and in modern times, somewhat vaguely, to thinkers who have based their speculations on the Platonic metaphysics or on Plotinus, and incorporated with it a tendency towards a mystical explanation of ultimate phenomena. Historical Position and Significance.—The political history of the ancient world ends with the formation, under Diocletian and Constantine, of a universal state bearing the cast of Oriental as well as Graeco-Roman civilization. The history of ancient philosophy ends in like manner with a universal philosophy which assimilated elements of almost all the earlier systems, and worked up the results of Eastern and Western culture. Just as the Later Roman empire was at once the supreme' effort of the old world and the outcome of its exhaustion, so Neoplatonism is in one aspect the consummation, in another the collapse, of ancient philosophy. Never before in Greek or in Roman speculation had the consciousness of man's dignity and superiority to nature found such adequate expression; never before had real science and pure knowledge been so under-valued and despised by the leaders of culture as they were by the Neoplatonists. Judged from the standpoint of empirical science, philosophy passed its meridian in Plato and Aristotle, declined in the post-Aristotelian systems, and set in the darkness of Neoplatonism. But, from the religious and moral point of view, it must be admitted that the ethical " mood " which Neoplatonism endeavoured to create and maintain is the highest and purest ever reached by antiquity. It is a proof of the strength of the moral instincts of mankind that the only phase of culture which we can survey in all its stages from beginning to end culminated not in materialism, but in the boldest idealism. This idealism, however, is also in its way a mark of intellectual bankruptcy., Contempt for reason and science leads in the end to barbarism—its necessary consequence being the rudest superstition. As a matter of fact, barbarism did break out after the flower had fallen from Neoplatonism. The philosophers themselves, no doubt, still lived
End of Article: NEOPLATONISM
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