previous next


The beginning of philosophy.

The beginning of philosophy, at least to such as enter upon it in a proper way, and by the door, is a consciousness of our own weakness and inability [p. 1145] in necessary things. For we came into the world without any natural idea of a right-angled triangle; of a diesis, or a semitone, in music; but we learn each of these things by some artistic instruction. Hence, they who do not understand them do not assume to understand them. But who ever came into the world without an innate idea of good and evil, fair and base, becoming and unbecoming, happiness and misery, proper and improper; what ought to be done, and what not to be done? Hence, we all make use of the terms, and endeavor to apply our impressions to particular cases. " Such a one hath acted well, not. well; right, not right; is unhappy, is happy; is just, is unjust." Which of us refrains from these terms? Who defers the use of them till he has learnt it, as those do who are ignorant of lines and sounds? The reason of this is, that we come instructed in some degree by nature upon these subjects; and from this beginning, we go on to add self-conceit. " For why," say you, "should I not know what fair or base is? Have I not the idea of it?" You have. "Do I not apply this idea to the particular instance? " You do. "Do I not apply it rightly, then?" Here lies the whole question; and here arises the self-conceit. Beginning from these acknowledged points, men proceed, by applying them improperly, to reach the very position most questionable. For, if they knew how to apply them also, they would be all but perfect.

If you think that you know how to apply your gen- [p. 1146] eral principles to particular cases, tell me on what you base this application.

" Upon its seeming so to me."

But it does not seem so to another; and does not ne too think that he makes a right application?

"He does."

Is it possible, then, that each of you should rightly apply your principles, on the very subjects about which your opinions conflict?

" It is not."

Have you anything to show us, then, for this application, beyond the fact of its seeming so to you? And does a madman act any otherwise than seems to him right? Is this, then, a sufficient criterion for him too?

" It is not."

Come, therefore, to some stronger ground than seeming.

"What is that?"

The beginning of philosophy is this: the being sensible of the disagreement of men with each other; an inquiry into the cause of this disagreement; and a disapprobation and distrust of what merely seems; a careful examination into what seems, whether it seem rightly; and the discovery of some rule which shall serve like a balance, for the determination of weights; like a square, for distinguishing straight and crooked. This is the beginning of philosophy.

Is it possible that all things which seem right to all [p. 1147] persons are so? Can things contradictory be right? We say not all things; but all that seem so to us. And why more to you than to the Syrians or Egyptians; than to me, or to any other man? Not at all more.

Therefore, what seems to each man is not sufficient to determine the reality of a thing; for even in weights and measures we are not satisfied with the bare appearance, but for everything we find some rule. And is there, then, in the present case no rule preferable to what seems? Is it possible that what is of the greatest necessity in human life should be left incapable of determination and discovery?

There must be some rule. And why do we not seek and discover it, and, when we have discovered, ever after make use of it, without fail, so as not even to move a finger without it? For this, I conceive, is what, when found, will cure those of their madness who make use of no other measure but their own perverted way of thinking. Afterwards, beginning from certain known and determinate points, we may make use of general principles, properly applied to particulars.

Thus, what is the subject that falls under our inquiry? Pleasure. Bring it to the rule. Throw it into the scale. Must good be something in which it is fit to confide, and to which we may trust? Yes. Is it fit to trust to anything unstable? No. Is pleasure, then, a stable thing? No. Take it, then, and [p. 1148] throw it out of the scale, and drive it far distant from the place of good things.

But, if you are not quick-sighted, and one balance is insufficient, bring another. Is it fit to be elated by good? Yes. Is it fit, then, to be elated by a present pleasure? See that you do not say it is; otherwise I shall not think you so much as worthy to use a scale. Thus are things judged and weighed, when we have the rules ready. This is the part of philosophy, to examine, and fix the rules; and to make use of them, when they are known, is the business of a wise and good man.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus English (George Long, 1890)
load focus Greek (1916)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: