The common characters of the philosophy of Plato and of Aristotle have been revealed: the cause of the ethos, existing in itself and extrinsic to human reason – the lack of historical principle – the predominance of the state over man, whose happiness, freedom, moral perfection is sacrificed to it. Already what these two thinkers have in common, and the opposition they form, in part to older, in part to newer ideas, goes to prove that these characteristics of their doctrine are not the result of a particular line of reasoning, but a particular quality of their spirit – the culture [Bildung] of their nation.
If the causes that are manifested in different ways in the various activities of a people should be conducted back to their common origin, one should look no farther than the highest things that the people imagines, in the consciousness of its relation to the deity. Now for the Greeks, the gods in their personalities are not in any manner the supreme rulers of things; blind fate dominates them and produces events. But the ethical world is under the sway of ideas, the highest thoughts or forms of the good, the beautiful, the sublime [Erhabenen]. Fate and the ideas, without self-consciousness themselves, without being determined by others, nor determining themselves, put everything in motion and take the scepter over the gods and men. This manner of thinking is certainly not the oldest of all; it is not the original thought of humanity. We are allowed to compare it with another, preserved in the most ancient documents, handed down to the new world in a more elevated form, among us the content of public faith, and perhaps even among those who do not believe in its divine origin, can claim to be regarded as the prototype of man.
According to the Hebrew idea it is the personal God, who is not limited by anything, who according to His free will rules the destinies of the world, and who prescribes to men their end. Ethical precepts have no other foundation apart from His will. All establishments and regulations bear the imprint of His omnipotence: “Ye shall not deal falsely one to another, I am the Lord your God!” [cf. Leviticus 19: 11.] Good and evil exists only because He willed it or forbade it, for His alone is the glory. Now among the Greeks this belief was converted absolutely into its opposite, as expressed decisively in Plato’s Euthyphro: “The holy is not the holy because the gods love it, but the gods love it, because it is the holy” [cf. 10e] This is to separate the divine essence in a different way than polytheism does. That is to say that not only is it divided into different gods, but personality itself, the willing and the contents of its will, the thing willed, are two powers entirely separated from each other, and these, the mere products, are set over their producers. For what appears to the Greeks to be fate, to be the idea regarding God, in reality is only what they had decided, what they put forward as task and goal.
The Supreme Being [das höchste Dasein] has thereby ceased to be a free and conscious entity, he has been diminished. But man, in the midst of these separated powers, has been elevated, has become more free. He does not fear destiny, because it cannot do him any harm, just as little as it can avert it. It can just as little pity the man as it can rage against him. But the gods are faced with the same necessity as man, and the hero is encouraged to undertake dangerous deeds of glory, because gods and heroes must fulfill their destiny. Gods and men are subject to the same moral laws, and the extent to which the Greek recognizes them as his own, he also dares to apply to his gods. Thus, according to Herodotus (Historiar., Lib. I, p. 55, n. Cux, edit. Firmin-Didot, ISM), a prominent Cymian masters the god for having given to his hometown the vile advice to hand over guests, because he also flushes the protégés of the gods, the birds nesting in the forest. This gives rise to the greatness of man, who with his free act overcomes unfree destiny, and even the haughty greatness of Prometheus, who rebels against the immortal gods; a character in which the East sees only the abomination and not the greatness.
Because an unconscious power is placed above the gods, the historical principle is automatically given up. History is only the work of an agent. Fate and the Ideas are merely existing from everlasting to everlasting, in them there is no decision, no act, no progress. In Judaism, not only do human destinies have a history, but also the disposing power over them. In events, everything is foresight, preparation for a future destination, everything is the result of interaction of the free act of people vis-à-vis God and the no less free act of God vis-à-vis people. The Judeo-Christian narrative as a whole turns out to be a great indoor drama, the archetype of all tragedy, because it is the divine tragedy. The ethical commandments themselves are a history. There is no ideal closed off in itself as the norm for the manifold relationships that develop outside of it, but He, who alone is the source of the ethos, for each event, when it happens, at the same time imparts the law, because nothing happens that was not present in His will. Jehovah Himself ordains who is to be destroyed, who is to be spared. Even the denial of the incomprehensible – inhuman, as one would have it lately – commandment meets with the divine wrath. And even though it gains a permanent establishment and legislation, the Jewish ethos is still not exhausted, indeed the most essential is not identified in it, if the individual commandments that run through all of history and form that history, were lacking. Therefore, like any history, it can only be depicted by narrative. Finally, in redemption all events attain their fulfillment and law its transformation, its new, previously cloaked shape. Free guidance and predestination cancel the contradiction of the inequality between the beginning and end, and nevertheless the proclaimer of the truth, because He founded a new kingdom, said: “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
The Greek view, however, sees their events go on without guidance toward a goal, an eternally recurring exchange of things. The archetypes, and with them the moral requirements, are the same in the beginning as they are in the follow-up. Always in the same way, man strives for them, and is unable to reach them. It is the contradiction that cannot be explained: the Ideas had from the start to make the world in accordance with themselves, if they have power over it, and if the ideas are perfect, so would be the world. Therefore Aristotle diminishes their own content. He is perhaps the first philosopher to come to the gloomy resignation to the inevitable limitations of the present nature as something eternal. Plato holds a broader sweep above his nation, his vivacious aspiring mind could not do without the self-conscious creator and the final consummation of all things. So he closes the Republic with the prospect of an otherworldly future, which alone for him resolves the contradiction. But in scientific use, he stands herein on the same line with Aristotle. Both ignore progress in history in order to infer the content of the idea. For both, the ethos is a shape readied from eternity to eternity, for which actions, as occurring outside of it, either correspond to or contradict it. And God cannot be stirred by prayers, says Plato, because He cannot deviate from the idea of justice.
An ethos that creates the norm simultaneously with the conditions and circumstances it generates, that itself moves in an uninterrupted ascent to its finite form, and therefore for a different time and different incident may be another without contradiction – an historical ethos can have its basis only in the free and omnipresent will of a personal God. Thus in Greek philosophy, although it recognizes a positive and meaningful principle of things, yet [there is] already the beginning of the unhistorical view, since the cause of the world and ethos appears as unfree, thallos, something merely existing. This view reaches its extreme in modern, abstract philosophy and certifies here more clearly the untruth thereof, whence it is also necessary for philosophy to return to that ancient historical view, the Judeo-Christian, which has never ceased being valid in life.
Charity [Carität] is the peculiar characteristic of the Orient. It is the goal of all the Jewish commandments, excluding those based on the historical relationship of the people to God, such as the exodus from Egypt, the promulgation of laws, etc. The divine love extends to all living things, from animals up to slaves, strangers to the sons of the chosen people. But charity is only from person to person. Fate and the Ideas are without sensation. Even the jealous God of the Old Covenant restricts the penalty to the fourth generation, while He blesses the thousandth. But the Greek avenger of morals [der Sitte] strides relentlessly across the earth. An intervening god may liberate after extended agony, but only rarely. The greatness of heroes is only elevated over the Nemesis through the atonement of a freely chosen downfall. Here then, charity ceases to be the driving force, the Ideas cannot require it, cannot reciprocate, because it is not their essence. They do not disappear; but they become something other than they were originally and peculiarly. Namely, not the person himself, whether God or man, is its innermost motive, but the beauty of their actions. This explains the hardness of Plato, the inhumanity of Spartan institutions and generally the lack in Greece of laws with the welfare of the people as their final and energetic intention. This is perhaps the contrast generally between Oriental and Occidental virtue. The former has its ultimate source and its final goal only in a personality; the latter glows for the highness of a thought, law, state, art, honor, so that even pride or stubborn assertion have their own claim to be considered as obligations.
The Greek life, one might say, is the initial astonishment of mankind when the Lord took away the fear of His face; and beholds, free and awakened, the immense splendor of the world. Man is absorbed in it, put beside himself. To depict this beauty in the spiritual world, as it is expressed in the physical, is the task of people and of states. Here for the first time an affair is bestowed on man, first here is there free state formation. He separates himself from the divinely given forms of life (the theocratic constitution) to create anew in accordance with divine models. In place of blind passive obedience comes man’s own free reproduction. “Thou shalt not blur the boundaries of the things I drew, the sequence of stages in the whole of nature, but keep them holy!” is the idea manifested in a series of Jewish statutes: “Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee” [Leviticus 19: 19]. This order is not limited to unconscious nature, it also proceeds among the people, separates priest and Levite, and forms the structure of caste which is represented in the whole of the Orient. The same idea now is what determines Plato to consider the development of manifold forces, their measure and their delimitation, to be the justice of the state. But with the former, it is God’s created beauty that is found and kept holy; with the latter, it is the creation of something new which is demanded by those models. Therefore it is not taking nature into account, but self-formed human relations, distribution according to ability, an analysis and synthesis [Ausscheidung und Verbindung] that he comprehends just as he himself undertook it. With the former, the unity of the delimited elements is given by the divine purpose in all of creation; with the latter, man himself must first create them – he finds them in the state.
The state of Plato, in which this is the moral of the story, is proven here to be the same model pursued by all the Greek states. Thus, the Spartan state represents a vibrant body animated by a spirit, which as with a single will strains every sinew to the struggle. Athens developed a richer life. Art, philosophy, family connection, commerce, shipping, trade, all spheres of human activity are encountered here, and each is assured its own existence, as their nature requires. An abundance of magistrates and courts, each of which is assigned the care of a certain entity, spreads across the state. In the diversity of their education, their celebrations, the buildings for their assemblies, and finally, the leading interest of their object, they provide a rich picture, but in proper measure they receive a shield under which they all repose, the supreme court of the Areopagus.
This rapture does not leave room to maintain a separate existence. Man only perceives himself as a part of the whole, from which he cannot separate himself, neither in fact, nor in thought. An irresistible urge propels him to intervene in its rhythm.
The ethos does not appear as a task of the individual but of the whole; it is something general (objective), directed to the world; man encounters it only as a member thereof. It therefore does not demand his actions (considered individually), but the existence of the moral order as a whole, the purity of the spiritual world. For this reason the Nemesis also pursues the involuntary act. And for those caught in the struggle of conflicting obligations, destruction is inevitable. However he chooses – Orestes may leave the father unavenged, or murder the mother – through him there arises either a gap or a discord in the moral world, and it must expel him. In this manner in time out of mind the ancient royal houses fell, and in this manner within historical memory Timoleon falls into mental derangement, the punishment for murder despite its being inevitable.
Even the state does not demand the ethos from the individual, such that they form it, but from the world, that it exist in it. It shall be, and represent a specific shape. Only from this do the duties of citizens issue, and not vice versa, the shape of the state from the duties of citizens. Therefore, there are ethical requirements that no human being, considered in himself, could recognize as his own, for example, the formation of classes [Ständen], and the perfection of the state is the first thing that is to be, and only then that of people. For it itself taken as a whole is the subject of the ethos. This explains the unnatural role [Bestimmung] of women in Plato, the banishment of poetry, and the like.
Of law in our sense, according to which someone may do as he will within a certain sphere, there is here no conception. Nowhere does the Greek set his foot outside the world to which he belongs, his state. Greek liberty is not, as Roman, protection of free disposal over a certain delimited object, but an ideal share in the actions of the state. That individual freedom is abolished in the Platonic state, in Sparta, follows automatically. Athenian law could not allow the bustling trade and commerce of private pursuits without standards appropriate to them. But nevertheless, it did not regulate them according to the principle of private law, that is, by the will of men, but sought to apply its own inherent ideas in an appropriate shape, as is easy to demonstrate. That the concept of personal entitlement to the Greeks is quite strange, shows most clearly a point in the first book of the Republic of Plato. Among all the possible determinations of the just which are to be tested here, he comes also to the one in which “to each is to be given his due.” One believes to discover here the Roman suum cuique tribue, and thus law and entitlement in our sense. But he who studies this statement of Plato’s accurately finds in it that friends are to be treated well, but enemies woe. Under what is due (προσῆκον, suum) is not meant something that someone can dispose of at will, either acquire or leave unused, but something that applies to him with necessity according to a different standard than his will, even in opposition to his will. To suffer evil, can be no enemies’ right; nor can to receive good be understood as a friend’s right. This provision does not denote protective justice, like the Roman legal principle does, but retributive justice.
This is the objective character of the Greek essence: the ethos goes forth into the objective world and requires perfection of it, not of the individual human being, and nowhere is action to be determined merely by one’s own will, but everywhere by the order over him. The same character runs through science. Just as here the general question regarding the cause and the end of things urges itself, so does the investigator at no time look into himself in order to find the answer, closed off to everything external. His thought always moves among the major objects of the world that surround him and which he in unprejudiced contemplation takes up into himself. The investigation pursues the coherence in the things themselves, the understanding that expresses itself in them. It does not have the obligation, nor even the concession, to seek a solution for all considerations regarding what is to be solved. Therefore, Greek philosophy is [characterized by] free treatment, full of life. It takes all the wealth of creation into itself, it takes hold of development and growth, change and decay in all variety and tumultuousness, as life itself presents itself. From this world, which it recognizes outside of the reason of the beholder, it had to arrive at a principle of the same, which exists outside of his reason, at an objective principle, water, fire, the natural purpose, the idea. It attributes to these a peculiar quality and effectiveness as it considers it necessary to explain the world, not in the way that thought requires which does not take the world into consideration – merely according to its own essence, instead of according to theirs.
In modern philosophy the thinker withdraws into himself, he goes on the subjective principle, his reason. Hence the formalism. But he also finds freedom and personality in himself. And when at last he sees himself yet compelled to turn back to the recognition of the independent existence outside him, he no longer can consider it in the Greek fashion, as held together by the idea or the laws of nature, but as the work of the freely acting God.