Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
35. Philosophy as a Way of Life 37. Character of the Tradition

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

36. Relation of Religion and Philosophy
Science, then, became a religion, and to that extent it is true that philosophy was influenced by religion. It would be wrong, however, to suppose that even now philosophy took over any particular doctrines from religion. The religious revival implied, we have seen, a new view of the soul, and we might expect to find that it profoundly influenced the teaching of philosophers on that subject. The remarkable thing is that this did not happen. Even the Pythagoreans and Empedokles, who took part in the religious movement themselves, held views about the soul which flatly contradicted the beliefs implied in their religious practices.13 There is no room for an immortal soul in any philosophy of this period, as we shall see. Sokrates was the first philosopher to assert the doctrine on rational grounds,14 and it is significant that Plato represents him as only half serious in appealing to the Orphics for confirmation of his own teaching.15

The reason is that ancient religion was not a body of doctrine. Nothing was required but that the ritual should be performed correctly and in a proper frame of mind; the worshipper was free to give any explanation of it he pleased. It might be as exalted as that of Pindar and Sophokles or as debased as that of the itinerant mystery-mongers described in Plato's Republic. "The initiated," said Aristotle, "are not supposed to learn anything, but to be affected in a certain way and put into a certain frame of mind."16 That is why the religious revival could inspire philosophy with a new spirit, but could not at first graft new doctrines on it.



Burnet's Notes

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13. For Empedokles, see § 117; for the Pythagoreans, see § 149.

14. I have discussed this point fully in "The Socratic Doctrine of the Soul" (Proceedings of the British Academy, 1915-16, p. 235).

15. Plato, Phaed. 69 c 3, καὶ κινδυνεύουσι καὶ οἱ τὰς τελετὰς ἡμῖν οὗτοι καταστήσαντες οὐ φαῦλοί τινες εἶναι, ἀλλὰ τῷ ὄντι πάλαι αἰνίττεσθαι κτλ.. The irony of this and similar passages should be unmistakable.

16. Arist. fr. 45 (1483 a 19), τοὺς τελουμένους οὐ μαθεῖν τι δεῖν, ἀλλὰ παθεῖν καὶ διατεθῆναι.




















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