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THE tyrant of Syracuse, in the exuberance of his wit, ventured ironically to ask Aristippus, how it happened, that philosophers were so commonly seen in the houses of the great, but the great never in the houses of philosophers? The sage replied, "Physicians are always to be found in the apartments of the sick."
The reformation of religion in Europe, and the restoration of the arts and sciences which followed, had a powerful effect in correcting and softening manners, and in promoting the interests of society. No man, indeed, can deliver himself up with safety to the sciences, when the mind does not enjoy the certainty of political and of personal liberty. The yoke of tyranny stifles genius, and gives rise to those apprehensions, which freeze the soul, and check the wholesome vigour of imagination. Is it very certain notwithstanding, that even at this day the reasoning faculty is so perfectly emancipated, as to have attained to its full and natural exercise? Y
So lately as the year 1621, several persons were banished Paris for contradicting Aristotle's opinion about matter and form, and the number of the elements: nay, shortly after, the parliament of Paris prohibited, under pain of death, any thing from being taught contrary to the doctrines of Aristotle.
"Heavy bodies naturally tend to the centre of the universe," says Aristotle; "we know by experience, that heavy bodies tend to the centre of the earth; therefore the centre of the earth is the centre of the universe." And this was part of the absurd doctrine, for venturing to dissent from which a man was to be hanged. The same parliament of Paris, in the reign of Charles VI. appointed a single combat between two gentlemen, in order to have the judgment of God, whether the one had committed a rape on the wife of the other. In 1454, John Picard, being accused by his son-in-law, for too great a familiarity with his own daughter, a duel between them was appointed, by the same parliament. On which Voltaire justly remarks, that the parliament decreed a parricide to be committed, in order to try an accusation of incest, which possibly had not been commit
Aristotle, undoubtedly, was a great man, and had very uncommon advantages. He was born in an age when the philosophical spirit in Greece had long flourished, and was in its greatest vigour; was brought up in the court of Macedon, where his father was the king's physician; was twenty years a favourite scholar of Plato; and was himself tutor to Alexander the Great, who both honoured him with his friendship, and supplied him with every thing necessary for the prosecution of his inquiries. All these advantages he improved by indefatigable study, and immense reading. "He was the first person we know of," says Strabo, "who formed a library; and in this the Egyptian and Pergamenian kings only followed his example." As to his genius, it would be disrespectful to mankind, not to allow an uncommon share to a man, who governed the opinions of the most enlightened part of the species, near two thousand years.
Yet do not his best writings carry too evident marks of that philosophical pride, vanity, and envy, which have so often sullied the character of the learned? He determines boldly things above all human knowledge; and enters upon the most difficult questions, as his pupil would have entered on a battle, with full assurance of success. Y 2 He
He delivers his decisions oracularly, and without any apprehension of mistake, Rather than confess his ignorance, he hides it under obscure terms, and ambiguous expressions, to which his interpreters can affix any meaning that best suits their purpose.* It is true, he had the dar ing ambition, and I question if it were not more boundless than even that of Alexander, to be transmitted to all future ages, as the prince of philosophers, as one who had carried every branch of human knowledge to its utmost limit.
Many reasonings of this philosopher have passed, accordingly, current in the world as good coin, both the premises and conclusions of which are evidently false. He wrote a book, for instance, upon mechanics; but was much puzzled about the equilibrium of a balance, when unequal weights are hung upon it, at different distances from the centre. Having, however, observed, that the arms of the balance describe portions of a circle, he accounted for the equilibrium by a whimsical argument. "All the properties of the circle are wonderful. The equilibrium of the two weights that describe portions of a circle, is wonderful.
Ergo, the equilibrium
equilibrium must be one of the properties of the circle." Now what are we to think of his logic, when we find him capable of such childish reasoning? And yet his logic has been the admiration of the whole world for centuries. Nay, this very silly mechanical argument itself has been espoused and commented upon by his disciples, for almost an equal length of time.*
It once was a prevalent opinion among a set of people who dwelt near the sea, that mankind rarely died but during the ebb of the tide. And there were not wanting strong reasons, they said, for the conjecture. Thus the sea, in flowing, carries with it vivifying particles, and these particles recruit the sick. The sea is salt, and salt preserves from rottenness. But on the contrary, when the sea sinks in ebbing, every thing sinks with it; nature languishes; the sick are not vivifyed; ergo, they die. Now is this reasoning less solid than many of the systems and principles, though of the greatest celebrity, whether of Aristotle or others, to which we have had occasion to advert?
What is seen makes a deeper impression than what is heard, or than what is even discovered Y 3
Sketches of man,