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If, in the domain of pure speculation, contemporary agnosticism exaggerates the existing divergences, in ethics157 its whole effort is, contrariwise, to reduce and reconcile them. Such was also the tendency of Carneades. He declared that, in their controversy about the highest good, the difference between the Stoics and the Peripatetics was purely verbal. Both held that we are naturally framed for the pursuit of certain objects, and that virtuous living is the only means by which they can be attained. But while the disciples of Aristotle held that the satisfaction of our natural impulses remains from first to last the only end, the disciples of Zeno insisted that at some point鈥攏ot, as would seem very particularly specified鈥攙irtuous conduct, which was originally the means towards this satisfaction, becomes substituted for it as the supreme and ultimate good.253 That the point at issue was more important than it seemed is evident from its reproduction under another form in modern ethical philosophy. For, among ourselves, the controversy between utilitarianism and what, for want of a better name, we must call intuitionism, is gradually narrowing itself to the question whether the pursuit of another鈥檚 good has or has not a higher value than the quantity of pleasure which accrues to him from it, plus the effects of a good example and the benefits that society at large is likely to gain from the strength which exercise gives to the altruistic dispositions of one of its members. Those who attribute an absolute value to altruism, as such, connect this value in some way or other with the spiritual welfare of the agent; and they hold that without such a gain to himself he would gradually fall back on a life of calculating selfishness or of unregulated impulse. Here we have the return from a social to an individual morality. The Stoics, conversely, were feeling their way from the good of the individual to that of the community; and they could only bridge the chasm by converting what had originally been a means towards self-preservation into an end in itself. This Carneades could not see. Convinced that happiness was both necessary and attainable,158 but convinced also that the systems which had hitherto offered it as their reward were logically untenable, he wished to place morality on the broad basis of what was held in common by all schools, and this seemed to be the rule of obedience to Nature鈥檚 dictates,鈥攁 rule which had also the great merit of bidding men do in the name of philosophy what they already felt inclined to do without any philosophy at all. We are told, indeed, that he would not commit himself to any particular system of ethics; the inference, however, is not that he ignored the necessity of a moral law, but that he wished to extricate it from a compromising alliance with untenable speculative dogmas. Nevertheless his acceptance of Nature as a real entity was a survival of metaphysics; and his morality was, so far as it went, an incipient return to the traditions of the Old Academy..
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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