Idea of Cosmos




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By Rev. Baden Powell

Idea of Cosmos. 

A striking instance of some anticipation of more  extended ideas may be found in the very earliest phase of Greek philosophy, when Pythagoras is stated to have introduced the term Kxxxxs in the sense of "the order of the world" [ This is distinctly asserted by Plutarch, "De Placitis Philos." ii. 1, and In the Fragments of Philolaus, Stobaeus, Eclog. p. 360. 4 60.  
Plato, though he drew a distinction between the celestial world and the terrestrial, yet seems to apply the term Kxxxxs to the whole; affirming the universe to be a living being with a soul. (Timaeus, p. 30. B.) 
Aristotle maintains the same idea of the "order of the world " under the same term; though he divides it into super-lunary and sub-lunary. (Meteor. I ii. 1, and iii. 13.) 
According to Philolaus, some of the ancients divided the universe Into three regions: the highest and outermost Olympus, the region of fire; the next Cosmos, that of the invariably moving planets the Innermost Uranos, that of variable nature, between the earth and the moon ; while the earth itself was called the "hearth of the universe" (Stobaeus, i. p. 488.) 
Some other philosophers held separate stellar systems, each of which in Itself was called a Cosmos. (Humboldt, note p. 78, transln 1845.)]
  and thus doubtless had some distinct perception of the grand idea implied. In this view he was followed, with less distinctness, by Plato and Aristotle. But, at a later period, the treatise "De Mundo" (long attributed to Aristotle) contains a nearer approach to the modern view, defining Cosmos to be "the connected system of all things --- the order and arrangement of the whole preserved under the gods and by the gods [Pseudo-Aristot. de Mundo, c11. p.391."].  

In this Passage it may be remarked that the reference to divine superintendence is introduced altogether as a foregone conclusion, and not at all as an inference from the contemplation of the order of the world. 

At a much later period, though the writings of Cicero bear witness to a similar appreciation of the idea of order in nature, yet we can only regard it as the expression of a sort of anticipatory vision of that grand physical application to which we can now appropriate it:--"Est enim admirabilis quaedam continuatio, seriesque rerum, ut aliae ex aliis nexae, et omnes inter se aptae, colligataeque, videantur [ De Nat Deor. 1. 4.]." 

No sound inferences of order.

These speculative ideas, beautiful as they are, were  little established on any solid physical basis. From  the desultory and scattered character of the ancient discoveries in physical phenomena, none but partial and restricted conceptions of physical causation could be derived. Hence there could be no real or substantial unity of science indicative of unity in nature. When they generalized on causes to the extent of imagining certain powers above nature putting them in action, it was almost a matter of necessity to suppose a number of distinct, independent, and conflicting powers. 

Final causes as viewed by the ancients.

When they examined organized nature and found structures adapted to purposes,  means beautifully fitted to ends, they could not advance beyond isolated cases, or combine those structures in one view with any great laws of unity or symmetry. 

But further, in the system Of the world in the few instances wherein they could in any degree assign mechanical causes, they always seem to have considered them as conveying the idea of fated necessity, rather than that such indissoluble connection in reason is the very evidence of supreme mind, and this prepossession has remained in full force in men's thoughts even to much later times,---derived no doubt from too exclusive a devotion to the ancient writings, without the corrective of a thorough study of the inductive physical philosophy. 

Natural theology of the ancients.

The most remarkable discussions of the ancients, as bearing on what we should now call natural theology (as in the beautiful instance of the Socratic argument recorded by Xenophon [Memorab, lib. 1. c. 4.]), were restricted to obvious instances of the design manifested in the structure of men and animals; and in the further application of such conclusions the points of chief interest were such as bore directly on existing questions, as to worship, and sacrifices, and the influence exerted by the gods on nature and on the affairs of men, descending even to the lowest indications by omens, divinations, and the like [I Mernorab. lib, i c, 1; lib. iv. c. 3, &c.]  Indeed in all their discussions on these subjects we find a large admixture of reference to supernatural influences in physical events; though in some few instances a glimpse of more enlarged contemplations is opened, as for instance in the well known Ciceronian discussions, --where Cleanthes, one of the speakers in the dialogue, is made to sum up under four principal heads all the most material arguments for the existence of the gods; (1.) Indications of Divine prescience given in omens and the like: (2.) The beneficial order of the seasons and fruitfulness of the earth: (3.) Marvels and signs in nature and portents above nature; and (4.) (as he admits "eamque vel maximam") the order and regularity of the heavenly motions [2 De Nat. Deor. lib. ii. c. 5.].

This last admission is certainly remarkable, especially as compared with the former points, and in the existing state of physical knowledge. But upon the whole, even in these most favorable instances, the view we obtain of the ancient Theistic argument is such as to impress us strongly with the fidelity of the apostolic description, xxxxx xxxxxx  xxxxx xxxxxx  [1 Acts xvii, 22] "Ye are too superstitious," too much given to the fear of supernatural beings. 

Ancient Theistic views.

Herodotus tells us that the ancient Persians ridiculed  the Greeks for their gods with human natures, and boasted their nobler worship of the elements; making the heavens their god: " xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx  [Herod.] 

Anaxagoras appears to have recognized one supreme intelligence; but perhaps the only more enlarged and philosophical speculations of this kind in which the ancients indulged, were either those sublime but visionary imaginations which characterize the Platonic mysteries, or else, on the other hand, the doctrine of the "animus mundi" and the pantheistic or atheistic systems with which we are familiar in their fullest development, in the Epicurean materialism, so elaborately and beautifully expounded by Lucretius. 

When a supreme deity was acknowledged, it was commonly with little reference to any practical or moral influence.  The Platonists held indeed that God was concerned in the affairs of men; but the Epicureans that he was indifferent to them. The Stoics, we are told, placed Him "without the universe, turning about, like a potter, this mass of matter from without, the Platonists within, abiding, like a pilot, within that which he directs [I Tertullian, 11 Apologia," 47.]." 

Aristotle appears to deny any external agency in the Divinity', and seems to favor Pantheism [Eth. Nic. vii, 8.]: an idea more distinctly traced in some parts of Virgil [As (e.g.) in the passages, 
Partem divinae mends," etc. Georg. iv. 220
. . . "Totamque infusa per artus 
Mens agitat molem."--AEn. vi. 726]. 

Relations of early Christianity  to the prevalent philosophy.

The Order of Nature






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First Ideas ] [ Idea of Cosmos ] Relations of early Christianity ] Disputes verbal ] Writings of Sebonde ] Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon ] Inductive & Theological ] Philosophy of Montaigne ] Bacon (RAW TEXT) ] IV-SOURCE ] Natural History ] Modern Pantheism ] Rationalism ] Positivism ] Recent Natural Theology ] Celebrity of Hobbes (RAW) ] Conclusion ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.