1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Megarian School of Philosophy

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MEGARIAN SCHOOL OF PHILOSOPHY. This school was founded by Euclides of Megara, one of the pupils of Socrates. Two main elements went to make up the Megarian doctrine. Like the Cynics and the Cyrenaics, Euclides started from the Socratic principle that virtue is knowledge. But into combination with this he brought the Eleatic doctrine of Unity. Perceiving the difficulty of the Socratic dictum he endeavoured to give to the word “knowledge” a definite content by divorcing it absolutely from the sphere of sense and experience, and confining it to a sort of transcendental dialectic or logic. The Eleatic unity is Goodness, and is beyond the sphere of sensible apprehension. This goodness, therefore, alone exists; matter, motion, growth and decay are figments of the senses; they have no existence for Reason. “Whatever is, is!” Knowledge is of ideas and is in conformity with the necessary laws of thought. Hence Plato in the Sophist describes the Megarians as “the friends of ideas.” Yet the Megarians were by no means in agreement with the Platonic idealism. For they held that ideas, though eternal and immovable, have neither life nor action nor movement.

This dialectic, initiated by Euclides, became more and more opposed to the testimony of experience; in the hands of Eubulides and Alexinus it degenerated into hairsplitting, mainly in the form of the reductio ad absurdum. The strength of these men lay in destructive criticism rather than in construction: as dialecticians they were successful, but they contributed little to ethical speculation. They spent their energy in attacking Plato and Aristotle, and hence earned the opprobrious epithet of Eristic. They used their dialectic subtlety to disprove the possibility of motion and decay; unity is the negation of change, increase and decrease, birth and death. None the less, in ancient times they received great respect owing to their intellectual pre-eminence. Cicero (Academics, ii. 42) describes their doctrine as a “nobilis disciplina,” and identifies them closely with Parmenides and Zeno. But their most immediate influence was upon the Stoics (q.v.), whose founder, Zeno, studied under Stilpo. This philosopher, a man of striking and attractive personality, succeeded in fusing the Megarian dialectic with Cynic naturalism. The result of the combination was in fact a juxtaposition rather than a compound; it is manifestly impossible to find an organic connexion between a practical code like Cynicism and the transcendental logic of the Megarians. But it served as a powerful stimulus to Zeno, who by descent was imbued with oriental mysticism.

For bibliographical information about the Megarians, see Euclides; Eubulides; Diodorus Cronus; Stilpo. See also Eleatic School; Cynics; Stoics; and, for the connexion between the Megarians and the Eretrians, Menedemus and Phaedo. Also Zeller, Socrates and the Socratic Schools; Dyeck, De Megaricorum doctrina (Bonn, 1827); Mallet, Histoire de l’école de Mégare (Paris, 1845); Ritter, Über die Philosophie der meg. Schule; Prantl, Geschichte der Logik, i. 32; Henne, L’école de Mégare (Paris, 1843); Gomperz, Greek Thinkers (Eng. trans. 1905), ii. 170 seq.