1. a sect of ancient philosophers, who professed to select (ἐκλέγειν) from all systems of philosophy what they deemed to be true. The Eclectics were chiefly Neo-Platonists (q.v.), and the philosophers chiefly selected from were Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle. This union of the Aristotelian and Platonic philosophies was attempted first by Potamo of Alexandria, whose principles were taken up and maintained by Ammonius Saccas. It may be doubted, however, if the title of eclectics can be properly given to Potamo or Ammonius, the former of whom was in fact merely a Neo-Platonist, and the latter rather jumbled together the different systems of Greek philosophy (with the exception of that of Epicurus) than selected the consistent parts of all of them. The most eminent of the followers of Ammonius were Plotinus, Porphyry, Jamblichus, Proclus, and the ancient Eclecticism became at last little more than an attempt to reconcile Platonism with Christianity" (Penny Cyclop. 9:265). SEE AMMONIUS.
Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom. 1:228) said: "By philosophy I mean neither the Stoic, nor the Platonic, nor the Epicurean, nor the Aristotelian, but Whatever things have been properly said by each of these sects inculcating justice and devout knowledge — this whole selection I call philosophy." "The sense in which this term is used by Clemens" (of Alexandria), says Mr. Maurice (Mor. and Metaphys. Philippians 2:53), "is obvious enough. He did not care for Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, as such; far less did he care for the opinions and conflicts of the schools which bore their names; he found in each hints of precious truths of which he desired to avail himself; he would gather the flowers without asking in what garden they grew, the prickles he would leave for those who had a fancy for them. Eclecticism, in this sense, seemed only like another name for catholic wisdom. A man, conscious that everything in nature and art was given for his learning, had a right to suck honey wherever it was to be found; he would find sweetness in it if it was hanging wild on trees and shrubs; he could admire the elaborate architecture of the cells in which it was stored. The Author of all good to man had scattered the gifts, had imparted the skill; to receive them thankfully was an act of homage to him. But once lose the feeling of devotion and gratitude, which belonged so remarkably to Clemens — once let it be fancied that the philosopher was not a mere receiver of treasures which had been provided for him, but an ingenious chemist and compounder of various naturally unsociable ingredients, and the eclectical doctrine would lead to more self-conceit, would be more unreal and heartless than any one of the sectarian elements out of which it was fashioned. It would want the belief and conviction which dwell, with whatever unsuitable companions, even in the narrowest theory. Many of the most vital characteristics of the original dogmas would be effaced under pretense of taking off their rough edges and fitting then into each other. In general the superficialities and formality of each creed would be preserved in the new system; its original and essential characteristics sacrificed" (Fleming, Vocabulary of Philosophy, s.v.).
2. "Modern eclecticism is conceived by some to have originated with Bacon and Descartes, but Hegel may be more properly considered its founder. In his Philosophy of History and other works he endeavors, among other things, to point out the true and false tendencies of philosophic speculation in the various ages of the world; but it is to the lucid and brilliant eloquence of Victor Cousin (q.v.) that modern eclecticism owes its popularity. This system, if it can be so called, may best be defined as an effort to expound, in critical and sympathetic spirit, the previous systems of philosophy. Its aim is to apprehend the speculative thinking of past ages in its historical development, and it is the opinion of some that such a method is the only one possible in our day in the region of metaphysics" (Chambers, Encyclopaedia, s.v.). — Murdoch's Mosheim, Ch. Hist. book 1, c. 2, part 1, chapter 1; Neander, Ch. Hist. 1:658; Mosheim, Commaentaries, chapter 1, § 30. SEE AMMONIUS; SEE PLATONISM.