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3. THE CONDEMNATION OF SOCRATES.-To this same confounding of his efforts with those of the Sophists, and the same tendency to restore by violent means the old discipline and morality, Socrates, twenty-four years later, fell a victim. After he had lived and labored at Athens for many years in his usual manner, after the storm of the Peloponnesian war had pa.s.sed by, and this city had experienced the most varied political fortunes, in his seventieth year he was brought to trial and accused of neglecting the G.o.ds of the state, of introducing new deities, and also of corrupting the youth. His accusers were Melitus, a young poet, Anytus, a demagogue, and Lycon, an orator, men in every respect insignificant, and acting, as it seems, without motives of personal enmity. The trial resulted in his condemnation. After a fortunate accident had enabled him to spend thirty days more with his scholars in his confinement, spurning a flight from prison, he drank the poisoned cup in the year 399 B. C.
The first motive to his accusation, as already remarked, was his identification with the Sophists, the actual belief that his doctrines and activity were marked with the same character of hostility to the interests of the state, as those of the Sophists, which had already occasioned so much mischief. The three points in the accusation, though evidently resting on a misunderstanding, alike indicate this; they are precisely those by which Aristophanes had sought to characterize the Sophist in the person of Socrates. This "corruption of the youth," this bringing in of new customs, and a new mode of culture and education generally, was precisely the charge which was brought against the Sophists; moreover, in Plato's Menon, Anytus, one of the three accusers, is introduced as the bitter enemy of the Sophists and of their manner of instruction. So too in respect to the denial of the national G.o.ds: before this, Protagoras, accused of denying the G.o.ds, had been obliged to flee, and Prodicus, to drink hemlock, a victim to the same distrust.
Even five years after the death of Socrates, Xenophon, who was not present at the trial, felt himself called upon to write his Memorabilia in defence of his teacher, so wide-spread and deep-rooted was the prejudice against him.
Beside this there was also a second, probably a more decisive reason. As the Sophistic philosophy was, in its very nature, eminently aristocratic, and Socrates, as a supposed Sophist, consequently pa.s.sed for an aristocrat, his entire mode of life could not fail to make him appear like a bad citizen in the eyes of the restored democracy. He had never concerned himself in the affairs of the state, had never but once sustained an official character, and then, as chief of the Prytanes, had disagreed with the will of the people and the rulers. (_Plat. Apol._ -- 32. Xen. _Mem._ I. 1, 18.) In his seventieth year, he mounted the orator's stand for the first time in his life, on the occasion of his own accusation. His whole manner was somewhat cosmopolitan; he is even said to have remarked, that he was not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world. We must also take into account, that he found fault with the Athenian democracy upon every occasion, especially with the democratic inst.i.tution of choice by lot, that he decidedly preferred the Spartan state to the Athenian, and that he excited the distrust of the democrats by his confidential relations with the former leaders of the oligarchic party. (Xen. _Mem._ I. 2, 9, sq.) Among others who were of the oligarchic interest, and friendly to the Spartans, Critias in particular, one of the thirty tyrants, had been his scholar; so too Alcibiades-two men, who had been the cause of much evil to the Athenian people. If now we accept the uniform tradition, that two of his accusers were men of fair standing in the democratic party, and farther, that his judges were men who had fled before the thirty tyrants, and later had overthrown the power of the oligarchy, we find it much more easy to understand how they, in the case before them, should have supposed they were acting wholly in the interest of the democratic party, when they p.r.o.nounced condemnation upon the accused, especially as enough to all appearance could be brought against him. The hurried trial presents nothing very remarkable, in a generation which had grown up during the Peloponnesian war, and in a people that adopted and repented of their pa.s.sionate resolves with the like haste. Yea, more, if we consider that Socrates spurned to have recourse to the usual means and forms adopted by those accused of capital crime, and to gain the sympathy of the people by lamentations, or their favor by flattery, that he in proud consciousness of his innocence defied his judges, it becomes rather a matter of wonder, that his condemnation was carried by a majority of only three to six votes. And even now he might have escaped the sentence to death, had he been willing to bow to the will of the sovereign people for the sake of a commutation of his punishment. But as he spurned to set a value upon himself, by proposing another punishment, a fine, for example, instead of the one moved by his accuser, because this would be the same as to acknowledge himself guilty, his disdain could not fail to exasperate the easily excited Athenians, and no farther explanation is needed to show why eighty of his judges who had before voted for his innocence, now voted for his death. Such was the most lamentable result-a result, afterwards most deeply regretted by the Athenians themselves-of an accusation, which at the outset was probably only intended to humble the aristocratic philosopher, and to force him to an acknowledgment of the power and the majesty of the people.
Hegel's view of the fate of Socrates, that it was the result of the collision of equally just powers-the Tragedy of Athens as he calls it-and that guilt and innocence were shared alike on both sides, cannot be maintained on historical grounds, since Socrates can neither be regarded exclusively as the representative of the modern spirit, the principle of freedom, subjectivity, the concrete personality; nor his judges, as the representatives of the old Athenian unreflecting morality. The first cannot be, since Socrates, if his principle was at variance with the old Greek morality, rested nevertheless so far on the basis of tradition, that the accusations brought against him in this respect were false and groundless; and the last cannot be, since at that time, after the close of the Peloponnesian war, the old morality and piety had long been wanting to the ma.s.s of the people, and given place to the modern culture, and the whole process against Socrates must be regarded rather as an attempt to restore by violence, in connection with the old const.i.tution, the old defunct morality. The fault is not therefore the same on both sides, and it must be held, that Socrates fell a victim to a misunderstanding, and to an unjustifiable reaction of public sentiment.
4. THE "GENIUS" da?????? OF SOCRATES.-Those traces of the old religious sentiment, which have been handed down to us from so many different sources, and are certainly not to be explained from a bare accommodation to the popular belief, on the part of the philosopher, and which distinguish him so decidedly from the Sophists, show how little Socrates is really to be regarded as an innovator in discipline and morals. He commends the art of divination, believes in dreams, sacrifices with all proper care, speaks of the G.o.ds, of their omniscience, omnipresence, goodness, and complete sufficiency in themselves, even with the greatest reverence, and, at the close of his defence, makes the most solemn a.s.severation of his belief in their existence. In keeping with his attaching himself in this way to the popular religion, his new principle, though in its results hostile to all external authority, nevertheless a.s.sumed the form of the popular belief in "Demonic" signs and symbols. These suggestions of the "Demon" are a knowledge, which is at the same time connected with unconsciousness. They occupy the middle ground between the bare external of the Greek oracle, and the purely internal of the spirit. That Socrates had the conception of a particular subject, a personal "Demon," or "Genius," is altogether improbable. Just as little can these "Demonic" signs, this inward oracle, whose voice Socrates professed to hear, be regarded after the modern acceptation, simply as the personification of the conscience, or of the practical instinct, or of the individual tact. The first article in the form of accusation, which evidently refers to this very point, shows that Socrates did not speak barely metaphorically of this voice, to which he professed to owe his prophecies. And it was not solely in reference to those higher questions of decided importance, that Socrates had these suggestions, but rather and preeminently with respect to matters of mere accident and arbitrary choice, as for example, whether, and when, his friends should set out on a journey. It is no longer possible to explain the "Demon" or "Genius" of Socrates on psychological grounds; there may have been something of a magnetic character about it. It is possible that there may be some connection between this and the many other ecstatic or cataleptic states, which are related of Socrates in the Symposium of Plato.
5. THE SOURCES OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCRATES.-Well known is the old controversy, whether the picture of Socrates, drawn by Xenophon or by Plato, is the most complete and true to history, and which of the two men is to be considered as the more reliable source for obtaining a knowledge of his philosophy. This question is being decided more and more in favor of Xenophon. Great pains has been taken in former as in later times, to bring Xenophon's Memorabilia into disrepute, as a shallow and insufficient source, because their plain, and any thing other than speculative contents, seemed to furnish no satisfactory ground for such a revolution in the world of mind as is attributed to Socrates, or for the splendor which invests his name in history, or for the character which Plato a.s.signs him; because again the Memorabilia of Xenophon have especially an apologetic aim, and their defence does not relate so much to the philosopher as to the man; and finally, because they have been supposed to have the appearance of carrying the philosophical over into the unphilosophical style of the common understanding. A distinction has therefore been made between an exoteric and an esoteric Socrates, obtaining the first from Xenophon, the latter from Plato. But the preference of Plato to Xenophon has in the first place no historical right in its favor, since Xenophon appears as a proper historian and claims historical credibility, while Plato on the other hand never professes to be an historical narrator, save in a few pa.s.sages, and will by no means have all the rest which he puts in the mouth of Socrates understood as his authentic expressions and discourse.
There is, therefore, no historical reason for preferring the representation of Socrates which is given by Plato. In the second place, the under-valuation of Xenophon rests, for the most part, on the false notion, that Socrates had a proper philosophy, _i. e._ a speculative system, and on an unhistorical mistaking of the limits by which the philosophical character of Socrates was conditioned and restricted.
There was no proper Socratic doctrine, but a Socratic life; and, just on this ground, are the different philosophical tendencies of his scholars to be explained.
6. THE UNIVERSAL CHARACTER OF THE PHILOSOPHIZING OF SOCRATES.-The philosophizing of Socrates was limited and restricted by his opposition, partly to the preceding, and partly to the Sophistic philosophy.
Philosophy before the time of Socrates had been in its essential character investigation of nature. But in Socrates, the human mind, for the first time, turned itself in upon itself, upon its own being, and that too in the most immediate manner, by conceiving itself as active, moral spirit. The positive philosophizing of Socrates, is exclusively of an ethical character, exclusively an inquiry into the nature of virtue, so exclusively, and so onesidedly, that, as is wont to be the case upon the appearance of a new principle, it even expressed a contempt for the striving of the entire previous period, with its natural philosophy, and its mathematics. Setting every thing under the standpoint of immediate moral law, Socrates was so far from finding any object in "irrational"
nature worthy of study, that he rather, in a kind of general teleological manner, conceived it simply in the light of external means for the attainment of external ends; yea, he would not even go out to walk, as he says in the Phaedrus of Plato, since one can learn nothing from trees and districts of country. Self-knowledge, the Delphic ?????
sa?t?? appeared to him the only object worthy of a man, as the starting-point of all philosophy. Knowledge of every other kind, he p.r.o.nounced so insignificant and worthless, that he was wont to boast of his ignorance, and to declare that he excelled other men in wisdom only in this, that he was conscious of his own ignorance. (Plat. _Ap. S._ 21, 23.)
The other side of the Socratic philosophizing, is its opposition to the philosophy of the time. His object, as is well understood, could have been only this, to place himself upon the same position as that occupied by the philosophy of the Sophists, and overcome it on its own ground, and by its own principles. That Socrates shared in the general position of the Sophists, and even had many features of external resemblance to them-the Socratic irony, for instance-has been remarked above. Many of his a.s.sertions, particularly these propositions, that no man knowingly does wrong, and if a man were knowingly to lie, or to do some other wrong act, still he would be better than he who should do the same unconsciously, at first sight bear a purely Sophistic stamp. The great fundamental thought of the Sophistic philosophy, that all moral acting must be a conscious act, was also his. But whilst the Sophists made it their object, through subjective reflection to confuse and to break up all stable convictions, to make all rules relating to outward conduct impossible, Socrates had recognized thinking as the activity of the universal principle, free, objective thought as the measure of all things, and, therefore, instead of referring moral duties, and all moral action to the fancy and caprice of the individual, had rather referred all to true knowledge, to the essence of spirit. It was this idea of knowledge that led him to seek, by the process of thought, to gain a conceivable objective ground, something real, abiding, absolute, independent of the arbitrary volitions of the subject, and to hold fast to unconditioned moral laws. Hegel expresses the same opinion, when he says that Socrates put morality from ethical grounds, in the place of the morality of custom and habit. Hegel distinguishes morality, as conscious right conduct, resting on reflection and moral principles, from the morality of unsophisticated, half-unconscious virtue, which rests on the compliance with prevailing custom. The logical condition of this ethical striving of Socrates, was the determining of conceptions, the method of their formation. To search out the "what" of every thing says Xenophon (_Mem._ IV. 6, 1.) was the uninterrupted care of Socrates, and Aristotle says expressly that a twofold merit must be ascribed to him, viz.: the forming of the method of induction and the giving of strictly logical definitions,-the two elements which const.i.tute the basis of science. How these two elements stand connected with the principle of Socrates we shall at once see.
7. THE SOCRATIC METHOD.-We must not regard the Socratic method as we are accustomed to speak of method in our day, _i. e._ as something which, as such, was distinctly in his consciousness, and which he abstracted from every concrete content, but it rather had its growth in the very mode of his philosophizing, which was not directed to the imparting of a system but to the education of the subject in philosophical thinking and life.
It is only a subjective technicality for his mode of instruction, the peculiar manner of his philosophical, familiar life.
The Socratic method has a twofold side, a negative and a positive one.
The negative side is the well known Socratic _irony_. The philosopher takes the att.i.tude of ignorance, and would apparently let himself be instructed by those with whom he converses, but through the questions which he puts, the unexpected consequences which he deduces, and the contradictions in which he involves the opposite party, he soon leads them to see that their supposed knowledge would only entangle and confuse them. In the embarra.s.sment in which they now find themselves placed, and seeing that they do not know what they supposed, this supposed knowledge completes its own destruction, and the subject who had pretended to wisdom learns to distrust his previous opinions and firmly held notions. "What we knew, has contradicted itself," is the refrain of the most of these conversations.
This result of the Socratic method was only to lead the subject to know that he knew nothing, and a great part of the dialogues of Xenophon and Plato go no farther than to represent ostensibly this negative result.
But there is yet another element in his method in which the irony loses its negative appearance.
The positive side of the Socratic method is the so-called obstetrics or art of intellectual midwifery. Socrates compares himself with his mother Phaenarete, a midwife, because his position was rather to help others bring forth thoughts than to produce them himself, and because he took upon himself to distinguish the birth of an empty thought from one rich in its content. (Plato _Theaetetus_, p. 149.) Through this art of midwifery the philosopher, by his a.s.siduous questioning, by his interrogatory dissection of the notions of him with whom he might be conversing, knew how to elicit from him a thought of which he had previously been unconscious, and how to help him to the birth of a new thought. A chief means in this operation was the method of _induction_, or the leading of the representation to a conception. The philosopher, thus, starting from some individual, concrete case, and seizing hold of the most common notions concerning it, and finding ill.u.s.trations in the most ordinary and trivial occurrences, knew how to remove by his comparisons that which was individual, and by thus separating the accidental and contingent from the essential, could bring up to consciousness a universal truth and a universal determination,-in other words, could form conceptions. In order _e. g._ to find the conception of justice or valor, he would start from individual examples of them, and from these deduce the universal character or conception of these virtues. From this we see that the direction of the Socratic induction was to gain logical _definitions_. I define a conception when I develope what it is, its essence, its content. I define the conception of justice when I set up the common property and logical unity of all its different modes of manifestation. Socrates sought to go no farther than this. "To seek for the essence of virtue," says an Aristotelian writing (_Eth._ I.
5), "Socrates regarded as the problem of philosophy, and hence, since he regarded all virtue as a knowing, he sought to determine in respect of justice or valor what they might really be, _i. e._ he investigated their essence or conception." From this it is very easy to see the connection which his method of definitions or of forming conceptions had with his practical strivings. He went back to the conception of every individual virtue, _e. g._ justice, only because he was convinced that the knowledge of this conception, the knowledge of it for every individual case, was the surest guide for every moral relation. Every moral action, he believed, should start as a conscious action from the conception.
From this we might characterize the Socratic method as the skill by which a certain sum of given, h.o.m.ogeneous and individual phenomena was taken, and their logical unity, the universal principle which lay at their base, inductively found. This method presupposes the recognition that the essence of the objects must be comprehended in the thought, that the conception is the true being of the thing. Hence we see that the Platonic doctrine of ideas is only the objectifying of this method which in Socrates appears no farther than a subjective dexterity. The Platonic ideas are the universal conceptions of Socrates posited as real individual beings. Hence Aristotle (_Metaph._ XIII. 4) most fittingly characterizes the relation between the Socratic method and the Platonic doctrine of ideas with the words, "Socrates posits the universal conceptions not as separate, individual substances, while Plato does this, and names them ideas."
8. THE SOCRATIC DOCTRINE CONCERNING VIRTUE.-The single, positive doctrinal sentence which has been transmitted us from Socrates is, that virtue is a knowing,-that, consequently, nothing is good which happens without discernment, and nothing bad which is done with discernment, or, what is the same thing, that no man is voluntarily vicious, that the base are such against their will, aye, even he who knowingly does wrong is better than he who does it ignorantly, because in the latter case, morality and true knowledge are both wanting, while in the former-if such a case could happen-morality alone is violated. Socrates could not conceive how a man should know the good and yet not do it; it was to him a logical contradiction that the man who sought his own well being should at the same time knowingly despise it. Therefore, with him the good action followed as necessarily from the knowledge of the good as a logical conclusion from its premise.
The sentence that virtue is a knowing, has for its logical consequence the unity of virtue and for its practical consequence the teachableness of it. With these three propositions, in which every thing is embraced which we can properly term the Socratic philosophy, Socrates has laid the first foundation stone for a scientific treatment of ethics, a treatment which must be dated first from him. But he laid only the foundation stone, for on the one side he attempted no carrying out of his principle into details, nor any setting up of a concrete doctrine of ethics, but only, after the ancient manner, referred to the laws of states and the unwritten laws of the universal human order, and on the other side, he has not seldom served himself with utilitarian motives to establish his ethical propositions, in other words he has referred to the external advantages and useful consequences of virtue, by which the purity of his ethical point of view became tarnished.
THE PARTIAL DISCIPLES OF SOCRATES.
1. THEIR RELATION TO THE SOCRATIC PHILOSOPHY.-The death of Socrates gave to his life an ideal perfection, and this became an animating principle which had its working in many directions. The apprehension of him as an ideal type forms the common character of the immediate Socratic schools.
The fundamental thought, that men should have one universal and essentially true aim, they all received from Socrates; but since their master left no complete and systematic doctrine, but only his many-sided life to determine the nature of this aim, every thing would depend upon the subjective apprehension of the personal character of Socrates, and of this we should at the outset naturally expect to find among his different disciples a different estimate. Socrates had numerous scholars, but no school. Among these, three views of his character have found a place in history. That of _Antisthenes_, or the Cynical, that of _Aristippus_, or the Cyrenian, and that of _Euclid_, or the Megarian-three modes of apprehending him, each of which contains a true element of the Socratic character, but all of which separate that which in the master was a harmonious unity, and affirm of the isolated elements that which could be truly predicated only of the whole. They are therefore, one-sided, and give of Socrates a false picture. This, however, was not wholly their fault; but in that Aristippus was forced to go back to the theory of knowledge of Protagoras, and Euclid to the metaphysics of the Eleatics, they rather testify to the subjective character and to the want of method and system of the Socratic philosophy, and exhibit in their defects and one-sidedness, in part, only the original weakness which belongs to the doctrine of their master.
2. ANTISTHENES AND THE CYNICS.-As a strictly literal adherent of the doctrine of Socrates, and zealously though grossly, and often with caricature imitating his method, Antisthenes stands nearest his master.
In early life a disciple of Gorgias, and himself a teacher of the Sophistic philosophy, he subsequently became an inseparable attendant of Socrates, after whose death he founded a school in the Cynosarges, whence his scholars and adherents took the name of Cynics, though according to others this name was derived from their mode of life. The doctrine of Antisthenes is only an abstract expression for the Socratic ideal of virtue. Like Socrates he considered virtue the final cause of men, regarding it also as knowledge or science, and thus as an object of instruction; but the ideal of virtue as he had beheld it in the person of Socrates was realized in his estimation only in the absence of every need (in his appearance he imitated a beggar with staff and scrip) and hence in the disregarding of all former intellectual interests; virtue with him aims only to avoid evil, and therefore has no need of dialectical demonstrations, but only of Socratic vigor; the wise man, according to him, is self-sufficient, independent of every thing, indifferent in respect of marriage, family, and the public life of society, as also in respect of wealth, honor, and enjoyment. In this ideal of Antisthenes, which is more negative than positive, we miss entirely the genial humanity and the universal susceptibility of his master, and still more a cultivation of those fruitful dialectic elements which the Socratic philosophizing contained. With a more decided contempt for all knowledge, and a still greater scorn of all the customs of society, the later Cynicism became frequently a repulsive and shameful caricature of the Socratic spirit. This was especially the case with Diogenes of Sinope, the only one of his disciples whom Antisthenes suffered to remain with him. In their high estimation of virtue and philosophy these Cynics, who have been suitably styled the Capuchins of the Grecian world, preserved a trace of the original Socratic philosophy, but they sought virtue "in the shortest way," in a life according to nature as they themselves expressed it, that is, in shutting out the outer world, in attaining a complete independence, and absence of every need, and in renouncing art and science as well as every determinate aim. To the wise man said they nothing should go amiss; he should be mighty over every need and desire, free from the restraints of civil law and of custom, and of equal privileges with the G.o.ds. An easy life, said Diogenes, is a.s.signed by the G.o.ds to that man who limits himself to his necessities, and this true philosophy may be attained by every one, through perseverance and the power of self-denial. Philosophy and philosophical interest is there none in this school of beggars. All that is related of Diogenes are anecdotes and sarcasms.
We see here how the ethics of the Cynic school lost itself in entirely negative statements, a consequence naturally resulting from the fact that the original Socratic conception of virtue lacked a concrete positive content, and was not systematically carried out. Cynicism is the negative side of the Socratic doctrine.
3. ARISTIPPUS AND THE CYRENIANS.-Aristippus of Cyrene, numbered till the death of Socrates among his adherents, is represented by Aristotle as a Sophist, and this with propriety, since he received money for his instructions. He appears in Xenophon as a man devoted to pleasure. The adroitness with which he adapted himself to every circ.u.mstance, and the knowledge of human nature by which in every condition he knew how to provide means to satisfy his desire for good living and luxury, were well known among the ancients. Brought in contact with the government, he kept himself aloof from its cares lest he should become dependent; he spent most of his time abroad in order to free himself from every restraint; he made it his rule that circ.u.mstances should be dependent upon him, while he should be independent of them. Though such a man seems little worthy of the name of a Socraticist, yet has he two points of contact with his master which should not be overlooked. Socrates had called virtue _and_ happiness coordinately the highest end of man, _i.
e._ he had indeed a.s.serted most decidedly the idea of a moral action, but because he brought this forward only in an undeveloped and abstract form, he was only able in concrete cases to establish the obligation of the moral law in a utilitarian way, by appealing to the benefit resulting from the practice of virtue. This side of the Socratic principle Aristippus adopted for his own, affirming that pleasure is the ultimate end of life, and the highest good. Moreover, this pleasure, as Aristippus regards it, is not happiness as a condition embracing the whole life, nor pleasure reduced to a system, but is only the individual sensation of pleasure which the body receives, and in this all determinations of moral worth entirely disappear; but in that Aristippus recommends knowledge, self-government, temperance, and intellectual culture as means for acquiring and preserving enjoyment, and, therefore, makes a cultivated mind necessary to judge respecting a true satisfaction, he shows that the Socratic spirit was not yet wholly extinguished within him, and that the name of pseudo-Socraticist which Schleiermacher gives him, hardly belongs to him.
The other leaders of the Cyrenian school, _Hegesias_, _Theodorus_, _Anniceris_, we can here only name. The farther development of this school is wholly occupied in more closely defining the nature of pleasure, _i. e._ in determining whether it is to be apprehended as a momentary sensation, or as an enduring condition embracing the whole life; whether it belonged to the mind or the body, whether an isolated individual could possess it, or whether it is found alone in the social relations of life; whether we should regard it as positive or negative, (_i. e._ simply the absence of pain).
4. EUCLID AND THE MEGARIANS.-The union of the dialectical and the ethical is a common character in all the partial Socratic schools; the difference consists only in this, that in the one the ethical is made to do service to the dialectical, and that in the other, the dialectical stands in subjection to the ethical. The former is especially true of the Megarian school, whose essential peculiarity was pointed out by the ancients themselves as a combination of the Socratic and Eleatic principles. The idea of the good is on the ethical side the same as the idea of being on the physical; it was, therefore, only an application to ethics of the Eleatic view and method when Euclid called the good pure being, and the not-good, not-being. What is farther related of Euclid is obscure, and may here be omitted. The Megarian school was kept up under different leaders after his death, but without living force, and without the independent activity of an organic development. As hedonism (the philosophical doctrine of the Cyreneans that pleasure is the chief good) led the way to the doctrine of Epicurus, and cynicism was the bridge toward the Stoic, so the later Megaric development formed the transition point to scepticism. Directing its attention ever more exclusively towards the culture of the formal and logical method of argument, it left entirely out of view the moral thoughts of Socrates. Its sophistries and quiddities which were, for the most part, only plays of word and wit, were widely known and noted among the ancients.
5. PLATO, AS THE COMPLETE SOCRATICIST.-The attempts thus far to build upon the foundation pillars of the Socratic doctrine, started without a vigorous germinating principle, and ended fruitlessly. Plato was the only one of his scholars who has approached and represented _the whole_ Socrates. Starting from the Socratic idea of knowledge he brought into one focus the scattered elements and rays of truth which could be collected from his master or from the philosophers preceding him, and gave to philosophy a systematic completeness. Socrates had affirmed the principle that conception is the true being and the only actual, and had urged to a knowledge according to the conception; but these positions were no farther developed. His philosophy is not yet a system, but is only the first impulse toward a philosophical development and method.
Plato is the first who has approached a systematic representation and development of the ideal world of conceptions true in themselves.
The Platonic system is Socrates objectified, the blending and reconciling of preceding philosophy.
I. PLATO'S LIFE. 1. His YOUTH.-Plato, the son of Aristo, of a n.o.ble Athenian family, was born in the year 429 B. C. It was the year of the death of Pericles, the second year of the Peloponnesian war, so fatal to Athens. Born in the centre of Grecian culture and industry, and descended from an old and n.o.ble family, he received a corresponding education, although no farther tidings of this have been transmitted to us, than the insignificant names of his teachers. That the youth growing up under such circ.u.mstances should choose the seclusion of a philosophic life rather than a political career may seem strange, since many and favorable opportunities for the latter course lay open before him.
Critias, one of the thirty tyrants, was the cousin of his mother, and Charmides, who subsequently, under the oligarchic rule at Athens, found his death at Thrasybulus on the same day with Critias, was his uncle.
Notwithstanding this, he is never known to have appeared a single time as a public speaker in the a.s.sembly of the people. In view of the rising degeneracy and increasing political corruption of his native land, he was too proud to court for himself the favor of the many-headed _Demos_; and more attached to Doricism than to the democracy and practice of the Attic public life, he chose to make science his chief pursuit, rather than as a patriot to struggle in vain against unavoidable disaster, and become a martyr to his political opinions. He regarded the Athenian state as lost, and to hinder its inevitable ruin he would not bring a useless offering.
2. HIS YEARS OF DISCIPLINE.-A youth of twenty, Plato came to Socrates, in whose intercourse he spent eight years. Besides a few doubtful anecdotes, nothing is known more particularly of this portion of his history. In Xenophon's Memorabilia (III. 6) Plato is only once cursorily mentioned, but this in a way that indicates an intimate relation between the scholar and his master. Plato himself in his dialogues has transmitted nothing concerning his personal relations to Socrates; only once (_Phaed._ p. 59) he names himself among the intimate friends of Socrates. But the influence which Socrates exerted upon him, how he recognized in him the complete representation of a wise man, how he found not only in his doctrine but also in his life and action the most fruitful philosophic germs, the significance which the personal character of his master as an ideal type had for him-all this we learn with sufficient accuracy from his writings, where he places his own incomparably more developed philosophical system in the mouth of his master, whom he makes the centre of his dialogues and the leader of his discourses.
3. HIS YEARS OF TRAVEL.-After the death of Socrates 399 B. C, in the thirtieth year of his age, Plato, fearing lest he also should be met by the incoming reaction against philosophy, left, in company with other Socraticists, his native city, and betook himself to Euclid, his former fellow-scholar, the founder of the Megaric school (_cf._ -- XIII. 4) at Megara. Up to this time a pure Socraticist, he became greatly animated and energized by his intercourse with the Megarians, among whom a peculiar philosophical direction, a modification of Socraticism, was already a.s.serted. We shall see farther on the influence of this residence at Megara upon the foundation of his philosophy, and especially upon the elaboration and confirmation of his doctrine of Ideas. One whole period of his literary activity and an entire group of his dialogues, can only be satisfactorily explained by the intellectual stimulus gained at this place. From Megara, Plato visited Cyrene, Egypt, Magna-Grecia and Sicily. In Magna-Grecia he became acquainted with the Pythagorean philosophy, which was then in its highest bloom. His abode among the Pythagoreans had a marked effect upon him; as a man it made him more practical, and increased his zest for life and his interest in public life and social intercourse; as a philosopher it furnished him with a new incitement to science, and new motives to literary labor. The traces of the Pythagorean philosophy may be seen through all the last period of his literary life; especially his aversion to public and political life was greatly softened by his intercourse with the Pythagoreans. While in the Theataetus, he affirmed most positively the incompatibility of philosophy with public life, we find in his later dialogues, especially in the Republic and also in the Statesman-upon which Pythagoreanism seems already to have had an influence-a returning favor for the actual world, and the well-known sentence that the ruler must be a philosopher is an expression very characteristic of this change. His visit to Sicily gave him the acquaintance of the elder Dionysius and Dion his brother-in-law, but the philosopher and the tyrant had little in common. Plato is said to have incurred his displeasure to so high a degree, that his life was in danger. After about ten years spent in travel, he returned to Athens in the fortieth year of his age, (389 or 388 B. C.)
4. PLATO AS HEAD OF THE ACADEMY; HIS YEARS OF INSTRUCTION.-On his return, Plato surrounded himself with a circle of pupils. The place where he taught was known as the academy, a gymnasium outside of Athens where Plato had inherited a garden from his father. Of his school and of his later life, we have only the most meagre accounts. His life pa.s.sed evenly along, interrupted only by a second and third visit to Sicily, where meanwhile the younger Dionysius had come to the throne. This second and third residence of Plato at the court of Syracuse abounds in vicissitudes, and shows us the philosopher in a great variety of conditions (_cf._ Plutarch's _Life of Dion_); but to us, in estimating his philosophical character, it is of interest only for the attempt, which, as seems probable from all accounts, he there made to realize his ideal of a moral state, and by the philosophical education of the new ruler to unite philosophy and the reins of government in one and the same hand, or at least in some way by means of philosophy to achieve a healthy change in the Sicilian state const.i.tution. His efforts were however fruitless; the circ.u.mstances were not propitious, and the character of the young Dionysius, who was one of those mediocre natures who strive after renown and distinction, but are capable of nothing profound and earnest, deceived the expectations concerning him which Plato, according to Dion's account, thought he had reason to entertain.
When we look at Plato's philosophical labors in the academy, we are struck with the different relations to public life which philosophy already a.s.sumes. Instead of carrying philosophy, like Socrates, into the streets and public places and making it there a subject of social conversation with any one who desired it, he lived and labored entirely withdrawn from the movements of the public, satisfied to influence the pupils who surrounded him. In precisely the measure in which philosophy becomes a system and the systematic form is seen to be essential, does it lose its popular character and begin to demand a scientific training, and to become a topic for the school, an esoteric affair. Yet such was the respect for the name of a philosopher, and especially for the name of Plato, that requests were made to him by different states to compose for them a book of laws, a work which in some instances it was said was actually performed. Attended by a retinue of devoted disciples, among whom were even women disguised as men, and receiving reiterated demonstrations of respect, he reached the age of eighty-one years, with his powers of mind unweakened to the latest moment.
The close of his life seems to have been clouded by disturbances and divisions which arose in his school under the lead of Aristotle. Engaged in writing, or as others state it at a marriage feast, death came upon him as a gentle sleep, 348 B. C. His remains were buried in the Ceramicus, not far from the academy.
II. THE INNER DEVELOPMENT OF THE PLATONIC PHILOSOPHY AND WRITINGS.-That the Platonic philosophy has a real development, that it should not be apprehended as a perfectly finished system to which the different writings stand related as const.i.tuent elements, but that these are rather steps of this inner development, as it were stages pa.s.sed over in the philosophical journeyings of the philosopher-is a view of the highest importance for the true estimate of Plato's literary labors.
Plato's philosophical and literary labors may be divided into three periods, which we can characterize in different ways. Looking at them in a chronological or biographical respect, we might call them respectively the periods of his years of discipline, of travel, of instruction, or if we view them in reference to the prevailing external influence under which they were formed, they might be termed the Socratic, Herac.l.i.tic-Eleatic, and the Pythagorean; or if we looked at the content alone, we might term them the Anti-Sophistic-Ethic, the Dialectic or mediating, and the systematic or constructive periods.
THE FIRST PERIOD-the Socratic-is marked externally by the predominance of the dramatic element, and in reference to its philosophical standpoint, by an adherence to the method and the fundamental principles of the Socratic doctrine. Not yet accurately informed of the results of former inquiries, and rather repelled from the study of the history of philosophy than attracted to it by the character of the Socratic philosophizing, Plato confined himself to an a.n.a.lytical treatment of conceptions, particularly of the conception of virtue, and to a reproducing of his master, which, though something more than a mere recital of verbal recollections, had yet no philosophical independence.
His Socrates exhibits the same view of life and the same scientific standpoint which the historical Socrates of Xenophon had had. His efforts were thus, like those of his contemporary fellow disciples, directed prominently toward practical wisdom. His conflicts however, like those of Socrates, had far more weight against the prevailing want of science and the shallow sophisms of the day than for the opposite scientific directions. The whole period bears an eclectic and hortatory character. The highest point in which the dialogues of this group culminate is the attempt which at the same time is found in the Socratic doctrine to determine the certainty of an absolute content (of an objective reality) to the good.
The history of the development of the Platonic philosophy would a.s.sume a very different form if the view of some modern scholars respecting the date of the Phaedrus were correct. If, as they claim, the Phaedrus were Plato's earliest work, this circ.u.mstance would betray from the outset an entirely different course of culture for him than we could suppose in a mere scholar of Socrates. The doctrine in this dialogue of the pre-existence of souls, and their periodical transmigrations, of the relation of earthly beauty with heavenly truth, of divine inspiration in contrast to human wisdom, the conception of love,-these and other Pythagorean ingredients are all so distinct from the original Socratic doctrine that we must transfer the most of that which Plato has creatively produced during his whole philosophical career, to the beginning of his philosophical development. The improbability of this, and numerous other grounds of objection, claim a far later composition for this dialogue. Setting aside for the present the Phaedrus, the Platonic development a.s.sumes the following form: