Christianity and Greek Philosophy
by Benjamin Franklin Cocker
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[Footnote 441: It is an opinion which goes as far back as the time of Plato, and even Pythagoras, and has ever since been widely entertained, that beauty of form consists in some sort of proportion or harmony which may admit of a mathematical expression; and later and more scientific research is altogether in its favor. It is now established that complementary colors, that is, colors which when combined make up the full beam, are felt to be beautiful when seen simultaneously; that is, the mind is made to delight in the unities of nature. At the basis of music there are certain fixed ratios; and in poetry, of every description, there are measures, and correspondencies. Pythagoras has often been ridiculed for his doctrine of "the music of the spheres;" and probably his doctrine was somewhat fanciful, but later science shows that there is a harmony in all nature—in its forms, in its forces, and in its motions. The highest unorganized and all organized objects take definite forms which are regulated by mathematical laws. The forces of nature can be estimated in numbers, and light and heat go in undulations, whilst the movements of the great bodies in nature admit of a precise quantitative expression. The harmonies of nature in respect of color, of number, of form, and of time are forcibly exhibited in "Typical Forms and Special Ends in Creation," by M'Cosh.]

Again, the world is assuredly perfect, as being the sensible image and copy of the Divinity, the outward and multiple development of the Eternal Unity. It must, therefore, when thoroughly known and properly interpreted, answer to all which we can conceive as perfect; that is, it must be regulated by laws, of which we have the highest principles in those first and elementary properties of numbers which stand next to unity. "The world is then, through all its departments, a living arithmetic in its development, a realized geometry in its repose." It is a kosmos (for the word is purely Pythagorean)—the expression of harmony, the manifestation, to sense, of everlasting order.

Though Pythagoras found in geometry the fitting initiative for abstract speculation, it is remarkable that he himself preferred to constitute the science of Numbers as the true representative of the laws of the universe. The reason appears to be this: that though geometry speaks indeed of eternal truths, yet when the notion of symmetry and proportion is introduced, it is often necessary to insist, in preference, upon the properties of numbers. Hence, though the universe displays the geometry of its Constructor or Animator, yet nature was eminently defined as the mimesis ton arithmon—the imitation of numbers.

The key to all the Pythagorean dogmas, then, seems to be the general formula of unity in multiplicity:—unity either evolving itself into multiplicity, or unity discovered as pervading multiplicity. The principle of all things, the same principle which in this philosophy, as in others, was customarily called Deity, is the primitive unit from which all proceeds in the accordant relations of the universal scheme. Into the sensible world of multitude, the all-pervading Unity has infused his own ineffable nature; he has impressed his own image upon that world which is to represent him in the sphere of sense and man. What, then, is that which is at once single and multiple, identical and diversified—which we perceive as the combination of a thousand elements, yet as the expression of a single spirit—which is a chaos to the sense, a cosmos to the reason? What is it but harmony—proportion—the one governing the many, the many lost in the one? The world is therefore a harmony in innumerable degrees, from the most complicated to the most simple: it is now a Triad, combining the Monad and the Duad, and partaking of the nature of both; now a Tetrad, the form of perfection; now a Decad, which, in combining the four former, involves, in its mystic nature, all the possible accordances of the universe.[442]

The psychology of the Pythagoreans was greatly modified by their physical, and still more, by their moral tenets. The soul was arithmos eauton kinon—a self-moving number or Monad, the copy (as we have seen) of that Infinite Monad which unfolds from its own incomprehensible essence all the relations of the universe. This soul has three elements, Reason (nous), Intelligence (phren), and Passion (Thymos). The two last, man has in common with brutes, the first is his grand and peculiar characteristic. It has, hence, been argued that Pythagoras could not have held the doctrine of "transmigration." This clear separation of man from the brute, by this signal endowment of reason, which is sempiternal, seems a refutation of those who charge him with the doctrine.

In the department of morals, the legislator of Crotona found his appropriate sphere. In his use of numerical notation, moral good was essential unity—evil, essential plurality and division. In the fixed truths of mathematical abstractions he found the exemplars of social and personal virtue. The rule or law of all morality is resemblance to God; that is, the return of number to its root, to unity,[443] and virtue is thus a harmony.

[Footnote 442: That is, 1+2+3+4=10. There are intimations that the Pythagoreans regarded the Monad as God, the Duad as matter, the Triad as the complex phenomena of the world, the Tetrad as the completeness of all its relations, the Decad as the cosmos, or harmonious whole.]

[Footnote 443: Aristotle, "Nichomachian Ethics," bk. i. ch. vi.]

Thus have we, in Pythagoras, the dawn of an Idealist school; for mathematics are founded upon abstractions, and there is consequently an intimate connection between mathematics and idealism. The relations of space, and number, and determinate form, are, like the relations of cause and effect, of phenomena and substance, perceptible only in thought; and the mind which has been disciplined to abstract thought by the study of mathematics, is prepared and disposed for purely metaphysical studies. "The looking into mathematical learning is a kind of prelude to the contemplation of real being."[444] Therefore Plato inscribed over the door of his academy, "Let none but Geometricians enter here." To the mind thus disciplined in abstract thinking, the conceptions and ideas of reason have equal authority, sometimes even superior authority, to the perceptions of sense.

[Footnote 444: Alcinous, "Introduction to the Doctrines of Plato," ch. vii.]

Now if the testimony of both reason and sense, as given in consciousness, is accepted as of equal authority, and each faculty is regarded as, within its own sphere, a source of real, valid knowledge, then a consistent and harmonious system of Natural Realism or Natural Dualism will be the result. If the testimony of sense is questioned and distrusted, and the mind is denied any immediate knowledge of the sensible world, and yet the existence of an external world is maintained by various hypotheses and reasonings, the consequence will be a species of Hypothetical Dualism or Cosmothetic Idealism. But if the affirmations of reason, as to the unity of the cosmos, are alone accepted, and the evidence of the senses, as to the variety and multiplicity of the world, is entirely disregarded, then we have a system of Absolute Idealism. Pythagoras regarded the harmony which pervades the diversified phenomena of the outer world as a manifestation of the unity of its eternal principle, or as the perpetual evolution of that unity, and the consequent tendency of his system was to depreciate the sensible. Following out this tendency, the Eleatics first neglected, and finally denied the variety of the universe—denied the real existence of the external world, and asserted an absolute metaphysical unity.

Xenophanes of Colophon, in Ionia (B.C. 616-516), was the founder of this celebrated school of Elea. He left Ionia, and arrived in Italy about the same time as Pythagoras, bringing with him to Italy his Ionian tendencies; he there amalgamated them with Pythagorean speculations.

Pythagoras had succeeded in fixing the attention of his countrymen on the harmony which pervades the material world, and had taught them to regard that harmony as the manifestation of the intelligence, and unity, and perfection of its eternal principle. Struck with this idea of harmony and of unity, Xenophanes, who was a poet, a rhapsodist, and therefore by native tendency, rather than by intellectual discipline, an Idealist, begins already to attach more importance to unity than multiplicity in his philosophy of nature. He regards the testimony of reason as of more authority than the testimony of sense; "and he holds badly enough the balance between the unity of the Pythagoreans and the variety which Heraclitus and the Ionians had alone considered."[445]

We are not, however, to suppose that Xenophanes denied entirely the existence of plurality. "The great Rhapsodist of Truth" was guided by the spontaneous intuitions of his mind (which seemed to partake of the character of an inspiration), to a clearer vision of the truth than were his successors of the same school by their discursive reasonings. "The One" of Xenophanes was clearly distinguished from the outward universe (ta polla) on the one hand, and from the "non-ens" on the other. It was his disciple, Parmenides, who imagined the logical necessity of identifying plurality with the "non-ens" and thus denying all immediate cognition of the phenomenal world. The compactness and logical coherence of the system of Parmenides seems to have had a peculiar charm for the Grecian mind, and to have diverted the eyes of antiquity from the views of the more earnest and devout Xenophanes, whose opinions were too often confounded with those of his successors of the Eleatic school. "Accordingly we find that Xenophanes has obtained credit for much that is, exclusively, the property of Parmenides and Zeno, in particular for denying plurality, and for identifying God with the universe."[446]

[Footnote 445: Cousin, "History of Philosophy," vol. i. p. 440.]

[Footnote 446: See note by editor, W.H. Thompson, M.A., on pages 331, 332 of Butler's "Lectures," vol. i. His authorities are "Fragments of Xenophanes" and the treatise "De Melisso, Xenophane, et Gorgia," by Aristotle.]

In theology, Xenophanes was unquestionably a Theist. He had a profound and earnest conviction of the existence of a God, and he ridiculed with sarcastic force, the anthropomorphic absurdities of the popular religion. This one God, he taught, was self-existent, eternal, and infinite; supreme in power, in goodness, and intelligence.[447] These characteristics are ascribed to the Deity in the sublime words with which he opens his philosophic poem—

"There is one God, of all beings, divine and human, the greatest: Neither in body alike unto mortals, neither in mind."

He has no parts, no organs, as men have, being

"All sight, all ear, all intelligence; Wholly exempt from toil, he sways all things by thought and will."[448]

Xenophanes also taught that God is "uncreated" or "uncaused," and that he is "excellent" as well as "all-powerful."[449] And yet, regardless of these explicit utterances, Lewes cautions his readers against supposing that, by the "one God," Xenophanes meant a Personal God; and he asserts that his Monotheism was Pantheism. A doctrine, however, which ascribes to the Divine Being moral as well as intellectual supremacy, which acknowledges an outward world distinct from Him, and which represents Him as causing the changes in that universe by the acts of an intelligent volition, can only by a strange perversion of language be called pantheism.

[Footnote 447: Lewes's "Biographical History of Philosophy," p. 38; Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. pp. 428, 429.]

[Footnote 448: Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. pp. 432, 434.]

[Footnote 449: Butler's "Lectures," vol. i. p. 331, note; Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. p. 428.]

Parmenides of Elea (born B.C. 536) was the philosopher who framed the psychological opinions of the Idealist school into a precise and comprehensive system. He was the first carefully to distinguish between Truth (aletheian) and Opinion (doxan)—between ideas obtained through the reason and the simple perceptions of sense. Assuming that reason and sense are the only sources of knowledge, he held that they furnish the mind with two distinct classes of cognitions—one variable, fleeting, and uncertain; the other immutable, necessary, and eternal. Sense is dependent on the variable organization of the individual, and therefore its evidence is changeable, uncertain, and nothing but a mere "seeming." Reason is the same in all individuals, and therefore its evidence is constant, real, and true. Philosophy is, therefore, divided into two branches—Physics and Metaphysics; one, a science of absolute knowledge; the other, a science of mere appearances. The first science, Physics, is pronounced illusory and uncertain; the latter, Metaphysics, is infallible and immutable.[450]

Proceeding on these principles, he rejects the dualistic system of the universe, and boldly declared that all essences are fundamentally one—that, in fact, there is no real plurality, and that all the diversity which "appears" is merely presented under a peculiar aesthetic or sensible law. The senses, it is true, teach us that there are "many things," but reason affirms that, at bottom, there exists only "the one." Whatever, therefore, manifests itself in the field of sense is merely illusory—the mental representation of a phenomenal world, which to experience seems diversified, but which reason can not possibly admit to be other than "immovable" and "one." There is but one Being in the universe, eternal, immovable, absolute; and of this unconditioned being all phenomenal existences, whether material or mental, are but the attributes and modes. Hence the two great maxims of the Eleatic school, derived from Parmenides—ta panta en, "The All is One" and to auto noein te kai einai (Idem est cogitare atque esse), "Thought and Being are identical." The last remarkable dictum is the fundamental principle of the modern pantheistic doctrine of "absolute identity" as taught by Schelling and Hegel.[451]

[Footnote 450: Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. pp. 447, 451.]

[Footnote 451: Id., ib., vol. i. pp. 450, 455.]

Lewes asserts that "Parmenides did not, with Xenophanes, call 'the One' God; he called it Being.[452] In support of this statement he, however, cites no ancient authorities. We are therefore justified in rejecting his opinion, and receiving the testimony of Simplicius, "the only authority for the fragments of the Eleatics,"[453] and who had a copy of the philosophic poems of Parmenides. He assures us that Parmenides and Xenophanes "affirmed that 'the One,' or unity, was the first Principle of all,....they meaning by this One that highest or supreme God, as being the cause of unity to all things.... It remaineth, therefore, that that Intelligence which is the cause of all things, and therefore of mind and understanding also, in which all things are comprehended in unity, was Parmenides' one Ens or Being.[454] Parmenides was, therefore, a spiritualistic or idealistic Pantheist.

Zeno of Elea (born B.C. 500) was the logician of the Eleatic school. He was, says Diogenes Laertius, "the inventor of Dialectics."[455] Logic henceforth becomes the organon[456]—organon of the Eleatics.

[Footnote 452: "Biographical History of Philosophy," p. 50.]

[Footnote 453: Encyclopaedia Britannica, article "Simplicius."]

[Footnote 454: Cudworth's "Intellectual System," vol. i. p. 511.]

[Footnote 455: "Lives," p. 387 (Bohn's edition).]

[Footnote 456: Plato in "Parmen."]

This organon, however, Zeno used very imperfectly. In his hands it was simply the "reductio ad absurdum" of opposing opinions as the means of sustaining the tenets of his own sect. Parmenides had asserted, on a priori grounds, the existence of "the One." Zeno would prove by his dialectic the non-existence of "the many." His grand position was that all phenomena, all that appears to sense, is but a modification of the absolute One. And he displays a vast amount of dialectic subtilty in the effort to prove that all "appearances" are unreal, and that all movement and change is a mere "seeming"—not a reality. What men call motion is only a name given to a series of conditions, each of which, considered separately, is rest. "Rest is force resistant; motion is force triumphant."[457] The famous puzzle of "Achilles and the Tortoise," by which he endeavored to prove the unreality of motion, has been rendered familiar to the English reader.[458]

[Footnote 457: Lewes's "Biographical History of Philosophy," p. 60.]

[Footnote 458: Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. pp. 475, 476.]

Aristotle assures us that Zeno, "by his one Ens, which neither was moved nor movable, meaneth God." And he also informs us that "Zeno endeavored to demonstrate that there is but one God, from the idea which all men have of him, as that which is the best, supremest, most powerful of all, or an absolutely perfect being" ("De Xenophane, Zenone, et Gorgia").[459]

With Zeno we close our survey of the second grand line of independent inquiry by which philosophy sought to solve the problem of the universe. The reader will be struck with the resemblance which subsists between the history of its development and that of the modern Idealist school. Pythagoras was the Descartes, Parmenides the Spinoza, and Zeno the Hegel of the Italian school.

In this survey of the speculations of the pre-Socratic schools of philosophy, we have followed the course of two opposite streams of thought which had their common origin in one fundamental principle or law of the human mind—the intuition of unity—"or the desire to comprehend all the facts of the universe in a single formula, and consummate all conditional knowledge in the unity of unconditioned existence." The history of this tendency is, in fact, the history of all philosophy. "The end of all philosophy," says Plato, "is the intuition of unity." "All knowledge," said the Platonists, "is the gathering up into one."[460]

[Footnote 459: Cudworth's "Intellectual System," vol. i. p. 518.]

[Footnote 460: Hamilton's "Metaphysics," vol. i. pp. 67-70 (English edition).]

Starting from this fundamental idea, that, beneath the endless flux and change of the visible universe, there must be a permanent principle of unity, we have seen developed two opposite schools of speculative thought. As the traveller, standing on the ridges of the Andes, may see the head-waters of the great South American rivers mingling in one, so the student of philosophy, standing on the elevated plane of analytic thought, may discover, in this fundamental principle, the common source of the two great systems of speculative thought which divided the ancient world. Here are the head-waters of the sensational and the idealist schools. The Ionian school started its course of inquiry in the direction of sense; it occupied itself solely with the phenomena of the external world, and it sought this principle of unity in a physical element. The Italian school started its course of inquiry in the direction of reason; it occupied itself chiefly with rational conceptions or a priori ideas, and it sought this principle of unity in purely metaphysical being. And just as the Amazon and La Plata sweep on, in opposite directions, until they reach the extremities of the continent, so these two opposite streams of thought rush onward, by the force of a logical necessity, until they terminate in the two Unitarian systems of Absolute Materialism and Absolute Idealism, and, in their theological aspects, in a pantheism which, on the one hand, identifies God with matter, or, on the other hand, swallows up the universe in God.

The radical error of both these systems is at once apparent. The testimony of the primary faculties of the mind was not regarded as each, within its sphere, final and decisive. The duality of consciousness was not accepted in all its integrity; one school rejected the testimony of reason, the other denied the veracity of the senses, and both prepared the way for the skepticism of the Sophists.

We must not, however, lose sight of the fact that there were some philosophers of the pre-Socratic school, as Anaxagoras and Empedocles, who recognized the partial and exclusive character of both these systems, and sought, by a method which Cousin would designate as Eclecticism, to combine the element of truth contained in each.

Anaxagoras of Clazomencoe (B.C. 500-428) added to the Ionian philosophy of a material element or elements the Italian idea of a spirit distinct from, and independent of the world, which has within itself the principle of a spontaneous activity—Nous autocrates, and which is the first cause of motion in the universe—arche tes kineseos.[461]

[Footnote 461: Cousin, "History of Philosophy," vol. i. p. 411.]

In his physical theory, Anaxagoras was an Atomist. Instead of one element, he declared that the elements or first principles were numerous, or even infinite. No point in space is unoccupied by these atoms, which are infinitely divisible. He imagined that, in nature, there are as many kinds of principles as there are species of compound bodies, and that the peculiar form of the primary particles of which any body is composed is the same with the qualities of the compound body itself. This was the celebrated doctrine of Homoeomeria, of which Lucretius furnishes a luminous account in his philosophic poem "De Natura Rerum"—

"That bone from bones Minute, and embryon; nerve from nerves arise; And blood from blood, by countless drops increased. Gold, too, from golden atoms, earths concrete, From earths extreme; from fiery matters, fire; And lymph from limpen dews. And thus throughout From primal kinds that kinds perpetual spring."[462]

These primary particles were regarded by Anaxagoras as eternal; because he held the dogma, peculiar to all the Ionians, that nothing can be really created or annihilated (de nihilo nihil, in nihilum nil posse reverti). But he saw, nevertheless, that the simple existence of "inert" matter, even from eternity, could not explain the motion and the harmony of the material world. Hence he saw the necessity of another power—the power of Intelligence. "All things were in chaos; then came Intelligence and introduced Order."[463]

Anaxagoras, unlike the pantheistic speculators of the Ionian school, rigidly separated the Supreme Intelligence from the material universe. The Nous of Anaxagoras is a principle, infinite, independent (autocrates), omnipresent (en panti pantos moioa enon), the subtilest and purest of things (lepitotaton panion chrematon kaikai katharotaton); and incapable of mixture with aught besides; it is also omniscient (panta egno), and unchangeable (pas omoios esti).—Simplicius, in "Arist. Phys." i. 33.[464]

[Footnote 462: Good's translation, bk. i. p. 325.]

[Footnote 463: Diogenes Laertius, "Lives," p. 59.]

[Footnote 464: Butler's "Lectures on Philosophy," vol. i. p. 305, note.]

Thus did Anaxagoras bridge the chasm between the Ionian and the Italian schools. He accepted both doctrines with some modifications. He believed in the real existence of the phenomenal world, and he also believed in the real existence of "The Infinite Mind," whose Intelligence and Omnipotence were manifested in the laws and relations which pervade the world. He proclaimed the existence of the Infinite Intelligence ("the ONE"), who was the Architect and Governor of the Infinite Matter ("the MANY").

On the question as to the origin and certainty of human knowledge, Anaxagoras differed both from the Ionians and the Eleatics. Neither the sense alone, nor the reason alone, were for him a ground of certitude. He held that reason (logos) was the regulative faculty of the mind, as the Nous, or Supreme Intelligence, was the regulative power of the universe. And he admitted that the senses were veracious in their reports; but they reported only in regard to phenomena. The senses, then, perceive phenomena, but it is the reason alone which recognizes noumena, that is, the reason perceives being in and through phenomena, substance in and through qualities; an anticipation of the fundamental principle of modern psychology—"that every power or substance in existence is knowable to us, so far only, as we know its phenomena." Thus, again, does he bridge the chasm that separates between the Sensationalist and the Idealist. The Ionians relied solely on the intuitions of sense; the Eleatics accepted only the apperceptions of pure reason; he accepted the testimony of both, and in the synthesis of subject and object—the union of an element supplied by sensation, and an element supplied by reason, he found real, certain knowledge.

The harmony which the doctrine of Anaxagoras introduced into the philosophy of Athens, soon attracted attention and multiplied disciples. He was teaching when Socrates arrived in Athens, and the latter attended his school. The influence which the doctrine of Anaxagoras exerted upon the mind of Socrates (leading him to recognize Intelligence as the cause of order and special adaptation in the universe),[465] and also upon the course of philosophy in the Socratic schools, is the most enduring memorial of his name.[466]

[Footnote 465: "Phaedo," Sec. 105.]

[Footnote 466: Aristotle's "Metaphysics," bk. i. ch. iii.]

We have devoted a much larger space than we originally designed to the ante-Socratic schools—quite out of proportion, indeed, with that we shall be able to appropriate to their successors. But inasmuch as all the great primary problems of thought, which are subsequently discussed by Plato and Aristotle, were started, and received, at least, typical answers in those schools, we can not hope to understand Plato, or Aristotle, or even Epicurus, or Zeno of Cittium, unless we have first mastered the doctrines of Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Anaxagoras.[467] The attention we have bestowed on these early thinkers will, therefore, have been a valuable preparatory discipline for the study of


The first cycle of philosophy was now complete. That form of Grecian speculative thought which, during the first period of its development, was a philosophy of nature, had reached its maturity; it had sought "the first principles of all things" in the study of external nature, and had signally failed. In this pursuit of first principles as the basis of a true and certain knowledge of the system of the universe, the two leading schools had been carried to opposite poles of thought. One had asserted that experience alone, the other, that reason alone was the sole criterion of truth. As the last consequence of this imperfect method, Leucippus had denied the existence of "the one," and Zeno had denied the existence of "the many." The Ionian school, in Democritus, had landed in Materialism; the Italian, in Parmenides, had ended in Pantheism; and, as the necessary result of this partial and defective method of inquiry, which ended in doubt and contradiction, a spirit of general skepticism was generated in the Athenian mind. If doubt be cast upon the veracity of the primary cognitive faculties of the mind, the flood-gates of universal skepticism are opened. If the senses are pronounced to be mendacious and illusory in their reports regarding external phenomena, and if the intuitions of the reason, in regard to the ground and cause of phenomena, are delusive, then we have no ground of certitude. If one faculty is unveracious and unreliable, how can we determine that the other is not equally so? There is, then, no such thing as universal and necessary truth. Truth is variable and uncertain, as the variable opinion of each individual.

[Footnote 467: Maurice's "Ancient Philosophy," p. 114; Butler's "Lectures on Ancient Philosophy," vol. ii. pp. 87, 88.]

The Sophists, who belonged to no particular school, laid hold on the elements of skepticism contained in both the pre-Socratic schools of philosophy, and they declared that "the sophia" was not only unattainable, but that no relative degree of it was possible for the human faculties.[468] Protagoras of Abdera accepted the doctrine of Heraclitus, that thought is identical with sensation, and limited by it; he therefore declared that there is no criterion of truth, and Man is the measure of all things.[469] Sextus Empiricus gives the psychological opinions of Protagoras with remarkable explicitness. "Matter is in a perpetual flux, whilst it undergoes augmentations and losses; the senses also are modified according to the age and disposition of the body. He said, also, that the reason of all phenomena resides in matter as substrata, so that matter, in itself, might be whatever it appeared to each. But men have different perceptions at different periods, according to the changes in the things perceived.... Man is, therefore, the criterion of that which exists; all that is perceived by him exists; that which is perceived by no man does not exist."[470] These conclusions were rigidly and fearlessly applied to ethics and political science. If there is no Eternal Truth, there can be no Immutable Right. The distinction of right and wrong is solely a matter of human opinion and conventional usage.[471] "That which appears just and honorable to each city, is so for that city, so long as the opinion prevails."[472]

[Footnote 468: Encyclopaedia Britannica, article "Sophist."]

[Footnote 469: Plato's "Theaetetus" (anthropos—"the individual is the measure of all things"), vol. i. p. 381 (Bohn's edition).]

[Footnote 470: Lewes's "Biographical History of Philosophy," p. 117.]

[Footnote 471: "Gorgias," Sec. 85-89.]

[Footnote 472: Plato's "Theaetetus," Sec. 65-75.]

There were others who laid hold on the weapons which Zeno had prepared to their hands. He had asserted that all the objects of sense were mere phantoms—delusive and transitory. By the subtilties of dialectic quibbling, he had attempted to prove that "change" meant "permanence," and "motion" meant "rest."[473] Words may, therefore, have the most opposite and contradictory meanings; and all language and all opinion may, by such a process, be rendered uncertain. One opinion is, consequently, for the individual, just as good as another; and all opinions are equally true and untrue. It was nevertheless desirable, for the good of society, that there should be some agreement, and that, for a time at least, certain opinions should prevail; and if philosophy had failed to secure this agreement, rhetoric, at least, was effectual; and, with the Sophist, rhetoric was "the art of making the worst appear the better reason." All wisdom was now confined to a species of "word jugglery," which in Athens was dignified as "the art of disputation."

[Footnote 473: "And do we not know that the Eleatic Palamedes (Zeno) spoke by art in such a manner that the same things appeared to be similar and dissimilar, one and many, at rest and in motion?"—"Phaedrus," Sec. 97.]

SOCRATES (B.C. 469-399), the grand central figure in the group of ancient philosophers, arrived in Athens in the midst of this general skepticism. He had an invincible faith in truth. "He made her the mistress of his soul, and with patient labor, and unwearied energy, did his great and noble soul toil after perfect communion with her." He was disappointed and dissatisfied with the results that had been reached by the methods of his predecessors, and he was convinced that by these methods the problem of the universe could not be solved. He therefore turned away from physical inquiries, and devoted his whole attention to the study of the human mind, its fundamental beliefs, ideas, and laws. If he can not penetrate the mysteries of the outer world, he will turn his attention to the world within. He will "know himself," and find within himself the reason, and ground, and law of all existence. There he discovered certain truths which can not possibly be questioned. He felt he had within his own heart a faithful monitor—a conscience, which he regarded as the voice of God.[474] He believed "he had a divine teacher with him at all times. Though he did not possess wisdom, this teacher could put him on the road to seek it, could preserve him from delusions which might turn him out of the way, could keep his mind fixed upon the end for which he ought to act and live."[475] In himself, therefore, he sought that ground of certitude which should save him from the prevailing skepticism of his times. The Delphic inscription, Gnoti seauton, "know thyself" becomes henceforth the fundamental maxim of philosophy.

[Footnote 474: The Daemon of Socrates has been the subject of much discussion among learned men. The notion, once generally received, that his daimon was "a familiar genius," is now regarded as an exploded error. "Nowhere does Socrates, in Plato or Xenophon, speak of a genius or demon, but always of a doemoniac something (to daimonion, or daimonin ti), or of a sign, a voice, a divine sign, a divine voice" (Lewes's "Biographical History of Philosophy," p. 166). "Socrates always speaks of a divine or supernatural somewhat ('divinum quiddam,' as Cicero has it), the nature of which he does not attempt to divine, and to which he never attributes personality" (Butler's "Lectures on Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. p. 357). The scholar need not to be informed that to daimonion, in classic literature, means the divine Essence (Lat. numen), to which are attributed events beyond man's power, yet not to be assigned to any special god.]

[Footnote 475: Maurice's "Ancient Philosophy," p. 124.]

Truth has a rational, a priori foundation in the constitution of the human mind. There are ideas connatural to the human reason which are the copies of those archetypal ideas which belong to the Eternal Reason. The grand problem of philosophy, therefore, now is—What are these fundamental IDEAS which are unchangeable and permanent, amid all the diversifies of human opinion, connecting appearance with reality, and constituting a ground of certain knowledge or absolute truth? Socrates may not have held the doctrine of ideas as exhibited by Plato, but he certainly believed that there were germs of truth latent in the human mind—principles which governed, unconsciously, the processes of thought, and that these could be developed by reflection and by questioning. These were embryonate in the womb of reason, coming to the birth, but needing the "maieutic" or "obstetric" art, that they might be brought forth.[476] He would, therefore, become the accoucheur of ideas, and deliver minds of that secret truth which lay in their mental constitution. And thus Psychology becomes the basis of all legitimate metaphysics.

[Footnote 476: Plato's "Theaetetus," Sec. 22.]

By the general consent of antiquity, as well as by the concurrent judgment of all modern historians of philosophy, Socrates is regarded as having effected a complete revolution in philosophic thought, and, by universal consent, he is placed at the commencement of a new era in philosophy. Schleiermacher has said, "the service which Socrates rendered to philosophy consisted not so much in the truths arrived at as in the METHOD by which truth is sought." As Bacon inaugurated a new method in physical inquiry, so Socrates inaugurated a new method in metaphysical inquiry.

What, then, was this new method? It was no other than the inductive method applied to the facts of consciousness. This method is thus defined by Aristotle: "Induction is the process from particulars to generals;" that is, it is the process of discovering laws from facts, causes from effects, being from phenomena. But how is this process of induction conducted? By observing and enumerating the real facts which are presented in consciousness, by noting their relations of resemblance or difference, and by classifying these facts by the aid of these relations. In other words, it is analysis applied to the phenomena of mind.[477] Now Socrates gave this method of psychological analysis to Greek philosophy. There are two things of which Socrates must justly be regarded as the author,—the inductive reasoning and abstract definition.[478] We readily grant that Socrates employed this method imperfectly, for methods are the last things perfected in science; but still, the Socratic movement was a vast movement in the right direction.

[Footnote 477: Cousin's "Lectures on the History of Philosophy," vol. i. p. 30.]

[Footnote 478: Aristotle's "Metaphysics," vol. xii. ch. iv. p. 359 (Bohn's edition).]

In what are usually regarded as the purely Socratic dialogues,[479] Plato evidently designs to exhibit this method of Socrates. They proceed continually on the firm conviction that there is a standard or criterion of truth in the reason of man, and that, by reflection, man can apprehend and recognize the truth. To awaken this power of reflection; to compel men to analyze their language and their thoughts; to lead them from the particular and the contingent, to the universal and the necessary; and to teach them to test their opinions by the inward standard of truth, was the aim of Socrates. These dialogues are a picture of the conversations of Socrates. They are literally an education of the thinking faculty. Their purpose is to discipline men to think for themselves, rather than to furnish opinions for them. In many of these dialogues Socrates affirms nothing. After producing many arguments, and examining a question on all sides, he leaves it undetermined. At the close of the dialogue he is as far from a declaration of opinions as at the commencement. His grand effort, like that of Bacon's, is to furnish men a correct method of inquiry, rather than to apply that method and give them results.

[Footnote 479: "Laches," "Charmides," "Lysis," "The Rivals," "First and Second Alcibiades," "Theages," "Clitophon." See Whewell's translation, vol. i.]

We must not, however, from thence conclude that Socrates did not himself attain any definite conclusions, or reach any specific and valuable results. When, in reply to his friends who reported the answer of the oracle of Delphi, that "Socrates was the wisest of men," he said, "he supposed the oracle declared him wise because he knew nothing," he did not mean that true knowledge was unattainable, for his whole life had been spent in efforts to attain it. He simply indicates the disposition of mind which is most befitting and most helpful to the seeker after truth. He must be conscious of his own ignorance. He must not exalt himself. He must not put his own conceits in the way of the thing he would know. He must have an open eye, a single purpose, an honest mind, to prepare him to receive light when it comes. And that there is light, that there is a source whence light comes, he avowed in every word and act.

Socrates unquestionably believed in one Supreme God, the immaterial, infinite Governor of all. He cherished that instinctive, spontaneous faith in God and his Providence which is the universal faith of the human heart. He saw this faith revealed in the religious sentiments of all nations, and in the tendency to worship so universally characteristic of humanity.[480] He appealed to the consciousness of absolute dependence—the persuasion, wrought by God in the minds of all men, that "He is able to make men happy or miserable," and the consequent sense of obligation which teaches man he ought to obey God. And he regarded with some degree of affectionate tenderness the common sentiment of his countrymen, that the Divine Government was conducted through the ministry of subordinate deities or generated gods. But he sought earnestly to prevent the presence of these subordinate agents from intercepting the clear view of the Supreme God.

The faith of Socrates was not, however, grounded on mere feeling and sentiment. He endeavored to place the knowledge of God on a rational basis. We can not read the arguments he employed without being convinced that he anticipated all the subsequent writers on Natural Theology in his treatment of the argument from special ends or final causes. We venture to abridge the account which is given by Xenophon of the conversation with Aristodemus:[481]

[Footnote 480: "Memorabilia," bk. i. ch. iv. Sec. 16.]

[Footnote 481: Ibid., bk. i. ch. iv.]

"I will now relate the manner in which I once heard Socrates discoursing with Aristodemus concerning the Deity; for, observing that he never prayed nor sacrificed to the gods, but, on the contrary, ridiculed those who did, he said to him:

"'Tell me, Aristodemus, is there any man you admire on account of his merits? Aristodemus having answered, 'Many,—'Name some of them, I pray you,' said Socrates. 'I admire,' said Aristodemus, 'Homer for his Epic poetry, Melanippides for his dithyrambics, Sophocles for his tragedy, Polycletus for statuary, and Zeuxis for painting.'

"'But which seemed to you most worthy of admiration, Aristodemus—the artist who forms images void of motion and intelligence, or one who has skill to produce animals that are endued, not only with activity, but understanding?'

"'The latter, there can be no doubt,' replied Aristodemus, 'provided the production was not the effect of chance, but of wisdom and contrivance.'

"'But since there are many things, some of which we can easily see the use of, while we can not say of others to what purpose they are produced, which of these, Aristodemus, do you suppose the work of wisdom?'

"'It would seem the most reasonable to affirm it of those whose fitness and utility are so evidently apparent,' answered Aristodemus.

"'But it is evidently apparent that He who, at the beginning, made man, endued him with senses because they were good for him; eyes wherewith to behold what is visible, and ears to hear whatever was heard; for, say, Aristodemus, to what purpose should odor be prepared, if the sense of smelling had been denied or why the distinction of bitter or sweet, of savory or unsavory, unless a palate had been likewise given, conveniently placed to arbitrate between them and proclaim the difference? Is not that Providence, Aristodemus, in a most eminent manner conspicuous, which, because the eye of a man is so delicate in its contexture, hath therefore prepared eyelids like doors whereby to secure it, which extend of themselves whenever it is needful, and again close when sleep approaches? Are not these eyelids provided, as it were, with a fence on the edge of them to keep off the wind and guard the eye? Even the eyebrow itself is not without its office, but, as a penthouse, is prepared to turn off the sweat, which falling from the forehead might enter and annoy that no less tender than astonishing part of us. Is it not to be admired that the ears should take in sounds of every sort, and yet are not too much filled with them? That the fore teeth of the animal should be formed in such a manner as is evidently best for cutting, and those on the side for grinding it to pieces? That the mouth, through which this food is conveyed, should be placed so near the nose and eyes as to prevent the passing unnoticed whatever is unfit for nourishment?... And canst thou still doubt, Aristodemus, whether a disposition of parts like this should be a work of chance, or of wisdom and contrivance?'

"'I have no longer any doubt,' replied Aristodemus; 'and, indeed, the more I consider it, the more evident it appears to me that man must be the masterpiece of some great Artificer, carrying along with it infinite marks of the love and favor of Him who hath thus formed it.'

"'But, further (unless thou desirest to ask me questions), seeing, Aristodemus, thou thyself art conscious of reason and intelligence, supposest thou there is no intelligence elsewhere? Thou knowest thy body to be a small part of that wide-extended earth thou everywhere beholdest; the moisture contained in it thou also knowest to be a portion of that mighty mass of waters whereof seas themselves are but a part, while the rest of the elements contribute out of their abundance to thy formation. It is the soul, then, alone, that intellectual part of us, which is come to thee by some lucky chance, from I know not where. If so, there is no intelligence elsewhere; and we must be forced to confess that this stupendous universe, with all the various bodies contained therein—equally amazing, whether we consider their magnitude or number, whatever their use, whatever their order—all have been produced by chance, not by intelligence!'

"'It is with difficulty that I can suppose otherwise,' returned Aristodemus; 'for I behold none of those gods whom you speak of as framing and governing the world; whereas I see the artists when at their work here among us.'

"'Neither yet seest thou thy soul, Aristodemus, which, however, most assuredly governs thy body; although it may well seem, by thy manner of talking, that it is chance and not reason which governs thee.'

"'I do not despise the gods,' said Aristodemus; 'on the contrary, I conceive so highly of their excellency, as to suppose they stand in no need of me or of my services.'

"'Thou mistakest the matter,' Aristodemus, 'the great magnificence they have shown in their care of thee, so much the more honor and service thou owest them.'

"'Be assured,' said Aristodemus, 'if I once could persuade myself the gods take care of man, I should want no monitor to remind me of my duty.'

"'And canst thou doubt, Aristodemus, if the gods take care of man? Hath not the glorious privilege of walking upright been alone bestowed on him, whereby he may with the better advantage survey what is around him, contemplate with more ease those splendid objects which are above, and avoid the numerous ills and inconveniences which would otherwise befall him? Other animals, indeed, they have provided with feet; but to man they have also given hands, with which he can form many things for use, and make himself happier than creatures of any other kind. A tongue hath been bestowed on every other animal; but what animal, except man, hath the power of forming words with it whereby to explain his thoughts and make them intelligible to others? But it is not with respect to the body alone that the gods have shown themselves bountiful to man. Their most excellent gift is that of a soul they have infused into him, which so far surpasses what is elsewhere to be found; for by what animal except man is even the existence of the gods discovered, who have produced and still uphold in such regular order this beautiful and stupendous frame of the universe? What other creature is to be found that can serve and adore them?... In thee, Aristodemus, has been joined to a wonderful soul a body no less wonderful; and sayest thou, after this, the gods take no thought for me? What wouldst thou, then, more to convince thee of their care?'

"'I would they should send and inform me,' said Aristodemus, 'what things I ought or ought not to do, in like manner as thou sayest they frequently do to thee.'"

In reply, Socrates shows that the revelations of God which are made in nature, in history, in consciousness, and by oracles, are made for all men and to all men. He then concludes with these remarkable words: "As, therefore, amongst men we make best trial of the affection and gratitude of our neighbor by showing him kindness, and make discovery of his wisdom by consulting him in our distress, do thou, in like manner, behave towards the gods; and if thou wouldst experience what their wisdom and their love, render thyself deserving of some of those divine secrets which may not be penetrated by man, and are imparted to those alone who consult, who adore, and who obey the Deity. Then shalt thou, my Aristodemus, understand there is a Being whose eye passes through all nature, and whose ear is open to every sound; extended to all places, extending through all time; and whose bounty and care can know no other bounds than those fixed by his own creation".[482]

[Footnote 482: Lewes's translation, in "Biog. History of Philosophy," pp. 160-165.]

Socrates was no less earnest in his belief in the immortality of the soul, and a state of future retribution. He had reverently listened to the intuitions of his own soul—the instinctive longings and aspirations of his own heart, as a revelation from God. He felt that all the powers and susceptibilities of his inward nature were in conscious adaptation to the idea of immortality, and that its realization was the appropriate destiny of man. He was convinced that a future life was needed to avenge the wrongs and reverse the unjust judgments of the present life;[483] needed that virtue may receive its meet reward, and the course of Providence may have its amplest vindication. He saw this faith reflected in the universal convictions of mankind, and the "common traditions" of all ages.[484] No one refers more frequently than Socrates to the grand old mythologic stories which express this faith; to Minos, and Rhadamanthus, and AEacus, and Triptolemus, who are "real judges," and who, in "the Place of Departed Spirits, administer justice."[485] He believed that in that future state the pursuit of wisdom would be his chief employment, and he anticipated the pleasure of mingling in the society of the wise, and good, and great of every age.

[Footnote 483: "Apology," Sec. 32, p. 329 (Whewell's edition).]

[Footnote 484: Ibid.]

[Footnote 485: "Apology," p. 330.]

Whilst, then, Socrates was not the first to teach the doctrine of immortality, because no one could be said to have first discovered it any more than to have first discovered the existence of a God, he was certainly the first to place it upon a philosophic basis. The Phaedo presents the doctrine and the reasoning by which Socrates had elevated his mind above the fear of death. Some of the arguments may be purely Platonic, the argument especially grounded on "ideas;" still, as a whole, it must be regarded as a tolerably correct presentation of the manner in which Socrates would prove the immortality of the soul.

In Ethics, Socrates was pre-eminently himself. The systematic resolution of the whole theory of society into the elementary principle of natural law, was peculiar to him. Justice was the cardinal principle which must lie at the foundation of all good government. The word sophia—wisdom—included all excellency in personal morals, whether as manifested (reflectively) in the conduct of one's self, or (socially) towards others. And Happiness, in its purity and perfection, can only be found in virtuous action.[486]

[Footnote 486: Butler's "Lectures on Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. pp. 360, 361.]

Socrates left nothing behind him that could with propriety be called a school. His chief glory is that he inaugurated a new method of inquiry, which, in Plato and Aristotle, we shall see applied. He gave a new and vital impulse to human thought, which endured for ages; "and he left, as an inheritance for humanity, the example of a heroic life devoted wholly to the pursuit of truth, and crowned with martyrdom."





We have seen that the advent of Socrates marks a new era in the history of speculative thought. Greek philosophy, which at first was a philosophy of nature, now changes its direction, its character, and its method, and becomes a philosophy of mind. This, of course, does not mean that now it had mind alone for its object; on the contrary, it tended, as indeed philosophy must always tend, to the conception of a rational ideal or intellectual system of the universe. It started from the phenomena of mind, began with the study of human thought, and it made the knowledge of mind, of its ideas and laws, the basis of a higher philosophy, which should interpret all nature. In other words, it proceeded from psychology, through dialectics, to ontology.[487]

[Footnote 487: Cousin's "Lectures on the History of Philosophy," vol. i. p. 413.]

This new movement we have designated in general terms as the Socratic School. Not that we are to suppose that, in any technical sense, Socrates founded a school. The Academy, the Lyceum, the Stoa, and the Garden, were each the chosen resort of distinct philosophic sects, the locality of separate schools; but Athens itself, the whole city, was the scene of the studies, the conversations, and the labors of Socrates. He wandered through the streets absorbed in thought. Sometimes he stood still for hours lost in profoundest meditation; at other times he might be seen in the market-place, surrounded by a crowd of Athenians, eagerly discussing the great questions of the day.

Socrates, then, was not, in the usual sense of the word, a teacher. He is not to be found in the Stoa or the Grove, with official aspect, expounding a system of doctrine. He is "the garrulous oddity" of the streets, putting the most searching and perplexing questions to every bystander, and making every man conscious of his ignorance. He delivered no lectures; he simply talked. He wrote no books; he only argued: and what is usually styled his school must be understood as embracing those who attended him in public as listeners and admirers, and who caught his spirit, adopted his philosophic method, and, in after life, elaborated and systematized the ideas they had gathered from him.

Among the regular or the occasional hearers of Socrates were many who were little addicted to philosophic speculation. Some were warriors, as Nicias and Laches; some statesmen, as Critias and Critobulus; some were politicians, in the worst sense of that word, as Glaucon; and some were young men of fashion, as Euthydemus and Alcibiades. These were all alike delighted with his inimitable irony, his versatility of genius, his charming modes of conversation, his adroitness of reply; and they were compelled to confess the wisdom and justness of his opinions, and to admire the purity and goodness of his life. The magic power which he wielded, even over men of dissolute character, is strikingly depicted by Alcibiades in his speech at "the Banquet."[488] Of these listeners, however, we can not now speak. Our business is with those only who imbibed his philosophic spirit, and became the future teachers of philosophy. And even of those who, as Euclid of Megara, and Antisthenes the Cynic, and Aristippus of Cyrenaica, borrowed somewhat from the dialectic of Socrates, we shall say nothing. They left no lasting impression upon the current of philosophic thought, because their systems were too partial, and narrow, and fragmentary. It is in Plato and Aristotle that the true development of the Socratic philosophy is to be sought, and in Plato chiefly, as the disciple and friend of Socrates.

[Footnote 488: "Banquet," Secs. 39, 40.]

Plato (B.C. 430-347) was pre-eminently the pupil of Socrates. He came to Socrates when he was but twenty years of age, and remained with him to the day of his death.

Diogenes Laertius reports the story of Socrates having dreamed he found an unfledged cygnet on his knee. In a few moments it became winged and flew away, uttering a sweet sound. The next day a young man came to him who was said to reckon Solon among his near ancestors, and who looked, through him, to Codrus and the god Poseidon. That young man was Plato, and Socrates pronounced him to be the bird he had seen in his dream.[489]

[Footnote 489: Diogenes Laertius, "Lives of the Philosophers," bk. iii. ch. vii.]

Some have supposed that this old tradition intimates that Plato departed from the method of his master—he became fledged and flew away into the air. But we know that Plato did not desert his master whilst he was living, and there is no evidence that he abandoned his method after he was dead. He was the best expounder and the most rigid observer of the Socratic "organon." The influence of Socrates upon the philosophy of Plato is everywhere discernible. Plato had been taught by Socrates, that beyond the world of sense there is a world of eternal truth, seen by the eye of reason alone. He had also learned from him that the eye of reason is purified and strengthened by reflection, and that to reflect is to observe, and analyze, and define, and classify the facts of consciousness. Self-reflection, then, he had been taught to regard as the key of real knowledge. By a completer induction, a more careful and exact analysis, and a more accurate definition, he carried this philosophic method forward towards maturity. He sought to solve the problem of being by the principles revealed in his own consciousness, and in the ultimate ideas of the reason to find the foundation of all real knowledge, of all truth, and of all certitude.

Plato was admirably fitted for these sublime investigations by the possession of those moral qualities which were so prominent in the character of his master. He had that same deep seriousness of spirit, that earnestness and rectitude of purpose, that longing after truth, that inward sympathy with, and reverence for justice, and purity, and goodness, which dwelt in the heart of Socrates, and which constrained him to believe in their reality and permanence. He could not endure the thought that all ideas of right were arbitrary and factitious, that all knowledge was unreal, that truth was a delusion, and certainty a dream. The world of sense might be fleeting and delusive, but the voice of reason and conscience would not mislead the upright man. The opinions of individual men might vary, but the universal consciousness of the race could not prevaricate. However conflicting the opinions of men concerning beautiful things, right actions, and good sentiments, Plato was persuaded there are ideas of Order, and Right, and Good, which are universal, unchangeable, and eternal. Untruth, injustice, and wrong may endure for a day or two, perhaps for a century or two, but they can not always last; they must perish. The just thing and the true thing are the only enduring things; these are eternal. Plato had a sublime conviction that his mission was to draw the Athenian mind away from the fleeting, the transitory, and the uncertain, and lead them to the contemplation of an Eternal Truth, an Eternal Justice, an Eternal Beauty, all proceeding from and united in an Eternal Being—the ultimate agathon—the Supremely Good. The knowledge of this "Supreme Good" he regarded as the highest science.[490]

[Footnote 490: "Republic," bk. vi. ch. xvi. p. 193.]

Added to these moral qualifications, Plato had the further qualification of a comprehensive knowledge of all that had been achieved by his predecessors. In this regard he had enjoyed advantages superior to those of Socrates. Socrates was deficient in erudition, properly so called. He had studied men rather than books. His wisdom consisted in an extensive observation, the results of which he had generalized with more or less accuracy. A complete philosophic method demands not only a knowledge of contemporaneous opinions and modes of thought, but also a knowledge of the succession and development of thought in past ages. Its instrument is not simply psychological analysis, but also historical analysis as a counterproof.[491] And this erudition Plato supplied. He studied carefully the doctrines of the Ionian, Italian, and Eleatic schools. Cratylus gave him special instruction in the theories of Heraclitus.[492] He secured an intimate acquaintance with the lofty speculations of Pythagoras, under Archytas of Tarentum, and in the writings of Philolaus, whose books he is said to have purchased. He studied the principles of Parmenides under Hermogenes,[493] and he more than once speaks of Parmenides in terms of admiration, as one whom he had early learned to reverence.[494] He studied mathematics under Theodoras, the most eminent geometrician of his day. He travelled in Southern Italy, in Sicily, and, in search of a deeper wisdom, he pursued his course to Egypt.[495] Enriched by the fruits of all previous speculations, he returned to Athens, and devoted the remainder of his life to the development of a comprehensive system "which was to combine, to conciliate, and to supersede them all."[496] The knowledge he had derived from travel, from books, from oral instruction, he fused and blended with his own speculations, whilst the Socratic spirit mellowed the whole, and gave to it a unity and scientific completeness which has excited the admiration and wonder of succeeding ages.[497]

[Footnote 491: Cousin's "Lectures on the History of Philosophy," vol. i. p. 31.]

[Footnote 492: Aristotle's "Metaphysics," bk. i. ch. vi.]

[Footnote 493: Diogenes Laertius, "Lives of the Philosophers," bk. iii. ch. viii. p. 115.]

[Footnote 494: See especially "Theaetetus," Sec. 101.]

[Footnote 495: Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. ii. p. 147.]

[Footnote 496: Butler's "Lectures on Ancient Philosophy," vol. ii. p. 22.]

[Footnote 497: Encyclopaedia Britannica, article "Plato."]

The question as to the nature, the sources, and the validity of human knowledge had attracted general attention previous to the time of Socrates and Plato. As the results of this protracted controversy, the opinions of philosophers had finally crystallized in two well-defined and opposite theories of knowledge.

1. That which reduced all knowledge to the accidental and passively receptive quality of the organs of sense and which asserted, as its fundamental maxim, that "Science consists in aisthesis—sensation."[498]

This doctrine had its foundation in the physical philosophy of Heraclitus. He had taught that all things are in a perpetual flux and change. "Motion gives the appearance of existence and of generation." "Nothing is, but is always a becoming"[499] Material substances are perpetually losing their identity, and there is no permanent essence or being to be found. Hence Protagoras inferred that truth must vary with the ever-varying sensations of the individual. "Man (the individual) is the measure of all things." Knowledge is a purely relative thing, and every man's opinion is truth for him.[500] The law of right, as exemplified in the dominion of a party, is the law of the strongest; fluctuating with the accidents of power, and never attaining a permanent being. "Whatever a city enacts as appearing just to itself, this also is just to the city that enacts it, so long as it continues in force."[501] "The just, then, is nothing else but that which is expedient for the strongest."[502]

[Footnote 498: "Theaetetus," Sec. 23.]

[Footnote 499: Ibid., Secs. 25, 26.]

[Footnote 500: Ibid., Secs. 39, 87.]

[Footnote 501: Ibid., Sec. 87.]

[Footnote 502: "Republic," bk. i. ch. xii.]

2. The second theory is that which denies the existence (except as phantasms, images, or mere illusions of the mind) of the whole of sensible phenomena, and refers all knowledge to the rational apperception of unity (to en) or the One.

This was the doctrine of the later Eleatics. The world of sense was, to Parmenides and Zeno, a blank negation, the non ens. The identity of thought and existence was the fundamental principle of their philosophy.

"Thought is the same thing as the cause of thought; For without the thing in which it is announced, You can not find the thought; for there is nothing, nor shall be, Except the existing."[503]

[Footnote 503: Parmenides, quoted in Lewes's "Biog. History of Philosophy," p. 54.]

This theory, therefore, denied to man any valid knowledge of the external world.

It will at once be apparent to the intelligent reader that the direct and natural result of both these theories[504] of knowledge was a tendency to universal skepticism. A spirit of utter indifference to truth and righteousness was the prevailing spirit of Athenian society. That spirit is strikingly exhibited in the speech of Callicles, "the shrewd man of the world," in "Gorgias" (Sec.85, 86). Is this new to our ears?" My dear Socrates, you talk of law. Now the laws, in my judgment, are just the work of the weakest and most numerous; in framing them they never thought but of themselves and their own interests; they never approve or censure except in reference to this. Hence it is that the cant arises that tyranny is improper and unjust, and to struggle for eminence, guilt. Unable to rise themselves, of course they would wish to preach liberty and equality. But nature proclaims the law of the stronger.... We surround our children from their infancy with preposterous prejudices about liberty and justice. The man of sense tramples on such impositions, and shows what Nature's justice is.... I confess, Socrates, philosophy is a highly amusing study—in moderation, and for boys. But protracted too long, it becomes a perfect plague. Your philosopher is a complete novice in the life comme il faut.... I like very well to see a child babble and stammer; there is even a grace about it when it becomes his age. But to see a man continue the prattle of the child, is absurd. Just so with your philosophy." The consequence of this prevalent spirit of universal skepticism was a general laxity of morals. The Aleibiades, of the "Symposium," is the ideal representative of the young aristocracy of Athens. Such was the condition of society generally, and such the degeneracy of even the Government itself, that Plato impressively declares "that God alone could save the young men of his age from ruin."[505]

[Footnote 504: Between these two extreme theories there were offered two, apparently less extravagant, accounts of the nature and limits of human knowledge—one declaring that "Science(real knowledge) consists in right opinion" (doxa alethes), but having no further basis in the reason of man ("Theaestetus," Sec. 108); and the other affirming that "Science is right opinion with logical explication or definition" (meta loxou, "Theaetetus," Sec. 139). A close examination will, however, convince us that these are but modifications of the sensational theory. The latter forcibly remind us of the system of Locke, who adds "reflection" to "sensation," but still maintains that all on "simple ideas" are obtained from without, and that these are the only material upon which reflection can be exercised. Thus the human mind has no criterion of truth within itself, no elements of knowledge which are connatural and inborn.]

[Footnote 505: "Republic," bk. vi. ch. vii.]

Therefore the grand, the vital, the most urgent question for his times, as indeed for all times, was, What is Truth? What is Right? In the midst of all this variableness and uncertainty of human opinion, is there no ground of certainty? Amid all the fluctuations and changes around us and within us, is there nothing that is immutable and permanent? Have we no ultimate standard of Right? Is there no criterion of Truth? Plato believed most confidently there was such a criterion and standard. He had learned from Socrates, his master, to cherish an unwavering faith in the existence of an Eternal Truth, an Eternal Order, an Eternal Good, the knowledge of which is essential to the perfection and happiness of man, and which knowledge must therefore be presumed to be attainable by man. Henceforth, therefore, the ceaseless effort of Plato's life is to attain a standard (kriterion)[506]—a CRITERION OF TRUTH.

[Footnote 506: "Theaetetus," Sec. 89.]

At the outset of his philosophic studies, Plato had derived from Socrates an important principle, which became the guide of all his subsequent inquiries. He had learned from him that the criterion of truth must be no longer sought amid the ever-changing phenomena of the "sensible world." This had been attempted by the philosophers of the Ionian school, and ended in failure and defeat. It must therefore be sought in the metaphenomenal—the "intelligible world;" that is, it must be sought in the apperceptions of the reason, and not in opinions founded on sensation. In other words, he must look within. Here, by reflection, he could recognize, dimly and imperfectly at first, but increasing gradually in clearness and distinctness, two classes of cognitions, having essentially distinct and opposite characteristics. He found one class that was complex (synkegumenon), changeable (thateron), contingent and relative (ta pros ti schesin echonta); the other, simple (kexorismenon), unchangeable (akineton), constant (tauton), permanent (to on aei), and absolute (anypotheton = aploun). One class that may be questioned, the other admitting of no question, because self-evident and necessary, and therefore compelling belief. One class grounded on sense-perception, the other conceived by reason alone. But whilst the reason recognizes, it does not create them. They are not particular and individual, but universal. They belong not to the man, but to the race.

He found, then, that there are in all minds certain "principles" which are fundamental—principles which lie at the basis of all our cognitions of the objective world, and which, as "mental laws," determine all our forms of thought; and principles, too, which have this marvellous and undeniable character, that they are encountered in the most common experiences, and, at the same time, instead of being circumscribed within the limits of experience, transcend and govern it—principles which are universal in the midst of particular phenomena—necessary, though mingled with things contingent—to our eyes infinite and absolute, even when appearing in us the relative and finite beings that we are.[507] These first or fundamental principles Plato called IDEAS (ideai).

[Footnote 507: Cousin's "The True, the Beautiful, and the Good," p. 40.]

In attempting to present to the reader an adequate representation of the Platonic Ideas, we shall be under the necessity of anticipating some of the results of his Dialectical method before we have expounded that method. And, further, in order that it may be properly appreciated by the modern student, we shall avail ourselves of the lights which modern psychology, faithful to the method of Plato, has thrown upon the subject. Whilst, however, we admit that modern psychology has succeeded in giving more definiteness and precision to the "doctrine of Ideas," we shall find that all that is fundamentally valuable and true was present to the mind of Plato. Whatever superiority the "Spiritual" philosophy of to-day may have over the philosophy of past ages, it has attained that superiority by its adherence to the principles and method of Plato.

In order to the completeness of our preliminary exposition of the Platonic doctrine of Ideas, we shall conditionally assume, as a natural and legitimate hypothesis, the doctrine so earnestly asserted by Plato, that the visible universe, at least in its present form, is an effect which must have had a cause,[508] and that the Order, and Beauty, and Excellence of the universe are the result of the presence and operation of a "regulating Intelligence"—a Supreme Mind.[509] Now that, anterior to the creation of the universe, there must have existed in the Eternal Mind certain fundamental principles of Order, Right, and Good, will not be denied. Every conceivable form, every possible relation, every principle of right, must have been eternally present to the Divine thought. As pure intelligence, the Deity must have always been self-conscious—must have known himself as substance and cause, as the Infinite and Perfect. If then the Divine Energy is put forth in creative acts, that energy must obey those eternal principles of Order, Right, and Good. If the Deity operate at all, he must operate rightly, wisely, and well. The created universe must be an image, in the sphere of sense, of the ideas which inhere in the reason of the great First Cause.

[Footnote 508: "Timaeus," ch. ix.]

[Footnote 509: "Phaedo," Sec. 105.]

"Let us declare," says Plato, "with what motive the Creator hath formed nature and the universe. He was good, and in the good no manner of envy can, on any subject, possibly subsist. Exempt from envy, he had wished that all things should, as far as possible, resemble himself.... It was not, and is not to be allowed for the Supremely Good to do any thing except what is most excellent (kalliston)—most fair, most beautiful."[510] Therefore, argues Plato, "inasmuch as the world is the most beautiful of things, and its artificer the best of causes, it is evident that the Creator and Father of the universe looked to the Eternal Model(paradeigma), pattern, or plan,"[511] which lay in his own mind. And thus this one, only-generated universe, is the image (eikon) of that God who is the object of the intellect, the greatest, the best, and the most perfect Being.[512]

[Footnote 510: "Timaeus," ch. x.]

[Footnote 511: Ibid., ch. ix.]

[Footnote 512: "Timaeus," ch. lxxiii.]

And then, furthermore, if this Supreme Intelligence, this Eternal Mind, shall create another mind, it must, in a still higher degree, resemble him. Inasmuch as it is a rational nature, it must, in a peculiar sense, partake of the Divine characteristics. "The soul," says Plato, "is that which most partakes of the Divine"[513] The soul must, therefore, have native ideas and sentiments which correlate it with the Divine original. The ideas of substance and cause, of unity and identity, of the infinite and perfect, must be mirrored there. As it is the "offspring of God,"[514] it must bear some traces and lineaments of its Divine parentage. That soul must be configured and correlated to those principles of Order, Right, and Good which dwell in the Eternal Mind. And because it has within itself the same ideas and laws, according to which the great Architect built the universe, therefore it is capable of knowing, and, in some degree, of comprehending, the intellectual system of the universe. It apprehends the external world by a light which the reason supplies. It interprets nature according to principles and laws which God has inwrought within the very essence of the soul. "That which imparts truth to knowable things, and gives the knower his power of knowing truth, is the idea of the good, and you are to conceive of this as the source of knowledge and of truth."[515]

[Footnote 513: "Laws," bk. v. ch. i.]

[Footnote 514: Ibid., bk. x.]

[Footnote 515: "Republic," bk. vi. ch. xviii.]

And now we are prepared to form a clear conception of the Platonic doctrine of Ideas. Viewed in their relation to the Eternal Reason, as giving the primordial thought and law of all being, these principles are simply eide auta kath auta—ideas in themselves—the essential qualities or attributes of Him who is the supreme and ultimate Cause of all existence. When regarded as before the Divine imagination, giving definite forms and relations, they are the tupoi, the paradeigmata—the types, models, patterns, ideals according to which the universe was fashioned. Contemplated in their actual embodiment in the laws, and typical forms of the material world, they are eikones—images of the eternal perfections of God. The world of sense pictures the world of reason by a participation (methexis) of the ideas. And viewed as interwoven in the very texture and framework of the soul, they are omoiomata—copies of the Divine Ideas which are the primordial laws of knowing, thinking, and reasoning. Ideas are thus the nexus of relation between God and the visible universe, and between the human and the Divine reason.[516] There is something divine in the world, and in the human soul, namely, the eternal laws and reasons of things, mingled with the endless diversity and change of sensible phenomena. These ideas are "the light of the intelligible world;" they render the invisible world of real Being perceptible to the reason of man. "Light is the offspring of the Good, which the Good has produced in his own likeness. Light in the visible world is what the idea of the Good is in the intelligible world. And this offspring of the Good—light—has the same relation to vision and visible things which the Good has to intellect and intelligible things."[517]

[Footnote 516: "Now, Idea is, as regards God, a mental operation by him (the notions of God, eternal and perfect in themselves); as regards us, the first things perceptible by mind; as regards Matter, a standard; but as regards the world, perceptible by sense, a pattern; but as considered with reference to itself, an existence."—Alcinous, "Introduction to the Doctrines of Plato," p. 261.

"What general notions are to our minds, he (Plato) held, ideas are to the Supreme Reason (nous basileus); they are the eternal thoughts of the Divine Intellect, and we attain truth when our thoughts conform with His—when our general notions are in conformity with the ideas."—Thompson, "Laws of Thought," p. 119.]

[Footnote 517: "Republic," bk. vi. ch. xix.]

Science is, then, according to Plato, the knowledge of universal, necessary, unchangeable, and eternal ideas. The simple cognition of the concrete phenomena of the universe is not regarded by him as real knowledge. "Science, or real knowledge, belongs to Being, and ignorance to non-Being." Whilst that which is conversant only "with that which partakes of both—of being and non-being—and which can not be said either to be or not to be"—that which is perpetually "becoming," but never "really is," is "simply opinion, and not real knowledge."[518] And those only are "philosophers" who have a knowledge of the really-existing, in opposition to the mere seeming; of the always-existing, in opposition to the transitory; and of that which exists permanently, in opposition to that which waxes and wanes—is developed and destroyed alternately. "Those who recognize many beautiful things, but who can not see the Beautiful itself, and can not even follow those who would lead them to it, they opine, but do not know. And the same may be said of those who recognize right actions, but do not recognize an absolute righteousness. And so of other ideas. But they who look at these ideas—permanent and unchangeable ideas—these men really know."[519] Those are the true philosophers alone who love the sight of truth, and who have attained to the vision of the eternal order, and righteousness, and beauty, and goodness in the Eternal Being. And the means by which the soul is raised to this vision of real Being (to ontos on) is THE SCIENCE OF REAL KNOWLEDGE.

Plato, in the "Theaetetus," puts this question by the interlocutor Socrates, "What is Science (Episteme) or positive knowledge?"[520] Theaetetus essays a variety of answers, such as, "Science is sensation," "Science is right judgment or opinion," "Science is right opinion with logical definition." These, in the estimation of the Platonic Socrates, are all unsatisfactory and inadequate. But after you have toiled to the end of this remarkable discussion, in which Socrates demolishes all the then received theories of knowledge, he gives you no answer of his own. He abruptly closes the discussion by naively remarking that, at any rate, Theaetetus will learn that he does not understand the subject; and the ground is now cleared for an original investigation.

[Footnote 518: "Republic," bk. v. ch. xx.]

[Footnote 519: Ibid., bk. v. ch. xxii.]

[Footnote 520: "Theaetetus," Sec. 10.]

This investigation is resumed in the "Republic." This greatest work of Plato's was designed not only to exhibit a scheme of Polity, and present a system of Ethics, but also, at least in its digressions, to propound a system of Metaphysics more complete and solid than had yet appeared. The discussion as to the powers or faculties by which we obtain knowledge, the method or process by which real knowledge is attained, and the ultimate objects or ontological grounds of all real knowledge, commences at Sec. 18, book v., and extends to the end of book vii.

That we may reach a comprehensive view of this "sublimest of sciences," we shall find it necessary to consider—

1st. What are the powers or faculties by which we obtain knowledge, and what are the limits and degrees of human knowledge?

2d. What is the method in which, or the processes and laws according to which, the mind operates in obtaining knowledge?

3d. What are the ultimate results attained by this method? what are the objective and ontological grounds of all real knowledge?

The answer to the first question will give the PLATONIC PSYCHOLOGY; the answer to the second will exhibit the PLATONIC DIALECTIC; the answer to the last will reveal the PLATONIC ONTOLOGY.


Every successful inquiry as to the reality and validity of human knowledge must commence by clearly determining, by rigid analysis, what are the actual phenomena presented in consciousness, what are the powers or faculties supposed by these phenomena, and what reliance are we to place upon the testimony of these faculties? And, especially, if it be asserted that there is a science of absolute Reality, of ultimate and essential Being, then the most important and vital question is, By what power do we cognize real Being? through what faculty do we obtain the knowledge of that which absolutely is? If by sensation we only obtain the knowledge of the fleeting and the transitory, "the becoming" how do we attain to the knowledge of the unchangeable and permanent, "the Being?" Have we a faculty of universal, necessary, and eternal principles? Have we a faculty, an interior eye which beholds "the intelligible," ideal, spiritual world, as the eye of sense beholds the visible or "sensible world?"[521]

Plato commences this inquiry by first defining his understanding of the word dynamis—power or faculty. "We will say faculties (dynameis) are a certain kind of real existences by which we can do whatever we are able (e.g., to know), as there are powers by which every thing does what it does: the eye has a power of seeing; the ear has a power of hearing. But these powers (of which I now speak) have no color or figure to which I can so refer that I can distinguish one power from another. In order to make such distinction, I must look at the power itself, and see what it is, and what it does. In that way I discern the power of each thing, and that is the same power which produces the same effect, and that is a different power which produces a different effect."[522] That which is employed about, and accomplishes one and the same purpose, this Plato calls a faculty.

[Footnote 521: "Republic," bk. vi. ch. xviii.]

[Footnote 522: Ibid., bk. v. ch. xxi.]

We have seen that our first conceptions (i.e., first in the order of time) are of the mingled, the concrete (to synkechymenon), "the multiplicity of things to which the multitude ascribe beauty, etc.[523] The mind "contemplates what is great and small, not as distinct from each other, but as confused.[524] Prior to the discipline of reflection, men are curious about mere sights and sounds, love beautiful voices, beautiful colors, beautiful forms, but their intelligence can not see, can not embrace, the essential nature of the Beautiful itself.[525] Man's condition previous to the education of philosophy is vividly presented in Plato's simile of the cave.[526] He beholds only the images and shadows of the ectypal world, which are but dim and distant adumbrations of the real and archetypal world.

Primarily nothing is given in the abstract (to kegorismenon), but every thing in the concrete. The primary faculties of the mind enter into action spontaneously and simultaneously; all our primary notions are consequently synthetic. When reflection is applied to this primary totality of consciousness, that is, when we analyze our notions, we find them composed of diverse and opposite elements, some of which are variable, contingent, individual, and relative, others are permanent, unchangeable, universal, necessary, and absolute. Now these elements, so diverse, so opposite, can not have been obtained from the same source; they must be supplied by separate powers. "Can any man with common sense reduce under one what is infallible, and what is not infallible?"[527] Can that which is "perpetually becoming" be apprehended by the same faculty as that which "always is?"[528] Most assuredly not.

[Footnote 523: Ibid., bk. v. ch. xxii.]

[Footnote 524: Ibid., bk. vii. ch. viii.]

[Footnote 525: Ibid., bk. v. ch. xx.]

[Footnote 526: Ibid., bk. vii. ch. i., ii.]

[Footnote 527: "Republic," bk. v. ch. xxi.]

[Footnote 528: Ibid., bk. v. ch. xxii.; also "Timaeus," Sec. 9.]

These primitive intuitions—the simple perceptions of sense, and the a priori intuitions of the reason, which constitute the elements of all our complex notions, have essentially diverse objects—the sensible or ectypal world, seen by the eye and touched by the hand, which Plato calls doxasten—the subject of opinion; and the noetic or archetypal world, perceived by reason, and which he calls dianontiken—the subject of rational intuition or science. "It is plain," therefore, argues Plato, "that opinion is a different thing from science. They must, therefore, have a different faculty in reference to a different object—science as regards that which is, so as to know the nature of real being—opinion as regards that which can not be said absolutely to be, or not to be. That which is known and that which is opined can not possibly be the same,... since they are naturally faculties of different things, and both of them are faculties—opinion and science, and each of them different from the other."[529] Here then are two grand divisions of the mental powers—a faculty of apprehending universal and necessary Truth, of intuitively beholding absolute Reality, and a faculty of perceiving sensible objects, and of judging according to appearance.

[Footnote 529: Ibid., bk. v. ch. xxi., xxii.]

According to the scheme of Plato, these two general divisions of the mental powers are capable of a further subdivision. He says: Consider that there are two kinds of things, the intelligible and the visible; two different regions, the intelligible world and the sensible world. Now take a line divided into two equal segments to represent these two regions, and again divide each segment in the same ratio—both that of the visible and that of the intelligible species. The parts of each segment are to represent differences of clearness and indistinctness. In the visible world the parts are things and images. By images I mean shadows,[530] reflections in water and in polished bodies, and all such like representations; and by things I mean that of which images are resemblances, as animals, plants, and things made by man.

You allow that this difference corresponds to the difference of knowledge and opinion; and the opinionable is to the knowable as the image to the reality.[531]

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