Page images

world ; (7) the Theætetus, or concerning knowledge and Ideas; (8) the Phado, or concerning the immortality of the soul; (9) the Laws, a work which seems to be a partial retraction of the Republic. These treatises are dialogues.? Socrates is the chief spokesman in the majority of them, and his speeches reflect the author's thought most faithfully. His use of the dialogue-form enables Plato to preseno us with his own philosophy as well as with the history of its origin, or the manner in which it arose among the Socratics. It is true, the dialogue-form may perhaps be objected to on the ground that it hinders us from obtaining a comprehensive view of the author's philosophy ; indeed, the statement has been made that it is so difficult to systematize Plato's teachings because of his use of the dialogue. The reverse seems to be the case ; in our opinion Plato employs this form precisely because he has no finished system like Plotinus, Spinoza, and Hegel. The dialogue miglit be regarded as an unsuitable method of exposition in case it concealed the philosopher's thoughts. But it hides nothing; form and content are here the same, and the dialogues of Plato present his philosophy in its psychological development.?

A real difficulty, however, arises from the frequent use of myths and allegories. Plato employs them, either in order to assist his readers in understanding abstract truths, or in order to mislead the fanatical democracy as to his religious convictions, or, finally, in order to hide the contradictions of his thought and to escape philosophical criticism by seeking refuge in the licence of the poet. Most of the Platonic myths are mere allegories, which, as the author himself cautions us, must be taken for what they are worth. Some of them, however, seem to express the philosopher's real views. Hence the difficulty which we experience in the Timæus and the Phædo, of distinguishing clearly between the pedagogical element and the teaching itself, between the accidental and the essential, between the poetical symbol and the real meaning. Though Plato himself gives us an allegorical exposition of the drama of creation in his Timaus, does it therefore follow that the idea of creation is absolutely foreign to his mind? When he speaks of a creator and follows popular fancy in picturing him as a human workman, does that mean that theism is not the essential element of his thought? The Phædo, too, is full of mythological allegories, but who would have the boldness to declare, with Hegel, that Plato assumed pre-existence and immortality only for the world-soul and the divine voûs ? We must, in choosing between the idea and the form, - a delicate and rather difficult task, - avoid two contrary conceptions, both of which our historical sense would compel us to reject. In the first place, we must not be deceived by Plato's symbolism ; we must not lay too much stress on what is but a literary form, and mistake mere figures of speech for the hidden meaning of things. But we must also abandon the notion that Plato was too great a man to be influenced in his reason by the imagination. We have no right to make him a Christian or a modern philosopher. It is undoubtedly true that Catholic mysticism borrows extensively from Platonic theology, and it is equally certain that Plato's dialectics contain the rudi. ments of the Hegelian system. But twenty centuries of development lie between the sowing of the seed and the full fruition, and we cannot identify the beginning and the end without anachronism. It is not enough to point out that the future is contained in the past; we must also indicate in what form it is found there, and show that this is not the final stage of evolution.

1 Regarding the difficult question as to the chronological order of the dialogues of Plato, consult the Introductions of Schleiermacher, the German translator of Plato, and the investigations of Socher, Ast, K. F. Hermann, Bonitz, Zeller, Susemihl, Suckow, Munck, Leberweg, Schaarschmidt, Teichmüller, and Siebeck; also, Horn, Platonstudien, Vienna, 1893. — TR.].

2 Concerning the genesis of Platonism, see Karl Joël, Zur Erkennt niss der geistigen Entwickelung und der schriftstellerischen Motive Plato's, Berlin, 1887 (reviewed by M. Reinach in the Revue critique, Aug. 22 1887).

* Timceus, 28 C, 29 C-D.

Plato is the product of Heraclitian, Socratic, and Italian philosophy. With the school of Heraclitus he believes that the visible universe is in a state of perpetual change, that the senses are deceptive and cannot yield us truth, that the immutable does not exist in the world of sense, but in the world of ideas. From Socrates he learned that though we cannot know the ultimate principles of the universe, we can at least know ourselves, and that we can attain to a huowledge of the highest good through an infallible inner sense. But Socrates remained a sceptic as far as metaphysics vas concerned. The Italic philosophy induced Plato to take a decisive step. In the Pythagorean and Eleatic systems he finds the inner sense (of Socrates) proclaimed, not only as the moral conscience and practical reason, but as theoretical reason, capable of revealing to us the absolute, eternal, and necessary essence of things. In mathematics and its self-evident axioms he discovers the most powerful weapon against the závra pei, in the sense in which Cratylus and the Sophists applied the principle. Geometry made a particularly deep impression upon him: the geometrical method served as a model for his metaphysics. Indeed, he even borrowed his philosophical vocabulary from this science. Geometry is based on a priori intuitions ; lines, triangles, circles, and spheres, are ideal figures or intelligible realities; their properties remain the same forever, and survive all the changes of the material world which reflects them. It is a rational science and has nothing to do with sense-perception, of vhich its truths are absolutely independent. Hence Plato's philosophy is, like mathematics, the only self-evident aid necessary science, a science of a priori intuition and reasoning. Because of their resemblance to the principles of geometry, these a priori intuitions, upon which the system is grounded, are called Ideas (ečdn, idéai), or unchange-able forms, or the eternal types of fleeting things, or noumena (vooúpeva), the objects of true science (érlotņun) as distinguished from phenomena, the objects of sense-perception (ało onois) and opinion (Sóta). The philosophy of Plato is the science of Ideas. It is called dialectics after its new method. To this science of first principles, which is the fundamental and only science worthy of the name, is added the theory of nature (Puolań). The latter, however, is of secondary importance, and does not deserve the name of science. Ethics, or the science of the highest good, is the last branch of dialectics and the crown of philosophy.

Hence we have to consider with Plato: (1) The Idea as uch; (2) the Idea acting upon matter as a plastic principle, or nature; and (3) the Idea as the final goal of nature, or the highest good.

1. THE IDEA 1 ' When we compare the mother who gives up her life for her child, the warrior who dies in defence of his country, and the philosopher who sacrifices himself for his convictions, we notice a similarity in their actions; they have the same common trait, and reproduce one and the same type, - the Idea of the good. When we compare a masterpiece of architecture or of sculpture with a tragedy of Sophocles and a beautiful human form, we discover in

1 For Plato's dialectics and ideology, see especially the Theatetus (151 ff.), the Sophist (218 ff.), the Philebus (15, 54, 58 ff.), Parmenides (130 ff.), and the Republic (especially books VI. and VII.).

these apparently different objects a common trait, — beauty, or the Idea of the beautiful. When we compare the individuals of a species, say the human race, we find in them a number of qualities common to all, an identical type; these common characteristics, or the type which is reproduced in all, constitute man-in-himself (aŭtoáv@pw Tos), or the Idea of man. Finally, when we compare all the beings perceived by our senses, we notice that all have this in common: they exist or do not exist, they move or are at rest, they are identical or they differ from each other. Now, this being, shared by all, this non-being, or movement, or rest, or identity, or difference, is what Plato calls the Idea of being, the Idea of movement, etc. Hence he un. derstands by the term Ideas (eion, idéai): (1) what modern philosophy calls laws of thought, morality, or taste (idéal); (2) what Aristotle calls categories, or the general forms by means of which we conceive things, and which are embraced under the preceding class (yévn); (3) what natural science calls types, species, or, as Plato would say, Ideas (eion proper). In short, he means by Ideas all possible generalizations; there are as many of them as there are common names. Every common name designates an Idea, as every proper name designates an individual. The senses reveal particulars, or natural objects; abstraction and generalization étra yoyn) give us Ideas.

The great mission of Socrates was to form general ideas. But, like the sensationalistic school, which he opposed in other respects, Socrates simply regarded these ideas as thoughts or concepts of the mind (évvonuata). At this point Plato shows his originality. According to sensualism, our sense-perceptions alone represent real beings existing outside of us. According to Plato, general notions or concepts also represent realities, and these realities, these objects of our notions, which sensualism denies, he calls Ideas, Ideas are to our notions what natural objects are to our sense

« PreviousContinue »