So far we have followed the evolution of Plato’s philosophy as it may have been effected under the impulse of purely theoretical motives. We have now to consider what form was imposed on it by the more imperious exigencies of practical experience. Here, again, we find Plato taking up and continuing the work of Socrates, but on a vastly greater scale. There was, indeed, a kind of pre-established harmony between the expression of thought on the one hand and the increasing need for its application to life on the other. For the spread of public corruption had gone on pari passu with the development of philosophy. The teaching of Socrates was addressed to individuals, and dealt chiefly with private morality. On other points he was content to accept the law of the land and the established political constitution as sufficiently safe guides. He was not accustomed to see them defied or perverted into instruments of selfish aggrandisement; nor, apparently, had the possibility of such a contingency occurred to him. Still less did he imagine that all social institutions then existing were radically wrong. Hence the personal virtues held a more important place in his system than the social virtues. His attacks were directed230 against slothfulness and self-indulgence, against the ignorant temerity which hurried some young men into politics before their education was finished, and the timidity or fastidiousness which prevented others from discharging the highest duties of citizenship. Nor, in accepting the popular religion of his time, had he any suspicion that its sanctions might be invoked on behalf of successful violence and fraud. We have already shown how differently Plato felt towards his age, and how much deeper as well as more shameless was the demoralisation with which he set himself to contend. It must also be remembered how judicial proceedings had come to overshadow every other public interest; and how the highest culture of the time had, at least in his eyes, become identified with the systematic perversion of truth and right. These considerations will explain why Greek philosophy, while moving on a higher plane, passed through the same orbit which had been previously described by Greek poetry. Precisely as the lessons of moderation in Homer had been followed by the lessons of justice in Aeschylus, precisely as the religion which was a selfish traffic between gods and men, and had little to tell of a life beyond the grave, was replaced by the nobler faith in a divine guardianship of morality and a retributive judgment after death—so also did the Socratic ethics and the Socratic theology lead to a system which made justice the essence of morality and religion its everlasting consecration.
Corresponding to the universal space which contains all particular spaces, there was, in the Neo-Platonic system, a universal Thought which contained all particular thoughts,—the Nous about which we heard so much in studying Plotinus.405 Such a conception is utterly strange to the modern mind, but it was familiar enough to Spinoza; and we can see how it would be suggested by the common forms of reasoning. The tendency of syllogism is either to subsume lower under higher notions until a summum genus is reached, or to resolve all subjects into a single predicate, or to connect all predicates with a single subject. The analogies of space, too, would tell in the same direction, bringing nearer the idea of a vast thought-sea in which all particular thoughts, or what to a Cartesian meant the same thing, all particular minds, were contained. And Neo-Platonism showed how this universal Mind or Thought could, like the space which it so much resembled, be interpreted as the product of a still higher principle. To complete the parallelism, it remained to show that Thought, which before had seemed essentially finite, is, on the contrary, co-infinite with Extension. How this was done will appear a little further on.This code Plato set himself to construct in his last and longest work, the Laws. Less than half of that Dialogue, however, is occupied with the details of legislation. The remaining portions deal with the familiar topics of morality, religion, science, and education. The first book propounds a very curious theory of asceticism, which has not, we believe, been taken up by any subsequent moralist. On the principle of in vino veritas Plato proposes that drunkenness should be systematically employed for the purpose of testing self-control. True temperance is not abstinence, but the power of resisting temptation; and we can best discover to what extent any man possesses that power by surprising him when off his guard. If he should be proof against seductive influences even when in his cups, we shall be doubly sure of his constancy at other times. Prof. Jowett rather maliciously suggests that a personal proclivity may have suggested this extraordinary apology for hard drinking. Were it so, we should be reminded of the successive revelations by which indulgences of another kind were permitted to Mohammed, and of the one case in which divorce was sanctioned by Auguste Comte. We should also remember that the Christian Puritanism to which Plato approached so near has always been singularly lenient to this disgraceful vice. But perhaps a somewhat higher order of considerations will help us to a better under270standing of the paradox. Plato was averse from rejecting any tendency of his age that could possibly be turned to account in his philosophy. Hence, as we have seen, the use which he makes of love, even under its most unlawful forms, in the Symposium and the Phaedrus. Now, it would appear, from our scanty sources of information, that social festivities, always very popular at Athens, had become the chief interest in life about the time when Plato was composing his Laws. According to one graceful legend, the philosopher himself breathed his last at a marriage-feast. It may, therefore, have occurred to him that the prevalent tendency could, like the amorous passions of a former generation, be utilised for moral training and made subservient to the very cause with which, at first sight, it seemed to conflict.37VIII.According to Bacon, the object of science is to analyse the complex of Forms making up an individual aggregate into its separate constituents; the object of art, to superinduce one or more such Forms on a given material. Hence his manner of regarding them differs in one important respect from Aristotle’s. The Greek naturalist was, before all things, a biologist. His interest lay with the distinguishing characteristics of animal species. These are easily discovered by the unassisted eye; but while they are comparatively superficial, they are also comparatively unalterable. The English experimenter, being primarily concerned with inorganic bodies, whose properties he desired to utilise for industrial purposes, was led to consider the attributes of an object as at once penetrating its inmost texture, and yet capable of being separated from it, like heat and colour for instance. But, like every other thinker of the age, if he escapes from the control of Aristotle it is only to fall under the dominion of another Greek master—in this instance, Democritus. Bacon had a great admiration for the Atomists, and although his inveterate Peripatetic proclivities prevented him from embracing their theory as a whole, he went along with it so far as to admit the dependence of the secondary on the primary qualities of matter; and on the strength of this he concluded that the way to alter the properties of an object was to alter the arrangement of its component particles.The parentage of the two ideas will further elucidate their essentially heterogeneous character. For modern Communism is an outgrowth of the democratic tendencies which Plato detested; and as such had its counterpart in ancient Athens, if we may trust the Ecclêsiazusae of Aristophanes, where also it is associated with unbridled licentiousness.155 Plato, on the261 contrary, seems to have received the first suggestion of his Communism from the Pythagorean and aristocratic confraternities of Southern Italy, where the principle that friends have all things in common was an accepted maxim.
- Closely connected with the materialism of the Stoics, and equally adverse to the principles of Plato and Aristotle, was their fatalism. In opposition to this, Plotinus proceeds to develop the spiritualistic doctrine of free-will.438 In the previous discussion, we had to notice how closely his arguments resemble those employed by more modern controversialists. We have here to point out no less wide a difference between the two. Instead of presenting free-will as a fact of consciousness which is itself irreconcilable with the dependence of mental on material changes, our philosopher, conversely, infers that the soul must be free both from the conditions of mechanical causation and from the general interdependence of natural forces, because it is an individual substance.439 In truth, the phenomena of volition were handled by the ancient philosophers with a vagueness and a feebleness offering the most singular contrast to their powerful and discriminating grasp of other psychological problems. Of necessarianism, in the modern sense, they had no idea. Aristotle failed to see that, quite apart from external restraints, our choice may conceivably be determined with the utmost rigour by an internal motive; nor could he understand that the circumstances which make a man responsible for his actions do not amount to a release of his conduct from the law of universal causation. In this respect, Plato saw somewhat deeper than his disciple, but created298 fresh confusion by identifying freedom with the supremacy of reason over irrational desire.440 Plotinus generally adopts the Platonist point of view. According to this, the soul is free when she is extricated from the bonds of matter, and determined solely by the conditions of her spiritual existence. Thus virtue is not so much free as identical with freedom; while, contrariwise, vice means enslavement to the affections of the body, and therefore comes under the domain of material causation.441 Yet, again, in criticising the fatalistic theories which represent human actions as entirely predetermined by divine providence, he protests against the ascription of so much that is evil to so good a source, and insists that at least the bad actions of men are due to their own free choice.442
- Nor deem I that she comes as his ally,
- ‘I would have you consider that he who appears to you to be the worst of those who have been brought up in laws and humanities would appear to be a just man and a master of justice if he were to be compared with men who had no education, or courts of justice, or laws, or any restraints upon them which compelled them to practise virtue—with the savages, for example, whom the poet Pherecrates exhibited on the stage at the last year’s Lenaean festival. If you were living among men such as the man-haters in his chorus, you would be only too glad to meet with Eurybates and Phrynondas, and you would sorrowfully long to revisit the rascality of this part of the world.’68
- Meanwhile a new and powerful agency was about to interpose with decisive effect in the doubtful struggle. This was the study of mathematics. Revived by the Arabians and never wholly neglected during the Middle Ages, it had profited by the general movement of the Renaissance, and was finally applied to the cosmical problem by Galileo. In this connexion, two points of profound philosophical interest must be noted. The first is that, even in its fall, the Aristotelian influence survived, to some extent, both for good and for evil. To Aristotle belongs the merit of having been the first to base astronomy on physics. He maintains the earth’s immobility on experimental no less than on speculative grounds. A stone thrown straight up in the air returns to its starting-point instead of falling to the west of it; and the absence of stellar385 parallax seems to show that there is no change in our position relatively to the heavenly bodies. After satisfying himself, on empirical considerations, that the popular astronomy is true, he proceeds to show that it must be true, by considerations on the nature of matter and motion, which, although mistaken, are conceived in a genuinely scientific spirit. Now Galileo saw that, to establish the Copernican system, he must first grapple with the Peripatetic physics, and replace it by a new dynamical theory. This, which he could hardly have effected by the ordinary mathematical methods, he did by borrowing the analytical method of Atomism and applying it to the measurement of motion. The law of falling bodies was ascertained by resolving their descent into a series of moments, and determining its rate of velocity at successive intervals; and curvilinear motions were similarly resolved into the combination of an impulsive with an accelerating force, a method diametrically opposed to that of Bacon, who would not even accept the rough analysis of the apparent celestial motions proposed by Greek astronomers.
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