GREEK PHILOSOPHY - II.
11 - Plato
Plato's General Conception of Philosophy
Philosophy, says Plato, speaking half-allegorically, springs from a
certain "divine madness" caused by the recollection, at the sight of the
"beauty of earth," of that "true beauty" of which the soul had a vision
in a pre-existent state.(1) And this "madness" is no superficial thing:
it springs from the very essence of the soul as an immortal being: it is
a prophecy of the soul's return to the knowledge and enjoyment of
eternal reality. This return is brought about by philosophy. By
philosophy alone can the Idea of the Good be represented among men and
they become like God, "in whom is no unrighteousness at all".(2) Not,
indeed, that any philosopher has perfect wisdom, for God alone is wise,
and the Idea of the Good is with difficulty discerned.(3)
Men are, as it were, confined in a dark den, where they
can scarcely tell shadows from realities. The ascent to the
upper world is slow and difficult, and the Idea of the Good is seen last. In
this ascent there are four stages, in the last of which, only, is the real truth
apprehended.(4) The first is mere opinion; the second, right opinion, or true
belief, which, however, is "without reason," i.e., is unscientific; the third is
understanding, or what is commonly termed science, though it is in reality only
quasi-scientific, because it rests on certain unproved presuppositions;
the fourth is science, or completely reasoned knowledge,
knowledge in which there are no unexamined or unfounded
presuppositions or hypotheses.(5)
Now the last
stage is reached only through a course of discipline which may be described as
follows. The "divine madness" being presupposed to exist, in germ, at least, in
all minds, but especially in certain ones who are, therefore, embryo philosophers, there must, in the first place, be
"right opinion" "engrafted" on it.
This must be done by training in gymnastics and music,—gymnastics for the body
and music for the soul. (Music is to be understood here as including poetry.) "He who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly
perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he
praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, becomes noble and
good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth even
before he is able to know the reason of the thing: when reason comes, he will
recognize and salute her as a friend with whom his education has made him long familiar". The gymnastic education(6) supplements the
musical with strength and firmness, courage and spirit, both animal and mental.
But, in the second place, there must be mathematical training to enable the soul
to "rise out of the sea of change and lay hold of true Being". Such training
gives measure, harmony, unity to thought, and tends in its results towards the "vision of the Idea of the Good; it furnishes the mind with a method and
enables it to give something like scientific form and validity to its "right
opinion". Such training, however, is but the "prelude" to the actual strain of
philosophy".(7) Philosophically speaking, the defect of mathematics (i.e.,
arithmetic and geometry) is that it is but a half step from sense. It
reasons correctly, but it reasons about that which is, as compared with
being, semi-sensuous, and its first principles are mere hypotheses: "as
to the mathematical arts, which, as we were saying, have some
apprehension of true being—geometry and the like—they only dream about
being, but never can they behold the waking reality so long as they
leave the hypotheses which they use, undisturbed, and are unable to give
any account of them.(8) It is "dialectic and dialectic alone which does
away with hypotheses in order to establish them; the eye of the soul,
which is literally buried in some outlandish slough, is by her taught to
look upward; and she uses as hand-maids in the work of conversion the
sciences we have been discussing. Custom terms them sciences, but they
ought to have some other name, implying greater clearness than opinion
and less clearness than science; and this in our previous sketch was
called understanding.(9) Dialectic, then, is the highest science, the
"coping-stone" of the sciences. The preparation required for it is of
the severest kind, and demands the strongest and steadiest minds. Only the "unwearied, solid
man," who loves labor, has a good memory, is morally whole and
sound, should undertake it; dialectic, in fact, cannot be
undertaken without risk of intellectual and moral disintegration
(such as the Sophistic culture fosters) until the age of thirty,
and even then only by the best minds in the best bodies. Five
years must be given to the theoretical mastery of it before any
attempt to make practical application of it to the affairs of
state (for the state is to be ruled by philosophy); the
remaining years of a man's life after fifty are to be given to
the pursuit of it.(10) Such is Plato's general notion of
PLATO. The Divisions of Philosophy and their General Relations
nowhere formally makes a division of philosophy into distinct parts.
Circumstances had made his task one of synthesis rather than of analysis. He had
gathered together what he saw to be the strands of philosophy which earlier
thinkers had held in separation, and in his hands philosophy became for the
first time something like a complete whole. But such a division or analysis was
virtually contained in his synthesis, and was made actual by a pupil of his, Xenocrates. The parts recognizable in Plato's philosophy, are, then,
Dialectic, the theory of thought and being, as such, Physics, the theory of
nature, and Ethics, the theory of the Good. Now of these parts dialectic is
"coping-stone"; as regards both method and content it furnishes to the other
parts the ideal of truth. In its purest form it is the science of absolute
knowledge and being, whereas all other sciences are sciences of being that is
derivative and has cognoscibility and reality only in so far as it
"participates" in that true supreme being.
PLATO. Dialectic as a Twofold Science
The dialectic of Plato may be described as
the natural result of the Socratic conception developed under the influence, in
Plato's mind, of the negative, or repelling, force of the Heraclitic doctrine
of the eternal flux of things of sense, and the positive, or attracting, force
of the Eleatic doctrine of being as one and unchangeable. Plato, in other
words, held with Socrates that knowledge exists only in the form of the
conception, a definite, unchanging notion, and, with the Eleatics, that that of
which there is knowledge is not the world of sense as Heraclitus had
characterized it, but being, one and universal. Knowledge and being are thus
correlative, and dialectic is hence a twofold science, the science of knowledge
and of being. It is also the application of the science of knowledge in the
getting of knowledge, and hence is a method; and, we may say also, of the
science of being in action, though Plato does not use the term frequently, if at
all, in this sense.
PLATO. Dialectic as a Theory of Knowledge and as Method
As a science of knowledge it
is a true account of the way in which true conceptions are formed and of
conceptions in their relations. But this way is dialectic as method. In its
lowest form dialectic is simply the art of speech, the art of developing and
and effectively our ideas concerning the "essence of each thing".(11) This, it
will be seen, is but a description of the Socratic practice in its outward
aspect, which Plato seems always to have regarded as of vital importance. To him
philosophy was an energizing of the whole soul, a matter of life as well as of
thought, preeminently a personal thing. Hence that preference of his, already
mentioned, for the spoken over the written word. Inwardly the dialectic method
was with Plato the Socratic induction supplemented by division and
classification and the comparing of the consequences of opposite hypotheses.(12)
This is the method of thought (not of sense) and is based on the hypothesis that
real knowledge is contained in conceptions, not in sensations. The sensational
theory of knowledge, the theory first propounded by Protagoras, Plato condemned
with arguments among the principal of which are the following. If the
sensational theory be true, "I wonder that he [Protagoras] did not begin his
great work on Truth with the declaration that a pig or a baboon or some other
stranger monster which has sensation is the measure of all things"; again, that
theory fails to account for the permanent character of knowledge, since on the
supposition that both "object" and "percipient" are in constant flux there can be no permanence anywhere; and, finally, the theory is
self-contradictory, since by its own terms it may be just as well false as true.
truth is that knowledge is given in conceptions and conceptions only. The method
of knowledge is the method of thought; the seeing of "unity and plurality in nature".
"If I find any man" who can do that, "him I
follow and walk in his footsteps as if he were a God". Now induction, the "upward way"
of knowledge, is to Plato but tentative, suggestive, not final and conclusive; a
begetter of insight but not of science; and must be supplemented by division,
the "downward way" of knowledge. Induction suggests a hypothesis or possible
definition of some whole; division verifies or overthrows the hypothesis by
exhibiting distinctly and in their relations the parts of the whole defined.
With regard to division Plato says, "you should not clip off too small a piece... the safe way is to cut through the middle, and this is the more likely way
of finding classes. Attention to this principle makes all the difference in a
process of inquiry".(13) This method of division is
known as dichotomy. The method of investigation which consists in following out
opposite hypotheses and comparing their consequences is, of course, Eleatic in
origin. That hypothesis whose consequences are the most probable is the truer
hypothesis. The dialectic method as just described is, as we shall see, the
precursor of the Aristotelian logic.
Dialectic as a System
PLATO. Thought and Being
In the conceptions arrived at by the dialectic method,
then, we have knowledge, i.e., we have the real thought of being, and the only
real or permanent conviction possible for us. That this is true appeared to
Plato, not only as a consequence of the
synthesis of the Eleatic and Socratic doctrines of being and knowledge but from
such considerations as the following: The "divine madness" that seizes upon
ingenuous natures" and impels them to philosophy, can be but the working of the
soul's innate knowledge of a higher state than the present, a state in which
thought and being are more immediately one. Again, the source of knowledge even
in the present existence is not the organs of sense, but the soul working
through them, and our cognitions, which must be cognitions of something, are
cognitions, not of the world of sense as such, but of being. Finally, we cannot
suppose that there is anything absolutely out of relation to us, for in such a
case, God who, if anything, would be out of relation to us, since he is
absolute, could not know us and our world: we should constitute an absolute
being by ourselves,—all of which is absurd, "monstrous".(14) But if this be
true, being is intelligent, since thought as the thought of being is (by virtue
of the unity of thought and being) being so far as it (being) is capable of
being thought. Being, therefore, thinks or is intelligent.
PLATO. The World of Ideas
To determine, then, the nature of being as an object of
thought (and it is only as such that we can know it) we must determine what are
the absolute conceptions. These, in number and nature, correspond with the types
or classes of phenomenal existence. Now as thought and being are one, and as the
absolute conceptions have each a separate character and place in thought, it
follows that being is not merely one in nature but many also. Being as one in
termed by Plato the Idea or World of Ideas (εϊδη). So far as we can speak of
beings, there are, then, corresponding to the types or classes of phenomenal
existences, certain entities, which are noumenal: Ideas. As objects of definite
knowledge, the Ideas are distinct, fixed, independent(15): in this they are in sharp
contrast with sense-natures, which as Heraclitus held, are fleeting and pass into
their opposites, "admit generation into or out of one another". But the Ideas "participate" in, or
"commune" with, each other. Not, however, promiscuously, but
in certain cognizable ways. The ideas of rest and motion, for example, do not
participate in each other except indirectly, through participation in being.(16) The
communion of being and not-being is explained as follows. Being is
all-inclusive, embracing even not-being, unless, indeed, being is "pure and fixed
emptiness". But being is not such: we cannot conceive it "to be devoid of life
and mind, and to remain in awful unmeaningness and fixture".(17) In speaking,
therefore, of not-being, i.e., generation, motion, variety, etc., we speak not
of something opposed to being but different merely. In general, then, not-being
is the element of otherness or difference inherent in being.(18) The Ideas together
constitute an organism which is governed by the Idea of the Good (the end of all
things). The Idea of the Good embraces
within itself a "mixture"(19) of "mind" (which is definite and knowable) and "pleasure"
(which is relatively indefinite and unknowable) together with the cause of the "mixture," or soul. The Good is thus not abstract but concrete; and as the only
causal principle in the universe is soul, the Idea of the Good is a concrete,
intelligent (and intelligible) power. The Good is further described by Plato as
including measure, beauty, symmetry, as well as "mind," "pleasure," and "causality".(20)
Of the Good as the supreme Idea he says: "Whether I am right or not God only
knows; but, whether true or false, my opinion is that in all the world of
knowledge the Idea of the Good appears last of all and is seen only with effort,
and when seen, is inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful
and right, parent of light and lord of light in this world, and the source of
truth and reason in the other: this is the first great cause which he who would
act rationally either in public or in private life must behold".(21) Again, "the
is not only the author of knowledge in all things known [as the sun is of
"visibility in all things visible"] but of their being and essence, yet the Good
is not essence [mere being?] but exceeds essence in dignity and power".(22) As the
supreme Idea is an intelligent and intelligible power, those below it must, as
partaking in it, also be intelligent and intelligible powers. (Being, indeed,
is simply power(23).) The realm of Ideas is, then, a spiritual kingdom: an
independent, self-existent, eternal community of intelligent beings.(24)
PLATO. Relation of the Ideal, to the Phenomenal, World
In the foregoing is virtually
contained Plato's answer to a question that now naturally arises, What is the
relation of the world of Ideas to the phenomenal world? to knowledge and objects
of knowledge in the world given to us? The answer is, in general terms, as
follows: "That which imparts truth to the object and knowledge to the subject
is what I would have you term the Idea of the Good, and that you will regard as
the cause of science and truth as known by us". But to speak particularly, first,
of Ideas as related to human knowledge. It is by virtue of the presence of the
Idea in us that we are self-moving, self-identifying, and so, capable of
knowledge, whether it be scientific comprehension or common understanding. The
idea as the source and synthesis of cognition and being, makes possible for us
by its working in us the true thought of reality. For Plato, consequently,
knowledge possessed certain elements not recognized by earlier philosophers. The
Eleatics failed to find in our cognition of phenomena anything but opinion; Plato declaring
things themselves, and our cognition of them to be of the Idea,
posited philosophically (and was the first who did so) the knowledge of the real
in the phenomenal. Again, the Lesser Socratics affirmed that only "identical
propositions" are valid. Plato discovered a principle of synthesis, and thus
showed the possibility and the necessity of real judgments. Thirdly, Socrates
did not entirely rise above the notion of merely correct conceptions to that of
ontologically true conceptions, was sceptical as to the possibility of absolute
science, hence did not attain to a pure metaphysics. Plato did this in positing
the Idea as the fountain of knowledge and being. In so doing, he gave a new
content and a new method to philosophy. The content of philosophy is not the
abstract entity termed by the Eleatics Being, nor the purely phenomenal world,
which the Sophists declared knowable only in individual sensation, and Socrates
only in individual conception, but the concretion of these, the world of Ideas,
in itself and as having effect and manifestation in the phenomenal world, and
the phenomenal world as having its source and cognoscibility in the Ideal world.
Again, from the fact that the Idea is the source of knowledge and being, it
follows that the true method or "way " of knowledge is the "downward way,"
induction being but an eye-opener, merely a condition of nascent or incipient
insight. Dialectic, then, is in the last analysis, not merely the method of
our thinking and our theory of the Idea, but is also the method of the Idea and
the Ideal theory of the Idea. And as the "downward way," it is not mere division, but, since the Idea is universal and not
to be absolutely divided—also synthesis; it makes place for the "unity of
opposites." But, secondly, as to the relation of the Ideas to the world of
objective, sensible phenomena, the Ideas are conceived by Plato, not only as
causes(25), but as archetypes of things, the eternal patterns to which
the artificer of the world looks in framing the world.(26) The world of
Ideas is self-existent and independent; phenomenal objects "participate"
in Ideas or are "imitations" of them. The exact nature of this
participation, or imitation, seems not to have been explained by Plato
quite satisfactorily to himself (or to those coming after him). In fact,
Plato recognized at this point certain unsolved difficulties in his
theory of Ideas, and was impelled towards a modification of the
For example, if the Ideas are
entirely independent of the phenomenal world, how can they be
the source of existence to other things or of knowledge in us?
These difficulties were afterwards pointed out and used against
the theory by Aristotle.(28) Though participating in Ideas,
phenomenal objects are but imperfect representations of Ideas.
Why this is so, is explained in the theory of nature, or of that
which, instead of being uncreated, fixed, and scientifically
cognoscible, is created, changing, and an object of "opinion"
Physics, or the Theory of Nature
PLATO. The Method of Physical Speculation
In the philosophical study of nature it is
necessary, first of all, Plato reminds us, to remember that, owing to the
contingency pertaining to things created and changing, we cannot, in speculating
upon such things, proceed with dialectic exactness and certainty of method, but
must ''observe the rule of probability".(29) Plato shared, to some extent, Socrates's distrust of physical speculation, (as well as Heraclitus's view of
the mutability of all phenomenal things), regarding it, however, as a kind of
pardonable and perhaps praiseworthy indulgence, though far from
possessing the dignity and value of dialectic, or true science. "A man may
sometimes set aside arguments about eternal things, and for recreation turn to
consider the truths of generation which are only probable; thus he attains
pleasure not to be repented of, and makes for himself during his life a wise and
PLATO. The Cosmos
The created world is as perfect an imitation and manifestation of
the Idea as was practicable: it is a living, intelligible being, a "blessed
god". God formed the world because he is good and "desired that all things be as
like himself as possible." The world is not an absolutely perfect manifestation
of the Idea because there was, when the world was created, a certain element of
necessity which reason had to "persuade" or "get the better of," though it could
not completely overcome it.(31) This element of necessity and obstacle to the
complete manifestation of the Idea is "matter". God (Idea as power working
towards an end) formed, first, the world-soul, by uniting as perfectly as
possible, according to certain numerical relations, an unchangeable, indivisible essence
(Idea is fixed, intelligent and intelligible nature) and a
divisible, corporeal, movable nature, thus creating an intermediate essence
partaking of the nature of the "same and other" and possessing the power to declare
the "sameness and diversity of things". This mediating, mathematical intelligence
(the world-soul)—mathematics, we have seen, is, with Plato, intermediate
between science and opinion—God diffused throughout, and united perfectly
with, a perfect body made of the four elements, fire, air, water, earth—"in the
of proportions"—and smooth, even, perfectly spherical. The soul he formed prior
in time and excellence to the body to be the "ruler and mistress of it".(32) The
world is, accordingly, a "blessed god," not eternal, indeed, but an image of
eternity and a perfect whole, indissoluble except by the hand of the Creator.
Time and the world, created together, are without end. The world is divided
according to the "sameness and diversity" of "motion" into two spheres, that of the
fixed stars and that of the planets, all these having souls and being gods. The
latter revolve about the earth (which is fixed and spherical and is pierced by
the spindle or axis of the universe) in spiral courses from west to east. The
four elements are not eternal but were created out of an eternal indestructible
somewhat, the "receptacle and in a manner the nurse of all generation," an
"invisible, formless being which receives all things and attains in an
extraordinary way a portion of the intelligible, and is most incomprehensible".
Plato seems to identify it with space, a "third nature" —the indivisible
essence and the corporeal, divisible essence being the first and second—which
is "eternal and perceived without the help of sense and by a spurious reason".(33)
It is not a corporeal substance
for it is not that out of which but that in which phenomena have
become, and it is in its very essence negation or not-being (passive, however,
rather than active), and the occasion of the relative not-being, or the
mutability, of phenomena. It may be likened to a mother, phenomena to a child,
and the source of phenomena to a father.(34) It is the mean, or middle term,
between phenomena and the Idea.(35) It is that element of "necessity"—"matter"—which hinders, while it makes possible, the manifestation of the Idea. Fire, air, water, and
earth are, consequently, not corporeal but merely geometrical bodies, fire
being four-faced, air eight-faced, water twenty-faced, earth six-faced
(cubical). All this (and much more of similar character), it must be remembered,
is, to Plato, only "probable" or conjectural—not science.
PLATO. Body and Soul
Thus much for that portion of the work of creation which God
himself performed. The rest was given into the hands of the created gods. These,
"imitating the power" of God, formed man and animals, the latter being but a
lower type of the former.(36) The "seed" of the immortal part of the soul of man
was provided by God himself. It is, of course, by this part, which is simple,
self-identical, self-moving, and indestructible, that the soul participates in the
Idea and is rational. The mortal part has two portions, the "spirited" (courage)
and the appetitive (desire). The former is naturally inclined to obey the
immortal, or rational, part of the soul, but is too often dragged down by the
appetitive part, which is animal, and even vegetable, in its tendencies. The
rational part of the soul is located in the head, courage in the heart, and
desire in the lower portion of the trunk, particularly the liver, which is the
seat also of inspiration and prophecy, these being but a very low order of
knowledge. To Plato the so-called parts of the soul are not parts but faculties.
Of their inter-connection he
offers no explanation. Perception is of like by like (as with Empedocles). In
sight, for example, the fire from the eye meets the external fire, and vision is
the result. Sight and hearing are the noblest of the senses. "Thus much let us
say: that God invented and gave sight to this end,—that we might behold the
courses of intelligence which are akin to them, the unperturbed to the
perturbed; and that we, learning them and being partakers of the true
computations of nature, might imitate the absolutely unerring courses of God and
regulate our own vagaries. The same [mutatis mutandis] may be affirmed of
speech and hearing".(37) The soul was "implanted in the body by necessity":
entered into it in consequence of a fall from a nobler, preëxistent state. There
is not between the two that perfect harmony which exists between the world-soul
and its body ("the perfect animal"). On the contrary, there is a certain
antagonism(38) between body and soul, the influence of the former upon the latter
being evil and degrading, the cause of ignorance and spiritual disease. The
body, indeed, is the soul's prison. The relation between the two is represented
as follows in the well-known allegory of the Charioteer and Winged Horses, in
which are symbolized, on the one hand, reason, on the other, "courage," or
passion, and appetite.(39) "Now the winged horses and the charioteer of the gods are
all of them noble, and of noble breed, while ours are mixed; and
we have a charioteer who drives them in a pair; and one of them is noble and of
noble origin, and, as might be expected, there is a great deal of trouble in
managing them... Now the chariots of the gods, self-balanced, upward glide
in obedience to the rein; but the others have a difficulty, for the steed who
has evil in him, if he has not been properly trained by the charioteer,
gravitates and inclines and sinks towards the earth, and this is the hour of extremest agony and conflict of the soul. For the immortal souls, when they are
at the end of their course, go out and stand upon the back of heaven [the sphere
of the fixed stars], and the revolution of the spheres carries them around and
they behold the world beyond". When, through the unruliness of the steeds, the
soul becomes unable to rise sufficiently high to "behold the vision of truth,
and through some mishap sinks beneath the double load of forgetfulness and vice,
her feathers fall from her and she drops to the earth, then the law ordains that
this soul shall in the first generation pass not into that of any other animal
but only of man, and the soul which has seen the most of truth shall come to the
birth as a philosopher, or artist, or musician, or lover; that which has seen
the truth in the second degree shall be a righteous king, or warrior, or lord; the soul, which is
of the third class, shall be a politician, or economist, or
trader; the fourth shall be a lover of gymnastic toils or a physician; the fifth, a prophet or hierophant; to the sixth, a poet or imitator will be
appropriate; to the seventh, the life of an artisan or husbandman; to the
eighth, that of a sophist or a demagogue; to the ninth, that of a tyrant: all
these are states of probation, in which he who lives righteously improves, and he who lives unrighteously deteriorates his lot. The soul's chief inspiration to righteousness is the recollection of the eternal beauty
of which it had heard or caught a glimpse. This "wingless probation" continues
for the soul of the philosopher or the lover who is faithful to his insight,
three thousand years, the soul then returning to the place whence it came.
Others are judged "when they have completed their first life," and, at the end
of the first thousand years, they have a new choice of life, the good and the
bad souls alike taking what they prefer, i.e., what their natures prompt them to
take. "And the soul of the man may pass into the life of a beast, or from the
beast again to the man"; but the souls of those who have not seen the truth will
not pass into human forms, but into those of animals. After death souls are
classified as holy, moderately good, curably wicked, and incurably wicked. The
last are punished eternally.—From the foregoing may be gathered several
essential points in the Platonic psychology: the mixed nature of the soul, its
participation in the Idea, and the necessity that the Idea be in a manner
realized in it, the preëxistent state, and the recollection of that state, the
immortality of the soul, future retribution, and the transmigration of souls.
The logical connection between these may be briefly, though imperfectly,
indicated as follows: the soul as participating in the Idea must be prior to the
body; it must, even though immersed in the slough of sense, retain some
recollection of that preëxistent state, for the Idea is and cannot be
obliterated by sense; but the Idea as the Good cannot be completely attained to
in the world of sense; hence there must be a future
state and future retribution; and finally, the character of the retribution must
vary with the bodies or immediate environment of the souls of men. The doctrines
of preëxistence and of recollection, or reminiscence, demand special notice.
They seemed to Plato to follow not only from the theory of the soul as an
offshoot of the Idea, but also from the nature of knowledge as such. A certain
boy, Meno, knows nothing of geometry, and yet Socrates succeeds in getting him
to understand a geometrical demonstration and in drawing from him certain
principles of demonstration; which would be impossible, thinks Plato, if the
principles of demonstration had not lain already in the boy's mind.(40) Again,
though we say that pieces of wood or stone are equal, we yet perceive that they
are not absolutely equal, and the conclusion must be that the soul possesses, by
a sort of recollection implying preëxistence, the conception of absolute
equality.(41) The argument for the immortality of the soul may be summarized as
follows(42): The soul is "ever in motion" and self-moving; it cannot be destroyed by
immorality, the only thing that could destroy it, if anything could; the soul
is immortal because God is good, and cannot allow so beautiful a creation to
perish; the thirst for absolute knowledge and for a future life, implies
immortality; opposites pass into each other, sleeping into waking, death into
life, etc.; preëxistence implies immortality; the soul is an invisible essence,
and so possesses the imperishable, indestructible character of the Idea; the soul is not a
"harmony" of bodily activities, but is itself; the rather a principle
of harmony; it participates in the Idea of life, is immortal by virtue of the fact
that it lives. In the Phœdo (p.79) Plato conceives immortality as synonymous
in essence, not with everlastingness, but with wisdom, i.e., perfect
self-knowledge and self-determination.
The conception of the soul as participating in the Idea and
as immortal, is the basis of Plato's ethical doctrines. The life of the soul is
one life; it is, by reason of the very nature of the soul as an original
indissoluble harmony and principle of harmony, the union of the individual with
himself and others, not only in the present existence, but in a future state
also; it is the life of justice with its necessary concomitant happiness. The
state, therefore, in which alone the individual soul is furnished with the
conditions necessary for the realization by the soul of harmony in itself and
with others in this present existence, is but an instrument of the Ideal,
eternal life, the life of the Idea of the Good.(43)
PLATO. The Method of Ethics
From the immediately preceding statements it appears
that Ethics and Politics, the sciences of individual and of statal good and
virtue, are to Plato one. And it is an essential characteristic of the method
of Plato in the Republic that he begins with a consideration of the state as
being the "individual written larger and on a larger scale"(44), and having given a
merely tentative theory of that, passes to the
individual, then back to the state, and so on. This characteristic as well as
the content of his theory has its source in Plato's ever-present anxiety about
the true ideal totality of things, his never-ceasing quest after a true and
comprehensive principle of synthesis among things. By the use of this method he
diminishes, if he does not obviate altogether, the appearance of arbitrarily
applying to one sphere principles discovered in another. To him there is no
abstract individual: the individual is the state in miniature.
PLATO. Nature and End of the State
Historically considered, the state, Plato agrees
with the Sophists in holding, arises out of natural, human necessity: physical
need, self-interest, lead to division of labor and to association for common and
mutual benefit. But the state is not merely an association for the better
supplying of natural or animal wants, the realization of the nature of the
individual as such; government is not merely a police force having its only use
in the prevention of the clashing of individual wills and interests. The state
is an organism, a vital totality, whose essence lies in its being an instrument
and manifestation of the Idea; the individuals constituting it consciously
coöperate in the realization of the absolute conception of the whole. The state
exists for the special benefit of no particular individual or class of
PLATO. The "Parts" of the State and the Virtue pertaining to Each
The members of
the state are divided into three classes: the husbandmen, who supply the
natural needs of the state; the fighters or military class, who defend the state
against encroachment from without, or make conquests for the enlargement of the
the state; and the rulers, or counsellors, who determine the plans by which the
state subsists as an instrument of the Idea, the embodiment of the conception of
justice. The two last-named classes Plato designates as the guardians of the
state. Each of these classes has its peculiar virtue: the virtue of the
husbandmen being temperance, that of the fighters courage, that of the rulers
wisdom. A careful and long-continued training is necessary to the making of the
guardians: they are to be tried "more thoroughly than gold is tried in the
fire". They are not only to be given that education in music, gymnastics, and the
sciences which is requisite as a preparation for the study of philosophy, but they
are to be tried with tests of memory, with "toils and pains and conflicts," and "with enchantments and terrors". If they retain under all circumstances, a rhythmical, harmonious nature, such as will be most serviceable to the man
himself and to the state, they are worthy to become guardians of the state(45).
They are to have no property beyond what is absolutely necessary, to have no
private houses, to be allowed only a "living" salary, to have common meals, and
to reside together.—But what are the virtues in themselves, and where is
justice? To answer this latter question, we must, says Plato, by the "method of
residues" carefully eliminate the known virtues, one after another, until we
arrive at justice. First, then, is wisdom, the virtue of the counsellors, which
is knowledge that advises "not about any particular thing in the state [e.g.,
carpentering, brazen implements, agriculture] but about the whole state, and
considers what may be regarded
as the best policy both internal and external".(46) Next
may be eliminated courage, the virtue of the fighters, or auxiliaries of the counsellors, which is the "preservation in the soldiers of the opinion which the
law ordains about the true nature of dangers". Temperance, the virtue of the
husbandmen, may be best described as the "natural harmony of master and slaves,
both in states and individuals, in which the subjects are as willing to obey as
the governors are to rule".(47) Now justice, also, would appear to be a harmony, and
is not with perfect ease to be distinguished from temperance. It is, however,
that harmony wherein each individual minds his own business and is not a "busy-body," and each class in the state preserves its own sphere. Justice is the
all-pervading spirit of harmony, the union of the many in one, of whole and
part in the state.
PLATO. Virtue in the Individual
According, now, to the method proposed at the
beginning, we are to apply what has been found to be true of the state to the
individual. The individual, then, has in him the three principles of wisdom,
courage, and temperance; wisdom being the virtue of reason, courage of spirit
or passion, and temperance of appetite. The individual, therefore, "whose several
principles do their own work will be just, and will do his own work". "Assuming
the threefold division of the soul, must not injustice be a kind of quarrel between these three —a meddlesomeness and interference, and rising up of a part of the soul against
the whole soul, an assertion of unlawful authority, which is made by a
rebellious subject against a true prince, of whom he is the natural vassal—that is the sort of
thing: the confusion and error of these parts is injustice, and intemperance,
and ignorance, and in general all vice"(48). Further, the qualities that make a
make a man: the good citizen is the good man.—As a corollary to this theory of
virtue, it follows that the Sophistic notion of virtue as the whim or pleasure
of the individual, and of justice as the will or pleasure of the strongest(49), is
false. And (it may not improperly be added at this point) to Plato the Socratic
idea that virtue is knowledge is not quite the correct one. Virtue, as we learn
from the dialogue Philebus, is a union of "mind," or knowledge, and pleasure,
and there is a kind of natural virtue consisting in a disposition, unconsciously
acquired, to do right deeds. The great benefit of education to the young is the
creation in them by it of this tendency (unconscious though it may be) to take
pleasure in good things, to have good instincts, to entertain right feelings
PLATO. State Administration
But how shall the state be managed, and, in
particular, what is to be done with the women and children? Is not the state to
be conducted on the principle that "friends will have all things in common"? It
is, in the first place, hardly possible to refuse to the women the same
education that is given to men, ridiculous as such a plan may appear at first
sight. The mere difference as regards the begetting and bearing of children is
unessential. The education that makes a man a good guardian will make a woman,
also, a good guardian. In the second place, there must be not only sameness of
education and pursuits but also community,
or the holding in common, of women and children—"no one is to know his own
child, nor any child his parent". The union of the sexes must be made as "holy"
as possible, and, to this end, must be under the strict and scientific
supervision of the wise men of the state. The best of either sex must be "united with the best as often as possible, and the inferior with the inferior,
and they are to rear the offspring of the one sort of union, but not of the
other". The union is to be managed secretly and by proper officers, who will
also take charge of the offspring. There must, of course, be no irregular or
illegitimate unions. But, in the third place, there must be community of property. The public spirit of the guardians must not be allowed to suffer a
check from any such distinction as meum and tuum. As to the practicability
of a state in which there is community of women, children, and property, there
is, indeed, some doubt. In times of war there would be no difficulty; the women
and children would accompany the men. The children should become accustomed to
the sight of such dangers as they themselves may have to face when they become
adults. Acts of bravery must be recompensed by increased liberty to beget
children; acts of cowardice by degradation to the rank of husbandmen or
artisans. Love for the state must be kept pure and strong. It remains true,
however, that only "when philosophers rule, or the kings and princes of this
world have the spirit and power of philosophy, will this ideal state, as has
been said, have a possibility of life and behold the light of day". But the
theory is, nevertheless, none the worse as a theory "because we are unable to
possibility of a city being ordered in the manner described.(52)
PLATO. The False Forms of State and their Genesis
Having constructed the pattern
state, which he designates as the Aristocracy, Plato gives, with a view to
showing still more pointedly the nature of justice and injustice and the
relation between them and happiness and misery, an analysis of the false forms
of the state, together with the kinds of individuals corresponding to them, and
of the genesis of these forms and the classes of individuals corresponding to
them. The false forms of the state are four in number; the timocracy, or
government of honor; the oligarchy, or government of the few and the rich; the
democracy, or government of the (uneducated) multitude; and tyranny.
of course, four sorts of individuals to correspond with these. The false forms
of the state, taken in the order in which they have just been named, are
regarded by Plato as successive degenerations of the true form, or aristocracy,
i.e., the government of the wisest and best. "All political changes originate in
divisions of the actual governing power," that is, in strife. Now the strife by
which aristocracy degenerates into timocracy arises in the following way. The
guardians losing, through ignorance and mismanagement, the control of marriages
and births, there springs up a weaker race, which undervalues knowledge and
culture, and, lacking thus the principle of harmony, falls into inequality,
irregularity, and, finally, strife. The courageous, or "spirited" element gets
the advantage of the knowledge-loving and, although the guardian class remains
the honored class and does not fall back into
the place of the husbandmen or artisans, philosophers are excluded from power,
the military class predominates, and the state is better fitted for war than for
peace: one thing, and one thing only, is predominantly seen,— the spirit of
contention and ambition. Such is the timocratical state and its genesis. The
timocratical individual and his genesis are like unto them. The son of a "brave"
but "easy-going" father, he comes to lack "single-mindedness towards virtue," and to be a lover of power and honor; he is no longer wise and morally sound and
whole, but ambitious and contentious. Oligarchy arises when the desire of power
and honor, which characterizes the timocracy, grows into a thirst for gold and
exclusive possession. For the realization of this desire, force and
intimidation are resorted to. The evils of such a form of government are
manifestly these: riches hold the place of knowledge; the state is divided
against itself, the rich on the one side, the poor on the other; war cannot be
carried on because the rich rulers are more afraid of the poor subjects than of
the external enemy of the state; there is no longer a systematic division of
pursuits; there is in the state a large floating element that has no vital
interest in it: in short, oligarchy is a government of the wildest extremes. The
oligarchical individual is of the same pattern; avaricious, selfish,
arbitrarily coercing his better impulses and bending all his energies to the
hoarding of wealth. Instead of rationalizing and ennobling his passions, he keeps
them in slavish subjection to his one desire, and they are ready to turn against
him at the earliest opportunity. Democracy and the "democratical man"
originate as follows: the rich come to rule arbitrarily and exasperate
the poor; war comes, from within or without, and then the rich must fight
against or by the side of the poor, and there is a general redistribution of
power and privileges. Then follow false freedom, irreconciliable differences of opinion, a
throwing off of responsability to the State, entire abandonment of principle,
an altogether "charming form of government, full of variety and diversity, and
dispensing equality to equals and unequals alike". As for the democratical individual, he grows out
of the oligarchical in the most natural
manner possible. He just gets a taste of the honey of dissipation and the
unrestrained gratification of desire, and away fly the old, miserly habits, the
passions grow fierce and numberless, and "insolence and anarchy and waste and
impudence," under the lead of vain conceit, come trooping into his soul in "bright
array" called by the sweet names of "breeding," "liberty," "magnificence," "courage"!
he attempts to reform, he assumes one virtue, then another and another, and
finally "shakes his head and says they are all alike, and that one is as
honorable as another". He is a rare being, full of "liberty, equality,
and fraternity," an epitome of all mankind, is emulated by all—men and women
alike—but he knows nothing about order and law". "And now comes the most
beautiful of all, man and state alike, tyranny and the tyrant". Tyranny springs
from democracy by excess of liberty. In the anarchy that follows "when all
things are ready to burst with liberty," the people "always have some champion
whom they nurse into greatness" and make "protector," and he, with the mob at
his back, accuses, condemns, and banishes or kills whomsoever he pleases. If he
is driven out he gets back again, for he is the "people's friend"; then he is more
of a "wolf" than ever. Happy man! he flatters and is flattered, hates and is hated, suspects and is suspected, plots and is plotted
against, and the state over which he tyrannizes is in a most "blessed" condition.
The tyrannical individual is like unto him. Giving his appetites full liberty he
is obliged to deceive, to coerce, and to perform deeds of violence in order to
maintain himself and his rabble. He has in him the essence of the highwayman,
the robber of temples, the man-stealer; is just the sort of creature the rabble
choose for their leader when anarchy comes. No man is meaner and more unhappy
than he; none more of a slave, more of a coward—except the tyrant in public
station. Unquestionably the tyrannical man and the tyrannical state are the
worst—the most unjust and the most miserable—of all.—The upshot of Plato's
masterly analysis of the false forms of state and the individuals like unto them
is this: justice and happiness, whether in the individual or the state, are
inseparable. "Must we hire a herald or shall I proclaim the result —that the
best and justest man is also the happiest, and that this is he who is the most
royal master of himself; and that the worst and most unjust man is also the most
miserable and that this is he who is the greatest tyrant of himself and of his
PLATO. The Eternal Life
Plato's account of justice does not end with his
analysis of the state. With him justice is a matter of the soul as an immortal
being, and of the Idea; and ethics, in the broad sense of the term, is more
than politics. The paramount thought with Plato is that of the Eternal Life,
the life of the Idea, or God. Justice, instead
of being merely the proper performance of duties incident to membership in. the social order, is the perception,
enjoyment, and application of absolute truth and beauty; the being like God,
and the living as a member of an eternal order. The just man is the child of
the gods as well as the state. In all this is to be found further proof of the
union of justice with happiness: for the enjoyment of that which, as the
pleasure of the just man must be, is essential and permanent, is itself
essential and permanent, and the "gods have a care of any one whose desire is to
become just and to be like God, as far as man can attain his likeness by the
pursuit of virtue". The true life is therefore a blessed life; the crown of
victory in the immortal race belongs to the just alone.(54)
PLATO. Beauty and Art
To the foregoing account of the Good we may append a
word on Beauty, which is inseparable from goodness. Beauty is the symmetry
pervading that mixture of "mind" and "pleasure" which constitutes the Good; and
the business of art is to reproduce, or imitate, ideal reality, or the symmetry
of the ideal truth and goodness that are reflected in phenomena. Plato cares
nothing for "art for art's sake": he cares only for the Idea,—a faithful "imitation," or representation, of that is respectable, but an
"imitation" of an "imitation" of it is abominable. The good man "imitates" the Idea, and is
but the tragic poet who "imitates" bad men, even perfectly, is a monster, "thrice removed from the king and from truth".(55)
"We must remain firm in our
conviction that hymns to the gods, and praises of famous men are the only poetry
which ought to be admitted into our state.(56) Homer
and his followers must therefore be expurgated or else must be driven out. As for rhetoricians and orators, let them learn the nature of the soul and speak,
accordingly. The Idea, whether in men's minds or the outward universe, is
sufficient unto itself. Rhetoric as practised by the Sophists and professional
rhetoricians is on a level with the art of cooking; it is a mere "knack," gotten by a kind of accident and having nothing in common with a science of the
soul or with dialectic, which is the true and only science and art of thinking
The Later Form of Plato's Philosophy
The foregoing is a sketch of the
philosophy of Plato in that form which is most conspicuous in his writings, and
has been historically the more celebrated and, perhaps, more influential. There
are certain other doctrines of Plato, later, apparently, in origin than those
already considered. From Aristotle(57) we learn that Plato, who, as we have seen,
was not completely satisfied with the doctrine of Ideas in its earlier form,
came, under the influence of Pythagoreanism, to hold that Ideas, instead of
being original, were derivative, having for their elements, on the one hand, the
One, and on the other, the Great and the Small; the One being the principle of definiteness in the Ideas, and the Great and Small, which are elements of
or duality, being the principle of diversity and indefiniteness, i.e., the
material principle. "Plato," says Aristotle, "conceived that, since the Ideas are
causes of all things else, the elements of them are the
elements of all existences. The Great and the Small, therefore, are causes
as matter (i.e., material causes) and the One and Numbers as substance (i.e.,
formal causes). From the the Great and the Small Ideas arise by participation in the One".
Plato held with the Pythagoreans that the One is an entity,
not a predicate of something else; also that numbers are the causes of
existence to all other things (than Ideas). But though the Pythagoreans
identified numbers and phenomenal existences, Plato regarded them as separate,
having been determined so to do by his method. In the later theory of Plato,
then, Ideas and numbers constitute, as distinguished from phenomenal
existences, a class by themselves. Aristotle expressly says, however, that Plato
held the Ideal numbers to be intermediate between Ideas proper and sensible
things. Ideal numbers differ from ordinary numbers in being qualitatively
different from one another. This theory of Ideas and Ideal numbers has affinity,
it will be observed, with the doctrine of the Timœus, already stated, that the
world-soul is mathematical in nature. —In the Laws Plato gives a theory of
the "second best" (not an Ideal) state; "the first and highest form of the state,
and of the government, and of the law," being "that in which there prevails most
widely the ancient saying that friends have all things in common"(58) (the form
described in the Republic). In the Laws, as in the Republic, it is
declared that the state has as end the good of all, not of any person or party
merely.(59) But the good is conceived not so much as the Ideal good (the rule of
the Idea in the lives of men) as the good of man as
such. The rulers of the "second best" state need not be dialecticians, but
only morally and religiously wise and prudent men. Instead of philosophy, they
have, as their guide, religion and the science of number.(60) The supreme power in
the government is a council of twenty persons, ten old and ten young, —priests, "guardians of the law," and " the general superintendent of education".(61) Community of property, and of women and children, does not obtain in the
best" state. There are, however, certain regulations as to the maximum and
minimum amounts of property that may be held by any person, and as to the
disposition of property by purchase, sale, marriage, inheritance, etc.;
regulations, also, regarding marriage, the number of families (5040), the
disposal of children not heirs.(62) Education is strictly a state affair, and men
and women are to be educated alike. The citizens, of whom there are four classes
(the class distinction being based on a property distinction), devote
themselves to the state and their mental and bodily development; agriculture,
commerce, and the industrial arts generally, being carried on by slaves or
resident foreigners. The "second best" state is (as, indeed, the title of the work
expounding it should suggest) a state based upon the idea of government by law
instead of by the decisions of wise men, or philosophers, merely. It has no
immediate relation to the Idea, the theory of Ideas playing no part in the Laws.
The philosophy of Plato is in its genesis a synthesis of elements drawn
from earlier thinkers, a
conservation of most, if not all, of the truth, with much of the error (as from
a modern point of view it must be deemed) contained in the earlier systems. In
its idea and end it is an attempt to discover a complete and true universal of
thought and being: no thinker could have been more anxious to do full justice
to all the elements of experience in the effort to comprehend the universe in a
single mental grasp. But, as has already been suggested, and as Plato himself
saw, there is a certain lacuna, or gap, in the system: its first principle, the
Idea, does not stand in a perfectly concrete relation with the terms that
require to be united. As the Idea is merely Plato's name for perfect
intelligence, and will, and power, and is the only possible philosophical first
principle, the system of Plato is not at fault in its first principle; it is at
fault, rather, in the want of complete development of that. Plato has not fully
shown why and how the Idea is the source of being, of knowledge, and of
goodness. The "ascent to the Idea," which Plato describes as so difficult, is
made by Plato with sufficient truth and reality: it is the "downward way" that
is imperfectly pointed out and traversed. Plato's thought in this part of his
system seems, however, to have undergone a steady development. At first he held
that there must be Ideas for all groups of "individuals having a common name"(63),
artificial as well as natural; then, that there are ideas for actual natural
classes only (not, as he had formerly held, of relations and negations); and,
again, that Ideas may perhaps be merely "patterns [or types] fixed in nature".(64)
This last thought, it was left for Aristotle to develop. Finally, in the Laws the theory of Ideas found no place.(65)
Again, as to the nearness of Ideas to phenomena, the Ideal numbers of
the later theory above-described were evidently adopted by Plato as a
means of rendering the abstract concrete, or of making the "rational
real," and the "real rational". The mathematical nature of the
world-soul was assumed for the same purpose. Finally, the notion of
"participation" was explained as equivalent to "assimilation," or the
bearing a likeness, to the Idea. Further critical comment on Plato at this point is
rendered superfluous by the fact that we shall have to consider, later,
criticisms passed upon him by Aristotle, his truest interpreter and the noblest
continuator of his philosophy.
(1) Phædrus, p. 249.
p. 176; Phœdo, p. 82.
(3) Phœdrus, p. 278.
(4) Republic, p. 517.
(5) Ibid., pp. 511 and 533.
(6) lbid., p. 4O2.
(7) Republic, p. 525.
(8) Ibid., p. 533.
(9) Republic, p. 533.
(10) Ibid., pp. 535-540.
(11) Republic, p. 534 ; Phœdrus, pp.
(12) Phœdrus, pp. 265, 266; Parmenides, pp. 128 and 136;
Republic, pp. 427, 428. In the passage last mentioned, Plato refers to, by name, the method termed by Mill
the "Method of Residues". "Modern Inductive Philosophy" was largely "anticipated" by Plato and Aristotle.
(13) Statesman, 262; Sophist, throughout.
(14) Phœdrus, p. 245; Theœtetus, pp.
184, 185, 203-209; Phœdo, pp. 74, 75;
(15) Phœdo, pp. 78-103.
(16) The communion of Ideas is treated especially in the dialogues,
Parmenides, and Philebus.
(17) Sophist, pp. 247-250, 257, 259.
(18) Translated into modern phraseology, this means that all motion, all change, is
but the self-affirmation, the self-identification of the Eternal.
(19) Philebus, p. 27.
(20) Ibid., pp. 61,63, 65, 67.
(21) Republic, p. 517.
(22) Republic, pp. 508, 509. See p. 5O6.
(23) Sophist, pp. 247, 248.
(24) There seems to be no real warrant for affirming (as some do) that to Plato
the Ideas are merely thoughts in the "mind" of God.
(25) Phœdo, p. 75; Phœdrus, p. 95;
Zeller's Plato and the Older Academy, pp. 262,
268. Schwegler's Handbook of the Hist. of Philos. (Stirling's
trans.), p 79.
(26) Parmenides, p. 132 ; Timœus, p. 28.
(27) See below, p. 112.
(28) Parmenides, pp. 132-135; Aristotle's Metaphyscs, Bk. XIII. chs. 4 and 5.
(29). Timæus, pp. 28, 29, 48.
(30). Timœus, p. 59.
(31). Ibid., pp. 30, 33, 48.
(32). Timœus, pp. 32, 34, 35, 38.
33. Ibid., pp. 51, 52.
34. Ibid., p. 50.
35. See Jowett's Introduction to the Timœus, section 3.
(36). Plato not an "evolutionist".
(37). Timœus, pp. 45, 47.
(38). There is a certain discrepancy between the accounts of
the Phœdrus and the Timœus on this point. The
Phœdrus has been followed in
what is now given.
(39). Phœdrus, pp. 246-255.
(40). Meno, pp. 81-83.
(41). Phœdo, pp. 74 and fol.
(42). See Ueberweg's History of Philosophy, Vol. I. p. 127; also
p. 245; Republic, p. 609; Timœus, p. 41;
Phœdo, pp. 62-107.
(43) Republic pp. 611, 612.
(44). Ibid., p. 368
(45) Republic, Bks. II and III.
(46) Republic, p 428.
(47) Ibid., pp. 428-434.
(48) Republic, p. 444.
(49) Ibid., Bk. I.
(50) Ibid., p. 402.
(51) Ibid., Bk. V.
(52) Republic, Bks. VIII. and IX.
(53) Republic, p 80.
(54) Republic, pp 612, 613.
(55) Ibid., p. 597.
(56) Republic, p. 607. See also Bks. II. and III.
(57) Metaphysics, Bk. I. ch. 6, and other passages.
(58) Laws, p. 739.
(59) Ibid., p. 715. (See Republic, p. 420.)
(60) Laws, pp. 738, 747, 884, 885, 909.
(61) Ibid., pp. 951, 961.
(62) Ibid., pp. 740-745.
(63) Republic, p. 596.
(64) Parmenides p. 132.
(65) Not given up completely by Plato himself, however; only held in abeyance.