« PreviousContinue »
that it was at once unprofitable, and founded in uncertainty; and employed the rest of his life in the cultivation of moral philofophy, a fcience which to him feemed more fatisfactory in its evidence, and more useful in its application *. So far was he from being fceptical in regard to the principles of moral duty, that he inculcated them with earneftnefs where-ever he found opportunity, and thought it incumbent on all men to make themfelves acquainted with them. In his reafonings, indeed, he did not formally lay down any principle, because it was his method to deduce his conclufions from what was acknowledged by his antagonist: but is this any proof, that he himself did not believe his own conclufions? Read the story of his life; his conduct never belied his principles: obferve the manners of our fceptics; their conduct and principles do mutually and invariably bely one another.
Do you feek ftill more convincing evidence, that Socrates felt, believed, and avowed the truth? Read the defence he made before his judges. See you there a
Xenoph. Memorab. lib. 1. cap. 1. et lib. 4. cap. 7.
ny figns of doubt, hefitation, or fear? any fufpicion of the poffibility of his being in the wrong? any diffimulation, fophiftry, or art? See you not, on the contrary, the utmost plainnefs and fimplicity, the calmest and most deliberate fortitude, and that noble affurance which fo well becomes the cause of truth and virtue? Few men have shown fo firm an attachment to truth, as to lay down their life for its fake: yet this did Socrates. He made no external profession of any philofophical creed ; but in his death, and through the whole of his life, he fhowed the steadieft adherence to principle; and his principles were all confiftent. Xenophon has recorded many of them; and tells us, in regard to fome of them, that Socrates fcrupled not to call thofe men fools who differed from his opinion.The fophifts of his age were not folicitous to discover truth, but only to confute an adversary, and reafon plaufibly in behalf of their theories. That they might have the ampler field for this fort of fpeculation, they confined themfelves, like our modern metaphyficians, to general topics, fuch as the nature of
Xenoph. Memorab. lib. 1. cap. 1. paffim.
good, of beauty, and fuch like; on which one may say a great many things without meaning, and offer a great many plausible arguments without one word of truth. Socrates did much to difcredit this abufe of fcience. In his converfations he did not trouble himself with the niceties of artificial logic. His aim was, not to confute an adverfary, nor to guard against that verbal confutation which the fophifts were perpetually attempting, but to do good to those with whom he converfed, by laying their duty before them in a ftriking and perfuafive manner He was not fond of reasoning on abstract fubjects, efpecially when he had to do with a fophift; well knowing that this could anfwer no other purpofe than to furnish matter for endless and unprofitable logomachy. When, therefore, Ariftippus afked him concerning the nature of good †, with a view to confute, or at least to teafe him, with quibbling evafions, Socrates declined
Αρίςιππε δὲ ἐπιχειροῦντος ἐλέγχειν τὸν Σωκράτη, - βυλόμενος τὰς ] συνόντας ὠφελῶν ὁ Σωκράτης ἀπεκρίνατο, πχ ὥσπερ οἱ φυλαττόμενοι, μὴ ὁ λόγος ἐπαλλαχθῆ, ἀλλ' ὡς ἄν πιπεσμένοι μάλισα πράττοιεν τα δέοντα.
Xenoph. Memorab. lib. 3. cap. 8.
+ Id. Ibid.
to answer in general terms; and defired the fophift to limit his question, by confining the word good to fome particular thing. Do you afk me, fays he, what is good for a fever, for fore eyes, or for hunger? No, fays the fophift. If, replies he, you ask me concerning the nature of a good which is good for no particular purpofe, I tell you once for all, that I know of none fuch, and have no defires after it. In like manner, he answers to the general queftion concerning beauty, by defiring his adverfary to confine himfelf to fome particular kind of beauty. What would the great moralist have thought of our modern metaphysical treatifes, which feem to have nothing elfe in view, but to contrive vain and questionable definitions of general ideas! Simple, certain, and ufeful truth, was the conftant, and the only, object of this philofopher's inquiry.
True it is, he fometimes faid, that he knew nothing but his own ignorance. And furely the highest knowledge that human reafon can attain is extremely limited. Yet man knows fomething: Socrates was confcious that he knew fome
thing; otherwife Xenophon would not have afferted, that his opinions concerning God, and Providence, and Religion, and Moral Duty, were well known to all the Athenians *. But Socrates was hum'ble, and made no pretenfions to any thing extraordinary, either in virtue or in knowledge. He profeffed no fcience; he instructed others, without pedantry, and without parade; exemplifying the beauty and the practicability of virtue, by the innocence and integrity of his life, and by the charms of an instructive, though most infinuating, converfation t. I fhall allow our modern fceptics to avail themfelves all they can of the authority of DES CARTES and MALEBRANCHE, of Pyrrho and Anaxarchus; but let them not prefume to fanctify their trash with the venerable names of Socrates and Aristotle.
Cicero feems to have been an Academic rather in name than in reality. And I am apt to think, from feveral paffages in his works, that he made choice of this de
Xenoph. Memorab. lib. 1. cap. 1.
† Ibid. cap. 2.
See particularly De Officiis, lib. 3. cap. 4. De Fate,