Page images

From the writings of Plato, which were originally collected by Hermodorus, one of his pupils, is to be derived the knowledge of the philosophy and opinions of the earlier Academics, as of the founder of the sect himself, a brief outline of which may not inaptly be introduced here.a

Philosophy was divided by Plato into three parts; Morals, Physics, and Dialectics. Under Morals he comprehended politics, and under Physics that science which was afterwards distinguished by the name of metaphysics. Of these sciences he clearly laid down the principal attributes and mutual dependencies, and drew the distinction between the analytical and synthetical methods. Philosophy, therefore, is under great obligations to him quoad formam. She is no less indebted to him for the light he has thrown upon the above parts considered separately; though he did not profess to deliver a system of each, but continually excited the attention of others to further discoveries.b

Wisdom, in the strict Platonic sense of the term, is the knowledge of those things which truly exist, and are comprehended by the intellect, particularly those which regard the Deity, and the human soul as distinct from the body. Philosophy is the desire of divine science, or the liberation of the mind from the body, and its direction towards those real essences, which are perceptible only by the understanding. A philosopher must possess a mind naturally inclined to contemplation, an ardent love of truth, a penetrating

strong marks of spuriousness. The dialogues last enumerated are accordingly rejected by Böckh. (Comment. in Plat. Min. &c. Hal. Lax. 1806,) Bekker (in his edition of Plato, Berlin, 1818,) and Von Ast (in his Platons Leben und Schriften, &c. Lips. 1816, 8vo.) Von Ast not only concurs in this judgment, but goes much greater lengths. He questions the genuineness of the Meno, Euthydemus, Charmides, Lysis, Menexenus, Laches, the Greater Hippias, Io, Euthyphro, the Defence of Socrates, the Crito, and the Books of Laws. These are ably defended by the writer in the Encycl. Metropol. Cf. J. A. Fabric. de Plat. et Script. Bib. Gr. 1. iii. c. 1.

a It is impossible, as Wyttenbach justly observes, (Epist. Crit. ad Van Heusde, prefixed to the latter's Specimen Crit. in Plat. Lugd. Bat. 1818.) to convey, by an abstract, an adequate notion of the merits of the original, owing to some peculiar excellencies in Plato's method and style.

b Tennemann, Man. Phil. 133.

judgment, and a retentive memory. He must be also inured to the exercise of temperance and fortitude, that nothing corporeal may divert him from the pursuit of wisdom. Philosophy, as it is employed in the contemplation of truth, is termed theoretical, and, as it is concerned in the regulation of actions, practical. Theoretical philosophy produces a contemplative life, in which the mind, occupied in meditations purely intellectual, acquires a resemblance to the divinity. Practical philosophy leads to an active life, and applies the principles of wisdom to the benefit of society. Besides the contemplation of truth and virtue, the philosopher will inquire into the right conduct of the understanding, and the powers of speech, or will make himself conversant with the art of reasoning and disputation."

The chief heads of Plato's moral doctrine are, that, independently of other ends, virtue is to be pursued as the proper perfection of man's nature; that vice is a disease of the mind, originating in some delusion or misapprehension of our proper interests; that the real freedom of a natural being consists in his being able to regulate his conduct by the determinations of his reason; that every person who is not guided by his reason encourages insubordination in the faculties of his mind, and becomes the slave of caprice or passion; that a course of virtuous conduct, independently of its advantages to society, is beneficial to the individual practising it, as ensuring that regularity of imagination, that tranquillity and internal harmony, which is the mind's proper happiness.b

Concerning politics, which Plato defined to be the application,

a Enf. Phil. b. ii. c. 8. s. 1.

b Encycl. Metropol. Cf. de Repub. 1. iv. p. 444. in Gorg. p. 491. 492. de Repub. 1. ix. p. 577. in Phæd. c. 9. Albin. Eioay, éis rá tov HIλárwvog dóypara. c. 27. See also the beginning of the fourth Book of Laws. The interesting research which Plato carried so far, respecting the supreme good, (especially in the Theatetus, the Philebus, the Meno, and the Republic,) belongs to the subject of morals. Virtue he defined to be the imitation of God, or the effort of man to attain to a resemblance to his original (ὁμοίωσις θεῷ κατὰ τὸ δυνατόν); or in other words a unison and harmony of all our principles and actions according to reason, whence results the highest degree of happiness. Tennemann, Man. Phil. 136.

on a great scale, of the laws of morality, he has written at large in his Republic, and in his Dialogue on Laws. There is a good deal in his plan of a republic deserving of serious consideration; the great object of laws he judges to be to provide for the natural accommodation of the members of the community, as subsidiary and in subordination to the cultivation of their moral virtues. He considers the perfection of the state to consist not solely in the health, beauty, wealth, and strength of the individuals composing it, but also in their prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. He defines education to be that which qualifies men to become good citizens, and renders them fit to govern or to obey. He looks upon it as most important, that the early principles instilled into the minds of youth should be those of strict moral virtue, and considers that if poems and fables, early taught, are able to impress the mind through life with a belief of the most improbable fictions, that the same means might be applied, with equal success, for inculcating realities and important truths. Idleness he regards as the bane of all virtue, and urges to industry as the grand source not only of wealth but happiness. He perceives, with great clearness, the advantages resulting from the subdivision of labour, and points out the necessity and natural progress of such subdivision in proportion as civilization advances. As to crimes, he regards them as originating in a love of pleasure, in passion, or in ignorance and folly." But with these and other similar principles which are to be met with in his favourite system, Plato has embodied some which, to those who are conversant with mankind, and capable of entirely investigating the motives of human actions, will make the whole project appear chimerical, and the offspring of a mind replete with philosophical enthusiasm; his design, for instance, of admitting, in his republic, a community of women, in order to give reason an entire control over desire, and the perfection in the contemplation of abstract ideas, which he required in the civil functionaries of his imaginary state.b

Dialectics, according to Plato, embrace the essence and the acci

a Encycl. Metrop. Cf. de Legg. 1. i. 1. ii. de Rep. lib. i.

Enf. Phil. b. ii. c. 8. s. 1.

dents of things; concerning the former it makes use of division, definition, and analysis. Division separates the genus into its species, the whole into its parts, &c. Definition expresses the genus of the thing to be defined, and distinguishes it from all others by adding its specific difference. Analysis rises from objects of sense to intelligibles; from demonstrable propositions to axioms, or from hypothesis to experience. Induction rises from individuals to universals. Syllogism produces a conclusion by means of some intermediate proposition.

These topics are cursorily touched upon by Plato, and it is rather by example than by precepts that he teaches the true art of reasoning, or exposes the fallacies of sophistry. The ingenious artifices and deceptions practised by the sophists, are clearly represented in several of Plato's dialogues, particularly in his Euthydemus and Sophist. The animadversions of Plato upon the rhetoric of his day, are not to be understood so much as a general and indiscriminate censure of the art itself, as an exposure of the technical refinements, the imposition, and absurditities of cotemporary rhetoricians. This must appear to be the case to any who may attentively study the dialogues connected with the subject.

On theology, the fundamental doctrine of Plato, as of the other ancient philosophers, is that from nothing nothing can proceed. This universal axiom he applied not only to the infinite efficient, but to the material cause. Hence Cicero, Apuleius, Alcinous, and the later commentator Chalcideus,f have correctly understood him as admitting two primary and incorruptible principles, God and Matter. Through the whole dialogue of the Timæus he supposes two eternal and independent causes of all things; one, that by which all things are made, which is God; the other that from

Enf. Phil. ibid. Cf. Theætet. p. 148. 147. 210. Polit. p. 262. Phædr. p. 266. Laert. iii. c. 80. Apul. de Dogm. Plat. iii. p. 313.

b He represented the Divinity as the author of the world, inasmuch as he introduced into rude matter (λn-rò aμoppov,) order and harmony. Tennemann, Man. Phil. 135.

Acad. Quæst. 1. 1. c. 6.
d L. i. p. 284.
Op. p. 3. Comment. in Timæ. c. 13. s. 305.

e C. 12.

which all things are made, which is matter. Plutarch seems to have given a just representation of the doctrine of Plato, when he speaks of matter as neither made nor produced, but as presenting itself before the great artificer to receive form and arrangement.

Matter, according to Plato, is an eternal and infinite principle. His doctrine on this head is thus explained by Cicero." "Matter, from which all things are produced and formed, is a substance without form or quality, but capable of receiving all forms and undergoing every kind of change; in which, however, it never suffers annihilation, but merely a solution of its parts, which are in their nature infinitely divisible, and move in portions of space which are also infinitely divisible. When that principle which we call quality is moved, and acts upon matter, it undergoes an entire change, and these forms are produced, from which arises the diversified and coherent system of the universe." This doctrine Plato unfolds at large in his Timæus, and insists upon the notion that matter has no form, but is capable of receiving any. He calls it the mother and receptacle of forms, by the union of which with matter the universe becomes perceptible to the senses; and maintains that the visible world owes its forms to the energy of the divine intellectual nature.

It was also a doctrine of Plato, that there is in matter a necessary, but blind and refractory force; and that hence arises a propensity in matter to disorder and deformity, which is the cause of all the imperfection which appears in the works of God, and the origin of evil. On this subject Plato writes with considerable obscurity, but as far as his meaning can be traced, he appears to have thought. that matter, from its nature, resists the will of the supreme artificer, so that he cannot perfectly execute his designs, and that this is the

* Enf. Phil. b. ii. c. 8. s. 1.

b Acad. Quæst. i. c. 1.

Enf. Phil. ibid. It may be observed here that matter is not to be understood as body, but that from which bodies are formed. Body is that which is produced from matter by the energy of an efficient cause. This distinction is to be found in almost all the ancient systems of philosophy; it is necessary, therefore, in examining them not to understand the terms incorporeal and immaterial as synonymous. Enf. Phil. 1. c.

« PreviousContinue »