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was impossible that the utmost point he reached could have been simply to know that he knew nothing; there was a step beyond this which he must have taken, that of knowing what knowledge was. For by what other means could he have been enabled to declare that which others believed themselves to know, to be no knowledge, than by a more correct conception of knowledge, and by a more correct method founded upon that conception? And every where, when he is explaining the nature of non-science (aveπioтnμoσúvn), one sees that he sets out from two tests: one, that science is the same in all true thoughts, and consequently must manifest its peculiar form in every such thought: the other, that all science forms one whole. For his proofs always hinge on this assumption: that it is impossible to start from one true thought, and to be entangled in contradiction with any other, and also that knowledge derived from any one point, and obtained by correct combination, cannot contradict that which has been deduced in like manner from any other point; and while he exposed such contradictions in the current conception of mankind, he strove to rouse those leading ideas in all who were capable of understanding, or even of divining his meaning. Most of what Xenophon has preserved for us may be referred to this object, and the same endeavour is indicated clearly enough in all that Socrates says of himself in Plato's Apology, and what Alcibiades says of him in his eulogy. So that if we conceive this to have been the central point in the character
of Socrates, we may reconcile Plato and Xenophon, and can understand the historical position. of Socrates.
When Xenophon says (Mem. IV. 6. 15), that as often as Socrates did not merely refute the errors of others, but attempted to demonstrate something himself, he took his road through propositions which were most generally admitted: we can perfectly understand this mode of proceeding, as the result of the design just described; he wished to find as few hindrances and diversions as possible in his way, that he might illustrate his method clearly and simply; and propositions, if there were such, which all held to be certain, must have appeared to him the most eligible, in order that he might show, in their case, that the conviction with which they were embraced was not knowledge; since this would render men more keenly sensible of the necessity of getting at the foundation of knowledge, and of taking their stand upon it, in order to give a new shape to all human things. Hence, too, we may explain the preponderance of the subjects connected with civil and domestic life in most of these conversations. For this was the field that supplied the most generally admitted conceptions and propositions, the fate of which interested all men alike. But this mode of proceeding becomes inexplicable, if it is supposed that Socrates attached the chief importance to the subject of these conversations. That must have been quite a secondary point. For when the object is to elucidate any subject, it is necessary to pay attention to the
less familiar and more disputed views of it, and how meagre most of those discussions in Xenophon are in this respect, is evident enough. From the same point of view we must also consider the controversy of Socrates with the Sophists. So far as it was directed against their maxims, it does not belong to our present question; it is merely the opposition of a good citizen to the corrupters of government and of youth. But even looking at it from the purely theoretical side, it would be idle to represent this contrast as the germ of a new period of philosophy, if Socrates had only impugned opinions which were the monstrous shapes into which the doctrines of an earlier school had degenerated, without having established any in their stead, which nobody supposes him to have done. But for the purpose of awakening the true idea of science, the Sophists must have been the most welcome of all disputants to him, since they had reduced their opinions into the most perfect form; and hence were proud of them themselves, and were peculiarly admired by others. If, therefore, he could succeed in exposing their weakness, the value of a principle so triumphantly applied would be rendered most conspicuous.
But in order to show the imperfection of the current conceptions both in the theories of the Sophists, and in common life, if the issue was not to be left to chance, some certain method was requisite. For it was often necessary in the course of the process to lay down intermediate notions, which it was necessary to define to the satisfaction
of both parties; otherwise, all that was done would afterwards have looked like a paltry surprise; and the contradiction between the proposition in question, and one that was admitted, could never be detected without ascertaining what notions might or might not be connected with a given one. Now this method is laid down in the two problems which Plato states in the Phædrus, as the two main elements in the art of dialectics, that is, to first know how correctly to combine multiplicity in unity, and again to divide a complex unity according to its nature into a multiplicity, and next to know what notions may or may not be connected together. It is by this means that Socrates became the real founder of dialectics, which continued to be the soul of all the great edifices reared in later times by Greek philosophy, and by its decided prominence constitutes the chief distinction between the later period and the earlier; so that one cannot but commend the historical instinct which has assigned so high a station to him. At the same time this is not meant to deny, that Euclid and Plato carried this science, as well as the rest, farther toward maturity; but it is manifest that in its first principles, Socrates possessed it as a science, and practised it as an art, in a manner peculiar to himself. For the construction of all Socratic dialogues, as well of those doubtfully ascribed to Plato, and of those attributed with any degree of probability to other original disciples of Socrates, as of all those reported in the Memorabilia, hinges without any exception on this point. The same inference re
sults from the testimony of Aristotle (Metaph. I. 6. XIII.4.): that what may be justly ascribed to Socrates, is that he introduced induction and general definitions; a testimony which bears every mark of impartiality and truth. Hence there is no reason to doubt that Socrates taught this art of framing and connecting notions correctly. Since, however, it is an art, abstract teaching was not sufficient, and therefore no doubt Socrates never so taught it: it was art that required to be witnessed and practised in the most manifold applications, and one who was not firmly grounded in it, and left the school too early, lost it again, and with it almost all that was to be learned from Socrates, as indeed is observed in Plato's dialogues. Now that this exercise and illustration was the main object of conversations held by Socrates even on general moral subjects, is expressly admitted by Xenophon himself, when, under the head-What Socrates did to render his friends more expert in dialectics, -he introduces a great many such discourses and inquiries, which so closely resembled the rest, that all might just as well have been put in the same class.
It was with a view, therefore, to become masters in this art, and thereby to keep the faster hold of the idea of science, that men of vigorous and speculative minds formed a circle round Socrates as long as circumstances allowed, those who were able to the end of his life, and in the mean while chose to tread closely in their master's steps, and to refrain for a time from making a systematic application of his art in the different departments of knowledge,