Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

for the more elaborate cultivation of all the sciences. But when after his death the most eminent among them, first of all at Megara, began a strictly scientific train of speculation, and thus philosophy gradually ripened into the shape which, with slight variations, it ever after retained among the Greeks: what now took place was not indeed what Socrates did, or perhaps could have done, but yet it was undoubtedly his will. To this it may indeed be objected, that Xenophon expressly says (Mem. 1. 11.): that Socrates, in his riper years, not only himself gave up all application to natural philosophy, but endeavoured to withhold all others from it, and directed them to the consideration of human affairs; and hence many hold those only to be genuine Socratics, who did not include physics in their system. But this statement must manifestly be taken in a sense much less general, and quite different from that which is usually given to it. This is clearly evinced by the reasons which Socrates alleges. For how could he have said so generally, that the things which depend on God ought not to be made the subject of inquiry, before those which depend on man have been despatched, since not only are the latter connected in a variety of ways with the former, but even among things human there must be some of greater moment, others of less, some of nearer, others of more remote concern, and the proposition would lead to the conclusion that before one was brought to its completion, not even the investigation of another ought to be begun. This might have been not unfairly turned

by a sophist against Socrates himself, if he had dragged in a notion apparently less familiar, in order to illustrate another; and certainly this proposition, taken in a general sense, would not only have endangered the conduct of life, but would also have altogether destroyed the Socratic idea of science, that nothing can be known except together with the rest, and along with its relation to all things beside. The real case is simply this. It is clear that Socrates had no peculiar talent for any single science, and least of all for that of physics. Now it is true that a merely metaphysical thinker may feel himself attracted toward all sciences, as was the case with Kant; but then this happens under different circumstances, and a different mental constitution from that of Socrates. He on the contrary made no excursions to points remote from his centre, but devoted his whole life to the task of exciting his leading idea as extensively and as vividly as possible in others; his whole aim was, that whatever form man's wishes and hopes might take, according to individual character and accidental circumstances, this foundation might be securely laid, before he proceeded further. But till then his advice was, not to accumulate fresh masses of opinions; this he for his part would permit only so far as it was demanded by the wants of active life, and for this reason he might say, that if those who investigated meteoric phenomena had any hope of producing them at their pleasure, he should be more ready to admit their researches: language, which in any other sense but this would have been ab

surd. We cannot, therefore, conclude from this that Socrates did not wish that physics should be cultivated, any more than we are authorised to suppose, that he fancied it possible to form ethics into a science by sufficiently multiplying those fragmentary investigations into which he was drawn in discussing the received opinions on the subject. The same law of progression was involuntarily retained in his school. For Plato, though he descends into all the sciences, still lays the principal stress on the establishment of principles, and expatiates in details only so far as they are necessary, and so much the less as he has to draw them from without: it is Aristotle who first revels in their multiplicity.

This appears to me as much as can be said with certainty of the worth of Socrates as a philosopher. But should any one proceed to ask, how far he elaborated the idea of science in his lessons, or in what degree he promoted the discovery of real knowledge in any other province by his controversial discussions, and his dialectic essays, there would perhaps be little to say on this head, and least of all should I be able to extricate any thing to serve this purpose from the works of Plato taken by themselves. For there in all that belongs to Plato there is something of Socrates, and in all that belongs to Socrates something of Plato. Only if any one is desirous of describing doctrines peculiar to Socrates, let him not, as many do in histories of philosophy for the sake of at least filling up some space with Socrates, string together detached moral theses, which, as they arose out of occasional discussions, can never

make up a whole, and as to other subjects, let him not lose sight of the above quoted passage of Aristotle, who confines Socrates' philosophical speculations to principles. The first point therefore to examine would be, whether some profound speculative doctrines may not have originally belonged to Socrates, which are generally considered as most foreign to him, for instance, the thought which is unfolded by Plato in his peculiar manner, but is exhibited in the germ by Xenophon himself (Mem. I. 4. 8), and is intimately connected with the great dialectic question as to the agreement between thought and being: that of the general diffusion of intelligence throughout the whole of nature. With this one might connect the assertion of Aristocles (Euseb. Præp. XI. 3), that Socrates began the investigation of the doctrine of ideas. But the testimony of this late Peripatetic is suspicious, and may have had no other foundation than the language of Socrates in the Parmenides.

But whether much or little of this and other doctrines belonged to Socrates himself, the general idea already described cannot fail to suggest a more correct mode of conceiving, in what light it is that Plato brings forward his master in his works, and in what sense his Socrates is to be termed a real, or a fictitious personage. Fictitious, in the proper sense, I hold, he is not, and his reality is not a merely mimic one, nor is Socrates in those works merely a convenient person who affords room for much mimic art, and much cheerful pleasantry, in order to temper the abstruse

investigations with this agreeable addition. It is because the spirit and the method of Socrates are everywhere predominant, and because it is not merely a subordinate point with Plato to adopt the manner of Socrates, but is as truly his highest aim, that Plato has not hesitated to put into his mouth what he believed to be no more than deductions from his fundamental ideas. The only material exceptions we find to this (passing over several more minute which come under the same head with the anachronisms) occur in later works, as the Statesman and the Republic; I mean doctrines of Plato foreign to the real views of Socrates, perhaps indeed virtually contradicting them, and which are nevertheless put into his mouth. On this head, we must let Plato appeal to the privilege conferred by custom. But on the whole we are forced to say, that in giving Socrates a living share in the propagation of that philosophical movement which took its rise from him, Plato has immortalized him in the noblest manner, that a disciple can perpetuate the glory of his master; in a manner not only more beautiful, but more just, than he could have done it by a literal narrative.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »