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WORTH OF SOCRATES AS A PHILOSOPHER.
THAT very different and even entirely opposite judgements should be formed by different men, and according to the spirit of different times, on minds of a leading and peculiar order, and that it should be late, if ever, before opinions agree as to their worth is a phenomenon of everyday occurrence. But it is less natural, indeed it seems almost surprising, that at any one time a judgement should be generally received with regard to any such mind, which is in glaring contradiction with itself. Yet, if I am not mistaken, it is actually the case with Socrates, that the portrait usually drawn of him, and the historical importance which is almost unanimously attributed to him, are at irreconcilea ble variance. With Socrates most writers make a new period to begin in the history of Greek philosophy; which at all events manifestly implies that he breathed a new spirit and character into those intellectual exertions of his countrymen which we comprehend under the name of philosophy, so that they assumed a new form under his hands, or at least that he materially
widened their range. But if we enquire how the same writers describe Socrates as an individual, we find nothing that can serve as a foundation for the influence they assign to him. We are informed, that he did not at all busy himself with the physical investigations which constituted a main part even of Greek philosophy, but rather withheld others from them, and that even with regard to moral inquiries, which were those in which he engaged the deepest, he did not by any means aim at reducing them into a scientific shape, and that he established no fixed principle for this, any more than for any other branch of human knowledge. The base of his intellectual constitution, we are told, was rather religious than speculative, his exertions rather those of a good citizen, directed to the improvement of the people, and especially of the young, than those of a philosopher; in short, he is represented as a virtuoso in the exercise of sound common sense, and of that strict integrity and mild philanthropy, with which it is always associated in an uncorrupted mind; all this, however, tinged with a slight air of enthusiasm. These are no doubt excellent qualities; but yet they are not such as fit a man to play a brilliant part in history, but rather, unless where peculiar circumstances intervene, to lead a life of enviable tranquillity, so that it would be necessary to ascribe the general reputation of Socrates, and the almost unexampled homage which has been paid to him, by so many generations, less to himself than to such peculiar circumstances. But least of all are these qualities which could have produced conspicuous and
permanent effects on the philosophical exertions of a people already far advanced in intellectual culture. And this is confirmed, when we consider what sort of doctrines and opinions are attributed to Socrates in conformity with this view. For in spite of the pains taken to trick them out with a show of philosophy, it is impossible after all to give them any scientific solidity whatever: the farthest point we come to is, that they are thoughts well suited to warm the hearts of men in favour of goodness, but such as a healthy understanding, fully awakened to reflexion cannot fail to light upon of itself. What effect then can they have wrought on the progress, or the transformation of philosophy? If we would confine ourselves to the well-known statement, that Socrates called philosophy down from heaven to earth, that is, to houses and market-places; in other words, that he proposed social life as the object of research in the room of nature: still the influence thus ascribed to him is far from salutary in itself, for philosophy consists not in a partial cultivation either of morals or physics, but in the co-existence and intercommunion of both, and there is moreover no historical evidence that he really exerted it. The foundations of ethical philosophy had been laid before the time of Socrates, in the doctrines of the Pythagoreans, and after him it only kept its place by the side of physics, in the philosophical systems of the Greeks. In those of Plato, of Aristotle, and of the Stoics, that is, of all the genuine Socratic schools of any importance, we again meet with physical investigations, and ethics were exclusively cultivated only
by those followers of Socrates who themselves never attained to any eminence in philosophy. And if we consider the general tendency of the above-named schools, and review the whole range of their tenets, nothing can be pointed out, that could have proceeded from a Socrates, endowed with such qualities. of mind and character as the one described to us, unless it be where their theories have been reduced to a familiar practical application. And even with regard to the elder Socratics, we find more satisfaction in tracing their strictly philosophical speculations to any other source rather than to this Socrates; not only may Aristippus, who was unlike his master in his spirit as well as his doctrines, be more easily derived from Protagoras, with whoin he has so much in common, but Euclid, with his dialectic bias, from the Eleatics. And we find ourselves. compelled to conclude, that the stem of Socrates, as he is at present represented to us, can have produced no other shoot than the Cynical philosophy, and that, not the cynicism of Antisthenes, which still retains many features which we should rather refer to his earlier master, Gorgias, but the purer form, which exhibits only a peculiar mode of life, not a doctrine, much less a science: that of Diogenes, the mad Socrates, as he has been called, though in truth the highest epithet due to him is that of Socrates curicatured. For his is a copy in which we find nothing but features of such an original: its approximation to the self-contentedness of the deity in the retrenchment of artificial want, its rejection of mere theoretical knowledge, its unassuming course of going
about in the service of the god to expose the follies of mankind. But how foreign all this is to the domain of philosophy, and how little can be there effected with such means, is evident enough.
The only rational course then that seems to be left, is to give up one or other of these contradictory assumptions. Either let Socrates still stand at the head of the Athenian philosophy, but then let those who place him there undertake to establish a different notion of him from that which has been long prevalent: or let us retain the conception of the wise and amiable man, who was made not for the school but wholly for the world: but then let him be transferred from the history of philosophy to that of the general progress of society at Athens, if he can claim any place there. The latter of these expedients is not very far removed from that which has been adopted by Krug'! For, as in his system Socrates stands at the end of the one period, and not at the beginning of the next, he appears not as the germ of a new age, but as a product and aftergrowth of an earlier one; he sinks, as an insulated phenomenon, into the same rank with the sophists, and other late fruits of the period, and loses a great part of his philosophical importance. Only it is but a half measure that this author adopts, when he begins his new period with the immediate disciples of Socrates as such; for at its head he places the genuine Socratics, as they are commonly called, and, above all, Xenophon, men of whom he himself says, that their only merit was that of having propagated and
1 Gesch. der Philos. alter Zeit.