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unfavourable ; like his great teacher he commenced with the confession of his own ignorance; for he held that nothing could be pronounced certain before it had been submitted to a rigorbus test; and, by a series of colloquial inquiries, in total opposition to the dogmatism of the Sophists, rendered the inquirer after truth competent to become his own instructor. On this method, which he termed the dialectic, based on the assumed deceptiveness of general opinion, he founded a distinct criterion of truth in his celebrated theory of Idea.
It will simplify our survey of so expanded a range of thought, if we investigate each division of Dialectics, Physics, and Ethics, separately ; bearing in mind that the first, according to Plato, combined all others, as that science which has immediate reference to acts of life in its pursuit of some highest good. We shall find, indeed, that his own temperament injured the practical tendency of his ethics, as it withdrew him in contemplative abstraction from
intimate sympathy with mankind; though, on this very ground, he opposed his fellow - pupils, Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Euclid, deeming their theory exclusive and incomplete.
Philosophy, he used to affirm, comprehended, in its pursuit, the highest elements of man; though perfect knowledge was the exclusive prerogative of God, and man was unable to attain to it. In this expansive sense, as distinguished from mere logic, an appellation he sometimes gives to dialectics, he thought that the latter was no subject for Divine intelligence, which, perfect in itself, required no aid from philosophy ; but it was the object most fitted for man's highest meditation, after the soul had been brought to a sense of its own ignorance, and made susceptible of a desire for truth. His ethics comprise politics, and he restricted physics to natural phenomena, but dialectics employed these two as subordinate sciences, itself alone treating of the Eternal, and hence constituting the loftiest range of philosophical contemplation.
Again, in his theory of Ideas, we find these dialectics regarded as the science by which the internal speculation of mind, and its various processes of thought, were traced home to certain fixed and inherent ideas or appearances, which he maintained were in the mind itself, though existing independent of it; in one sense, indeed, this may be considered an extended view of the Socratic reference to a conscience, since Plato tested truth by its concurrence or disagreement with these innate principles; nevertheless, to this theory he appended the strictest use of logical definition, thus guarding the science of reasoning against fallacies incident to the use of ambiguous terms, and surrounding his position with an outwork which none could assail, except from incontrovertible premises. He describes his own method by stating, that he proceeded from species to species until he arrived at the principle of all things, and this was, in fact, the case ; for, by induction and division, he derived one essential principle of being from an endless variety of existing forms.
His inquiry into the being and attributes of a First Cause, and the revelation of his nature in the physical system, combines the most sublime topics of his speculation. In a highly florid and mythical figure, he represents the soul as forming opinion, partly from the action of the body, which stimulates sensation, but does not, deny it the power of investigating its own state in reference to God as the supreme idea ; whose intelligent spirit he proved by the fact, that the spiritual could alone originate the corporeal being, and that the Creator must himself be perfectly good, as imaged in the harmony of the created system. God was also unchangeable, because any alteration must detract from an originally perfect essence. Yet between the Deity and man's soul, a bond of union was formed, through the desire of the human creature to attain good, and thus to approach to the Divinity, the all-perfect and essential Good. The Divine nature, ever participating in what is good, must of necessity be eternally happy ; it manifested itself in the three aspects of beauty, proportion, and truth, which, by their varying combinations, render it impossible for a single idea to express the glorious nature of Deity, even could man, as an imperfect being, acquaint himself with God's perfection. The Supreme Mind, therefore, could only be conceived as exhibiting its attributes by those works which, formed after the pattern of its own perfection, were produced from the action and stimulus of its inherent love.
Thus, to the eye of thought, a chain of goodness, order, and beauty, was presented, to the utter exclusion of evil, which last was attributed to a certain mysterious necessity, totally distinguished from the Divine cause. Evil, in fact, arose from the nature of borly, fettering the soul
here, which being a part of the Divine Spirit, would derive its future happiness from a reabsorption into the Deity. Hence, the true philosopher seeks to lessen his dependence on corporeal being, and desires death as the period when he shall more nearly approach not only that certainty, which, in life, he vainly pursues, but also when those innate ideas, which, unknown to us, are brought forward by reminiscence through the action of the world without, shall return to the brightness of that former sky in which they originally dwelt. There is in the soul, according to Plato, a continual inherent appetency after a nearer approach to God, as the Source of all truth ; and though man, from surrounding evil, cannot thoroughly realize this heavenly impulse, yet at imitation of this Supreme Good he is taught, by the appearance in the sensible world, continually to aspire.
The error of Plato's theory of Ideas, in this respect, consists in his including in the category of mental principles, impressions which do not belong to it, especially as regards the tendency of the will towards good. He proceeds from the notion of an all-perfect Creator, to infer that good is the general law,