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Plato and Platonism by Walter Horatio Pater

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editor's translation: "Yet these notions were [already] implanted in
him, weren't they?" Plato, Meno 85c. Source, if any.

65. +Transliteration: [enesontai autôi alêtheis doxai,] erôtêsei
epegertheisai, epistêmai gignontai. E-text editor's translation: "[He
holds within himself true opinions,] which a questioning process may
awaken into certain knowledge." Plato, Meno 86a.

66. +Transliteration: athanatos an hê psychê eiê. Pater's translation:
"The soul, then, would be immortal." Plato, Meno 86b.

70. +Transliteration: kosmos. Liddell and Scott definition: "I. 1.
order; 2. good order, good behaviour, decency; 3. a set form or order:
of states, government; 4. the mode or fashion of a thing; II. an
ornament...; III. the world or universe, from its perfect arrangement."

71. +Transliteration: Plêmmeleia. Liddell and Scott definition: "a
false note . . . error, offense."

71. +Transliteration: pleonexia. Liddell and Scott definition: "a
disposition to take more than one's share."

71. +Transliteration: peras. See above, note two, page 59.


[75] "PLATO," we say habitually when we talk of our teacher in The
Republic, the Phaedrus, cutting a knot; for Plato speaks to us
indirectly only, in his Dialogues, by the voice of the Platonic
Socrates, a figure most ambiguously compacted of the real Socrates and
Plato himself; a purely dramatic invention, it might perhaps have been
fancied, or, so to speak, an idolon theatri--Plato's self, but
presented, with the reserve appropriate to his fastidious genius, in a
kind of stage disguise. So we might fancy but for certain independent
information we possess about Socrates, in Aristotle, and in the
Memorabilia of Xenophon.

The Socrates of Xenophon is one of the simplest figures in the world.
From the personal memories of that singularly limpid writer the outline
of the great teacher detaches itself, as an embodiment of all that was
clearest in the now adult Greek understanding, the adult Greek
conscience. All that Socrates is seen to be in [76] those unaffected
pages may be explained by the single desire to be useful to ordinary
young men, whose business in life would be mainly with practical
things; and at first sight, as delineators of their common master,
Plato and Xenophon might seem scarcely reconcilable. But then, as
Alcibiades alleges of him in the Symposium, Socrates had been ever in
all respects a two-sided being; like some rude figure of Silenus, he
suggests, by way of an outer case for the image of a god within. By a
mind, of the compass Plato himself supposes, two quite different
impressions may well have been made on two typically different
observers. The speaker, to Xenophon so simple, almost homely, earthy,
vernacular, becomes with Plato the mouth-piece of high and difficult
and extraordinary thoughts. In the absence, then, of a single written
word from Socrates himself, the question is forced upon us: had the
true Socrates been really Socrates according to Xenophon, and all
besides only a generous loan from the rich treasury of Plato's quite
original and independent genius: or, had the master been indeed
something larger and more many-sided than Xenophon could have
thoroughly understood, presenting to his simpler disciple only what was
of simpler stamp in himself, to the mystic and susceptible Plato all
that far-reaching and fervid intellectuality, with which the Platonic
Dialogues credit him. It is a problem about which probably no reader
of [77] Plato ever quite satisfies himself:--how much precisely he must
deduct from Socrates, as we find him in those Dialogues, by way of
defining to himself the Socrates of fact.

In Plato's own writing about Socrates there is, however, a difference.
The Apology, marked as being the single writing from Plato's hand not
in dialogue form, we may naturally take for a sincere version of the
actual words of Socrates; closer to them, we may think, than the Greek
record of spoken words however important, the speeches in Thucydides,
for instance, by the admission of Thucydides himself, was wont to be.
And this assumption is supported by internal evidence. In that
unadorned language, in those harsh grammatic (or rather quite
ungrammatic) constructions we have surely the natural accent of one
speaking under strong excitement. We might think, again, that the
Phaedo, purporting to record his subsequent discourse, is really no
more than such a record, but for a lurking suspicion, which hangs by
the fact that Plato, noted as an assistant at the trial, is expressly
stated by one of the speakers in the Dialogue to have been absent from
the dying scene of Socrates. That speaker however was himself perhaps
the veracious reporter of those last words and acts; for there are
details in the Phaedo too pedestrian and common-place to be taken for
things of mere literary invention: the rubbing of the legs, for
instance, now released from the chain; the rather [78] uneasy
determination to be indifferent; the somewhat harsh committal of the
crudely lamenting wife and his child "to any one who will take the
trouble"--details, as one cannot but observe in passing, which leave
those famous hours, even for purely human, or say! pagan dignity and
tenderness, wholly incomparable to one sacred scene to which they have
sometimes been compared.

We shall be justified then, in the effort to give reality or truth to
our mental picture of Socrates, if we follow the lead of his own
supposed retrospect of his career in the Apology, as completed, and
explained to wholly sympathetic spirits, by the more intimate
discourses of the Phaedo.

He pleads to be excused if in making his defence he speaks after his
accustomed manner: not merely in home-spun phrase, that is to say, very
different from what is usually heard at least in those sophisticated
law-courts of Athens, nor merely with certain lapsing into his familiar
habit of dialogue, but with a tacit assumption, throughout his
arguments, of that logical realism which suggested the first outline of
Plato's doctrine of the "ideas." Everywhere, with what is like a
physical passion for what is, what is true--as one engaged in a sort of
religious or priestly concentration of soul on what God really made and
meant us to know--he is driving earnestly, yet with method, at those
universal conceptions or definitions which serve to establish [79]
firmly the distinction, attained by so much intellectual labour,
between what is absolute and abiding, of veritable import therefore to
our reason, to the divine reason really resident in each one of us,
resident in, yet separable from, these our houses of clay--between
that, and what is only phenomenal and transitory, as being essentially
implicate with them. He achieved this end, as we learn from Aristotle,
this power, literally, of "a criticism of life," by induction (epagôgê)+
by that careful process of enquiry into the facts of the matter
concerned, one by one (facts most often of conscience, of moral action
as conditioned by motive, and result, and the varying degrees of inward
light upon it) for which the fitting method is informal though not
unmethodical question and answer, face to face with average mankind, as
in those famous Socratic conversations, which again are the first rough
natural growth of Plato's so artistic written Dialogues. The exclusive
preoccupation of Socrates with practical matter therein, his anxious
fixing of the sense of such familiar terms as just and good, for
instance, was part of that humble bearing of himself by which he was to
authenticate a claim to superior wisdom, forced upon him by nothing
less than divine authority, while there was something also in it of a
natural reaction against the intellectual ambition of his youth. He
had gone to school eagerly, as he tells his friends in the [80] Phaedo,
in his last discourse, to a physical philosopher, then of great repute,
but to his own great disappointment.--

In my youth he says I had a wonderful desire for the wisdom
which people call natural science--peri physeôs historian.+
It seemed to me a proud thing to know the causes of every matter:
how it comes to be; ceases to be; why it is. I lost my sight in
this enquiry to the degree of un-learning what I had hitherto
seemed to myself and others to know clearly enough. But having
heard one reading from a book written, as he said, by Anaxagoras,
which said that it is Reason that arranges and is the cause of
all things, I was delighted with this cause; and thought to
myself, if this be so, then it does with each what may be best
for it. Thus considering, it was with joy I fancied I had found
me a teacher about the cause--Anaxagoras: that he would show me
for instance, first, whether the earth was round or flat; and
then that it was best for it to be so: and if he made these
points clear I was prepared to ask for no other sort of causes.
Phaedo, 96.

Well! Socrates proceeds to the great natural philosopher, and is
immensely discouraged to find him after all making very little use of
Reason in his explanation why natural things are thus and not
otherwise; explaining everything, rather, by secondary and mechanical
causes. "It was as if," he concludes, "some one had undertaken to
prove that Socrates does everything through Reason; and had gone on to
show that it was because my body is constructed in a certain way, of
certain bones and muscles, that Socrates is now sitting here in the
prison, voluntarily awaiting death."

The disappointment of Socrates with the [81] spirit in which Anaxagoras
actually handled and applied that so welcome sapiential proposition
that Reason panta diakosmei, kai pantôn aitios estin +--arranges and is
the cause of all things--is but an example of what often happens when
men seek an a posteriori justification of their instinctive
prepossessions. Once for all he turns from useless, perhaps impious,
enquiries, into the material structure of the stars above him, or the
earth beneath his feet, from all physical enquiry into material things,
to the direct knowledge of man the cosmical order in man, as it may be
found by any one who, in good faith with himself, and with devout
attention, looks within. In this precise sense it was that, according
to the old saying, Socrates brought philosophy down from heaven to
earth. Montaigne, the great humanist, expands it.--"'Twas he who
brought again from heaven, where she lost her time, human wisdom, to
restore her to man with whom her most just and greatest business lies.
He has done human nature a great service," he adds, "in showing it how
much it can do of itself." And a singular incident gave that piercing
study, that relentless exposure, of himself, and of others, for the
most part so unwelcome to them, a religious or mystic character. He
has a "vocation" thus to proceed, has been literally "called," as he
understands, by the central religious authority of Greece. His
seemingly invidious testing of men's pretensions [82] to know, is a
sacred service to the God of Delphi, which he dares not neglect. And
his fidelity herein had in turn the effect of reinforcing for him, and
bringing to a focus, all the other rays of religious light cast at
random in the world about him, or in himself.

"You know Chaerephon," he says, "his eagerness about any matter he
takes up. Well! once upon a time he went to Delphi, and ventured to
ask of the oracle whether any man living was wiser than I; and, amazing
as it seems, the Pythia answered that there was no one wiser than I."
Socrates must go in order, then, to every class of persons pre-eminent
for knowledge; to every one who seems to know more than he. He found
them--the Athenian poets, for instance, the potters who made the vases
we admire, undeniably in possession of much delightful knowledge
unattained by him. But one and all they were ignorant of the
limitations of their knowledge; and at last he concludes that the
oracle had but meant to say: "He indeed is the wisest of all men who
like Socrates is aware that he is really worth little or nothing in
respect of knowledge." Such consciousness of ignorance was the proper
wisdom of man.

That can scarcely be a fiction. His wholesome appeal then, everywhere,
from what seems, to what really is, is a service to the Delphic god,
the god of sanity. To prove that the oracle had [83] been right after
all, improbable as it seemed, in the signal honour it had put upon him,
would be henceforward his proper business. Committing him to a sort of
ironical humility towards others, at times seemingly petty and prosaic,
certainly very irritating, in regard to himself, in its source and
motive, his business in life as he conceived it was nothing less than a
divine possession. He becomes therefore literally an enthusiast for
knowledge, for the knowledge of man; such knowledge as by a right
method of questioning, of self-questioning (the master's questioning
being after all only a kind of mid-wife's assistance, according to his
own homely figure) may be brought to birth in every human soul,
concerning itself and its experience; what is real, and stable, in its
apprehensions of Piety, Beauty, Justice, and the like, what is of
dynamic quality in them, as conveying force into what one does or
creates, building character, generating virtue. Auto kath' hauto
zêtein ti pot' estin aretê+--to seek out what virtue is, itself, in and
by itself--there's the task. And when we have found that, we shall
know already, or easily get to know, everything else about and about
it: "how we are to come by virtue," for instance.

Well! largely by knowing, says naturally the enthusiast for knowledge.
There is no good thing which knowledge does not comprehend--Mêden estin
agathon ho ouk epistêmê periechei +--a strenuously [84] ascertained
knowledge however, painfully adjusted to other forms of knowledge which
may seem inconsistent with it, and impenetrably distinct from any kind
of complaisant or only half-attentive conjecture. "One and the same
species in every place: whole and sound: one, in regard to, and
through, and upon, all particular instances of it: catholic"*: it will
be all this--the Virtue, for instance, which we must seek, as a hunter
his sustenance, seek and find and never lose again, through a survey of
all the many variable and merely relative virtues, which are but
relative, that is to say, "to every several act, and to each period of
life, in regard to each thing we have to do, in each one of us"--kath'
hekastên tôn praxeôn, kai tôn hêlikiôn pros hekaston ergon, hekastô
hêmôn --+ "That, about which I don't know what it is, how should I know
what sort of a thing it is"--ho mê oida ti esti, pôs an hopoion ge ti
eideiên;+ what its poiotêtes,+ its qualities, are? "Do you suppose that
one who does not know Meno, for example, at all, who he is, can know
whether he is fair and rich and well-born, or the reverse of all that?"
Yes! already for Socrates, we might say, to know what justice or Piety
or Beauty really is, will be like the knowledge of a person; only that,
as Aristotle carefully notes, his scrupulous habit of search for
universal, or catholic, definitions (kath' holou)+ was after all but
[85] an instrument for the plain knowledge of facts. Strange! out of
the practical cautions of Socrates for the securing of clear and
correct and sufficient conceptions about one's actual experience, for
the attainment of a sort of thoroughly educated common-sense, came the
mystic intellectualism of Plato--Platonism, with all its hazardous
flights of soul.

A rich contributor to the philosophic consciousness of Plato, Socrates
was perhaps of larger influence still on the religious soul in him. As
Plato accepted from the masters of Elea the theoretic principles of all
natural religion--the principles of a reasonable monotheism, so from
Socrates he derived its indispensable morality. It was Socrates who
first of pagans comprised in one clear consciousness the authentic
rudiments of such natural religion, and gave them clear utterance.
Through him, Parmenides had conveyed to Plato the notion of a "Perfect
Being," to brace and satisfy the abstracting intellect; but it was from
Socrates himself Plato had learned those correspondent practical
pieties, which tranquillise and re-assure the soul, together with the
genial hopes which cheer the great teacher on the day of his death.

Loyal to the ancient beliefs, the ancient usages, of the religion of
many gods which he had found all around him, Socrates pierces through
it to one unmistakable person, of perfect intelligence, power and
goodness, who takes note [86] of him. In the course of his seventy
years he has adjusted that thought of the invisible to the general
facts and to many of the subtler complexities of man's experience in
the world of sight. Sitivit anima mea, the Athenian philosopher might
say, in Deum, in Deum vivum, as he was known at Sion. He has at least
measured devoutly the place, this way and that, which a religion of
infallible authority must fill; has already by implication concurred in
it; and in fact has his reward at this depressing hour, as the action
of the poison mounts slowly to the centre of his material existence.
He is more than ready to depart to what before one has really crossed
their threshold must necessarily seem the cold and empty spaces of the
world no bodily eye can ever look on.

But, he is asked, if the prospect be indeed so cheerful, at all events
for the just, why is it forbidden to seize such an advantage as death
must be by self-destruction?--Tois anthrôpois, mê hosion einai, autous
heatous eupoiein, all' allon dei menein euergetên.+ His consistent
piety straightway suggests the solution of that paradox: we are the
property, slaves, of the gods. Now no slave has any sort of right to
destroy himself; to take a life that does not really belong to him.
Comfort himself and his friends, however, as he may, it does tax all
his resources of moral and physical courage to do what is at last
required of him: and it was something quite new, unseen [87] before in
Greece, inspiring a new note in literature--this attitude of Socrates
in the condemned cell, where, fulfilling his own prediction,
multitudes, of a wisdom and piety, after all, so different from his,
have ever since assisted so admiringly, this anticipation of the
Christian way of dying for an opinion, when, as Plato says simply, he
consumed the poison in the prison--to pharmakon epien en tô desmôtêriô.+
It was amid larger consolations, we must admit, that Christian heroes
did that kind of thing. But bravery, you need hardly be reminded, was
ever one of the specially characteristic virtues of the pagan world--
loyalty even unto death. It had been loyalty however hitherto to one's
country, one's home in the world, one's visible companions; not to a
wholly invisible claimant, in this way, upon one, upon one's self.

Socrates, with all his singleness of purpose, had been, as Alcibiades
suggested, by natural constitution a twofold power, an embodied
paradox. The infinitely significant Socrates of Plato, and the quite
simple Socrates of Xenophon, may have been indeed the not incompatible
oppositions of a nature, from the influence of which, as a matter of
fact, there emerged on one hand the Cynic, on the other the Cyrenaic
School, embodying respectively those opposed austerities and amenities
of character, which, according to the temper of this or that disciple,
had seemed to predominate in their common master. And so the courage
which declined to act as almost [88] any one else would have acted in
that matter of the legal appeal which might have mitigated the penalty
of death, bringing to its appropriate end a life whose main power had
been an unrivalled independence, was contrasted in Socrates,
paradoxically, with a genuine diffidence about his own convictions
which explains some peculiarities in his manner of teaching. The
irony, the humour, for which he was famous--the unfailing humour which
some have found in his very last words--were not merely spontaneous
personal traits, or tricks of manner; but an essential part of the
dialectical apparatus, as affording a means of escape from
responsibility, convenient for one who has scruples about the fitness
of his own thoughts for the reception of another, doubts as to the
power of words to convey thoughts, such as he thinks cannot after all
be properly conveyed to another, but only awakened, or brought to birth
in him, out of himself,--who can tell with what distortions in that
secret place? For we judge truth not by the intellect exclusively, and
on reasons that can be adequately embodied in propositions; but with
the whole complex man. Observant therefore of the capricious results
of mere teaching, to the last he protests, dissemblingly, and with that
irony which is really one phase of the Socratic humour, that in his
peculiar function there have been in very deed neither teacher nor

[89] The voice, the sign from heaven, that "new deity" he was accused
of fabricating (his singularly profound sense of a mental phenomenon
which is probably not uncommon) held perhaps of the same characteristic
habit of mind. It was neither the playful pretence which some have
supposed; nor yet an insoluble mystery; but only what happens naturally
to a really diffident spirit in great and still more in small matters
which at this or that taxing moment seem to usurp the determination of
great issues. Such a spirit may find itself beset by an inexplicable
reluctance to do what would be most natural in the given circumstances.
And for a religious nature, apt to trace the divine assistance
everywhere, it was as if, in those perilous moments--well! as if one's
guardian angel held one back. A quite natural experience took the
supernatural hue of religion; which, however, as being concerned now
and then with some circumstance in itself trifling, might seem to lapse
at times into superstition.

And as he was thus essentially twofold in character, so Socrates had to
contend against two classes of enemies. "An offence" to the whole
tribe of Sophists, he was hated also by those who hated them, by the
good old men of Athens, whose conservatism finds its representative in
Aristophanes, and who saw in the Socratic challenge of first
principles, in that ceaseless testing of the origin and claims of what
all [90] honest people might seem to take for granted, only a further
development of the pernicious function of the Sophists themselves, by
the most subtly influential of them all. If in the Apology he proves
that the fathers of sons had no proper locus standi against him, still,
in the actual conduct of his defence, as often in Plato's Dialogues,
there is (the candid reader cannot but admit it) something of
sophistry, of the casuist. Claiming to be but a simple argument, the
Apology of Socrates moves sometimes circuitously, after the manner of
one who really has to make the worse appear the better reason (ton
hêttô logon kreittô poiein)+ and must needs use a certain kind of
artificial, or ingenious, or ad captandum arguments, such as would best
have been learned in the sophistic school. Those young Athenians whom
he was thought to have corrupted of set purpose, he had not only
admired but really loved and understood; and as a consequence had
longed to do them real good, chiefly by giving them that interest in
themselves which is the first condition of any real power over others.
To make Meno, Polus, Charmides, really interested in himself, to help
him to the discovery of that wonderful new world here at home--in this
effort, even more than in making them interested in other people and
things, lay and still lies (it is no sophistical paradox!) the central
business of education. Only, the very thoroughness of the sort of
self-knowledge he [91] promoted had in it something sacramental, so to
speak; if it did not do them good, must do them considerable harm;
could not leave them just as they were. He had not been able in all
cases to expand "the better self," as people say, in those he
influenced. Some of them had really become very insolent questioners
of others, as also of a wholly legitimate authority within themselves;
and had but passed from bad to worse. That fatal necessity had been
involved of coming to years of discretion. His claim to have been no
teacher at all, to be irresponsible in regard to those who had in truth
been his very willing disciples, was but humorous or ironical; and as a
consequence there was after all a sort of historic justice in his

The fate of Socrates (says Hegel, in his peculiar manner) is
tragic in the essential sense, and not merely in that super-
ficial sense of the word according to which every misfortune
is called 'tragic.' In the latter sense, one might say of
Socrates that because he was condemned to death unjustly his
fate was tragic. But in truth innocent suffering of that sort
is merely pathetic, not tragic; inasmuch as it is not within
the sphere of reason. Now suffering--misfortune--comes within
the sphere of reason, only if it is brought about by the free-
will of the subject, who must be entirely moral and justifiable;
as must be also the power against which that subject proceeds.
This power must be no merely natural one, nor the mere will of
a tyrant; because it is only in such case that the man is himself,
so to speak, guilty of his misfortune. In genuine tragedy, then,
they must be powers both alike moral and justifiable, which, from
this side and from that, come into collision; and such was the
fate of Socrates. His fate therefore is not merely personal, and
as it were part of the romance of an individual: [92] it is the
general fate, in all its tragedy--the tragedy of Athens, of
Greece, which is therein carried out. Two opposed Rights come
forth: the one breaks itself to pieces against the other: in this
way, both alike suffer loss; while both alike are justified the
one towards the other: not as if this were right; that other
wrong. On the one side is the religious claim, the unconscious
moral habit: the other principle, over against it, is the equally
religious claim--the claim of the consciousness, of the reason,
creating a world out of itself, the claim to eat of the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil. The latter remains the common
principle of philosophy for all time to come. And these are the
two principles which come forth over against each other, in the
life and in the philosophy of Socrates. Geschichte der
Philosophie, vol. ii. p. 102.

"I can easily conceive Socrates in the place of Alexander," says
Montaigne, again, "but Alexander in the place of Socrates I cannot";
and we may take that as typical of the immense credit of Socrates, even
with a vast number of people who have not really known much about him.
"For the sake of no long period of years," says Socrates himself, now
condemned to death--the few years for which a man of seventy is likely
to remain here--

You will have a name, Men of Athens! and liability to reproach
from those who desire to malign the city of Athens--that ye put
Socrates to death, a wise man. For in very truth they will
declare me to have been wise--those who wish to discredit you--
even though I be not. Now had you waited a little while this
thing would have happened for you in the course of nature. For
ye see my estate: that it is now far onward on the road of life,
hard by death. Apology, 38.

Plato, though present at the trial, was absent when Socrates "consumed
the poison in the [93] prison." Prevented by sickness, as Cebes tells
us in the Phaedo, Plato would however almost certainly have heard from
him, or from some other of that band of disciples who assisted at the
last utterances of their master, the sincerest possible account of all
that was then said and done. Socrates had used the brief space which
elapsed before the officers removed him to the place, "whither he must
go, to die" (hoi elthonta me dei tethnanai)+ to discourse with those who
still lingered in the court precisely on what are called "The four last
things." Arrived at the prison a further delay awaited him, in
consequence (it was so characteristic of the Athenian people!) of a
religious scruple. The ship of sacred annual embassy to Apollo at
Delos was not yet returned to Athens; and the consequent interval of
time might not be profaned by the death of a criminal. Socrates
himself certainly occupies it religiously enough by a continuation of
his accustomed discourses, touched now with the deepening solemnity of
the moment.

The Phaedo of Plato has impressed most readers as a veritable record of
those last discourses of Socrates; while in the details of what then
happened, the somewhat prosaic account there given of the way in which
the work of death was done, we find what there would have been no
literary satisfaction in inventing; his indifferent treatment, for
instance, of the wife, who had not been very dutiful but was now in
violent [94] distress--treatment in marked contrast, it must be
observed again, with the dignified tenderness of a later scene, as
recorded in the Gospels.

An inventor, with mere literary effect in view, at this and other
points would have invented differently. "The prison," says Cebes, the
chief disciple in the Phaedo, "was not far from the court-house; and
there we were used to wait every day till we might be admitted to our
master. One morning we were assembled earlier than usual; for on the
evening before we heard that the ship was returned from Delos. The
porter coming out bade us tarry till he should call us. For, he said,
the Eleven are now freeing Socrates from his bonds, announcing to him
that he must die to-day."

They were very young men, we are told, who were with Socrates, and how
sweetly, kindly, approvingly, he listened to their so youthfully
sanguine discussion on the immortality of the soul. For their sakes
rather than his own he is ready to treat further, by way of a
posteriori arguments, a belief which in himself is matter of invincible
natural prepossession. In the court he had pleaded at the most for
suspended judgment on that question:--"If I claimed on any point to be
wiser than any one else it would be in this, that having no adequate
knowledge of things in Hades so I do not fancy I know." But, in the
privacy of these last hours, he is confident in his utterance on the
[95] subject which is so much in the minds of the youths around him;
his arguments like theirs being in fact very much of the nature of the
things poets write (poiêmata)+ or almost like those medicinable fictions
(pseudê en pharmakou eidei)+ such as are of legitimate use by the
expert. That the soul (beautiful Pythagorean thought!) is a harmony;
that there are reasons why this particular harmony should not cease,
like that of the lyre or the harp, with the destruction of the
instrument which produced it; why this sort of flame should not go out
with the upsetting of the lamp:--such are the arguments, sometimes
little better than verbal ones, which pass this way and that around the
death-bed of Socrates, as they still occur to men's minds. For
himself, whichever way they tend, they come and go harmlessly, about an
immovable personal conviction, which, as he says, "came to me apart
from demonstration, with a sort of natural likelihood and fitness":
(Moi gegonen aneu apodeixeôs, meta eikotos tinos, kai euprepeias).+ The
formula of probability could not have been more aptly put. It is one
of those convictions which await, it may be, stronger, better,
arguments than are forthcoming; but will wait for them with unfailing
patience.--"The soul therefore Cebes," since such provisional arguments
must be allowed to pass, "is something sturdy and strong (ischuron ti
estin)+ imperishable by accident or wear; and we shall really exist in
Hades." Indulging a little [96] further the "poetry turned logic" of
those youthful assistants, Socrates too, even Socrates, who had always
turned away so persistently from what he thought the vanity of the eye,
just before the bodily eye finally closes, and his last moment being
now at hand, ascends to, or declines upon, the fancy of a quite visible
paradise awaiting him.--

It is said that the world, if one gaze down on it from above,
is to look on like those leathern balls of twelve pieces,
variegated in divers colours, of which the colours here--those
our painters use--are as it were samples. There, the whole
world is formed of such, and far brighter and purer than they;
part sea-purple of a wonderful beauty; a part like gold; a part
whiter than alabaster or snow; aye, composed thus of other
colours also of like quality, of greater loveliness than ours--
colours we have never seen. For even those hollows in it, being
filled with air and water, present a certain species of colour
gleaming amid the diversity of the others; so that it presents
one continuous aspect of varied hues. Thus it is: and conform-
ably tree and flower and fruit are put forth and grow. The
mountains again and the rocks, after the same manner, have a
smoothness and transparency and colours lovelier than here. The
tiny precious stones we prize so greatly are but morsels of
them--sards and jasper and emerald and the rest. No baser kind
of thing is to be found in that world, but finer rather. The
cause of which is that the rocks there are pure, not gnawed away
and corrupted like ours by rot and brine, through the moistures
which drain together here, bringing disease and deformity to
rocks and earth as well as to living things. There are many
living creatures in the land besides men and women, some abiding
inland, and some on the coasts of the air, as we by the sea,
others in the islands amidst its waves; for, in a word, what the
water of the sea is to us for our uses, that the air is to them.
The blending of the seasons there is such that they have no
sickness and come to years more numerous far than ours: while
[97] for sight and scent and hearing and the like they stand as
far from us, as air from water, in respect of purity, and the
aether from air. There are thrones moreover and temples of the
gods among them, wherein in very deed the gods abide; voices
and oracles and sensible apprehensions of them; and occasions
of intercourse with their very selves. The sun, the moon and
the stars they see as they really are; and are blessed in all
other matters agreeably thereto. Phaedo, 110.

The great assertor of the abstract, the impalpable, the unseen, at any
cost, shows there a mastery of visual expression equal to that of his
greatest disciple.--Ah, good master! was the eye so contemptible an
organ of knowledge after all?

Plato was then about twenty-eight years old; a rich young man, rich
also in intellectual gifts; and what he saw and heard from and about
Socrates afforded the correction his opulent genius needed, and made
him the most serious of writers. In many things he was as unlike as
possible to the teacher--rude and rough as some failure of his own old
sculptor's workshop--who might seem in his own person to have broken up
the harmonious grace of the Greek type, and carried people one step
into a world already in reaction against the easy Attic temper, a world
in which it might be necessary to go far below the surface for the
beauty of which those homely lips had discoursed so much. Perhaps he
acted all the more surely as a corrective force on Plato, henceforward
an opponent of the [98] obviously successful mental habits of the day,
with an unworldliness which, a personal trait in Plato himself there
acquired, will ever be of the very essence of Platonism.--"Many are
called, but few chosen": Narthêkophoroi men polloi, bakchoi de te
pauroi.+ He will have, as readers of The Republic know, a hundred
precepts of self-repression for others--the self-repression of every
really tuneable member of a chorus; and he begins by almost effacing
himself. All that is best and largest in his own matured genius he
identifies with his master; and when we speak of Plato generally what
we are really thinking of is the Platonic Socrates.


79. +Transliteration: epagôgê. Liddell and Scott definition: "a
bringing on, to, or in . . . argument from induction."

80. +Transliteration: peri physeôs historian. E-text editor's
translation: "inquiry into nature." Plato, Phaedo 96a.

81. +Transliteration: panta diakosmei, kai pantôn aitios estin. Pater's
translation: "arranges and is the cause of all things." Plato, Phaedo
97c, offers a close paraphrase of Anaxagoras' saying.

83. +Transliteration: Auto kath' hauto zêtein ti pot' estin aretê.
Pater's translation: "to seek out what virtue is, itself, in and by
itself." Plato, Meno 100b.

83. +Transliteration: Mêden estin agathon ho ouk epistêmê periechei.
Pater's translation: "There is no good thing which knowledge does not
comprehend." Plato, Meno 87d.

84. *Tauton pantachou eidos--holon kai hygies--hen kata pantôn, dia
pantôn, epi pasi-kath' holou. Pater's translation: "One and the same
species in every place: whole and sound: one, in regard to, and
through, and upon, all particular instances of it: catholic." Perhaps
Pater is combining phrases here; only the first phrase was locatable.
Plato, Meno 72d.

84. +Transliteration: kath' hekastên tôn praxeôn, kai tôn hêlikiôn pros
hekaston ergon, hekastô hêmôn. Pater's translation: "to every several
act, and to each period of life, in regard to each thing we have to do,
in each one of us." Plato, Meno 72a.

84. +Transliteration: ho mê oida ti esti, pôs an hopoion ge ti eideiên.
Pater's translation: "That, about which I don't know what it is, how
should I know what sort of a thing it is." Plato, Meno 71b.

84. +Transliteration: poiotêtes. Pater's translation: "qualities."

84. +Transliteration: kath' holou. Pater's translation: "universal, or
catholic, definitions;" the phrase might be translated, "in accordance
with the whole."

86. +Transliteration: Tois anthrôpois, mê hosion einai, autous heatous
eupoiein, all' allon dei menein euergetên. Pater's translation: "why
is it forbidden to seize such an advantage as death must be by self-
destruction." Plato, Phaedo 62a.

87. +Transliteration: to pharmakon epien en tô desmôtêriô. Pater's
translation: "he consumed the poison in the prison." Plato, Phaedo

90. +Transliteration: ton hêttô logon kreittô poiein. Pater's
translation: "to make the worse appear the better reason." Plato,
Apology 23d.

93. +Transliteration: hoi elthonta me dei tethnanai. Pater's
translation: "whither he must go, to die." The pronoun should be first
person--"whither I must go." Plato, Apology 39e.

95. +Transliteration: poiêmata. Liddell and Scott definition: "anything
made or done . . . a poetical work."

95. +Transliteration: pseudê en pharmakou eidei. Pater's translation:
"medicinable fictions." Plato, Republic 389b contains a similar

95. +Transliteration: Moi gegonen aneu apodeixeôs, meta eikotos tinos,
kai euprepeias. Pater's translation: "came to me apart from
demonstration, with a sort of natural likelihood and fitness." Plato,
Phaedo 92c.

95. +Transliteration: ischuron ti estin. Pater's translation: "is
something sturdy and strong." Plato, Phaedo 95c.

98. +Transliteration: Narthêkophoroi men polloi, bakchoi de te pauroi.
Pater's translation: "Many are called, but few chosen." Plato, Phaedo,


[99] "SOPHIST," professional enemy of Socrates:--it became, chiefly
through the influence of Plato, inheriting, expanding, the preferences
and antipathies of his master, a bad name. Yet it had but indicated,
by a quite natural verbal formation, the class of persons through whom,
in the most effectual manner, supply met demand, the demand for
education, asserted by that marvellously ready Greek people, when the
youthful mind in them became suddenly aware of the coming of virile
capacity, and they desired to be made by rules of art better speakers,
better writers and accountants, than any merely natural, unassisted
gifts, however fortunate, could make them. While the peculiar
religiousness of Socrates had induced in him the conviction that he was
something less than a wise man, a philosopher only, a mere seeker after
such wisdom as he might after all never attain, here were the
sophistai,+ the experts--wise men, who proposed to make other people as
wise as themselves, wise in that sort of wisdom [100] regarding which
we can really test others, and let them test us, not with the merely
approximate results of the Socratic method, but with the exactness we
may apply to processes understood to be mechanical, or to the
proficiency of quite young students (such as in fact the Sophists were
dealing with) by those examinations which are so sufficient in their
proper place. It had been as delightful as learning a new game, that
instruction, in which you could measure your daily progress by
brilliant feats of skill. Not only did the parents of those young
students pay readily large sums for their instruction in what it was
found so useful to know, above all in the art of public speaking, of
self-defence, that is to say, in democratic Athens where one's personal
status was become so insecure; but the young students themselves felt
grateful for their institution in what told so immediately on their
fellows; for help in the comprehension of the difficult sentences of
another, or the improvement of one's own; for the accomplishments which
enabled them in that busy competitive world to push their fortunes each
one for himself a little further, and quite innocently. Of course they

"Love not the world!"--that, on the other hand, was what Socrates had
said, or seemed to say; though in truth he too meant only to teach them
how by a more circuitous but surer way to [101] possess themselves of
it. And youth, naturally curious and for the most part generous,
willing to undergo much for the mere promise of some good thing it can
scarcely even imagine, had been ready to listen to him too; the sons of
rich men most often, by no means to the dissatisfaction of Socrates
himself, though he never touched their money; young men who had amplest
leisure for the task of perfecting their souls, in a condition of
religious luxury, as we should perhaps say. As was evident in the
court-house at the trial of the great teacher, to the eyes of older
citizens who had not come under his personal influence, there had been
little to distinguish between Socrates and his professional rivals.
Socrates in truth was a Sophist; but more than a Sophist. Both alike
handled freely matters that to the fathers had seemed beyond question;
encouraged what seemed impious questioning in the sons; had set "the
hearts of the sons against the fathers"; and some instances there were
in which the teaching of Socrates had been more conspicuously ruinous
than theirs. "If you ask people at Athens," says Socrates in the Meno,
"how virtue is to be attained, they will laugh in your face and say
they don't so much as know what virtue is." And who was responsible
for that? Certainly that Dialogue, proposing to discover the essential
nature of virtue, by no means re-establishes one's old prepossessions
about it in the vein of [102] Simonides, or Pindar, or one's elders.
Sophist, and philosopher; Protagoras, and Socrates; so far, their
effect was the same:--to the horror of fathers, to put the minds of the
sons in motion regarding matters it were surely best to take as settled
once and for ever. What then after all was the insuperable difference
between Socrates and those rival teachers, with whom he had
nevertheless so much in common, bent like him so effectively, so
zealously, on that new study of man, of human nature and the moral
world, to the exclusion of all useless "meteoric or subterranean
enquiries" into things. As attractive as himself to ingenuous youth,
uncorrupt surely in its early intentions, why did the Sophists seem to
Socrates to be so manifestly an instrument of its corruption?

"The citizen of Athens," observed that great Athenian statesman of the
preceding age, in whom, as a German philosopher might say, the mobile
soul of Athens became conscious,--"The citizen of Athens seems to me to
present himself in his single person to the greatest possible variety
(pleista eidê)+ of thought and action, with the utmost degree of
versatility." As we saw, the example of that mobility, that daring
mobility, of character has seemed to many the special contribution of
the Greek people to advancing humanity. It was not however of the
Greek people in general that Pericles was speaking at the beginning of
the Peloponnesian [103] war, but of Athens in particular; of Athens,
that perfect flower of Ionian genius, in direct contrast to, and now in
bitter rivalry with, Sparta, the perfect flower of the Dorian genius.
All through Greek history, as we also saw, in connexion with Plato's
opposition to the philosophy of motion, there may be traced, in every
sphere of the activity of the Greek mind, the influence of those two
opposing tendencies:--the centrifugal and the centripetal tendencies,
as we may perhaps not too fancifully call them.

There is the centrifugal, the irresponsible, the Ionian or Asiatic,
tendency; flying from the centre, working with little forethought
straight before it in the development of every thought and fancy;
throwing itself forth in endless play of undirected imagination;
delighting in colour and brightness, moral or physical; in beautiful
material, in changeful form everywhere, in poetry, in music, in
architecture and its subordinate crafts, in philosophy itself. In the
social and political order it rejoices in the freest action of local
and personal influences: its restless versatility drives it towards the
assertion of the principles of individualism, of separatism--the
separation of state from state, the maintenance of local religions, the
development of the individual in that which is most peculiar and
individual in him. Shut off land-wards from the primitive sources of
those many elements it was to compose anew, shut off from all the rest
of the world, to [104] which it presented but one narrow entrance
pierced through that rock of Tempe, so narrow that "in the opinion of
the ancients it might be defended by a dozen men against all comers,"
it did recompose or fuse those many diverse elements into one
absolutely original type. But what variety within! Its very claim was
in its grace of movement, its freedom and easy happiness, its lively
interests, the variety of its gifts to civilisation; but its weakness
is self-evident, and was what had made the political unity of Greece
impossible. The Greek spirit!--it might have become a hydra, to use
Plato's own figure, a monster; the hand developing hideously into a
hundred hands, or heads.

This inorganic, this centrifugal, tendency, Plato was desirous to cure
by maintaining over against it the Dorian influence of a severe
simplification everywhere, in society, in culture, in the very physical
nature of man. An enemy everywhere, though through acquired principle
indeed rather than by instinct, to variegation, to what is cunning, or
"myriad-minded" (as we say of Shakespeare, as Plato thinks of Homer) he
sets himself in mythology, in literature, in every kind of art, in the
art of life, as if with conscious metaphysical opposition to the
metaphysic of Heraclitus, to enforce the ideal of a sort of Parmenidean
abstractness, and monotony or calm.

This, perhaps exaggerated, ideal of Plato is [105] however only the
exaggeration of that salutary, strictly European tendency, which,
finding human mind, the human reason cool and sane, to be the most
absolutely real and precious thing in the world, enforces everywhere
the impress of its reasonable sanity; its candid reflexions upon things
as they really are; its sense of logical proportion. It is that
centripetal tendency, again, which links the individual units together,
states to states, one period of organic growth to another, under the
reign of a strictly composed, self-conscious order, in the universal
light of the understanding.

Whether or not this temper, so clearly traceable as a distinct rival
influence in the course of Greek development, was indeed the peculiar
gift of the Dorian race, certainly that race, as made known to us
especially in Lacedaemon, is the best illustration of it, in its love
of order, of that severe composition everywhere, of which the Dorian
style of architecture is as it were a material symbol, in its constant
aspiration after what is dignified and earnest, as exemplified most
evidently in the religion of its preference, the religion of Apollo.

Now the key to Plato's view of the Sophists, Gorgias, Protagoras,
Hippias, Prodicus, with their less brilliant followers--chosen
educators of the public--is that they do but fan and add fuel to the
fire in which Greece, as they wander [106] like ardent missionaries
about it, is flaming itself away. Teaching in their large,
fashionable, expensive schools, so triumphantly well, the arts one
needed most in so busy an age, they were really developing further and
reinforcing the ruinous fluidity of the Greek, and especially of the
Athenian people, by turning it very adroitly into a conscious method, a
practical philosophy, an art of life itself, in which all those
specific arts would be but subsidiary--an all-supplementing ars artium,
a master-art, or, in depreciatory Platonic mood one might say, an
artifice, or, cynically, a trick. The great sophist was indeed the
Athenian public itself, Athens, as the willing victim of its own gifts,
its own flamboyancy, well-nigh worn out now by the mutual friction of
its own parts, given over completely to hazardous political experiment
with the irresponsibility which is ever the great vice of democracy,
ever ready to float away anywhither, to misunderstand, or forget, or
discredit, its own past.--

Or do you too hold like the many (asks Socrates in the sixth
book of The Republic) that a certain number are corrupted
by sophists in their youth; and that certain sophists,
irresponsible persons, corrupt them to any extent worth noting;
and not rather that those who say these things are the greatest
sophists; that they train to perfection, and turn out both old
and young, men and women, just as they choose them to be?--When,
pray? He asked.--When seated together in their thousands at the
great assemblies, or in the law-courts, or the theatres, or the
camp, or any other common gathering of the public, with much
noise the majority praise this and blame [107] that in what is
said and done, both alike in excess, shouting and clapping; and
the very rocks too and the place in which they are, echoing
around, send back redoubled that clamour of praise and blame.
In such case, what heart as they say, what heart, think you,
can the young man keep? or what private education he may have
had hold out for him that it be not over-flooded by praise or
blame like that, and depart away, borne down the stream,
whithersoever that may carry it, and that he pronounce not
the same thing as they fair or foul; and follow the same ways
as they; and become like them? Republic, 492.+

The veritable sophist then, the dynamic sophist, was the Athenian
public of the day; those ostensible or professional Sophists being not
so much its intellectual directors as the pupils or followers of it.
They did but make it, as the French say, abound the more in its own
sense, like the keeper (it is Plato's own image) of some wild beast,
which he knows how to command by a well-considered obedience to all its
varying humours. If the Sophists are partly the cause they are still
more the effect of the social environment. They had discovered, had
ascertained with much acuteness, the actual momentum of the society
which maintained them, and they meant only, by regulating, to maintain
it. Protagoras, the chief of Sophists, had avowedly applied to ethics
the physics or metaphysics of Heraclitus. And now it was as if the
disintegrating Heraclitean fire had taken hold on actual life, on men's
very thoughts, on the emotions and the will.

That so faulty natural tendency, as Plato holds [108] it to be, in the
world around them, they formulate carefully as its proper conscious
theory: a theory how things must, nay, ought, to be. "Just that," they
seem to say--"Just that versatility, that mutable spirit, shall become
by adoption the child of knowledge, shall be carefully nurtured,
brought to great fortune. We'll make you, and your thoughts, as fluid,
as shifty, as things themselves: will bring you, like some perfectly
accomplished implement, to this carrière ouverte, this open quarry, for
the furtherance of your personal interests in the world." And if old-
fashioned principle or prejudice be found in the way, who better than
they could instruct one, not how to minimise, or violate it--that was
not needed, nor perhaps desirable, regarding what was so useful for the
control of others--not that; but, to apply the intellectual solvent to
it, in regard to one's self? "It will break up,--this or that ethical
deposit in your mind, Ah! very neatly, very prettily, and disappear,
when exposed to the action of our perfected method. Of credit with the
vulgar as such, in the solitary chamber of the aristocratic mind such
presuppositions, prejudices or principles, may be made very soon to
know their place."

Yes! says Plato (for a moment we may anticipate what is at least the
spirit of his answer) but there are some presuppositions after all,
which it will make us very vulgar to have dismissed from us. "There
are moreover," [109] those others proceed to say, "teachers of
persuasion (peithous didaskaloi)+ who impart skill in popular and
forensic oratory; and so by fair means or by unfair we shall gain our
ends." It is with the dêmos,+ with the vulgar, insubordinate, tag-rag
of one's own nature--how to rule that, by obeying it--that these
professors of rhetoric begin. They are still notwithstanding the only
teachers of morals ingenuous Greece is aware of; and wisdom, as seems
likely, "must die with them!"--

Some very small number then (says the Platonic Socrates) is
left, of those who in worthy fashion hold converse with
philosophy: either, it may be, some soul of in-born worth and
well brought up, to which it has happened to be exiled in a
foreign land, holding to philosophy by a tie of nature, and
through lack of those who will corrupt it; or when it may
chance that a great soul comes to birth in an insignificant
state, to the politics of which it gives no heed, because it
thinks them despicable: perhaps a certain fraction also, of
good parts, may come to philosophy from some other craft,
through a just contempt of that. The bridle too of our
companion Theages has a restraining power. For in the case
of Theages also, all the other conditions were in readiness
to his falling away from philosophy; but the nursing of his
sickly body, excluding him from politics, keeps him back. Our
own peculiarity is not worth speaking of--the sign from heaven!
for I suppose it has occurred to scarce anyone before. And so,
those who have been of this number, and have tasted how sweet
and blessed the possession is; and again, having a full view
of the folly of the many, and that no one, I might say, effects
any sound result in what concerns the state, or is an ally in
whose company one might proceed safe and sound to the help of
the just, but that, like a man falling among wild beasts,
neither willing to share their evil deeds, nor sufficient by
himself to resist the whole fierce band, flung away before he
shall have done any service [110] to the city or to his own
friends, he would become useless both to himself and to others:
taking all this into consideration, keeping silence and doing
his own business, as one standing aside under a hedge in some
storm of dust and spray beneath a driven wind, seeing those
about him replete with lawlessness, he is content if by any
means, pure from injustice and unholy deeds, himself shall
live through his life here, and in turn make his escape with
good hope, in cheerful and kindly mood. (What long sentences
Plato writes!) Yet in truth, he said, he would make his escape
after not the least of achievements.--Nor yet the greatest, I
observed, because he did not light upon the polity fitted for
him: for, in that fitting polity, himself will grow to
completer stature, and, together with what belongs to him, he
will be the saviour also of the commonwealth. Republic, 496.+

Over against the Sophists, and the age which has sophisticated them, of
which they are the natural product, Plato, being himself of a genius
naturally rich, florid, complex, excitable, but adding to the utmost
degree of Ionian sensibility an effectual desire towards the Dorian
order and askêsis, asserts everywhere the principle of outline, in
political and moral life; in the education which is to fit men for it;
in the music which is one half of that education, in the philosophy
which is its other half--the "philosophy of the ideas," of those
eternally fixed outlines of our thought, which correspond to, nay, are
actually identical with, the eternally fixed outlines of things
themselves. What the difference (difference in regard to continuity
and clearness) really is between the conditions of mind, in which
respectively the sophistic process, and the genuinely philosophical or
dialectic process, as [111] conceived by Plato, leave us, is well
illustrated by the peculiar treatment of Justice, its proper definition
or idea, in The Republic. Justice (or Righteousness, as we say, more
largely) under the light of a comprehensive experience of it,
carefully, diligently, adjusted to the nature of man on the one hand,
of society on the other, becomes in the fourth book of The Republic, to
ta hautou prattein+--to ta hautou prattein.+ There, then, is the eternal
outline of Righteousness or Justice as it really is, equally clear and
indefectible at every point; a definition of it which can by no
supposition become a definition of anything else; impenetrable, not to
be traversed, by any possible definition of Injustice; securing an
essential value to its possessor, independently of all falsities of
appearance; and leaving justice, as it really is in itself, unaffected
even by phenomena so misrepresentative of it as to deceive the very
gods, or many good men, as happened pre-eminently in the case of

[112] Here then is the reply of the Platonic Socrates to the challenge
that he should prove himself master of a more certain philosophy than
that of the people, as represented by the old gnomic poet Simonides,
"whom it is hard to disbelieve," (sophos gar kai theios anêr)+ on the
one hand; than that of the Sophists on the other, as represented by
Thrasymachus. "Show us not only that justice is a better thing than
Injustice; but, by doing what (alla ti poiousa)+ to the soul of its
possessor, each of them respectively, in and by itself (hautê di'
hautên)+ even if men and gods alike mistake it for its contrary, is
still the one a good thing, the other a bad one."

But note for a few moments the precise treatment of the idea of Justice
in the first book of The Republic. Sophistry and common sense are
trying their best to apprehend, to cover or occupy, a certain space, as
the exact area of Justice. And what happens with each proposed
definition in turn is, that it becomes, under conceivable
circumstances, a definition of Injustice: not that, in practice, a
confusion between the two is therefore likely; but that the intellect
remains unsatisfied of the theoretic validity of the distinction.

Now that intellectual situation illustrates the sense in which
sophistry is a reproduction of the Heraclitean flux. The old
Heraclitean physical theory presents itself as a natural basis for the
moral, the social, dissolution, which the sophistical [113] movement
promotes. But what a contrast to it, in the treatment of Justice, of
the question, What Justice is? in that introductory book of The
Republic. The first book forms in truth an eristic, a destructive or
negative, Dialogue (such as we have other examples of) in which the
whole business might have concluded, prematurely, with an exposure of
the inadequacy, alike of common-sense as represented by Simonides, and
of a sophisticated philosophy as represented by Thrasymachus, to define
Justice. Note, however, in what way, precisely. That it is Just, for
instance, to restore what one owes (to ta opheilomena apodidonai)+ might
pass well enough for a general guide to right conduct; and the
sophistical judgment that Justice is "The interest of the stronger" is
not more untrue than the contrary paradox that "Justice is a plot of
the weak against the strong."

It is, then, in regard to the claims of Justice, not so much on
practice, as on the intellect, in its demand for a clear theory of
practice, that those definitions fail. They are failures because they
fail to distinguish absolutely, ideally, as towards the intellect, what
is, from what is not. To Plato, for whom, constitutionally, and ex
hypothesi, what can be clearly thought is the precise measure of what
really is, if such a thought about Justice--absolutely inclusive and
exclusive--is, after all our efforts, not to be ascertained, this can
only be, because Justice is not [114] a real thing, but only an empty
or confused name.

Now the Sophist and the popular moralist, in that preliminary attempt
to define the nature of Justice--what is right, are both alike trying,
first in this formula, then in that, to occupy, by a thought, and by a
definition which may convey that thought into the mind of another--to
occupy, or cover, a certain area of the phenomena of experience, as the
Just. And what happens thereupon is this, that by means of a certain
kind of casuistry, by the allegation of certain possible cases of
conduct, the whole of that supposed area of the Just is occupied by
definitions of Injustice, from this centre or that. Justice therefore-
-its area, the space of experience which it covers, dissolves away,
literally, as the eye is fixed upon it, like Heraclitean water: it is
and is not. And if this, and the like of this, is to the last all that
can be known or said of it, Justice will be no current coin, at least
to the acute philosophic mind. But has some larger philosophy perhaps
something more to say of it? and the power of defining an area, upon
which no definition of Injustice, in any conceivable case of act or
feeling, can infringe? That is the question upon which the essential
argument of The Republic starts--upon a voyage of discovery. It is
Plato's own figure.

There, clearly enough, may be seen what the difference, the difference
of aim, between Socrates [115] and the Sophists really was, amid much
that they had in common, as being both alike distinguished from that
older world of opinion of which Simonides is the mouthpiece.

The quarrel of Socrates with the Sophists was in part one of those
antagonisms which are involved necessarily in the very conditions of an
age that has not yet made up its mind; was in part also a mere rivalry
of individuals; and it might have remained in memory only as a matter
of historical interest. It has been otherwise. That innocent word
"Sophist" has survived in common language, to indicate some constantly
recurring viciousness, in the treatment of one's own and of other
minds, which is always at variance with such habits of thought as are
really worth while. There is an every-day "sophistry," of course,
against which we have all of us to be on our guard--that insincerity of
reasoning on behalf of sincere convictions, true or false in themselves
as the case may be, to which, if we are unwise enough to argue at all
with each other, we must all be tempted at times. Such insincerity
however is for the most part apt to expose itself. But there is a more
insidious sophistry of which Plato is aware; and against which he
contends in the Protagoras, and again still more effectively in the
Phaedrus; the closing pages of which discover the essential point of
that famous quarrel between the Sophists and Socrates or Plato, in
regard to a matter which is [116] of permanent interest in itself, and
as being not directly connected with practical morals is unaffected by
the peculiar prejudices of that age. Art, the art of oratory, in
particular, and of literary composition,--in this case, how one should
write or speak really inflammatory discourses about love, write love-
letters, so to speak, that shall really get at the heart they're meant
for--that was a matter on which the Sophists had thought much
professionally. And the debate introduced in the Phaedrus regarding
the secret of success in proposals of love or friendship turns properly
on this: whether it is necessary, or even advantageous, for one who
would be a good orator, or writer, a poet, a good artist generally, to
know, and consciously to keep himself in contact with, the truth of his
subject as he knows or feels it; or only with what other people,
perhaps quite indolently, think, or suppose others to think, about it.
And here the charge of Socrates against those professional teachers of
the art of rhetoric comes to be, that, with much superficial aptitude
in the conduct of the matter, they neither reach, nor put others in the
way of reaching, that intellectual ground of things (of the
consciousness of love for instance, when they are to open their lips,
and presumably their souls, about that) in true contact with which
alone can there be a real mastery in dealing with them. That you
yourself must have an inward, carefully ascertained, measured,
instituted hold [117] over anything you are to convey with any real
power to others, is the truth which the Platonic Socrates, in strongly
convinced words, always reasonable about it, formulates, in opposition
to the Sophists' impudently avowed theory and practice of the
superficial, as such. Well! we all always need to be set on our guard
against theories which flatter the natural indolence of our minds.

"We proposed then just now," says Socrates in the Phaedrus, "to
consider the theory of the way in which one would or would not write or
speak well."--"Certainly!"--"Well then, must there not be in those who
are to speak meritoriously, an understanding well acquainted with the
truth of the things they are to speak about?"--"Nay!" answers Phaedrus,
in that age of sophistry, "It is in this way I have heard about it:--
that it is not necessary for one who would be a master of rhetoric to
learn what really is just, for instance; but rather what seems just to
the multitude who are to give judgment: nor again what is good or
beautiful; but only what seems so to them. For persuasion comes of the
latter; by no means of a hold upon the truth of things."

Whether or not the Sophists were quite fairly chargeable with that sort
of "inward lie," just this, at all events, was in the judgment of Plato
the essence of sophistic vice. With them [118] art began too
precipitately, as mere form without matter; a thing of disconnected
empiric rules, caught from the mere surface of other people's
productions, in congruity with a general method which everywhere
ruthlessly severed branch and flower from its natural root--art from
one's own vivid sensation or belief. The Lacedaemonian (ho Lakôn)+
Plato's favourite scholar always, as having that infinite patience
which is the note of a sincere, a really impassioned lover of anything,
says, in his convinced Lacedaemonian way, that a genuine art of speech
(tou legein etumos technê)+ unless one be in contact with truth, there
neither is nor can be. We are reminded of that difference between
genuine memory, and mere haphazard recollection, noted by Plato in the
story he tells so well of the invention of writing in ancient Egypt.--
It might be doubted, he thinks, whether genuine memory was encouraged
by that invention. The note on the margin by the inattentive reader to
"remind himself," is, as we know, often his final good-bye to what it
should remind him of. Now this is true of all art: Logôn ara technên,
ho tên alêtheian mê eidôs, doxas te tethêreukôs, geloion tina kai
atexnon parexetai.+ --It is but a kind of bastard art of mere words
(texnê atexnos)+ that he will have who does not know the truth of
things, but has tried to hunt out what other people think about it.
"Conception," observed an intensely personal, deeply stirred, poet and
artist of our own generation: [119] "Conception, fundamental brainwork,-
-that is what makes the difference, in all art."

Against all pretended, mechanically communicable rules of art then,
against any rule of literary composition, for instance, unsanctioned by
the facts, by a clear apprehension of the facts, of that experience,
which to each one of us severally is the beginning, if it be not also
the end, of all knowledge, against every merely formal dictate (their
name is legion with practising Sophists of all ages) Peri brachylogias,
kai eleeinologias, kai deinôseôs,+ concerning freedom or precision,
figure, emphasis, proportion of parts and the like, exordium and
conclusion:--against all such the Platonic Socrates still protests,
"You know what must be known before harmony can be attained, but not
yet the laws of harmony itself,"--ta pro tragôdias,+ Sophocles would
object in like case, ta pro tragôdias, all' ou tragika.+ Given the
dynamic Sophoclean intention or conviction, and the irresistible law of
right utterance, (anankê logographikê)+ how one must write or speak,
will make itself felt; will assuredly also renew many an old precept,
as to how one shall write or speak, learned at school. To speak pros
doxan+ only, as towards mere unreasoned opinion, might do well enough in
the law-courts with people, who (as is understood in that case) do not
really care very much about justice itself, desire only that a friend
should be acquitted, or an enemy convicted, irrespectively of it; but

For the essence of all artistic beauty is expression, which cannot be
where there's really nothing to be expressed; the line, the colour, the
word, following obediently, and with minute scruple, the conscious
motions of a convinced intelligible soul. To make men interested in
themselves, as being the very ground of all reality for them, la vraie
vérité, as the French say:--that was the essential function of the
Socratic method: to flash light into the house within, its many
chambers, its memories and associations, upon its inscribed and
pictured walls. Fully occupied there, as with his own essential
business in his own home, the young man would become, of course,
proportionately less interested, less meanly interested, in what was
superficial, in the mere outsides, of other people and their
occupations. With the true artist indeed, with almost every expert,
all knowledge, of almost every kind, tells, is attracted into, and duly
charged with, the force of what [121] may be his leading apprehension.
And as the special function of all speech as a fine art is the control
of minds (psychagôgia)+ it is in general with knowledge of the soul of
man--with a veritable psychology, with as much as possible as we can
get of that--that the writer, the speaker, must be chiefly concerned,
if he is to handle minds not by mere empiric routine, tribê monon, kai
empeiria alla technê,+ but by the power of veritable fine art. Now such
art, such theory, is not "to be caught with the left hand," as the
Greek phrase went; and again, chalepa ta kala.+ We have no time to hear
in English Plato's clever specimens of the way in which people would
write about love without success. Let us rather hear himself on that
subject, in his own characteristic mood of conviction.--

Try! she said (a certain Sibylline woman namely, from whose
lips Socrates in the Symposium is supposed to quote what follows)
Try to apply your mind as closely as possible to what I am going
to say. For he who has been led thus far in the discipline of
love, beholding beautiful objects in the right order, coming now
towards the end of the doctrine of love, will on a sudden behold
a beauty wonderful in its nature:--that, Socrates! towards which
indeed the former exercises were all designed; being first of all
ever existent; having neither beginning nor end; neither growing
or fading away; and then, not beautiful in one way, unbeautiful
in another; beautiful now, but not then; beautiful in this
relation, unlovely in that; to some, but not to others. Nor
again will that beauty appear to him to be beautiful as a face or
hands or anything else that belongs to the body; nor as any
kind of reasoning or science; nor as being resident in anything
else, as in a living creature or the earth or the sky or any
other [122] thing; but as being itself by itself, ever in a
single form with itself; all other beautiful things so
participating in it, that while they begin and cease to be, that
neither becomes more nor less nor suffers any other change.
Whenever, then, anyone, beginning from things here below, through
a right practice of love, ascending, begins to discern that other
beauty, he will almost have reached the end. For this in truth
is the right method of proceeding towards the doctrine of love,
or of being conducted therein by another,--beginning from these
beautiful objects here below ever to be going up higher, with
that other beauty in view; using them as steps of a ladder;
mounting from the love of one fair person to the love of two;
and from the love of two to the love of all; and from the love
of beautiful persons to the love of beautiful employments--kala
epitêdeumata+ (that means being a soldier, or a priest, or a
scholar) and from the love of beautiful employments to the love
of beautiful kinds of knowledge; till he passes from degrees of
knowledge to that knowledge which is the knowledge of nothing
else save the absolute Beauty itself, and knows it at length as
in itself it really is. At this moment of life, dear Socrates!
said the Mantinean Sibyl, if at any moment, man truly lives,
beholding the absolute beauty--the which, so you have once seen
it, will appear beyond the comparison of gold, or raiment, or
those beautiful young persons, seeing whom now, like many another,
you are so overcome that you are ready, beholding those beautiful
persons and associating ever with them, if it were possible,
neither to eat nor drink but only to look into their eyes and
sit beside them. What then, she asked, suppose we? if it were
given to any one to behold the absolute beauty, in its clearness,
its pureness, its unmixed essence; not replete with flesh and
blood and colours and other manifold vanity of this mortal life;
but if he were able to behold that divine beauty (monoeides)+
simply as it is. Do you think, she said, that life would be a
poor thing to one whose eyes were fixed on that; seeing that,
(hô dei)+ with the organ through which it must be seen, and
communing with that? Do you not think rather, she asked, that
here alone it will be his, seeing the beautiful with that through
which it may be seen (namely with the imaginative reason, ho
nous+) to beget no mere phantasms of virtue, as it is no phantom
he [123] apprehends, but the true virtue, as he embraces what is
true? And having begotten virtue (virtue is the child that will
be born of this mystic intellectual commerce, or connubium,
of the imaginative reason with ideal beauty) and reared it, he
will become dear to God, and if any man may be immortal he will
be. Symposium, 210.+

The essential vice of sophistry, as Plato conceived it, was that for it
no real things existed. Real things did exist for Plato, things that
were "an end in themselves"; and the Platonic Socrates was right:--
Plato has written so well there, because he was no scholar of the
Sophists as he understood them, but is writing of what he really knows.


99. +Transliteration: sophistai. Liddell and Scott definition: "at
Athens, one who professed to make men wise."

102. +Transliteration: pleista eidê. Pater's translation: "the greatest
possible variety." Pater refers to the Funeral Oration given by
Pericles to commemorate the Athenians who, to date, had died in the
Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 2.41.1.

107. +Plato, Republic 492.

109. +Transliteration: peithous didaskaloi. Pater's translation:
"teachers of persuasion." Plato, Republic 365d.

109. +Transliteration: dêmos. Liddell and Scott definition: "the common

110. +Plato, Republic 496.

111. +Transliteration: to ta hautou prattein. Pater's translation: "The
doing, by every part . . . of its own proper business therein." The
translation elaborates on the original, but captures its meaning
accurately. Plato, Republic 433a-b.

111. +Transliteration: to ta hautou prattein. Pater's translation: "The
doing, by every part . . . of its own proper business therein." Plato,
Republic 433a-b.

112. +Transliteration: sophos gar kai theios anêr. E-text editor's
translation: "for he was a wise and excellent man." Plato, Republic

112. +Transliteration: alla ti poiousa. Pater's translation: "but, by
doing what. . ." Plato, Republic 367b.

112. +Transliteration: hautê di' hautên. Pater's translation: "in and
by itself." Plato, Republic 367e.

113. +Transliteration: to ta opheilomena apodidonai. Pater's
translation: "to restore what one owes." Plato, Republic 331e and

118. +Transliteration: ho Lakôn. Liddell and Scott definition: "The
Lacedaemonian [i.e., Spartan]."

118. +Transliteration: tou legein etumos technê. Pater's translation:
"a genuine art of speech." Plato, Phaedrus 260e.

118. +Transliteration: Logôn ara technên, ho tên alêtheian mê eidôs,
doxas te tethêreukôs, geloion tina kai atexnon parexetai. E-text
editor's translation: "In the art of speaking, therefore, the person
who does not know the truth, who has sought out only the opinions of
others, will come by nothing better than a kind of unskilled jesting."
Plato, Phaedrus 262c.

118. +Transliteration: texnê atexnos. Pater's translation: "[a]
bastard art of mere words." Plato, Phaedrus 260e.

119. +Transliteration: Peri brachylogias, kai eleeinologias, kai
deinôseôs. E-text editor's translation: "Concerning brevity, and
speech that moves to pity, and exaggeration. . ." Plato, Phaedrus

119. +Transliteration: ta pro tragôdias. E-text editor's translation:
"the things before tragedy." Plato, Phaedrus 269a.

119. +Transliteration: ta pro tragôdias, all' ou tragika. E-text
editor's translation: "the things before tragedy, but not tragedy
itself." Plato, Phaedrus 269a.

119. +Transliteration: anankê logographikê. E-text editor's
translation: "[the manner] required [in] prose-writing or speech-
making." Plato, Phaedrus 264b contains similar language.

119. +Transliteration: pros doxan. E-text editor's translation: "in
accordance with received opinion." Plato, Republic 362a, among other

121. +Transliteration: psychagôgia. Pater's translation: "the control
of minds." The verb agô means "lead or drive." Plato, Phaedrus 261a
and 271c.

121. +Transliteration: tribê monon, kai empeiria alla technê. Pater's
translation: "[not] by mere empiric routine, but by the power of
veritable fine art." Plato, Phaedrus 270b.

121. +Transliteration: chalepa ta kala. E-text editor's translation:
"fine things are hard [to obtain]." Plato, Republic 435c.

122. +Transliteration: kala epitêdeumata. Pater's translation:
"beautiful employments." Plato, Symposium 211c.

122. +Transliteration: monoeides. E-text editor's translation: "of one
kind, simple." Plato, Symposium 211a and 211e.

122. +Transliteration: hô dei. E-text editor's translation: "with what
is necessary." Plato, Symposium 212a.

122. +Transliteration: ho nous. Pater's translation: "imaginative
reason." The word nous or noos generally means "mind." Plato,
Symposium 210-212.

123. +The passage Pater cites--Diotima's speech about love--runs from
210-212a of the Symposium.


[124] ALL true criticism of philosophic doctrine, as of every other
product of human mind, must begin with an historic estimate of the
conditions, antecedent and contemporary, which helped to make it
precisely what it was. But a complete criticism does not end there.
In the evolution of abstract doctrine as we find it written in the
history of philosophy, if there is always, on one side, the fatal,
irresistible, mechanic play of circumstance--the circumstances of a
particular age, which may be analysed and explained; there is always
also, as if acting from the opposite side, the comparatively
inexplicable force of a personality, resistant to, while it is moulded
by, them. It might even be said that the trial-task of criticism, in
regard to literature and art no less than to philosophy, begins exactly
where the estimate of general conditions, of the conditions common to
all the products of this or that particular age--of the "environment"--
leaves off, and we touch what is unique in the individual genius [125]
which contrived after all, by force of will, to have its own masterful
way with that environment. If in reading Plato, for instance, the
philosophic student has to re-construct for himself, as far as
possible, the general character of an age, he must also, so far as he
may, reproduce the portrait of a person. The Sophists, the Sophistical
world, around him; his master, Socrates; the Pre-Socratic philosophies;
the mechanic influence, that is to say, of past and present:--of course
we can know nothing at all of the Platonic doctrine except so far as we
see it in well-ascertained contact with all that; but there is also
Plato himself in it.

--A personality, we may notice at the outset, of a certain
complication. The great masters of philosophy have been for the most
part its noticeably single-minded servants. As if in emulation of
Aristotle's simplicity of character, his absorbing intellectualism--
impressive certainly, heroic enough, in its way--they have served
science, science in vacuo, as if nothing beside, faith, imagination,
love, the bodily sense, could detach them from it for an hour. It is
not merely that we know little of their lives (there was so little to
tell!) but that we know nothing at all of their temperaments; of which,
that one leading abstract or scientific force in them was in fact
strictly exclusive. Little more than intellectual abstractions
themselves, in them [126] philosophy was wholly faithful to its
colours, or its colourlessness; rendering not grey only, as Hegel said
of it, but all colours alike, in grey.

With Plato it was otherwise. In him, the passion for truth did but
bend, or take the bent of, certain ineradicable predispositions of his
nature, in themselves perhaps somewhat opposed to that. It is however
in the blending of diverse elements in the mental constitution of Plato
that the peculiar Platonic quality resides. Platonism is in one sense
an emphatic witness to the unseen, the transcendental, the non-
experienced, the beauty, for instance, which is not for the bodily eye.
Yet the author of this philosophy of the unseen was,--Who can doubt it
who has read but a page of him? this, in fact, is what has led and kept
to his pages many who have little or no turn for the sort of questions
Plato actually discusses:--The author of this philosophy of the unseen
was one, for whom, as was said of a very different French writer, "the
visible world really existed." Austere as he seems, and on well-
considered principle really is, his temperance or austerity,
aesthetically so winning, is attained only by the chastisement, the
control, of a variously interested, a richly sensuous nature. Yes, the
visible world, so pre-eminently worth eye-sight at Athens just then,
really existed for him: exists still--there's the point!--is active
still everywhere, when he seems to have turned away from it to
invisible things.

[127] To the somewhat sad-coloured school of Socrates, and its
discipline towards apathy or contempt in such matters, he had brought
capacities of bodily sense with the making in them of an Odyssey; or
(shall we say?) of a poet after the order of Sappho or Catullus; as
indeed also a practical intelligence, a popular management of his own
powers, a skill in philosophic yet mundane Greek prose, which might
have constituted him the most successful of Sophists. You cannot help
seeing that his mind is a storehouse of all the liveliest imageries of
men and things. Nothing, if it really arrests eye or ear at all, is
too trivial to note. Passing through the crowd of human beings, he
notes the sounds alike of their solemn hymns and of their pettiest
handicraft. A conventional philosopher might speak of "dumb matter,"
for instance; but Plato has lingered too long in braziers' workshops to
lapse into so stupid an epithet. And if the persistent hold of
sensible things upon him thus reveals itself in trifles, it is manifest
no less in the way in which he can tell a long story,--no one more
effectively! and again, in his graphic presentment of whole scenes from
actual life, like that with which The Republic opens. His Socrates,
like other people, is curious to witness a new religious function: how
they will do it. As in modern times, it would be a pleasant occasion
also for meeting the acquaintance one likes best-- Synesometha pollois
[128] tôn neôn autothi.+ "We shall meet a number of our youth there: we
shall have a dialogue: there will be a torchlight procession in honour
of the goddess, an equestrian procession: a novel feature!--What?
Torches in their hands, passed on as they race? Aye, and an
illumination, through the entire night. It will be worth seeing!"--
that old midnight hour, as Carlyle says of another vivid scene,
"shining yet on us, ruddy-bright through the centuries." Put alongside
of that, and, for life-like charm, side by side with Murillo's Beggar-
boys (you catch them, if you look at his canvas on the sudden, actually
moving their mouths, to laugh and speak and munch their crusts, all at
once) the scene in the Lysis of the dice-players. There the boys are!
in full dress, to take part in a religious ceremony. It is scarcely
over; but they are already busy with the knuckle-bones, some just
outside the door, others in a corner. Though Plato never tells one
without due motive, yet he loves a story for its own sake, can make one
of fact or fancy at a moment's notice, or re-tell other people's
better: how those dear skinny grasshoppers of Attica, for instance, had
once been human creatures, who, when the Muses first came on earth,
were so absorbed by their music that they forgot even to eat and drink,
till they died of it. And then the story of Gyges in The Republic, and
the ring that can make its wearer invisible: [129] --it goes as easily,
as the ring itself round the finger.

Like all masters of literature, Plato has of course varied excellences;
but perhaps none of them has won for him a larger number of friendly
readers than this impress of visible reality. For him, truly (as he
supposed the highest sort of knowledge must of necessity be) all
knowledge was like knowing a person. The Dialogue itself, being, as it
is, the special creation of his literary art, becomes in his hands, and
by his masterly conduct of it, like a single living person; so
comprehensive a sense does he bring to bear upon it of the slowly-
developing physiognomy of the thing--its organic structure, its
symmetry and expression--combining all the various, disparate subjects
of The Republic, for example, into a manageable whole, so entirely
that, looking back, one fancies this long dialogue of at least three
hundred pages might have occupied, perhaps an afternoon.

And those who take part in it! If Plato did not create the "Socrates"
of his Dialogues, he has created other characters hardly less life-
like. The young Charmides, the incarnation of natural, as the aged
Cephalus of acquired, temperance; his Sophoclean amenity as he sits
there pontifically at the altar, in the court of his peaceful house;
the large company, of varied character and of every age, which moves in
those Dialogues, though still oftenest the young [130] in all their
youthful liveliness:--who that knows them at all can doubt Plato's hold
on persons, that of persons on him? Sometimes, even when they are not
formally introduced into his work, characters that had interested,
impressed, or touched him, inform and colour it, as if with their
personal influence, showing through what purports to be the wholly
abstract analysis of some wholly abstract moral situation. Thus, the
form of the dying Socrates himself is visible pathetically in the
description of the suffering righteous man, actually put into his own
mouth in the second book of The Republic; as the winning brilliancy of
the lost spirit of Alcibiades infuses those pages of the sixth, which
discuss the nature of one by birth and endowments an aristocrat, amid
the dangers to which it is exposed in the Athens of that day--the
qualities which must make him, if not the saviour, the destroyer, of a
society which cannot remain unaffected by his showy presence.
Corruptio optimi pessima! Yet even here, when Plato is dealing with
the inmost elements of personality, his eye is still on its object, on
character as seen in characteristics, through those details, which make
character a sensible fact, the changes of colour in the face as of tone
in the voice, the gestures, the really physiognomic value, or the mere
tricks, of gesture and glance and speech. What is visibly expressive
in, or upon, persons; those flashes of temper which check yet give
[131] renewed interest to the course of a conversation; the delicate
touches of intercourse, which convey to the very senses all the
subtleties of the heart or of the intelligence:--it is always more than
worth his while to make note of these.

We see, for instance, the sharp little pygmy bit of a soul that catches
sight of any little thing so keenly, and makes a very proper lawyer.
We see, as well as hear, the "rhapsodist," whose sensitive performance
of his part is nothing less than an "interpretation" of it, artist and
critic at once: the personal vanities of the various speakers in his
Dialogues, as though Plato had observed, or overheard them, alone; and
the inevitable prominence of youth wherever it is present at all,
notwithstanding the real sweetness of manner and modesty of soul he
records of it so affectionately. It is this he loves best to linger
by; to feel himself in contact with a condition of life, which
translates all it is, so immediately, into delightful colour, and
movement, and sound. The eighth and ninth books of The Republic are a
grave contribution, as you know, to abstract moral and political
theory, a generalisation of weighty changes of character in men and
states. But his observations on the concrete traits of individuals,
young or old, which enliven us on the way; the difference in sameness
of sons and fathers, for instance; the influence of servants on their
masters; how the minute ambiguities of rank, as a family becomes [132]
impoverished, tell on manners, on temper; all the play of moral colour
in the reflex of mere circumstance on what men really are:--the
characterisation of all this has with Plato a touch of the peculiar
fineness of Thackeray, one might say. Plato enjoys it for its own
sake, and would have been an excellent writer of fiction.

There is plenty of humour in him also of course, and something of
irony--salt, to keep the exceeding richness and sweetness of his
discourse from cloying the palate. The affectations of sophists, or
professors, their staginess or their inelegance, the harsh laugh, the
swaggering ways, of Thrasymachus, whose determination to make the
general company share in a private conversation, is significant of his
whole character, he notes with a finely-pointed pencil, with something
of the fineness of malice,--malin, as the French say. Once
Thrasymachus had been actually seen to blush. It is with a very
different sort of fineness Plato notes the blushes of the young; of
Hippocrates, for instance, in the Protagoras. The great Sophist was
said to be in Athens, at the house of Callicles, and the diligent young
scholar is up betimes, eager to hear him. He rouses Socrates before
daylight. As they linger in the court, the lad speaks of his own
intellectual aspirations; blushes at his confidence. It was just then
that the morning sun blushed with his first beam, as if to reveal the
lad's [133] blushing face.--Kai hos eipen erythriasas, êdê gar
hypephaine ti êmeras ôste kataphanê auton genesthai.+ He who noted that
so precisely had, surely, the delicacy of the artist, a fastidious eye
for the subtleties of colour as soul made visibly expressive. "Poor
creature as I am," says the Platonic Socrates, in the Lysis, concerning
another youthful blush, "Poor creature as I am, I have one talent: I
can recognise, at first sight, the lover and the beloved."

So it is with the audible world also. The exquisite monotony of the
voice of the great sophist, for example, "once set in motion, goes
ringing on like a brazen pot, which if you strike it continues to sound
till some one lays his hand upon it." And if the delicacy of eye and
ear, so also the keenness and constancy of his observation, are
manifest in those elaborately wrought images for which the careful
reader lies in wait: the mutiny of the sailors in the ship--ship of the
state, or of one's own soul: the echoes and beams and shadows of that
half-illuminated cavern, the human mind: the caged birds in the
Theatetus, which are like the flighty, half-contained notions of an
imperfectly educated understanding. Real notions are to be ingrained
by persistent thoroughness of the "dialectic" method, as if by
conscientious dyers. He makes us stay to watch such dyers busy with
their purple stuff, as he had done; adding as it were ethic colour to
what he sees with the eye, and [134] painting while he goes, as if on
the margin of his high philosophical discourse, himself scarcely aware;
as the monkish scribe set bird or flower, with so much truth of earth,
in the blank spaces of his heavenly meditation.

Now Plato is one for whom the visible world thus "really exists"
because he is by nature and before all things, from first to last,
unalterably a lover. In that, precisely, lies the secret of the
susceptible and diligent eye, the so sensitive ear. The central
interest of his own youth--of his profoundly impressible youth--as
happens always with natures of real capacity, gives law and pattern to
all that succeeds it. Ta erôtika,+ as he says, the experience, the
discipline, of love, had been that for Plato; and, as love must of
necessity deal above all with visible persons, this discipline involved
an exquisite culture of the senses. It is "as lovers use," that he is
ever on the watch for those dainty messages, those finer intimations,
to eye and ear. If in the later development of his philosophy the
highest sort of knowledge comes to seem like the knowledge of a person,
the relation of the reason to truth like the commerce of one person
with another, the peculiarities of personal relationship thus moulding
his conception of the properly invisible world of ideas, this is partly
because, for a lover, the entire visible world, its hues and outline,
its attractiveness, its power and bloom, must have associated
themselves pre-eminently [135] with the power and bloom of visible
living persons. With these, as they made themselves known by word and
glance and touch, through the medium of the senses, lay the forces,
which, in that inexplicable tyranny of one person over another, shaped
the soul.

Just there, then, is the secret of Plato's intimate concern with, his
power over, the sensible world, the apprehensions of the sensuous
faculty: he is a lover, a great lover, somewhat after the manner of
Dante. For him, as for Dante, in the impassioned glow of his
conceptions, the material and the spiritual are blent and fused
together. While, in that fire and heat, what is spiritual attains the
definite visibility of a crystal, what is material, on the other hand,
will lose its earthiness and impurity. It is of the amorous temper,
therefore, you must think in connexion with Plato's youth--of this,
amid all the strength of the genius in which it is so large a
constituent,--indulging, developing, refining, the sensuous capacities,
the powers of eye and ear, of the fancy also which can re-fashion, of
the speech which can best respond to and reproduce, their liveliest
presentments. That is why when Plato speaks of visible things it is as
if you saw them. He who in the Symposium describes so vividly the
pathway, the ladder, of love, its joyful ascent towards a more perfect
beauty than we have ever yet actually seen, by way of a parallel to the
gradual elevation of mind towards perfect [136] knowledge, knew all
that, we may be sure--ta erôtika +--hêttôn tôn kalôn +--subject to the
influence of fair persons. A certain penitential colour amid that glow
of fancy and expression, hints that the final harmony of his nature had
been but gradually beaten out, and invests the temperance, actually so
conspicuous in his own nature, with the charms of a patiently
elaborated effect of art.

For we must remind ourselves just here, that, quite naturally also,
instinctively, and apart from the austere influences which claimed and
kept his allegiance later, Plato, with a kind of unimpassioned passion,
was a lover in particular of temperance; of temperance too, as it may
be seen, as a visible thing--seen in Charmides, say! in that subdued
and grey-eyed loveliness, "clad in sober grey"; or in those youthful
athletes which, in ancient marble, reproduce him and the like of him
with sound, firm outlines, such as temperance secures. Still, that
some more luxurious sense of physical beauty had at one time greatly
disturbed him, divided him against himself, we may judge from his own
words in a famous passage of the Phaedrus concerning the management,
the so difficult management, of [137] those winged steeds of the body,
which is the chariot of the soul.

Puzzled, in some degree, Plato seems to remain, not merely in regard to
the higher love and the lower, Aphrodite Urania and Aphrodite Pandemus,
as he distinguishes them in the Symposium; nor merely with the
difficulty of arbitrating between some inward beauty, and that which is
outward; with the odd mixture everywhere, save in its still
unapprehended but eternal essence, of the beautiful with what is
otherwise; but he is yet more harassed by the experience (it is in this
shape that the world-old puzzle of the existence of evil comes to him)
that even to the truest eyesight, to the best trained faculty of soul,
the beautiful would never come to seem strictly concentric with the
good. That seems to have taxed his understanding as gravely as it had
tried his will,--and he was glad when in the mere natural course of
years he was become at all events less ardent a lover. 'Tis he is the
authority for what Sophocles had said on the happy decay of the
passions as age advanced: it was "like being set free from service to a
band of madmen." His own distinguishing note is tranquil afterthought
upon this conflict, with a kind of envy of the almost disembodied old
age of Cephalus, who quotes that saying of Sophocles amid his placid
sacrificial doings. Connect with this quiet scene, and contrast with
the luxuriant power of the Phaedrus and the Symposium, what, [138] for
a certain touch of later mysticism in it, we might call Plato's evening
prayer, in the ninth book of The Republic.--

When any one, being healthfully and temperately disposed
towards himself, turns to sleep, having stirred the reasonable
part of him with a feast of fair thoughts and high problems,
being come to full consciousness, himself with himself; and
has, on the other hand, committed the element of desire neither
to appetite, nor to surfeiting, to the end that this may slumber
well, and, by its pain or pleasure, cause no trouble to that
part which is best in him, but may suffer it, alone by itself,
in its pure essence, to behold and aspire towards some object,
and apprehend what it knows not--some event, of the past, it may
be, or something that now is, or will be hereafter; and in like
manner has soothed hostile impulse, so that, falling to no angry
thoughts against any, he goes not to rest with a troubled spirit,
but with those two parts at peace within, and with that third
part, wherein reason is engendered, on the move:--you know, I
think, that in sleep of this sort he lays special hold on truth,
and then least of all is there lawlessness in the visions of his
dreams. Republic, 571.

For Plato, being then about twenty-eight years old, had listened to the
"Apology" of Socrates; had heard from them all that others had heard or
seen of his last hours; himself perhaps actually witnessed those last
hours. "Justice itself "--the "absolute" Justice--had then become
almost a visible object, and had greatly solemnised him. The rich
young man, rich also in intellectual gifts, who might have become (we
see this in the adroit management of his written work) the most
brilliant and effective of Sophists; who might have developed dialogues
into plays, tragedy, perhaps comedy, as he cared; [139] whose sensuous
or graphic capacity might have made him the poet of an Odyssey, a
Sappho, or a Catullus, or, say! just such a poet as, just because he
was so attractive, would have been disfranchised in the Perfect City;
was become the creature of an immense seriousness, of a fully adult
sense, unusual in Greek perhaps even more than in Roman writers, "of
the weightiness of the matters concerning which he has to discourse,
and of the frailty of man." He inherits, alien as they might be to
certain powerful influences in his own temper, alike the sympathies and
the antipathies of that strange, delightful teacher, who had given him
(most precious of gifts!) an inexhaustible interest in himself. It is
in this way he inherits a preference for those trying severities of
thought which are characteristic of the Eleatic school; an antagonism
to the successful Sophists of the day, in whom the old sceptical
"philosophy of motion" seemed to be renewed as a theory of morals; and
henceforth, in short, this master of visible things, this so ardent
lover, will be a lover of the invisible, with--Yes! there it is
constantly, in the Platonic dialogues, not to be explained away--with a
certain asceticism, amid all the varied opulence, of sense, of speech
and fancy, natural to Plato's genius.

The lover, who is become a lover of the invisible, but still a lover,
and therefore, literally, a seer, of it, carrying an elaborate
cultivation of the bodily senses, of eye and ear, their natural [140]
force and acquired fineness--gifts akin properly to ta erôtika,+ as he
says, to the discipline of sensuous love--into the world of
intellectual abstractions; seeing and hearing there too, associating
for ever all the imagery of things seen with the conditions of what
primarily exists only for the mind, filling that "hollow land" with
delightful colour and form, as if now at last the mind were veritably
dealing with living people there, living people who play upon us
through the affinities, the repulsion and attraction, of persons
towards one another, all the magnetism, as we call it, of actual human
friendship or love:--There, is the formula of Plato's genius, the
essential condition of the specially Platonic temper, of Platonism.
And his style, because it really is Plato's style, conforms to, and in
its turn promotes in others, that mental situation. He breaks as it
were visible colour into the very texture of his work: his vocabulary,
the very stuff he manipulates, has its delightful aesthetic qualities;
almost every word, one might say, its figurative value. And yet no one
perhaps has with equal power literally sounded the unseen depths of
thought, and, with what may be truly called "substantial" word and
phrase, given locality there to the mere adumbrations, the dim hints
and surmise, of the speculative mind. For him, all gifts of sense and
intelligence converge in one supreme faculty of theoretic vision,
theôria,+ the imaginative reason.

[141] To trace that thread of physical colour, entwined throughout, and
multiplied sometimes into large tapestried figures, is the business,
the enjoyment, of the student of the Dialogues, as he reads them. For
this or that special literary quality indeed we may go safely by
preference to this or that particular Dialogue; to the Gorgias, for
instance, for the readiest Attic wit, and a manly practical sense in
the handling of philosophy; to the Charmides, for something like the
effect of sculpture in modelling a person; to the Timaeus, for certain
brilliant chromatic effects. Yet who that reads the Theaetetus, or the
Phaedrus, or the seventh book of The Republic, can doubt Plato's gift
in precisely the opposite direction; that gift of sounding by words the
depths of thought, a plastic power literally, moulding to term and
phrase what might have seemed in its very nature too impalpable and
abstruse to lend itself, in any case, to language? He gives names to
the invisible acts, processes, creations, of abstract mind, as
masterly, as efficiently, as Adam himself to the visible living
creations of old. As Plato speaks of them, we might say, those
abstractions too become visible living creatures. We read the
speculative poetry of Wordsworth, or Tennyson; and we may observe that
a great metaphysical force has come into language which is by no means
purely technical or scholastic; what a help such language is to the
understanding, to a real hold over the things, the thoughts, the [142]
mental processes, those words denote; a vocabulary to which thought
freely commits itself, trained, stimulated, raised, thereby, towards a
high level of abstract conception, surely to the increase of our
general intellectual powers. That, of course, is largely due to
Plato's successor, to Aristotle's life-long labour of analysis and
definition, and to his successors the Schoolmen, with their systematic
culture of a precise instrument for the registration, by the analytic
intellect, of its own subtlest movements. But then, Aristotle, himself
the first of the Schoolmen, had succeeded Plato, and did but formulate,
as a terminology "of art," as technical language, what for Plato is
still vernacular, original, personal, the product in him of an
instinctive imaginative power--a sort of visual power, but causing
others also to see what is matter of original intuition for him.

From first to last our faculty of thinking is limited by our command of
speech. Now it is straight from Plato's lips, as if in natural
conversation, that the language came, in which the mind has ever since
been discoursing with itself concerning itself, in that inward
dialogue, which is the "active principle" of the dialectic method as an
instrument for the attainment of truth. For, the essential, or
dynamic, dialogue, is ever that dialogue of the mind with itself, which
any converse with Socrates or Plato does but promote. The very words
of Plato, then, [143] challenge us straightway to larger and finer
apprehension of the processes of our own minds; are themselves a
discovery in the sphere of mind. It was he made us freemen of those
solitary places, so trying yet so attractive: so remote and high, they
seem, yet are naturally so close to us: he peopled them with
intelligible forms. Nay more! By his peculiar gift of verbal
articulation he divined the mere hollow spaces which a knowledge, then
merely potential, and an experience still to come, would one day
occupy. And so, those who cannot admit his actual speculative results,
precisely his report on the invisible theoretic world, have been to the
point sometimes, in their objection, that by sheer effectiveness of
abstract language, he gave an illusive air of reality or substance to
the mere nonentities of metaphysic hypothesis--of a mind trying to feed
itself on its own emptiness.

Just there--in the situation of one, shaped, by combining nature and
circumstance, into a seer who has a sort of sensuous love of the
unseen--is the paradox of Plato's genius, and therefore, always, of
Platonism, of the Platonic temper. His aptitude for things visible,
with the gift of words, empowers him to express, as if for the eyes,
what except to the eye of the mind is strictly invisible, what an
acquired asceticism induces him to rank above, and sometimes, in terms
of harshest dualism, oppose to, the sensible world. Plato is to be
interpreted [144] not merely by his antecedents, by the influence upon
him of those who preceded him, but by his successors, by the temper,
the intellectual alliances, of those who directly or indirectly have
been sympathetic with him. Now it is noticeable that, at first sight
somewhat incongruously, a certain number of Manicheans have always been
of his company; people who held that matter was evil. Pointing
significantly to an unmistakable vein of Manichean, or Puritan
sentiment actually there in the Platonic Dialogues, these rude
companions or successors of his, carry us back to his great
predecessor, to Socrates, whose personal influence had so strongly
enforced on Plato the severities, moral and intellectual, alike of
Parmenides and of the Pythagoreans. The cold breath of a harshly
abstract, a too incorporeal philosophy, had blown, like an east wind,
on that last depressing day in the prison-cell of Socrates; and the
venerable commonplaces then put forth, in which an overstrained pagan
sensuality seems to be reacting, to be taking vengeance, on itself,
turned now sick and suicidal, will lose none of their weight with
Plato:--That "all who rightly touch philosophy, study nothing else than
to die, and to be dead,"--that "the soul reasons best, when, as much as
possible, it comes to be alone with itself, bidding good-bye to the
body, and, to the utmost of its power, rejecting communion with it,
with the very touch of it, aiming at what is."

[145] It was, in short, as if for the soul to have come into a human
body at all, had been the seed of disease in it, the beginning of its
own proper death.

As for any adornments or provision for this body, the master had
declared that a true philosopher as such would make as little of them
as possible. To those young hearers, the words of Socrates may well
have seemed to anticipate, not the visible world he had then delineated
in glowing colour as if for the bodily eye, but only the chilling
influence of the hemlock; and it was because Plato was only half
convinced of the Manichean or Puritan element in his master's doctrine,
or rather was in contact with it on one side only of his complex and
genial nature, that Platonism became possible, as a temper for which,
in strictness, the opposition of matter to spirit has no ultimate or
real existence. Not to be "pure" from the body, but to identify it, in
its utmost fairness, with the fair soul, by a gymnastic "fused in
music," became, from first to last, the aim of education as he
conceived it. That the body is but "a hindrance to the attainment of
philosophy, if one takes it along with one as a companion in one's
search" (a notion which Christianity, at least in its later though
wholly legitimate developments, will correct) can hardly have been the
last thought of Plato himself on quitting it. He opens his door indeed
to those austere monitors. They correct the sensuous richness of his
genius, but could [146] not suppress it. The sensuous lover becomes a
lover of the invisible, but still a lover, after his earlier pattern,
carrying into the world of intellectual vision, of theôria,+ all the
associations of the actual world of sight. Some of its invisible
realities he can all but see with the bodily eye: the absolute
Temperance, in the person of the youthful Charmides; the absolute
Righteousness, in the person of the dying Socrates. Yes, truly! all
true knowledge will be like the knowledge of a person, of living
persons, and truth, for Plato, in spite of his Socratic asceticism, to
the last, something to look at. The eyes which had noted physical
things, so finely, vividly, continuously, would be still at work; and,
Plato thus qualifying the Manichean or Puritan element in Socrates by
his own capacity for the world of sense, Platonism has contributed
largely, has been an immense encouragement towards, the redemption of
matter, of the world of sense, by art, by all right education, by the
creeds and worship of the Christian Church--towards the vindication of
the dignity of the body.

It was doubtless because Plato was an excellent scholar that he did not
begin to teach others till he was more than forty years old--one of the
great scholars of the world, with Virgil and Milton: by which is
implied that, possessed of the inborn genius, of those natural powers,
[147] which sometimes bring with them a certain defiance of rule, of
the intellectual habits of others, he acquires, by way of habit and
rule, all that can be taught and learned; and what is thus derived from
others by docility and discipline, what is rangé, comes to have in him,
and in his work, an equivalent weight with what is unique, impulsive,
underivable. Raphael--Raphael, as you see him in the Blenheim Madonna,
is a supreme example of such scholarship in the sphere of art. Born of
a romantically ancient family, understood to be the descendant of Solon
himself, Plato had been in early youth a writer of verse. That he
turned to a more vigorous, though pedestrian mode of writing, was
perhaps an effect of his corrective intercourse with Socrates, through
some of the most important years of his life,--from twenty to twenty-

He belonged to what was just then the discontented class, and might
well have taken refuge from active political life in political ideals,
or in a kind of self-imposed exile. A traveller, adventurous for that
age, he certainly became. After the Lehr-jahre, the Wander-jahre!--all
round the Mediterranean coasts as far west as Sicily. Think of what
all that must have meant just then, for eyes which could see. If those
journeys had begun in angry flight from home, it was for purposes of
self-improvement they were continued: the delightful fruit of them is
evident in what he writes; and finding him [148] in friendly
intercourse with Dionysius the elder, with Dio, and Dionysius the
younger, at the polished court of Syracuse, we may understand that they
were a search also for "the philosophic king," perhaps for the
opportune moment of realising "the ideal state." In that case, his
quarrels with those capricious tyrants show that he was disappointed.
For the future he sought no more to pass beyond the charmed theoretic
circle, "speaking wisdom," as was said of Pythagoras, only "among the
perfect." He returns finally to Athens; and there, in the quiet
precincts of the Acadêmus, which has left a somewhat dubious name to
places where people come to be taught or to teach, founds, not a state,
nor even a brotherhood, but only the first college, with something of a
common life, of communism on that small scale, with Aristotle for one
of its scholars, with its chapel, its gardens, its library with the
authentic text of his Dialogues upon the shelves: we may just discern
the sort of place through the scantiest notices. His reign was after
all to be in his writings. Plato himself does nothing in them to
retard the effacement which mere time brings to persons and their
abodes; and there had been that, moreover, in his own temper, which
promotes self-effacement. Yet as he left it, the place remained for
centuries, according to his will, to its original use. What he taught
through the remaining forty years of his life, the method of that
teaching, whether it [149] was less or more esoteric than the teaching
of the extant Dialogues, is but matter of surmise. Writers, who in
their day might still have said much we should have liked to hear, give
us little but old, quasi-supernatural stories, told as if they had been
new ones, about him. The year of his birth fell, according to some, in
the very year of the death of Pericles (a significant date!) but is not
precisely ascertainable: nor is the year of his death, nor its manner.
Scribens est mortuus, says Cicero:--after the manner of a true scholar,
"he died pen in hand."


127-28. +Transliteration: Synesometha pollois tôn neôn autothi. Pater's
translation: "We shall meet a number of our youth there." Plato,
Republic 328a.

133. +Transliteration: Kai hos eipen erythriasas, êdê gar hypephaine ti
êmeras ôste kataphanê auton genesthai. E-text editor's translation:
"And he blushed as he spoke, for presently the day began to break, so
as to make him visible." Plato, Protagoras 312a.

134. +Transliteration: Ta erôtika. Pater's translation: "the discipline
of sensuous love;" more literally, the phrase means "things pertaining
to love." Plato, Symposium 177d.

136. +Transliteration: ta erôtika. Pater's translation: "the discipline
of sensuous love;" more literally, the phrase means "things pertaining
to love." Plato, Symposium 177d.

136. +Transliteration: hêttôn tôn kalôn. Pater's translation: "subject
to the influence of fair persons;" more literally, "yielding to
beauty." Plato, Meno 76c.

140. +Transliteration: ta erôtika. Pater's translation: "the discipline
of sensuous love;" more literally, the phrase means "things pertaining
to love." Plato, Symposium 177d.

140. +Transliteration: theôria. Liddell and Scott definition: "a
looking at, viewing, beholding . . . contemplation, reflection."
Plato, Republic 486a.

146. +Transliteration: theôria. Liddell and Scott definition: "a
looking at, viewing, beholding . . . contemplation, reflection."
Plato, Republic 486a.



[150] PLATONISM is not a formal theory or body of theories, but a
tendency, a group of tendencies--a tendency to think or feel, and to
speak, about certain things in a particular way, discernible in Plato's
dialogues as reflecting the peculiarities, the marked peculiarities, of
himself and his own mental complexion. Those tendencies combine and
find their complete expression in what Plato's commentators, rather
than Plato, have called the "theory of ideas," itself indeed not so
much a doctrine or theory, as a way of regarding and speaking of
general terms, such as Useful or Just; of abstract notions, like
Equality; of ideals, such as Beauty, or The Perfect City; of all those
terms or notions, in short, which represent under general forms the
particular presentations of our individual experience; or, to use
Plato's own frequent expression, borrowed [151] from his old Eleatic
teachers, which reduce "the Many to the One."

What the nature of such representative terms and notions, genus and
species, class-word, and abstract idea or ideal, may be; what their
relationship to the individual, the unit, the particulars which they
include; is, as we know, one of the constant problems of logic.
Realism, which supposes the abstraction, Animal for instance, or The
Just, to be not a mere name, nomen, as with the nominalists, nor a mere
subjective thought as with the conceptualists, but to be res, a thing
in itself, independent of the particular instances which come into and
pass out of it, as also of the particular mind which entertains it:--
that is one of the fixed and formal answers to this question; and Plato
is the father of all realists. Realism, as such, in the sense just
indicated, is not in itself a very difficult or transcendental theory;
but rises, again and again, at least in a particular class of minds,
quite naturally, as the answer to a natural question. Taking our own

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