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Plato and Platonism   By: (1839-1894)

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This etext was produced by Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D.



1. Plato and the Doctrine of Motion: 5 26 2. Plato and the Doctrine of Rest: 27 50 3. Plato and the Doctrine of Number: 51 74 4. Plato and Socrates: 75 98 5. Plato and the Sophists: 99 123 6. The Genius of Plato: 124 149 7. The Doctrine of Plato I. The Theory of Ideas: 150 173 II. Dialectic: 174 196 8. Lacedaemon: 197 234 9. The Republic: 235 266 10. Plato's Aesthetics: 267 283, end


[5] WITH the world of intellectual production, as with that of organic generation, nature makes no sudden starts. Natura nihil facit per saltum; and in the history of philosophy there are no absolute beginnings. Fix where we may the origin of this or that doctrine or idea, the doctrine of "reminiscence," for instance, or of "the perpetual flux," the theory of "induction," or the philosophic view of things generally, the specialist will still be able to find us some earlier anticipation of that doctrine, that mental tendency. The most elementary act of mental analysis takes time to do; the most rudimentary sort of speculative knowledge, abstractions so simple that we can hardly conceive the human mind without them, must grow, and with difficulty. Philosophy itself, mental and moral, has its preparation, its forethoughts, in the poetry that preceded it. A powerful generalisation thrown into some salient phrase, such as [6] that of Heraclitus "Panta rhei," all things fleet away may startle a particular age by its novelty, but takes possession only because all along its root was somewhere among the natural though but half developed instincts of the human mind itself.

Plato has seemed to many to have been scarcely less than the creator of philosophy; and it is an immense advance he makes, from the crude or turbid beginnings of scientific enquiry with the Ionians or the Eleatics, to that wide range of perfectly finished philosophical literature. His encyclopaedic view of the whole domain of knowledge is more than a mere step in a progress. Nothing that went before it, for compass and power and charm, had been really comparable to it. Plato's achievement may well seem an absolutely fresh thing in the morning of the mind's history. Yet in truth the world Plato had entered into was already almost weary of philosophical debate, bewildered by the oppositions of sects, the claims of rival schools. Language and the processes of thought were already become sophisticated, the very air he breathed sickly with off cast speculative atoms.

In the Timaeus, dealing with the origin of the universe he figures less as the author of a new theory, than as already an eclectic critic of older ones, himself somewhat perplexed by theory and counter theory. And as we find there a [7] sort of storehouse of all physical theories, so in reading the Parmenides we might think that all metaphysical questions whatever had already passed through the mind of Plato. Some of the results of patient earlier thinkers, even then dead and gone, are of the structure of his philosophy. They are everywhere in it, not as the stray carved corner of some older edifice, to be found here or there amid the new, but rather like minute relics of earlier organic life in the very stone he builds with. The central and most intimate principles of his teaching challenge us to go back beyond them, not merely to his own immediate, somewhat enigmatic master to Socrates, who survives chiefly in his pages but to various precedent schools of speculative thought, in Greece, in Ionia, in Italy; beyond these into that age of poetry, in which the first efforts of philosophic apprehension had hardly understood themselves; beyond that unconscious philosophy, again, to certain constitutional tendencies, persuasions, forecasts of the intellect itself, such as had given birth, it would seem, to thoughts akin to Plato's in the older civilisations of India and of Egypt, as they still exercise their authority over ourselves... Continue reading book >>

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