Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Volume Two
Category: Ideas
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George Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel was a German philosopher, teacher and lecterur. He spoke on German idealism and is A significant figure in Western philosophy. Hegel's lectures were so impactful that they were collected later from his students notes and published. His impact can be felt in philosophical issues from ontology to aesthetics to religion. Read these notes taken and edited by a student of Hegel's before being published and get an idea of what it was like to sit in on one of the philosopher's powerful lectures.

Lectures on
The History of Philosophy

Georg Wilhelm Hegel

Translated from the German by
E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson, M.A.

Volume Two

Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Volume Two

Greek Philosophy
Section One (Continued)

Chapter III
First Period, Third Division: Plato and Aristotle

The development of philosophic science as science, and, further, the progress from the Socratic point of view to the scientific, begins with Plato and is completed by Aristotle. They of all others deserve to be called teachers of the human race.

A. Plato

Plato, who must be numbered among the Socratics, was the most renowned of the friends and disciples of Socrates, and he it was who grasped in all its truth Socrates’ great principle that ultimate reality lies in consciousness, since, according to him, the absolute is in thought, and all reality is Thought. He does not understand by this a one-sided thought, nor what is understood by the false idealism which makes thought once more step aside and contemplate itself as conscious thought, and as in opposition to reality; it is the thought which embraces in an absolute unity reality as well as thinking, the Notion and its reality in the movement of science, as the Idea of a scientific whole. While Socrates had comprehended the thought which is existent in and for itself, only as an object for self-conscious will, Plato forsook this narrow point of view, and brought the merely abstract right of self-conscious thought, which Socrates had raised to a principle, into the sphere of science. By so doing he rendered it possible to interpret and apply the principle, though his manner of representation may not be altogether scientific.

Plato is one of those world-famed individuals, his philosophy one of those world-renowned creations, whose influence, as regards the culture and development of the mind, has from its commencement down to the present time been all-important. For what is peculiar in the philosophy of Plato is its application to the intellectual and supersensuous world, and its elevation of consciousness into the realm of spirit. Thus the spiritual element which belongs to thought obtains in this form an importance for consciousness, and is brought into consciousness; just as, on the other hand, consciousness obtains a foothold on the soil of the other. The Christian religion has certainly adopted the lofty principle that man’s inner and spiritual nature is his true nature, and takes it as its universal principle, though interpreting it in its own way as man’s inclination for holiness; but Plato and his philosophy had the greatest share in obtaining for Christianity its rational organization, and in bringing it into the kingdom of the supernatural, for it was Plato who made the first advance in this direction.

We must begin by mentioning the facts of Plato’s life. Plato was an Athenian, born in the third year of the 87th Olympiad, or, according to Dodwell, Ol. 87, 4 (B.C. 429), at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, in the year in which Pericles died. He was, according to this, thirty-nine or forty years younger than Socrates. His father, Ariston, traced his lineage from Cadrus; his mother, Perictione, was descended from Solon. The paternal uncle of his mother was the celebrated Critias, who was for a time among the associates of Socrates, and who was the most talented and brilliant, but also the most dangerous and obnoxious, of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens. Critias is usually represented by the ancients as an atheist, with the Cyrenaic Theodoras and Diagoras of Melos; Sextus Empiricus (adv. Math. IX. 51-54) has preserved to us a fine fragment from one of his poems. Sprung from this noble race, and with no lack of means for his culture, Plato received from the most highly esteemed of the Sophists an education in all the arts which were then thought to befit an Athenian. In his family he was called Aristocles; it was only later that he received from his teacher the name of Plato. Some say that he was so styled because of the breadth of his forehead; others, because of the richness and breadth of his discourse; others again, because of his well-built form.

In his youth he cultivated poetry, and wrote tragedies — very much like young poets in our day — also dithyrambs and songs. Various specimens of the last are still preserved to us in the Greek anthology, and have as subject his various loves; we have amongst others a well-known epigram on a certain Aster, one of his best friends, which contains a pretty fancy, found also in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

“To the stars thou look’st, mine Aster,
O would that I were Heaven,
With eyes so many thus to gaze on thee.”

In his youth he had every intention of devoting himself to politics. He was brought by his father to Socrates when in his twentieth year, and enjoyed intimate friendship with him for eight years. It is related that Socrates dreamt on the preceding night that he had a young swan perched on his knees, whose wings quickly developed, and which then flew up to heaven, singing the sweetest songs. Many such incidents are mentioned by the ancients, and they bear witness to the deep reverence and love with which both contemporaries and those of later times regarded the calm dignity of Plato, and that loftiness of demeanour which he combined with extreme simplicity and lovableness, traits of character which won for him the name of “the divine.” Plato did not content himself with the society and wisdom of Socrates, but studied in addition the older philosophers, particularly Heraclitus. Aristotle (Met. I. 6) states that Plato, before he ever came to Socrates, associated with Cratylus, and had been initiated into the doctrines of Heraclitus. He also studied the Eleatics, and very particularly the Pythagoreans, and he frequented the society of the most noted Sophists. Thus deeply immersed in Philosophy, he lost his interest in poetry and politics, and gave them up altogether, that he might devote himself entirely to scientific pursuits. He fulfilled, like Socrates, his term of military service as an Athenian citizen, and is said to have taken part in three campaigns.

We have already mentioned (Vol. I.) that, after Socrates was put to death, Plato, like many other philosophers, fled from Athens, and betook himself to Euclides at Megara. Leaving Megara before long, he travelled first to Cyrene in Africa, where he turned his attention specially to mathematics, under the guidance of the celebrated mathematician Theodoras, whom he introduces as taking part in several of his dialogues. Plato himself soon attained to high proficiency in mathematics. To him is attributed the solution of the Delian or Delphic problem, which was proposed by the oracle, and, like the Pythagorean dogma, has reference to the cube. The problem is, to draw a line the cube of which will be equal to the sum of two given cubes. This requires a construction through two curves. The nature of the tasks then set by the oracles is very curious; on this particular occasion application had been made to the oracle in a time of pestilence, and it responded by proposing an entirely scientific problem; the change indicated in the spirit of the oracle is highly significant. From Cyrene Plato went to Italy and Egypt. In Magna Græcia he made the acquaintance of the Pythagoreans of that day, Archytas of Tarentum, the celebrated mathematician, Philolaus and others; and he also bought the writings of the older Pythagoreans at a high price. In Sicily he made friends with Dion. Returning to Athens, he opened a school of Philosophy in the Academy, a grove or promenade in which stood a gymnasium, and there he discoursed to his disciples. This pleasure-ground had been laid out in honour of the hero Academus, but Plato was the true hero of the Academy who did away with the old significance of the name, and overshadowed the fame of the original hero, whose place he so completely took that the latter comes down to after ages only as connected with Plato.

Plato’s busy life in Athens was twice interrupted by a journey to Sicily, to the Court of Dionysius the younger, ruler of Syracuse and Sicily. This connection with Dionysius was the most important, if not the only external relation into which Plato entered; it had, however, no lasting result. Dion, the nearest relative of Dionysius, and other respected Syracusans, his friends, deluded themselves with vain hopes regarding Dionysius. He had been allowed by his father to grow up almost without education, but his friends had instilled into him some notion of and respect for Philosophy, and had roused in him a desire to make acquaintance with Plato. They hoped that Dionysius would profit greatly by his intimacy with Plato, and that his character, which was still unformed, and to all appearance far from unpromising, would be so influenced by Plato’s idea of the constitution of a true state, that this might, through him, come to be realized in Sicily. It was partly his friendship with Dion, and partly and more especially the high hopes he himself cherished of seeing a true form of government actually established by Dionysius, that induced Plato to take the mistaken step of journeying to Sicily. On the surface it seems an excellent idea that a young prince should have a wise man at his elbow to instruct and inspire him; and on this idea a hundred political romances have been based; the picture has, however, no reality behind it. Dionysius was much pleased with Plato, it is true, and conceived such a respect for him that he desired to be respected by him in turn; but this did not last long. Dionysius was one of those mediocre natures who may indeed in a half-hearted way aspire to glory and honour, but are capable of no depth and earnestness, however much they may affect it, and who lack all strength of character. His intentions were good, but the power failed him to carry them out; it was like our own satirical representations in the theatre, of a person who aspires to be quite a paragon, and turns out an utter fool. The position of affairs represented thereby can be nothing but this, seeing that lack of energy alone allows itself to be guided; but it is also the same lack of energy which renders impossible of execution even a plan made by itself. The rupture between Plato and Dionysius took place on personal grounds. Dionysius fell out with his relative Dion, and Plato became involved in the quarrel, because he would not give up his friendship with Dion. Dionysius was incapable of a friendship based on esteem and sympathy in pursuits; it was partly his personal inclination to Plato, and partly mere vanity, which had made him seek the philosopher’s friendship. Dionysius could not, however, induce Plato to come under any obligation to him; he desired that Plato should give himself up to him entirely, but this was a demand that Plato refused to entertain.

Plato accordingly took his departure. After the separation, however, both felt the desire to be again together. Dionysius recalled Plato, in order to effect a reconciliation with him; he could not endure that he should have failed in the attempt to attach Plato permanently to himself, and he found it specially intolerable that Plato would not give up Dion. Plato yielded to the urgent representations, not only of his family and Dion, but also of Archytas and other Pythagoreans of Tarentum, to whom Dionysius had applied, and who were taking an interest in the reconciliation of Dionysius with Dion and Plato; indeed, they went so far as to guarantee safety and liberty of departure to Plato. But Dionysius found that he could endure Plato’s presence no better than his absence; he felt himself thereby constrained. And though, by the influence of Plato and his other companions, a respect for science had been awakened in Dionysius, and he had thus become more cultured, he never penetrated beyond the surface. His interest in Philosophy was just as superficial as his repeated attempts in poetry; and while he wished to be everything — poet, philosopher, and statesman — he would not submit to be under the guidance of others. Thus no closer tie between Plato and Dionysius was formed; they drew together again, and again parted, so that the third visit to Sicily ended also in coldness, and the connection was not again established. This time the ill-feeling with regard to the continued relations with Dion ran so high, that when Plato wished to leave Sicily, on account of the treatment his friend had met with from Dionysius, the latter deprived him of the means of conveyance, and at last would have forcibly prevented his departure from Sicily. The Pythagoreans of Tarentum came at length to the rescue, demanded Plato back from Dionysius, got him conveyed away safely, and brought him to Greece. They were aided by the circumstance that Dionysius was afraid of an ill report being spread that he was not on good terms with Plato. Thus Plato’s hopes were shattered, and his dream of shaping the constitution in accordance with the demands of his own philosophic ideas, through the agency of Dionysius, proved vain.

At a later date, therefore, he actually refused to be the lawgiver of other States, though they had made application to him for that very purpose; amongst these applicants were the inhabitants of Cyrene and the Arcadians. It was a time when many of the Greek States found their constitutions unsatisfactory, and yet could not devise anything new. Now in the last thirty years many constitutions have been drawn up, and it would be no hard task for anyone having had much experience in this work to frame another. But theorizing is not sufficient for a constitution; it is not individuals who make it; it is something divine and spiritual, which develops in history. So strong is this power of the world-spirit that the thought of an individual is as nothing against it; and when such thoughts do count for something, i.e. when they can be realized, they are then none other than the product of this power of the universal spirit. The idea that Plato should become lawgiver was not adapted for the times; Solon and Lycurgus were lawgivers, but in Plato’s day such a thing was impracticable. He declined any further compliance with the wishes of these States, because they would not agree to the first condition which he imposed, namely, the abolition of all private property, a principle which we shall deal with later, in considering Plato’s practical philosophy. Honoured thus throughout the whole land, and especially in Athens, Plato lived until the first year of the 108th Olympiad (B.C. 348); and died on his birthday, at a wedding feast, in the eighty-first year of his age.

We have to speak, in the first place, of the direct mode in which Plato’s philosophy has come down to us; it is to be found in those of his writings which we possess; indubitably they are one of the fairest gifts which fate has preserved from the ages that are gone. His philosophy is not, however, properly speaking, presented there in systematic form, and to construct it from such writings is difficult, not so much from anything in itself, as because this philosophy has been differently understood in different periods of time; and, more than all, because it has been much and roughly handled in modern times by those who have either read into it their own crude notions, being enable to conceive the spiritual spiritually, or have regarded as the essential and most significant element in Plato’s philosophy that which in reality does not belong to Philosophy at all, but only to the mode of presentation; in truth, however, it is only ignorance of Philosophy that renders it difficult to grasp the philosophy of Plato. The form and matter of these works are alike of interest and importance. In studying them we must nevertheless make sure, in the first place, what of Philosophy we mean to seek and may find within them, and, on the other hand, what Plato’s point of view never can afford us, because in his time it was not there to give. Thus it may be that the longing with which we approached Philosophy is left quite unsatisfied; it is, however, better that we should not be altogether satisfied than that such conclusions should be regarded as final. Plato’s point of view is clearly defined and necessary, but it is impossible for us to remain there, or to go back to it; for Reason now makes higher demands. As for regarding it as the highest standpoint, and that which we must take for our own — it belongs to the weaknesses of our time not to be able to bear the greatness, the immensity of the claims made by the human spirit, to feel crushed before them, and to flee from them faint-hearted. We must stand above Plato, i.e. we must acquaint ourselves with the needs of thoughtful minds in our own time, or rather we must ourselves experience these needs. Just as the pedagogue’s aim is to train up men so as to shield them from the world, or to keep them in a particular sphere — the counting-house, for instance, or bean-planting, if you wish to be idyllic — where they will neither know the world nor be known by it; so in Philosophy a return has been made to religious faith, and therefore to the Platonic philosophy. Both are moments which have their due place and their own importance, but they are not the philosophy of our time. It would be perfectly justifiable to return to Plato in order to learn anew from him the Idea of speculative Philosophy, but it is idle to speak of him with extravagant enthusiasm, as if he represented beauty and excellence in general. Moreover, it is quite superfluous for Philosophy, and belongs to the hypercriticism of our times, to treat Plato from a literary point of view, as Schleiermacher does, critically examining whether one or another of the minor dialogues is genuine or not. Regarding the more important of the dialogues, we may mention that the testimony of the ancients leaves not the slightest doubt.

Then of course the very character of Plato’s works, offering us in their manysidedness various modes of treating Philosophy, constitutes the first difficulty standing in the way of a comprehension of his philosophy. If we still had the oral discourses (ἄγραφα δόγματα) of Plato, under the title “Concerning the Good” (περὶ τἀγαθοῦ), which his scholars noted down, we should have had his philosophy before us in simpler, because in more systematic form. Aristotle seems to have had these discourses before him, when dealing with the philosophy of Plato, and he quotes them in his work “On Philosophy,” or, “On the Ideas,” or, “On the Good” (Brandis has written on this topic). But, as it happens, we have only Plato’s Dialogues, and their form renders it all the more difficult for us to gather a definite idea of his philosophy. For the dialogue form contains very heterogeneous elements; Philosophy proper in the treatment of absolute Being, and, intermingled with that, its particular mode of representation. It is just this which constitutes the manysidedness of Plato’s works.

A second difficulty is said to lie in the distinction drawn between exoteric and esoteric philosophy. Tennemann says: “Plato exercised the right, which is conceded to every thinker, of communicating only so much of his discoveries as he thought good, and of so doing only to those whom he credited with capacity to receive it. Aristotle, too, had an esoteric and an exoteric philosophy, but with this difference, that in his case the distinction was merely formal, while with Plato it was also material.” How nonsensical! This would appear as if the philosopher kept possession of his thoughts in the same way as of his external goods: the philosophic Idea is, however, something utterly different, and instead of being possessed by, it possesses a man. When philosophers discourse on philosophic subjects, they follow of necessity the course of their ideas; they cannot keep them in their pockets; and when one man speaks to another, if his words have any meaning at all, they must contain the idea present to him. It is easy enough to hand over an external possession, but the communication of ideas requires a certain skill; there is always something esoteric in this, something more than the merely exoteric. This difficulty is therefore trifling.

Thirdly, as one of the circumstances that render it difficult to comprehend Plato’s own speculative thought, we can scarcely reckon the external consideration that in his Dialogues he does not speak in his own person, but introduces Socrates and many others as the speakers, without always making it plain which of them expresses the writer’s own opinion. By reason of this historic circumstance, which seems to bear out the manysidedness of Plato, it has of course been often said, by ancients as well as moderns, that he merely expounded, from a historical point of view, the system and doctrine of Socrates, that he adapted much in the Dialogues from various Sophists, and avowedly advanced many theorems belonging to an earlier date, especially those of the Pythagoreans, Heraclitics, and Eleatics, even adopting, in the last case, the Eleatic mode of treatment. Hence it was said that to these philosophies the whole matter of the treatise belonged, the outward form alone being Plato’s. It is therefore necessary to distinguish what is peculiarly his and what is not, or whether the component parts are in harmony. In the Socratic Dialogues that we have from Cicero, the personages can be much more readily made out; but in Cicero there is nothing of real interest offered to us. With Plato there can be no talk of this ambiguity, and the difficulty is only in appearance. In the Dialogues of Plato his philosophy is quite clearly expressed; they are not constructed as are the conversations of some people, which consist of many monologues, in which one person expresses a certain opinion and another person differs from him, and both hold to their own way of thinking. Here, on the contrary, the divergency of opinions which comes out is examined, and a conclusion arrived at as to the truth; or, if the result is negative, the whole process of knowledge is what is seen in Plato. There is, therefore, no need to inquire further as to what belongs to Socrates in the Dialogues, and what belongs to Plato. This further observation we must, however, make, that since Philosophy in its ultimate essence is one and the same, every succeeding philosopher will and must take up into his own, all philosophies that went before, and what falls specially to him is their further development. Philosophy is not a thing apart, like a work of art; though even in a work of art it is the skill which the artist learns from others that he puts into practice. What is original in the artist is his conception as a whole, and the intelligent use of the means already at his command; there may occur to him in working an endless variety of ideas and discoveries of his own. But Philosophy has one thought, one reality, as its foundation; and nothing can be put in the place of the true knowledge of this already attained; it must of necessity make itself evident in later developments. Therefore, as I have already observed, Plato’s Dialogues are not to be considered as if their aim were to put forward a variety of philosophies, nor as if Plato’s were an eclectic philosophy derived from them; it forms rather the knot in which these abstract and one-sided principles have become truly united in a concrete fashion. In giving a general idea of the history of Philosophy, we have already seen that such points of union, in which the true is concrete, must occur in the onward course of philosophical development. The concrete is the unity of diverse determinations and principles; these, in order to be perfected, in order to come definitely before the consciousness, must first of all be presented separately. Thereby they of course acquire an aspect of one-sidedness in comparison with the higher principle which follows: this, nevertheless, does not annihilate them, nor even leave them where they were, but takes them up into itself as moments. Thus in Plato’s philosophy we see all manner of philosophic teaching from earlier times absorbed into a deeper principle, and therein united. It is in this way that Plato’s philosophy shows itself to be a totality of ideas: therefore, as the result, the principles of others are comprehended in itself. Frequently Plato does nothing more than explain the doctrines of earlier philosophers; and the only particular feature in his representation of them is that their scope is extended. His Timæus is, by unanimous testimony, the amplification of a still extant work of Pythagoras; and, in like manner, his amplification of the doctrine of Parmenides is of such a nature that its principle is freed from its one-sided character.

These last two difficulties having been disposed of, if we would likewise solve the first mentioned, we must proceed to describe the form in which Plato has propounded his ideas, keeping it, on the other hand, distinct from Philosophy proper, as we find it with him. The form of the Platonic philosophy is, as is well known, the dialogue. The beauty of this form is highly attractive; yet we must not think, as many do, that it is the most perfect form in which to present Philosophy; it is peculiar to Plato, and as a work of art is of course to be much esteemed.

In the first place, scenery and dramatic form belong to what is external. Plato gives to his Dialogues a setting of reality, both as regards place and persons, and chooses out some particular occasion which has brought his characters together; this in itself is very natural and charming. Socrates takes the leading part, and among the other actors there are many stars well known to us, such as Agathon, Zeno, and Aristophanes. We find ourselves in some particular spot; in the Phædrus (p. 229 Steph.; p. 6 Bekk.) it is at the plane tree beside the clear waters of the Ilyssus, through which Socrates and Phædrus pass; in other dialogues we are conducted to the halls of the gymnasia, to the Academy, or to a banquet. By never allowing himself to appear in person, but putting his thoughts always in the mouth of others, any semblance of preaching or of dogmatizing is avoided by Plato, and the narrator appears just as little as he does in the History of Thucydides or in Homer. Xenophon sometimes brings himself forward, sometimes he entirely loses sight of the aim he had in view, of vindicating by what he tells of them the life of Socrates and his method of instruction. With Plato, on the contrary, all is quite objective and plastic; and he employs great art in removing from himself all responsibility for his assertions, often assigning them even to a third or fourth person.

As regards the tone of the intercourse between the characters in these Dialogues, we find that the noblest urbanity of well-bred men reigns supreme; the Dialogues are a lesson in refinement; we see in them the savoir faire of a man acquainted with the world. The term courtesy does not quite express urbanity; it is too wide, and includes the additional notion of testifying respect, of expressing deference and personal obligation; urbanity is true courtesy, and forms its real basis. But urbanity makes a point of granting complete liberty to all with whom we converse, both as regards the character and matter of their opinions, and also the right of giving expression to the same. Thus in our counter-statements and contradictions we make it evident that what we have ourselves to say against the statement made by our opponent is the mere expression of our subjective opinion; for this is a conversation carried on by persons as persons, and not objective reason talking with itself. However energetically we may then express ourselves, we must always acknowledge that our opponent is also a thinking person; just as one must not take to speaking with the air of being an oracle, nor prevent anyone else from opening his mouth in reply. This urbanity is, however, not forbearance, but rather the highest degree of frankness and candour, and it is this very characteristic which gives such gracefulness to Plato’s Dialogues.

Finally, this dialogue is not a conversation, in which what is said has, and is meant to have, a merely casual connection, without any exhaustive treatment of the subject. When one talks only for amusement, the casual and arbitrary sequence of ideas is quite to be expected. In the introduction, to be sure, the Dialogues of Plato have sometimes this very character of being mere conversations, and consequently appear to take an accidental form; for Socrates is made to take his start from the particular conceptions of certain individuals, and from the circle of their ideas. Later, however, these dialogues become a systematic development of the matter in hand, wherein the subjective character of the conversation disappears, and the whole course of the argument shows a beautifully consistent dialectic process. Socrates talks, turns the conversation, lays down his own views, draws a conclusion, and does all this through the apparent instrumentality of the question; most questions are so framed as to be answered by merely Yes or No. The dialogue seems to be the form best adapted for representing an argument, because it sways hither and thither; the different sides are allotted to different persons, and thus the argument is made more animated. The dialogue has, however, this disadvantage, that it seems to be carried on arbitrarily, so that at the end the feeling always remains that the matter might have turned out differently. But in the Platonic Dialogues this arbitrary character is apparent only; it has been got rid of by limiting the development to the development of the subject in hand, and by leaving very little to be said by the second speaker. Such personages are, as we already saw in connection with Socrates, plastic personages as regards the conversation; no one is put there to state his own views, or, as the French express it, pour placer son mot. Just as in the Catechism the answers are prescribed to the questions asked, so is it in these dialogues, for they who answer have to say what the author pleases. The question is so framed that a quite simple answer is alone possible, and, thanks to the artistic beauty and power of the dialogues, such an answer appears at the same time perfectly natural.

In the next place, there is connected with this outward aspect of personality the circumstance that the Platonic philosophy does not proclaim itself to be one particular field, where some one begins a science of his own in a sphere of his own; for it sometimes enters into the ordinary conceptions of culture, like those of Socrates, sometimes into those of the Sophists, at other times into those of earlier philosophers, and in so doing brings before us exemplifications from ordinary knowledge, and also uses the methods of the same. A systematic exposition of Philosophy we cannot in this way find; and of course it is all the less easy for us to take a comprehensive view of the subject, since there are at hand no means of judging whether the treatment has been exhaustive or not. Nevertheless, there is present there one spirit, one definite point of view as regards Philosophy, even though Mind does not make its appearance in the precise form which we demand. The philosophic culture of Plato, like the general culture of his time, was not yet ripe for really scientific work; the Idea was still too fresh and new; it was only in Aristotle that it attained to a systematic scientific form of representation.

Connected with this deficiency in Plato’s mode of representation, there is also a deficiency in respect of the concrete determination of the Idea itself, since the various elements of the Platonic philosophy which are represented in these dialogues, namely the merely popular conceptions of Being and the apprehending knowledge of the same, are really mixed up in a loose, popular way, so that the former more especially come to be represented in a myth or parable; such intermingling is inevitable in this beginning of science proper in its true form. Plato’s lofty mind, which had a perception or conception of Mind, penetrated through his subject with the speculative Notion, but he only began to penetrate it thus, and he did not yet embrace the whole of its reality in the Notion; or the knowledge which appeared in Plato did not yet fully realize itself in him. Here it therefore happens sometimes that the ordinary conception of reality again separates itself from its Notion, and that the latter comes into opposition with it, without any statement having been made that the Notion alone constitutes reality. Thus we find Plato speaking of God, and again, in the Notion, of the absolute reality of things, but speaking of them as separated, or in a connection in which they both appear separated; and God, as an uncomprehended existence, is made to belong to the ordinary conception. Sometimes, in order to give greater completeness and reality, in place of following out the Notion, mere pictorial conceptions are introduced, myths, spontaneous imaginations of his own, or tales derived from the sensuous conception, which no doubt are determined by thought, but which this has never permeated in truth, but only in such a way that the intellectual is determined by the forms of ordinary conception. For instance, appearances of the body or of nature, which are perceptible by the senses, are brought forward along with thoughts regarding them, which do not nearly so completely exhaust the subject as if it had been thoroughly thought out, and the Notion allowed to pursue an independent course.

Looking at this as it bears on the question of how Plato’s philosophy is to be apprehended, we find, owing to these two circumstances, that either too much or too little is found in it. Too much is found by the ancients, the so-called -, who sometimes dealt with Plato’s philosophy as they dealt with the Greek mythology. This they allegorized and represented as the expression of ideas — which the myths certainly are — and in the same way they first raised the ideas in Plato’s myths to the rank of theorems: for the merit of Philosophy consists alone in the fact that truth is expressed in the form of the Notion. Sometimes, again, they took what with Plato is in the form of the Notion for the expression of Absolute Being — the theory of Being in the Parmenides, for instance, for the knowledge of God — just as if Plato had not himself drawn a distinction between them. But in the pure Notions of Plato the ordinary conception as such is not abrogated; either it is not said that these Notions constitute its reality, or they are to Plato no more than a conception, and not reality. Again, we certainly see that too little is found in Plato by the moderns in particular; for they attach themselves pre-eminently to the side of the ordinary conception, and see in it reality. What in Plato relates to the Notion, or what is purely speculative, is nothing more in their eyes than roaming about in abstract logical notions, or than empty subtleties: on the other hand, they take that for theorem which was enunciated as a popular conception. Thus we find in Tennemann (Vol. II. p. 376) and others an obstinate determination to lead back the Platonic Philosophy to the forms of our former metaphysic, e.g. to the proof of the existence of God.

However much, therefore, Plato’s mythical presentation of Philosophy is praised, and however attractive it is in his Dialogues, it yet proves a source of misapprehensions; and it is one of these misapprehensions, if Plato’s myths are held to be what is most excellent in his philosophy. Many propositions, it is true, are made more easily intelligible by being presented in mythical form; nevertheless, what is not the true way of presenting them; propositions are thoughts which, in order to be pure, must be brought forward as such. The myth is always a mode of representation which, as belonging to an earlier stage, introduces sensuous images, which are directed to imagination, not to thought; in this, however, the activity of thought is suspended, it cannot yet establish itself by its own power, and so is not yet free. The myth belongs to the pedagogic stage of the human race, since it entices and allures men to occupy themselves with the content; but as it takes away from the purity of thought through sensuous forms, it cannot express the meaning of Thought. When the Notion attains its full development, it has no more need of the myth. Plato often says that it is difficult to express one’s thoughts on such and such a subject, and he therefore will employ a myth; no doubt this is easier. Plato also says of simple Notions that they are dependent, transitory moments, which have their ultimate truth in God; and in this first mention of God by Plato, He is made a mere conception. Thus the manner of conception and the genuinely speculative element are confounded.

In order to gather Plato’s philosophy from his dialogues, what we have to do is to distinguish what belongs to ordinary conception — especially where Plato has recourse to myths for the presentation of a philosophic idea — from the philosophic idea itself; only then do we know that what belongs only to the ordinary conception, as such, does not belong to thought, is not the essential. But if we do not recognize what is Notion, or what is speculative, there is inevitably the danger of these myths leading us to draw quite a host of maxims and theorems from the dialogues, and to give them out as Plato’s philosophic propositions, while they are really nothing of the kind, but belong entirely to the manner of presentation. Thus, for instance, in the Timæus (p. 41 Steph.; p. 43 Bekk.) Plato makes use of the form, God created the world, and the dæmons had a certain share in the work; this is spoken quite after the manner of the popular conception. If, however, it is taken as a philosophic dogma on Plato’s part that God made the world, that higher beings of a spiritual kind exist, and, in the creation of the world, lent God a helping hand, we may see that this stands word for word in Plato, and yet it does not belong to his philosophy. When in pictorial fashion he says of the soul of man that it has a rational and an irrational part, this is to be taken only in a general sense; Plato does not thereby make the philosophic assertion that the soul is compounded of two kinds of substance, two kinds of thing. When he represents knowledge or learning as a process of recollection, this may be taken to mean that the soul existed before man’s birth. In like manner, when he speaks of the central point of his philosophy, of Ideas, of the Universal, as the permanently self-existent, as the patterns of things sensible, we may easily be led to think of these Ideas, after the manner of the modern categories of the understanding, as substances which exist outside reality, in the Understanding of God; or on their own account and as independent — like the angels, for example. In short, all that is expressed in the manner of pictorial conception is taken by the moderns in sober earnest for philosophy. Such a representation of Plato’s philosophy can be supported by Plato’s own words; but one who knows what Philosophy is, cares little for such expressions, and recognizes what was Plato’s true meaning.

In the account of the Platonic philosophy to which I must now proceed, the two cannot certainly be separated, but they must be noted and judged of in a very different manner from that which has prevailed amongst the moderns. We have, on the one hand, to make clear Plato’s general conception of what Philosophy and Knowledge really are, and on the other to develop the particular branches of Philosophy of which he treats.

In considering his general conception of Philosophy, the first point that strikes us is the high estimation in which Plato held Philosophy. The lofty nature of the knowledge of Philosophy deeply impressed him, and he shows a real enthusiasm for the thought which deals with the absolute. Just as the Cyrenaics treat of the relation of the existent to the individual consciousness, and the Cynics assert immediate freedom to be reality, Plato upholds the self-mediating unity of consciousness and reality, or knowledge. He everywhere expresses the most exalted ideas regarding the value of Philosophy, as also the deepest and strongest sense of the inferiority of all else; he speaks of it with the greatest energy and enthusiasm, with all the pride of science, and in a manner such as nowadays we should not venture to adopt. There is in him none of the so-called modest attitude of this science towards other spheres of knowledge, nor of man towards God. Plato has a full consciousness of how near human reason is to God, and indeed of its unity with Him. Men do not mind reading this in Plato, an ancient, because it is no longer a present thing, but were it coming from a modern philosopher, it would be taken much amiss. Philosophy to Plato is man’s highest possible possession and true reality; it alone has to be sought of man. Out of many passages on this subject I shall quote in the first instance the following from the Timæus (p. 47 Steph.; p. 54 Bekk.): “Our knowledge of what is most excellent begins with the eyes. The distinction between the visible day and the night, the months and courses of the planets, have begotten a knowledge of time, and awakened a desire to know the nature of the whole. From this we then obtained Philosophy, and no greater gift than this, given by God to man, has ever come or will come.”

The manner in which Plato expresses his opinions on this subject in the Republic is very well known, as it is greatly decried, because it so completely contradicts the common ideas of men, and it is all the more surprising in that it concerns the relation of Philosophy to the state, and therefore to actuality. For before this, though a certain value might indeed be attributed to Philosophy, it still remained confined to the thoughts of the individual; here, however, it goes forth into questions of constitution, government, actuality. After Plato made Socrates, in the Republic, expound the nature of a true state, he caused Glaucon to interrupt by expressing his desire that Plato should show how it could be possible for such a state to exist. Socrates parries the question, will not come to the point, seeks evasive pleas, and tries to extricate himself by asserting that in describing what is just, he does not bind himself to show how it might be realized in actuality, though some indication must certainly be given of how an approximate, if not a complete realization of it might be possible. Finally, when pressed, he says: “Then it shall be expressed, even though a flood of laughter and utter disbelief overwhelm me. When philosophers rule the states, or the so-called kings and princes of the present time are truly and completely philosophers, when thus political greatness and Philosophy meet in one, and the many natures who now follow either side to the exclusion of the other, come together, then, and not till then, can there be an end, dear Glaucon, either to the evils of the state or, as I believe, to those of the human race. Then only will this state of which I spoke be possible or see the light of day.” “This,” adds Socrates, “is what I have so long hesitated to say, because I know that it is so much opposed to ordinary ideas.” Plato makes Glaucon answer, “Socrates, you have expressed what, you must recollect, would cause many men, and not bad men either, to pull off their coats and seize the first weapon that comes to hand, and set upon you one and all with might and main; and if you don’t know how to appease them with your reasons, you will have to answer for it.”

Plato here plainly asserts the necessity for thus uniting Philosophy with government. As to this demand, it may seem a piece of great presumption to say that philosophers should have the government of states accorded to them, for the territory or ground of history is different from that of Philosophy. In history, the Idea, as the absolute power, has certainly to realize itself; in other words, God rules in the world. But history is the Idea working itself out in a natural way, and not with the consciousness of the Idea. The action is certainly in accordance with general reflections on what is right, moral, and pleasing to God; but we must recognize that action represents at the same time the endeavours of the subject as such for particular ends. The realization of the Idea thus takes place through an intermingling of thoughts and Notions with immediate and particular ends. Hence it is only on the one side produced through thoughts, and on the other through circumstances, through human actions in their capacity of means. These means often seem opposed to the Idea, but that does not really matter; all those particular ends are really only means of bringing forth the Idea, because it is the absolute power. Hence the Idea comes to pass in the world, and no difficulty is caused, but it is not requisite that those who rule should have the Idea.

In order, however, to judge of the statement that the regents of the people should be philosophers, we must certainty consider what was understood by Philosophy in the Platonic sense and in the sense of the times. The word Philosophy has had in different periods very different significations. There was a time when a man who did not believe in spectres or in the devil was called a philosopher. When such ideas as these pass away, it does not occur to people to call anyone a philosopher for a reason such as this. The English consider what we call experimental physics to be Philosophy; a philosopher to them is anyone who makes investigations in, and possesses a theoretic knowledge of chemistry, mechanics, &c. In Plato Philosophy becomes mingled with the knowledge of the supersensuous, or what to us is religious knowledge. The Platonic philosophy is thus the knowledge of the absolutely true and right, the knowledge of universal ends in the state, and the recognition of their validity. In all the history of the migration of the nations, when the Christian religion became the universal religion, the only point of interest was to conceive the supersensuous kingdom — which was at first independent, absolutely universal and true — as actualized, and to determine actuality in conformity thereto. This has been from that time forth the business of culture. A state, a government and constitution of modern times has hence quite a different basis from a state of ancient times, and particularly from one of Plato’s day. The Greeks were then altogether dissatisfied with their democratic constitution, and the conditions resulting from it, and similarly all philosophers condemned the democracies of the Greek states in which such things as the punishment of generals took place. In such a constitution it might certainly be thought that what was best for the state would be the first subject of consideration; but arbitrariness prevailed, and this was only temporarily restrained by preponderating individualities, or by masters in statesmanship like Aristides, Themistocles, and others. This condition of matters preceded the disintegration of the constitution. In our states, on the other hand, the end of the state, what is best for all, is immanent and efficacious in quite another way than was the case in olden times. The condition of the laws and courts of justice, of the constitution and spirit of the people, is so firmly established in itself that matters of the passing moment alone remain to be decided; and it may even be asked what, if anything, is dependent on the individual.

To us government means that in the actual state procedure will be in accordance with the nature of the thing, and since a knowledge of the Notion of the thing is requisite to this, actuality is brought into harmony with the Notion, and thereby the Idea is realized in existence. The result of this thus is that when Plato says that philosophers should rule, he signifies the determination of the whole matter through universal principles. This is realized much more in modern states, because universal principles really form the bases — certainly not of all, but of most of them. Some have already reached this stage, others are striving to reach it, but all recognize that such principles must constitute the real substance of administration and rule.

What Plato demands is thus, in point of fact, already present. But what we call Philosophy, movement in pure thoughts, has to do with form, and this is something peculiar to itself; nevertheless, the form is not responsible if the universal, freedom, law, is not made a principle in a state. Marcus Aurelius is an example of what a philosopher upon a throne could effect; we have, however, only private actions to record of him, and the Roman Empire was made no better by him. Frederick II. was, on the other hand, justly called the philosopher king. He occupied himself with the Wolffian metaphysics and French philosophy and verses, and was thus, according to his times, a philosopher. Philosophy appears to have been an affair of his own particular inclination, and quite distinct from the fact that he was king. But he was also a philosophic king in the sense that he made for himself an entirely universal end, the well-being and good of the state, a guiding principle in his actions and in all his regulations in respect to treaties with other states, and to the rights of individuals at home; these last he entirely subordinated to absolutely universal ends. If, however, later on, procedure of this kind became ordinary custom, the succeeding princes are no longer called philosophers, even if the same principle is present to them, and the government, and especially the institutions, are founded on it.

In the Republic, Plato further speaks in a figure of the difference between a condition of philosophic culture and a lack of Philosophy: it is a long comparison which is both striking and brilliant. The idea which he makes use of is as follows: — “Let us think of an underground den like a cave with a long entrance opening to the light. Its inhabitants are chained so that they cannot move their necks, and can see only the back of the cave. Far behind their backs a torch burns above them. In the intervening space there is a raised way and also a low wall; and behind this wall” (towards the light) “there are men who carry and raise above it all manner of statues of men and animals like puppets in a marionette show, sometimes talking to one another meanwhile, and sometimes silent. Those who are chained would see only the shadows which fall on the opposite wall, and they would take them for reality; they would hear, moreover, by means of the echo, what was said by those who moved the figures, and they would think that it was the voice of the shadows. Now if one of the prisoners were released, and compelled to turn his neck so as to see things as they are, he would think that what he saw was an illusive dream, and that the shadows were the reality. And if anyone were to take him out of the prison into the light itself, he would be dazzled by the light and could see nothing; and he would hate the person who brought him to the light, as having taken away what was to him the truth, and prepared only pain and evil in its place.” This kind of myth is in harmony with the character of the Platonic philosophy, in that it separates the conception of the sensuous world present in men from the knowledge of the supersensuous.

Since we now speak more fully of this matter, we must in the second place consider the nature of knowledge according to Plato, and in so doing commence our account of the Platonic philosophy itself.

a. Plato gave a more precise definition of philosophers as those “who are eager to behold the truth.” — Glaucon: “That is quite right. But how do you explain it?” Socrates: “I tell this not to everyone, but you will agree with me in it.” “In what?” “In this, that as the Beautiful is opposed to the Ugly, they are two things.” “Why not?” “With the Just and the Unjust, the Good and the Evil, and every other Idea (εἶδος) the case is the same, that each of them is by itself a One; on the other hand, on account of its combination with actions and bodies and other Ideas springing up on every side, each appears as a Many.” “You are right.” “I distinguish now, according to this, between the sight-loving, art-loving, busy class on the one side, and those on the other side, of whom we were just speaking as alone entitled to be called philosophers.” “What do you mean by that?” “I mean by that, such as delight in seeing and hearing, who love beautiful voices, and colours, and forms, and all that is composed thereof, while their mind is still incapable of seeing and loving the Beautiful in its own nature.” “Such is the case.” “Those, however, who have the power of passing on to the Beautiful itself, and seeing what it is in itself (καθ̓ αὐτό), are they not rare?” “They are indeed.” “He then who sees that beautiful things are beautiful, but does not apprehend Beauty itself, and cannot follow if another should seek to lead him to the knowledge of the same, — think you that he lives his life awake, or in a dream?” (That is to say, those who are not philosophers are like men who dream.) “For look, is it not dreaming when one in sleep, or even when awake, takes what merely resembles a certain thing to be not something that resembles it, but the very thing that it is like?” “I should certainly say of such an one that he was dreaming.” “The waking man, on the other hand, is he who holds the Beautiful itself to be the Existent, and can recognize its very self as well as that which only partakes of it (μετέχονυα), and does not confuse between the two.”

In this account of Philosophy, we at once see what the so much talked of Ideas of Plato are. The Idea is nothing else than that which is known to us more familiarly by the name of the Universal, regarded, however, not as the formal Universal, which is only a property of things, but as implicitly and explicitly existent, as reality, as that which alone is true. We translate εἶδος first of all as species or kind; and the Idea is no doubt the species, but rather as it is apprehended by and exists for Thought. Of course when we understand by species nothing but the gathering together by our reflection, and for convenience sake, of the like characteristics of several individuals as indicating their distinguishing features, we have the universal in quite an external form. But the specific character of the animal is its being alive; this being alive is that which makes it what it is, and deprived of this, it ceases to exist. To Plato, accordingly, Philosophy is really the science of this implicitly universal, to which, as contrasted with the particular, he always continues to return. “When Plato spoke of tableness and cupness, Diogenes the Cynic said: ‘I see a table and a cup, to be sure, but not tableness and cupness.’ ‘Right,’ answered Plato; ‘for you have eyes wherewith to see the table and the cup, but mind, by which one sees tableness and cupness, you have not (νοῦν οὐκ ἔχεις).’” What Socrates began was carried out by Plato, who acknowledged only the Universal, the Idea, the Good, as that which has existence. Through the presentation of his Ideas, Plato opened up the intellectual world, which, however, is not beyond reality, in heaven, in another place, but is the real world. With Leucippus, too, the Ideal is brought closer to reality, and not — metaphysically — thrust away behind Nature. The essence of the doctrine of Ideas is thus the view that the True is not that which exists for the senses, but that only what has its determination in itself, the implicitly and explicitly Universal, truly exists in the world; the intellectual world is therefore the True, that which is worthy to be known — indeed, the Eternal, the implicitly and explicitly divine. The differences are not essential, but only transitory; yet the Absolute of Plato, as being the one in itself and identical with itself, is at the same time concrete in itself, in that it is a movement returning into itself, and is eternally at home with itself. But love for Ideas is that which Plato calls enthusiasm.

The misapprehension of Plato’s Ideas takes two directions; one of these has to do with the thinking, which is formal, and holds as true reality the sensuous alone, or what is conceived of through the senses — this is what Plato asserts to be mere shadows. For when Plato speaks of the Universal as the real, his conception of it is met either by the statement that the Universal is present to us only as a property, and is therefore a mere thought in our understanding, or else that Plato takes this same Universal as substance, as an existence in itself, which, however, falls outside of us. When Plato further uses the expression that sensuous things are, like images (εἰκόνες), similar to that which has absolute existence, or that the Idea is their pattern and model (παραδεῖγμα), if these Ideas are not exactly made into things, they are made into a kind of transcendent existences which lie somewhere far from us in an understanding outside this world, and are pictures set up which we merely do not see; they are like the artist’s model, following which he works upon a given material, and thereon impresses the likeness of the original. And owing to their not only being removed from this sensuous present reality, which passes for truth, but also being liberated from the actuality of the individual consciousness, their subject, of which they are originally the representations, passes out of consciousness, and even comes to be represented only as something which is apart from consciousness.

The second misapprehension that prevails with regard to these Ideas takes place when they are not transferred beyond our consciousness, but pass for ideals of our reason, which are no doubt necessary, but which produce nothing that either has reality now or can ever attain to it. As in the former view the Beyond is a conception that lies outside the world, and in which species are hypostatized, so in this view our reason is just such a realm beyond reality. But when species are looked on as if they were the forms of reality in us, there is again a misapprehension, just as if they were looked at as æsthetic in nature. By so doing, they are defined as intellectual perceptions which must present themselves immediately, and belong either to a happy genius or else to a condition of ecstasy or enthusiasm. In such a case they would be mere creations of the imagination, but this is not Plato’s nor the true sense. They are not immediately in consciousness, but they are in the apprehending knowledge; and they are immediate perceptions only in so far as they are apprehending knowledge comprehended in its simplicity and in relation to the result; in other words, the immediate perception is only the moment of their simplicity. Therefore we do not possess them, they are developed in the mind through the apprehending knowledge; enthusiasm is the first rude shape they take, but knowledge first brings them to light in rational developed form; they are in this form none the less real, for they alone are Being.

On this account Plato first of all distinguishes Science, the Knowledge of the True, from opinion. “Such thinking (διάνοιαν) as of one who knows, we may justly call knowledge (γνώμην); but the other, opinion (δόξαν). Knowledge proceeds from that which is; opinion is opposed to it; but it is not the case that its content is Nothing — that would be ignorance — for when an opinion is held, it is held about Something. Opinion is thus intermediate between ignorance and science, its content is a mixture of Being and Nothing. The object of the senses, the object of opinion, the particular, only participates in the Beautiful, the Good, the Just, the Universal; but it is at the same time also ugly, evil, unjust, and so on. The double is at the same time the half. The particular is not only large or small, light or heavy, and any one of these opposites, but every particular is as much the one as the other. Such a mixture of Being and non-Being is the particular, the object of opinion;”a mixture in which the opposites have not resolved themselves into the Universal. The latter would be the speculative Idea of knowledge, while to opinion belongs the manner of our ordinary consciousness.

b. Before we commence the examination of the objective implicitly existent content of knowledge, we must consider more in detail, on the one hand, the subjective existence of knowledge in consciousness as we find it in Plato, and, on the other, how the content is or appears in ordinary conception as soul; and the two together form the relation of knowledge, as the universal, to the individual consciousness.

α. The source through which we become conscious of the divine is the same as that already seen in Socrates. The spirit of man contains reality in itself, and in order to learn what is divine he must develop it out of himself and bring it to consciousness. With the Socratics this discussion respecting the immanent nature of knowledge in the mind of man takes the form of a question as to whether virtue can be taught or not, and with the sophist Protagoras of asking whether feeling is the truth, which is allied with the question of the content of scientific knowledge, and with the distinction between that and opinion. But Plato goes on to say that the process by which we come to know is not, properly speaking, learning, for that which we appear to learn we really only recollect. Plato often comes back to this subject, but in particular he treats of the point in the Meno, in which he asserts (p. 81, 84 Steph.; p. 349, 355, 356 Bekk.) that nothing can, properly speaking, be learned, for learning is just a recollection of what we already possess, to which the perplexity in which our minds are placed, merely acts as stimulus. Plato here gives the question a speculative significance, in which the reality of knowledge, and not the empirical view of the acquisition of knowledge, is dealt with. For learning, according to the immediate ordinary conception of it, expresses the taking up of what is foreign into thinking consciousness, a mechanical mode of union and the filling of an empty space with things which are foreign and indifferent to this space itself. An external method of effecting increase such as this, in which the soul appears to be a tabula rasa, and which resembles the idea we form of growth going on in the living body through the addition of particles, is dead, and is incompatible with the nature of mind, which is subjectivity, unity, being and remaining at home with itself. But Plato presents the true nature of consciousness in asserting that it is mind in which, as mind, that is already present which becomes object to consciousness, or which it explicitly becomes. This is the Notion of the true universal in its movement; of the species which is in itself its own Becoming, in that it is already implicitly what it explicitly becomes — a process in which it does not come outside of itself. Mind is this absolute species, whose process is only the continual return into itself; thus nothing is for it which it is not in itself. According to this, the process of learning is not that something foreign enters in, but that the mind’s own essence becomes actualized, or it comes to the knowledge of this last. What has not yet learned is the soul, the consciousness represented as natural being. What causes the mind to turn to science is the semblance, and the confusion caused through it, of the essential nature of mind being something different, or the negative of itself — a mode of manifestation which contradicts its real nature, for it has or is the inward certainty of being all reality. In that it abrogates this semblance of other-being, it comprehends the objective, i.e. gives itself immediately in it the consciousness of itself, and thus attains to science. Ideas of individual, temporal, transitory things undoubtedly come from without, but not the universal thoughts which, as the true, have their root in the mind and belong to its nature; by this means all authority is destroyed.

In one sense recollection [Erinnerung] is certainly an unfortunate expression, in the sense, namely, that an idea is reproduced which has already existed at another time. But recollection has another sense, which is given by its etymology, namely that of making oneself inward, going inward, and this is the profound meaning of the word in thought. In this sense it may undoubtedly be said that knowledge of the universal is nothing but a recollection, a going within self, and that we make that which at first shows itself in external form and determined as a manifold, into an inward, a universal, because we go into ourselves and thus bring what is inward in us into consciousness. With Plato, however, as we cannot deny, the word recollection has constantly the first and empirical sense. This comes from the fact that Plato propounds the true Notion that consciousness in itself is the content of knowledge, partly in the form of popular idea and in that of myths. Hence here even, the already mentioned (p. 18) intermingling of idea and Notion commences. In the Meno (p. 82-86 Steph.; p. 350-360 Bekk.) Socrates tries to show, by experiment on a slave who had received no instruction, that learning is a recollection. Socrates merely questions him, leaving him to answer in his own way, without either teaching him or asserting the truth of any fact, and at length brings him to the enunciation of a geometrical proposition on the relation which the diagonal of a square bears to its side. The slave obtains the knowledge out of himself alone, so that it appears as though he only recollected what he already knew but had forgotten. Now if Plato here calls this coming forth of knowledge from consciousness a recollection, it follows that this knowledge has been already in this consciousness, i.e. that the individual consciousness has not only the content of knowledge implicitly, in accordance with its essential nature, but has also possessed it as this individual consciousness and not as universal. But this moment of individuality belongs only to the ordinary conception, and recollection is not thought; for recollection relates to man as a sensuous “this,” and not as a universal. The essential nature of the coming forth of knowledge is hence here mingled with the individual, with ordinary conception, and knowledge here appears in the form of soul, as of the implicitly existent reality, the one, for the soul is still only a moment of spirit. As Plato here passes into a conception the content of which has no longer the pure significance of the universal, but of the individual, he further depicts it in the form of a myth. He represents the implicit existence of mind in the form of a pre-existence in time, as if the truth had already been for us in another time. But at the same time we must remark that he does not propound this as a philosophic doctrine, but in the form of a saying received from priests and priestesses who comprehend what is divine. Pindar and other holy men say the same. According to these sayings, the human soul is immortal; it both ceases to be, or, as men say, it dies, and it comes again into existence, but in no way perishes. “Now if the soul is immortal and often reappears” (metempsychosis), “and if it has seen that which is here as well as in Hades,” (in unconsciousness) “and everything else, learning has no more meaning, for it only recollects what it has already known.” Historians seize upon this allusion to what is really an Egyptian idea, and a sensuous conception merely, and say that Plato has laid down that such and such was the case. But Plato made no such statement whatever; what he here says has nothing to do with Philosophy, and more particularly nothing to do with his philosophy, any more than what afterwards is said regarding God.

β. In other Dialogues this myth is further and more strikingly developed; it certainly employs remembrance in its ordinary sense, which is that the mind of man has in past time seen that which comes to his consciousness as the true and absolutely existent. Plato’s principal effort is, however, to show through this assertion of recollection, that the mind, the soul, thought, is on its own account free, and this has to the ancients, and particularly to the Platonic idea, a close connection with what we call immortality of the soul.

αα. In the Phædrus (p. 245 Steph.; p. 38 Bekk.) Plato speaks of this in order to show that the Eros is a divine madness (μανία), and is given to us as the greatest happiness. It is a state of enthusiasm, which here has a powerful, predominating aspiration towards the Idea: but it is not an enthusiasm proceeding from the heart and feeling, it is not an ordinary perception, but a consciousness and knowledge of the ideal. Plato says that he must expound the nature of the divine and human soul in order to demonstrate the Eros. “The first point is that the soul is immortal. For what moves itself is immortal and eternal, but what obtains its movement from another is transient. What moves itself is the first principle, for it certainly has its origin and first beginning in itself and derived from no other. And just as little can it cease to move, for that alone can cease which derives its motion from another.” Plato thus first develops the simple Notion of the soul as of the self-moving, and, thus far, an element in mind; but the proper life of the mind in and for itself is the consciousness of the absolute nature and freedom of the “I.” When we speak of the immortality of the soul, the idea is most frequently present to us that the soul is like a physical thing which has qualities of all kinds, and while these can certainly be changed, it yet seems that, as being independent of them, it is not subject to change. Now thought is one of these qualities, which are thus independent of the thing; and thought is also here defined as a thing, and as if it could pass away or cease to be. As regards this point, the main feature of the idea is that the soul should be able to subsist as an imperishable thing without having imagination, thought, &c. With Plato the immortality of the soul is, on the other hand, immediately connected with the fact that the soul is itself that which thinks; and hence that thought is not a quality of soul, but its substance. It is as with body, where the weight is not a quality, but its substance; for as the body would no longer exist if the weight were abstracted, the soul would not exist if thought were taken away. Thought is the activity of the universal, not an abstraction, but the reflection into self and the positing of self that takes place in all conceptions. Now because thought is an eternal which remains at home with itself in every change, soul preserves its identity in what is different, just as, for instance, in sensuous perception it deals with what is different, with outside matter, and is yet at home with itself. Immortality has not then the interest to Plato which it has to us from a religious point of view; in that to him it is associated in greater measure with the nature of thought, and with the inward freedom of the same, it is connected with the determination that constitutes the principle of what is specially characteristic of Platonic philosophy, it is connected with the supersensuous groundwork which Plato has established. To Plato the immortality of the soul is hence likewise of great importance.

He proceeds: “To seek to make clear the Idea of the soul would involve investigation laborious for any but a god; but the tongue of man may speak of this more easily through a figure.” Here follows an allegory in which there is, however, something extravagant and inconsistent. He says: “The soul resembles the united power of a chariot and charioteer.” This image expresses nothing to us. “Now the horses” (the desires) “of the gods and the charioteers are good, and of a good breed. With us men, the charioteer at first takes the reins, but one of the horses only is noble and good and of noble origin; the other is ignoble and of ignoble origin. As might be expected, the driving is very difficult. How mortal differ from immortal creatures, we must endeavour to discover. The soul has the care of the inanimate everywhere, and traverses the whole heavens, passing from one idea to another. When perfect and fully winged, she soars upwards” (has elevated thoughts), “and is the ruler of the universe. But the soul whose wings droop roams about till she has found solid ground; then she takes an earthly form which is really moved by her power, and the whole, the soul and body, put together, is called a living creature, a mortal.” The one is thus the soul as thought, existence in and for itself; the other is the union with matter. This transition from thought to body is very difficult, too difficult for the ancients to understand; we shall find more about it in Aristotle. From what has been said, we may find the ground for representing Plato as maintaining the dogma that the soul existed independently prior to this life, and then lapsed into matter, united itself to it, contaminating itself by so doing, and that it is incumbent on it to leave matter again. The fact that the spiritual realizes itself from itself is a point not sufficiently examined by the ancients; they take two abstractions, soul and matter, and the connection is expressed only in the form of a deterioration on the part of soul.

“But as to the immortal,” continues Plato, “if we do not express it in accordance with an apprehending thought, but form an ordinary conception of it, owing to our lack of insight and power to comprehend the nature of God, we conclude that the immortal life of God is that which has a body and soul which, however, are united in one nature (συμπεφυκότα), i.e. not only externally but intrinsically made one. Soul and body are both abstractions, but life is the unity of both; and because God’s nature is to popular conception the holding of body and soul unseparated in one, He is the Reason whose form and content are an undivided unity in themselves.” This is an important definition of God — a great idea which is indeed none other than the definition of modern times. It signifies the identity of subjectivity and objectivity, the inseparability of the ideal and real, that is, of soul and body. The mortal and finite is, on the contrary, correctly defined by Plato as that of which the existence is not absolutely adequate to the Idea, or, more definitely, to subjectivity.

Plato now further explains what happens in the life of the divine Being, which drama the soul thus has before it, and how the wasting of its wings occurs. “The chariots of the gods enter in bands, led by Zeus, the mighty leader, from his winged chariot. An array of other gods and goddesses follow him, marshalled in eleven bands. They present — each one fulfilling his work — the noblest and most blessed of scenes. The colourless and formless and intangible essence requires thought, the lord of the soul, as its only spectator, and thus true knowledge takes its rise. For there it sees what is (τὸ ὄν), and lives in the contemplation of reality, because it follows in an ever-recurring revolution” (of ideas). “In this revolution” (of gods), “it beholds justice, temperance, and knowledge, not in the form of what men call things, for it sees what in truth is absolute (τὸ ὄντως ὄν).” This is thus expressed as though it were something which had happened. “When the soul returns from thus beholding, the charioteer puts up his horses at the stall, gives them ambrosia to eat and nectar to drink. This is the life of the gods. But other souls, through fault of charioteer or horses, fall into confusion, with broken wings depart from these heavenly places, cease to behold the truth, nourish themselves on opinion as their food, and fall to the ground; according as a soul has beheld more or less of truth, it takes a higher or lower place. In this condition it retains a recollection of what it has seen, and if it perceives anything beautiful or right, it is rapt in amazement. The wings once more obtain strength, and the soul, particularly that of a philosopher, recollects its former condition in which, however, it had not seen what was beautiful, just, etc., but beauty and justice themselves.” Thus because the life of the gods is for the soul, when in individual beauty it is reminded of the universal, it is implied that in the soul, as thus absolutely existing, there is the Idea of the beautiful, good and just, as absolute and as potentially and actually universal. This constitutes the general principle of the Platonic conception. But when Plato speaks of knowledge as of a recollection, he knows all the time that this is only putting the matter in similes and metaphors; he did not ask, as theologians used gravely to do, whether the soul had existed before its birth, and, if so, in what particular place. It cannot be said of Plato that he had any such belief, and he never speaks of the matter in the sense that theologians did; in the same way he never spoke about a Fall from a perfect state, for example, as if man had to look on the present life as an imprisonment. But what Plato expressed as the truth is that consciousness in the individual is in reason the divine reality and life; that man perceives and recognizes it in pure thought, and that this knowledge is itself the heavenly abode and movement.

ββ. Knowledge in the form of soul, is more clearly dealt with in the Phædo, where Plato has further developed the ideas about the immortality of the soul. What in the Phædrus is kept definitely apart as myth and truth respectively, and which is made to appear as such, appears less evidently so in the Phædo — that celebrated dialogue in which Plato makes Socrates speak of the immortality of the soul. That Plato should have connected this discussion with the account of the death of Socrates has in all time been matter of admiration. Nothing could seem more suitable than to place the conviction of immortality in the mouth of him who is in the act of leaving life, and to make this conviction living to us through the scene, just as, on the other hand, a death-scene like this is made living to us through that conviction. We must at the same time remark that in what is fitting the following conditions are implied. It must first be really appropriate for the dying person to occupy himself with himself instead of with the universal, with this certainty of himself as a “this” instead of with the Truth. We hence here meet with the ordinary point of view but slightly separated from that of the Notion, but, although this is so, this ordinary point of view is far removed from sinking into that coarse conception of the soul which considers it to be a thing, and asks about its continuance or subsistence as if it were a thing. Thus we find Socrates expressing himself to the effect that the body and what relates to the body is a hindrance in striving after wisdom, the sole business of Philosophy, because the sensuous perception shows nothing purely, or as it is in itself, and what is true becomes known through the removal of the spiritual from the corporeal. For justice, beauty and such things are what alone exists in verity; they are that to which all change and decay is foreign; and these are not perceived through the body, but only in the soul.

We see in this separation the essence of the soul not considered in a material category of Being, but as the universal; we see it still more in what follows, by which Plato proves immortality. A principal point in this argument is that already considered, that the soul has existed before this life, because learning is only a recollection, and this implies that the soul is already implicitly what it becomes. We must not think that the bald conception of innate ideas is hereby indicated — such an expression implies the existence of ideas by nature, as though our thoughts were in part already implanted, and had in part a natural existence which did not first produce itself through the movement of the mind. But Plato mainly founds the idea of immortality on the fact that what is put together is liable to dissolution and decay, while the simple can in no manner be dissolved or destroyed; what is always like itself and the same, is, however, simple. The beautiful, the good, the like, being simple, are incapable of all change; that, on the contrary, in which these universals are, men, things, &c., are the changeable. They are perceptible by the senses, while the former is the supersensuous. Hence the soul which is in thought, and which applies itself to this, as to what is related to it, must therefore be held to have itself a simple nature. Here, then, we again see that Plato does not take simplicity as the simplicity of a thing — not as if it were of anything like a chemical ingredient, for example, which can no longer be represented as inherently distinguished; this would only be empty, abstract identity or universality, the simple as an existent.

But finally the universal really does appear to take the form of an existent, as Plato makes Simmias assert: a harmony which we hear is none else than a universal, a simple which is a unity of the diverse; but this harmony is associated with a sensuous thing and disappears with it, just as music does with the lyre. On the other hand Plato makes Socrates show that the soul is not a harmony in this sense, for the sensuous harmony first exists after its elements, and is a consequence that follows from them. The harmony of the soul is, however, in and for itself, before every sensuous thing. Sensuous harmony may further have diversities within it, while the harmony of the soul has no quantitative distinction. From this it is clear that Plato receives the reality of the soul entirely in the universal, and does not place its true being in sensuous individuality, and hence the immortality of the soul cannot in his case be understood in the ordinary acceptation, as that of an individual thing. Although later on we come across the myth of the sojourn of the soul after death in another and more brilliant earth, we have seen above what kind of heaven this would be.

γ. The development and culture of the soul must be taken in connection with what precedes. However the idealism of Plato must not be thought of as being subjective idealism, and as that false idealism which has made its appearance in modern times, and which maintains that we do not learn anything, are not influenced from without, but that all conceptions are derived from out of the subject. It is often said that idealism means that the individual produces from himself all his ideas, even the most immediate. But this is an unhistoric, and quite false conception; if we take this rude definition of idealism, there have been no idealists amongst the philosophers, and Platonic idealism is certainly far removed from anything of the kind. In the seventh book of his Republic (p. 518 Steph., pp. 333, 334 Bekk.) Plato says in connection with what I have already stated, and in particular reference to the manner in which this learning is created, by which the universal which before was secreted in the mind, developes out of it alone: “We must believe of science and learning (παιδείας), that its nature is not as some assert” (by this he means the Sophists), “who speak of culture as though knowledge were not contained within the soul, but could be implanted therein as sight into blind eyes.” The idea that knowledge comes entirely from without is in modern times found in empirical philosophies of a quite abstract and rude kind, which maintain that everything that man knows of the divine nature comes as a matter of education and habituation, and that mind is thus a quite indeterminate potentiality merely. Carried to an extreme, this is the doctrine of revelation in which everything is given from without. In the Protestant religion we do not find this rude idea in its abstract form, for the witness of the spirit is an essential part of faith, i.e. faith demands that the individual subjective spirit shall on its own account accept and set forth the determination which comes to it in the form of something given from without. Plato speaks against any such idea, for, in relation to the merely popularly expressed myth given above, he says: “Reason teaches that every man possesses the inherent capacities of the soul and the organ with which he learns. That is, just as we might imagine the eye not capable of turning from darkness to light otherwise than with the whole body, so must we be turned with the whole soul from the world of Becoming” (contingent feelings and ideas) “to that of Being, and the soul must gradually learn to endure this sight, and to behold the pure light of Being. But we say that this Being is the good. The art of so doing is found in culture, as being the art of the conversion of the soul — that is, the manner in which a person can most easily and effectually be converted; it does not seek to implant (ἐμποιῆσαι) sight, but — inasmuch as he already possesses it only it has not been properly turned upon himself and hence he does not see the objects that he ought to see — it brings it into operation. The other virtues of the soul are more in conformity with the body; they are not originally in the soul, but come gradually through exercise and habit. Thought (τὸ φρονῆσαι) on the contrary, as divine, never loses its power, and only becomes good or evil through the manner of this conversion.” This is what Plato establishes in regard to the inward and the outward. Such ideas as that mind determines the good from out of itself are to us much more familiar than to Plato; but it was by Plato that they were first maintained.

c. In that Plato places truth in that alone which is produced through thought, and yet the source of knowledge is manifold — in feelings, sensations, &c. — we must state the different kinds of knowledge, as given by Plato. Plato is entirely opposed to the idea that the truth is given through sensuous consciousness, which is what is known and that from which we start; for this is the doctrine of the Sophists with which we met in dealing with Protagoras, for instance. As regards feeling, we easily make the mistake of placing everything in feeling, as indeed that Platonic rage for beauty contained the truth in the guise of feeling; but this is not the true form of the truth, because feeling is the entirely subjective consciousness. Feeling as such is merely a form with which men make the arbitrary will the principle of the truth, for what is the true content is not given through feeling; in it every content has a place. The highest content must likewise be found in feeling; to have a thing in thought and understanding is quite different from having it in heart and feeling, i.e. in our most inward subjectivity, in this “I”; and we say of the content that it is for the first time in its proper place when it is in the heart, because it then is entirely identical with our individuality. The mistake, however, is to say that a content is true because it is in our feeling. Hence the importance of Plato’s doctrine that the content becomes filled by thought alone; for it is the universal which can be grasped by the activity of thought alone. Plato has defined this universal content as Idea.

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