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If the earliest of Plato鈥檚 enquiries, while they deal with the same subjects and are conducted on the same method as those cultivated by Socrates, evince a breadth of view surpassing anything recorded of him by Xenophon, they also exhibit traces of an influence disconnected with and inferior in value to his. On more than one occasion121 Plato reasons, or rather quibbles, in a style which he has elsewhere held up to ridicule as characteristic of the Sophists, with such success that the name of sophistry has clung to it ever since.186 Indeed, some of the verbal fallacies employed are so transparent that we can hardly suppose them to be unintentional, and we are forced to conclude that the young despiser of human wisdom was resolved to maintain his thesis with any weapons, good or bad, which came to hand. And it seems much more likely that he learned the eristic art from Protagoras or from his disciples than from Socrates. Plato spent a large part of his life in opposing the Sophists鈥攖hat is to say, the paid professors of wisdom and virtue; but in spite of, or rather perhaps because of, this very opposition, he was profoundly affected by their teaching and example. It is quite conceivable, although we do not find it stated as a fact, that he resorted to them for instruction when a young man, and before coming under the influence of Socrates, an event which did not take place until he was twenty years old; or he may have been directed to them by Socrates himself. With all its originality, his style bears traces of a rhetorical training in the more elaborate passages, and the Sophists were the only teachers of rhetoric then to be found. His habit of clothing philosophical lessons in the form of a myth seems also to have been borrowed from them. It would, therefore, not be surprising that he should cultivate their argumentative legerdemain side by side with the more strict and severe discipline of Socratic dialectics.

There seem to be three principal points aimed at in the very ingenious theory which we have endeavoured to summarise as adequately as space would permit. Zeller apparently wishes to bring Socrates into line with the great tradition of early Greek thought, to distinguish him markedly from the Sophists, and to trace back to his initiative the intellectual method of Plato and Aristotle. We cannot admit that the threefold attempt has succeeded. It seems to us that a picture into which so much Platonic colouring has been thrown would for that reason alone, and without any further objection, be open to very grave suspicion. But even accepting the historical accuracy of everything that Plato has119 said, or of as much as may be required, our critic鈥檚 inferences are not justified by his authorities. Neither the Xenophontic nor the Platonic Socrates seeks knowledge for its own sake, nor does either of them offer a satisfactory definition of knowledge, or, indeed, any definition at all. Aristotle was the first to explain what science meant, and he did so, not by developing the Socratic notion, but by incorporating it with the other methods independently struck out by physical philosophy. What would science be without the study of causation? and was not this ostentatiously neglected by the founder of conceptualism? Again, Plato, in the Theaet锚tus, makes his Socrates criticise various theories of knowledge, but does not even hint that the critic had himself a better theory than any of them in reserve. The author of the Phaedo and the Republic was less interested in reforming the methods of scientific investigation than in directing research towards that which he believed to be alone worth knowing, the eternal ideas which underlie phenomena. The historical Socrates had no suspicion of transcendental realities; but he thought that a knowledge of physics was unattainable, and would be worthless if attained. By knowledge he meant art rather than science, and his method of defining was intended not for the latter but for the former. Those, he said, who can clearly express what they want to do are best secured against failure, and best able to communicate their skill to others. He made out that the various virtues were different kinds of knowledge, not from any extraordinary opinion of its preciousness, but because he thought that knowledge was the variable element in volition and that everything else was constant. Zeller dwells strongly on the Socratic identification of cognition with conduct; but how could anyone who fell at the first step into such a confusion of ideas be fitted either to explain what science meant or to come forward as the reformer of its methods? Nor is it correct to say that Socrates approached an object from every point of view, and took note of all its characteristic qualities. On the contrary, one would120 be inclined to charge him with the opposite tendency, with fixing his gaze too exclusively on some one quality, that to him, as a teacher, was the most interesting. His identification of virtue with knowledge is an excellent instance of this habit. So also is his identification of beauty with serviceableness, and his general disposition to judge of everything by a rather narrow standard of utility. On the other hand, Greek physical speculation would have gained nothing by a minute attention to definitions, and most probably would have been mischievously hampered by it. Aristotle, at any rate, prefers the method of Democritus to the method of Plato; and Aristotle himself is much nearer the truth when he follows on the Ionian or Sicilian track than when he attempts to define what in the then existing state of knowledge could not be satisfactorily defined. To talk about the various elements鈥攅arth, air, fire, and water鈥攁s things with which everybody was already familiar, may have been a crude unscientific procedure; to analyse them into different combinations of the hot and the cold, the light and the heavy, the dry and the moist, was not only erroneous but fatally misleading; it was arresting enquiry, and doing precisely what the Sophists had been accused of doing, that is, substituting the conceit for the reality of wisdom. It was, no doubt, necessary that mathematical terms should be defined; but where are we told that geometricians had to learn this truth from Socrates? The sciences of quantity, which could hardly have advanced a step without the help of exact conceptions, were successfully cultivated before he was born, and his influence was used to discourage rather than to promote their accurate study. With regard to the comprehensive all-sided examination of objects on which Zeller lays so much stress, and which he seems to regard as something peculiar to the conceptual method, it had unquestionably been neglected by Parmenides and Heracleitus; but had not the deficiency been already made good by their immediate successors? What else is the121 philosophy of Empedocles, the Atomists, and Anaxagoras, but an attempt鈥攚e must add, a by no means unsuccessful attempt鈥攖o recombine the opposing aspects of Nature which had been too exclusively insisted on at Ephesus and Elea? Again, to say that the Sophists had destroyed physical speculation by setting these partial aspects of truth against one another is, in our opinion, equally erroneous. First of all, Zeller here falls into the old mistake, long ago corrected by Grote, of treating the class in question as if they all held similar views. We have shown in the preceding chapter, if indeed it required to be shown, that the Sophists were divided into two principal schools, of which one was devoted to the cultivation of physics. Protagoras and Gorgias were the only sceptics; and it was not by setting one theory against another, but by working out a single theory to its last consequences, that their scepticism was reached; with no more effect, be it observed, than was exercised by Pyrrho on the science of his day. For the two great thinkers, with the aid of whose conclusions it was attempted to discredit objective reality, were already left far behind at the close of the fifth century; and neither their reasonings nor reasonings based on theirs, could exercise much influence on a generation which had Anaxagoras on Nature and the encyclopaedia of Democritus in its hands. There was, however, one critic who really did what the Sophists are charged with doing; who derided and denounced physical science on the ground that its professors were hopelessly at issue with one another; and this critic was no other than Socrates himself. He maintained, on purely popular and superficial grounds, the same sceptical attitude to which Protagoras gave at least the semblance of a psychological justification. And he wished that attention should be concentrated on the very subjects which Protagoras undertook to teach鈥攏amely, ethics, politics, and dialectics. Once more, to say that Socrates was conscious of not coming up to his own122 standard of true knowledge is inconsistent with Xenophon鈥檚 account, where he is represented as quite ready to answer every question put to him, and to offer a definition of everything that he considered worth defining. His scepticism, if it ever existed, was as artificial and short-lived as the scepticism of Descartes..
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Scepticism, as a philosophical principle, is alien from early Greek thought; but it is pervaded by a negative tendency exhibited in four different directions, all converging towards the later attitude of suspensive doubt. There are sharp criticisms on the popular mythology; there are protests against the ascription of reality to sensible appearances; there are contemptuous references on the part of some philosophers to the opinions held by others; and there are occasional lamentations over the difficulty of getting at any truth at all. The importance, however, of these last utterances has been considerably exaggerated both in ancient and modern times. For, in some instances, they are attributable solely to the distrust of sense-perception, and in others they seem to express nothing more than a passing mood against which we must set the dogmatic conclusions elsewhere enunciated with perfect confidence by the same thinkers.219 At the same time, we have to note, as an illustration of the standing connexion between theological belief and that kind of scepticism which is shown by distrust in man鈥檚 power of discovering the truth for himself, that the strongest expressions of such a distrust are to be found in the two most religious of the pre-Socratic thinkers, Xenophanes and Empedocles..
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It may be said that the One is itself a mystical conception, involving a reversal of all our ordinary beliefs. The universe is a vast multiplicity of objects, held together, if you will, by some secret bond of union possibly related to the personal unity of consciousness, but still neither lost nor confused in its identity. Precisely; but Plotinus himself fully admits as much. His One is the cause of existence, not existence itself. He knows just as well as we do, that the abstract idea of unity has no reality apart from the mind. But if so, why should he associate it, in the true mystical style, with the transports of amorous passion? The question is pertinent, but it might be addressed to other Greek systems as well. We must remember that Plotinus is only commenting and enlarging on Plato. In the Republic also, the Idea of Good is described as transcending the existence and the knowledge which it produces,465 and in the Symposium, the absolute self beautiful, which seems to be the Good under another name, is spoken of in terms not less passionately enthusiastic than any applied by Plotinus to the vision of the One.466 Doubtless the practical sense of the great Attic master did not desert him even here: the object of all thought, in its widest sweep and in its highest flight, is to find room for every possible expansion of knowledge, for every possible elevation of life. Plotinus was a stranger to such broad views; but in departing from Plato, as usual he follows Aristotle. The absolute self-thinking thought of the Stagirite is, when we examine it closely, only one degree less chimerical than the Neo-Platonic unification. For it means consciousness of self without the314 correlative consciousness of a not-self, and as such, according to Aristotle, it affords an eternal felicity equal or superior to the best and happiest moments of our sensitive human life. What Plotinus does is to isolate personal identity from reason and, as such, to make it at once the cause and the supreme ideal of existence. This involves two errors: first a false abstraction of one subjective phenomenon from the sum total of conscious life; and, secondly, an illegitimate generalisation of this abstraction into an objective law of things. But in both errors, Aristotle had preceded him, by dissociating reason from all other mental functions, and by then attributing the whole cosmic movement to the love which this isolated faculty of reason, in its absolute self-existence, for ever inspires. And he also set the example of associating happiness, which is an emotional state, with an intellectual abstraction from which emotion is necessarily excluded.
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