The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Socrates, Parts 3 and 4
by Maxwell Y. Maxwell, LL.B.
"And thus it came to pass that the Greek Philosophy co-operated in the formation of a new creation, of which it supplied the fair and shapely body, and of which Christianity became the living soul."
". . . individual items of information do not become real knowledge until they have first been chewed and digested, and thus made ready for assimilation with the understanding; and that isolated truths do not become Truth until they have been duly subordinated, co-ordinated, and correlated, and thus organised into a perfect whole."
"unfortunately, his [Aristophanes] only positive remedy for the disease of his time . . . consisted in painting imaginary pictures of the grandeur and happiness of the 'good old times' of Marathon and Salamis, when education was confined to the few, but when the many were distinguished by their military prowess and their steady morality, and 'when an Athenian seaman knew nothing more than how to call for his barley cake and to cry Yoho.'"
Continued from Vol. XI., page 319
Approaching now the third part of our subject, we have to ask ourselves, what was the "Message" of Socrates to humanity? or, in other words, what was the nature and effect of his special work in the world? And the answer is twofold. In the first place, he laid the foundations of the only scientific method for the attainment of a universally valid knowledge, both in respect to internal and external phenomena. And in the second place, he was the pioneer and the true founder of that combination of systematized thought and reasoning in connection with ethics, politics, logic, psychology, aesthetics, and metaphysics, which is comprehended under the generic term "Greek Philosophy," and of which the writings of Plato and Aristotle are the leading exponents. It is true that Socrates left no writings behind him, nor did either his immediate object or his method of teaching allow of his preparation of formal lectures or of written discourses. But in the writings of Plato, who was proud to be regarded as his disciple, Socrates is not only almost everywhere represented as the master and central figure, but also it is only in the latest of his dialogues (such as "The Laws," where Plato the Reasoner has sunk into Plato the Dogmatist) that Socrates is altogether omitted. And Aristotle, who was, as you will recollect, the pupil of Plato and who never saw Plato's great master, has expressly stated that, with Socrates, "dialectical and ethical enquiries began," and that to him the world was indebted for Induction, and for pointing out the absolute need for the formation of general concepts as the only true and proper basis for all knowledge. And, therefore, while we may regard the Greek Philosophy in its literary and perfected form as a gigantic tree which sprung up and attained its maturity within three generations of men, and of which Plato was, as it were, the rich foliage, and Aristotle the ripe fruit; yet on the other hand, we are bound to regard Socrates, logically as well as historically, as its pregnant germ, which contained potentially all the virtues and all the advantages more fully displayed in the rich bloom of the foliage, and which gave the strengthening and nourishing qualities to the ripened fruit.
Before, however, proceeding to deal in detail with the actual work of Socrates in connection with the Greek Philosophy, it will probably be considered that an enquiry into the advantages or otherwise of that Philosophy is itself a necessary preliminary. For as you will recollect, Aristotle is by Lord Bacon almost regarded as the enemy of mankind, or, at any rate, as one who for two thousand years detained the Chosen People in the wilderness of barren speculation, instead of allowing them to enjoy the material blessings of the land flowing with milk and honey. And to many others beside Lord Bacon--men of wisdom and intelligence, like the late Mr. Bright, for example--both Plato and Aristotle are regarded as mere idle dreamers; or as theorists, and "men of dogmas," to use Lord Bacon's simile, "resembling spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance." And it may therefore be considered as not wholly unnecessary that I should indicate, very briefly, some of the advantages which the Greek Philosophy has conferred upon humanity; and try to indicate, in part at least, the nature and extent of its civilizing influence.
In the first place, I should point out that it is to the Greek Philosophy mankind is indebted for the full and clear recognition of the distinction between mind and matter. That is to say, it was from the Greeks that it learned the fact of the existence of the deep chasm separating the subjective from the objective, the phenomena within us from the phenomena without, the intellectual from the corporeal, and the spiritual from the material. This distinction may perhaps seem to be a very obvious one, and, as being, in fact, assumed in every act of consciousness. And, as you will recollect, it is so regarded by Locke in his Essay on the Human Understanding and is even taken by him as a "postulate" in his examination of the origin of ideas. But as a matter of fact, it was not recognized or taught by any philosopher or teacher until about thirty years before the commencement of Socrates' career, when it was first enunciated by Anaxagoras in his theory of the Nous or Soul of the world pervading all matter, and causing its motion and its various modifications. And by a curious, and, to us, almost unnatural inversion of thought, it was from this universal Nous or Soul of the world that there flowed the idea of a particular Nous or Soul in man, inhabiting the individual body, but only as a part of the universal Soul.
But from this primitive idea, crude and puerile as it seems to be, there flowed the most momentous consequences to the mind and thought of man. For not only was there thus established the conception of the vital distinction between mind and matter, but also the further conception of the intrinsic and immeasurable superiority of the former over the latter. And hence, there also followed as an obvious corollary, the refining and spiritualizing of the ideas of humanity concerning the nature of God and the super-sensible world; and these, again, by a natural reaction, quickened and exalted the moral ideas as regards the duty and relationship of man to man. For men know, and can only know, the super-sensible by analogies drawn from their own experience, and just as in proportion as our ideas are derived from the fleshly or the spiritual part of our nature, so will be our ideas of religion and morality. To the Homeric Greeks there were lords many and gods many; personifications of the blind forces of nature and even of the desires of men. And over these there presided in a material heaven, Zeus, the father of gods and men--a muscular, eating and drinking, good-natured giant, easily offended, easily appeased, and easily cajoled; and who was possessed of all the caprices, the unbridled passions, and even the lusts of ordinary humanity. But what a contrast to this is presented by the Platonic Greeks, that is to say, by those who had imbibed the teaching of the Greek Philosophy as represented by Socrates and his great disciple. To them, the multitude of deities had become poetic myths, and in their stead there reigned the conception of an Eternal Mind, the direct object of, and known only by, the human mind; Zeus had been transformed into "Theos" (or rather "ho Theos"), the Highest Good; whilst Heaven, raised far beyond Olympus, was felt to consist in the perpetual contemplation of the Eternal Ideas which alone were the true realities, but which could only be realized by the cultured and disciplined mind, and perceived only by the soul purified from all fleshly lusts.
Nor was it only in the regions of religion and morality that the Greek Philosophy exercised its elevating influence. On the contrary, it pervaded almost every form of mental activity, province after province in the mental world being conquered, duly surveyed, and its intellectual boundaries clearly defined. To the study of the Good was soon joined the study of the Beautiful, or, rather, they were considered parts of one whole viewed under different aspects; and to the study of Ethics and Aesthetics were joined in their natural order and harmony Dialectics, Rhetoric, Politics, Psychology, and Ontology. And not only was the mental horizon of humanity thus widened and elevated, but also the intensity and force of the human mind itself was enormously increased, both as an instrument of research and as an organ of expression.
Nor was the influence of the Greek Philosophy confined only to the Hellenic race, but, on the contrary, by mentally subjugating and civilizing the ruder but stronger race that conquered and ruled its ancestral home, it finally became conterminous [sharing a common boundary] with the Roman world. To the choicer spirits among these--of whom Caesar, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius may be regarded as typical examples--it presented itself, both as a system of thought and as a rule of life, in the form of the Stoic Philosophy, which, although regarded by its teachers as derived from Socrates, had yet incorporated within itself some elements that were more congenial to the Roman mind and temperament than were the Platonic and the Aristotelean systems. But upon the great mass of the Roman people it operated, not so much as a system of thought as a rule or standard of practical morality, so far at least as the latter can be expressed in the requirements of positive law. For, as readers of Sir Henry Maine's profound and fascinating treatise on Ancient Law will recollect, not only were the wisest and best of the Praetors, whose varying Edicta laid the foundations of Roman Law throughout the provinces, strongly imbued with the Stoic Philosophy (as were also the five great Roman lawyers who flourished in the Antonine or Golden Age of Roman Jurisprudence), but there is also the fact that the fundamental conception on which the whole Corpus Juris Civilis is based had its origin in Greek Philosophy.
This is the conception of the existence of a Jus Naturale or Natural Law, having, it is true, its full and perfect existence only in the heavens, but to which, as being ideally holy and just and good, all human law ought to conform. And I need not remind you that this conception is one that finds its fullest expression in the Greek Philosophy, both in its Stoic and its Platonic forms. (Students of French History will also recollect Rousseau's theory of a "State of Nature" as an ideally perfect condition of Society to which all human institutions ought to conform; and its enormous influence in bringing about the French Revolution.)
Perhaps you will also allow me to glance at another most important illustration of the beneficial influence of Greek Philosophy, viz., its function in the preparation of the world for the reception of Christianity. In this, its action was two-fold, viz. (a) in its effect upon Judaism; (b) in its effect upon heathenism. As regards the first, it is no doubt true that the ethical teaching of the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures is far superior to that of the best Greek writers; that the ideas of conscience, of sin, and of the possibility of deliverance from it, which pervade the former, are hardly recognized, and indeed would be scarcely understood, by the Hellenic mind; and that vitally important conception of monotheism was the common heritage of all members of the Hebrew race, whereas, in the Greek-speaking world, it was confined to the philosophic few. But on the other hand, it should be recollected that the teaching of the Old Testament was practically unknown to, and had little or no influence on, the world outside that little speck of territory called Palestine; until at Alexandria--the city founded by Alexander, himself a pupil of Aristotle--it came into contact with that phase of Greek Philosophy which is called Neo-Platonism. This formed a link between Jew and Greek which had previously been non-existent, a circumstance which had a most important influence upon the intellectual and religious development of mankind. It gave birth to a new mode of thought in the form of the Graeco-Jewish philosophy which had its centre in Alexandria; it broke up and set aside the old Jewish narrowness and tribal conception of the Almighty, and proclaimed aloud that the God of the Old Testament was not merely the God of the Jew, but of the Gentile also. "Moses speaking in Attic" was, as you will recollect, the description of the Platonic Philosophy given by the justly celebrated Philo the Jew; and the profound influence which this Alexandrian philosophy, as it is exhibited in the writings of Philo, came afterwards to exercise on early Christian Theology--such as the writings of Clement of Alexandria, and of Origen--clearly indicated that it must have had a great natural affinity with the spirit of Christianity. And a further illustration of this fact will be found in the New Testament itself, viz., in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is obviously written by an Alexandrian Jew converted to Christianity; and in which much of the force of the writer's argument can, I venture to think, be fully appreciated only by those who are familiar with the Platonic doctrine of Ideas.
With respect to the influence of the Greek Philosophy regarded as a factor in the preparation of the non-Jewish world for the reception of Christianity, I have already indicated some of its indirect modes of operation. Such, for example, as its spiritualization of the human mind or soul; its rejection of the many gods of paganism and its recognition of a Divine Unity above and beyond them; and its recognition also of Man as a Moral Being bound by the law of his nature to live a righteous and holy life. Now these ideas were, so to speak, postulated by Christianity when it came into the world, that is to say, it did not stoop to prove the fact of their existence or necessity, but rested upon the common consciousness of the whole human race as the witness of their importance and truth. To the Semitic branch of the race, these truths had been taught by special Divine Messages conveyed from without; first in the form of a highly ritualistic code of laws, and afterwards by men gifted with supreme spiritual insight to whom "the word of the Lord came." The Hellenic branch, on the other hand, had learned its lesson, not so much from the external messages, as from its being gifted with the genius and the special capacity for discovering the law within. And if to the one we owe the recognition of the conscience and of the absolute necessity of obedience to its dictates, to the other we owe also the development of the reason, by which alone conscience can be enlightened and guided aright.
Each of them, representing two totally distinct and radically different types of the human mind, had, in its own special and appropriate way, prepared humanity for the due reception of that central fact of the universe,--the Incarnation of the Eternal Logos in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and the consequent establishment of Christianity as the religion of the world.
But, to the ideas thus postulated by Christianity, there was immediately, and of necessity, the addition of several others; arising from the fact that Christianity was not only a new, but also a far more spiritual force than had previously existed in the world. Some of these ideas were altogether new, and of the others it may be said that, although previously existent, they had been so spiritualized and elevated by means of the forces and powers inherent in Christianity as to have become practically new. Such ideas may perhaps be indicated by the new, or almost new, terms found in the New Testament--such as grace, faith, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, abiding in Christ, filled with all the fullness of God, love of the brethren, love of mankind, long-suffering, meekness, humility--which we may say are practically Christian virtues and ideas; and scarcely, if at all, known to the pre-Christian world.
But, at the same time, it should be borne in mind--and this is the special point to which I wish to call attention--that before the force and meaning of these new ideas could be properly realized and understood by the human mind, there must of necessity have been a previous training of its capacity to receive and comprehend them. That is to say, there must have been formed the habit of inward reflection and of sustained thought; skill in the formation of abstract ideas or general notions, together with a trained subtlety in the discrimination of differences and agreements which could only be obtained by a long practice; the constant recognition of the distinction between the world of sense and the world of thought, and of the vast supremacy of the latter over the former. And there must also have existed a delicate and copious vocabulary in which these new ideas could find their adequate expression. Now, all these requisites were supplied, and could only be supplied, by the Greek language after it had been ennobled and enriched by philosophic writers like Plato and Aristotle.
And thus it came to pass that the Greek Philosophy co-operated in the formation of a new creation, of which it supplied the fair and shapely body, and of which Christianity became the living soul.
It is, however, a very open question as to whether the influence exerted by the Greek Philosophy on Christian Theology has been altogether beneficial; or whether it has not rather been--to use the language of the Roman law--a damnosa hereditas, and it is not one upon which I shall venture to give an opinion. But that it was an exceedingly powerful influence is a fact well known to all students of Ecclesiastical History and Literature, both in their early and their mediaeval periods; and to those who are interested in the subject, I will venture to strongly recommend the two most fascinating as well as able treatises of which I subjoin the full titles. (The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, by Edwin Hatch, D.D.; The Scholastic Philosophy considered with relation to Christian Theology, by R. H. Hampden, D.D.)
Nor shall I attempt to deal with the question as to the nature of the influence which the Greek Philosophy exercises upon modern thought. The opinion that it is highly beneficial may be assumed to be general from the fact that its study is regarded by almost all Universities everywhere (except perhaps in Birmingham) as an essential element in a liberal education; nor am I at all prepared or disposed to dispute the accuracy of the general opinion. But I will venture to say, that I cannot regard it as a perfect rule of life and practical conduct unless its teaching be at least supplemented by that of Jesus and of the New Testament; and also, that I regard the training in all the results of what I may term the "Baconian Philosophy" not only in the Experimental and Mathematical Sciences, but also in all forms of the Mental Sciences, as essentially necessary to the production of a well-balanced intellect.
For the full appreciation, however, of the work accomplished by Socrates, and of his merits as a philosophic reformer, there is the further necessity imposed upon us of enquiring into what may be termed the pre-Socratic Philosophy; and also into the state of the Hellenic mind and thought at the particular period in its history when Socrates first made his public appearance. This period comprises, as you will recollect, four Schools of thought, which are usually distinguished as the Ionic, the Pythagorean, the Eleatic, and the Sophistic. But to give an intelligible and a comprehensive summary of the teaching of these various schools is in itself a work of no small difficulty; partly owing to the fact that the writings of the earlier Greek thinkers which have come down to us are exceedingly fragmentary; and partly also to the fact that so alien is their reasoning to our modern habits of thought, that even with the materials before us, we can never be quite certain that we have thoroughly grasped their meaning. Fortunately, however, with regard to the first, my portion of the task has been largely simplified by the publication of that colossal monument of German erudition and German industry which is now before me, and which I think contains all that is really known of the theories and speculations in Greek Philosophy prior to the time of Socrates. (Zeller's History of Greek Philosophy from the Earliest Period to the time of Socrates. 2 vols.] And I am also glad to be able to assure you that, although I have, as in duty bound to you, most carefully read and re-read Dr. Zeller's great work, I do not propose to weary you with any lengthened details, if only for the reason that all that was of any permanent value in the pre-Socratic Philosophy has long since been practically winnowed out and incorporated into their own Systems by Plato and Aristotle. And yet the subject is one of singular fascination, even if we only regard it as a phase in the history of the growth of the human mind. Taking the period of Thales, who flourished in the seventh century before Christ, or about 200 years before the birth of Socrates, as the starting-point of philosophy,--that is to say, of the conscious speculations of the human mind respecting the phenomena of the universe by which it is surrounded,--we are so startled by the crudities and even absurdities of the various theories, both physical and metaphysical, that there is danger of our failing to perceive how eminently natural they were. To us, who have inherited a rational method of investigation, who have also not only inherited a method, but also a habit, and almost an instinct for reasoned knowledge, it is difficult to comprehend these first gropings of the speculative intellect in its endeavours to explain the mysteries of the universe.
Moreover, there is a danger greater far, to which we of the present generation are specially exposed by reason of the very fullness and the variety of the knowledge given to us by labours and exertions not our own. We are, as it were, so cradled and rocked and dandled in facts, so encircled by encyclopaedias of all the sciences, and so deluged by the scraps of information showered upon us by "Tit-bits" and the other similar blessings of our modern press, that we are liable to forget that knowledge which is not reasoned knowledge is practically useless to us; that individual items of information do not become real knowledge until they have first been chewed and digested, and thus made ready for assimilation with the understanding; and that isolated truths do not become Truth until they have been duly subordinated, co-ordinated, and correlated, and thus organised into a perfect whole.
It is, therefore, not at all unprofitable for us to study the various modes employed in the past for the acquisition of knowledge, even when they are crude in their premises and over-hasty in their conclusions. For it was only by multiplied failures that mankind was taught the unwelcome lesson that Nature cannot be conquered by "frontal attacks"; that it can only accomplish its purpose by a very circuitous route; that only by a regular siege and a series of small progressions can in occupy intermediate positions; and that the outworks must first be captured before it can hope for a successful onslaught on the citadel itself. This process human impatience was late in discovering, and slow in learning to endure. Over 2000 years had to elapse between the teaching of Thales and the publication of Bacon's Novum Organum, that true "Instrument" by means of which the massive gates of Nature have been unfolded, and its hidden mysteries disclosed.
But, great as is the interval of time between the philosophy of the pre-Socratic period on the one hand and that of Lord Bacon on the other, still wider is that which exists between the method for the interpretation of nature proclaimed in the Novum Organum and that taught by Thales and his immediate successors. This latter consisted almost entirely of what may be termed "physical dogmatism," there being no distinction made by its teachers between mind and matter, but, on the contrary, certain physical substances familiar to experience were assumed to be the elements out of which the entire universe was composed, and all the phenomena of Nature were supposed to be produced by the qualities of these elements, or by the operation of some mysterious forces residing in them. For example, Thales himself regarded this cosmic element as Water; whilst Anaximenes, his com-patriot, placed it in Air, by the condensation of which the Earth was produced; this latter being regarded by him as broad and flat, like the top of a table, and supported in position by the Air. On the other hand Heraclitus considered the primordial substance to be Fire; whilst Empedocles explained all things by the mixture of Four Elements--Earth, Air, Fire, and Water--and their mutual action and reaction upon one another.
But in addition to these earlier physicists, there also appeared at various intervals two or three distinct Schools of thought which, differing from each other in several particulars, had yet the common characteristic of basing their conceptions of the universe, not so much on physical agencies, as on intangible existences, or on the largest and vaguest abstractions; and which therefore may be termed the "semi-physical" or "metaphysical" group. (A distinguished scholar, to whom I am in many ways largely indebted, regards these primitive speculations as being essentially theological from the fact of their being strivings after the Unseen. There is no fundamental difference between us on the point, but I have preferred to retain the term "metaphysical" instead of "theological," as the latter seems to me to connote a greater element of personality than is really contained in the speculations.) Of the first of these, Pythagoras may be regarded as the leading type, he having, as you will recollect, found a solution of the mysteries of cosmic order in connection with the idea of Number, that is to say, the numerical and mathematical relations of things; and also in the harmony of musical tones, the dependence of which, on regular mathematical intervals, he was apparently the first to discover; and both ideas are combined in the famous theory of the "harmony of the spheres," the seven planets being the seven golden chords of the heavenly heptachord. And, of the others we have abundant illustrations in the fragmentary writings of the leading philosophers of the Eleatic School--Xenophanes, Parmenides, Melissus, and the first Zeno--whose special teaching seems to me, if I may venture to use the term, to be a kind of early Transcendentalism not unlike, in one respect at least, that very modern "theosophy" which has reached us from America, but which I believe is considered by its disciples to have had its origin amongst the "Mahatmas" of India and Thibet. That is to say, it appears to me to chiefly consist of vague generalities applied to the most indefinite abstractions, such as "the Same and the Different," the "Being and the Becoming," &c., of the intrinsic value of which I am unable to offer any opinion.
The close, however, of this long period of barren physical and metaphysical speculation was marked by the recognition of a principle which I have already indicated as being fraught with the most vital consequences to the development of the Greek Philosophy, viz., the conception of the existence of the Nous as a something distinct from and superior to matter. It is true that in its original form, as propounded by Anaxagoras, this Nous was not regarded as a spiritual force residing in man, but rather as a subtle but corporeal element of a far finer texture than the ordinary matter; which pervaded the entire universe, and acted upon it by motion or other mechanical means. But from this idea of world-force distinct from the inert formless and chaotic matter on which it operated, there soon arose the concomitant idea of the Human Soul, having a natural affinity to the Anima Mundi or Soul of the World, and equally distinct from and superior to the matter of which the rest of the universe was composed. And thus it came to pass, that whereas in the primitive stages of man's mental development, the mystery and the grandeur of Nature had so absorbed his attention that he became forgetful of himself, in this newer stage he discovered within himself a power and capacity distinct from everything corporeal; spirit revealed itself as something infinitely higher than the matter by which it is surrounded; and Man turns from the investigation of Nature in order that he may be occupied with himself. In a word, the philosophy of physical dogmatism has given place to a philosophy of general criticism.
(To be continued.)
The Parents' Review, Vol XII. No. 6, June, 1901 pg 401-415
Socrates Part VI
But while the change in the object of Greek speculative thought at this period was a necessary "condition precedent" to the philosophic reformation afterwards introduced by Socrates, it was not sufficient in itself to lead to the acquisition of positive truth, or even to point out the way by which it might be attained. The immediate effect it produced was--to promote a spirit of free and irresponsible criticism of all previous systems of philosophy; to lead to their practical annihilation by a clever comparison and contrast of one with another; to develop an inordinate display of dialectic and rhetorical ability, not for the sake of arriving at truth, but in order to minister to the vanity or the self-interest of the exhibitor; and, in general, to produce that laxity of thought and in practical conduct which is generally regarded as the special characteristic of the Sophistic period of Greek history.
It is only fair, however, to point out that there are at the present time two distinct theories as to the nature and effect of the influence of the Sophists upon the Hellenic mind, one of which may be termed the popular, or generally received opinion, and the other the later theory put forward with much ability by Mr. Grote (History of Greece, vol. viii, chap. 67.) As regards the first, it may perhaps be summed upon in the statement that the teaching of the Sophists was simply a perversion of philosophy into an empty appearance of wisdom without its reality, and a systematized art of frivolous disputation devoid of all scientific earnestness and desire for truth; and that they themselves were the corrupters of the youth and society of their time, and were actuated chiefly by mercenary motives. And hence, at the present time the word "Sophist," which at first simply meant "a wise man," has degenerated into a term of reproach, denoting one who seeks to "make the worse appear the better reason" and, generally, so doing from the desire of personal advantage. On the other hand, Mr. Grote has argued that the Sophists did not represent any special or particular school of thought, but were simply the professional teachers of their time; that some of them included amongst their friends not only such eminent men as Pericles and Thucydides, Sophocles and Euripides, but also Socrates and Plato; and that to accuse them of sordid motives because (unlike Socrates and Plato) they received fees from their pupils, is as unreasonable as a similar accusation would be if levelled against the professional lecturers and teachers of our own time.
For my own part, I cannot but think that, while the popular opinion is somewhat exaggerated, Mr. Grote has not fully met the real force of the accusation. I consider that the influence exerted by the Sophists was, on the whole, most pernicious; and that the Hellenic mind had reached almost its lowest depths, both on its moral and its intellectual side, during the Sophistic period. But on the other hand, I also consider that the Sophists did not originate, but simply exaggerated, the prevalent state of unbelief; and that this period was an inevitable, if not a necessary, stage in the historical development of the human mind. The fact is, the pre-Socratic philosophy had utterly broken down. Belief in the truth of all ideas respecting the material universe and in the validity of all moral law had almost disappeared. The religious ideas of the time had lost all meaning to the educated, and even the very existence of the gods was openly derided by them. And in addition, or, rather, as a necessary consequence, a similar laxity in conduct also prevailed. Principles subversive of all law and all right were unblushingly advocated. The simplicity and purity of domestic life and the orderliness of civil life had given place to wanton dissoluteness of conduct accompanied by ostentation in living, and the constant pursuit of pleasure and of personal advantage at the expense of the best interests, and even the very existence of the State.
But, at the same time, it should be borne in mind, that if the Greek Philosophy of this period had broken down, both as a system of thought and as a rule of life, it was largely due to the fact that it had been tried and found wanting. Its scientific methods had proved to be utterly inadequate to the task of explaining the mysteries of Nature; whilst its moral ideas, founded as they were upon custom and tradition and not based upon accurate knowledge, remained too narrow and too partial to afford an adequate guidance in the problems of daily life. In like manner, the religion of the State had ceased to command intelligent respect, consisting as it did of the primitive ideas, the legendary tales, and the semi-savage, semi-childish, anthropomorphism of the Homeric literature. And hence, to a race whose religious instincts had been elevated, and whose conceptions of morality had been purified by the sublime picture of life and destiny and duty suggested by the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the popular belief could only present itself as a creed outworn, and as being only suited to the limited capacity of the common herd.
It seems to me, therefore, that before better and truer ideas could become prevalent, it was absolutely necessary that the inherent weakness of the old ones should be fully exposed, and their essential hollowness completely demonstrated. And I cannot but think that in accomplishing this work, the Sophists performed a useful function; and that they constituted a most necessary link in the chain of human progress and human development. And, moreover, it should be borne in mind, that from the very weapons which the Sophists employed for the purpose of destruction and clearance, viz., in their mental subtlety and practical skill in dialectics, were forged new instruments for the search after truth, and the acquisition of true and valid knowledge.
But, on the other hand, it is to their eternal discredit that they were destructives and nothing more. So far were the Sophists from lending a helping hand to humanity in this its hour of need that they only sought to increase the general disbelief and moral confusion. By their logical dexterity they easily compelled the earlier systems of physical science to mutually destroy each other; but instead of suggesting a new method for the investigation of Nature they only denied the possibility of any real knowledge whatsoever. Likewise, in the sphere of Ethics, it was comparatively easy for them to demonstrate the fact that ancient custom and traditional usage do not constitute an all-sufficient basis of obligation; but instead of seeking for other and firmer grounds on which to rest the claims of duty and right-doing, they contented themselves with denying the validity of all existing law, and allowing the individual to regulate himself by no principle other than his own caprice, or his own personal advantage. Nor was it otherwise in respect to their attitude towards religion. The fact that they disbelieved in the gods of their race, and saw in them only the creations of their poets' fancies or the manifestations of the genius of their almost inspired sculptors, is not in itself a matter of reproach; but they did greatly err in that they neglected the indications of the Divine Light suggested by the sublime aspirations of their own great Aeschylus, and could see only material for laughter and ridicule in the pathetic searches of their metaphysical predecessors after a Divine Unity. Like Voltaire and the French Encyclopedists, they accomplished a most useful work by destroying some of the erroneous sign-posts that had previously misled mankind; but, like them also, they could not strike out a new and surer road to truth. Such constructive work was too great for their mental and moral capacities; and could only be carried out by the one man of their time who was infinitely above and beyond them in intellectual genius as well as in spiritual insight--Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus.
There was, however, another notable personage of this period who must not be overlooked, not only because he was a most able as well as a most bitter opponent of the Sophists, but also because he furnishes a striking example of the innate futility of the method which he adopted both as a censor morum and as a reformer of Society. I refer to the comic poet Aristophanes. It is indeed almost impossible to exaggerate either the cleverness and wit, or the earnestness and zeal with which he attacks the prevalent corruption; nor is there any reason to doubt the fact of his sincerity, and of his having been actuated by true patriotic motives in so doing. According to him, the whole heart of society was sick and its whole body faint. The State was infested with demagogues and sycophants; poetry represented by Euripides had become empty and effeminate, and as faithless to its moral purpose as it was degraded from its artistic height. Everywhere he sees prevalent the Sophistic culture with its disastrous results, in fruitless speculations dangerous alike to faith and to morals, and in the production of shameless quibblers, atheistic rationalizers, and conscienceless perverters of justice. Even the women of the period do not escape his censure, adding as they do to their innate frivolity a craving for the Parliamentary suffrage and the establishment of a Parliament of female legislators. But unfortunately, his only positive remedy for the disease of his time--apart from the brilliancy of his invective and the scurrility he displayed in his personal attacks--consisted in painting imaginary pictures of the grandeur and happiness of the "good old times" of Marathon and Salamis, when education was confined to the few, but when the many were distinguished by their military prowess and their steady morality, and "when an Athenian seaman knew nothing more than how to call for his barley cake and to cry Yoho." Hence it followed that he was not only completely unsuccessful in his self-imposed mission, but that he also became the primary cause of the violent death of the only individual of his time who was able to accomplish the regeneration of society, and by whom the Hellenic mind was permanently freed from the disastrous influence of the Sophistic method of teaching upon it. We, therefore, turn away from the futile efforts of Aristophanes to the contemplation of the true reformer and regenerator of the moral ideas of his race and of the philosophic thought of mankind, who appeared at this juncture in the centre of the Hellenic world.
Concerning the life and the personal characteristics of Socrates I have already given somewhat full details, and we therefore proceed to briefly consider the nature and characteristics of his teaching, which for the sake of convenience we may regard under two heads, viz.:--
(a) Its Subject.
It should, however, be constantly borne in mind that Socrates in his teaching never attempted to lay down an organized corpus of systematized thought, and that he aimed far more at arousing the spirit of intelligent enquiry and forming the habit of personal observation and research, than at the inculcation of definite doctrines, or of ready-made conclusions. With this proviso, therefore, we may notice that in regard to the subject-matter of his teaching, he began by completely abandoning all attempts to explain the mysteries of the universe, or to construct a philosophy on the basis of physical science.
As we have already seen, the old hypotheses regarding Nature and the cosmic forces had completely broken down under the dialectics of the Sophists: and the impenetrable confusion which overhung the whole subject appears to have led Socrates to the conviction that the gods intended the means by which physical phenomena were brought about to remain unknown, and that, therefore, it was impious as well as useless to attempt to pry into their secrets. He allowed, indeed, that there was advantage in knowing enough of the movements of the heavenly bodies to serve as guides for voyages and night watches. But this much, he said, might easily be obtained by pilots and watchmen, while all beyond was nothing but waste of valuable time, exhausting that mental effort which ought to be employed in profitable acquisition. "Do these enquirers (Xenophon reports him as saying) think that they already know human affairs well enough that they shall be able to meddle with Divine? Do they think that they shall be able to excite or calm the winds and the rain at pleasure, or have they no other view than to gratify an idle curiosity? Surely they must see that such matters are beyond human investigation. Let them only recollect how much the greatest men who have attempted the investigation differ in their pretend results, holding opinions extreme and opposite to each other like those of madmen."
To us of the present day, it is, of course, obvious that the reason given by Socrates for his neglect of physics is destitute of any real validity; but, on the other hand, it must be considered, that in thus turning away from the investigation of Nature to the study of matters which he considered more "human," he exercised a wise discretion, and was thus led to pursue the path by which alone he could benefit humanity. For, as I have already mentioned, it was only by means of the Baconian philosophy that the secrets of Nature could be disclosed, and nearly two thousand years had yet to elapse before the world was ready for its reception. Nor was it possible for even a Socrates under the special circumstances of his position to anticipate "large brow'd Verulam" in this department of human knowledge, requiring as it does a vast induction utterly above the ken of one whose world did not extend beyond the sea-boards of the countries washed by the Mediterranean waves. It is true that, at a later period, the attempt was made by Aristotle in the treatise which is the least useful of all his works, and which has called down upon him Bacon's mighty wrath as being entirely based upon induction per enumerationem simplicem which, he says, is only "a puerile thing."
The area is thus determined within which the true subject-matter of the Socratic philosophy must be sought, and it will be found to comprise within its borders all "human affairs" in the best sense of the term. Socrates was the first to proclaim in spirit, if not in words, "the proper study of mankind is man"; and, because I am a man, nothing concerning man's well-being or his happiness can be indifferent to me. The direct subject of his investigation is, therefore, the moral and intellectual nature of humanity. What is knowledge, and what are the various elements which combine to form the moral nature of man, and what is the real nature of each of these various elements? What is happiness, and how can it be best promoted? What is righteousness, and what is the best means for its development in the individual? What are the duties and responsibilities of the individual in respect to his friends? And what are the rights and duties of the State in respect to him? In brief, he originated the thought that Ethics and Politics not only deserve, but require, severe study and close attention, dealing as they do with the fundamental principles which should regulate the daily life of every individual, both as regards his own character and conduct, and also in respect to his private and his public relationships and duties. And perhaps the best idea I can give you of the nature and importance of the Socratic teaching will be conveyed by the following catalogue of topics, taken from the Platonic Dialogues in all of which Socrates is the chief figure.
What is Holiness?
Nor is it only in the grandeur and importance of his ideas in connection with the topics I have specified that we find ample justification for the homage which Socrates has received from the cultured minds of all periods in the world's history; it is also due to the disinterested love of virtue which exhibits itself in all his teaching as it did throughout his daily life. The fundamental idea of his teaching, whether expressed by Xenophon or by Plato, is always the same--the transcendent worth of virtue, and the infinite superiority of the just life, even if persecuted and calumniated, over the unjust, however honoured by men, or by whatever power or grandeur surrounded. And, as you will recollect, the same principle permeated the whole of his public life, guided him in that period of twenty-five years passed in poverty and hardship, and sustained him in the extreme hour of his violent death. And it is this triple combination--the intellectual insight, the ethical sublimity, and the noble life--which completes in him the character of the Great Teacher. It is not only by his intellectual power, but also by his moral enthusiasm; not only by his logic, but also by his ethos; not only by instructing the understanding, but also by stimulating the imagination, deepening the affections, and strengthening the will, that he produces his unique effect, and attracts all humanity by the endless power of a perfect life.
But it is in connection with his "method" that the intellectual genius of Socrates finds its fullest manifestation, and displays the striking originality upon which his peculiar fame chiefly rests. As I have already mentioned, the Sophists had not only annihilated all the physical and metaphysical conceptions of the Universe which, up to this period, had been in existence, but had also denied the possibility of any true knowledge whatsoever. According to Protagoras, "nothing is or becomes what it is or becomes, for itself, but only for the percipient subject. Things are for each man what they appear to him; and they appear to him as they must necessarily do according to his special state and condition." And similarly in regard to moral ideas. While the Sophists did not deny their actual existence, they affirmed that they had only a relative importance and obligation. "Nothing is by nature good or bad, but only by positive statute and conventional agreement; and, therefore we may make law or regard as law whatever we please; whatever the advantage of the moment brings with it, whatever we have the strength and skill to realise."
And, as you will also recollect, reformers of the type of Aristophanes could find no way of combating such opinions other than by vigorous denunciations of the innovators, and by passionate appeals to his contemporaries to return to their ancestral institutions and polity. But a return to the "good old times" of simple faith and customary morality, even if they ever existed, could not have taken place; nor, if possible, would it have satisfied men who more fully understood their own times. And, hence, the only feasible course of procedure open to the true reformer was to meet the Sophists on their own ground, and to gain in and through thought the power of combating and even transcending their inferences and teaching--in short, to secure a firmer foundation for science and morality by placing them upon an intellectual basis. And the method by which Socrates proceeded to accomplish his purpose was a two-fold one, partly destructive and partly constructive.
In the first place, he saw clearly that men had no true knowledge because they either depended altogether upon percepts, that is to say, they regarded things as being what they appeared to be; or else they depended altogether upon opinion, that is to say, they based their supposed knowledge upon assumptions, the accuracy of which they had never examined. "True knowledge," says Socrates in the "Theaetetus," is "something different from Perception (Aisthesis) and from Opinion (Doxa). Perception is only the manner in which things appear to us, and shows up the self-same object in the most contradictory manner--at one time great, at another small, now hard, now soft, now straight, now crooked--and how, then, can it be regarded as equivalent to knowledge which abolishes these contradictions. And Opinion is not knowledge inasmuch as true knowledge is to be sought in the activity of the Soul as such, and not in yielding ourselves to external impressions or the persuasions of others, which, even if true, are still an uncertain and variable possession."
But, furthermore, Socrates not only saw that the majority of mankind were ignorant, but also that they suffered from the far more dangerous mental defect of the "conceit of knowledge without reality." As Mr. Grote well expresses it, "every man found persuasions in his own mind without knowing how they came there, and witnessed them in others as portions of a general fund of unexamined common-place and credence. Because the words were at once of large meaning, embodied in old familiar mental processes, and surrounded by a strong body of sentiment, the general assertions in which they were embodied appeared self-evident to everyone; so that, in spite of continual dispute in particular cases, no one thought himself obliged to analyse the general propositions themselves, or to reflect whether he had verified their import and could apply them rationally and consistently."
It is not my duty to enquire whether the phenomenon to which Mr. Grote alludes does or does not exist in our own times; or whether there does not still exist--not so much in the physical and mathematical sciences as in such subjects as politics, economics, morals, aesthetics, and almost all divisions of art--the same confident persuasion of knowledge without its reality, the same illusion that because a man is familiar with the language he is, therefore, master of the facts and competent to assume the truth of propositions without any special analysis or study of them.
There is, however, an intensely dramatic as well as intellectual interest in the actual mode of operation adopted by Socrates in his preliminary work of breaking up the solid mass of the prevalent self-conceit and seeming knowledge without its reality, which is so vividly, as well as accurately, described by Mr. Grote that I cannot forbear from quoting his exact words. "Socrates," he says, "never presented himself as a teacher, nor as a man having new knowledge to communicate; on the contrary, he disclaimed such pretentions, uniformly and even ostentatiously. The subjects on which he talked were just those which everyone professed to know perfectly and thoroughly, and on which everyone believed himself in a condition to instruct others. On such questions as these--what is justice? what is piety? what is law?--every man fancied that he could give a confident opinion, and even wondered that any other person should feel a difficulty. When Socrates, professing ignorance, put any such question, he found no difficulty in obtaining an answer, given off-hand and with very little reflection. The answer purported to be the explanation or definition of a term--familiar indeed, but of wide and comprehensive import--given by one who had never before tried to render to himself an account of what it meant. Having got this answer, Socrates put fresh questions, applying it to specific cases to which the respondent was compelled to give answers inconsistent with the first: thus showing that the definition was either too narrow or too wide, or defective in some essential condition. The respondent then amended his answer, but this was a prelude to other questions which could only be answered in ways inconsistent with the amendment: and the respondent, after many attempts to disentangle himself, was obliged to plead guilty to the inconsistencies, with an admission that he could make no satisfactory answer to the original query, which had at first appeared so easy and familiar. Or if he did not himself admit this, the hearers at least felt it forcibly."
We should, however, greatly underrate the philosophic method of Socrates if we supposed that it ended in nothing more than a mere negation. On the contrary, the cross-examination which has just been described was intended by him only as a means to an end, and as an indispensable condition and precursor of future progress. To Socrates, there were practically three stages in the ascending scale of mental development--the first, or lowest point, being the unconscious self-satisfied ignorance mistaking itself for knowledge: the second, the conscious ignorance conjoined with the ardent desire for knowledge; whilst the third would consist in the actual possession of the knowledge to which he believed to was possible for every one to attain if only he sought it in the right way. And the instrument or sole means by which men could be put in the way of obtaining the real knowledge which has power to make them wise and virtuous is what he terms "Dialectics," which consist of two parts or "arms," as Mr. Grote calls them: the negative and the positive. The first, or negative arm, is that which has been sketched in the descriptive passage I have just quoted from Mr. Grote; and may be defined as the testing of every opinion by a negative scrutiny, eliciting every objection or difficulty that could be raised against it, and demanding before it was adopted that these should be successfully met. And as we have seen, this could only be done effectually by way of oral discussion: pressing the respondent by questions to which he was generally unable to make replies that were not in contradiction either to admitted facts or to his own original hypothesis. This pressure was certain, at least in an honest mind, to dissipate the false opinion of knowledge and to make the confuted respondent sensible of his ignorance; but at the same time it stimulated and helped him to the mental effort by which that ignorance could be exchanged for knowledge.
The other, or positive, arm--what may be termed the constructive side of the Socratic method--may be regarded as consisting in the direct search for the common feature of things that are classed together, or, in other words, in Inductive Generalization. It comprehends the mental processes which are now included in all text-books of Logic under the headings of Definition, and Division or Classification; which, although familiar to mankind since the publication of Aristotle's Organon or Logical Treatises, were quite unknown to the world until the time of Socrates. And these may be considered as comprising within themselves both the analytical and the synthetical operations of the mind. That is to say, they comprise, on the one hand, the reduction of general terms (or Universals) to the component particulars, and the subjection of these latter to an exhaustive analysis for the purpose of discovering in them any latent error or defect; and on the other hand the establishment of particulars by means of a careful induction, followed by the combination or synthesis of these into a general concept. This process, which is the true and only mode of acquiring abstract notions that are both clear and correspond to points of identity among real facts, is in itself a discipline in clear and accurate thinking to which, even now, there is nothing superior. But, in addition, it was also, as we have said, an absolute novelty. "The notions," says Mr. Grote, "of Genus, subordinate Genera, and Individuals as contained under them, were, at that time, newly brought into clear consciousness in the human mind. It may be doubted whether anyone before Socrates ever used the words Genus and Species in the philosophical sense now exclusively appropriated to them. Not one of those many names which imply distinct attention to various parts of the logical process, and enables us to criticise it in detail, then existed. All of them grew out of the schools of Plato, Aristotle and the subsequent philosophers, so that we can thus trace them in their beginning to the common root and father, Socrates."
Can we wonder, then, that such a mode of investigation should have produced a deep impression on the contemporaries and successors of Socrates, and an entire change in the Greek mode of thought; and that all mankind combine to see in him the true reformer of philosophic method, as well as the founder of the scientific system of moral philosophy? "There can be no doubt," says Mr. Grote, "that the individual influence of Socrates permanently enlarged the horizon, improved the method, and multiplied the ascendant minds of the Greek speculative world in a manner never since paralleled. Subsequent philosophers may have had a more elaborate doctrine, and a larger number of disciples; but none of them applied the same stimulating method with the same efficiency--none of them struck out of other minds that fire which sets light to original thought--none of them either produced in others the pains of intellectual pregnancy, or extracted from others the fresh and unborrowed offspring of a really parturient mind."
But, in conclusion, I will reiterate the fact I have already mentioned, viz., that, great as was the Socratic philosophy and widespread as is its influence, it was not a complete system, either in respect to its method, or its specific teaching. In the first place, as I have already indicated, it was inherently defective from the fact that there did not exist in the Socratic period sufficient data to allow of the full and accurate enumeration and selection of particulars, which is absolutely essential to the formation of true and universally valid general concepts. And in the second place, it was defective from the fact of its not making sufficient allowance for the constant tendency of the human mind to assume that whatever is dialectically proved has exactly the same constitution in the order of Nature that it has in logical thought--a fallacy which, you will recollect, underlies almost the whole of the Scholastic Philosophy, and has caused it to become a by-word for barren and useless speculations. And hence has arisen the necessity of supplementing it by the Baconian Philosophy, with its fundamental principle of the absolute need of "verification"; that is to say, of the confrontation both of the data and the conclusions, in all logical reasoning with the external order of things. For if Truth be the correspondence between the order of ideas and the order of phenomena, the only right method must be that which, step by step, assures that correspondence; and demonstrates that the order of our ideas is also that of the phenomena which they represent.
And, in like manner, with regard to Socrates' specific teaching in the region of moral ideas; which also, as I have already indicated, needs supplementing both by the addition of new ideas, and also by the purification and elevation of those already in existence. And as we have seen, this work of supplementing has been accomplished by the teaching of Jesus, which has not only given to us the new ideas and purified the old, but has also revealed to us the Instrument or Person by whom that work has been brought about, viz., the Divine Spirit, who takes of the things of God and shows them unto men.
And hence I will venture to conclude with an expansion of a text of Scripture with which you are all familiar; an expansion, however, I need hardly add, which is put forward in the most reverential spirit--For the external Law of ritual and positive precepts was given by Moses; and the inner Laws of reason and the conscience were revealed by Socrates; but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ. The Truth in respect to which all previous systems--whether Semitic or Hellenic--are but "broken lights," imperfect and incomplete; the Grace or supernatural gifts which enable us to fulfil the moral obligations contained in that Truth.
Proofread May 2011, LNL
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