CHAPTER VIII. GRECIAN PHILOSOPHY.
Plato made philosophy to consist in the discussion of general terms, or abstract ideas. General terms were synonymous with real existences, and these were the only objects of philosophy. These were calledIdeas; and ideas are the basis of his system, or rather the subject matter of dialectics. He was a Realist, that is, he maintained that every general term, or abstract idea, has a real and independent existence. Here he probably was indebted to Pythagoras, for Plato was a master of the whole realm of philosophical speculation; but his conception of ideas is a great advance on the conception of numbers. He was taught by Socrates that beyond this world of sense, there was the world of eternal truth, and that there were certain principles concerning which there could be no dispute. The soul apprehends the idea of goodness, greatness, etc. It is in the celestial world that we are to find the realm of ideas. Now God is the supreme idea. To know God should be the great aim of life. We know him by the desire which like feels for like. The divinity within feels for the divinity revealed in beauty, or any other abstract idea. The longing of the soul for beauty is Love. Love then is the bond which unites the human to the divine. Beauty is not revealed by harmonious outlines which appeal to the senses, but is Truth. It is divinity. Beauty, truth, love, these are God, the supreme desire of the soul to comprehend, and by the contemplation of which the mortal soul sustains itself, and by perpetual meditation becomes participant in immortality. The communion with God presupposes immortality. The search for the knowledge of God is the great end of life. Wisdom is the consecration of the soul to the search; and this is effected by dialectics, for only out of dialectics can correct knowledge come. But man, immersed in the flux of sensualities, can never fully attain this high excellence - the knowledge of God, the object of all rational inquiry. Hence the imperfection of all human knowledge. The supreme good is attainable; it is not attained. God is the immutable good, and justice the rule of the universe. "The vital principle of his philosophy is to show that true science is the knowledge of the good; is the eternal contemplation or truth, or ideas; and though man may not be able to apprehend it in its unity, because he is subject to the restraints of the body, he is, nevertheless, permitted to recognize it, imperfectly, by calling to mind the eternal measure of existence, by which he is in his origin connected." [Footnote: Ritter, Hist, of Phil., b. viii. p. 2, chap. i.] He was unable to find a transition from his world of ideas to that of sense, and his philosophy, vague and mystical, though severely logical, diverts the mind from the investigations of actual life - from that which is the object of experience.
[The object of Plato's inquiries.]
The writings of Plato have come down to us complete, and have been admired by all ages for their philosophical acuteness, as well as beauty of language. He was not the first to use the form of dialogue, but he handled it with greater mastery than any one who preceded him, or has come after him, and all with a view to bring his hearers to a consciousness of knowledge or ignorance. He regarded wisdom as the attribute of the godhead; that philosophy is the necessity of the intellectual man, and the greatest good to which he can attain. This wisdom presupposes, however, a communion with the divine. He regarded the soul as immortal and indestructible. He maintained that neither happiness nor virtue can consist in the attempt to satisfy our unbridled desires; that virtue is purely a matter of intelligence; that passions disturb the moral economy.
[God the immutable good.]
"When we review the doctrines of Plato, it is impossible to deny," says Hitter, "that they are pervaded with a grand view of life and the universe. This is the noble thought which inspired him to say, that God is the constant and immutable good; the world is good in a state of becoming, and the human soul that in and through which the good in the world is to be consummated. In his sublimer conception, he shows himself the worthy disciple of Socrates. His merit lies chiefly in having advanced certain distinct and precise rules for the Socratic method, and in insisting, with a perfect consciousness of its importance, upon the law of science, that to be able to descend from the higher to the lower ideas by a principle of the reason, and reciprocally from the multiplicity of the lower to the higher, is indispensable to the perfect possession of any knowledge. He thus imparted to this method a more liberal character. While he adopted many of the opinions of his predecessors, and gave due consideration to the results of the earlier philosophy, he did not allow himself to be disturbed by the mass of conflicting theories, but breathed into them the life-giving breath of unity. He may have erred in his attempts to determine the nature of good; still he pointed out to all who aspire to a knowledge of the divine nature, an excellent road by which they may arrive at it."