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For the last signification could hardly be embraced by those, who would make such an application of it, as they start with asserting that the works collectively are hardly intelligible, and consequently must allow that Plato might as easily have committed to them what was most difficult and mysterious in his wisdom, as what was otherwise. And as regards the first signification, of doctrines of his Philosophy, concerning which he purposely delivered himself, without the interior circle of his confidential friends, either not at all, or in mysterious hints, it must be either regularly maintained and demonstrated that such was the case by a connected exposition of such doctrines, and the indications referring to them, however slight, or at least shown in a less degree, by some kind of historical traces. Therefore, of all the advocates of this opinion, the so-called modern Platonists are deserving of most praise, inasmuch as they have actually attempted to accomplish the first. But the other parties would not have anything to show in support of their view of the subject. For apart from theosophistic matter, and unless they would ascribe to Plato some sort of physical sciences which he could not possess, and which his own writings moreover would at once disavow, they would be at a loss to discover anything in the whole region of philosophy upon which some opinion, either directly and distinctly, or at least as far as a notice of the principles goes, is not to be met with in these writings. And those indeed who reduce the distinction of what is esoteric, merely to the war against Polytheism and the vulgar religion, do, in fact, completely cancel the same, and reduce it to a piece of political caution, which would be unsatisfactory in the extreme, as Plato's principles upon these points may be
read distinctly enough in his writings, so that one can scarcely believe that his scholars needed still further instructions about them, from the publication of which he shrank, or to a puerile contrivance which indulged itself in delivering in a loud voice with closed doors, what might indeed have been as well said with open ones in a lower.
And quite as little would really genuine historical traces be discoverable, supporting the opinion of a distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric in Plato. For if it refers merely to the subject-matter, and we are to suppose the secret doctrines to have been contained in the esoteric writings in the same manner in which the commoner are in the exoteric; the first and most indispensable point must then be to make it probable, somehow, that those writings were made public in some way different from these, since otherwise the whole endeavour would have been useless; but of doing this no seems seriously to have thought. And, further, how should it happen that Aristotle, who indisputably was concerned with a true understanding of the true Philosophy of Plato, and from whom, as many years an intimate scholar of that philosopher, nothing could easily remain concealed, does never, notwithstanding, either appeal to other sources, or appear to found his own writings upon a secret understanding of these. On the contrary, he appeals in every instance in the most unconstrained and simple manner to the works open to ourselves, and even when, as is now and then the case, other lost writings or perhaps oral lectures are quoted, these quotations do in no way contain any thing unheard of in the writings we possess, or completely different from them. If therefore these either did not contain at all the true doctrines of
Plato, or only conformably to a secret interpretation, how could Aristotle, especially considering the manner in which he attacks his master, have been able to escape the most severe censures from the genuine followers of that Philosopher, if, contrary to his better knowledge, he had then fought only against a shadow ?
Now in order to make these misapprehensions and their causes perfectly manifest, and to bring even those who are involved in them to a confession and consciousness of the same, it is certainly a praiseworthy undertaking to work out analytically the philosophical subjectmatter from the Platonic works, and thus to expose the Philosopher to view, dissected and in detail, divested of his superfluities and combinations, and with as little as may be of his own peculiar form. For if they could thus survey the pure treasure, and convince themselves on authentic grounds that it is actually taken from those writings, they must be fain to confess that it was the fault of themselves alone not to discern it, and that it is useless to lament over, or to dream of, other lost riches of Platonic wisdom. Thus much therefore may be attained by this method, that the ungrounded suspicion against the works of Plato vanishes, and the fact of his not being understood is brought more to light. And it is even certain that he who is thus to expose this truth thoroughly and completely must have himself understood Plato in the same degree: and quite as certain also is it, that the understanding of Plato as concerns others is neither facilitated nor advanced thereby: but that, on the contrary, whoever should stick exclusively to even the best exposition of this kind might easily attain to an imaginary knowledge only, and on that very account remove himself still further from the true. For though he must be accurately acquainted with the whole nature of a body who is to separate the particular vessels or bones in it for the purpose of comparison with corresponding parts of another similarly dissected, which would be the fullest use to which that philosophical process could be put ; still the mere passive spectator of the exhibition and comparison of these parts will not attain, by those means alone, to a knowledge of the proper natures of the whole. So also will those spectators of the analysis fail altogether to attain to a knowledge of the Philosophy of Plato, for in that, if in any thing, form and subject are inseparable, and no proposition is to be rightly understood, except in its own place, and with the combinations and limitations which Plato has asssigned to it. And still less will they comprehend the Philosopher himself; and least of all, will his purpose have succeeded in their case, tending as it did not only to exhibit vividly his own thought to others, but by that very means vividly to excite and awaken theirs. Hence, therefore, to that analytical exposition which we have now been in possession of for a short time, in a perfection far exceeding former attempts, it is a necessary supplementary process to restore to their natural connection those limbs, which without dissection, usually appear so very deplorably involved one with another, I mean, not the particular opinions but the particular works—to restore them to the connection in which, as expositions continuously more complete as they advance, they gradually developed the ideas of the writer, so that while every dialogue is taken not only as
a whole in itself, but also in its connection with the rest, he may himself be at last understood as a Philosopher and a perfect Artist.
Now whether there is any such connection, and such an undertaking is not, perhaps, unsuitable to the subject and far too great ever to succeed, will best appear from the first conception which Plato himself suggests to us with regard to his writings and their objects, and which we shall shortly hear him propound in the Phædrus. Treating the subject in a somewhat trifling manner, he complains of the uncertainty which always attaches to written communication of thoughts, as to whether the mind also of the reader has spontaneously conformed to such communication, and in reality appropriated it to itself, or whether, with the mere ocular apprehension of the words and letters a vain conceit is excited in the mind that it understands wbat it does not understand. Hence, that it is folly to build too much upon this, and that true reliance can be placed only upon oral and living instruction. But, he continues to argue, writing must be hazarded at a venture, and more for what it is as regards the writer and those who already share in his knowledge, than for what it can do for those who as yet know nothing. Whoever then will consider what that so exalted preference for oral instruction means and upon what it rests, will find no other ground but this, that in this case the teacher, standing as he does in the presence of the learner, and in living communication with him, can tell every moment what he understands and what not, and thus assist the activity of his understanding when it fails; but the actual attainment of this advantage rests, as any one must see, upon the form of the dialogue, which, accordingly, truly living instruction must necessarily have. To this also is to be referred what Plato says, that a sentence orally de