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compartments of sciences, and to every one of the separate parts of the whole devotes its particular work or section, in which it is regularly built up, according to plan, with rooms and stories, so that any one whose memory and fingers do not refuse to work, may measure and point out, if not without trouble, at all events without error, every particular detail ; whence an opinion easily arises, that there is something in the system, and that the student has followed and understood it. For, however weak the foundations of these structures often are, and their compartments taken at random, they have still an attractive look of firmness and arrangement, and it is considered easy to understand not only the details in themselves, but also in connexion with the other parts of the edifice; and the Author himself must afford a clear guide to this by references not to be overlooked. The second form, neither more rarely used nor less favoured, is the fragmentary, which has only to deal with particular investigations, and which, from disconnected pieces, with regard to which it is difficult to be sure whether or no they are real members, or only masses capriciously and unnaturally separated from the whole body, professes, notwithstanding, to make Philosophy comprehensible. Although, then, in this case superficiality and ignorance are perfectly natural, because the authors have not even come to an understanding with themselves as to the centre point and ground upon which they stand, yet does this method assume an appearance of ease and certainty, for the reason that it defines and names at starting the object in view, and makes at once straight for it. In this sense even the dialogistic treatment has been often applied ; and many a writer has crept into a reputation of being a happy imitator of Plato, perhaps still more Socratic and clear than he, who yet could make nothing of Plato's form of art but a loose dress for this loose method of discussion. Whoever then is spoiled by use of the expedients which these methods seem to afford, will necessarily find everything in Plato strange, and either devoid of meaning or mysterious. For although the division of Philosophy into different compartments of science was so far from being unknown to him, that he may be looked upon much rather as the first originator of it to a certain degree, still hardly any of his writings are confined to any one of these compartments in particular. But since he considered their essential unity and their common law as of the greater importance, and made it pre-eminently the object of his aim, the various problems are in consequence every where multifariously involved one with another. But whoever, on the other hand, would on this account degrade these works to the denomination of fragmentary, will yet find himself constantly embarrassed as to the real subject-matter, which is seldom verbally enunciated, and and he will be compelled secretly to confess that the Philosopher does not appear to have had the modest intention of treating only of particular subjects, but that he either was completely devoid of this, or had one much more comprehensive.
Hence, then, the twofold incorrect opinions upon Plato and his writings which have been given almost from the earliest times. The one, that it is in vain to search in his writings for any thing entire, nay, even for the very first principles of a consistent and pervading philosophical turn of thought or doctrine ; on the contrary, that every thing in them vacillates and wavers, and that scarce any thing whatever stands in regular relation to the rest ; nay, that frequently one part contradicts another, because he is more of a dialectician than a logical Philosopher, more desirous of contradicting others, than capable of, or caring to produce, a well-founded structure of his own; and that when he has to deal with the plausibility of his own propositions, he first seeks up his elements sometimes from this, sometimes from that, elsewhere perhaps disputed doctrine, according as his object may be on each occasion. Now such an opinion is nothing else but a disguised confession of a total absence of any understanding of the Platonic works, and that especially on account of their form, when it is only the ground of the sentiment that is misapprehended, and instead of being looked for in the judge, it is transferred to the thing judged. But it is not necessary to honour this depreciating view with a lengthened discussion, as it yields in itself a sufficient testimony against itself. For while it adduces accusations about contradiction and want of connexion, it does not, however, prove that it has rightly understood the details ; otherwise whence those strange inquiries, in what persons' mouths Plato has brought forward his own opinion at least upon this or that subject; a question which, as it supposes that his dialogistic form is only a somewhat useless and more confusing than illustrative embellishment of the perfectly common method of expressing thoughts, can only be thrown out by one who does not understand Plato at all. This view, therefore, is founded upon nothing, and explains nothing, but leaves the whole problem as it was before, and may, without going further, be contradicted by fact, if a successful attempt is made to bring our Platonic works into a connexion by means of which every detail with the doctrines therein contained becomes intelligible. And the demand for such an attempt
is in this point of view so much the more pressing, as the majority of those who pass so mean an opinion upon the writings of Plato still cannot resist a certain feeling of admiration for the Philosopher. Now as we have no other tangible proof of his greatness and preeminence except these writings, the two will not agree together, that opinion, I mean, and this admiration, and the latter will scarcely have any other object except those beauties of language and composition lavished on matter of no importance, or particular fine passages as they are called, or moral sentiments and principles, all pointing to very subordinate if not very dubious merit, so that if these men would advance uninterruptedly in their admiration, they must themselves wish to find something more in him than they have hitherto found. Hence, therefore, others, with quite as little of a correct insight but with more good will, induced partly by particular expressions of Plato himself, partly also by a far-spread tradition preserved from ancient times, of an esoteric and exoteric in his Philosophy, have adopted the opinion that in the writings of Plato his own peculiar wisdom is either not contained at all, or only in secret allusions, and those very difficult to discover. This notion, in itself utterly vague, has shaped itself into the most multifarious forms, and the writings of Plato have been robbed of sometimes more and sometimes less of their subject-matter, and his genuine wisdom, on the contrary, sought for in secret doctrines which he as good as not at all confided to these writings; nay, extensive investigations have been entered upon in order to determine what writings of Plato were exoteric and what esoteric, and so to discover where most a trace might be sought out of his genuine and secret widom. Setting aside therefore the
truth contained in this proposition, in so far as what is secret and difficult to find out is so only in a relative point of view, and there may always be something obscure and hard to find for some person or other; the whole is only a tissue of mis-apprehensions and confused conceptions which must first of all be unravelled and exposed.
For these conceptions of an exoteric and esoteric philosophy demand a critical sifting, inasmuch as they appear at different times with quite different meanings. For among the earliest Pythagoreans this distinction referred so immediately to the matter, that subjects were denoted as esoteric concerning which they would not commit themselves without the limits of their most intimate circle of connections; and it is to be supposed that their political system occupied the place of the esoteric far more than their metaphysical speculations, which were as imperfect as unsuspicious. But at that time even Philosophy was bound up with political views, and the schools were connected by a practical fraternization which did not afterwards exist among the Hellenes. In later times, on the contrary, that was chiefly called esoteric which could not be communicated in the popular method of instruction, to which, after the admixture of the Sophists with the Socratic Philosophers, certain teachers condescended, and the distinction therefore referred immediately to the mode of delivery; and only mediately, and on account of the other first, to the subject-matter. Plato now stands in the intermediate period between these two; but in whichever of the two senses it should be attempted to apply these notions to the Platonic writings and Philosophy, in order thereby to divide the two into two parts, hesitation and doubt generally must