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THE Greek Editions of the works of Plato generally prefix to them the biography of the Author from the well-known collection of Diogenes. But only the most indiscriminating attachment to an old custom could honour so crude a compilation, put together as it is without any judgment, with a translation. And Tennemann,
in the life of Plato prefixed to his system of the Platonic philosophy, has already subjected to a sifting process this and the other old biographies of Plato, compared with what is found scantily dispersed in other sources. As, then, since that time neither materially deeper investigations have been published, nor new facts discovered, affording any well-grounded hope of leaving far behind them, in their application, the labour already bestowed upon this subject, it is best to refer such readers as wish to be instructed upon that point, to what they will there find. And there is the less need for anything further, as no one who would be a worthy reader of Plato can entertain the notion of wishing to strike out a light upon the sentiments of the philosopher, which might illuminate his works, from multifariously
told and deformed trifles, or epigrammatic answers, even were they of undoubted authenticity-especially as, in the case of such an Author, the intelligent reader undertakes to learn the sentiments from the works themselves. And as regards the more important circumstances of his life, those more accurate relations, from a knowledge of which, probably, a more thorough understanding of many details in his writings might be developed, seem to be for ever so far withdrawn without the range of modern investigation, that any supposition which one might feel inclined to contribute upon these subjects, would be made at a venture; and very often in his writings we can point out, in the most decisive manner, where an allusion exists to some personal relation, without however being able to guess what it is. Nay, even with regard to the
more well-known circumstances of his life, his remarkable travels for instance, so little that is definite can be with certainty made out, that no particular use can be made of them for the chronology and arrangement of his writings, and the most we can do is, here and there to guess, with a degree of probability, at the place where the former interrupt the series of the latter. Such particular conjectures, therefore, will be brought forward to more advantage in those places immediately in which they may perhaps spread some light around them.
It would certainly be more to the purpose, provided it were possible within the prescribed limits, to adduce something relative to the scientific condition of the Hellenes at the time when Plato entered upon his career, to the advances of language in reference to the expression of philosophical thoughts, to the works of this class at that time in existence, and the probable extent of their circulation. For upon these points there is not only
much to explain more accurately than has been hitherto done, and some quite new matter to investigate, but there may perhaps still be questions to throw out, which, though to the professor in these subjects they must be anything but indifferent, have, however, up to the present time, been as good as not thought of at all. But to pursue in connexion what is new and ambiguous in such investigations, would not be adapted to this place; and some particulars even in this province, whether in the way of illustration, or of suspicion tending to confute what has been hitherto assumed, are better by all means to remain reserved for the particular places to which they refer. And what is common and well known is, moreover, pertinently set forth in the works of German writers illustrative of the history of that period of philosophy, as far as is absolutely necessary to prepare the way for the reading of the Platonic writings, so as not to grope about in the dark, and thus completely to miss, from first to last, the right point of view for the understanding and estimation of them. For these writings are throughout full of clear and covert references to almost every thing, both earlier and cotemporary. And in like manner, also, whoever does not possess a competent knowledge of the deficient state of the language for philosophical purposes, to feel where and how Plato is cramped by it, and where he himself laboriously extends its grasp, must necessarily misunderstand his author, and that, for the most part, in the most remarkable passages.
Of the Philosophy itself we are here purposely to avoid giving any preliminary account, even were it ever so easy to do so, or possible to dispatch it in ever so small a space, inasmuch as the whole object of this new exposition of his works is to put it within the power
of every one to have, through an immediate and more accurate knowledge of them alone, a view of his own of the genius and doctrines of the philosopher, quite new it may be, or at all events more perfect. And nothing certainly could work more effectually towards preventing the accomplishment of this object than an endeavour, just at the outset, to instil into the mind of the reader any preconception whatever. Whoever, therefore, has not yet been hitherto acquainted immediately with these works, let him leave all that external reports have taught him respecting their contents, and the consequences to be drawn from them, to rest meanwhile upon its own merits, and endeavour to forget it; but whoever from his own knowledge of them has already formed an opinion for himself, will soon feel how far, by means of the classification in which he here finds these writings arranged, even his own views experience an alteration, or at least combine themselves better, and gain a greater comprehensiveness and unity, from his learning to know Plato more strictly as a Philosophical Artist, than, certainly, has been hitherto the case. For of all philosophers who have ever lived, none have had so good a right as Plato, in many respects, to set up the only too general complaint of being misunderstood, or even not understood at all. The grossest indeed of these misunderstandings have been for the most part severally removed by modern exertions deserving all our gratitude; meanwhile, whoever observes how superficially, or with a feeling of uncertainty which they try in vain to conceal, even the best interpreters speak of the objects of particular works of Plato, or how slightly and loosely they treat of the connexion of the subject with the form in detail, as well as in
general, will find traces enough to shew him that the authors of these views, however superior, have not yet generally gone upon a perfect understanding of the matter in hand, and that this is not yet brought to the point to which we might ourselves bring it even with the insufficient means we possess. And thus that feeling of satisfaction seems to be somewhat premature, which maintains that we might now be able to understand Plato better than he understood himself; and it may excite a smile to observe how unplatonically one who entertains such a feeling comes to the investigation of Plato, who puts so high a value upon the consciousness of ignorance. He deceives himself by at least one half— by all that, I mean, in the philosophy of Plato which can only be understood by an ability duly to estimate the pervading presence of a purpose in the connexion of his writings, and, as far as possible, to divine it when not obvious at first sight. And in this view, especially, an attempt like the present is a supplement, not very easily to be dispensed with, to what others have done in other ways, and must, in proportion as it succeeds, contribute to advance the right understanding of Plato. This must certainly be self-evident to every one; for it cannot be denied, that besides the ordinary difficulties in the province of Philosophy of thoroughly understanding any one except a sympathetic thinker, a peculiar and additional cause exists as regards Plato, in his utter deviation from the ordinary forms of philosophical communication. For of these forms there are two in particular, the most choice vehicles of the great bulk of what generally goes by the name of Philosophy. First, that which is called the systematic form, because it divides the whole field into several particular