Introduction to Plato Selections, ed. Raphael Demos (1927)


Raphael Demos

Plato has exerted a greater influence over human thought than any other individual with the possible exception of Aristotle; this is due both to the intrinsic vitality of his ideas and to the fact that he appears at a comparatively early stage in Western culture. His ideas affect the intellectual climate of our day in two important ways: first, by entering into our Christian theology and contributing especially to its doctrine of the opposition between the spirit and the flesh; secondly, by entering into our scientific mentality. The fundamental assumption of modern science is the importance of the mathematical method in the understanding of things, and this was Plato's cherished doctrine. Moreover, from amongst the works of the ancient Greek writers, those of Plato alone have survived in their totality. Undoubtedly, the leading factor in the remarkable preservation of the Platonic writings was the existence of the Platonic Academy, founded in 387 B. C. and enjoying a life of about eight centuries up to 529 A. D., when its funds were embezzled by Justinian.

A philosopher in our day is considered a specialist in a field of knowledge distinct from that of science. Plato was a philosopher in a totally different sense. For him, philosophy was insight into the whole of truth, the study of reality in all its aspects; he was unaware of any barriers between this or that field of inquiry such as we erect today. Common sense ran into physics, physics into mathematics, mathematics into metaphysics; metaphysics, in its turn, led into ethics, politics, and religion. In reading the dialogues of Plato, we find abstruse discussions of ultimate principles joined to detailed descriptions of the parts of the human body, and investigations into the properties of geometrical figures along with inquiries as to the nature of the good life. Nor was philosophy confined to science; it included art. Plato is equally at home in the highly technical treatment of negation in the Sophist and in the poetical rhapsodies of the Symposium; his work is great both as thought and as literature, and is indeed great in the one category through its greatness in the other. Plato is a mystic and a mathematician together, and to enter into his meaning one must read him with one's emotions as well as with one's intellect. Finally, philosophy, for Plato, is a form of life, in fact, the distinctive form of life; far from being the indulgence of a mere instinct of curiosity, the toying of a dilettante with this or that amusing idea, it is a serious, as passionate business; it is the way to salvation, the endeavor to live one's life in the setting of the universe. Philosophy requires not only keenness of intellect but courage to face the truth, moral integrity, and a magnificence of soul; it calls on the resources of the entire personality. And Plato found in the person of Socrates a perfect embodiment of his ideal of the philosopher. Is philosophy, then, coextensive with the whole range of human activity? Rather, it is its central core; in knowledge, it is the perception of the ultimate truths which lie at the root of our thinking; in life, it supplies the fundamental criteria by which we may evaluate action. Therefore only a philosopher can be a statesman. One might say that two unshakeable convictions determine Plato's thinking; one, that the philosopher seeks and finds what is absolute and permanent behind appearances, the other, that the philosopher, just because he grasps the absolute, should be at the head of affairs in the community.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Plato's thought constitutes the most complete realization of the Greek genius. In his conviction that logical analysis and clear thinking are the gateways to wisdom, in his relentless tracking of a doctrine to its ultimate presuppositions, in his conception of reality as a stately edifice of timeless essences, in his moral seriousness and yet also in his delightful playfulness and irony, in the splendor and restraint of his style, in the soaring quality of his speculative imagination, finally in his opposition to whatever is fragmentary and provincial in thought and in his insistence that life should form a unified whole, Plato resumes more adequately than any other Greek, and perfects the classical point of view.

Plato hardly claims the power to grasp absolute truth for himself. Very often, when approaching the territory of final metaphysical ideas, he abandons the style of logical exposition for that of myth or poetry. There is something characteristically unfinished about his thought; he eschews neat systems and his intuitions often jostle one another. By contrast, the works of any commonplace thinker leave an impression of extreme artificiality in their orderly array of premises leading inevitably to the one possible conclusion. That is not -- one reflects -- how the thinker actually arrived at the solution; those neat proofs do not represent the complex processes of his mind in its fumbling quest. Only after he had worked out his thought to its conclusion, did he conceive of the systematic pattern which he sets down in his book. Nor is he really as pleased with the solution as he claims to be; in his mind, the conclusion is rather a tentative answer standing uncertainly against a background of aggressive alternatives impatient to replace it. Now, in Plato's works, we have not the manufactured article, but the real thing; we have the picture of a mind caught in the toils of thinkings we get the concrete process by which he struggled to a conclusion, the hesitation amongst the thousand different standpoints, the doubts and the certainties together. The dialogues are, each one, a drama of ideas; in their totality, they depict the voyage of a mind in which any number of ports are visited before the anchor is finally east. And at the end, it is as though the ship of thought were unable to stay in the harbor but had to cast anchor outside; for according to Plato the mind must be satisfied with a distant vision of the truth, though it may grasp reality intimately at fleeting intervals.

To understand the place of Plato in Greek civilization, one must have a picture of Athens in his time and before. Greek culture originated in the Greek colonies, in the islands of the Aegean, in Sicily, in the cities along the Ionian coast and the shores of the Black Sea. Before Athens had produced any great figure in the world of thought, the colonies had their full quota of poets, philosophers, and mathematicians. Sappho and Aleaeus, Thales the Milesian, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, Heraclitus of Ephesus, Pythagoras of Samos, Empedocles of Sicily, -- these are only a few of the illustrious names that may be cited. When the Persians and Lydians began their advance westward, the Ionian colonists were compelled to retire and many of them to return to the mainland. In Athens, their thinkers were at first suspected as radicals, atheists, bearers of strange doctrines, but Pericles was possessed of enough vision to perceive their value for the city; he gave them protection and liberty of expression. The truth is that the colonists were in continuous touch with the mother country. The colonies may be regarded as links between Athens and the world at large and Athens itself must have been like New York of today, a world's fair. where all sorts of sects and religions and philosophies were displayed and brought together. The Sophists came from distant parts, foreigners within the city's gates, offering their doctrine of the relativity of truth; the Ionians introduced the Asiatic view of the perishableness of all tangible things, while from Elea came the conception of the permanence of being. The Pythagorean philosophy of number and the transmigration of the soul met the kindred mystical teaching of the Orphic cults from the north. The significance of Plato lies in the fact that he converted this cultural Babel into a city; what was a heterogeneous mixture became welded into a system. In his philosophy, the miscellaneous cults and doctrines from all over the world are fused into a whole and through this fusion are made to yield a new and a significant conception of the universe. In Plato, Greece, and through Greece, the world of the day, first achieves intellectual unity, and the Greek view of life comes into self-consciousness as an explicit and coordinated attitude.

Plato forms the middle link in the great triad of Greek philosophers, of whom Socrates and Aristotle are the other two members. Socrates was Plato's teacher, the man who probably turned him in the direction of philosophy. Socrates was the prophet, Plato the metaphysician; Socrates wrote nothing, Plato was a prolific writer; Socrates was a moralist, intent on conduct, averse to speculations about nature, Plato was interested in the general view of the universe which would make a scaffolding for our concrete ethical insights. At least such was the accepted opinion among scholars, until very recently when an entirely different view as to the relation of Socrates with Plato was put forward and defended with great vigor by two distinguished British students of Greek philosophy, A. E. Taylor and John Burnet. In their view, Socrates was an exponent of the Pythagorean doctrine that numbers are the essences of things and is to be held responsible for what has been regarded as the keystone of the Platonic system, namely the theory of ideas, while Plato's contribution is confined to the more technical discussions of the later dialogues. Among many arguments, the most important brought forward is that a cleavage exists between the doctrines of the earlier and those of the later dialogues. To debate the merits of this view with any thoroughness would be out of question in this essay. But this at least may be argued: an apparent difference of doctrine in works purporting to come from one and the same man is no evidence of multiple authorship. A philosopher is a multiple personality in himself; moreover, his works represent his thought as it developed through a long interval, in fact, through a lifetime. Plato's writings occupy about forty years of his life. It should occasion no surprise that Plato in his later dialogues altered the distribution of emphasis. In his earlier philosophical period -- and let us say while under the influence of the Pythagoreans or of Socrates -- Plato took the rather extreme attitude of separating the world of ideas from the world of particulars, whereas in his maturer and more emancipated period, he insisted upon the connectedness of the two worlds. Such a change of emphasis is no more radical than we might expect from any growing aud active mind. Another point to be noted is that the integrity of an author is in no way affected by the fact that his thought reveals the influence of other minds. Every thinker grows out of the tradition of his epoch; every idea has its parents, like all living things. The achievement of the great thinker is that he produces a creative fusion of pre-existing material; a new idea is a new way of taking account of the data, a new pattern into which the elements of the past are fitted. Thus, the fact that Pythagorean elements (whether as introduced by Socrates or not) are to be traced in Plato's thought means simply that Plato's philosophy emerged from a fusion which included the Pythagorean tradition among its components. But he made this tradition his own, by interpreting it in terms of his own insight. In his system, it is an aspect of Platonism, part of his mind; not an alien doctrine added on to his own.

Plato was born in Athens in 427 and died in 346 B. C. He was of aristocratic descent. In his early youth he showed leanings to poetry, but on meeting Socrates decided to devote his life to philosophy; though he did become a philosopher, he remained a poet writing prose. Plato studied with Socrates during the period between his twentieth and twenty-eighth years; after the death of his master, he retired from Athens and traveled. It is difficult to distinguish legend from history at this point; the story goes that Plato visited Cyrene, where he came in touch with the mathematical school, Egypt where he heard the wisdom of the priests, Italy where he met the Pythagoreans, and Sicily where he was invited into the court of Dionysius I, the ruler of Syracuse. He was not as successful at court as with the wise men. According to the legend, he soon made himself obnoxious to the court circle by his outspokenness, was kidnapped, put to sale in the slave-market, and was saved in the nick of time by a friend who ransomed him and sent him to Athens. There he inaugurated the Academy at the age of forty and devoted his time to teaching and writing. Twenty years later, he returned, on invitation, to Syracuse, to help reorganize the government; his reception was at first very cordial but soon violent opposition developed to his drastic measures and Plato, realizing that his schemes could not succeed, withdrew to Athens. Plato had the opportunity to embody in his own person his ideal of the philosopher-king, and he seems to have failed -- such has been the comment of cynics. But there is no reason to believe that Plato's failure was any more remarkable than that of any reformer who is ahead of his public. He died at the age of eighty-one.

His works fall into three groups. These are (a) the early writings known as the Socratic dialogues -- short, dealing with ethical problems, charming in style; the Apology, Crito, Charmides, Laches, Euthyphro, Euthydemus, Cratylus, Protagoras, and Gorgias belong to this group, (b) Then there are the dialogues of the middle period, in which the interest is more clearly metaphysical and the theory of ideas receives explicit formulation. These include the Meno, Symposium, Phaedo, Republic, Phaedrus. (c) Finally, we have the later dialogues, more dialetical and technical in character, in which the world of nature comes for its share of attention; their tone is growingly religious. These dialogues comprise the Theaetetus, Parmenides, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, and the Laws.

Despite its extreme complexity, Plato's thought easily divides itself into two large sections: his theory of reality and his theory of life; his metaphysics and his ethics. His metaphysics includes his physics and his theory of knowledge; its basic doctrine is the theory of ideas. His ethics is really his politics; it is his doctrine of the state as inclusive of the individual. We will begin with his metaphysics.

In the philosophy of Plato, the theory of ideas is the focal point toward which all problems converge and from which all solutions take their rise. To understand what Plato meant by ideas (we will speak of 'essences' or 'universals,' since the term 'ideas' has a subjectivistic connotation which is misleading) we must go back to two of his predecessors, Heraclitus and Parmenides. Heraclitus, whom Plato later called the river-philosopher, had taught that all things are in flux and that reality is like a river in which one cannot step twice; to be is to change. Parmenides maintained the opposite doctrine that to be is to be permanent and change is an illusion; reality is one, indivisible, and timeless. Plato's own doctrine may be regarded as issuing from a desire to reconcile these conflicting insights. There are, he said, two worlds, that of flux, which is the world of opinion, and that of permanence, which is the world of true knowledge.1 The world of opinion comprises particular objects, the world of true knowledge comprises universals. We have, for instance, this or that individual being, Socrates or Alcibiades, Smith or Jones, and we have, over and above these, man as such; there are just acts and there is the principle of justice; there are beautiful landscapes and there is the sheer essence of beauty. The primary beings are the universals while particulars are real only in so far as they participate in the universals; in their mere particularity they have no being at all.

Now this way of describing things seems to be on first thought one which puts the cart before the horse. The instinctive feeling of the man in the street is that Plato has taken facts and explained them by fictions, that man and justice and beauty in the abstract are but names for the groups of instances which they designate. Let us see. Take the field of science. What is it that an entomologist, for example, is interested in while exploring his world? He takes up this bee or moth, scrutinizes its wings, counts its legs; so far his interest seems to be in particular things. As a matter of fact, the scientist, while observing the individual moth or bee, is trying to find what is true of moths and bees in general; he is studying this insect only in order to elicit from it hints about the nature of insects as such; he does not trouble to investigate the casual peculiarities of the insect, its special biography, in other words, its unique individuality. His mind is wrapped up in what is universal in the individual insect, and when he has seized and recorded that, he tosses his moth or bee away. The primary being, then, for the entomologist is the essence of bees or moths as such; the individual case suggests the general essence, and the general essence explains the particular case. Take laws as against particular events. The scientist is not concerned about the event; that he leaves to the historian or rather to the chronicler, while he seeks the law. Plato's universals are precisely the laws of the scientist.

The mathematician deals with extensionless points, lines without thickness, perfect circles, and abstract numbers, none of which are given in concrete experience. Are they to be regarded as figments of the imagination? If so, our algebras and our geometries are fairy-tales and it is puzzling that serious people should have dwelt so intently upon them. According to Plato, the mathematician is confronted with a world ruled by necessity no less than is the world of the astronomer. If I construct a mermaid in my imagination, I can endow her with long or short hair, with blue or green eyes, but the mathematician cannot give his triangle any property he pleases; given any triangle, the sum of its angles must be equal to two right angles. Here then is an abstract world which is just as real and, for Plato, more genuinely real than the world of experience. Perfection is of its essence; a circle is perfectly round, a line perfectly straight. Concrete objects are only approximations of their abstract counterparts; there is no ring which is completely round, no ruler which is completely straight. In short, to be rationally minded, whether in science or in mathematics, is to move away from particulars to essences, from the concrete to the abstract, from the imperfect to the perfect. The Platonic universal is neither mental nor physical; it is not the latter because it is changeless and abstract; it is not the former because its being does not depend on its being thought. A universal is not an 'idea' and it is not a 'thing'; it belongs to a new category of reality.

Proceed to the field of art. The painter seems to be drawing the model; actually, the model serves merely as a point of departure. Mona Lisa is not the picture of this or that individual woman, it is the portrait of the eternal elusive feminine. The essence of painting as an art, as distinguished from photography, lies in this: the photographer reproduces the particular object while the painter reproduces the type embodied in the particular. Hamlet may have never lived in the time and space of history, but Hamlet is nonetheless real, more real than any individual, because he embodies an eternal human type. All great art goes beyond the particular and yet great art is not mere fancy; it is the representation of the type which is obscurely disclosed in the particular.2

Action and life reveal similar characteristics. We have the statesman, the seer, the uncompromising prophet, as contrasted with the politician, the sophist, the man of expediency. The latter look to immediate, the former to remote results; the latter to consequences, the former to principles, the latter to the actual, the former to the ideal. Moral insight is the vision of ideals which are never attained in life, but to which life constantly tends; the prophet proclaims standards by which actual achievements are tested and criticized. Ethics deals not with what is but with what should be; it is an account not of this actual man, with his virtues and vices, but of the ideal man, and of the supreme good. The Sophists had preached that moral ideals are conventions, private desires projected into society and raised to the dignity of principles, that standards represent the interest of the stronger enforced against the weaker. Socrates and Plato are as vehement as they possibly can be in their denunciation of the sophistical doctrine; what they have most at heart is the view that moral standards are moral truths, absolute principles, and that no amount of might can convert a private interest into a right.

So the standpoint of commonsense, which would regard universals as fanciful fictions, is completely reversed. The scientist, the mathematician, the artist, the moralist, and the statesman join in vouching for their reality. To sum up, we have two worlds, that of universals -- timeless, unchanging, general, abstract, perfect -- and that of particulars -- temporal, perishable, individual, concrete, imperfect. The perfect world is also the more real; don't we speak of a 'real' battle, a 'real' man, meaning what is perfect in its kind? Particulars participate in universals in varying degrees. The ideal is very faintly realized in the objects of nature; more vividly in the lives of individuals, and still more in institutions. And the soul may gradually ascend to the level of the eternal by an intelligent apprehension of particulars. Plato is not consistent on this point; there are passages both in the Phaedo and in the Republic in which he depicts the world of opinion not as a step to but as a step away from the world of knowledge. Life gives a distorted view of universals just as water gives a distorted appearance of a stick. In a famous allegory in the sixth book of the Republic, Plato compares empirically minded people to prisoners chained in a cave, watching the play of shadows on a fire-lit wall. When reason awakes, the prisoner breaks his chains, goes out into the sun, and sees the objects themselves. He returns to the cave but is received with jeers as soon as he proclaims that what they have all along been looking at are shadows, not realities. The state of being in a cave describes the condition of the majority of men, for the true philosophers are very few; and the chains which confine men to the cave are not only those of sense-experience but of private desire, of passion, of habit and convention. To become free is to reflect for oneself instead of imitating, to resign passion for contemplation, to fix one's eyes on the principle and not on the fugitive events.

The doctrine of ideas has been justly characterized as one of the enduring possessions of humanity. One may or may not believe that universals subsist independently of particulars; and indeed, it would be rash to claim that Plato himself subscribed to such a view. The essential achievement of Plato lies in another direction. Our horizon in life is bounded by what we can see and touch and handle; Plato enlarges this horizon indefinitely by adding a totally different type of being, the type of timeless, abstract reality. We are apt to regard the concrete world as absolute and self-sustaining; Plato suggests that the temporal is the image of the eternal. The truth of Platonism is the truth of mysticism. Yet this mysticism is not vague and incoherent like that of the Orient. It is tempered by the fact of its being a Western growth; it is a rational mysticism. For Plato the timeless universe is definite, articulated, and orderly. And this brings us to the question of the relationship of essences.

The universals constitute a system; the particular laws are subsumed under one ultimate law, the virtues are aspects of one general principle, the mathematical theorems all issue from one fundamental truth. The primary categories under which the universals are brought together are those of beauty, truth, goodness, and the greatest of these is goodness. Correspondingly, there are three avenues to the universals: love, thought, and moral insight. Just as the particulars are instances of universals, so are the universals instances of the good. Plato compares the good to the sun. The sun is both the source of things and, through its light, the revealer of things; so the good is both the source of all being and the means by which all being is understood. What does this mean? Everything, whether natural or artificial, has a purpose, is 'good for' something; its existence follows from the fact that it fulfils an end. Likewise, to know a thing is to understand its purpose, what it is 'good for'; one does not define a table by saying that it is a plank of wood on four legs, because the plank may not be wooden and the legs may be only three; the essence of the table is its function -- its good; a table is something to write on, just as a chair is something to sit on. The meaning of Plato goes still deeper. The pervading nature of essences is their eternity, their universality, their ideality, in other words, their perfection; in a similar way, the essential nature of particulars is their participation in essence and hence in perfection. Perfection is the principle of being. Evil is nothing positive; it is absence of being, a lesser degree of good. A criminal -- shall we say -- is a very low-grade saint. We are now better prepared to understand Plato's statement that perfection is the principle of existence and of knowledge. To understand this or that object is to find the ideal type to which it belongs, the eternal laws of which it is a passing instance, the context of relations into which it fits. To study the earth is to perceive its place in the solar system and as a stage in the evolution of the heavenly bodies; to see its motion as taking place in accordance with the law of gravitv. Thus, to know what the earth is, is to see the earth as part of a systematic order, and so, of perfection.

How is knowledge possible? Not through experience but through reason; the senses, at best, wake up the reason to a consciousness of what it already possesses; and at worst, they mislead it. The universals are innate, not learned. Experience could never be made to yield knowledge of principles, for principles are universal and necessary whereas experience reveals what is particular and casual. Counting may teach me that two pairs of apples are four apples, but no amount of countings will give me the truth that two and two are four; the instances of counting will always be so many and not more, while the arithmetical proposition extends to all possible as well as actual cases. Again, empirical objects are crude and imperfect, whereas conceptions deal with pure types. The circles -- the wheels and the rings -- that I observe in experience are never quite round. The whiteness of the paper on which I am writing is not pure whiteness, it is a blackish or brownish whiteness, yet I do have the conception of a pure unadulterated whiteness. Have I obtained it perchance by arranging the empirical whitenesses in an ascending order of purity and conceiving pure whiteness as the limit of the series? But in order to arrange them in that order I must already have the conception of pure whiteness. Experience presupposes the universals; there must be something already in the mind by which one may interpret one's impressions. Plato maintains that knowledge is inborn; in a well-known passage in the Meno, he depicts a scene in which an uneducated slave-boy, faced by questions from philosophers and mathematicians is able, with a little prodding, to display a knowledge of arithmetic and geometry. Plato's point is that teaching only evokes what is already latent, that the teacher with his geometrical figures and concrete examples never proves his theorem but only illustrates it.

A theory of knowledge such as the above, whatever its philosophical merits, provides an exceptionally fruitful conception of education. Socrates says that as a teacher he is only a midwife to his pupils' thoughts. Now, a midwife is old and barren; similarly, a teacher does not furnish ideas but helps the student bring forth his own, and if the intellectual infant is a monster, he puts it to death. The teacher is no more than a stimulus and a critic.

If we have knowledge at birth, how did we get it in the first place? Through a previous state of existence. There was a time when the soul, unencumbered by the body, freely roamed among the ideal essences and came to know the good by immediate inspection. Experience serves to recall what we discovered in a previous life; the process of learning now, is that of recovering deep distant memories lying buried in the tomb of the body. There is a story that Shelley, while a youth at Oxford and fresh from studies in Plato, encountered a beggar woman with her baby while crossing one of the bridges on the Thames. Impatient to test Plato's theorv of reminiscence, he seized the baby and called upon it to reveal its innate Knowledge. "My lord, the baby is only three months old; it cannot speak," protested the mother. "So much the better," answered Shelley, "it has had no chance to forget." But the baby only cried. Yet, as we know from the poetry he wrote later, Shelley did not lose his Platonism.

To some, the conception of a previous life with its opportunity for a glimpse of the eternal essences may appear fantastic. Yet to any one who believes that the soul survives the body the view that the soul antecedes the body should not seem unreasonable. In any case, the transcendental theory is only an interpretation of the immediate fact that experience fails to account for all of knowledge. The doctrine of the limitation of empiricism remains, whatever one's view about the origin of abstract ideas may be. We cannot derive our categories -- thinghood, quality, relation, causality, -- from experience, because we use them in understanding experience; we cannot derive our laws of thought -- such as the law of contradiction -- from experience, because they are presupposed in any actual process of thinking; we cannot derive universal principles from experience, because experience is limited to particular cases; firally, we cannot derive any concepts (such as white-square) from experience, because they constitute standards by which the data of experience are measured. The kernel of the Platonic theory is rationalism, namely that there is a non-empirical element in knowledge.

Plato resorts to the figure of a divided line in which the lower section corresponds to experience and the higher to reason. Each side is subdivided in its turn; within experience, there is first 'guessing' -- the state of dream and illusion, and there is, further, 'belief which is normal sense-perception. In the lower half of reason, there is understanding which includes science and mathematics. These latter do not represent the highest stage of knowledge; to be sure, they deal with essence but they make use of concrete examples and unproved assumptions. Finally, we have the stage of dialectic, in which the mind grasps essences independently of symbols. This is philosophy; it is the business of the mind at this stage to analyze the undefined notions of science and mathematics, and test their unproved assumptions. Philosophy both criticizes science and mathematics and develops their implications. It is all one continuous process of knowledge with different stages. The meaning of the figure of the divided line is that the various types of knowledge are different not in kind but in degree, that together they form the ladder of the soul to truth. And as the process is continuous we cannot stop short of the final stage; apart from philosophy, science is not knowledge at all; it starts with assumptions, and unless these are proved, the conclusions based on them, in short, the whole structure of science falls to pieces.

The ladder to the supreme reappears in Plato's discussion of desire. Parallel to contemplation there is action. The motive force of life has been variously described by modern philosophers; Schopenhauer speaks of a primary will-to-live; Bergson of an elan vital, while Freud makes sex the primary motive. Plato regards life as the expression of an impetus which he calls 'eros' or love; this impetus is not purposeless, as with Bergson; it is directed toward an end and is therefore an aspiration; and it is not physical as with Freud -- it is an aspiration for the ideal. Love is the desire of the soul for the good apprehended as beauty, just as contemplation is union of the soul with the good in its aspect of truth. Love is not of the flesh primarily, nor of individual persons; it is an attraction to essence. For Christianity the highest love is of a person -- namely God; for Plato, the object of desire, though ideal, is impersonal. Love is creative, leading as it does to reproduction; sex is desire for more and more life. Back of the effort to multiply life, there is the desire for immortality, the endeavor to achieve eternity through an endless series of temporal lives; love is the impulse to realize the eternal in time. There is not only physical but intellectual creation as well, creation of opinions. Tte steps of the ladder are as follows. There is first the love of bodies, then of persons, then of theories, then of institutions and communities, finally of beauty itself, each step leading to the next. And at every step, the earlier as well as the later ones, love is really directed to the ideal; sex-attraction and affection are love of the beauty and the excellence which the person embodies; only derivatively can there be love of a concrete object at all.

The contrast with Freud is obvious; both Plato and Freud (and Christianity, for that matter) agree that love is the root impulse of life; but whereas Freud would represent all idealistic impulses -- such as those of religion, affection, poetry -- as 'sublimations' of physical desire, Plato would represent physical desire as a distorted manifestation of a spiritual impulse. If it is legitimate for Freud to go behind the apparent content of an impulse, so it is for Plato; and the question whether the 'lower' or the 'higher' impulses should be taken as fundamental cannot be settled except by reference to a general metaphysical standpoint. For Plato, perfection is the principle of reality, and therefore to desire an object is to desire the good.

One would naturally expect art to play a central role in the passion for beauty; in fact, for Plato, it plays no role at all, or rather it plays the role of a villain. The paradox of Plato is that he, one of the supreme artists of the world, should exclude artists from his republic. When the poets come to our gates, he says in so many words, we should be very courteous to them and give them wreaths, but we shall keep them out of the state. Like Tolstoy, Plato decries art as immoral. Is it the master despising his craft? Is it a puritan fearful of the frivolities of art? Or is it a genius indulging in an eccentricity? In reflecting upon this difficult problem, it is well to remember that Plato was an Athenian commenting upon the contemporary scene. Plato's criticism of art in general must be viewed as a criticism of the art of his day, especially of the drama, which tended to abandon all serious purpose and take the aspect of a trivial entertainment; even tragedy was losing its dignity and lapsing into melodrama. But his attitude meant much more; it reflected a general metaphysical theory. According to Plato, art contemplates the particular. In art, the soul turns away from essence to the concrete; it goes down the ladder instead of going up. At the top, there is the universal -- let us say the essence of a bed; lower down, there is the particular bed made by the carpenter according to the ideal pattern; lowest down, there is the picture of a bed, made by the painter after the pattern of the particular bed. Thus, art is the imitation of an imitation; worse, it is the distortion of a distortion; the particular distorts the universal and the picture distorts the particular in the sense that the painter views the object from a special angle and not as one sees it in normal life Beauty lies beyond all art and all symbolism; it is an ineffable essence, grasped only in the moment of ecstasy.

Our problem is still unsolved; it is Plato's own view that essences may be approached via the route of the particulars in which they are embodied; why then does he not define art as an ascent rather than as a descent -- as the attempt of the soul to seize the universal through a particular embodiment? Perhaps it is because art is unique among all the mental attitudes; unlike them, it brings the concrete to the foreground, by regarding the universal as constituted in the particular. The analogy between science and art is really very limited. Sooner or later, science abandons the particular in its quest for the universal; art, however, sees the universal as inextricably bound up with the particular. Consider, for instance, the treatment of the theme of jealousy by a psychologist and by a dramatist. The psychologist will define jealousy as a complex of universals; his account will consist of general concepts alone. The dramatist, on the other hand, will represent jealousy through a concrete image, say Othello. The distinctive significance of art is its affirmation of the metaphysical value of the individual. To the extent then that he denies the ultimate reality of the particular, Plato is consistent in his attack on art. One may go so far as to say that art supplies the touchstone by which Platonism may be judged and its possible weakness displayed. However, Plato has a way of confuting his critics by meeting their objections in advance, even at the cost of apparent inconsistency on his part. Thus, he says that beauty makes the ideas visible to sense; and on a number of occasions he intimates that universals may not be separated from particulars.

The place of God in the Platonic system has been the subject of long controversy among scholars. Too often the tendency has been to regard the idea of God as an undigested concept in Plato's mind, an afterthought, or, at best, a symbolic expression for the idea of the good. Yet, a study of the later dialogues, notably the Philebus, shows that God plays a necessary role in the Platonic metaphysics, and one distinct from that of the ideas. In the earlier dialogues God is mentioned rather incidentally; and a student who takes up the later dialogues after he has formed his views upon the basis of the earlier ones, is liable to interpret all references to God as implied references to the ideas. But it is not a question of how far one can go in interpreting one conception in terms of another, but of what Plato himself believed; and an unprejudiced reading of the later dialogues suggests that God, in Plato's mind, stands only for Himself, and is not a name for anything else. A question of this sort cannot be settled by a mechanical comparison of words and passages; Plato is at no point explicit on the connection of God with the good; one has to steep oneself in Plato and get, if possible, the pattern, the 'feel' of his mind. Clearly, to Plato religion is a genuine personal experience; in his references to God there is a suggestion at once of reverence and of intimacy; God seems to have been for him not an abstract conception but an immediate intuition. To reduce God to the ideas is to fail to do justice to the religious nature of Plato as distinct from his detached contemplative attitude. We will say then that for Plato God is coordinate with the Ideas, and even distinct from them, in so far as ultimates may be said to be distinct from one another. God is the energy of creation; the ideas, the pattern of creation; matter, the stuff of creation. God finds a chaos and transforms it into a cosmos.

Why did God make the world?

"Let me tell you, then, why the creator of the world generated and created this universe. He was good, and no goodness can ever have any jealousy of anything. And being free from jealousy, he desired that all things should be as like himself as possible. This is the true beginning or creation and of the world, which we shall do well in receiving from the testimony of wise men: God desired that all things should be good and nothing bad as far as this could be accomplished."
The Christian God creates the world out of nothing, but Plato's God is less of a creator and more of an architect, fashioning a universe out of existing material. He is finite, in the sense that his action is limited by the possibilities of his material. Good in the world is not an actuality but an achievement. God finds the world bad, or rather indifferent, and introduces good into it. God is in the world fighting for the victory of good and against evil.
"For as we acknowledge the heaven to be full of many goods and also of evils, and of more evils than goods, there is, as we affirm, an immortal conflict going on among us, which requires marvelous watchfulness; and in that conflict the gods and demigods are our allies, and we are their property."1
Plato's God bears a remarkable similarity to modern conceptions of God, especially that of James; according to James, too, God is finite and wages a battle against the forces of evil in the world.

God cares for the least as well as for the greatest of creatures; he not only makes the world but watches over it; he is a Providence. Aristotle's God is aloof, subsisting in Olympian detachment and contemplating only himself; love is of the world to God. But Plato's God is in the world and with man; he seeks out his creatures; love flows from him to the world. Whether it be true that Aristotle is less of a dualist than Plato so far as philosophy of nature is concerned, there can be no doubt that in the sphere of philosophy of religion Plato is much less a dualistic than Aristotle. Aristotle emphasizes the detachment of God from the world, Plato the presence of God in the world. But whereas pantheism interprets the divine presence as an identity of God with the whole, and is therefore led to regard evil as illusory, Plato regards God as present with the world, and evil as a reality to be combated. In sum, the metaphysical situation is analyzable into three ultimate factors: God, the principle of the finite (or the ideas, or the good), and the. principle of the infinite (or matter, or the indeterminate). The actual order is explained by reference to these three factors. An actual entity is a mixture of the finite with the infinite, brought about by God -- an infusion of form into the indeterminate, an organization of material according to the pattern of the ideas. The created world comprises both physical objects and souls. The former are temporal and perishable; souls too are temporal, since they are 'mixtures', i. e., created objects. But they are so created as to endure forever.

Plato's social philosophy is refreshingly modern; eugenics, rights of women, socialism, and projects whose application still lies in the future crowd his pages. The notorious doctrine that might is right is stated and attacked; the issue of democracy versus aristocracy is debated with great vigor. In treating of social conditions, Plato is at once a detached onlooker and an intimate participator in the contemporary scene; he is in turn suave, ironical, enthusiastic, pessimistic. His work urpasses the limits of a theoretical analysis; he is a historian and a prophet. The reader gets the impression of a mind of tremendous vitality, of a titanic force from which ideas leap in profusion as though from an inexhaustible source. One wonders whether Plato's hesitations about the relation of particulars to universals may not be a reflection of his varying feeling to his social environment; when democracy has committed some especially heinous crime (such as the condemnation of Socrates to death) he is disgusted with life; then he leans to the view that the physical is only a prison house for the spiritual, the philosopher must flee the world, the eternal is beyond the temporal. But when the heat of his indignation has subsided, then his natural sympathy for life comes to the foreground; he is no longer averse to the temporal; the body is the servant of the soul, the universal finds its realization in the particular.

Plato's genius is exhibited in the fact that he succeeded in eliciting from his observations of the Athenian state reflections on society and government that are true everywhere. Of course the city of Athens was an exceptionally favorable field for a student seeking generalizations concerning social life. The history of Athens has all the sweep of a classical tragedy; it mirrors the rise and fall of a far-flung empire, a great sea-power, an extremely prosperous commercial state, a thorough-going democracy, a community in which material prosperity went together with a magnificent culture, a culture in which art went together with science and both were overtopped by philosophy.

Plato's republic is one of the notable Utopias in the history of thought. In giving a picture of the state he is depicting a universal essence, in other words he is drawing an ideal. When a friend objected that his conception of the state was unrealizable on earth, he replied that he is only offering an ideal to man. No ideal is ever realized, and yet no ideal need on that account be useless; it is the function of an ideal to be beyond realization and by this fact to inspire and guide human effort. The reader must guard against using the term 'utopia' too loosely. Plato is not concerned with giving a beautiful picture of a fantastic state; in depicting an ideal he is describing what is for him the only genuine reality. A physiologist is not primarily concerned with cripples and invalids; he gives an account of the normal body and the laws of its functioning. So Plato is painting the image of society in its normal condition and of the moral principles which govern its operation.

Plato comes in sharpest opposition with modern tendencies in his treatment of democracy. He favors aristocracy as against democracy. This is putting it too mildly: Plato detests democracy. He lived his youth in the aftermath of the Sicilian expedition when the deficiencies of democracy were exposed in their nakedness; besides, the condemnation of Socrates to death by the jury of the Athenian public could not fail to impress him profoundly. Yet once more, his intuitive judgment stands against a background of a general theory. Democracy is a denial of the principle of qualification; it holds that every citizen has a right to participate in government; but a right must correspond to capacity, and Plato believes that the average person has neither the knowledge nor the native intelligence requisite for government. Politics is an art and it is a science; we demand that a doctor should be trained in medicine and a pilot in navigation, yet we permit any one to govern irrespective of his equipment. Government is a complicated function, the highest function of man, and one which must be mastered in order that it may be exercised responsibly. Democracy affirms that all men are equal; in fact, all are not equal; the majority are incapable of ruling, and of those that are, some are more capable than others. Instead of government by all, good as well as bad, stupid as well as intelligent, Plato advocates aristocracy which is government by the best, the reign of the philosophers. For Plato, aristocracy is the rule of reason. We must not misunderstand Plato's meaning; aristocracy is not exploitation; it is not a condition in which the interests of the many are sacrificed to the interests of the few; in aristocracy, the interests of the group are paramount, and the rulers will be the servants of the community; they will indeed not be rulers but leaders; aristocracy is a polity in which the interests of all are safeguarded by the exceptional intelligence of the few. Such a state will be like a family in which the head works for the good of its weaker members.

The word democracy designates not only a form of government but a form of life, individual and social. Democracy in the individual is equality of all desires, failure to discriminate between the better and the worse, giving the lower an equal voice with the higher; it is the absence of standards. The democratic regime in the soul is one of genial license. The democratic man is not bad, he is both bad and good, or rather he is neither; he has no character, but only impulse. Every impulse, whether good or bad, has its day, but its day is very short. So the life of the democratic individual is protean, lacking all stability. He

"lives through the day, indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he is for total abstinence, and tries to get thin; then, again, he is at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he is at politics, and starts to his feet and says and does anything that may turn up; and if he is emulous of anyone who is a warrior, off he is in that direction or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither order nor law".
Plato's account applies to conditions in our day. We have a gospel of individualism according to which an artist may utilize any feeling ot impression; a work of art is approved if sincere, if expressing a feeling which is there, no matter if the feeling be itself profound or not; we have the democracy of impulse in art. In conduct, the same gospel leads to the denial of self-discipline in favor of a uniform gratification of all desires; with the aid of catch-words from modern psychology we are now formulating a code of equal rights for all impulses, according to which suppression, and even control, are condemned as unhealthy.

In social life, democracy means that anyone is as good as anyone else in any respect; it is the denial of the expert, or rather the setting up of everyone as his own expert. Take our own times. If it is a problem affecting organic evolution, the man in the street or on the farm regards his opinion as of equal importance with that of the biologist. "Asses and horses march along with all the dignities and rights of freemen." This is individualism gone mad. Nowadays, the intellectual atmosphere is filled with the vapor of uncriticized, inexpert opinions; this makes for picturesqueness and variety "and just as women and children think variety charming, so there are many men who will deem this the fairest of states." But on the other hand, it makes for the cult of the average, the gradual destruction of excellence. Leadership is coming to be a lost function; in our reaction against servile obedience to authority, we have become needlessly suspicious of all forms of guidance. And the disappearance of leaders is a much greater social revolution than the overthrow of monarchs; the untitled prophets whose authority reposed on the respect in which they were held by the public exercised a much greater power than kings ever did.

The present fear of leaders is unjustified; leaders are ot rulers but guides; they play the function in democracy of upholding standards and formulating for the public its dumb and instinctive aspirations. No democracy is healthy unless it provides a mechanism for continuous self-criticism, in the shape either of a stable, though growing, tradition or of a forceful personality. In the absence of such an agency, standards tend to weaken and institutions to pander to the public instead of leading it; our press, our literature, our drama, sometimes our educational establishments give the public what it wants, instead of raising the public from the level of its wants to the level of its ideals. "Little things of this sort happen: the master fears and imitates his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; and in general, young and old are alike, and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young . . . and they imitate the young."

Plato divides the social organism into three classes -- the philosophers, the warriors, and the artisans. It is a division of society upon the basis of function; the first class rules, the second protects the state, the third provides for its physical needs. Two features stand out in Plato's conception. First, that leadership is in the hands of the intelligent group, the producing class being allowed the least power of any. Modern society often tends to reverse this order and to establish the business group as dominant, as the one which sets the tone and pulls the strings in politics and in the other spheres of life. Second, there are class-distinctions in Plato's republic, based -- be it noted -- on the principle of function and not on any hereditary principle. We have to-day the I viewpoint that any man may begin in a log-cabin and end in the White House; and this is a conception which we must cherish. Nevertheless, Plato's social philosophy supplies a useful check to whatever temptation there may be to carry our contemporary viewpoint to an extreme. For Plato, every individual has a natural orbit which prescribes the boundaries of his career; to-day many an individual is rendered unhappy by continually trying to rise to a more commanding position than the one in which he finds himself and so to rise into a sphere beyond his abilities. An apprentice must become a shop keeper, the shop keeper must become a professional man, the professional man must become a manufacturer or a political chief. In this there lurks a false standard of values. According to Plato, a man can realize his function as a human being and become happy no matter what the rank of his position, provided it be socially useful. The ideal of boundless ambition means that man moves continually from function to function and from position to position without catching root at any point and without ever enjoying the fruits of his labor; the business man must keep on making more money and the official must keep on being promoted to a 'higher' rank. But this fitful restless change makes for shallowness; only in repose may depth of experience be achieved. Culture develops through concentration, and in that atmosphere of leisure which enables the mind to dwell upon and explore all the possibilities of its environment and of itself.

Plato's social philosophy revolves around two foci first, the doctrine that society is an organic whole; second, that society is a hierarchical whole, with higher and lower levels. We have discussed the second and we shall now proceed to the first. The individual has no being apart from the community; there is no such thing as the good of the individual in distinction from that of the group. The unit is the group; and ethics is part of politics. Every action of any importance is a public function and a public trust. Plato must not be taken as standing for a social good over and above the good of the individual; the state is a community of persons and its good is their good. A social good by itself is as much of an abstraction as a merely individual good. Society and individual exist in reciprocal dependence. The doctrine of the social organism leads Plato to some drastic conceptions regarding property and the family. There must be no private property for the guardians of the state; they constitute a unity and private property is a denial of this unity. There should be no 'mine' and 'thine' in the common family which is the group. Possession of wealth must be divorced from possession of political power. We have in Plato's republic what is perhaps the first formulation of the ideal of communism, and a defence of it not on economic but on moral grounds. It is more like the communism of the monastic orders among the early Christians, for Plato is opposed not only to the privacy of property but to its material quality.

The state will be in charge of production in the sphere both of physical goods and of life. It will regulate marriages and the breeding of children. Here we have a remarkable foreshadowing of modern theories of eugenics; there will be selective breeding as with animals, and bad specimens of humanity will be ruthlessly destroyed at birth. There will be no individual families because there is only the one family of the state. The latter will control mating among the sexes, and when children are born, they will be brought up by the state. Thus, both the breeding and the rearing of children will be in the hands of the community. There will not be that atmosphere of seclusion in the relations of parents with one another and with their children which constitutes the institution of the family. The child will know neither its father nor its mother; it will recognize the state alone as its parent. The implications of the principle that the social group is an organism are carried out by Plato in the most rigid and uncompromising fashion. And doubtless, his disgust with the instability of political forms in Athens converted Plato into a fervent advocate of the Spartan system. Women are part of the community no less than men. There will be no disqualification on the basis of sex; women will participate in public affairs and in war on an equal footing with men, that is to say, without prejudice on account of their sex. They will be treated as persons; they will have the rights and duties of citizens because they form an integral part of the social organism. The fact that it took the world more than two thousand years to grasp and apply Plato's ideal of feminism should give courage to despondent reformers. While insisting that there is no difference in kind between the sexes, Plato maintains that there is a difference in degree; women are in all respects weaker than men.

Plato's social and political philosophy is based on his analysis of human nature and the good of man. Correponding to the three classes of society there are three parts or faculties of the soul -- reason, spirit and appetite. The human soul is not a simple unity but a unity of diverse parts; Plato refers to the soul as an inner city (or an inner community). Today psychologists reject the concept of human faculties and they do not subscribe to Plato's classification of the basic human attitudes. But perhaps Plato's conception of the parts -- or members -- of the human person is more in accordance with common sense than are the views of scientific psychology. As we have seen earlier, the eros is a drive and, indeed, the soul in its three parts is conceived in a dynamic fashion. Each part is a drive, differing from the other parts in terms of its objective. By appetite Plato specifically means hunger, thirst, sex and other less instinctive impulses, all of them however governed by sense-perception, and directed toward material satisfactions. More generally, he identifies appetite with the money-making desires, with the love of gain. 'Spirit' or the 'spirited' part is not something which we find in our contemporary ordinary parlance. Although the word is unfamiliar, the meaning is not. The spirited part refers to the aggressive, fighting element in man, typified in the soldier and in his drive for victory and love of honor. By spirit Plato also means the anger or rather the indignation which motivates the fighting. More inclusively, spirit expresses man's impulse to action as represented, for instance, in the executive kind of person. Man's fighting spirit is expressed not only on the battlefield, but in the every day circumstances of living. Life too is a battle and man needs resoluteness in encountering adversity. Finally, reason is the impulse to think, to contemplate, to understand: the impulse of curiosity which lets nothing avoid its glare. This is theoretical reason. There is also practical reason, not however in the sense of its aiming to get useful results, but rather reason as governing action, as prescribing ideals for human conduct. Summing up, in each man -- although in varying degrees -- there is (a) an impulse to get, to have, to possess, (b) an impulse to do or to act and (c) an impulse to know. Because these impulses exist in varying degrees in different human beings, we are apt to type men accordingly. The contrast is indeed familiar between the doer and the thinker, between the man who likes to accomplish things and the one who prefers to understand what things are. Both types may be contrasted with the man whose primary objective is profit, the producer and consumer of material goods.

The three parts of the soul had been anticipated in the Pythagorean image of an athletic competition in which three types of people are encountered. Lowest are the people selling refreshments to the crowd, then come the athletes competing on the field, and highest are the spectators. Today we would instinctively rebel against the order of values implied in this image; surely, we would say, the men actually engaged in a sport are to be held in higher esteem than those who simply sit and watch! The image becomes less laughable, indeed becomes meaningful, when we interpret the contrast to stand for that between the life of action and the life of contemplation. We may disagree with the Pythagorean-Platonic hierarchy of values, but I think we must agree that the issues are forcibly brought out in the symbol of the arena and in the figure of the soul as an inner city. Is the life of doing really inferior to that of knowing? Is not Plato, the philosopher, giving vent to a purely personal and professional bias, in setting the thought above the deed? Perhaps an adverse response to Plato's hierarchy of values will seem less clearly justified if we construe thought as meditation -- meditation on the good, meditation on God. And is not Plato a victim of spiritual snobbery in relegating the activity of producing and consuming goods to the lowest rung in the ladder of values? For it would seem thatl Plato would exclude both the laborer and the businessman from the throne room of virtue. Yet surely earning a living has value only as a means to living, to living the good life. Material goods are useful for other things but not intrinsically valuable; they are means, not ends. A community enjoying material prosperity may be spiritually impoverished, filled with inner anxiety, engaged in the futile pursuit of mere utility and therefore never really satisfied and happy.

Each part of the soul has its specific virtue. The perfection of reason is wisdom, the virtue of the spirited part is courage, while temperance stands for the willing subordination of the lower to the higher parts of the soul. It will be noticed that wisdom is knowledge both of cosmic truth and of what is good for oneself and for the public; that courage is not daring, not just absence of fear; it is rather the knowledge of what is to be feared (for instance, dishonor). A courageous man is one who has a true idea of what is worth fighting for; to fight for the wrong cause is bravery but not genuine courage. Finally, temperance is not prohibition but control of appetite; it stands for moderation. Moreover, each virtue depends on the others; one cannot be a specialist in this or that virtue to the exclusion of the rest; here is no division of labor. The virtues constitute an indivisible whole so much so that a person cannot have one virtue without having all the others.

Thus in the complete man all three parts are fully developed in their proper order. This harmony of the various parts of the soul is justice, which is inner integration or what we call integrity. Justice is the health of the soul, the basic or architectonic virtue. Plato's conception of virtue (as the health of the soul) is essentially humanistic and secular; also it is something which man achieves by his own efforts. Hence Plato's list makes no mention of the Christian virtue of humility; there is justice and respect for others but no charity; there is reasoned belief but not faith.

One more point before we finish the expository part of this essay. In his later dialogues, Plato became increasingly critical of his own theory of forms (or ideas), speaking of the latter with such detachment as even to suggest to the mind of the reader that it was no longer his own. For instance, he refers to the 'friends of the forms' as a interesting group of thinkers, but in a tone which implies the possibility that he was not a member of the group. And on another occasion he submits the theory of ideas to a critical scrutiny of devastating intensity. If the universals (he asks) are present in the many things, how can they escape being broken up into pieces, how can they preserve their self-identity? Or again, if the forms are models for existing things, then are there models, too, for evil things, and is there a form of evil? Moreover, if there is reciprocal similarity between forms and things, should we not look for a basis for such similarity in another form, and so on ad infinitum? Furthermore, what right have we to talk of the presence of the forms in things, or of the likeness of either to the other, or indeed of any relation between the two? For they are utterly different; the forms belong to the realm of unchanging, eternal beings, whereas the concrete things are changing and perishing beings. And if so, we cannot have even knowledge of the forms while in the body, since we are linked with the temporal order; conversely, God, who is a member of the eternal order, cannot have either knowledge of or concern for us. If so, there is no divine providence. In short, there is an unabridgeable gap between forms and spatio-temporal things. Yet, on the other hand, if there be no knowledge of the forms, then no knowledge whatever is possible, for it is the forms which supply meaning to our statements and beliefs.

Never has any thinker subjected his own views to such ruthless, nay murderous, dissection as Plato has done. Shall we then conclude that Plato abandoned the doctrine of ideas in his later years? I think that he did not abandon it, but I think that he modified it and his claims for it became more modest. The youthful enthusiasm and self- surance are replaced later by a more detached and less confident tone. The theory still remains Plato's own, his child; but the child, having grown, has changed; again having grown, it is no longer a child; the parent now takes on the role of a "friend."

Whitehead, the distinguished English mathematician and philosopher, once said that "western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato." In so speaking of Plato, Whitehead was putting into memorable words the prevailing opinion of his professional colleagues. But times have changed and recent years have witnessed a powerful reaction against Plato; in the minds of a good many philosophers, reverence has been replaced by execration. Plato is now being seen as playing the role of the villain in the drama of philosophy, so much so that in some circles, merely to characterize a doctrine as Platonizing is to damn it. The attack has focussed particularly on two features of Plato's thought: his theory of ideas, and his social-political philosophy. In so far as Plato's ideas have been represented as absolute ideals, it is now widely maintained that moral principles and ideals are social conventions, varying from one community to another and from one time to another. This is a return to Protagoras. Perhaps existentialism also is a return to Protagoras in its assertion that values have their source in the free choice of individual man. Going beyond these two anti-Platonizing schools, there is another group which holds that values do not exist in any sense, not even as depending on human beings. An ethical sentence is neither true nor false, for it is not an assertion, not a statement; it is an expression (like an ejaculation -- for instance, hurrah!); its meaning is emotive, not descriptive. To take an analogous case, when I say 'alas!' I am saying something meaningful, but I am not saying anything which could be true or false; I am only giving vent to my feelings. There is nothing in the world which would correspond to my 'ala.'

In so far as Plato's forms are properties common to many things, and therefore also independent of the latter, once more Plato's theory of ideas is rejected. The real is the concrete and the particular, and there is nothing else, so we are told. Tom, Dick and Harry are real beings, but there is no such entity as humanity. The latter is a word and a word only. As to theory of knowledge, Plato was a rationalist, but today the prevailing doctrine is empiricist. Reason, it is held, can discover no truths about reality; at best, it can only analyze its own meanings. All concepts originate in experience, and sense-observation is the only possible evidence for any theory. And since metaphysical sentences can neither be verified nor falsified by sense-experience, logical positivists have declared that metaphysics is meaningless.

To try to settle the rights and wrongs of this controversy is beyond the province of this essay; so I will limit myself to one or two points in rebuttal. One of the sources of the current anti-Platonism is the adoption of natural science and of scientific method as the guidepost of philosophy. What is not science is not knowledge, it is assumed; the facts which science discovers are the only facts there are. The method of science is empirical, and empirical in the narrow sense of relying on what is given to the senses; therefore there is no such thing as rational apprehension. That thinkers should estimate natural science so highly is natural, for science has been for several decades -- if not centuries -- the most dynamic of all our intellectual and cultural activities. We are witnessing now what may be called scientific imperialism and scientific colonialism, in the sense that the ruling principles and criteria of all other disciplines are being brought into subjection to the government of science. Yet despite its success, science has its limitations -- which perhaps are the source of its success -- and because of this fact, the claim made by philosophers on behalf of science that it should be the supreme autocrat of all intellectual activity, must be rejected. Science deals with what is recurrent, measurable, and observable to sense, with the result that any item of experience not conforming to these requirements is ignored. Yet there is no reason for regarding the principles by which science tests and selects items of experience for admission into the 'club' of knowable things as somehow absolute. There is no more justification for absolutism and dogmatism in science than in any other field. But would not going outside the territory of science with its rigorous and well-defined criteria lead to caprice and supersitition in belief? Not necessarily. The appeal beyond science is one to wide ranges of common experience. A philosopher should be hospitable to all such data -- not only the data of science but also the data and insights of morality, art, history and religion. "In my father's house are many mansions."

As to the relativity of values, notice that the scientist has his values too, namely truth. As morality prescribes rules for conduct, so does science prescribe rules for thinking and believing: e.g., one should avoid wishful thinking, one should base one's beliefs on evidence alone, one should connect theories with sense-experience, and so on. Here is a series of 'oughts' not unlike the 'ought' of morality. To say that values are relative is to undermine science itself; for then its own rules become arbitrary conventions, customs of the tribe, or expressions of feeling. And then there would be no criterion for favoring the scientists' rules for believing as against the rules of the Polynesian animist and witch-doctor. To sum up this argument, there is a sense in which science is a branch of morality, if morality be defined as the discipline concerned with the rules of human activity of any kind, including the activity of thinking. To say, then, that such rules and such prescriptions are relative is to run counter to the implicit assumptions of the scientist, who in fact regards his 'oughts' of thinking as universally obligatory.

Coming now to the attack on the second front -- Plato has, in the recent years or decades, been variously called a Fascist, a Prussian Junker, a totalitarian -- in short an evil genius of social and political thought. I have already made some attempts to clarify possible misunderstandings of Plato's aristocratic state; I will now add that Plato, in attacking democracy, may be meaning something quite different from what we mean by that term. Plato was concerned to criticize Athenian democracy, something quite different from twentieth century democracy in the United States. We must not be misled by the ambiguities of words. But, you will say, Plato believed in government by the elite, while we believe in government by the common man; surely this is a substantial, not a linguistic, difference. Well, it certainly would be, provided it were true that our democracy is genuinely a form of popular government. All this bears more detailed scrutiny. In the first place, the Athenian form of government was direct democracy; ours is indirect, it is representative democracy. As citizens, we do not have the right to go on the floor of Congress and speak and vote there; we choose representatives to do this job for us. Ours is a government by the people only in the sense that we choose our rulers; not in the sense that we do the ruling ourselves. This is not to deny that the right to appoint -- and also to dis-appoint -- our rulers is a most vital prerogative of the common citizen. In Athens, every one took part in the discussions in the boule; every citizen could make speeches there and could vote. In the second place, when the Athenians had occasion to elect officers, whether generals or magistrates, they did so by lot; of course today we do not leave such matters to chance. We may not have a government by the elite but we do have a civil service, increasingly independent of political pressures, for which men have to qualify by meeting well-defined requirements. In short, we demand the expert for certain branches of government, as Plato did for all. In the third place, we have the separation of political powers into the executive, legislative and judicial. The purpose of such separation is to prevent absolute democracy, such as that of the Athenians. Each of the three powers serves to check the other two. Consider our judiciary, as represented by the Supreme Court, and consider our written Constitution on which the Court presumably relies for its judgments. The Constitution is relatively fixed in the sense that it takes great time and effort to change it. Thus, the Constitution represents a set of quasi-fixed principles by which the decisions of the legislature are judged. Is it too fanciful to suggest that our Supreme Court operating on the basis of the Constitution has some analogy to Plato's ideal of reflection, of reason as criticizing impulsive thought and passing decision? When we sum up the various essential peculiarities of our government, I think it becomes clear that what Plato is criticizing as democracy is quite different from our form of government.

Plato's age coincides with the age of reason in Greece -- the epoch when the Greeks were getting away from magic and superstition and advancing to the uses and rigors of reason. Plato is naturally confident in the power of reason to get at the truth and is certainly over-enthusiastic in his expectations from its use. Not only did he think that there is a final truth, he believed that the philosopher could discover it; going further, he was convinced that the philosophers could agree among themselves on what the truth was. One might almost say that it is the nature of philosophers (as opposed to scientists) to disagree among themselves. We doubt that there is such a thing as a final truth, or if there is, whether any human being can attain it. Plato seems to lay down an orthodox doctrine for all statesmen and one which is forever fixed. It is no defence to argue that Plato was thinking of a Utopian state, not a realizable one; for we doubt that his ideal state is I really ideal, really Utopian. We are in favor of a political form in which there is room for perpetual change and nothing is taken as absolute or absolutely fixed. At the same time, we should avoid certain confusions. His rule of reason is not a rule by 'intuition' (like Hitler's); nor is it a rule by arbitrary power (like Mussolini's).

But is not Plato's ideal state totalitarian like that of the Soviets? By totalitarianism I mean the kind of state which has control over and even absorbs the totality of a man's being (not merely his property). Measured by this definition, Plato's ideal state cannot be said to be totalitarian. Certainly within the state, each citizen had a particular function: one man to rule, another to be a soldier, another to be a worker. But Plato does not reduce the man to his function; the human being is more than the citizen. Here Plato's differentiation of the inner city from the outer city has special relevance. The state has control only over the latter, over the external, institutional arrangements and relations of human beings. But the individual himself controls the inner city, makes his own judgments as to what is right for himself and for his personal relations with his fellowmen. To conclude, Plato's ideal state does not absorb the totality of man's being and so is far from being totalitarian. The state controls not the person but man as an organ with a particular function and in his formalized external relations to the community.

The above is all too brief a survey of the thought of one of the greatest of philosophers; and, in fact, no attempt has been made to cover the ground. Plato's thought has an intimate personal quality which it is impossible to convey in a general exposition; it must be btained from his own words. And in reading him, one comes face to face not only with an exceptional individual but with an exceptional civilization -- Hellenism. The problem as to whether the great man is merely a symptom of his age or a creator of it is significantly illustrated in the case of Plato: Plato gathers together all the threads of the Greek genius, but in so doing he creates a new pattern which is a genuine contribution to Hellenism. He combines a singular freshness of insight with great subtlety of analysis; and he combines subtlety with honesty of thought. Plato never forces the solution; if he has none, he does not invent one; so he is often baffling and even provoking in his inconclusiveness. While his problems are transcendent and universal, his style is concrete and his starting point is in the immediate situation. If the function of philosophy is to enable the man whose outlook is bounded by his private and practical interests to become a "spectator of all time and all existence," then Plato has succeeded. It has often been urged against philosophers that, in contrast to scientists, they fail to reach unanimity of opinion. But though scientists agree on a theory (more or less) at any one time, they change their views, from epoch to epoch. All scientific theories of the past have undergone modification, and no scientist expects the present theories to remain unaltered in the future; scientific hypotheses are always subject to correction. On the other hand, though at no one time is there unanimity among philosophers on any theory, there are several doctrines which are bound to have a good number of devoted followers at all times. The history of philosophy is the continuous recurrence and resuscitation of certain well-defined points of view, such as empiricism, rationalism, mysticism, realism, idealism, etc.; in these the mind seems to have achieved a final insight into the nature of things, in the sense that they represent permanent possibilities of explaining the universe. In short, scientists are unanimous at a given time; philosophers throughout time. And among the philosophical doctrines which seem destined thus to remain forever part of the intellectual heritage of the human race, Platonism is sure to occupy a commanding position.2

Raphael Demos


1 It is not easy to reconcile this phrase with those passages in the Republic in which he speaks of the good as the principle of being.

2 There are no selections in this volume from Plato's Republic, as the Republic is being issued entire in a separate volume of this series. An attempt has been made to include selections both from the literary and the technical dialogues, but on account of the limitation of space, it has been found necessary to omit important passages. Thus, this volume includes nothing from the Sophist and all too little from the Philebus. It has been difficult to decide among alternative sets of selections; but something had to be excluded, and where the arguments on either side seemed equally strong, the choice had to be made arbitrarily.


The Dialogues of Plato. Translation, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Plato and the Older Academicians. Translated by Alleyne and Goodwin. London, 1888.
Plato and Platonism. New York, 1902.
Platonism. Princeton.
The Unity of Plato's Thought. Chicago University Press, 1903.
Plato. London, 1914. A very instructive little book in the series, Philosophies, Ancient and Modern.
Plato, The Man and His Work. New York, 1927. A comprehensive work.

The text of this volume is that of the Jowett translation.