Graphic Rule
Graphic Rule



'I thank God,' said Plato, 'that I was born Greek and not barbarian, freeman and not slave, man and not woman; but above all, that I was born in the age of Socrates.' If Winspear's socio-economic analysis is accepted, this innocent sounding sentence is the keynote to Plato's philosophy, which was a long continued effort to defend and rationalize the oligarchic state and its social inequalities.

Greek culture had long been undergoing a change in fundamental structure. In the early days the land bordering the Aegean had been held more or less collectively by the tribe and men had tilled it or grazed their cattle upon it as a tribal privilege. Then across the period spanned by the Homeric poems the growth of city-states had led to intense economic competition, to trans-Aegean maritime adventure, and to the growth of trade; and trade had produced wealth which sought safety by reinvestment in the land until private property had become a social distinction and the foundation of landed aristocracy, so that there were now the landed and landless, in addition to the freeman and the slave. Monogamy had become exalted as feminine constancy -- so necessary to the preservation of hereditary titles -- had become more valuable, and those families which inherited their lands spoke of themselves as having had 'good' fathers. Slavery, having arisen in the forced labor of captives of war, had grown to such proportions that members of the same tribe, even of the same family, might fall into servitude to their own kin. Society had placed its sanction on the right of private property, and was prepared to protect it against fraud and theft and violence, and against the protest of the poor and dispossessed. Where the Egyptians spoke of maat as truth, righteousness or justice, the Greeks spoke of diké, a word which once had meant merely 'custom,' and then the natural manner or fashion of things: it was the diké of wind to blow, of birds to fly, of water to be wet, it is the diké of the cosmos that 'we' should own the land and have all the privileges and that 'you' should be a slave and laborer. Inevitably diké became Dike, the goddess, representing an eternal and divine principle of verity, the maiden daughter of Zeus. Needless to say, Dike was born an aristocrat.

As Athens became the center of the Aegean commercial empire she removed offensive city-states from competition by absorbing them into her 'alliance,' whereby the 'allies' paid heavy tribute to a few Athenian aristocrats who, by Dike's authority, enjoyed a virtual monopoly of political and social privilege. In Aristotle's words, 'the constitution was in all respects an oligarchy, and the poor were enslaved to the rich, they and their wives and children .... All land was in the hands of a few men. If anyone failed to pay his dues, he and his children could be delivered into slavery. And all loans were made on the security of the person up to the time of Solon. He was the first "champion of the people."'

Dike may have been born an aristocrat, but after the coup of Clisthenes, which enabled the democrats to capture the power in the Senate, the assembly and the popular jury courts, the democrats began to claim that they had truth and justice on their side. Then in 480 B.C. the vulgar mercantile interests under Themistocles, with the aid of the Spartan army, successfully resisted a Persian offensive and the democrats began to dream of empire: the proletariat and those who were paid for service on jury or senate, the sailors of the fleet (that 'sea-going mob,' the oligarchs called them), the shipowners and traders, the moneylenders, wheat speculators and all others who stood to profit from the adventure began to demand overseas expansion and increased profits. Under Pericles this dream of empire was well on its way to realization when it precipitated the long and bitter Peloponnesian war (431-400 B.C.) between Athens and Sparta, which ended with the defeat of the Athenian fleet and army, and the liberation of her 'allies' from a hated economic subjugation.

Following the defeat of the Athenian navy at Aegospotami, a small group of extreme conservatives, led by the 'Thirty,' seized the power in Athens in defiance of the constitution and, with the support of the detested Spartan army, held control for about eight months. In the ensuing bitter conflict between oligarchs and democrats treachery and treason were suspected everywhere and no man knew whom he might trust; and the Thirty, in order to make certain of their position, indulged in the unprecedented retaliatory measure of having fifteen hundred citizens, outstanding for their democratic fervor, put to death.

Socrates, now grown comparatively rich and influential, having abandoned his first wife, Xantippe -- she of the shrewish and scolding tongue -- had married into a proud and patrician family and had become scarcely more than a puppet and apologist for the aristocrats. When the democrats regained control he was looked upon as a traitor, if not principally responsible through his skeptical and materialistic teachings for the excesses of his friends, and haled to trial. From a philosophic nuisance he had become a political menace. Actually, the court had no desire to put him to death and only wanted him to leave Athens, since he was too intelligent and dangerous a citizen for a democracy to have around. But when he refused to offer any defense for himself, when he even refused to compromise and, as an alternative, suggested that he be entertained for life free of charge in the Prytaneum, he drew down upon himself the ire of the jurors and a verdict of guilty. The trial ending at the Delian festival, thirty days had to elapse before he could drink the hemlock, and during this time he held long conversations with his friends, whose offers of escape he stubbornly refused on the grounds that the state, like the citizen, must do its 'duty.' The death scene, familiar from Plato's description, closed with the suddenly recollected thought: "Crito, I owe a cock to Asklepius; will you remember to pay the debt?" Seventy years old, he had so long beheld the foibles and foolishness of men that perhaps he felt indebted to the god of healing for permitting him now to escape from life.

Plato was twenty-eight when Socrates died and the bitterness against democracy which his teacher's death engendered never left him. Unlike his master, he was an aristocrat by birth; his family had ever kept to itself within its inherited lands and privileges, aloof from any taint of democratic connection or liberal thought. Following Socrates's condemnation by the democrats Athens was not the safest place for one of his closest friends, who was also a hotheaded, blue-blooded enemy of the people, and Plato decided to travel. He spent some years in southern Italy, Sicily and Egypt, and in Syracuse became embroiled in an effort to reform the government of that city and got himself kidnapped and sold into slavery, from which he was ransomed by a friend. Returning at last to Athens he founded in the gymnasium of Academus the school henceforth known as the Academy, where he began to elaborate 'philosophy' into an overwhelming antidemocratic argument, by taking the argument from earth to heaven.

Socrates had said that his mission was not to teach any positive doctrine but to convict men of ignorance mistaking itself for knowledge; his method had been to place himself at the standpoint of ignorance and to invite others to join him there, in order that, proving all things, he and they might hold fast to that which is good. Plato's method was to argue from the 'best opinion' of Socrates to 'absolute knowledge' by way of an infallible 'autonomy of the intellect' -- the offshoot of Socrates's 'clever ghost.' He proceeded thus to construct a system, loose and rambling though it may be, which embraced the cosmos, its origin, its structure and its moral code. Plato began by thinking in terms of aristocratic superlatives, and the superlative became the essence of all this thought. The burning aspiration to find an aristocratic, enduring kind of 'truth' led him to create it for himself.

Admittedly the Athenian democracy was a parody on 'democratic' government. Of 400,000 inhabitants, 250,000 were slaves without any political rights, and of the rest only a few politicians took any interest in the affairs of state. Political opinions were shaped by passionate orators who 'went ringing on in long harangues, like brazen pots which, when struck, continue to sound till a hand is put upon them.' Wisdom was conceived to issue from mere numbers, and the high court, or Dikastra, which consisted of more than a thousand members in order to make bribery expensive, was selected by alphabetical lot. Socrates had had no sympathy with this ignorant rule by the mob and especially with the policy of electing the governing body by lot, and perhaps it was the denial of the intrinsic value of this form of election which was indicated by the charge, 'denying the gods recognized by the state.' 'Corrupting the young' is taken to mean that he had taught some of the younger oligarchs their contempt for democracy. The same charges could of course have been leveled against Plato, but the fire of revolution had now died out and he was permitted to pursue philosophy in peace, devoting himself to the theoretic task of finding the way whereby the wisest and the best men might be discovered and then enabled and persuaded to rule, so that all things between man and man, or between man and state, would be in fact as they should be in theory.

As his ultimate end, Plato sought to define maat, or diké, or as the modern tongue would have it, justice: for if there is such a thing as justice it must be a principle that can permeate and rule not only all of politics, but all of life. Men have ever observed that discord, chaos, accident, characterize all things, and they have ever sought some principle of permanence, some all-pervading law, that will give meaning to the transitory and evanescent, something that will explain or disentangle the confused web of discord that is their lives. 'What is justice?' had been the earliest philosophical question ever asked by the Greek. For the Greeks the discords of life were largely subsumed within the discords of government, and Heraclitus had replied, 'We must know that war is common to all and strife is justice.' This might do for a vulgar, materialistic atomist, but would it serve the ends of the state, of man nobly conceived, of the cosmos in the whole?

With regard to justice in the matter of government, Plato had seen enough in Athens to realize that both the aristocratic pattern based on birth and the oligarchic pattern based on wealth are charged with evil; both must ultimately lead to revolution, which in turn leads to democracy, and democracy, if anything, is the worst of the three. Its chief allure, the equal right of all to hold office, is its weakest point. Plato could not imagine anyone so stupid as to wish to turn government over to mob rule. When a man is ill he calls a physician well certified in respect to his impartiality, honesty and competence, or if he so much as wishes his shoes mended, he goes to an expert; but in democracy it is presumed that any man is competent to administer the complex affairs of a city or state who can get votes by his good looks, by playing on the gullibility of the mob, by high-sounding oratory, empty promises, bribery, false alarms, or the strategy of political organizations. Democracy is a tyranny of unscrupulous politicians who keep themselves in power by telling the ignorant masses what to think. Plato conceived that there were divinely selected men within the state to whom wisdom and truth came naturally and, were the opportunity given them to do so, they could be prepared by proper training to make good leaders. Only such natural born philosopher-kings would be fit to guide a nation. 'Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and wisdom and political leadership meet in the same man ... cities will never cease from ill, nor the human race.'

The question may be raised whether wisdom and truth are in the aristocratic manner innate in some men and not in others, or whether in the democratic manner they emerge only from the 'common deed of man.' To Plato, the question could only be answered in one way: the propensity to seek wisdom and truth are inborn characters. He believed that the existing inequalities of society and the prerogatives of the aristocratic few rested on an unchallengeable, natural basis. It was the truth of Dike, it was 'justice.' Democracy implied not only change in personality and privilege, but the very rightness of this change as a natural process. The Democrats talked about the equality of all men, and about an equity in the courts which took account of contingency, of accident, in opposition to the aristocratic principle of justice which was eternal and took no account of any man or any circumstance. Democracy elevated upstart merchants, sailors and other lowborn radicals within the state and set their rights and authority on a parity with its own. Carried to its logical conclusion this democratic process would be identical with anarchy since every man would be a law unto himself: an unthinkable condition because this is the very denial of law, order, harmony, of the absolute and unchangeable, of justice itself. And to deny the absolute and unchangeable is to deny the possibility of knowledge and even of truth, for it is only the unchanging that can be either knowable or true: if a thing is changing in all its parts it can in no wise be known and must remain unknown even while changing, and any assumed knowledge of it is false, and if it is always changing it cannot exist, and therefore it cannot be true.

This argument was not original with Plato, but had been used effectively by the Pythagoreans, particularly against the contention of Heraclitus that 'being' is 'process.' Pythagoreanism like Platonism was an apology for aristocratic rule and landed conservatism, launched against the Ionian atomists whose iconoclastic attitudes in the sixth century B.C. had worked as a ferment for unrest and change. Pythagoras by tradition was a mathematician, and is supposed to have contributed with Thales much that appears in the first six books of Euclid. Mathematics had ever been a medium for establishing communion with the gods; the mathematician-priests of Egypt and Babylonia were in their time the chief spokesmen of the divinities, and that Aristotle (who incidentally was the first to use this fateful word) should call the mystical Pythagoras a 'theologian' shows that the Greek heavens were no exception.

Against the 'formless,' the 'limitless' primordium of the atomists, Pythagoras set the importance of 'limits': the 'limitless' by itself was as nothing, but once limited it yielded the point, twice limited the line, thrice limited the plane, and four times limited the solid. Since all created things must be limited, creation consisted of 'limits' -- that is, of numbers which are the very essence of limits. Lack of order was synonymous with non-existence since it was indescribable and hence unknowable; only the strictly ordered approached absolute existence; the abstractly mathematical, because it was most perfectly ordered, was the very essence of being. Thus numbers themselves were the primordia of all things: the active or male principle was the number one; the passive or female principle was the number two; marriage or the union of the dual forces was the number three; and so on until one number explained a horse, another a man, a third justice -- which some Pythagoreans held to be four, the square of the first even number, while others held it to be nine, the square of the first odd number. The master is said to have agreed to accept the gods individually when he had found the mathematical equations appropriate to them.

Having exalted abstract numbers to an existence above the transient flux of the material world, the Pythagoreans, with a strong ascetic bias, sought to establish all social sanctions in mathematical harmonies and proportions, and, like the Athenians, attempted to impose this 'truth' upon their neighbors by fire, knife and other forcible means in the conviction that it was their duty to 'free' their fellow men from 'injustice' and 'falsehood' by converting them to their own point of view, or at least by forcing them into the Pythagorean union represented by Croton, Sybaris, Catana, Rhegium and other towns of Sicily and southern Italy. If the people of Croton believed that to be conquered and told how to order their lives according to the supernal mystical numbers was a loss of freedom it was only because they were abysmally ignorant.

The physiologoi had asserted that what truly exists is matter, which contains within itself all the laws necessary to its existence and operation, and that all else is but the expression of the capacity of material, indestructible atoms to undergo change and movement. In this view, what was, was just: ugliness and beauty, order and disorder, good and evil, were all equally just, because all equally lawful. Even the death of Socrates was just, for justice was the intrinsic law of hemlock-the-poison, of Socrates-the-man, of the tribunal which tried him and of the popular support which gave this tribunal its power.

Before he began to develop a philosophy of his own Plato was a Pythagorean. At the conclusion of his labors at the Academy he had woven together the Pythagorean belief in the primacy of numbers and the doctrine of the changeless, the static and unalterable, to form his philosophic system. This philosophy is nowhere simply or consistently set forth but deviously expounded throughout the Dialogues. It is not dispassionately rational but infused with the mystic glow of a religious convert, or rather of a religious discoverer, for he was enthralled by the 'wise soul' -- the god-in-man in the person of Socrates. With the aid of this 'clever ghost' he developed his dualistic antithesis of 'soul' and 'body,' and by this antithesis ultimately explained away the whole of observable nature as a mirage of error.

In Platonic philosophy it is the 'wise soul' which perceives. However, untutored by Plato, it perceives erroneously. Things as they appear to the uninstructed soul are in greater or lesser degree misleading, illusory, chimerical: at one extreme is mere appearance, which is identical with complete ignorance; at the other extreme is knowledge, which is to be equated with pure truth or reality; and in between is opinion, which is a varying mixture of ignorance and truth. Since that which is wholly false and illusory cannot exist, ignorance is non-being; while knowledge is identical with being, since that which is true must also be real. Since what is true must always be true, truth is absolute -- changeless and eternal -- and is indeed the only reality.

Socrates had emphasized that we are acquainted on the one hand with particular objects and, on the other, with certain features common to many objects of a similar kind, these common features being more 'universal' and therefore more enduring than the particular objects which share them. There are, for example, many individual circles, as opposed to the 'circularity' which is possessed by all such figures. A particular circle is drawn by hand and proves to be slightly eccentric, so it is erased and another circle is drawn, and another, and another, and so on through a thousand circles -- no one of them is ever perfect, no one of them is indestructible or will last forever, no one of them accurately represents all possible circles. But the archetype of the perfect circle was there before the hand attempted the first circle and will survive after the last circle has been erased. No particular circle can ever attain such indestructibility or immortality or such perfection as the universal circle of which it is only an approximate model or copy. Extending the argument, all objects of whatever kind approach in greater or lesser degree some perfect form, all behavior approaches some perfect law; particular men come and go, as do particular cities or particular laws, but 'man' and 'city' and 'law' endure through all generations and even through all the forms of thinking.

To indicate the difference between individual things and characters common to many things Socrates had used the terms 'particulars' and 'universals.' One knows where to find particulars but in what part of the cosmos do these universals have their being? It becomes immediately apparent that they belong to the realm of thought, since they consist of conceptual relations: the universal circle is something which is 'conceived' to exist apart from all particular circles, and no one has actually seen it, though he may have seen many particular circles that approach it closely. It is, moreover, equally apparent that the universal does not exist in any individual man's concepts, for individual men live and die, but the universal circle exists forever; it exists, so Plato thought, apart from any man's thinking, and thus it may be called an 'absolute.' Being absolute, it is perfect and eternal. It must therefore exist in some universal mind, which can only be the mind of God (Zeus).

When Plato sought to define universals, in contradistinction to particulars, language difficulties presented themselves. The term 'concept,' derived from the past participle of 'conceive,' and signifying 'to take to oneself' (in this sense abstracting or removing from several objects some common relation having no existence apart from the mind of the observer), not being available to him, he turned back to Pythagoreanism to find a suitable word. In Homeric Greek the word ιδειν, meaning 'to see,' had come to mean the 'looks' or 'outward appearance' of a thing, and thence its true structure or essential nature, and the Pythagoreans had used ιδειν to describe their geometric figures, the pyramid, cube, and so on, as the ultimate elements of reality; Democritus had called his atoms ιδεαι, and in the language contemporary with Plato, Empedocles's four elements were described by the same term. Thus the word already meant ultimate realities, and Plato naturally incorporated it into his philosophy in this pristine sense, his only contribution being to insist upon the incorporeal and absolute nature of the ιδεα to which every particular or object is an approximation. The Platonic Idea (we may capitalize the word to preserve its philosophic connotation) is not perceived by sense directly, but is only to be discovered by knowledge; furthermore it is not a thought but an object of thought.

In brief, the 'particulars' of the everyday world, particular men, or cities, or laws, particular circles, apples or billy goats, are but imperfect images of the perfect and eternal Ideas in the divine mind, but a shadow show, a mere hallucination. That other world, the divine mind wherein endure forever the unchangeable absolutes of which the stars and earth and all vegetable and animal kinds, all circles and cubes and polyhedrons, all laws and principles, all billy goats, are but representatives -- that is in truth the real world. Man fails to perceive this truth immediately, so Plato thought, because he and his perception are particularistic and imperfect; only as he searches for and discovers the universals which exist apart from and outlast all particular objects, as numbers exist apart from and outlast all numbered things, does he discover himself to be in error.

As in its beginnings, so to its ultimate application, Plato's philosophy was concerned with politics and social sanctions, and in his masterpiece, the Republic, he constructed a perfect state which would bring about the perfect life and function as an organ of justice, even as the wise soul is an organ of justice in the individual body. Again he follows the Pythagorean system in developing a special ruling and possessing class, believing, aristocratically if excusably, that intelligence is a fixed and static character transmitted within a given class. Women are to be allowed to breed from their twentieth to their fortieth, men from their thirtieth to their fiftieth years, warriors being given the greatest sexual freedom so that the most children would be born of their stock. Although intercourse is to be free beyond these age limits, abortion or infanticide is to be used to prevent the offspring from growing up. In all cases in which children are permitted to survive they are to be taken from their elders, since paternal influence is usually reactionary and adverse. The family is to be abolished and infants are to be raised in a public crčche and later educated by the state and then assigned to the various tasks for which they are best fitted; those of aristocratic birth are to be given further training in preparation for becoming rulers. Those who fail to qualify are to be made auxiliaries of government, officers and clerks, while those who succeed will continue into the higher studies of the philosophy of the state. They will be taught to think clearly and critically, to understand human nature and the means and ends of government, and will at last be thrown upon the world to prove their mettle by competing with men of business, with hardheaded individuals of experience and cunning, to the end that they shall learn what cannot be learned from the printed page. Out of this last elimination there will emerge men, perhaps fifty years of age, scarred by experience, sobered and self-reliant, free of vanities and illusions who shall become the 'guards' or rulers of the state.

Since men are by nature acquisitive, jealous, combative, erotic and generally not to be trusted, how can they be expected to enter into such a scheme of things? How can those who fail to qualify be reconciled to a subordinate place? Will not jealousies and disappointments be the seed of discontent and of ultimate revolution? Plato foresaw this difficulty and devised an answer. He believed that a state could not be strong and unified unless it believed in a god. A mere 'cosmic force,' a 'first cause' that was not a personal deity, could not inspire hope or devotion, offer comfort to the distressed or courage to the downtrodden, or restrain greed and passion. The social force of a belief in a god is enhanced when it is joined with a belief in personal immortality. Granted that such beliefs cannot be demonstrated, and may be false, they will, he argued, do no harm and may do immeasurable good. So he suggested that the children of the state be taught to believe in an afterlife and in a just and punishing god merely as a political expediency. It could be pointed out to them that the god had made men differently, some of gold, some of silver, some of brass and some of iron; the oracle of the god could constantly proclaim that when a man of iron tried to be a man of gold and to rule the state, he would be destroyed. By this and similar strategems the populace could be kept subservient to the guards, who could presumably change the strategems from time to time as the need arose.

Justice, to the discovery of which Socrates and so many other Greek thinkers had devoted themselves, turned out in Plato's Republic to consist of the freezing for all time of aristocratic privilege: 'Each man shall confine himself to one pursuit in the city, the pursuit for which his nature is most naturally [aristocratically] adapted. And to do one's task and not to meddle in many is justice, which can then be defined as one man, one task for which he is naturally fitted.' The Democrats, who with sound logic might have defended their idea as an ιδεα in the mind of Zeus, an ultimate reality worth aiming for, stood convicted of a vulgar and un-philosophic error, since that which is in a state of flux cannot be identified with the divine.

It is difficult to believe that Socrates would have approved founding the education of the young and the entire system of government upon a colossal program of deceit. When he could have saved himself by accepting banishment and compromising his conviction of the right of every man to think and speak, he chose to stand his ground and tell his judges that if he died Athens would lose more than he would. It can not be said, however, that Plato was inconsistent or dishonest. Greek talent was for the most part artistic. The aim of the Greek artist was that the end product should be beautiful: nothing else mattered, and if beauty was lacking there was nothing to compensate. In attaining this end the Greek artistic impulse was wholly consistent and honest. Plato was an artist and a plutocrat, and the artistic impulse and the plutocratic bias shaped his philosophy. With typical artistic disregard of all values other than the aesthetic, he did not hesitate to deceive the citizens of his Republic in order to achieve what seemed to him a perfect system of plutocratic government. And he as unhesitatingly pronounced the apparently substantial world to be a mirage in order to have as the ultimate basis of creation a series of forms and principles which to him savored of plutocratic perfection. Those who lie gladly to others lie easily to themselves, and the 'greatest philosopher of all times' may fairly be charged with self-deception.


Plato's 'noble lies' were, however, not long in being challenged. It is related that one day when he was lecturing in the Academy, there was only one pupil present -- Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) -- and he was asleep. And this pupil, despite his lifelong admiration for Plato, came ultimately to deny the validity of the theory of Ideas at its very roots. Son of the physician to Amyntas II, King of Macedon, and himself experienced in the odor of disease, suffering and death, Aristotle esteemed ugly brute facts as highly as Plato esteemed the artistic conception of perfection. At the close of his life he left behind him such an encyclopedia of ugly facts that one of the chief intellectual tasks of the Middle Ages was the recovery of as much of his works as could be gleaned from imperfect and incomplete Latin abstracts; later medieval writers thought that the New Age had actually begun when the first full text of his books was brought to the West from Constantinople fifteen hundred years after they had been written. At the age of forty-one he had been employed by King Philip of Macedon to act as tutor to Alexander, his passionate and epileptic son. Though Alexander gained little from his teacher, Aristotle gained much from his pupil, for five years later when Philip had united the Greek states by conquest and then had died under an assassin's hand, Alexander conquered the world and endowed Aristotle with unprecedented wealth. Alexander's hunters, gamekeepers, gardeners and fishermen supplied him with all the zoological and botanical material he desired, and it is alleged that at one time he had a thousand men collecting for him flora and fauna throughout Greece and Asia. The school, or Lyceum, which he founded in Athens did not follow the tradition of Plato's Academy, which had been devoted to mathematics and politics, but had for its chief interest the examination and description of the world, the 'apparent' world of the sense, not the 'real' world of Ideas.

On the question of Plato's immutable Ideas, Aristotle conceived that the Socratic term 'universal' merely indicated certain features which are common to a large number of individuals, such common features, for example, as might be discovered in the groups: animals, men, dogs, feet. These universals he considered to be predicates (that which we say of something) and not objective realities; they exist merely as mental images and figures of speech. What exists in reality is a world of substantial things. Socrates is a man and an animal (of which we say) tall, white, a husband, in the market, yesterday, sitting, talking, listening (all predicates). There are no universal forms, no supernatural Ideas, no man-in-general or animals-in-general, but only particular animals and plants, particular substances, water, wood, earth, moon, sun, stars. Each body or substance is what it is because its matter is conjoined with an 'essence,' that which gives the body or substance its specific quality. Natural bodies and substances are corruptible, but essences are eternal since they can always be found in some individual body or substance somewhere.

Man is composed of matter and essence, or soul. It is his soul which imbues him with growth, sensation, appetite, locomotion and reason. Plants have a nutritive soul, animals a nutritive, sensitive, appetitive and locomotive soul, but only man has reason or intellect. Intellect alone is immortal, it is alone divine, requiring no bodily organ for its activity, manifestation or existence. In possessing intellect man is therefore a third kind of substance; he is like natural substance in bodily matter, and therefore corruptible, like supernatural substance in reason or intellect, and therefore immortal. God only contemplates, man contemplates, seeks happiness and operates as an efficient cause on other natural things.

When Aristotle and Plato diverged on the issue of atoms versus universals, in effect they divided the world of Greek thinkers, and of all subsequent thinkers, between them. As Coleridge has said, 'Every man is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian.' The generalization reflects the fact that men are forced for the purposes of living to elect one or the other interpretation: they must either be Aristotelians and put their faith in natural things, or Platonists and put their faith in supernatural absolutes. Stubbornness goes to such lengths that the advocates of both schools lay claim to the name of 'Realists' -- though the Aristotelians, wishing to preserve meaning in language, prefer to call the Platonists 'Idealists.'

Though for Plato God represented the universal mind, he was in no sense a monotheist. He contemplated no revolution in Greek polytheism apart from the expurgation from the stories of the gods of the coarser elements of conflict, vengeance and sexuality. Nor did he desire to abolish sacrifice or idolatry. He ranged the Olympian deities somewhere below the supreme god, Zeus, and above the planets and the sun, but he did not believe that the gods could be immortal since they had been born, and whatever was born must die.

For Aristotle, on the other hand, a god was a mere logical necessity, a rhetorical period rounding out his thought. Behind all motion he deduced that there must be a Prime Mover who is himself Unmoved, and so he conceived of God as supernatural substance apart from natural substances, an impersonal force, with no desire, no will, no purpose. He is the essence of knowing, of reason, of intellect, but he is so perfect that he lacks nothing. His only occupation is to contemplate the essence of all things; and since he himself is the essence of contemplation he can only contemplate himself.

In 323 B.C. Alexander died and the Macedonian party was overthrown; Athenian independence was proclaimed and Athens went wild with patriotic joy. A priest made the charge that Aristotle had taught that prayer and sacrifice were of no avail, and Aristotle fled the city, saying that he would not give his beloved Athens a chance to sin twice against philosophy. He died at Chalcis within a year, bequeathing to a storm-tossed world his encyclopedic works, and a refutation of Platonic doctrine which was to be ignored for sixteen centuries.

Greek science, marking the first great intellectual age, did not truly spend itself until a Christian bishop burned the hated pagan library at Alexandria, the last great storehouse of the treasures of antiquity, more than seven centuries after Plato's death; but the chain of circumstances that led to that combustion can be traced back, however circuitously, to the Academy as surely as though Plato himself had set the flame. The Ionian physiologoi had started the world on an orderly, naturalistic interpretation of the cosmos; they had begun the discovery of the uniformity of nature and the analysis of cause and effect in materialistic terms; in mathematics, astronomy, physics and medicine they had achieved more in a few centuries than can be credited to all previous history. By the fourth century or shortly afterwards Alcmaeon and Erasistratus in physiology, Pythagoras in acoustics, Empedocles and Anaxagoras in physics, Strato in pneumatics, had laid the foundations of the experimental method. Except for the catastrophe that overcame it, Ionian science had within its grasp a control of natural affairs and human affairs such as the world was not to dream of again for many centuries. Except for that catastrophe, Ionian science might have speeded the development of the natural and social sciences by this interval.

Except for Plato -- who disdained any investigation of nature in favor of his hypostasized ideas, who conceived man as an immortal soul temporarily inhabiting an inconsequential house of clay, who dismissed the world of material realia for a world of dreams, who did not believe in the gods himself but who recommended imprisonment for the skeptic who out of religious disquietude questioned their authority, and death for the atheist who denied their very existence (except for the Plato who made of all philosophy a living lie). In the Phaedo Plato makes Socrates say, "If we are ever to know anything absolutely, we must be free from the body and behold the actual realities with the eye of the soul alone .... While we live we shall be nearest to knowledge when we avoid, so far as possible, intercourse and communion with the body, except what is absolutely necessary, and are not infected by its nature, but keep ourselves free from it until God himself sets us free." This was the element of Academic philosophy that by way of Neoplatonism was transmitted to the early Christian church. It might appropriately have been intoned as a dirge over all intellectual effort by Bishop Theophilus when, at the order of the Christian emperor Theodosius, he sent his incendiaries to fire the Alexandrian library.

The intellect was henceforth divorced from the brute facts of life, and for the Roman Empire all problems were to be resolved largely by the antithesis of masters and slaves. The examination of nature, impossible for the slaves, became for the masters a questionably respectable diversion, since the slaves were expected to do the work of controlling nature and if any deficiency were discovered the number of slaves could be increased. Augustine in the fourth century accepted slavery as God's will and attempted to rationalize it, as it was axiomatically accepted by Philo in the first century B.C. and by Aristotle and Plato in the fourth. This progressive development of slavery was in part responsible for the death of Greek science, as for the ultimate decay of the Empire, but it was Plato and the corpus of his philosophy that gave slavery its philosophic warrant, even as they shut the prison door upon the best of the Greek intellect.

In the nine centuries through which the Academy endured untutored Greeks, like their equally untutored Roman neighbors, continued to bemoan their miserable lot in life and to remain fearful of death, even as they continued to make oblations and sacrifices in the temples and to observe the festivals of the dying and resurrected gods, no more sincerely hopeful of a decent way of living or of personal immortality than they had been when Aristophanes lowered Socrates, the clever and incorruptible ghost, from heaven by a rope and basket.

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