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The implications of such an ethical standard are, on the whole, conservative; it is assumed that social institutions are, taking them altogether, nearly the best possible at any moment; and that our truest wisdom is to make the most of them, instead of sighing for some other sphere where our grand aspirations or volcanic passions might find a readier outlet for their feverish activity. And if the teaching of the first Stoics did not take the direction here indicated, it was because they, with the communistic theories inherited from their Cynic predecessors, began by condemning all existing social distinctions as irrational. They wished to abolish local religion, property, the family, and the State, as a substitute for which the whole human race was to be united under a single government, without private possessions or slaves, and with a complete community of women and children.79 It must, however, have gradually dawned on them that such a radical subversion of the present system was hardly compatible with their belief in the providential origin of all things; and that, besides this, the virtues which they made it so much their object to recommend, would be, for the most part, superfluous in a communistic society. At the same time, the old notion of S?phrosyn as a virtue which consisted in minding ones own business, or, stated more generally, in discerning and doing whatever work one is best fitted for, would continue to influence ethical teaching, with the effect of giving more and more individuality to the definition of duty. And the36 Stoic idea of a perfect sage, including as it did the possession of every accomplishment and an exclusive fitness for discharging every honourable function, would seem much less chimerical if interpreted to mean that a noble character, while everywhere intrinsically the same, might be realised under as many divergent forms as there are opportunities for continuous usefulness in life.80"If my brain gives way now," she muttered, "if my reason plays me false now even for a day I--but I dare not think of it. Well, what do you want?"
To attain a double effect, and avoid the loss pointed out, Mr Ramsbottom designed what may be called compound hammers, consisting of two independent heads or rams moving in opposite directions, and acting simultaneously upon pieces held between them.The Platonic influence told even more efficaciously on Galileos still greater contemporary, Kepler. With him as with the author of the Republic, mysticism took the direction of seeking everywhere for evidence of mathematical proportions. With what brilliant success the search was attended, it is needless to relate. What interests us here is the fact, vouched for by Arago, that the German astronomer was guided by an idea of Platos, that the world must have been created on geometrical principles.552 Had Bacon known anything about the work on which his adventurous contemporary was engaged, we may be sure that it would have afforded him another illustration for his Id?la, the only difficulty being whether it should be referred to the illusions of the Tribe, the Den, or the Theatre.
The Stoic arguments are, indeed, when we come to analyse them, appeal to authority rather than to the logical understanding. We are told again and again that the common objects of desire and dread cannot really be good or evil, because they are not altogether under our control.55 And if we ask why this necessarily excludes them from the class of things to be pursued or avoided, the answer is that man, having been created for perfect happiness, must also have been created with the power to secure it by his own unaided exertions. But, even granting the very doubtful thesis that there is any ascertainable purpose in creation at all, it is hard to see how the Stoics could have answered any one who chose to maintain that man is created for enjoyment; since, judging by experience, he has secured a larger share of it than of virtue, and is just as capable of gaining it by a mere exercise of volition. For the professors of the Porch fully admitted that their ideal sage had never been realised; which, with their opinions about the indivisibility of virtue, was equivalent to saying that there never had been such a thing as a good25 man at all. Or, putting the same paradox into other words, since the two classes of wise and foolish divide humanity between them, and since the former class has only an ideal existence, they were obliged to admit that mankind are not merely most of them fools, but all fools. And this, as Plutarch has pointed out in his very clever attack on Stoicism, is equivalent to saying that the scheme of creation is a complete failure.56
A somewhat similar vein of reflection is worked out in the209 Cratylus, a Dialogue presenting some important points of contact with the Theaettus, and probably belonging to the same period. There is the same constant reference to Heracleitus, whose philosophy is here also treated as in great measure, but not entirely, true; and the opposing system of Parmenides is again mentioned, though much more briefly, as a valuable set-off against its extravagances. The Cratylus deals exclusively with language, just as the Theaettus had dealt with sensation and mental imagery, but in such a playful and ironical tone that its speculative importance is likely to be overlooked. Some of the Greek philosophers seem to have thought that the study of things might advantageously be replaced by the study of words, which were supposed to have a natural and necessary connexion with their accepted meanings. This view was particularly favoured by the Heracleiteans, who found, or fancied that they found, a confirmation of their masters teaching in etymology. Plato professes to adopt the theory in question, and supports it with a number of derivations which to us seem ludicrously absurd, but which may possibly have been transcribed from the pages of contemporary philologists. At last, however, he turns round and shows that other verbal arguments, equally good, might be adduced on behalf of Parmenides. But the most valuable part of the discussion is a protest against the whole theory that things can be studied through their names. Plato justly observes that an image, to be perfect, should not reproduce its original, but only certain aspects of it; that the framers of language were not infallible; and that we are just as competent to discover the nature of things as they could be. One can imagine the delight with which he would have welcomed the modern discovery that sensations, too, are a language; and that the associated groups into which they most readily gather are determined less by the necessary connexions of things in themselves than by the exigencies of self-preservation and reproduction in sentient beings.
Thus my examination opened. I told him everything from beginning to end, also that the commanding officer had given me permission to stay at that house, that I had shown my papers to the soldiers at the goods station opposite the house, and that I did not understand why I should be put to all this inconvenience.Whether Plato ever succeeded in making the idea of Good quite clear to others, or even to himself, is more than we can tell. In the Republic he declines giving further explanations on the ground that his pupils have not passed through the necessary mathematical initiation. Whether quantitative reasoning was to furnish the form or the matter of transcendent dialectic is left undetermined. We are told that on one occasion a large audience assembled to hear Plato lecture on229 the Good, but that, much to their disappointment, the discourse was entirely filled with geometrical and astronomical investigations. Bearing in mind, however, that mathematical science deals chiefly with equations, and that astronomy, according to Plato, had for its object to prove the absolute uniformity of the celestial motions, we may perhaps conclude that the idea of Good meant no more than the abstract notion of identity or indistinguishable likeness. The more complex idea of law as a uniformity of relations, whether coexistent or successive, had not then dawned, but it has since been similarly employed to bring physics into harmony with ethics and logic.