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The makers of Hellas: a critical inquiry into the philosophy and religion of ancient Greece online

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already in existence — the Ur^ or original elements — thus leaving the ques-
tion of the creation of matter unsolved. This objection is valid so far as
1 See antet p. 362. 2 ge©, however, § 3.


the Timoeus alone is concerned — the want of clearness on this point is one of
the great defects of the work. But, just as the Ttmceus supplements and
explains other dialogues, so do they in turn supplement and explain it, and in
the Sophist — one of Plato's most abstract and logically thought out works — a
definition of creation is given, and the relation of God to matter clearly set
forth : " There are," he says, " two kinds of creation. Divine and human. By
creation we mean every power that brings into existence things which before
had no existence. Now," he goes on to ask, " what are we to say concerning
the world around us — all the creatures that live and die, the plants that spring
from seeds and roots, the lifeless things, soluble and insoluble, that are formed
within the earth — shall we maintain that they, having no previous existence,
were brought into existence by a creator (a demiurgus) — working for the
people, who is none other than God, or shall we say with the multitude that
Nature gives birth to them from some automatic or accidental cause ? Shall
we not rather hold that they owe their being to Divine reason and a knowledge
which comes from God ? "

A little later in the same dialogue {Sophist, 265 E., 266 B.), it is stated,
not only that " things which are said to be made by Nature are the works of
Divine art (techne),^' but that the materials on which the Divine artist works
are created by Him : " We know that we and the other creatures, and the
elements out of which things are made — fire, water, and the like — are each
and all the creation and work of God — Is it not so?" "It is," rejoins

God, therefore, according to Plato, does create matter, and if he does not
expressly say this in the Timoeus, we may explain the omission by supposing
that he regarded creation as a progressive act, and that his " probable account "
begins at the point or stage where the Creator proceeds to shape and form
the materials previously created.

(3) Does Plato regard ruatter as evil? — At first sight it would seem so, for
he says {Tim., 153), that when God undertook to perfect the elements out of
which He constructed the world, "they were all in such a condition as we
might expect to find them in the absence of God — they had neither form nor
number" — but were moving irregularly in chaos. "God made them," adds
Timseus, " as far as possible the most beautiful and the best out of things
which were not beautiful and good."

We must bear in mind here, however, Plato's definition of the " most
beautiful" — it is that which possesses mind. Matter, therefore, in his eyes
can never be either beautiful or good in itself, or except in so far as it is
controlled by mind.

Again, the very qualities of matter, as such, are necessary to the existence
of the world as such, and yet they bear within them of necessity a certain
something that causes friction and destroys harmony. To be tangible, as Plato
tells us, the world must be solid ; to be visible it must possess fire — but solidity
easily passes into resistance and fire into destruction, except when under the
strictest control of guiding reason. Hence from its nature — a nature necessarily
suited to its purpose — matter can only be made "as far as possible" the fairest
and best.

We shall find that Plato develops this theory in the moral world also, for
in the Statesman {Pol., 273), he says: " From its constructor (God) the world
receives all its beauty, but from its previous condition {i.e. from matter in
itself as it was before the framing of the universe) it has received whatever of
evil and unrighteousness exists within it. This the world has itself from its
primal condition, and also reproduces in living creatures." We shall see when


we come to study Plato's theory of the constitution of man how he works out
this idea.

(4) God and necessity. — When Timseus has ended his narrative of the
creation, he begins afresh to describe various matters in greater detail, and
this new phase of the discussion he opens with the (to us) startling statement
that the " creation of the world is mixed, and was produced by the union of
mind and necessity" (Tim., 48). Mind here is God,i but what is necessity
(ananke) ? Can it be that Plato, after all, accepts the popular fatalistic theory
that the world is dominated by a gloomy, all-powerful necessity, to which
even God Himself is subject? Assuredly not. Plato himself dispels the
doubt, for he adds immediately : " For mind, the ruler of necessity, persuaded
her to bring the greater part of created things to perfection." Necessity is
simply that which must be — what we should nowadays call natural law, the
action of material forces. Over necessity God stands supreme ; but although
the ruler He is represented as " persuading " her, for to a Greek and especially
to Plato, persuasion is always better than force. Nevertheless, as we have
seen (p. 553), the uncongenial and intractable forces of matter are compelled
to mingle with the Divine element. When persuasion fails, the ruler uses

The true explanation of the union of mind and necessity would seem, there-
fore, to be that mind is the great originating, shaping, and formative cause ;
necessity the secondary cause or causes, the material forces, which mind uses for
its purposes. 2

A very good illustration of the union of mind and necessity, and of the
confused notions entertained by some would-be philosophers concerning the part
played by each factor is given in the Phoedo.^

" When I was a young man," says Socrates the aged — he is in the prison
and is just about to receive the poison-cup — " I was wondrously eager after that
kind of wisdom which they call natural science. For it seemed to me truly
grand to know the cause of things — how a thing arises, and how it perishes, and
how it subsists ; and ofttimes I rang the changes high and low in my own
mind, speculating on such questions as these : whether it is, when heat and
cold have come to corruption, that then, as some say, living creatures arise — or

^ We need not be surprised to find PJato often speaking of God, impersonally as it were, as
mind. It is a favourite expression with him, and may have been adopted, partly as a protest
against the popular anthropomorphic notions. He makes use of the terms God (Theos), the
Creator (Demiurgus), mind (supreme reason), the gods (Zeus), just as each best suits his
immediate purpose.

^ "All that becomes, or comes into existence," says Steinhardt {Introd.,p. 84), "must have
a cause, and when Plato places this cause in being — that which has life in itself, he, first of any
thinker, gives the true explanation of necessity. The phrase, therefore, that everything is
made by mind and necessity is only another way of expressing the necessary connection be-
tween being and becoming — cause and effect."

2 This passage is unique in one respect, viz. that it is probably the only bit of autobiography
to be found in Plato. But whether it is the autobiography of Socrates or of Plato himself, is
doubtful. The mouth that utters the words is indeed the mouth of Socrates, but the spirit
that prompts the words seems to be the spirit of Plato. This self -revelation, as stated above,
occurs in the Phcedo, where the real Socrates has passed into the platonic Socrates.

The reasons for assigning the episode to Plato rather than to Socrates, are (i) that Socrates
is nowhere represented as eagerly pursuing natural science. The reverse is the case. Xenophon
{Mem. i. 6, 14) makes him allude to the treasures left in the books of wise men of old, which
he reads with his friends, but these are evidently the poets, for no other wise men does Socrates
quote ; (2) the episode leads directly up to the doctrine of ideas, which is distinctly Platonic ;
(3) it is connected with the discussion on immortality, in which the views expressed by Socrates
are greatly in advance of those to be found in the Apology. Why Plato should have thus
veiled himself under the guise of Socrates is a question which we have already discussed. [The
reference is to an unwritten portion of the work. — Ed.]


again, whether the element by which we think is the blood, or air, or fire, or
nothing of the kind, but the brain, which may produce in us the perceptions
of hearing and sight and smell, and from these may proceed memory and
opinion, and from memory and opinion again when they have attained to fixity,
knowledge. And then I went on to think about the destruction of these
things, and the changes that take place in heaven and earth, and at last I came
to the conclusion that I was utterly unfitted by Nature to undertake such

Socrates, in short, was fast getting into that condition which he ascribes
elsewhere {Crat., 411 B.) to most of the "wise men "of his generation — "they
are perpetually going round and round," he says, " and get dizzy, and so they
imagine that everything else is going round " — when, in fact, the cause of the
whirl is in themselves.

And while he is in this state of mind, he hears some one reading from a
work of Anaxagoras, and maintaining that the orderer and cause of all things
is, not matter in any shape whatsoever, but mind {nous) ! Here, at last, is an
answer to satisfy an intelligent inquirer. Socrates, as he says, was delighted
at having discovered such a cause. It seemed to him the right solution of the
question, for, " If this be so, then mind the orderer will dispose of all things,
and place each individual thing in such a way as shall be foi- the hesty The
hope thus awakened in him Socrates says he would not have given up for
much ; he seized the books with avidity and devoured them. But alas ! this
" wondrous hope," as he calls it, was doomed to disappointment. Anaxagoras,
as we know, did not follow out his grand idea to its legitimate consequences ; ^
and as the eager reader went on, he soon perceived that the man made no use of
mind, and did not seek the cause of the order of things in it, but in air and
ether and water, and many other extraordinary ways. His mode of explaining
things seemed to me, Socrates continues, " just like that of a person who should
say in general terms that the cause of all that Socrates does is mind, and should
then go on and attempt to explain the cause of each particular thing that I do,
by saying first, that I sit here now because my body is made of bones and
sinews — that the bones, indeed, are firm and divided from one another by
joints, but the sinews can be stretched and relaxed, and they surround the
bones with the flesh, and the skin keeps all together. And because the bones
are raised at their joints, and the sinews relax and contract, therefore I am
able to bend my limbs, and this is the reason why I am sitting here now,
bent together. And then again he would explain my talking to you by
other similar ' causes,' ascribing our conversation to voice and air and hearing,
and ten thousand things of the kind, and paying no heed to the true cause which
is — that because it seemed better to the Athenians to condemn me, therefore
it seemed better to me also to sit here, and more righteous to remain and suffer
the penalty which they have inflicted. Otherwise, I trow, these sinews and
bones would long ago have made off to Megara or Boeotia — by the dog ^ they
would, if they had been moved only by their notion of what was for the best,
and if I," the controlling mind, " had not considered the juster and nobler
part — instead of taking to flight and running away — to stay here and undergo
the penalty which the state has imposed. But to call such things the ' cause,'"
he adds, " is surely very strange. It might be said, indeed, that unless I pos-
sessed bones and sinews, and all that is comprised in my body, I could not carry
out my purposes — and that would be true. But — to maintain that I do what I

^ See ante, p. 334.

2 Socrates' favourite mode of asseveration, adopted probably to avoid using the name of any


do by means of these things, and that this is the way in which mind acts, and
not by my choice of the best — that would be a most careless and shiftless way of
speaking." And this is the way, he continues, in which the many argue.
They grope about as it were in the dark, trying to touch the cause, but be-
cause they do not distinguish between the cause and the condition which it
produces, they mistake and call the condition the cause. Just as the supposed
philosopher imagined the contracting and relaxing of Socrates' bones and
sinews to be the cause of his sitting still in the prison-house so do the thought-
less many imagine that the earth remains in her place because of her bones
and sinews, the natural laws of her existence, according to the theories of the
day, the surrounding vortex which steadies her, or the air which acts as a prop.
They cannot see that just as a nobly-reasoning mind kept Socrates firm to
what was for the best, so the earth and her natural laws, her " bones and
sinews " are held together by a noble-reasoning power, which has ordered all
for the best — even the good {to agatlton). They try to find out some physical
cause, some giant Atlas, which shall be sti-onger and more imperishable than
that which is immortal and invisible, the good.

The inherent defect of materialism could in no way be better emphasised
than in the pithy homely words of Socrates. As has been well observed, 1 " The
want in all materialism is this, that it ends with its explanation of phenomena
where the highest problems of philosophy begin." — "Why do I sit here?" —
" Because of your bones and sinews." Does the answer satisfy any one? We
trow not, and yet it is an answer still served up in other shapes to thinking
people even now.

In the Philebus, again, one of his most carefully reasoned works, Plato
gives a more strictly philosophical explanation. He divides all things into four
classes. These in the ascending scale are as follows : —

( 1 ) The unlimited ;

(2) The limiting ;

(3) That which is produced by the mingling of the limiting with the

unlimited ;

(4) The cause.

(i) Here the lowest in the scale, the "unlimited" or "the infinite" {to
apeiron), is, to use Professor Jowett's words,'^ " the unthinkable, the un-
knowable, of which nothing can be affirmed ; the mixture or chaos which
preceded distinct kinds in the creation of the world."

(2) The next above it, "the limiting" {to peras), which mingles with and
regulates the unlimited, "is best expressed to us by our word 'law,' that
which measures all things, and assigns to them their limit, and preserves
them in their natural state."

(3) The third, that which is produced by the limiting law working on the
unlimited, as, e.g. natural law producing the seasons, the law of music pro-
ducing harmony, and so on.

(4) The fourth and highest is the cause of all.

The cause we may define in Plato's own words {Phil., 26 E.) : —

{a) Everything that exists must have come into existence by means of a
cause ;

(6) The working-power that brings into existence and the cause are one
and the same ;

(c) From its nature the working-power or cause leads, and that which is
effected follows, being made by it ;

^ Lange, Oesch. d. Mat. i. 20, quoted by Zeller, Pre. Soc. PhU., ii. p. 265, Note i.
2 Jowett, Introd. to the Philebus, vol. iv. pp. 527-8.


{d) Therefore, the cause and that which serves it in bringing things into
existence are not the same, but different.

(e) Finally, the cause is that which fashions all, the artificer, the

That which the cause uses in bringing things into existence — call it what
you will, natural law or the principle of order — is hence the servant or slave
of the cause. 1

Then, what is this cause ? " Whether," says Plato {Phil., 28 D.), " shall
we say that all things, and what we call the whole (the universe), are under
the guidance of unreason and uncertainty and chance ; or shall we say with
our fathers that, on the contrary, all is ordered and governed by mind {nous)
and marvellous wisdom ? "

Unhesitatingly, both Plato and his hearers recognise the reign of mind.
*' Mind is our King," he says; " mind is king of heaven and earth" (28 C).
And in order that there may be no doubt as to ivliat mind Plato means — that
all may know, that he has not in view the impersonal shadowy abstraction of
Anaxagoras — he identifies this kingly mind with a personal being — he does
not hesitate to use that name with which his hearers are most familiar in
connection with the Supreme God, and he says : —

" In Zeus there is the royal soul and the royal mind, for in him is the

POWER OF THE CAUSE " ^ {Phil., 30 D.).

Mark the grandeur of the expression : " The power of the cause." There
be causes many and laws many, but in God is the power of them all — the
creating, originating, energising power. " Mind," he declares again, " is, as
was said of old, the father of the cause. . . . Mind rules over all."

(5) Space. — In this new discussion Timaeus next introduces a third factor
into the work of creation, which he calls " space " and describes as the " nurse
and receptacle " of all created things. Here, again, we are disquieted by the
statement that "space" is " eternal," but as we read on we perceive that the
word is used in a sense entirely different from that in which it is applied to
God. Plato's three clauses are : —

(i) True being, that which has life in itself, the eternal, apprehended only
by thought and reason.

(2) Space, the nurse of created things, necessarily "eternal" as compared
to them, but in itself hardly real, and apprehended only by a sort of " spurious
reason, as it were in a dream."

(3) Generation, or things created, apprehended only by the senses.

Just as Plato previously introduced the created gods to avoid a violent
transition and form an intermediate intelligence between the Divine mind and
the mind of man, so here he would seem to bring in space as an intermediate
resting-place between God and things created. Space is " eternal " in the
same sense that sun and moon are " gods," i.e. relatively, not absolutely.

Plato and his Predecessors. — it will have been seen how completely
Plato in the Timxus rises above all the narrow one-sided views of his prede-
cessors. He borrows from them, it is true, but what he borrows he uses only
as stepping-stones to higher truth. His elements are taken from Empedocles ;
his description of them reminds us of the atoms of Leucippus and Democritus ;
his theory of generation and of the universal creature nourishing itself by its
own decay is only another form of the Heracleitean doctrine of life passing
into death, death into life again ; his theories of the importance and influence
of numbers belong to the Pythagoreans ; his idea of the creative mind was
anticipated by Anaxagoras. Nevertheless, the fact remains th^t until all these
^ To douleuon. '^ Tes aitias dunamis.


isolated views were combined by Plato, they existed as mere fragments of
thought — most of them hurtful and destructive by reason of their one-
sidedness, whilst even the 7ious of Anaxagoras was not, as we have seen, so
consistently developed as to be helpful. In Plato's hands all become fruitful.
Under the rule of mind, the mind of a personal God, each theory — elements,
atoms, numbers, generation, and decay — takes its own place, that in which it
can thrive and contribute to the whole its quota, whatever element of truth it
bears within it. Elements and atoms cannot be dispensed with — they become
the material on which mind works ; the alternation of decay and generation is
an absolute fact — it shows itself as the way in which mind works out its plans
in the visible world ; number becomes proportion, rhythm that on which the
world-order depends, the means by which mind disciplines its mortal children.
Over against the whole visible world of sense thus harmoniously organised is
set the abiding invisible world of ideas, of which the material world is but a
transient copy ; whilst the gulf between the world of reality and its shadow,
the world of sense, is bridged over by the fact that both have one and the
same Ruler — not the shadowy mind of Anaxagoras, but the royal mind, the
life-giver, the mind that has, to use Plato's unsurpassable expression, the
power of the cause, who is Himself the energising source of all other causes,
physical and spiritual. The construction of this noble edifice, a true temple
of God, is Plato's great contribution to philosophy.


If any one fact has been prominently brought before us in the foregoing
passages, it is this — the earnestness of Plato's belief in the existence of God
and of an unseen world, of which the visible world is but a copy and a shadow.
So intense is this belief to him that he cannot conceive of any thinking man
holding any other. Even to those who have not hitherto reflected seriously
on the question, age, and the experience of life, he maintains, will bring con-
viction. In the Laws (x. 887 0. et seq.), where he gathers up the record of his
own life, he says emphatically, that he has never yet known a man who con-
tinued in unbelief till old age. And, like all who are really in earnest, Plato
felt intensely, even passionately, on the matter. How, he asks, can we help
being angry with people who do not believe ? And yet, he adds (being such
an one as Plato the aged), anger is not the remedy — they must be reasoned
with gently (Latos, x. 890 D.). We must labour to persuade men^ — we
who have heard the war-cry, must come to the rescue of the greatest of all

The war-cry, indeed, Plato had heard, and in the Sophist he throws himself
into the thick of the fight. The contest that is going on between the Materia-
lists — the people who (as he says in another place, Thecet., 155 E.) " believe that
nothing exists except what they can seize in their hands " — and the Idealists —
those who believe in the reality of unseen things — he compares to the old
mythological battle between the giants, the sons of earth, and the Olympian
gods, the sons of Heaven. " On the one side," says Socrates-Plato (Soph., 246),
" the materialists drag down everything from heaven and the unseen to earth,
and literally grasp in their hands rocks and oaks. They lay hold on these and
the like, and maintain stoutly that only the things which can be touched and

^ It is fair to add that if persuasion fails, punishment is to be resorted to. This, however,
was not the opinion of Plato in his prime. He would have scouted the notion of belief enforced
by the civil power.

2 N


handled exist. They define body and being to be the same, and if any one says
that something is (exists) without a body, they treat him with scorn, and will
hear of nothing but body.'"

"These are terrible fellows," says Thesetetes, *' T myself have met them

" That is the reason," Socrates rejoins, " why their opponents defend them-
selves cautiously from above, out of the unseen world, and contend with might
and main that true being consists of certain intelligent and incorporeal ideas.
The bodies of the materialists, and what they put forward as truth, the idealists
break to pieces with their arguments, and call these bodies not true existence,
but — what they are in reality — generation and motion," things that are being
swept away by the river of Heracleitus, vanishing and perishing. " Between
the two camps," adds Socrates, ''an endless battle is always going on," and will
go on to the end of time.

With the idealists of his own day, however, Plato cannot be in entire accord.
Most certainly he sympathises with them in their war with materialism, but he
would not be true to his own conception of truth if he did not point out where
they also are in error. ^

His argument against the one-sided views for which both parties are fight-
ing is, as Steinhardt justly remarks, one of the finest to be found in Plato, and
one that is helpful to ourselves. Here we can but briefly sketch the outline.

Online LibraryE. E G.The makers of Hellas: a critical inquiry into the philosophy and religion of ancient Greece → online text (page 89 of 112)