John P. Lacroix Adolf Wuttke.

Christian ethics, Volume 1 online

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munion with God, — but it is a love to the manifestation, to the
beautiful. Not the divine per se is loved, but the concrete, and
even essentially sensuous manifestation. It is not a love of soul
to soul, but one that clings to the sensuous form. Hence it has
in Plato's state no significancy for the family. It is true, eros
exalts itself from the sensuous to the spiritual, to soul-beauty ;1

* Tim., p. 46 sqq., 54; PoUt., 269 ; B*p. } 611 sqq. ; Fhaedrut, 346 sqq.
+ Hep., 436 sqq., 589 ; Gorg., 505. % Theaet., p. 176.

§ Phaedo, p. 63 sqq. \ Ibid., p. 62. 1" Symp. , 209 sqq.



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80 CHRISTIAN ETHICS. [§ 14.

the sensuous element, however, remains the basis, and does not
receive its worth simply from the spiritual. The beautiful is
per se, and in all of its manifestations, a revelation of the divine,
and the divine is accessible to us only under the form of the
beautiful ; where beauty is, there is also the divine. This is the
characteristically Greek stand-point ; beauty and grace excuse
all sin ; even the frivolous is recognized as good, provided It is
only beautiful. The recognition of love under every form, even
under that of unnatural vice, is so characteristic of the Greek,
that even Plato attempts a philosophical justification thereof
which is far from complimentary to Greek ethics.* In love, here,
predominates by no means self-denial, as is the case with Chris-
tian love, but simply pleasure ; I love another not for his sake r
but for my own sake. This love knows nothing of a self-sacri-
ficing suffering, but only a self-enjoying, at farthest only a suf- ,
fering of longing and jealousy. It is true, mere sensuous love as
directed to merely fleshly enjoyment, is blamed ;t but where a
higher spiritual love, not merely to the body but also to the
soul, exists, and in the beautiful the divine element is recog-
nized, there sensuous love, even when it assumes the form of a
misuse of sex, finds its justification, and becomes a virtue, and
even a religious enthusiasm.! " Beautifully enacted, it is beau-
tiful ; otherwise, however, shameful"! The very circumstance
that Plato speaks so repeatedly and so extensively and with
visible approval of this absolutely vicious love [Rom. i, 27],
while at the same time he scarcely touches upon the morally
close-related mere sexual love, and, in his long discourses on
ero8 y honors wedlock love with not a single word, and further
that he attempts to repress | the feeling that instinctively im-
presses itself upon him, that there is something shameful there-
in, by the help of strangely ingenious turns of thought and
disguises and enthusiastically poetical expressions, which can-
not but make upon the modern reader a truly distressful
impression,— all this is a notable and significant index of the
moral bewilderment of the Greek spirit.
Plato's development of the idea of the moral is as follows :

* Symp. y p. 181 iqq,, 216 tqq. ; Phaedrut, p. 250 eqq.

t Oorg.y p. 4=94; Phaedrus, p, 250; Symp., p. 180 sqq,

% Phaedrus, p. 251 sqq. § Symp., p. 188»

j Phaedms, p. 287 sqq. ; corap. 230, 242 ; Symp., p. 188,



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§ 14.] THE PLATONIC VIRTUES. 81

Virtue, as essentially constituting a unity, appears primarily as
wisdom, aotyia, consisting in a knowledge of the truth and of the
good ; upon wisdom as the chief virtue, depend all the othei
virtues. Now, in that wisdom brings to the consciousness what
really is, and what is not, to be feared in our moral efforts and
in our struggle against hostile powers, it develops our natural
zeal in acting into the virtue of manliness or courage, avdpela.
And in that it teaches us what is the inner harmony of the soul,
and what is the proper subordination of sensuous and irrational
desires to reason, it develops the virtue of temperateness or pru-
dence, outypoovvri, which preserves the right inner order of the
soul through the domination of reason over all lower life-forces
and pleasure-desires ; these lower desires are not crushed out,
but simply kept within proper limits, and placed in the service
of reason. In that wisdom guides to outward activity the har-
mony of the inner soul-life in its relation to other men, it
develops the virtue of justness, which preserves harmony with
and among men, in that it respects the rights of each individ-
ual ; it presupposes the other three virtues, and indeed gives
them their proper force and significancy.* To justness belongs
also piety or holiness, 6oi6ttic, which preserves man in his proper
relation to the gods ; — Plato uses here, constantly, the plural.f
A more full development of the virtues Plato has not given ;
and the necessity of precisely the four ones actually given is
based more on the nature of the State than on that of the moral
person. A special treatise on duties is not given ; and, in con-
sideration of the notion that an inwardly harmonious and hence
virtuous soul finds, of itself, the proper course in each particular
conjuncture,^ such a treatise appears indeed as superfluous.
. That morality is not conceived of as of a merely individual
character, but, on the contrary, as realizing itself essentially
in moral communion, is a great advance of the moral con-
sciousness; but in that this thought is carried out in the
most rigid one-sidedness, and, as it were, with a theoretical
passionateness, and in that it lacks the proper historical and re-
ligious bases, Plato has arrived, in his enthusiastically and per-
sistently pursued ideal of a State, at a positive caricature, which
has brought upon the great philosopher, in the eyes of those

* Prvtag., pp. 332, 349 ; Bep., p. 428 sgq., 442 sqq., 691.

t Euthyphron, p. 6 sqq. ; Gorg., pp. 507, 522. % FoUt., pp. 294, 297.



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82 CHRISTIAN ETHICS. [§ 14.

who look upon the real world with practical sobriety, the ap-
pearance of ridiculousness, or at least the reproach of an utterly
unpractical theorizing ;* and it has often been undertaken to
rescue the reputation of the great man by simply holding his
state-theory as a mere ideal not in the least designed for realiza-
tion. But both this reproach, and also this attempt at vindi-
cating his honor, do injustice to the philosopher. Unquestion-
ably his work on the State is the most mature and the most
fully perfected of his writings, — one upon which he wrought
with the highest and most enthusiastic preference. (His work
on the Laws has greater reference to the real world, which as
yet was very different from his ideal State, and expresses rather
a preliminary expedient, until the true state finds a bold crea-
tor.) That his ideal of a state was not intended by him for
realization, has no good evidence in its favor, and is on the
whole incredible; on the contrary, it cannot be doubted but
that Plato made repeated attempts, and with well-grounded
hopes, at realizing his state-theory by the help of Dionysius the
Younger in Syracuse ;t and his own declarations as to the prac-
ticability of his state-theory confirm this4 From our own social
views these theories differ very widely, it is true ; but to a Greek,
and especially to the state-institutions of the Doric tribes, which
were regarded by Plato with great admiration, they were by no
means foreign, and they have already in the laws of Sparta an
actual prototype in very essential points. Precisely in its con-
trasts to the Christian view of moral communion, to the idea of
the Christian Church and of the Christian state, the Platonic
state is very instructive.

Not individual man, but the state, is the moral person proper,
by which all the morality of the individuals is conditioned, pro-
duced, and sustained. Not the moral individual persons make
the state, but the state makes the moral persons. Without the
state, and outside of it, there is no morality proper, but only
unculture. Hence the task of the state is to make its citizens
into morally good persons, — to undertake the cure of souls.§
The state, — which in its inner constitution as a harmonious

* Made as early as by Aristophanes, and even by Aristotle : Brtit. ii,
1-5, 12.
fSee K. F. Hermann: Gssoh. u. Syst. d.plat. Phil., 1889, i, 67.
X Bep. % p. 471 $qq. ; 499, 602, 640 ; Legg., 709. % Gvrg** P- 464.



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§ 14.] STATE-ABSOLUTISM. 83

moral organism, answers to the three phases of the soul-life of
man, and represents (1) reason or thought and knowledge, and
(2) courage or zeal, 0iy*6f, and (3) sensuousness, in the three
classes of society, namely, (1) the savans, who therefore rule,
(2) the warriors, and (3) the producers, that is, the instructing,
the protecting, and the providing classes,* — realizes inner har-
mony, and hence at the same time justness and happiness, in
that it does not permit each individual to act and work at his
personal discretion, and to select his own life-calling, but on the
contrary in that it assigns to each his special and appropriate
position in the whole, — a position which the individual must
unquestioningly accept and fulfill, without intermeddling in any
manner in any other form of activity; A rigorous separation
of ranks and of professions by the state itself, is the uncondi-
tional presupposition of a healthy state-life. The rulers have
the task of assigning the individuals to the particular classes,
according to their capabilities.! The productive class, which
corresponds to sensuous desire, has as its special virtue, temper-
ateness or modesty, which it realizes by keeping itself within
its proper bounds. -CJourage and wisdom belong to the two
higher classes ; these two are the gold and silver, while the pro-
ductive class is but ignoble brass. The producer is not to con-
cern himself with state matters, but simply to attend to handi-
craft and agriculture.^ Slavery is presupposed as a mere matter
of course ; however, where practicable, only non-Greeks are to
be sold as slaves.§

The rulers have wisdom as their essential virtue ; there can
never be in the state but a few of them, and it is best when
there is but one, and this one a philosopher. The good of the
whole requires the exclusive dominion of the best, — an absolute
aristocracy or a monarchy.! And as wisdom can find the right
course in each particular case, whereas laws must always be
merely general, and often do not apply to particular conjunc-
tures, hence the power of those who rule should not be cramped
by many laws, but must have scope for free movement, and
must decide in each particular case with entire discretion ; and
the wise ruler will often, without law and against the will of the

* Rep., p. 369 eqq., 412 eqq., 435. + Ibid., pp. 412-415.

%Polit., p. 289 sqq. ; Rep,, pp. 374, 397. § Rep., p. 469.

| B>M., p. 292 sgq., 297 ; Rep., pp. 473, 540.

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84 CHRISTIAN ETHICS. [§ 14.

citizens, and hence with force, realize the weal of the state, and
force the citizens to let themselves be made happy.*

The truly free personality is conceded accordingly only to the
sage, who is at the same time the ruler ; all the other citizens
of the state are,^ their entire life, absolutely subject to the
state, the spiritual essence of which finds its expression not so
much in abstract law as in the perfected personality of the rul-
ing sage. Though the members of the third class are left more
free, still this is done only out of contempt ; " even if shoe-
cobblers are bad, still they bring little danger to the state." t
The true citizen, the one possessing the virtue of wisdom and
manliness, is under the absolute guidance of the state ; the ab-
solutism of the state is without limitation. The two higher
classes, as the proper and complete representatives of the spirit-
ual essence of the state, the sentinels of the same, are reared and
educated, and determined in their collective life by the state.
In their education first importance is given to music and gym-
nastics, in order that they may learn to love and practice har-
mony; the education of the future rulers — who can become
rulers only at the age of fifty years, after having passed the test
of severe trials — requires, additionally, special acquaintance with
mathematics and philosophy.^ To any other religious culture
than that given by philosophy, Plato, who clearly saw the
worthlessness of the popular religion, could not refer.§

The state as including in itself and guiding all morality, and
as realizing justness, has all and every right; the individual
citizen of the state has rights only in so far as the state concedes
them to him ; even to his life he has no right, so soon as he is
no longer capable of benefiting the state ; the physicians are
charged with the duty of letting the incurably sick perish with-
out help.l The state alone is entitled to property; private
property is not to be allowed. The producing class labors not
for itself, but solely for the state. IT With this principle Plato
supposes himself to have quenched at once all the sources of
contention and disquiet. Even the art of poesy stands under
the rigid censorship of the state ; and dramatic poetry is not to
be tolerated at all.** The appropriate meters to be used in

• PolU. y pp. 293-296 ; Sep., pp. 473, 640. f Ibid., p. 421.

X Ibid., p. 402 sqq., 424, 519 tqq., 585. % Ibid., p. 886 sqq.

| Ibid., p. 405*fg., 409. If 2ta*.,pp.4l6,464. **iW<*.,p. 391^., 568.



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§ 14] PLATONIC SEX-RELATIONS. 85

poetry are carefully prescribed, and of musical instruments only
the cithara and the lyre are allowed.*

The family is not the foundation, but only a branch of the
state, and merges itself into it. Personality has here no right
of its own. No one consort belongs to the other, but both be-
long exclusively to the state. Wedlock proper is consequently
inadmissible, on the contrary the citizen is obligated to the be-
getting of children in the interest of the state ; in this connec-
tion personal love to the sex has no validity, but only civic
duty. The citizen is not permitted to choose for himself the
wife (who is conceded to him only temporarily), but the state
gives her to him, — ostensibly by lot, but in reality the rulers are
to " make use of falsehood and deception," and cunningly to
guide the lot according to their own judgment, so as always to
bring together the most suitable pairs. Men are under obliga-
tion to beget from their thirtieth to their fifty-fifth year ; women
to bear from their twentieth to their fortieth year. This of it-
self implies that there is to be no permanent marriage relation ;
on the contrary a change of wives is expressly required ; no one
is permitted to regard any woman as his own exclusive posses-
sion^ It is laid down as a principle for the free and active
citizens proper, u that all the women should be in common to
all the men, and that no woman should live solely with one
man, and that also the children are to be in common, so that no
father shall know the child begotten by him, and no child its
own father." J Hence the children are, immediately after their
birth, to be taken away from their mothers, and to be reared in
common on the part of the state, and the greatest possible care
is to be taken that the mother shall never again recognize her
child. The children are nursed by the women in common and
interchangeably ; feeble and physically imperfect children aro
to be exposed.§ After the lapse of the determined period of
life, the procreation with the persons specifically assigned by
the state, and as having taken place at the order of the state, is
to cease, and, from this time on, both the men and the women
may form temporary connections with each other on the princi-
ple of elective affinity, with the one proviso that births must be
prevented, or, where this cannot be done, the child must be left

* Bep. y pp. 898, 899. f Ibid., 449 sqq,

% 3id., 467. § Ibid., 457 *qq.



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86 CHRISTIAN ETHICS. [§ 14.

to perish without food.* — The woman is not a family-mother,
but only a state-citizen, and she has political duties, in real and
even magisterial state-offices, to fulfill. The women must per-
form the same work as the men, — must even take part, entirely
nude, in the gymnastic exercises, — must march out in war,
though in battle they are to occupy only the rear-ranks ; for in-
deed between men and women there is no other difference than
simply that the former beget, and the latter bear, and that the
former are stronger than the latter.t

This family-undermining absolutism of the state has to do,
however, only with the first two classes, while the producing
class are less affected by this care of the state for them, and
may act with greater freedom. The great task toward which
all moral community-life is directed, namely, to realize the idea
of the body politic, by means of the moral freedom of the indi-
vidual, Plato was unable to accomplish otherwise than by an
unconditional and unquestioning non-permission of the free
personal self-determination of the individual. Objective moral-
ity entirely swallows up the subjective. This is, however, not
peculiar to the view of Plato, but is the Greek tendency in gen-
eral. Plato manifests rather a decided progress toward the
development of the free moral personality. While in the legis-
lation of Sparta, somewhat as in that of the Chinese, the imper-
sonal law held ruthless domination, and disallowed of the
personal self-determination of the individual in very essential
things, and while in the democracy of Athens the irrational
caprice of the masses was the predominant power over the in-
dividual, in the Platonic state the personal spirit of the wisely
taught and tested regent attains to domination. From the
stand-point of heathen antiquity, which knows of no right of
the person over against the state, but concedes the absolute right
of the state over the individual, this is a progress ; and that
which appears therein as unnatural and as a harsh one-sidedness
indicates not so much the untruthfulness of the consequential
progress, as rather the untruthfulness of the fundamental view
common to all the Greeks.

That the spirit of wisdom and power can be and is to be
poured out upon all flesh [Joel iii, 1], and that there is no dif-
ference before God, but that all are equally called to be children
• J2^?., 461. t Ibid., 451 <?{., 471, 540.



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§15.] PLATONIC CASTE. 87

of the truth and of wisdom, this thought is unknown to entire
heathendom, and therefore also to the greatest of heathen phi-
losophers. Of a morality absolutely valid for all men and with-
out exception, Plato knows nothing ; without slavery, society
does not appear to the Greek as possible ; but the slave is not
called to, nor capable of, free self-determination, and hence also
not of true morality; and even of the free, only a relatively
small number are accessible to true wisdom and virtue. Capa-
bility and incapability for the good are transmitted through
natural generation from parents to children.* The reason for
this dividing of humanity into a minority who represent reason,
and into an irrational, passive multitude who require absolute
guidance, lies not exclusively in the general Greek national con-
sciousness, but also in the philosophical world-theory of Plato
in general. The primitive dualism of existence manifests itself
also in humanity. Even as the world is not an absolutely pure
and perfect expression of the spirit, and as the rational spirit is
not an absolute power, but has simply to shape a formless proto-
material not created by it, and to impress itself upon it, without
however being able entirely to master and spiritually transfigure
it, — so also in humanity the men of the rational spirit, namely,
the philosophers, stand over against the spiritually dependent
and relatively unspiritual multitude, whose destination it is to
be absolutely guided and shaped by the former.

SECTION XV.
The essential advance of the ethical view of Plato
beyond earlier theories consists in this, that he eman-
cipated the idea of the good from all dependence on
the individual pleasure-feeling, that he conceived it as
unconditionally valid and lying in God himself, and
that consequently he regarded morality as God-like-
ness, as an image of God in man, and hence as a phase
of the spiritual life constituting an essential part of
rationality itself, and that in consequence thereof he
conceived morality as a per se perfectly unitary life,
and reduced the plurality of moral forms of action to

*Bep., 459 aqg., 546.



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88 CHRISTIAN ETHICS. [§ 15.

a single principle, namely wisdom. — But the charac-
teristically heathen dualism, which (though reduced
by him to its minimum) is yet not entirely overcome,
rendered it impossible for him to rise to the full free-
dom of the personal spirit in God and in man, and
hence to the full knowledge of the moral idea. The
real personality is recognized neither in its rights and
power, nor in its guilt. There remains in all exist-
ence, even in the most highly developed moral life, a
never entirely overcomable residuum of an unfree, un-
spiritual, and morally spirit-trammeling matter, over
which God himself is not absolutely master. But the
limitation of the moral lies not in the guilt of the per-
sonal spirit, but in the unspiritual (and not by it
entirely controllable) nature-ground of things. The
possibility, and therefore also the requirements, of the
moral are different for the different classes of -men,
but even the most free is not entirely free. The moral
freedom of the freest, namely, the philosophers, is tram-
meled by the fetters of a corporeality not in harmony
with the moral task, that of the rest of men by lack
of knowledge and of moral capacity, and that of the
free Greek citizens, additionally, by the power of the
rulers as extending beyond the expressed laws, and
that of the unfree Greek citizens, still additionally, by
the weight of the entire mass that presses upon them
from above. From this progressively and descend-
ingly increasing unfreedom there is no redemption
within the sphere of historical reality, but only yon-
side of history, through death. — Morality bears, neither
in its progressive realization nor in its guilty perver-
sion, the character of historicalness, — is in no respect
a power essentially modificatory of universal history,
and consciously aiming at such modification as its



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§ 15.] PLATONISM AND CHRISTIANITY. 89

end ; and even the ideal state is and remains simply
the very limited activity-sphere of a special moral
virtuosity of the governing individual spirit, without
a higher world-historical purpose in relation to the
totality of humanity. — Also the moral consciousness
itself rises not entirely above the character of the
merely individual ; the connection of the same with
the God-consciousness is only of a loose character, —
is not really based in the same.

The gain accruing to moral knowledge through the labors of
Plato is not to be lightly estimated. Light and order are given
to the previously dark and confused mass. There is henceforth
no more question of merely isolated and not deeper-grounded
moral rules, but morality has acquired a firmer basis, — has come
here for the first to serious self-examination. In fact, Plato oc-
cupies himself so predominantly with the foundation-laying
thoughts that he does not reach the task of carrying out a
special doctrine of virtue or duty. In these ground-thought*
there are, in so far as is possible from a heathen stand-point,
some approximations to a Christianly-moral consciousness ; and
they would have been more marked still, had the philosopher
only succeeded in severing the chain which still held the already
floating ship fast anchored to the soil of naturalism, namely, by
overcoming the thought of an unspiritual proto-material as
offering a hinderance to the personal God, — in a word, had he
succeeded in changing the pn bv which lies at the basis of the
real world, into an oIk bv. But neither Plato nor the heathen
spirit in general was able to do this. Even Aristotle was able
only silently to vail the, also to him, troublesome thought of
dualism, but not scientifically to master it. But wherever the
rational spirit is not absolutely the ground and life of every
thing, there also the full idea of morality is not possible ; for
only the thought of the complete mastery of the spirit over
every thing unspiritual, and the confidence of untrammeled lib-



Online LibraryJohn P. Lacroix Adolf WuttkeChristian ethics, Volume 1 → online text (page 9 of 38)