« PreviousContinue »
the substance of the Socratic dialogues. These, and these only are dwelt upon by Socrates, speaking in Plato's Apology' of his higher calling and his services to his country; it is his business to exhort others to virtue; and if he considers the attraction of his conversation to consist also in its critical attempts,2 the reference is to a process of which many examples are to be found in Xenophon, that of convincing people of ignorance in the affairs of their calling.
The effect produced by the discourses of Socrates need not surprise us, were they only of the kind reported by Xenophon. The investigations of Socrates as he gives them, may often appear trivial and tedious; and looking at the result with reference to the particular case, they may really be so. That the forger of armour must suit the armour to him who has to wear it: 3 that the care of the body is attended with many advantages: that friends must be secured by kind acts and attention; these and such-like maxims, which are often lengthily discussed by Socrates, neither contain for us, nor can they have contained for his cotemporaries, anything new. The important element in these inquiries, however, does not consist in their substance, but in their method,
129, B.; 38, A.; 41, E.
2 Apol. 23, C.: Toòs de ToÚτοις οἱ νέοι μοι ἐπακολουθοῦντες οἷς μάλιστα σχολή ἐστιν οἱ τῶν πλουσιωτάτων αὐτόματοι χαίρουσιν ἀκούοντες ἐξεταζομένων τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ αὐτοὶ πολλάκις ἐμὲ αιμοῦνται εἶτα ἐπιχειροῦσιν ἄλλους
¿ETάČE. Conf. 33, B. An ex-
3 Mem. iii. 10, 9.
ance of the Socratic teaching for the age in which
in the fact that what was formerly unexplored hypothesis and unconscious guesswork, was now arrived at by a process of thinking. In making a too minute or pedantic application of this method, Socrates would not give the same offence to his cotemporaries as to us, who have not as they to learn for the first time the art of conscious thinking and emancipation from the authority of blind custom. Nay, did not the enquiries of the Sophists for the most part contain very much less, which notwithstanding their empty cavils, imparted an almost electrical shock to their age, simply and solely because even in its partial application, a power, new to the Greek mind, and a new method of reflection had dawned upon it? Had therefore Socrates only dealt with those unimportant topics, upon which so many of his dialogues exclusively turn, his immediate influence, at least on his cotemporaries, would still be intelligible.
These unimportant topics, however, hold a subordinate position in Xenophon's dialogues. Even in these dialogues the main thing seems to be real investigations into the necessity of knowledge, into the nature of morality, into the conceptions of the various virtues, into moral and intellectual selfanalysis; practical directions for the formation of conceptions; critical discussions obliging the speakers to consider what their notions implied, and at what their actions aimed. Can we wonder that such inves
1 Comp. Hegel, Gesch. d. Phil. ii. 59.
tigations should have produced a deep impression on the cotemporaries of Socrates, and an entire change in the Greek mode of thought, as the historians unanimously tell us? or, that a keener vision should have anticipated behind those apparently commonplace and unimportant expressions of Socrates, which his biographers unanimously record, a newly discovered world? For Plato and Aristotle it was reserved to conquer this new world, but Socrates was the first to discover it, and to point the way thereto. Plainly as we may see the shortcomings of his achievements, and the limits which his individual nature imposed on him, still enough remains to stamp him as the originator of the philosophy of conceptions, as the reformer of method, and as the first founder of a scientific doctrine of morals.
1 Conf. p. 80, 1 and 2; 129; 122, 2.
3 Hist. of Greece, viii. 479, 606.
The relation, too, of the Socratic philosophy to C. His Sophistry will only become clear by considering the one-sided and unsatisfactory element in its method Sophists. as well as its greatness and importance. This relation as is well known has, during the last thirty years, been examined in various directions. There being a general agreement previously in accepting Plato's view, and looking on Socrates as the opponent of the Sophists, Hegel first obtained currency for the contrary opinion, that Socrates shared with the Sophists the same ground in attaching importance to the person and to introspection. In a somewhat different sense, Grote 3 has still more recently
2 See p. 116.
contradicted the traditional notion of the antithesis between the Socratic philosophy and Sophistry. If Sophist means what the word from its history alone can mean, a public teacher educating youth for practical life, Socrates is himself the true type of a Sophist. If on the other hand it denotes the character of certain individuals and their teaching, it is an abuse to appropriate the term Sophistry to this purpose, or to group together under one class all the different individuals who came forward as Sophists. The Sophists were not a sect or a school, but a profession, men of the most varied views, for the most part highly deserving and meritorious people, at whose views we have not the least reason to take offence. If then, Hegel and his followers attacked the common notion of the relation of Socrates to the Sophists, because Socrates, in one respect, agreed with the Sophists, Grote attacks it for the very opposite reason, because the most distinguished of the so-called Sophists are at one with Socrates.
Our previous enquiries will have shown, that both views have their justification, but that neither is altogether right. It is indeed a false view of history to contrast Socrates with the Sophists, in the same sense that true and false philosophy are contrasted, or good and evil: and in this respect it deserves notice that in Xenophon, the contrast between Socrates and the Sophists is not so great as in Plato, nor yet in Plato nearly so great as it is drawn
1 Compare Xen. Mem. iv. 4, besides p. 69, 1 and Zeller's
Phil. d. Griech. Part I., p. 873, 1, 2.
by several modern writers. Still the results of our previous enquiries 2 will not allow of our bringing Socrates, as Grote does in his valuable work, into so close a connection with men who are grouped together under the name of Sophists, and who really in their whole tone and method bear so much resemblance to him. The scepticism of a Protagoras and Gorgias cannot for a moment be placed on the same level with the Socratic philosophy of conceptions, nor the Sophistic art of controversy with the Socratic sifting of men; the maxim that man is the measure of all things, cannot be compared with the Socratic demand for action based on personal conviction,3
1 Proofs in Protagoras and Gorgias, Thæetet. 151, D.; 162, D.; 164, D.; 165, E.; Rep. i. 354, A.; vi. 498, C.
2 Zeller, Part I. 882, 938. 3 As is done by Grote, Plato I. 305. Respecting Socrates' explanation in Plato's Crito 49, D., that he was convinced that under no circumstances is wrong-doing allowed, it is there observed; here we have the Protagorean dogma Homo Mensura which Socrates will be found combating in the Thæetetus. proclaimed by Socrates himself. How unlike the two are will however be seen at once by a moment's reflection on Protagoras' saying, Conf. Part I. 899 . p. 259, 535; iii. 479. Grote even asserts that not the Sophists but Socrates was the chief quibbler in Greece; he was the first to destroy the beliefs of ordinary minds by his negative criti
cism, whereas Protagoras, Pro-