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with earlier philosophers an immediate and instinctive activity, with Socrates it became conscious and methodical. By him the idea of knowledge as knowledge was first brought out, and having been brought out, took precedence of every other idea.1
This statement, again, requires further explanation. If the love of knowledge was shared also by previous philosophers, why, it may be asked, did it not before develope into a conscious and critical pursuit? The reason which may be assigned is this: The knowledge which earlier philosophers pursued, was, in itself, different from the knowledge which Socrates required. They were not compelled by their idea of knowledge as Socrates was to direct their attention to the intellectual processes and conditions, by which it was truly to be acquired. Such a necessity was, however, imposed on Socrates by the principle which the most trustworthy accounts unanimously report as the soul of all his teaching-that all true knowledge must proceed from correct conceptions, and that nothing can be known, unless it can be referred to its general conception, and judged thereby.2 In this principle,
Schleiermacher, 1. c. 299;
2 Xenoph. Mem. iv. 6, 1 Σωκράτης γὰρ τοὺς μὲν εἰδότας, τί ἕκαστον εἴη τῶν ὄντων, ἐνόμιζε καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἂν ἐξηγεῖσθαι δύνασθαι· τοὺς δὲ μὴ εἰδότας οὐδὲν ἔφη θαυμαστὸν εἶναι αὐτούς τε σφάλλεσθαι καὶ ἄλλους σφάλλειν· ὧν ἕνεκα σκοπῶν σὺν τοῖς συνοῦσι τί ἕκαστον εἴη τῶν ὄντων, οὐδεπώποτ' ἔληγε. . . § 13 : ἐπὶ τὴν ὑπόθεσιν ἐπάνηγε πάντα τὸν λόγον,
i.e., as is explained by the context, he referred all doubtful points to universal conceptions, in order to settle them by means of these; iv. 5, 12: ἔφη δὲ καὶ τὸ διαλέγεσθαι ὀνομασθῆναι ἐκ τοῦ συνιόντας κοινῇ βουλεύεσθαι, διαλέγοντας κατὰ γένη τὰ πράγματα. δεῖν οὖν πειρᾶσθαι ὅτι μάλιστα πρὸς τοῦτο ἑαυτὸν ἕτοιμον παρασκευάζειν. Comp. i. 1, 16, and the many instances in the Memorabilia.
simple as it may appear, an entire change was demanded in the intellectual procedure.' The ordinary way is to take things as being what they appear to the senses to be; or if contradictory experiences forbid doing so, to cling to those appearances which make the strongest impression on the observer, declaring these to be the essence, and thence proceeding to further conclusions. Hitherto this was exactly what philosophers had done. Even those who attacked the senses as untrustworthy had invariably started from one-sided observations, without being conscious of the necessity of grounding every judgment on an
Aristotle (Met. xiii. 4, 1078, b,
say, he asks for the conception
Thuns, may owe this dis-
1 Conf. what has been said above, p. 39, and in Gesch. d. Phil. i. 860.
exhaustive enquiry into its subject. By means of sophistry this dogmatism had been overthrown. It was felt that all impressions derived from the senses were relative and personal, that they do not represent things as they are, but as they appear; and, that, consequently, whatever we may assert, the opposite may be asserted with equal justice. For, if for one person at this moment this is true, for another person at another moment that is true.
Similar sentiments are expressed by Socrates relative to the value of common opinions. He is aware that they cannot furnish us with knowledge, but only involve us in contradictions. But he does not hence draw the inference of the Sophists, that no knowledge is possible, but only that it is not possible in that way. The majority of mankind have no true knowledge, because they confine themselves to suppositions, the accuracy of which they have never examined; only taking into consideration one or another property of things, but not their essence. Amend this fault; consider every object in all its bearings, and endeavour from this many-sided observation to determine the true essence; you have then conceptions instead of vague notions-a regular examination, instead of an unmethodical and unconscious procedure-a true, instead of an imaginary knowledge. In thus requiring knowledge of conceptions, Socrates not only broke away from the current view, but, generally speaking, from all previous philosophy. A thorough observation from every side, a critical examination, a methodical enquiry conscious
of its own basis, was demanded; all that had hitherto been regarded as knowledge was rejected, because it fell short of these conditions; and at the same time the conviction was expressed that, by observing these rules, real knowledge could be secured.
For Socrates this principle had not only an intellectual, but a more immediate moral value. It is in fact one of the most striking things about him that he is unable to distinguish between morality and knowledge, and can neither imagine knowledge without virtue, nor virtue without knowledge.1 In this respect also he is the child of his age, his greatness consisting herein, that with great penetration and spirit he gave effect to its requirements and its legitimate endeavours. Advancing civilisation having created the demand for a higher education amongst the Greeks, and the course of intellectual development having diverted attention from the study of nature and fixed it on that of mind, a closer connection became necessary between philosophy and conduct. Only in man could philosophy find its highest object; only in philosophy could the support be found which was needed for life. The Sophists had endeavoured to meet this requirement with great skill and vigour; hence their extraordinary success. Nevertheless, their moral philosophy was too deficient in tenable ground; by doubting it had loosened its intellectual roots only too effectually; hence it degenerated with terrific speed, entering the
Particular proof of this will be given subsequently.
importance of this theory.
service of every wicked and selfish impulse. Instead of moral life being raised by the influence of philosophy, both conduct and philosophy had taken the same downward course.
This sad state of things Socrates thoroughly understood. Whilst, however, his contemporaries, either blind with admiration for the Sophistic teaching, were insensible to its dangers, or else through dread of these, and with a singular indifference to the wants of the times and the march of history, denounced the innovators in the tone of Aristophanes, he with keener penetration could distinguish between what was right and what was wrong in the spirit of the age. The insufficiency of the older culture, the want of basis in ordinary virtue, the obscurity of the prevailing notions so full of contradictions, the necessity for intellectual education, all were felt and taught by him as much as by anyone of the Sophists. But to this teaching he set other and higher ends, not seeking to destroy belief in truth, but rather to show how truth might be acquired by a new intellectual process. His aim was not to minister to the selfishness of the age, but rather to rescue the age from selfishness and sloth, by teaching it what was truly good and useful; not to undermine morality and piety, but to build them on a new foundation of knowledge. Thus Socrates was at once a moral and an intellectual reformer. His one great thought was how to transform and restore moral conduct by means of knowledge; and these two elements were so closely associated together in his mind, that he could find