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Plato gives to Greek ethics a deeply suggestive scientific basis and form. The world is an expression of the divine ideas, a thing of beauty. That which answers to the divine idea, namely, the god-like, is good. Man has the task, in virtue of his rational spirituality, to realize the good, consciously and with freedom; the essence of virtue is, pleasure in the good as being the truly beautiful,—love. As expressing in itself the harmony of the soul; virtue is also the condition of true happiness; not the direct pleasure-feeling, however, but rational knowledge, decides as to the good, and such knowledge works the same directly. Hence virtue is neither indifferent to pleasure, nor does it consist therein, but it produces it. However, all virtue, because of the imperfection essentially inherent in existence, remains ever imperfect in the earthly life; the corporeal nature of man itself is a hinderance.—Virtue is in its essence unitary, but because of its relation to the manifold soul-powers and life-manifestations, it manifests itself fourfoldly, as wisdom, manliness, temperateness, and justness, of which the first is the fundamental one, and dominates the others.—Morality, however, is not a something belonging merely to the individual person, but has its full reality only in the moral community-life, the State, which rests not so much on the family and on moral society, as rather constitutes, itself, the exclusive form of the moral society-life, and in fact itself produces the family and all other moral forms of 76communion, out of itself, and dominates them with unconditional authority. The absolutism of the State swallows up into itself every right of the moral personality and of the family, and it is not as man, nor as a member of the family, but solely as citizen, that the individual is capable of realizing true morality. But also only an inferior number are capacitated thereto; and therefore these few who are capable of true wisdom are called, by this very fact, to the unlimited governing of the others. The moral task is consequently not a general one for humanity,—is not the same for all, and is in its full truth not possible for all.
Plato, far surpassing Socrates in spiritual profundity, developed with creative originality the thoughts which his master had possessed rather only as mere presentiments, into a scheme of profound speculation, very different from the popular moralizing of the son of Sophroniscus. His ethical thoughts, which are not shaped into a rounded system, are expressed more especially in the following of his works: Protagoras, Laches, Charmides, Euthyphron, Gorgias, Menon, Philebus, Politicus, and in his work which presents the realized moral organism, the Republic or State.
In the thought of the rational spirit, which Plato conceives more deeply than was ever done before, he obtains a much more solid foundation for the moral than did the earlier philosophy. The world is in its essence, not indeed created, but formed by God, the absolute, rational spirit,—is the most perfect possible expression of his thoughts, a copy of the divine eternal ideas. The realization of an idea is the beautiful; hence the cosmos is an object of beauty.3030 Especially in his Timaeus. The rational immortal spirit of man—his ideal phase—has the task of realizing the beautiful, the ideal, and the highest end of human life is ideality, that is, it is, to become like God; this God-likeness, which consists in justness and in sincere piety, is the good, and the highest good is God 77himself.3131 Rep., pp. 500, 505 sqq., 613 (Steph.); Theaet., 176; Menon, p. 99; Euthyphron, p. 13. This thought of God-likeness, however, Plato does not further develop, nor indeed could he do so, seeing that the God-idea itself, as embraced from a heathen stand-point, was too unclear. The idea of the good is here not derived from the idea of God, but conversely it is undertaken to determine the idea of God from the idea of the good, as being fundamental and per se certain. Evidently we have not to do here with the Christian thought of God-likeness. The thought of a divine command falls back behind the thought of the idea of the good as innate in reason itself. This mode of viewing the matter lies in the nature of the case, seeing that in fact there could be here no question of any other revelation of the divine will. The good which is conceived merely in a general and rather indefinite manner as the inner harmony and order or beauty of the soul, as the untrammeled domination of reason, and hence rather under a formal than a material aspect,3232 Gorgias, p. 504 sqq.; Phileb., 64, 65. is per se a something divine and true, and as such to be aspired to; and the individual pleasure-feeling is not the measure of virtue, nor the good itself.3333 Gorgias, p. 495 sqq.; Phaed., p. 237 sqq. It is true, virtue alone renders truly happy, that is, works complete inner harmony of soul, and there is no happiness without virtue, for virtue itself is simply such a harmony or beauty of soul,3434 Gorgias, 470 sqq., 504-509; Menon, p. 87 sqq.; Rep., pp. 352, 444, 583, 585; Phil., pp. 40, 64. and to do wrong is the greatest of all evils, greater than to suffer wrongs,3535 Gorgias, pp. 469 sqq., 477, 527. but happiness is not one and the same with every chance pleasure-feeling.3636 Phil., p. 11 sqq.; Gorgias, p. 494 sqq. It is not this feeling, in its dependence on the accidentalities of outer circumstances and of the frame-of-mind, but only the idea of the good, that can be known and truly identified;3737 Gorgias, pp. 464, 500; Menon, p. 87 sqq. hence the pleasure-feeling cannot be the decisive criterion as to the good, and the good cannot be aspired to merely for the sake of the pleasure. The knowledge of the idea of the good—which, like the consciousness of any and of every idea, is not the product of a reflective course of thought, that is, not derived knowledge, but on the contrary 78a direct reason-knowledge, and the highest of all that can be known—is the foundation and presupposition of virtue; without knowledge there is no virtue; virtue is not a natural quality of man, but is learned and appropriated by learning.3838 Menon, p. 87 sqq. And the knowledge of the good leads with inner necessity to the practicing of that which is recognized as good; evil rests essentially upon error, and is never committed with consciousness and intentionally;3939 Prot., pp. 345, 352 sqq., 358; Menon, p. 95; Gorg., p. 468. herein Plato perfectly harmonizes with Socrates. The will has, over against knowledge, no discretion whatever, but is the direct and necessary expression thereof. The lower, sensuous desires can indeed withstand reason, but the will of the spirit itself cannot do so. That also the heart—the spiritual essence of man himself—may have a natural tendency to evil, Plato has not the least conscious suspicion. Nevertheless an obscure presentiment of the entrance of corruption into the universe does find expression in his notion, that the present enchainment of the spirit to a body is not an original and normal, but a guiltily-incurred state of things. In fact, according to Plato, the soul existed as a rational personality once before in a bodiless state, and only in consequence of a moral transgression was it joined to a trammeling corporeality, so that it is now, as it were, fettered in a cell or a dark cavern.4040 Timaeus, p. 41; Phaedrus, p. 246 sqq.; Rep., p. 514 sqq. Also for still another reason, the good, though indeed the highest end, is yet never fully attainable in the earthly life. For inasmuch as the real world is not solely and purely the work of the absolute God-will, but, on the contrary, a product of two factors,—whereof the one is the formless proto-material which is in fact a relative nonentity (μὴ ὀν), and the other the ideal God-will,—and as the former, because not posited by God himself, does not perfectly yield to the formative working of God when impressing his ideas upon it (even as the impress of a seal never reflects perfectly clearly every feature of the same),—so the world is not an absolutely perfect one, but only the best possible one,—is not the pure and mere expression of the rational spirit, but there lingers in it a never entirely-overcomable irrational residuum,—an evil lying in the essence of the world itself, which though not sprung from the fault of moral creatures, is yet the 79ground and source of all moral guilt,—a proto-evil.4141 Tim., p. 46 sqq., 54; Polit., 269; Rep., 611 sqq.; Phaedrus, 246 sqq. So also is there in man himself a primitive antagonism never entirely overcomable in the present life, namely, between reason and the lower animal desires, which latter should in fact be morally dominated by reason.4242 Rep., 436 sqq., 589; Gorg., 505. In Plato, therefore, there is lacking to the moral consciousness that joyous confidence which characterizes Christian morality. “Evil can never be annihilated, for there must always be something over against the good; it cannot, however, have its seat among the gods, but it inheres in mortal nature; therefore man should strive as soon as possible to flee hence and to escape thither.”4343 Theaet., p. 176. “True philosophers are minded to strive after nothing other than to decease and be dead, seeing that, so long as we still have the body, and our soul is united with this evil [the body], we can never attain to that whereafter we aspire;”4444 Phaedo, p. 63 sqq. and they lay not violent hands upon themselves simply because they are placed by God in this life as upon a watch, which they are not at liberty to abandon at will.4545 Ibid., p. 62.
Hence morality consists primarily in this, that man turns himself to the ideal, the spiritual, and away from the merely sensuous. This is, however, only one phase of morality, the ideal; the other phase is the real one. Even as God, in impressing his ideas upon matter, shaped the world into an object of beauty, so must also man actively merge and imprint himself into the actual world-existence, and shape it into beauty. Hence virtuousness is delight in the beautiful. And the beautiful is harmony, not merely sensuous but also spiritual. The essence of virtue is, as this delight in the beautiful, love, or eros,—a thought that is developed by Plato with very great emphasis (especially in his Phaedrus, Lysis, and Symposium). This is, however, by no means the Christian idea of love—that love in which man knows himself at one with another in virtue of communion 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;4646 Symp., 209 sqq. 80the 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.4747 Symp., p. 181 sqq., 216 sqq.; Phaedrus, p. 250 sqq. In love, here, predominates by no means self-denial, as is the case, with Christian love, but simply pleasure; I love another not for his sake, but for my own sake. This love knows nothing of a self-sacrificing suffering, but only a self-enjoying, at farthest only a suffering of longing and jealousy. It is true, mere sensuous love as directed to merely fleshly enjoyment, is blamed;4848 Gorg., p. 494; Phaedrus, p. 250; Symp., p. 180 sqq. 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 recognized, 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.4949 Phaedrus, p. 251 sqq. “Beautifully enacted, it is beautiful; otherwise, however, shameful.”5050 Symp., p. 183. 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 eros, honors wedlock love with not a single word, and further that he attempts to repress5151 Phaedrus, p. 237 sqq.; comp. 230, 242; Symp., p. 183. the feeling that instinctively impresses itself upon him, that there is something shameful therein, by the help of strangely ingenious turns of thought and disguises and enthusiastically poetical expressions, which cannot 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: 81Virtue, as essentially constituting a unity, appears primarily as wisdom, σοφία, consisting in a knowledge of the truth and of the good; upon wisdom as the chief virtue, depend all the other 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, ανδρεία. 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 prudence, σωφροσύνη, 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 harmony 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 individual; it presupposes the’ other three virtues, and indeed gives them their proper force and significancy.5252 Protag., pp. 332, 349; Rep., p. 428 sqq., 442 sqq., 591. To justness belongs also piety or holiness, ὁσιότης, which preserves man in his proper relation to the gods;—Plato uses here, constantly, the plural.5353 Euthyphron, p. 6 sqq.; Gorg., pp. 507, 522. 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 consideration of the notion that an inwardly harmonious and hence virtuous soul finds, of itself, the proper course in each particular conjuncture,5454 Polit., pp. 294, 297. 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 consciousness; 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 religious bases, Plato has arrived, in his enthusiastically and persistently pursued ideal of a State, at a positive caricature, which has brought upon the great philosopher, in the eyes of those 82who look upon the real world with practical sobriety, the appearance of ridiculousness, or at least the reproach of an utterly unpractical theorizing;5555 Made as early as by Aristophanes, and even by Aristotle: Polit. ii, 1-5, 12. 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 realization. But both this reproach, and also this attempt at vindicating his honor, do injustice to the philosopher. Unquestionably 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 creator.) 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;5656 See K. F. Hermann: Gesch. u. Syst. d. plat. Phil., 1839, i, 67. and his own declarations as to the practicability of his state-theory confirm this.5757 Rep., p. 471 sqq.; 499, 502, 540; Legg., 709. 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 contrasts 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, produced, 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.5858 Gorg., p. 464. The state,—which in its inner constitution as a harmonious 83moral 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, θυμός, 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,5959 Rep., p. 369 sqq., 412 sqq., 435.—realizes inner harmony, 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 unconditional presupposition of a healthy state-life. The rulers have the task of assigning the individuals to the particular classes, according to their capabilities.6060 Ibid., pp. 412-415. The productive class, which corresponds to sensuous desire, has as its special virtue, temperateness or modesty, which it realizes by keeping itself within its proper bounds. Courage and wisdom belong to the two higher classes; these two are the gold and silver, while the productive class is but ignoble brass. The producer is not to concern himself with state matters, but simply to attend to handicraft and agriculture.6161 Polit., p. 289 sqq.; Rep., pp. 374, 397. Slavery is presupposed as a mere matter of course; however, where practicable, only non-Greeks are to be sold as slaves.6262 Rep., p. 469.
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.6363 Polit., p. 292 sqq., 297; Rep., pp. 473, 540. 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 conjunctures, 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 84citizens, and hence with force, realize the weal of the state, and force the citizens to let themselves be made happy.6464 Polit., pp. 293-296; Rep., pp. 473, 540.
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, in 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 ruling 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.”6565 Ibid., p. 421. The true citizen, the one possessing the virtue of wisdom and manliness, is under the absolute guidance of the state; the absolutism of the state is without limitation. The two higher classes, as the proper and complete representatives of the spiritual 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 gymnastics, in order that they may learn to love and practice harmony; 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.6666 Ibid., p. 402 sqq., 424, 519 sqq., 535. To any other religious culture than that given by philosophy, Plato, who clearly saw the worthlessness of the popular religion, could not refer.6767 Ibid., p. 386 sqq.
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 without help.6868 Ibid., p. 405 sqq., 409. 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.6969 Ibid., pp. 416, 464. With this principle Plato supposes himself to have quenched at once all the sources of contention and disquiet. Even the act of poesy stands under the rigid censorship of the state; and dramatic poetry is not to be tolerated at all.7070 Ibid., p. 391 sqq., 568. The appropriate meters to be used in 85poetry are carefully prescribed, and of musical instruments only the cithara and the lyre are allowed.7171 Rep., pp. 398, 399.
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 belong exclusively to the state. Wedlock proper is consequently inadmissible, on the contrary the citizen is obligated to the begetting of children in the interest of the state; in this connection 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 obligation to beget from their thirtieth to their fifty-fifth year; women to bear from their twentieth to their fortieth year. This of itself 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 possession.7272 Ibid., 449 sqq. It is laid down as a principle for the free and active citizens proper, “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.”7373 Ibid, 457. 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 are to be exposed.7474 Ibid.. 457 sqq. 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 principle of elective affinity, with the one proviso that births must be prevented, or, where this cannot be done, the child must be left 86to perish without food.7575 Rep., 461.—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 perform 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 indeed 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.7676 Ibid., 451 sqq., 471, 540.
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 individual, Plato was unable to accomplish otherwise than by an unconditional and unquestioning non-permission of the free personal self-determination of the individual. Objective morality entirely swallows up the subjective. This is, however, not peculiar to the view of Plato, but is the Greek tendency in general. Plato manifests rather a decided progress toward the development of the free moral personality. While in the legislation of Sparta, somewhat as in that of the Chinese, the impersonal 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 individual, 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 difference before God, but that all are equally called to be children 87of the truth and of wisdom, this thought is unknown to entire heathendom, and therefore also to the greatest of heathen philosophers. Of a morality absolutely valid for all men and without 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. Capability and incapability for the good are transmitted through natural generation from parents to children.7777 Rep., 459 sqq., 546. 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 consciousness, 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.
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