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The essential advance of the ethical view of Plato beyond earlier theories consists in this, that he emancipated the idea of the good from all dependence oil the individual pleasure-feeling, that he conceived it as unconditionally valid and lying in God himself, and that consequently he regarded morality as God-likeness, 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 88a single principle, namely wisdom.—But the characteristically 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 freedom 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 existence, even in the most highly developed moral life, a never entirely overcomable residuum of an unfree, unspiritual, 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 personal 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 trammeled 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 descendingly 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 perversion, the character of historicalness,—is in no respect a power essentially modificatory of universal history, and consciously aiming at such modification as its 89end; 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 occupies 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-thoughts 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 μη ὀν which lies at the basis of the real world, into an οὐκ ὀν. 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 liberty, assure to morality foundation-ground and courage.
Though in the recognition of the limits of freedom there lies an approximation to the Christian thought of the natural depravity 90of the human race, yet there lies in it, on the other hand, also an all the greater departure from the same; for these limits are not placed in the sphere of moral guilt, and hence of moral freedom, but yon-side of morality in the sphere of a nature-substratum not to be overcome by the moral spirit. The hampering of morality has not sprung from an historical act, and hence is not to be overcome by an historical act. The consciousness of the moral imperfection of the world, which despite all the idealism of the Platonic world-view comes often to painful expression, leads not to the thought of a needed redemption. The sage emancipates himself, so far as, in view of the imperfection inherent in the essence of all existence, it is possible, from the limitations of his moral life, and he emancipates others only through philosophical instruction and through absolutistic state-guidance, but not through a sanctifying communion-grounding historical act.
In the idea of the state there lies indeed the presentiment, that-morality, in its true character, is not a merely individual quality, but, on the contrary, has an historical significancy and task, but Plato does not rise beyond the mere presentiment; and when he is on the very point of passing beyond the limits of a merely individual morality, and into the sphere of an historical one, he hesitatingly checks his step and turns back. His State forms no link in history, and has no history as its goal. As it is not sprung of history, but only of the ingenious intellect of a theoretical philosopher, so it is designed to be nothing other than the platform upon which the geniality of the individual personality of the philosophic regent may find scope for itself. Neither people nor ruler are to be the representatives of an historical idea; on the contrary, the people is only the passive material for the formative hand of the state-artist, and the ruler only the executor of a philosophic theory. The state itself is to be only an individual organism along-side of many other state-organisms, likewise ruled by individual geniality. Hence it must also be only very small; even a thousand citizens suffice. The thought of regarding the state as a vital member in an historical collective organism, lies very far from Plato. Hence, though his state is a moral organic system, yet it has no, world-historical character; it has neither behind it an historical presupposition, nor before itself an historical goal. That humanity 91in general is a goal of the moral striving, that it may be brought together into a moral unity, that a state of peace among all nations is to be aimed at—of all this Plato has not the remotest presentiment; rather does war appear, even for his ideal state, as in accordance with order, and as a necessary matter of course; for in fact Greeks and non-Greeks are enemies by nature.7878 Rep., p. 373, 469 seq. Let this state-ideal of the profoundest Greek philosopher, as presented without any trammeling from a resisting real world, be compared with the Old Testament theocratic state as brought to realization among a stubbornly resisting people, and which had, from the very beginning, a world-historical goal, and which kept in view, and had as the basis of its entire organization, the thought of the salvation, and hence also of the peace and unity, of entire humanity,—and the result will be very suggestive.
Most manifestly appears the weakness of Platonic ethics in its relation to the religious consciousness. The beautiful conception of the God-likeness of the moral man, Plato is not able to carry out; the founding of the moral upon the divine will is foreign to him, and must have been so, for the Greek knows nothing of a revelation of this will, and the philosopher could not invent one; he was only able to refer to the rational consciousness of man himself; but to raise this consciousness to a universally-extant and valid one Plato did not venture to hope, and hence he placed simply the authority and even the strong dictatorial power of the philosophers, in the stead of the authority of a divine revelation. Also his profoundly-conceived God-idea, which far surpassed all previous results of heathenism, Plato did not venture to carry out in its entire ethical significancy, and to make it consequentially the basis of the moral. It is true he is far removed from the folly of certain modern theories, which present morality as entirely independent of piety; he in fact makes piety a very essential element of all moral life, and derives even from the idea of a divine judgment after death, a very potent motive for morality;7979 Gorg., p. 523 sqq. still, piety is with him not the foundation of all the virtues, but only a single one of the same, and that too not the first one, but only a form of justness; and even such as it is he ventures not to refer it directly to the philosophically-recognized God-idea, but only to 92the gods of the popular religion. But as he himself exposes the immoral character of the Greek mythology with a noble indignation, and on that account, bitterly censures the so highly and universally-revered Homer, nay, even would have his poems, for moral reasons, banished from his ideal state,8080 Rep., p. 377 sqq., 386 sqq., 598 sqq., 605. it is consequently difficult to say how he could justify and require piety toward these gods. There remains here a wide-reaching and unbridged chasm in his ethical teachings.
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