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Sophist – Plato

The human mind is a sort of reflection of this, hav-Being we recover both. Not-being is a kind of ing ideas of Being, Sameness, and the like. At times Being, and in a sense co-extensive with Being. And they seem to be parted by a great gulf there are as many divisions of Not-being as of (Parmenides); at other times they have a common Being. To every positive idea—’just,’ ‘beautiful,’

nature, and the light of a common intelligence.

and the like, there is a corresponding negative But this ever-growing idea of mind is really irrec-idea—’not-just,’ ‘not-beautiful,’ and the like.

oncilable with the abstract Pantheism of the A doubt may be raised whether this account of Eleatics. To the passionate language of Parmenides, the negative is really the true one. The common Plato replies in a strain equally passionate:—What!

logicians would say that the ‘not-just,’ ‘not-has not Being mind? and is not Being capable of beautiful,’ are not really classes at all, but are being known? and, if this is admitted, then capable merged in one great class of the infinite or nega-of being affected or acted upon?—in motion, then, tive. The conception of Plato, in the days before and yet not wholly incapable of rest. Already we logic, seems to be more correct than this. For have been compelled to attribute opposite deter-the word ‘not’ does not altogether annihilate minations to Being. And the answer to the diffi-the positive meaning of the word ‘just’: at least, culty about Being may be equally the answer to it does not prevent our looking for the ‘not-just’

the difficulty about Not-being.

in or about the same class in which we might The answer is, that in these and all other deter-expect to find the ‘just.’‘Not-just is not-minations of any notion we are attributing to it honourable’ is neither a false nor an unmean-

‘Not-being.’ We went in search of Not-being and ing proposition. The reason is that the negative seemed to lose Being, and now in the hunt after proposition has really passed into an undefined 19

Sophist – Plato

positive. To say that ‘not-just’ has no more crete. Because Not-being is identified with Other, meaning than ‘not-honourable’—that is to say, or Being with Not-being, this does not make the that the two cannot in any degree be distin-proposition ‘Some have not eaten’ any the less guished, is clearly repugnant to the common use a contradiction of ‘All have eaten.’

of language.

The explanation of the negative given by Plato The ordinary logic is also jealous of the explain the Sophist is a true but partial one; for the nation of negation as relation, because seeming word ‘not,’ besides the meaning of ‘other, ’

to take away the principle of contradiction. Plato, may also imply ‘opposition.’ And difference or as far as we know, is the first philosopher who opposition may be either total or partial: the not-distinctly enunciated this principle; and though beautiful may be other than the beautiful, or in we need not suppose him to have been always no relation to the beautiful, or a specific class in consistent with himself, there is no real incon-various degrees opposed to the beautiful. And sistency between his explanation of the nega-the negative may be a negation of fact or of tive and the principle of contradiction. Neither thought (you and me). Lastly, there are certain the Platonic notion of the negative as the prin-ideas, such as ‘beginning,’ ‘becoming,’ ‘the ciple of difference, nor the Hegelian identity of finite,’ ‘the abstract,’ in which the negative Being and Not-being, at all touch the principle cannot be separated from the positive, and ‘Be-of contradiction. For what is asserted about Being’ and ‘Not-being’ are inextricably blended.

ing and Not-Being only relates to our most ab-Plato restricts the conception of Not-being to stract notions, and in no way interferes with the difference. Man is a rational animal, and is not—

principle of contradiction employed in the con-as many other things as are not included under 20

Sophist – Plato

this definition. He is and is not, and is because being, and the Being which is the negation of he is not. Besides the positive class to which he Not-being (compare Parm.).

belongs, there are endless negative classes to But he is not thinking of this when he says that which he may be referred. This is certainly in-Being comprehends Not-being. Again, we should telligible, but useless. To refer a subject to a nega-probably go back for the true explanation to the tive class is unmeaning, unless the ‘not’ is a influence which the Eleatic philosophy exercised mere modification of the positive, as in the ex-over him. Under ‘Not-being’ the Eleatic had ample of ‘not honourable’and ‘dishonourable’; included all the realities of the sensible world.

or unless the class is characterized by the abLed by this association and by the common use sence rather than the presence of a particular of language, which has been already noticed, we quality.

cannot be much surprised that Plato should have Nor is it easy to see how Not-being any more made classes of Not-being. It is observable that than Sameness or Otherness is one of the classes he does not absolutely deny that there is an op-of Being. They are aspects rather than classes of posite of Being. He is inclined to leave the ques-Being. Not-being can only be included in Being, tion, merely remarking that the opposition, if as the denial of some particular class of Being. If admissible at all, is not expressed by the term we attempt to pursue such airy phantoms at all,


the Hegelian identity of Being and Not-being is On the whole, we must allow that the great a more apt and intelligible expression of the same service rendered by Plato to metaphysics in the mental phenomenon. For Plato has not distin-Sophist, is not his explanation of ‘Not-being’

guished between the Being which is prior to Not-as difference. With this he certainly laid the ghost 21

Sophist – Plato

of ‘Not-being’; and we may attribute to him in fort of thought is to us a familiar and unconscious a measure the credit of anticipating Spinoza and truism, which no one would any longer think Hegel. But his conception is not clear or consis-either of doubting or examining.

tent; he does not recognize the different senses IV. The later dialogues of Plato contain many of the negative, and he confuses the different references to contemporary philosophy. Both in classes of Not-being with the abstract notion. As the Theaetetus and in the Sophist he recognizes the Pre-Socratic philosopher failed to distinguish that he is in the midst of a fray; a huge irregular between the universal and the true, while he battle everywhere surrounds him (Theaet.).

placed the particulars of sense under the false First, there are the two great philosophies going and apparent, so Plato appears to identify nega-back into cosmogony and poetry: the philosophy tion with falsehood, or is unable to distinguish of Heracleitus, supposed to have a poetical ori-them. The greatest service rendered by him to gin in Homer, and that of the Eleatics, which in mental science is the recognition of the commun-a similar spirit he conceives to be even older than ion of classes, which, although based by him on Xenophanes (compare Protag.). Still older were his account of ‘Not-being,’ is independent of it.

theories of two and three principles, hot and cold, He clearly saw that the isolation of ideas or moist and dry, which were ever marrying and classes is the annihilation of reasoning. Thus, being given in marriage: in speaking of these, after wandering in many diverging paths, we he is probably referring to Pherecydes and the return to common sense. And for this reason we early Ionians. In the philosophy of motion there may be inclined to do less than justice to Plato,—

were different accounts of the relation of plural-because the truth which he attains by a real ef-ity and unity, which were supposed to be joined 22

Sophist – Plato

and severed by love and hate, some maintain-tive dialectic in the refutation of opponents. But ing that this process was perpetually going on the later Megarians also denied predication; and (e.g. Heracleitus); others (e.g. Empedocles) that this tenet, which is attributed to all of them by there was an alternation of them. Of the Simplicius, is certainly in accordance with their Pythagoreans or of Anaxagoras he makes no dis-over-refining philosophy. The ‘tyros young and tinct mention. His chief opponents are, first, old,’ of whom Plato speaks, probably include Eristics or Megarians; secondly, the Materialists.

both. At any rate, we shall be safer in accepting The picture which he gives of both these latter the general description of them which he has schools is indistinct; and he appears reluctant to given, and in not attempting to draw a precise mention the names of their teachers. Nor can line between them.

we easily determine how much is to be assigned Of these Eristics, whether Cynics or Megarians, to the Cynics, how much to the Megarians, or several characteristics are found in Plato:—

whether the ‘repellent Materialists’ (Theaet.) 1. They pursue verbal oppositions; 2. they make are Cynics or Atomists, or represent some un-reasoning impossible by their over-accuracy in known phase of opinion at Athens. To the Cynics the use of language; 3. they deny predication; 4.

and Antisthenes is commonly attributed, on the they go from unity to plurality, without passing authority of Aristotle, the denial of predication, through the intermediate stages; 5. they refuse while the Megarians are said to have been Nomi-to attribute motion or power to Being; 6. they nalists, asserting the One Good under many are the enemies of sense;—whether they are the names to be the true Being of Zeno and the

‘friends of ideas,’ who carry on the polemic Eleatics, and, like Zeno, employing their nega-against sense, is uncertain; probably under this 23

Sophist – Plato

remarkable expression Plato designates those who ism. The maintainers of this doctrine are de-more nearly approached himself, and may be criti-scribed in the Theaetetus as obstinate persons cizing an earlier form of his own doctrines. We who will believe in nothing which they cannot may observe (1) that he professes only to give us hold in their hands, and in the Sophist as inca-a few opinions out of many which were at that pable of argument. They are probably the same time current in Greece; (2) that he nowhere al-who are said in the Tenth Book of the Laws to ludes to the ethical teaching of the Cynics—un-attribute the course of events to nature, art, and less the argument in the Protagoras, that the vir-chance. Who they were, we have no means of tues are one and not many, may be supposed to determining except from Plato’s description of contain a reference to their views, as well as to them. His silence respecting the Atomists might those of Socrates; and unless they are the school lead us to suppose that here we have a trace of alluded to in the Philebus, which is described as them. But the Atomists were not Materialists in

‘being very skilful in physics, and as maintain-the grosser sense of the term, nor were they ining pleasure to be the absence of pain.’ That capable of reasoning; and Plato would hardly Antisthenes wrote a book called ‘Physicus,’ is have described a great genius like Democritus hardly a sufficient reason for describing them as in the disdainful terms which he uses of the skilful in physics, which appear to have been very Materialists. Upon the whole, we must infer that alien to the tendency of the Cynics.

the persons here spoken of are unknown to us, The Idealism of the fourth century before Christ like the many other writers and talkers at Ath-in Greece, as in other ages and countries, seems ens and elsewhere, of whose endless activity of to have provoked a reaction towards Material-mind Aristotle in his Metaphysics has preserved 24

Sophist – Plato

an anonymous memorial.

the few elemental conceptions of the human mind V. The Sophist is the sequel of the Theaetetus, admit of a natural connexion in thought and and is connected with the Parmenides by a direct speech, which Megarian or other sophistry vainly allusion (compare Introductions to Theaetetus attempts to deny.

and Parmenides). In the Theaetetus we sought to discover the nature of knowledge and false c



opinion. But the nature of false opinion seemed impenetrable; for we were unable to understand TRUE TO THE APPOINTMENT of the previous day, how there could be any reality in Not-being. In Theodorus and Theaetetus meet Socrates at the the Sophist the question is taken up again; the same spot, bringing with them an Eleatic nature of Not-being is detected, and there is no Stranger, whom Theodorus introduces as a true longer any metaphysical impediment in the way philosopher. Socrates, half in jest, half in earnest, of admitting the possibility of falsehood. To the declares that he must be a god in disguise, who, Parmenides, the Sophist stands in a less defined as Homer would say, has come to earth that he and more remote relation. There human thought may visit the good and evil among men, and is in process of disorganization; no absurdity or detect the foolishness of Athenian wisdom. At inconsistency is too great to be elicited from the any rate he is a divine person, one of a class who analysis of the simple ideas of Unity or Being. In are hardly recognized on earth; who appear in the Sophist the same contradictions are pursued divers forms—now as statesmen, now as soph-to a certain extent, but only with a view to their ists, and are often deemed madmen. ‘Philoso-resolution. The aim of the dialogue is to show how pher, statesman, sophist,’ says Socrates, repeat-25

Sophist – Plato

ing the words—’I should like to ask our Eleatic In the first place, the angler is an artist; and friend what his countrymen think of them; do there are two kinds of art,—productive art, which they regard them as one, or three?’

includes husbandry, manufactures, imitations; The Stranger has been already asked the same and acquisitive art, which includes learning, trad-question by Theodorus and Theaetetus; and he ing, fighting, hunting. The angler’s is an acquisi-at once replies that they are thought to be three; tive art, and acquisition may be effected either but to explain the difference fully would take time.

by exchange or by conquest; in the latter case, He is pressed to give this fuller explanation, ei-either by force or craft. Conquest by craft is called ther in the form of a speech or of question and hunting, and of hunting there is one kind which answer. He prefers the latter, and chooses as his pursues inanimate, and another which pursues respondent Theaetetus, whom he already knows, animate objects; and animate objects may be and who is recommended to him by Socrates.

either land animals or water animals, and water We are agreed, he says, about the name Soph-animals either fly over the water or live in the ist, but we may not be equally agreed about his water. The hunting of the last is called fishing; nature. Great subjects should be approached and of fishing, one kind uses enclosures, catch-through familiar examples, and, considering that ing the fish in nets and baskets, and another kind he is a creature not easily caught, I think that, strikes them either with spears by night or with before approaching him, we should try our hand barbed spears or barbed hooks by day; the upon some more obvious animal, who may be barbed spears are impelled from above, the made the subject of logical experiment; shall we barbed hooks are jerked into the head and lips say an angler? ‘Very good.’

of the fish, which are then drawn from below 26

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upwards. Thus, by a series of divisions, we have fess to teach virtue and receive a round sum. And arrived at the definition of the angler’s art.

who are these last? Tell me who? Have we not And now by the help of this example we may unearthed the Sophist?

proceed to bring to light the nature of the Soph-But he is a many-sided creature, and may still ist. Like the angler, he is an artist, and the re-be traced in another line of descent. The acquisi-semblance does not end here. For they are both tive art had a branch of exchange as well as of hunters, and hunters of animals; the one of wa-hunting, and exchange is either giving or selling; ter, and the other of land animals. But at this and the seller is either a manufacturer or a mer-point they diverge, the one going to the sea and chant; and the merchant either retails or exports; the rivers, and the other to the rivers of wealth and the exporter may export either food for the and rich meadow-lands, in which generous youth body or food for the mind. And of this trading in abide. On land you may hunt tame animals, or food for the mind, one kind may be termed the you may hunt wild animals. And man is a tame art of display, and another the art of selling learn-animal, and he may be hunted either by force or ing; and learning may be a learning of the arts or persuasion;—either by the pirate, man-stealer, of virtue. The seller of the arts may be called an soldier, or by the lawyer, orator, talker. The lat-art-seller; the seller of virtue, a Sophist.

ter use persuasion, and persuasion is either pri-Again, there is a third line, in which a Sophist vate or public. Of the private practitioners of the may be traced. For is he less a Sophist when, in-art, some bring gifts to those whom they hunt: stead of exporting his wares to another country, these are lovers. And others take hire; and some he stays at home, and retails goods, which he not of these flatter, and in return are fed; others pro-only buys of others, but manufactures himself?