The Meno by Plato. - HTML preview
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ON THE IDEAS OF PLATO
unmeaning propositions are hardly suspected to be a caricature of a great theory of knowledge, P
which Plato in various ways and under many fig-LATO’ S DOCTRINE OF IDEAS has attained an imaginary clearness and definiteness which is not to ures of speech is seeking to unfold. Poetry has be found in his own writings. The popular ac-been converted into dogma; and it is not re-count of them is partly derived from one or two marked that the Platonic ideas are to be found passages in his Dialogues interpreted without only in about a third of Plato’s writings and are regard to their poetical environment. It is due not confined to him. The forms which they as-also to the misunderstanding of him by the Aris-sume are numerous, and if taken literally, incon-totelian school; and the erroneous notion has sistent with one another. At one time we are in been further narrowed and has become fixed by the clouds of mythology, at another among the the realism of the schoolmen. This popular view abstractions of mathematics or metaphysics; we of the Platonic ideas may be summed up in some pass imperceptibly from one to the other. Rea-such formula as the following: ‘Truth consists son and fancy are mingled in the same passage.
not in particulars, but in universals, which have The ideas are sometimes described as many, co-a place in the mind of God, or in some far-off extensive with the universals of sense and also heaven. These were revealed to men in a former with the first principles of ethics; or again they state of existence, and are recovered by reminis-are absorbed into the single idea of good, and cence (anamnesis) or association from sensible subordinated to it. They are not more certain things. The sensible things are not realities, but than facts, but they are equally certain (Phaedo).
shadows only, in relation to the truth.’ These They are both personal and impersonal. They are 15
abstract terms: they are also the causes of things; edges that both he and others are always talking and they are even transformed into the demons about them, especially about the Idea of Good; or spirits by whose help God made the world.
and that they are not peculiar to himself (Phaedo; And the idea of good (Republic) may without Republic; Soph.). But in his later writings he violence be converted into the Supreme Being, seems to have laid aside the old forms of them.
who ‘because He was good’ created all things As he proceeds he makes for himself new modes (Tim.).
of expression more akin to the Aristotelian logic.
It would be a mistake to try and reconcile these Yet amid all these varieties and incongruities, differing modes of thought. They are not to be there is a common meaning or spirit which per-regarded seriously as having a distinct meaning.
vades his writings, both those in which he treats They are parables, prophecies, myths, symbols, of the ideas and those in which he is silent about revelations, aspirations after an unknown world.
them. This is the spirit of idealism, which in the They derive their origin from a deep religious history of philosophy has had many names and and contemplative feeling, and also from an ob-taken many forms, and has in a measure influ-servation of curious mental phenomena. They enced those who seemed to be most averse to it.
gather up the elements of the previous philoso-It has often been charged with inconsistency and phies, which they put together in a new form.
fancifulness, and yet has had an elevating effect Their great diversity shows the tentative char-on human nature, and has exercised a wonder-acter of early endeavours to think. They have not ful charm and interest over a few spirits who have yet settled down into a single system. Plato uses been lost in the thought of it. It has been ban-them, though he also criticises them; he acknowl-ished again and again, but has always returned.