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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

That the Platonic philosophy has a real development


When

we look at Plato's philosophical labors in the academy, we are struck with the different relations to public life which philosophy already assumes. Instead of carrying philosophy, like Socrates, into the streets and public places and making it there a subject of social conversation with any one who desired it, he lived and labored entirely withdrawn from the movements of the public, satisfied to influence the pupils who surrounded him. In precisely the measure in which philosophy becomes a system and the systematic form is seen to be essential, does it lose its popular character and begin to demand a scientific training, and to become a topic for the school, an esoteric affair. Yet such was the respect for the name of a philosopher, and especially for the name of Plato, that requests were made to him by different states to compose for them a book of laws, a work which in some instances it was said was actually performed. Attended by a retinue of devoted disciples, among whom were even women disguised as men, and receiving reiterated demonstrations of respect, he reached the age of eighty-one years, with his powers of mind unweakened to the latest moment.

The close of his life seems to have been clouded by disturbances and divisions which arose in his school under the lead of Aristotle. Engaged in writing, or as others state it at a marriage feast, death came upon him as a gentle sleep, 348 B. C. His remains were buried in the Ceramicus, not far

from the academy.

II. THE INNER DEVELOPMENT OF THE PLATONIC PHILOSOPHY AND WRITINGS.--That the Platonic philosophy has a real development, that it should not be apprehended as a perfectly finished system to which the different writings stand related as constituent elements, but that these are rather steps of this inner development, as it were stages passed over in the philosophical journeyings of the philosopher--is a view of the highest importance for the true estimate of Plato's literary labors.

Plato's philosophical and literary labors may be divided into three periods, which we can characterize in different ways. Looking at them in a chronological or biographical respect, we might call them respectively the periods of his years of discipline, of travel, of instruction, or if we view them in reference to the prevailing external influence under which they were formed, they might be termed the Socratic, Heraclitic-Eleatic, and the Pythagorean; or if we looked at the content alone, we might term them the Anti-Sophistic-Ethic, the Dialectic or mediating, and the systematic or constructive periods.

THE FIRST PERIOD--the Socratic--is marked externally by the predominance of the dramatic element, and in reference to its philosophical standpoint, by an adherence to the method and the fundamental principles of the Socratic doctrine. Not yet accurately informed of the results of former inquiries, and rather repelled from the study of the history of philosophy than attracted to it by the character of the Socratic philosophizing, Plato confined himself to an analytical treatment of conceptions, particularly of the conception of virtue, and to a reproducing of his master, which, though something more than a mere recital of verbal recollections, had yet no philosophical independence. His Socrates exhibits the same view of life and the same scientific standpoint which the historical Socrates of Xenophon had had. His efforts were thus, like those of his contemporary fellow disciples, directed prominently toward practical wisdom. His conflicts however, like those of Socrates, had far more weight against the prevailing want of science and the shallow sophisms of the day than for the opposite scientific directions. The whole period bears an eclectic and hortatory character. The highest point in which the dialogues of this group culminate is the attempt which at the same time is found in the Socratic doctrine to determine the certainty of an absolute content (of an objective reality) to the good.


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