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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

The Phaedrus were Plato's earliest work


history of the development of the Platonic philosophy would assume a very different form if the view of some modern scholars respecting the date of the Phaedrus were correct. If, as they claim, the Phaedrus were Plato's earliest work, this circumstance would betray from the outset an entirely different course of culture for him than we could suppose in a mere scholar of Socrates. The doctrine in this dialogue of the pre-existence of souls, and their periodical transmigrations, of the relation of earthly beauty with heavenly truth, of divine inspiration in contrast to human wisdom, the conception of love,--these and other Pythagorean ingredients are all so distinct from the original Socratic doctrine that we must transfer the most of that which Plato has creatively produced during his whole philosophical career, to the beginning of his philosophical development. The improbability of this, and numerous other grounds of objection, claim a far later composition for this dialogue. Setting aside for the present the Phaedrus, the Platonic development assumes the following form:

Among the earliest works (if they are genuine) are the small dialogues which treat of Socratic questions and themes in a Socratic way. Of these _e. g._ the Charmides discusses temperance, the Lysis friendship, the Laches valor, the lesser Hippias knowing and wilful wrong-doing, the first Alcibiades, the moral and intellectual qualifications of a statesman, &c. The immaturity

and the crudeness of these dialogues, the use of scenic means which have only an external relation to the content, the scantiness and want of independence in the content, the indirect manner of investigation which lacks a satisfactory and positive result, the formal and analytical treatment of the conceptions discussed--all these features indicate the early character of these minor dialogues.

The Protagoras may be taken as a proper type of the Socratic period. Since this dialogue, though directing its whole polemic against the Sophistic philosophy, confined itself almost exclusively to the outward manifestation of this system, to its influence on its age and its method of instruction in opposition to that of Socrates, without entering into the ground and philosophical character of the doctrine itself, and, still farther, since, when it comes in a strict sense to philosophize, it confines itself, in an indirect investigation, to the Socratic conception of virtue according to its different sides (virtue as knowing, its unity and its teachableness, _cf._ Sec. XII. 8,)--it represents in the clearest manner the tendency, character and want of the first period of Plato's literary life.

The Gorgias, written soon after the death of Socrates, represents the third and highest stage of this period. Directed against the Sophistical identification of pleasure and virtue, of the good and of the agreeable, _i. e._ against the affirmation of an absolute moral relativity, this dialogue maintains the proof that the good, far from owing its origin only to the right of the stronger, and thus to the arbitrariness of the subject, has in itself an independent reality and objective validity, and, consequently, alone is truly useful, and thus, therefore, the measure of pleasure must follow the higher measure of the good. In this direct and positive polemic against the Sophistic doctrine of pleasure, in its tendency to a view of the good as something firm and abiding, and secure against all subjective arbitrariness, consists prominently the advance which the Gorgias makes over the Protagoras.

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