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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

A Creator as a moving and a reflecting principle


It

is difficult to say precisely what relation this idea of the good bore to the Deity in the Platonic view. Taking every thing together it seems clear that Plato regarded the two as identical, but whether he conceived this highest cause to be a personal being or not is a question which hardly admits of a definite answer. The logical result of his system would exclude the personality of God. If only the universal (the idea) is the true being, then can the only absolute idea, the Deity, be only the absolute universal; but that Plato was himself conscious of this logical conclusion we can hardly affirm, any more than we can say on the other hand that he was clearly a theist. For whenever in a mythical or popular statement he speaks of innumerable gods, this only indicates that he is speaking in the language of the popular religion, and when he speaks in an accurate philosophical sense, he only makes the relation of the personal deity with the idea a very uncertain one. Most probable, therefore, is it that this whole question concerning the personality of God was not yet definitely before him, that he took up the religious idea of God and defended it in ethical interest against the anthropomorphism of the mythic poets, that he sought to establish it by arguments drawn from the evidences of design in nature, and the universal prevalence of a belief in a God, while as a philosopher he made no use of it.

V. THE PLATONIC PHYSICS. 1. NATURE.--The connection

between the Physics and the Dialectics of Plato lies principally in two points--the conception of becoming, which forms the chief property of nature, and that of real being, which is at once the all sufficient and good, and the true end of all becoming. Because nature belongs to the province of irrational sensation we cannot look for the same accuracy in the treatment of it, as is furnished in dialectics. Plato therefore applied himself with much less zest to physical investigations than to those of an ethical or dialectical character, and indeed only attended to them in his later years. Only in one dialogue, the Timaeus, do we find any extended evolution of physical doctrines, and even here Plato seems to have gone to his work with much less independence than his wont, this dialogue being more strongly tinctured with Pythagoreanism than any other of his writings. The difficulty of the Timaeus is increased by the mythical form on which the old commentators themselves have stumbled. If we take the first impression that it gives us, we have, before the creation of the world, a Creator as a moving and a reflecting principle, with on the one side the ideal world existing immovable as the eternal archetype, and on the other side, a chaotic, formless, irregular, fluctuating mass, which holds in itself the germ of the material world, but has no determined character nor substance. With these two elements the Creator now blends the world-soul which he distributes according to the relation of numbers, and sets it in definite and harmonious motion. In this way the material world, which has become actual through the arrangement of the chaotic mass into the four elements, finds its external frame, and the process thus begun is completed in its external structure by the formation of the organic world.


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