The historical and the Platonic Socrates — Religion in Xenophon — Aristippus — Antisthenes.
THE attitude of Socrates towards the ideas which prevailed amongst his contemporaries was at first a negative one. That his curiosity was awakened by the discussions which he heard around him may be taken for granted, and what Plato tells us in the ‘Phaedo’ may possibly be true—that he at one time busied himself with speculating about the nature of thought on a physiological basis, until the book of Anaxagoras carried him off into a higher region, in which, not the blood or the brain could be accepted as a cause of mental action, but only mind or reason. Dissatisfied with Anaxagoras too, who failed to show the connection between his cause and the effects which we experience, Socrates as he is there represented was thrown back upon discourse, in which, as in a mirror, the operations of universal mind could be dimly perceived. This is one of several ways in which the Platonic Socrates seeks to account for the strangeness of his career.
The main facts of his life-history, so far as known to us, are, as in this instance, suffused with afterthoughts, and decorated with fancy. Not the man himself, but his reflected image, is all that we can discern. The son of a sculptor, he had for a time practised his father's trade, but, as we cannot but believe, had spent his leisure time in eager talking, up and down the market-place, only interrupted by unaccountable fits of abstraction, in which he remained silent for hours together. His conversation already impressed some listeners as having an inexhaustible interest, unlike that of the ordinary Athenian, however acute or discursive. Amongst these constant listeners, if we credit Plato's ‘Apology,’ was his friend Chaerephon, one of the most impulsive of human beings, who boldly went and asked the Delphic oracle whether Socrates were not the wisest of men. The oracle was understood to give an affirmative answer; at which, when Chaerephon reported it, no one was more astonished than Socrates himself. He had thought deeply, and had talked much with many who had seemed wise, and the result had been only to convince him of the depth of his own ignorance. But he shared the religion of his countrymen, and would not gainsay the response of Phoebus without further proof. So he gave up all other employments, and went about interrogating all who had a reputation for wisdom, continually expecting to find some one wiser than himself. But he found no man, for each interlocutor, after asserting what he thought he knew, could give no reason of it that was not found to be self-contradictory when put to the test of persistent enquiry.
From this strange tale we may gather so much with confidence—that he regarded himself as the devoted servant of Apollo, the enlightener of men, the lord of music, but of a higher and grander music than Terpander or Stesichorus had conceived—the harmony of human life, the melodious concord of thought and action. That harmony had been disturbed and broken in the Greek world by causes which have been roughly indicated in the preceding chapter; and the penetrative glance of Socrates, piercing through all the plausible appearances and brilliant colouring of the life surrounding him, was deeply conscious of a universal need. Mankind seemed to be perishing for lack of knowledge and wisdom. Yet where was wisdom to be found? The old philosophers, great souls springing up in petty communities, had risen far above their neighbours, and, despising practical affairs, had gone each his own way, not caring to take mankind along with them, while they speculated about the substance of the universe, and proclaimed the principle which each maintained concerning it in symbolic language, too high for ordinary comprehension. To Socrates, as to the average Athenian, all this seemed ‘meteorology,’—a meddling with things remote from earth, which men could, never know, and were not meant to know. Remaining, as he did, superficially in touch with his neighbours, and holding silent communion with himself, it was not the universe but man that interested him. To outward observers he appeared at first sight like any other Athenian, except that he consistently abjured all the softnesses and refinements which had become habitual amongst men of leisure,—seldom changed his garment, wore no shoes, and never seemed to feel the inclemency of the sky. But he kept all religious observances with scrupulous fidelity, attended social gatherings with unaffected enjoyment, and in his address preserved a perfect urbanity, which irresistibly recommended him to other men, though he was far from possessing that beauty of feature which was so attractive to all Athenians. His snub nose, wide nostrils, and great eyes set far apart were a standing joke amongst his friends. His straddling gait, indicative of strength, was often ridiculed. But when you got beneath the surface, there was something unaccountable and even mysterious about him: courage, endurance, physical strength, sociability, and many-sided humanity were combined with spiritual yearnings never satisfied; a mind that was ever probing the deepest questions; soaring contemplations, which yet seemed to put no strain upon the firmly anchored cords which held him to his country and his countrymen, amongst whom and for whom he lived. To the busy politician, the poet, the artizan, he appeared idle and useless; spending his time in endless talk about matters in which no man was immediately concerned. And yet the whole bent of his activity was to find a firmer standing ground for public and private life than the Greek world had hitherto attained. Until this were reached, it seemed to him that no idleness could be more futile than the sweating labour of the contemporary politician.
Such were the contradictions that met in the life of Socrates—eager sociability, intense self-concentration, a passionate nature held in absolute self-control, strength, endurance, courage at the height; mystical anticipations of worlds unrealised, suspense of judgment about present things: a practical aim, leading to abstinence from active life; a sceptical attitude, rooted in an absolutely firm conviction of the reality of truth and justice—of goodness, human and divine. This attitude of enquiry is what distinguishes Socrates on the one hand from the dogmatism of the philosophic schools preceding him, and on the other from those sceptical doctrines of the mere relativity of truth and the incomprehensibility of being, with which the age had been amused by the great sophists, Protagoras and Gorgias.
A great English poet was called by one of his friends ‘a little crooked thing that asks questions.’ In the same spirit of banter, some of his associates might have called Socrates a snub-nosed Silenus who had never done with catechising. The form of his discourse was stamped by later philosophy into the formula, ‘What is it?’ (τίἐστι;). The subject-matter is described by Xenophon, when he says that ‘Socrates went about asking his fellow-citizens What is a state, what is a statesman, what is government, what is it to be a ruler of men?’ The scope of his labours was characterised more closely by himself as a continual endeavour to fulfil the precept ‘Know thyself,’ by interrogating other men. This was the first step in the great sciences of ethics, of logic, and of psychology.
But our immediate concern is rather with the religion of Socrates. He was accused of abandoning the gods of his city, and of introducing other new divinities, but he disclaimed this accusation, and no impeachment was ever more unjust. Although we cannot take quite literally the view of the simple-minded Xenophon, who may have strained a point in representing him as orthodox, there does not seem any ground for supposing that he had ever any thought of separating himself from the majority of his countrymen with regard to formal religion. But his piety, which was, perhaps, the deepest thing in him, had more in it than was conceivable to the average Athenian. Thinking of the gods generally, more often than of any particular god, he was convinced, as none before him had been, of the moral and spiritual nature of the service which they required. He was quite sincere in speaking of himself as the servant of Apollo, in worshipping the sun at dawn, in joining his countrymen at public festivals, in paying his vow to Asclepius in token of thanksgiving for peaceful death. But in and beyond all these formalities, he had the sense of a divine presence in the world, and especially in the soul of man, which was inseparable from the inmost springs of his being.
It was this which inspired his persistent faith in an ultimate discovery of truth, which should be a light to guide humanity, since he was profoundly assured that men would not wilfully persist in error. The light he sought for was an intellectual light, no doubt, as it appears to us; but are we sure that knowledge, in the mind of Socrates, did not comprehend some anticipation of what we most value as religious enlightenment? Thus the philosophy of Socrates was in one sense a sceptical philosophy, yet it was by no means a philosophy without prepossessions or without assumptions. The two great postulates which underlay it were the existence of truth for the inquiring mind, and the identity of truth and goodness. But on the other hand, it was assumed at the outset that truth was not yet found; that goodness was something more than custom and tradition, and that the confession of ignorance was the preliminary condition of all sound enquiry.
Knowledge is the central word in the philosophy of Socrates, but a knowledge to which he laid no claim, and which he believed to be hitherto unattainable, yet one which could be gradually approached by reasoning: the knowledge not of this or that phenomenon or matter of fact, but of universal principles, which, once known, can never be gainsaid, but will prove ‘the light of all our seeing.’ The search for this knowledge is a religious duty, the highest fulfilment of the will of God, the highest service to mankind. In the pursuit of this, Socrates was never stopped by the familiar voice that checked him unaccountably when on the point of doing this or that. Only when men came to him for guidance, if he instinctively felt that their motives were idle, or that they themselves were for the time incurably conceited, his instinct sometimes took the shape of this warning intimation which was so mysterious to himself.
The life of Socrates was devoted not only to the pursuit of truth, but in the same act to the education of his countrymen. Whether we take the evidence of Plato or of Xenophon, we cannot doubt that his influence in this respect, even in his own generation, must have been incalculable. Like other great teachers, he formed sanguine hopes that were not always realised. Socrates did not succeed in making of Critias or of Alcibiades patterns of justice and morality, yet the hold which he obtained on them must have raised them above themselves for a time, and even in that he may have done a service to the Athenians. But when Critias, as one of the Thirty, would have given Socrates the commission of fetching in Leon to be executed unjustly, the tyrant met with a firm refusal, just as the Athenian populace had done, when they wanted him to put to the vote the question of the execution of the generals after the disaster at Arginusae. He had a power of acting upon others without being reacted on or influenced by them; moving straight along his chosen path imperturbably, and turning neither to the right nor to the left. Such common human features as his lifelong friendship with the faithful Crito, who had no philosophy but only simple worth, are probably as real as anything which has been handed down concerning him. The impression he made on his contemporaries was that of an extraordinary person, but very few appreciated him at his full value, and his greatness was only known through the manner of his death.
In what, then, did that greatness consist? 1. He had steadily upheld an ideal standard of truth and right, at once intellectual and moral, scientific and practical, which he set before himself and others as the goal—unattained, perhaps unattainable, yet indefinitely approachable—of all thought, all effort, all care to live. 2. For the pursuit of this new aim he had invented a novel method of proceeding, in the re-examination of those cardinal conceptions to which all men constantly appealed, while a brief cross-examination was enough to show that the terms so confidently used were imperfectly understood. In other words, it was by the application of negative instances to current notions that he sought to obtain definitions of moral ideas, which would hold without exception, and might thus be relied on as rules of conduct and tests of sound thinking. 3. He imposed this task upon himself and all who came within his influence, as a religious vocation. Thus the paths of religion and philosophy, which had diverged, or seemed to diverge, in the preceding generation, were united in him.
1. It may seem paradoxical to say that the confession of ignorance and the bringing of others to the same confession was equivalent to the setting up of an ideal standard; but it is the simple truth. In saying ‘I know nothing,’ Socrates implied that knowledge was a higher thing than his contemporaries had dreamed of: that the only knowledge worth having was the knowledge of something universal and unchangeable; that it was clear and definite; above all, that it had a real ground, which no man ought to despair of finding:—something very different, for example, from the notion of justice that was bandied to and fro in law courts; or from that of expediency, on which men dwelt so complacently in the popular assembly; or of holiness as preached in the Orphic or Dionysiac mysteries: notions to which those who employed them so freely attached no distinct content. And the Socratic ideal of knowledge involved not merely a speculative but an intensely practical aim. It is the knowledge which begins with knowledge of oneself, and ends with true beneficence towards other men, while it is enlightened throughout with ever enlarging conceptions of the relation of man to the divine.
In this first great effort of earnest ethical enquiry, much is blended which by later reflection was analysed into several parts. In the white light of Socrates the several rays which coloured later ethics are combined. To know the right is with him to follow it. Perhaps his own instinctive moral strength prevented him from adequately estimating the possibilities of human weakness. He did not stop to dissect the sophistry of vice, on which Aristotle dwells so ingeniously. Vice “with him is folly, ignorance, stupidity. Real knowledge of the good could not but issue, he thought, in good action. The good is what all men desire, and if once clearly seen, must draw the whole man to grasp it.
A word may be added on what have been called the utilitarian ethics of Socrates. It is hardly fair to credit him with particular opinions on the doubtful report of conversations by which he tentatively approached conceptions admittedly partial and imperfect. In pointing out that virtuous action was based on the calculation of pleasures, he was really opposing an intellectual to a merely conventional standard, a principle of some kind to the uncertain dictates of custom and tradition.
2. The method of Socrates belongs rather to the history of logic than of religion, but cannot be passed over in giving any account of him at all. His power of conversing easily with all and sundry enabled him always to start from a common ground. That once obtained, he asked the question which pierced to the root of the matter, and by examples of the most obvious kind brought out some contradiction which led to a further tentative definition. Some of the reasoning may appear puerile to our modern experience, but it should be remembered how little as yet the Greeks were accustomed to the abstract expression of general ideas. In his method, no less than in his aim, the work of Socrates is to be distinguished from that of Protagoras on the one hand and the Eleatic Zeno on the other. These were necessary moments in the evolution of incipient thought; the work of Socrates was the beginning of an evolution which bore in it the seed of endless progress, and cars never lose its applicability to human experience.
3. The religious aspect of the work of Socrates is deeply rooted in his individual nature. What seemed his self-chosen mission, in which he continued labouring for forty years, was, as he conceived it, a long course of obedience to a divine call. If the truth which he sought was not only speculative but practical, it had beyond both these factors a spiritual element, in which the practical and speculative were combined. In defending his country and his friends, in obeying the laws, throughout his lifetime and more conspicuously on the approach of death meeting injustice and cruelty with the firmness of a law-abiding will: he acted throughout with a profoundly religious motive. But for this it may be doubted whether he would have made on other minds that deep impression which has secured for after ages the continuation of his lifework, and has provided philosophy no less than faith with the image of a protomartyr, never to be effaced. In this sense he is indeed the founder of a religion. The lives of many saints reflect to us the graces of faith, hope, and charity; the love of truth, that other grace of the religious life, without which all else is incomplete, is represented, as has well been said, by none so fully as by ‘Saint Socrates.’
Did Socrates believe in immortality? He who professed to have attained no adequate knowledge of human things could not consistently profess to have unravelled the secrets of the grave. On the one hand lay the Orphic belief or imagination, which had by this time become traditional amongst a few; on the other, what tended to be the prevailing notion of a sceptical age, that with death there came the extinction of all conscious life. Socrates in Plato's ‘Apology’ is represented, probably with truth, as holding his judgment in suspense between these different views, and saying that to assert either would be to seem to know what one does not know. In reliance on the goodness of the divine power, he is ready to accept either alternative not only with resignation but with an untroubled mind. If death be a dreamless sleep, are there many days of life to be preferred to that? If it be a continuation of existence, as represented in poetic legend, what joy must it be to converse with the great and wise of former ages, some of whom were unjustly used by their contemporaries, and like himself were wrongfully condemned!
Consistently with his general aim, Socrates speculated less about the divine nature than about the attitude of men towards superior powers. There is no reason to doubt that he discoursed upon the right use of prayer, pointing out that men should exert themselves to obtain what the gods had placed within their reach, and only have recourse to prayer and divination in cases of perplexity and doubt. Also that, considering human blindness, every prayer should be accompanied with the reservation, that such and such a wish should be accomplished only if God saw that it was for good.
Once more, the simple anticipation of the famous doctrine of final causes, i.e. of the evidence of a divine providence in the adaptation of organ to function, attributed to him by Xenophon in the ‘Memorabilia,’ may have been really suggested by him in some discourse or other, at least as a pious opinion. But in this connection it is necessary to repeat that his discourse upon particular themes, no doubt imperfectly reported, should not be interpreted too rigidly. More unequivocal, and fortunately more important, are those general lines of thought and action, the direction of which I have been trying to indicate.
In what precedes I have attempted to describe the religious aspect of the work of Socrates, as far as seemed possible, in itself, and independently of the impressions or representations of his younger contemporaries. In dealing with the Platonic Socrates as such, one can use a freer hand. The only caution to be observed is to prefer the evidence of those dialogues which were written while the influence of the Master was still vividly present, and Platonism had not yet received its final development in the mind of its author. We are thus confronted with the difficult question of the order of the Platonic Dialogues, a problem which may never be completely solved, but of which a partial solution has received pretty general assent, according to which six dialogues at least—the ‘Sophist,’ ‘Politicus,’ ‘Philebus,’ ‘Timaeus,’ ‘Critias,’ and ‘Laws’—belong to the writer's latest manner, and present comparatively few features of that, strange and potent personality which dominates the greater number of Plato's writings. It is also admitted that in the work of his maturity, to which the ‘Phaedrus,’ ‘Republic’ and ‘Theaetetus’ belong, many things are put into the mouth of Socrates which he could never have spoken. But the person of Socrates is there throughout, and the living philosopher sincerely believes that his philosophy is the genuine outcome of a faithful application of the Socratic method. This method has its destructive but also its constructive side. The Platonic Socrates begins by examining some of the simplest and most universally recognised moral ideas, such as courage, temperance, holiness, and friendship. Conversing with Laches the great general, who is a type of soldierly qualities, and with the ill-starred Nicias, he brings his hearers to the admission that neither physical nor moral courage, as commonly conceived, is an adequate notion of this virtue, and the only courage worth having would be one derived from a general principle of conduct, inseparable from true knowledge, on which both courage and all other virtues ultimately depend. Again, in his fascinating talk with Charmides, the most temperate of young men, he brings him to utter confusion in the confession that he does not know what temperance is, thus exhibiting the need of a scientific principle without which the conduct of life must be a haphazard affair. In the ‘Lysis,’ Socrates is introduced to two young boys, whose inseparable friendship is described as exemplary; and in a strain of banter, in which many theories of friendship are lightly touched, he concludes that neither he nor they can tell what friendship is, except that to be worth anything it must bear some relation to the highest good. In the ‘Euthyphro,’ another simple dialogue, a deeper question is involved, and the contrast between the piety of Socrates and what passes with the religious world for piety, although not explicitly stated, is powerfully suggested. Socrates is about to stand his trial for impiety, and he meets with Euthyphro, who is bringing an indictment against his own father, for having accidentally caused the death of a slave. Socrates is naturally interested to know what one whose religious principles are so deeply rooted as to support him in such an exceptional act has to say about the nature of piety or holiness. This may stand him (Socrates) in good stead, when called on to defend himself before his judges. He leads poor Euthyphro an uneasy dance amongst various trite definitions of holiness, and states the central problem, which has had an interest for other ages than his own: ‘Is an action holy because the gods command it? or does God command it because it is holy?’ At the end of the dialogue he declares himself to be no wiser than he was, but the reader feels that Euthyphro must have gone away a wiser and a sadder man.
The ‘Protagoras’ contains the first great outbreak of Plato's dramatic power, and it is here that the Platonic Socrates appears with most of vividness and freshness of detail. It is the only one of the longer dialogues about which it is open to question whether it may not have been written before the death of Socrates. Mr. Grote's view, who is inclined to regard it as the most finished and therefore, perhaps, the latest of the dialogues, is a curious instance of the effect of preconception on criticism.
It is still grey dawn, and Socrates, a man of mature age, is fast asleep upon his truckle-bed, when the young and noble Hippocrates brusquely awakens him, with the thrilling intelligence that Protagoras is in town. Socrates takes the news quite coolly, having heard it the night before, when Hippocrates had gone into the country on a personal errand. He rises, however, and rallies the youth on his enthusiastic eagerness, asking him, amongst other questions, whether he wants to be made a sophist; whereupon he detects the rising blush on the cheek of Hippocrates, for it was now near sunrise; then he proceeds with his cross-questioning, while preparing to yield to the young man's importunity. They go together to the house of the rich Callias, which is thronged with the greatest sophists; the porter, who has suffered many things from his master's guests, is unwilling to admit them, but being assured that they are only plain citizens (not sophists from abroad), gives way. The scene within the house is then vividly described. Protagoras, Hippias, Prodicus, and the rest come before us in lifelike procession; then Protagoras is cross-questioned as to the nature of his art, which is the teaching of virtue. Socrates doubts if virtue can be taught. Protagoras, in a brilliant argument, in which some think that the sophist has the best of it, shows that the relative civic virtues, which alone have worth or substance, can be imparted through intercourse with relatively wiser or better men. But this does not satisfy the doubt of Socrates; for he is straining after a virtue whose substance is not relative but absolute, and which could only be taught through the attainment of a perfect science or art of measurement, a power of gauging pleasures, present and future, which he does not find that any man has yet attained. The conversation breaks off without a positive result, but in the course of it Socrates has not only provisionally expounded his ‘utilitarian’ theory (the greater amount of pleasure being the criterion of action), but has announced his central postulate, ‘that virtue is one, and is the subject-matter of an ideal science.’
Socrates in the ‘Protagoras’ is in the prime of life. In the ‘Meno’ he is advanced in years, and the shadow of his prosecution is already approaching. Meeting with Meno, the light-minded Thessalian youth, who has been a disciple of Gorgias, he suddenly asks him to define virtue. Meno betrays his ignorance of the nature of Socratic definition by enumerating the several virtues, and on being made conscious of the futility of his attempt, compares Socrates to the torpedo, whose touch benumbs at the first shock. The difficulties of the ‘Protagoras,’ about the unity and nature of virtue, here recur, but there is a slight change or progress in the point of view. The relative conventional virtue of civic life is not now denied, although Socrates has not yet found his teacher of virtue. It is admitted that a certain measure of goodness is undoubtedly imparted through human intercourse. And this is accounted for by some unconscious inspiration or divine afflatus. But the virtue so imparted does not carry with it the power of infixing a principle of conduct that will hold. That can only come through science (the reason of the cause), which in other words is the reminiscence of truths apprehended in a former state of existence. Here Platonism is already growing out of Socratism. Socrates ironically refers Meno to the sophists for further information, whereupon Anytus, who is present, bursts forth with an indignant protest. Socrates darkly hints that, if this anger of Anytus can be appeased, the Athenians will reap a certain benefit; so foreshadowing the fact that Anytus, confusing Socrates with the sophists, was to be one of his accusers.
The reader of the ‘Meno’ is thus prepared to find Socrates in conflict with the Athenian world; armed for the battle à outrance between the principles (so called) of the prevailing doctrine and practice, and his own. The occasion for this is provided by a supposed visit of Gorgias to Athens. The magnificence of the sophist's pose, worthy of the follower of Empedocles, and the grandeur of his condescension, implying a strain of real nobility, are dramatically portrayed. It is Chaerephon, the same who had so impetuously consulted the oracle about the wisdom of Socrates, whose impatient eagerness brings on this debate. When Socrates is condescending on particulars that seem beneath the notice of the reverend sage, Polus, the ardent disciple of Gorgias, interposes for a while. The use of rhetoric, says Polus, that art which Socrates denies to be an art at all, is to increase men's power by enabling them to persuade their fellows, and so to effect what they desire. Here Socrates joins issue by maintaining that to effect what one wishes is not to effect what one really wills; for the wish of the moment may be based on ignorance of true principles of life, and may lead to disaster, which is not according to the will of any man. ‘Vis consilî expers mole ruit suâ.’ He thus carries the discussion into a region into which Gorgias and Polus cannot follow him, but Callicles, who has had a smattering of philosophy in his youth, rudely breaks in by asking Chaerephon whether Socrates is not in jest? Chaerephon answers that he is profoundly in earnest. Thus Callicles, the man of the world, with enough of sophistry to state his principle clearly, and Socrates, the prophet of truth and righteousness, are confronted. The noble paradox is now further developed, ‘to do wrong is worse and weaker than to suffer wrong’; and ‘for the wrongdoer it is better to be punished than to escape from punishment.’ This is maintained by arguments which Callicles is unable to refute, and is finally reinforced by a description of the judgment of the dead, where the soul standing naked before her disembodied judge, cannot hide the self-inflicted wounds of her own evildoing. It is obvious that Plato, having his. Master's fate before his eyes, sees revealed therein the sublimity of the truth for which he suffered: that ‘because Eight is Eight, to follow Eight were wisdom in the scorn of consequence.’ The subject is resumed in the opening scene of the ‘Republic,’ which is perhaps the last appearance of the genuine person of Socrates. We have before us the real man, but idealised and transfigured by the imagination of Plato, and teaching not precisely what he had taught in life, but the doctrine which Plato has evolved from the contemplation of that life and teaching. This last remark is still more clearly true of those great dialogues in which Plato has embodied the most ambitious of his speculations, the ‘Phaedo,’ ‘Symposium,’ and ‘Phaedrus.’ Nowhere is the unique personality of Socrates more livingly displayed, and yet the substance or philosophic content is still more remote from the merely Socratic point of view. The wild playfulness, the humour, the spiritual insight of the two latter dialogues; the imperturbable calmness of the ‘Phaedo,’ are the essential attributes of the living Socrates, only heightened through reverential contemplation. But the doctrine of immortality, in each of the three forms, which are diverse in themselves, as will appear by and by, is essentially different from what Plato himself reports in the ‘Apology,’ as the belief of Socrates, when condemned to death. And the ideal theory, here formulated in three different ways, though not unrelated to the Master's lifelong search for truths unrealised, certainly goes beyond anything which Socrates in his lifetime would have asserted. We are not, for that reason, to reject the evidence of these dialogues as to personal traits: such as that of going barefoot except when called to a feast; of never leaving Athens, even for a walk in the country, unless led onward by the interest of conversation with a friend; of standing stock-still for long spaces of time, while he thought out something with himself; or gently caressing some younger friend, as when he playfully strokes Phaedo's hair and says: ‘I suppose tomorrow you will cut off these fine locks in token of mourning for me’; of his conduct in the field of Delium, or in the winter quarters before Potidaea; least of all, perhaps, the beautiful relation between the philosopher and the simple friend of his own standing, honest Crito, who has no tincture of philosophy. Hardly any of the dialogues have more of pathetic interest than that in which this aged friend, who has provided a way of escape, vainly urges Socrates to take advantage of it, The ‘Crito’ may have been written with a motive, viz. to prove that Socrates, though he took no part in active politics, was a good citizen; but the impression which it produces of perfect faithfulness to life must surely reflect, in common with the mention of Crito in the ‘Phaedo,’ an aspect of Socrates not less precious than his speculative energy—his affectionateness towards a true and lifelong companion. That the substance of the ‘Phaedo’ is largely an invention, Plato as good as confesses by stating that he was not present, being prevented by illness from attending Socrates in those last hours.
The Socrates of the ‘Theaetetus’ and ‘Parmenides,’ although still a lifelike image, has more of the deliberateness of Platonic art, and less of the spontaneity of an immediate transcript from memory. The description of Socrates by himself as a man-midwife of the mind, although wrought up with admirable skill, seems rather to embody Plato's conception of Socrates as the greatest of educators than to repeat what Socrates is likely to have said about himself. And when the youthful Socrates, in answer to Parmenides, sets forth his inchoate theory of ideas, that is Plato's way of confessing that his own doctrine of ideas, in its earlier form, as developed from Socratic teaching, was liable to objections which, in the interest of truth, he now saw must be encountered and grappled with. In the dialogues which follow these (including the ‘Philebus’) the person of Socrates is retained, more in form than in reality, as a conventional element of the Platonic dialogue, until in the ‘Laws’ he disappears altogether, and the leader of the conversation is an Athenian, presumably Plato himself.
Amongst the many dramatis personae that enliven Plato's writings, standing in various relations to the central figure of Socrates, it is somewhat remarkable that Xenophon nowhere appears. He was a true disciple, although, like Crito, he was incapable of realising the speculative aims and wider philosophic bearing of his master's teaching, still less of adorning them after the manner of Plato. If Plato's representation of his master must not be taken too literally, it would be still more dangerous to regard that of Xenophon as adequate or complete. What we learn from him, so far as Socrates is concerned, is, that besides the intellectual ardour and mystic enthusiasm which prompted his own lifework, there was in Socrates a fund of practical wisdom, of serviceable commonplace morality and good sense, which, in numberless cases, proved of infinite benefit to his friends and disciples. “When he compels some youthful aspirant to refrain from public speaking until he has studied more, or when he brings the weapon of ridicule to bear on vicious propensities, or when he reasons with one who makes religious services an excuse for the neglect of plain duties, we catch a glimpse of the man in everyday life and conversation, as we find him little if at all in Plato. Xenophon has been described as the military brother of the Socratic family; and he is interesting, apart from anything which he has learned from Socrates, because he reveals in a fine literary form the religious mind of an ordinary well-educated Athenian and an accomplished soldier. He is strict in all religious observances, and in his retirement at Scillus builds a temple to Artemis, which he surrounds with a sort of park or hunting-ground, perhaps in imitation of what he had seen in Asia. His ideal of virtue, or true manhood, is that of a practised soldier; an essential part of it is to have the body always in serviceable condition, to hear heat and cold and hunger, and keep the muscles hard and dry, and at the same time to have the mind ready, in the Spartan sense, to rule and to be ruled in turn, to observe discipline and to maintain it. But he has also thoughts which pass beyond this world: the wise and good who die are to be held in honour and to he counted blessed, without too nicely determining whether they are conscious of their blessedness or not. The most perfect of Xenophon's writings, apart from the ‘Anabasis,’ which is mere narrative, is his embodiment in the ‘Cyropaedeia’ of his ideal of a ruler of men. The last exhortation of Cyrus to his sons and to his friends and comrades illustrates, as well as anything could, the religious feeling of a cultivated Athenian of the fourth century about a good man's death. The genuine piety of such a high-born Athenian is also clearly apparent in the ‘Economist’ of Xenophon, especially in the delightful picture of the manner in which Ischomachus is supposed to educate his child-wife, and to fit her for the position to which she is called. The constant reference to the gods (not to any particular god), the exhortation to begin every important course of action with prayer, is balanced by a mild appeal to the practical reason, in which, the method of Socrates is watered down to suit a childish apprehension. This glimpse of an Attic interior, idealised though it may be, teaches us more about Attic religion than the information that the person thus instructed had danced the bear-dance at ten years old, or had carried the sacred basket in honour of Athena at fourteen.
Three others of the disciples of Socrates require special mention, since each became the founder of a separate school: Euclides of Megara, Aristippus of Cyrene, and Antisthenes the Athenian. Socrates had not taught any positive doctrine; he rather sought to awaken the minds of his disciples to independent thought. But the minds so awakened were apt to hark back on one or other of the earlier dogmatic systems, which were still in full life, although the Master himself had turned away from them.
Euclides combined the Socratic moral idealism with a modification of the Eleatic logic. His dialectic differed from Plato's in making more formal use of negative argument, the reductio ad absurdum; but he held firmly by the belief inspired by Socrates in the reality of human good, which he identified with conscious thought or wisdom. A late tradition represents him as having given shelter to his brother disciples after their master's death. The school of Euclides degenerated into barren subtleties, but for a time had a distinct influence in the development of the science of logic, especially of that chapter of it which treats of fallacies.
The doctrine of Aristippus had a more lasting effect, appealing as it did to a constant factor in human experience. Plato, in expressly mentioning him as absent from the scene of the ‘Phaedo,’ would seem to indicate that he had broken off from discipleship before the end, perhaps crediting himself with independent discovery. I have spoken of the utilitarianism sometimes imputed to Socrates, and in the ‘Protagoras’ he is certainly represented as making the amount of pleasure, if calculated over a whole lifetime, the test of good. That is only a moment in the process of Socratic thought; but pleasure more simply conceived became the centre of the teaching of Aristippus in the form of Hedonism. Resuming the sceptical theory of Protagoras respecting the relativity of truth and good, and applying it to life, he found in the impression of the moment the sole attainable reality, and in the pleasure of the moment the sum of attainable good. This is the Cyrenaic doctrine, which afterwards, in combination with the atomism of Democritus, formed the substance of the teaching of Epicurus and his followers. The couplet of Horace well expresses the ethical spirit of the school:
Nunc in Aristippi furtim precepta relabor;
Et mihi res non me rebus subiungere conor.
Antisthenes was a faithful disciple, but wanting in imagination. He had a Thracian mother, and Th. Gomperz argues with some probability that his mental peculiarities were partly due to the fact that he was not of pure Greek blood. He is said to have lost or to have spent a handsome fortune, and to have taken to philosophy in old age when he was disgusted with the world. He was less influenced by Socratic reasoning, which did not convince him, than by the strong and independent personality of Socrates; and his predilection for Heraclitus amongst the earlier philosophers was less due to the Ephesian's speculative sublimity than to his proud scorn for the generality of mankind. He shared the tendency of some earlier sophists to shake off all social conventions and return to an imagined primitive simplicity of ‘nature’—Glaucon's ‘city of pigs.’ Accordingly he followed Socrates in the simplicity of his mode of life, and made individual self-sufficingness his ethical ideal. Like the Megarians, he seems intellectually to have been influenced by the paradoxes of Zeno, which he carried into sophistical extravagances, destructive of thought and even language. Some of the logical difficulties which he raised have perhaps the merit of having stimulated Plato to important metaphysical determinations. Great doubt still hung over the nature of predication; and until such doubts were removed, all thought was liable to fallacies which hindered its true development. The importance of Antisthenes, however, turns rather on his having founded the Cynic school, whose doctrine, again in combination with another great philosophy, that of Heraclitus, formed the chief factor in the ethical teaching of the Stoics. Individualism was his strong point, and the tendency to excessive distinctions between logical terms was his intellectual weakness. Diogenes exaggerated the individualist tendency, while Crates accentuated the logical, which his pupil Zeno of the Porch combined with the Megarian tradition.
Thus it appears that all the ethical theories which prevailed amongst the ancient world had their root in Socrates, whose teaching they more or less perverted or only partially understood. The Stoic, the Epicurean, the Academic, the Peripatetic, and the Neoplatonist all derived from this abundant source their separate and narrower streams.