Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

of Christ, he did not dare to enter upon an exterminating crusade against all the rites, opinions, and traditions held sacred in the Athenian worship. The Grecian reformer was too well acquainted with human nature not to fear lest, in destroying the monster Superstition, he should call up another of a still more horrid aspect-Atheism. He did not wish utterly to pull down existing institutions, while he had no new revelation, whose authority might replace, with increased vigour, the departed reverence for those ancient myths, the probable remains of truths once communicated from Heaven, yet mysteriously abandoned to all the corruptions and distortions of the human mind. He probably thought that out of some of the better parts of the Grecian mythology there might be constructed a system, which, while it recognised the One Eternal Supreme, placed at an immense distance from all things created by him or ema. nating from him, might, at the same time, admit of inferior powers, retaining the individual names at least, (if not the characters), which had been consecrated by the popular superstition. That he did believe in such an Eternal and Ineffable Supreme (8 yevvñoas åidios trathp, Timæus, 38, Α.,-ο κάλλιστος και άριστος μένων αει απλώς εν τη αυτού μορφή, Rep., 381, C.,-ο πάντων ήκιστα της εαυτού idéas Ékbaívwv, 380, D.), every reader of his works must admit. He undoubtedly erred in supposing that the pure worship of such a glorious Being could be consistent with any kind of religious homage paid to inferior powers; yet we should remember that the same error has been committed by the largest portion of the professedly Christian Church, and that we are to judge Plato, not as a Christian under the light of revelation, but as a heathen philosopher struggling with difficulties, of the magnitude of which we have no just conception. These remarks are deemed necessary in reply to the charge often made against Plato, of countenancing the polytheism of his countrymen, and which

[ocr errors][merged small]

έν του

zyear?

arton COTA

nd, how nt to di

OTOS

nd szki

self pri
chical

he peci

eformi 2. Har he apron

There was,

may be found set forth in its strongest light in a tract by Jacob Zimmerman, contained in the ninth volume of the Amanitates Literariæ.

A misconception in regard to the Platonic theology has arisen from his use of the word geoi. The Greek writers, whether poets or orators, generally meant by it nothing more than supernatural beings of a higher order than men. The word, in itself, had attached to it none of those more metaphysical conceptions which belong to our term Divine, as significant of the uncreated and eternal. therefore, no philological inconsistency in its being applied to those beings whom Plato elsewhere calls daluoves, and who, in his scheme, may be regarded in the same light with the angels or sons of God, mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.

In respect to the objection which might be made to his use of the plural, it may be remarked, that throughout this whole argument with the atheist, Jeòs may be substituted for Jeoì, without at all affecting its validity, and we should by so doing come nearer to the philosopher's true meaning, than by retaining the common term, with the misconception arising from our modern notions; that is, we should better translate his spirit by adopting a slight mistranslation of the letter. Deo is often to be taken collectively for the whole of the superhuman Genus, however inferior and dependent some parts of it may be in respect to another, and is equivalent, in the discussions which follow, to TÒ Jelov or tò daluóvlov. Another suggestion, which it may be proper to make here, is, that by the phrase Deol Katà vóļlovs, the writer means not directly the Theogony and worship established by law at Athens (although even this he would touch with the hand of a wise reformer, and not of a reckless destructionist), but rather the cultus of the Supreme and inferior Divinities, as it should be set forth by the law. giver in that pure system of polity which he contemplates in the present treatise.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

VI. Philosophy and Character of Anaxagoras. PAGE 6, LINE 6. VéwV.. ..000őv. « Of our modern wits, or wise men;" that is, comparatively modern, although all to whom he refers did not live in Plato's own time. He seems chiefly to have had in mind Anaxagoras, who, not. withstanding his speculative theism and his boasted doctrine of the Noūs, was yet regarded by Plato as giving an atheistical tendency to the age in which he lived. In regard to his theology, Anaxagoras is best known by the position, in which he so much gloried, “ that mind was the cause of all things," and in physics, by the unpopular dogma, " that the sun was nothing but a mass of ignited stone, instead of an animated being,” as was commonly believed, and as Plato seems to teach in this book. The character of this philosopher may be understood from the boasting he himself made, and which his friends made for him, in regard to the first of these doctrines; as though, in this respect, he had in any way advanced beyond the more modest Thales, or had discovered a truth which had been concealed from the beginning of the world to his own day. Socrates seems to have had a right view of him in the Phædon, where he charges him with setting out with the doctrine that Nous was the cause of all things, as a mere speculative tenet, and then making no use of it in subsequent parts of his philosophy; that is, never ascending above second causes, or rising from the physical to the moral (BÉATLOTOV), but ever assigning, as the chief motive powers, αέρας τε και αιθέρας και ύδατα, gases, and fires, and fluids, as the words may be rendered in accommodation to the same spirit in modern physical philosophy.

Having once (says he) heard one reading a book of Anaxagoras, and saying, that Nous was the disposer and the efficient cause of all things, I was highly delighted with the

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

declaration, and it seemed to me to be admirably said ; and I thought, that if Nous (or Mind) thus arranged all things, everything must be placed in that position in which it was best for it to be ; so that no other study remained for man, in regard to both himself and other things, but the investigation of that which was (morally) most excellent and best (or, in other words, moral causes), and that this was the only true science of things. But in this wonderful hope (of discover. ing the universal science, or science of sciences) I was greatly disappointed; for as I read on I find the man making no farther use of his boasted Nows, nor assigning any other cause in the disposal and arrangement of the world, than airs, and æthers, and waters, and other similar things many and strange. And he seemed to me to act precisely as if any one saying, that Socrates doeth whatsoever he doeth by mind or reason, should then, in attempting to assign the causes of my actions, assert that I now sit here for these reasons, namely, that my body is composed of bones and nerves, that my bones are solid and have joints, and that my nerves contract and relax; where. fore that the bones being raised up in their joinings, the nerves, by reason of tension and relaxation, make me to bend my limbs, and that for this reason I now sit here: and so, also, in respect to our conversing, should assign other similar causes of the phenomena of speech, such as voices, and aerial vibrations, and sounds (φωνάς τε και αέρας και ακοάς), and ten thousand other such agencies, all the while neglecting to assign the true reason (of reasons), that because it seemed good (Béatlov) to the Athenians to condemn me, therefore it seemed better to me to sit here, and more just to submit to the sentence they had imposed. Since, as I verily believe, had it not been for the last-mentioned reasons, these nerves and bones would long before this have had me away to Megara or among the Beotians, being set in motion by an opinion of the best (Toũ BENTÍOtov), if I had not

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

thought it more just and better to remain than to fly."
Phædon, 97, 98. We recommend the close 'study of this
whole
passage,

and the admirable sketch it presents of such theists as Anaxagoras, to every student who wishes to know the essential difference, on this most vital point, between the Socratic and other ancient systems of philosophy. How strongly does it remind us of many modern books of physical science, in which the name of God may, perhaps, appear in a preface or some introductory note, while all the rest is not merely silent, but directly adapted to produce an atheistic turn of thought, by suffering the mind to dwell on nothing else than αέρας τε και αιθέρας και ύδατα, gases, and fluids, and fires, or imponderable agents. The opinion which Plato entertained of this philosopher is also significantly expressed, although he does not mention his name, in the eleventh book of the Laws, 967, A. B. C., a passage which is more freely examined in Note XIII., on the athe. istic doctrine of φύσις, τύχη, and τέχνη.

The Nous of Anaxagoras can hardly be regarded as a personal being, or as a Yux ÚTrepkoquía, distinct from the world, of which it might be considered the informing law. The atheist may admit the dogma without changing his creed. La Grange undoubtedly believed that there was Noūs, or reason, in the Heavens, even a science so profound, that all the powers of his highest mathematical analysis could barely follow the laws of motion in which it was displayed; and yet La Grange was an atheist. The Heavens had no interest for him except as they formed a splendid diagram for the illustration of his calculus, and as long as the moral element was wanting it made no difference what name was inscribed upon it, whether Nows or púois, or a God possessed of mere intelligence, to whom we were nothing, and who was nothing to us, except as affording subjects for the exercise of the speculative intellect. This Nous of Anaxagoras had no respect to moral as final causes, which,

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

, #

ince

da

e had

eting

hadas

« PreviousContinue »