« PreviousContinue »
as Socrates shows, were studiously excluded from his philosophy. It was only another name for the physical truth of things, in which the atheist contends there may be science on his hypothesis, as well as on any other. It was an abstract intelligence, displayed wholly in physical adaptations, without either a general or special providence. It might be regarded as the instinct of the universe, working in the great whole, as some of its emanations in minute portions, blindly, unconsciously, without personality, and knowing everything but itself. However incomprehensible this may be, it is still the highest reach of that philosophy which makes no account of any moral attributes in the Deity, but regards him as a mere impassible intelligence. We have no hesitation in preferring pantheism if it embrace, although inconsistently, that moral element, without which there can be no true personality, either to Nows or yuxń.
Plato evidently regarded this philosophy as no better than practical atheism, notwithstanding it sets out so pompously, and apparently so religiously, with the dogina aforesaid. He seems here to condemn its modern advocates, the véol oopoí, as he styles them, equally with that ancient superstition which they so much derided. Anaxagoras was of a spirit the very opposite of that which pervades all the teachings of Socrates. He was inclined rather to insult and shock the popular superstitions than gently to remove them, or turn to good account whatever of truth they might possess, and that, too, not in the spirit of enthusiastic reli. gious zeal, which we cannot help respecting even when we are compelled to condemn, but in the mere conceit of a little fancied progress in physical science. Like the modern Galileo, whose name is so frequently in the mouths of the scientific enemies of religion, he evidently rejoiced more in the thought, that this very small advance raised him somewhat above the religious notions of his countrymen, than in any honest wish or desire to elevate those
popular views which placed him, as he supposed, in such egotistical contrast. He seems to have been a regular priest and poet hater, and there is, therefore, no cause for surprise that he should have called forth the enmity and prejudices of those whom he had, from no higher motive than vanity, attacked.
This spirit was manifested in the declaration, a few lines below referred to, that the heavenly bodies were only masses of earth and stones, and that the sun was a ball of melted ore.
For this he was charged by the Athenians with atheism, and justly too; for he who assails the common belief of any people, without putting anything better in its place, or who attempts to destroy false notions of the Deity, without teaching, as Socrates and Plato did, the doctrine of the one eternal and ineffable, yet personal Supreme, the head of a moral government, and directing all things with final reference to moral ends, is in heart no better than an atheist, whatever refined speculative notions he may have in the abstract about Nows or intelligence being the cause of all things. It is probable that the condemnation of Socrates was mainly effected in consequence of his views having been misunderstood by the unthinking Athenian mob, and confounded with those of Anaxagoras.
Plato did undoubtedly hold that the Heavenly bodies were animated personal beings; but when here and in subsequent passages he styles them Jeol, it is only in the sense of beings superior to men. The simple doctrine, therefore, for it goes no farther, that the Heavenly bodies were animated beings, was no great heresy either in philosophy or religion. (See Note XXXIV., where this subject is more fully discussed.) It was far better than the speculative semi-atheism of Anaxagoras, or even of some modern, naturalists, who have only substituted for the abstract Nous of the Grecian philosopher the symbols and equations of the differential and integral calculus. One religious con
ception of God as a moral governor, the light in which Plato and Socrates chiefly regarded him, and which may exist in connexion with the most absurd notions of the physical universe, does yet belong to a philosophy almost infinitely removed above the mere scientific theism of such men as Anaxagoras, Galileo or La Place.
VII. The Divine Justice, the Ground of Human Law. PAGE 9, LINE 1. Σχεδόν γαρ τούτο ημϊν υπερ απάντων των νόμων κάλλιστόν τε και άριστον προοίμιον αν έιη. “For this is just the fairest and most excellent preamble to all laws, or to every system of law," namely, ás geol al είσι και αγαθοί, δίκην τιμώντες διαφερόντως ανθρώπων. “ That the Gods not only are, but that they are also good, and that, moreover, they have an esteem for justice beyond anything that is felt among men.” Jeoí here, as we have remarked before, is used as a collective term for the whole of the Divine Nature, being equivalent to TÒ Jelov, or tò daluóvlov, and should be rendered in the singular, if we would do full justice to the thought. See Note V. The sentiment is this: It is not enough simply to believe in the Divine existence. God is something more than the dynamic principle of the universe. Neither is it enough to connect with this the notion of infinite knowledge. God is something more than the Noữs of Anaxagoras, something more than mere intelligence. The law should present him to us in the far sublimer idea of a Being clothed with the moral attributes of justice, and of a special, or, rather, moral providence. It is this, and not a merely speculative or scientific theism, which must lie at the foundation of every true system of legislation. We may talk as loftily as we please of The Supreme Intelligence, or The First Cause, or
The Great Idea, it is still practical atheism, until along with this there is recognised The Lawgiver, The Judge, and The Moral Governor, the constant and interested Witness of our every act, the ground and sanction of the solemn appeal of the oath. “That such views (says Cicero) are useful and necessary, who will deny, when he reflects how many things must be confirmed by an oath, how much safety there is in those religious rites that pertain to the solemnization of contracts, how many the fear of the Divine punishment keeps back from crime ; in short, how sacred and holy a thing So. ciety becomes when the Immortal Gods are constantly presented (in the Law) both as judges and witnesses.” Cic., De Leg., ii., vii. We would even venture to assert, that a gross anthropopathy or anthropomorphism, if it retain such views of the moral attributes of the Deity as a God of Law, is every way to be preferred to the most metaphysical or philosophical notions of the Divine Nature and its im. passibility, which reject them, or do not even assign to them the most prominent place.
VIII. Universality of the Belief in a God. PAGE 10, LINE 10. Ελλήνων τε και βαρβάρων πάντων εν συμφοραίς παντοίαις. Compare with this what Clinias says, page 4, line 14: και ότι πάντες “Έλληνές τε και βάρβαροι νομίζουσιν είναι θεούς. By Greeks and Barbarians, the former always meant all mankind, and, therefore, the belief in a God is here declared to be coextensive with the race.
If any man might rely on his own unaided reason, who will venture to say that Plato would not have been justified in thus trusting himself to it? And yet, profound as he was in the investigation of truth beyond the most, if not all, of his fellow-men, he never hesitates to ap
peal to the common sentiments, the kolvai švvolal of mankind, and to throw himself upon them often with a confidence which he yielded to no speculative argument. Hence his fondness for those ancient myths, under which were con. cealed, in various forms, the opinions universally held respecting the moral government of God and the doctrine of future retribution. This was not, as Warburton supposed, a mere accommodation of himself to those vulgar dogmas, which he did not wish to destroy, because he deemed them useful. All that has been said by writers of that school, and by the ancient authorities on whom they pretend to rely, respecting the exoteric and esoteric teaching, we believe to be wholly unsupported by any parts of the genuine dialogues of Plato. No man was, farther from his true spirit than Warburton, and, without an appreciation of this, his learning only led him to misunderstand the philosopher in some of his most serious discussions. If ever Plato is deeply earnest, it is when he gets engaged in the discussion of a traditionary myth, which he can regard in some measure as standing in the place of primitive revelation, or can find relief from the uncertainties of his own speculations, in what he could trace as the universal voice of hu. manity. We need no stronger proof of this, than is found in the manner in which he closes the long discussion in the Gorgias (in some respects the most perfect and rigidly con. ducted argument to be found in his works), with the mythical representation of the final judgment; as though, without this appeal to the authority of ancient and universal tradi. tion, human reason could never freely and satisfactorily prove that a life of sensual pleasure, or of worldly ambition, was not better than one spent in acts of virtue and the cultivation of philosophy. He was the last man to spurn such aid, in order to gratify that pride of intellect, that would adopt no conclusions to which it had not arrived through the independent exercise of private judgment. He knew