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  • 8/10/2019 A.E. Taylor - Plato


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  • 8/10/2019 A.E. Taylor - Plato


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    Full text of "Plato" PLATO

    ByA. E. TAYLOR


    214-220 EAST 23RD STREET


  • 8/10/2019 A.E. Taylor - Plato


    Printed in Great Britain by

    T. and A. Constable, Printers to His I^Iajesty

    at ihe University Press, Edinburgh



    The following sketch makes no claim to beconsidered as a complete account of the philo-sophy of Plato. Many topics of importance havebeen omitted altogether, and others only treatedwith the utmost attainable brevity. I have alsothought it necessary to avoid, as far as possible,all controversial discussion, and have therefore inmany cases followed my own judgment on disput-able points without attempting to support it by

    the detailed reasoning which would be indispens-able in a work of larger scope. My object hasbeen to sit as loose as possible to all the tradi-tional expositions of Platonism, and to give inbroad outline the personpJ impression of thephilosopher's thought which I have derived fromrepeated study of the Platonic text. The list ofworks useful to the student, though it merelycomprises a few of those which I have myselffound useful or important, will give myreader the opportunity to form his own judgmentby comparing my interpretations with those of


    others. Those who are most competent to con-demn the numerous defects of my little book will,I hope, be also most indulgent in their verdict onan attempt to compress into so small a compassan account of the most original and influential ofall philosophies.

    A. E. T.




  • 8/10/2019 A.E. Taylor - Plato


    I, Life and Writings , 1

    ^Knowledge and its Objects . . * , 34

    III. The Soul of Man Psychology, Ethics, and

    Politics ,73

    IV. Cosmology ..-..,,, 137Select Bibliography 149





    The tradilional story of the life of Plato is onein which it is unusually difficult to distinguishbetween historical fact and romantic fiction. Ofthe ' Lives ' of Plato which have come down to usfrom ancient times, the earliest in date is thatof the African rhetorician and romance-^vriterApuleius, who belongs to the middle and laterhalf of the second century a.d. There is a longerbiography in the scrap-book commonly known asthe Lives of the Philosophers by Diogenes ofLaerte, a compilation which dates, in its presentform, from a time not long before the middle

    of the third century a.d., though much of itsmaterial is taken from earlier and better sources.The remaining 'Lives' belong to the latest ageof Neo-Platonism, i.e. the sixth century afterChrist and later. Thus the earliest extant bio-


    graphy of the philosopher comes to us from atime four hundred years after his death, andmust be taken -;g i^epresent the Platonic legend

    as it was current in a most uncritical age. Whenwe try to gat behind this legend to its basis inwell- accredited fact, the results we obtain aresingularly meagre. Plato himself has recordedonly two facts about his own life. He tells us,in the Aioology, that he was present in court atthe trial of his master Socrates, and that he wasone of the friends who offered to be surety forthe payment of any fine which might be imposedon the old philosopher. In the Phaedo he adds

  • 8/10/2019 A.E. Taylor - Plato


    that he was absent from the famous death-scenein the prison, owing to an illness, a statementwhich may, however, be no more than an artisticliterary fiction. His contemporary Xenophonmerely mentions him once in passing as a mem-ber of the inner Socratic circle. From Aristotlewe further learn that Plato, as a young man,apparently before his intimacy with Socrates,had been a pupil of the Heraclitean philosopherCratylus. A few anecdotes of an unfavourablekind are related by Diogenes of Laerte on theauthority of Aristoxenus of Messene, a pupil ofAristotle, and a well-known writer on music,whose credibility is, however, impaired by his


    unmistakable personal animus against Socratesand Plato, and his anxiety to deny them allphilosophical originality. The dates of Plato'sbirth and death are, moreover, fixed for us bythe unimpeachable authority of the Alexandrian

    chronologists, whose testimony has been pre-served by Diogenes. We may thus take it ascertain that Plato was born in the year 427 B.C.,early in the great Peloponnesian war, and died in346, at the age of eighty- one. The way in whichXenophon, in his one solitary statement, couplesthe name of Plato with that of Charmides, aleader of the oligarchy of the ' Thirty,' set up bythe Spartans in Athens at the close of the Pelo-ponnesian war, taken together with the promi-nence given in the Platonic dialogues to Charmidesand Critias as friends of Socrates, confirms thelater tradition, according to which Plato himself

    was a near relative of the two ' oligarchs,' a factwhich has to be borne in mind in reading hissevere strictures upon Athenian democracy.

    There remains, indeed, a further source of in-formation, which, if its authenticity could beregarded as established, would be of the veryhighest value. Among the writings ascribed toPlato and preserved in our ancient manuscriptsthere is a collection of thirteen letters, purport-



    ing to be written by the philosopher himself,some of which ostensibly contain a good deal ofautobiographical detail. In particular the seventhletter, the longest and most important of thegroup, professes to contain the philosopher's ownvindication of his life -long abstention from taking

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    part in the public life of his country, and, ifgenuine, absolutely confirms the later story, pre-sently to be narrated, of his political relationswith the court of Syracuse. As to the history ofthis collection of letters, all that we know forcertain is that they were in existence and wereregarded as Platonic early iji tYie first centuryA.D., when they were included by the scholarThrasyllus in his complete edition of the worksof Plato. This, however, is not of itself proof oftheir genuineness, since the edition of Thrasylluscontained works which we can now show to bespurious, such as the Theages and Frastae. Wefurther know from Diogenes of Laerte that cer-tain 'letters* had been included in the earlieredition of Plato by the famous scholar Aristo-phanes, who was librarian of the great museumof Alexandria towards the end of the secondcentury B.C. ; but we are not told which or howmany of our present collection Aristophanesrecognised. When we examine the extant letters



    themselves, we seem led to the conclusion thatthey can hardly all be genuine works of Plato,since some of them appear to allude to character-istic doctrines of the Neo-Pythagoreanism whicharose about the beginning of the first cen