Plato and Platonism by Walter Pater

By Walter Pater

WITH the realm of highbrow creation, as with that of natural iteration, nature makes no surprising begins. Natura nihil facit consistent with saltum; and within the historical past of philosophy there are not any absolute beginnings. repair the place we could the foundation of this or that doctrine or notion, the doctrine of "reminiscence," for example, or of "the perpetual flux," the idea of "induction," or the philosophic view of items quite often, the professional will nonetheless be capable of locate us a few prior anticipation of that doctrine, that psychological tendency. the main ordinary act of psychological research takes time to do; the main rudimentary kind of speculative wisdom, abstractions so basic that we will infrequently conceive the human brain with out them, needs to develop, and with hassle. Philosophy itself, psychological and ethical, has its guidance, its forethoughts, within the poetry that preceded it. a strong generalisation thrown into a few salient word, reminiscent of that of Heraclitus—"Panta rhei,"+ all issues fleet away—may startle a selected age by way of its novelty, yet takes ownership simply simply because all alongside its root used to be someplace one of the usual notwithstanding yet part- constructed instincts of the human brain itself.

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Plato and the Doctrine of Number 39 In spirit, then, we are certainly of the Pythagorean company in that most characteristic dialogue, the Meno, in which Plato discusses the nature, the true idea, of Virtue, or rather how one may attain thereto; compelled to this subordinate and accessory question by the intellectual cowardice of his disciple, though after his manner he flashes irrepressible light on that other primary and really indispensable question by the way. Pythagoras, who had founded his famous brotherhood by way of turning theory into practice, must have had, of course, definite views on that most practical question, how virtue is to be attained by us; and Plato is certainly faithful to him in assigning the causation of virtue partly to discipline, forming habit (ÁskhsiV) as enforced on the monk, the soldier, the schoolboy, as he is true to his own experience in assigning it partly also to a good natural disposition (fúsei) and he suggests afterwards, as I suppose some of us would be ready to do, that virtue is due also in part (qeía moíra) to the good pleasure of heaven, to unmerited grace.

He who is in total ignorance of musical notes, who has no ear, will certainly be unaware of them when they light on him, or he lights upon them. Where could one begin? we ask, in certain cases where not to know at all means incapacity for receiving knowledge. Yes, certainly; the Pythagoreans are right in saying that what we call learning is in fact reminiscence—ÂnámnhsiV: famous word! and Socrates proceeds to show in what precise way it is impossible or possible to find out what you don’t know: how that happens.

Let me however conclude with a document of the Eleatic temper, nearer in its origin to the age of Plato: an ancient fragment of Cleanthes the Stoic, which has justly stirred the admiration of Stoical minds; though truly, so hard is it not to lapse from those austere heights, the One, the Absolute, has become in it after all, with much varied colour and detail in his relations to concrete things and persons, our father Zeus. An illustrious athlete; then a mendicant dealer in water-melons; chief pontiff lastly of the sect of the Stoics; Cleanthes, as we see him in anecdote at least, is always a loyal, sometimes a very Plato and the Doctrine of Rest 31 quaintly loyal, follower of the Parmenidean or Stoic doctrine of detachment from all material things.

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