« AnteriorContinuar »
he completely substituted the moral for the physical, and in this essentially consists the philosophical revolution he effected. He had no school, properly speaking, nor did he elaborate any special ethical system ; for to those who inquired how they should know good from evil and right from wrong, he recommended the decisions of the laws of their country. It does The docnot appear that he ever entered on any inquiry respecting the Socrates. nature of God, simply viewing his existence as a fact of which there was abundant and incontrovertible proof. Though rejecting the crude religious ideas of his nation, and totally opposed to anthropomorphism, he carefully avoided the giving of public offence by improper allusions to the prevailing superstition; nay, even as a good citizen, he set an example of conforming to its requirements. In his judgment, the fault of the Sophists consisted in this, that they had subverted useless speculation, but had substituted no scientific convictions for it. Nevertheless, if man did not know, he might believe, and demonstration might be profitably supplanted by faith. He therefore insisted on the great doctrines of the immortality of the soul and the government of the world by Providence; but it is not to be denied that there are plain indications, in some of his sentiments, that the Supreme Being is the soul of the world. He professed that his own chief wisdom consisted in Opposes the knowledge of his own ignorance, and dissuaded his friends tics and from the cultivation of mathematics and physics, since he af
physics. firmed that the former lead to vain conclusions, the latter to atheism. In his system everything turns on the explanation of terms; but his processes of reasoning are often imperfect, his conclusions, therefore, liable to be incorrect. In this way, he maintained that no one would knowingly commit a wrong act, because he that knew a thing to be good would do it; that it is only involuntarily that the bad are bad; that he who knowingly tells a lie is a better man than he who tells a lie in ignorance; and that it is right to injure one's enemies.
From such a statement of the philosophy of Socrates, we Superficiacannot fail to remark how superficial it must have been; it views. perpetually mistakes differences of words for distinctions of things; it also possessed little novelty. The enforcement of
morality cannot be regarded as anything new, since probably there has never been an age in which good men were not to be found, who observed as their rule of life the maxims taught by Socrates ; and hence we may reasonably inquire what it was that has spread over the name of this great man such an unfading lustre, and why he stands out in such extraordinary prominence among the benefactors of his race.
Socrates was happy in two things,-happy in those who rethe celebrity of Socrates. corded his life, and happy in the circumstances of his death.
It is not given to every great man to have Xenophon and Plato for his biographers; it is not given to every one who has overpassed the limit of life, and, in the natural course of events, has but a little longer to continue, to attain the crown of martyrdom in behalf of virtue and morality. In an evil hour for the glory of Athens, his countrymen put him to death. It was too late when they awoke and saw that they could give no answer to the voice of posterity, demanding why they had perpetrated this crime. With truth Socrates said, at the close of his noble speech to the judges who had condemned him, “It is now time that we depart, -I to die, you to live; but which has the better destiny is unknown to all except God.” The future has resolved that doubt. For Socrates there was re
served the happier lot. The ostensi.
No little obscurity still remains upon the true nature of this sations dark transaction. The articles of accusation were three : he against him.
rejects the gods of his country; he introduces new ones; he perverts the education of youth. With truth might his friends say that it was wonderful that he should be accused of impiety, the whole tenor of whose life was reverence for God,-a recognition not only of the divine existence, but of the divine superintendence. “It is only a madman,” he would say, “who imputes success in life to human prudence;" and as to the necessity of a right education for the young, “It is only the wise who are fit to govern men.”
We must conclude that the accusations were only ostensible or fictitious, and that beneath them lay some reality which could reconcile the Athenians to the perpetration of so great a crime.
Shall we find in his private life any explanation of this mys
tery? Unfortunately, the fragments which have descended to us are few. To the investigations of classical criticism we can scarcely look with any hope, for classical criticism has hitherto been in a state of singular innocence, so far as the actual affairs of life are concerned. It regards Athenians and Romans not as men and women like ourselves, but as the personages presented by fictitious literature, whose lives are exceptions to the common laws of human nature; who live in the midst of scenes of endless surprises and occurrences ever bordering on the marvellous.
If we examine the case according to every-day principles, we The characcannot fail to remark that the Socrates of our imagination is crates in
Athens. a very different man from the Socrates of contemporaneous Athenians. To us he appears a transcendent genius, to whom the great names of antiquity render their profound homage; a martyr in behalf of principles, of which if society is devoid, life itself is scarcely of any worth, and for the defence of which it is the highest glory that a man should be called upon to die. To them Socrates was no more than an idle lounger in the public places and corners of the streets; grotesque, and even repulsive in his person ; affecting, in the oddities of his walking and in his appearance, many of the manners of the mountebank. Neglecting the pursuit of an honest calling, for his trade seems to have been that of a stone-cutter, he wasted his time in discoursing with such youths as his lecherous countenance and satyr-like person could gather around him, leading them astray from the gods of his country, the flińsy veil of his hypocrisy being too transparent to conceal his infidelity. Nevertheless, he was a very brave soldier, as those who served with him testify. It does not appear that he was observant of those cares which by most men are properly considered as paramount, giving himself but little concern for the support of his children and wife. The good woman Xantippe is, to all appearance, one Xantippe, of those characters who are unfairly judged of by the world. Socrates married her because of her singular conversational powers; and though he himself, according to universal testimony, possessed extraordinary merits in that respect, he found to his cost, when too late, that so commanding were her excel
Xantippe. lences that he was altogether her inferior. Among the amusing instances related of his domestic difficulties were the consequences of his invitations to persons to dine with him when there was nothing in the house wherewith to entertain them,a proceeding severely trying to the temper of Xantippe, whose cause would unquestionably be defended by the matrons of any nation. It was nothing but the mortification of a high-spirited woman at the acts of a man who was too shiftless to have any concern for his domestic honour. He would not gratify her urgent entreaties by accepting from those upon whom he lavished his time the money that was so greatly needed at home. After his condemnation, she carried her children with her to his prison, and was dismissed by him, as he told his friends, from his apprehension of her deep distress. To the last we see her bearing herself in a manner honourable to a woman and a wife. There is surely something wrong in a man's life when the mother of his children is protesting against his conduct, and her complaints are countenanced by the community. In view of all the incidents of the history of Socrates, we can come to no other conclusion than that the Athenians regarded
him as an unworthy, and perhaps a troublesome member of He is really society. There can be no doubt that his trial and condemnaof political tion were connected with political measures. He himself said animosity. that he should have suffered death previously, in the affair of
Leon of Salamis, had not the government been broken up. His bias was towards aristocracy, not towards democracy. In common with his party, he had been engaged in undertakings that could not do otherwise than entail mortal animosities; and it is not to be overlooked that his indictment was brought forward by Anytus, who was conspicuous in restoring the old order of things. The mistake made by the Athenians was in applying a punishment altogether beyond the real offence, and in adding thereto the persecution of those who had embraced the tenets of Socrates by driving them into exile. Not alone admiration for the memory of their master, but a recollection of their own wrongs, made these men eloquent eulogists. Had Socrates appeared to the Athenians as he appears to us, it is not consistent with human proceedings that they should
have acted in so barbarous and totally indefensible a manner.
If by the Demon to whose suggestions Socrates is said to The Dehave listened anything more was meant than conscience, we Socrates. must infer that he laboured under that mental malady to which those are liable who, either through penury or designedly, submit to extreme abstinence, and, thereby injuring the brain, fall into hallucination. Such cases are by no means of infrequent occurrence. Mohammed was affected in that manner.
After the death of Socrates there arose several schools pro- The Megafessing to be founded upon his principles. The divergences The wise they exhibited when compared with one another prove how should be little there was of precision in those principles. Among these to pain. imitators is numbered Euclid of Megara, who had been in the habit of incurring considerable personal risk for the sake of listening to the great teacher, it being a capital offence for a native of Megara to be found in Athens. Upon their persecution, Plato and other disciples of Socrates fled to Euclid, and were well received by him. His system was a mixture of the Eleatic and Socratic, the ethical preponderating in his doctrine. He maintained the existence of one Being, the good, having various aspects,—wisdom, God, reason,-and showed an inclination to the tendency afterward fully developed by the Cynical school in his dogma that the wise man should be insensible to pain.
With the Megaric school is usually classified the Cyrenaic, The Cyrefounded by Aristippus. Like Socrates, he held in disdain Pleasure is
the object physical speculations, and directed his attention to the moral. Of life. In his opinion, happiness consists in pleasure; and, indeed, he recognized in pleasure and pain the criteria of external things. He denied that we can know anything with certainty, our senses being so liable to deceive us; but, though we may not perceive things truly, it is true that we perceive. With the Cyrenaic school, pleasure is the great end and object of life.
To these may be added the Cynical school, founded by An- The Cynical tisthenes, whose system is personal and ferocious: it is a battle contempt of the mind against the body; it is a pursuit of pleasure of a and gratifimental kind, corporeal enjoyment being utterly unworthy of cation of
Its nature is very well shown in the character of its