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Chapter XVI.—Plato; Threefold Classification of Principles; His Idea of God; Different Opinions Regarding His Theology and Psychology; His Eschatology and System of Metempsychosis; His Ethical Doctrines; Notions on the Free-Will Question.
Plato (lays down) that there are three originating principles of the universe, (namely) God, and matter, and exemplar; God as the Maker and Regulator of this universe, and the Being who exercises providence over it; but matter, as that which underlies all (phenomena), which (matter) he styles both receptive and a nurse, out of the arrangement of which proceeded the four elements of which the world consists; (I mean) fire, air, earth, water, from which all the rest of what are denominated concrete substances, as well as animals and plants, have been formed. And that the exemplar, which he likewise calls ideas, is the intelligence of the Deity, to which, as to an image in the soul, the Deity attending, fabricated all things. God, he says, is both incorporeal and shapeless, and comprehensible by wise men solely; whereas matter is body potentially, but with potentiality not as yet passing into action, for being itself without form and without quality, by assuming forms and qualities, it became body. That matter, therefore, is an originating principle, and coeval with the Deity, and that in this respect the world is uncreated. For (Plato) affirms that (the world) was made out of it. And that (the attribute of) imperishableness necessarily belongs to (literally “follows”) that which is uncreated. So far forth, however, as body is supposed to be compounded out of both many qualities and ideas, so far forth it is both created and perishable. But some of the followers of Plato mingled both of these, employing some such example as the following: That as a waggon can always continue undestroyed, though undergoing partial repairs from time to time, so that even the parts each in turn perish, yet itself remains always complete; so after this manner the world also, although in parts it perishes, yet the things that are removed, being repaired, and equivalents for them being introduced, it remains eternal.
Some maintain that Plato asserts the Deity to be one, ingenerable and incorruptible, as he says in The Laws: 110110 De Legibus, iv. 7 (p. 109, vol. viii. ed. Bekker). “God, therefore, as the ancient account has it, possesses both the beginning, and end, and middle of all things.” Thus he shows God to be one, on account of His having pervaded all things. Others, however, maintain that Plato affirms the existence of many gods indefinitely, when he uses these words: “God of gods, of whom I am both the Creator and Father.”111111 Timæus, c. xvi. (p. 277, vol. vii. ed. Bekker). The passage runs thus in the original: “Gods of gods, of whom I am Creator and Father of works, which having been formed by Me, are indissoluble, through, at all events, My will.” But others say that he speaks of a definite number of deities in the following passage: “Therefore the mighty Jupiter, wheeling his swift chariot in heaven;” and when he enumerates the offspring of the children of heaven and earth. But others assert that (Plato) constituted the gods as generable; and on account of their having been produced, that altogether they were subject to the necessity of corruption, but that on account of the will of God they are immortal, (maintaining this) in the passage already quoted, where, to the words, “God of gods, of whom I am Creator and Father,” he adds, “indissoluble through the fiat of My will;” so that if (God) were disposed that these should be dissolved, they would easily be dissolved.
And he admits natures (such as those) of demons, and says that some of them are good, but others worthless. And some affirm that he states the soul to be uncreated and immortal, when he uses the following words, “Every soul is immortal, for that which is always moved is immortal;” and when he demonstrates that the soul is self-moved, and capable of originating motion. Others, however, (say that Plato asserted that the soul was) created, but rendered imperishable through the will of God. But some (will have it that he considered the soul) a composite (essence), and generable and corruptible; for even he supposes that there is a receptacle for it,112112 The word is literally a cup or bowl, and, being employed by Plato in an allegorical sense, is evidently intended to signify the anima mundi (soul of the world), which constituted a sort of depository for all spiritual existences in the world. and that it possesses a luminous body, but that everything generated involves a necessity of corruption.113113 Or, “that there exists a necessity for the corruption of everything created.” Those, however, who assert the immortality of the soul are especially strengthened in their opinion by those passages114114 Or, “are confirmed by that (philosopher Plato), because he asserts,” etc.; or, “those who assert the soul’s immortality are especially confirmed in their opinion, as many as affirm the existence of a future state of retribution.” (in Plato’s writings), where he says, that both there are judgments after death, and tribunals of justice in Hades, and that the virtuous (souls) receive a good reward, while the wicked (ones) suitable punishment. Some notwithstanding assert, that he also acknowledges a transition of souls from one body to another, and that different souls, those that were marked out for such a purpose, pass into different bodies,115115 Or, “that he changes different souls,” etc. according to the desert of each, and that after116116 Or, “during.” certain definite periods they are sent up into this world to furnish once more a proof of their choice. Others, however, (do not admit this to be his doctrine, but will have it that Plato affirms that the souls) obtain a place according to the desert of each; and they employ as a testimony the saying of his, that some good men are with Jove, and that others are ranging abroad (through heaven) with other gods; whereas that others are involved in eternal punishments, as many as during this life have committed wicked and unjust deeds.
And people affirm that Plato says, that some things are without a mean, that others have a mean, that others are a mean. (For example, that) waking and sleep, and such like, are conditions without an intermediate state; but that there are things that had means, for instance virtue and vice; and there are means (between extremes), for instance grey between white and black, or some other colour. And they say, that he affirms that the things pertaining to the soul are absolutely alone good, but that the things pertaining to the body, and those external (to it), are not any longer absolutely good, but reputed blessings. And that frequently he names these means also, for that it is possible to use them both well and ill. Some virtues, therefore, he says, are extremes in regard of intrinsic worth, but in regard of their essential nature means, for nothing is more estimable than virtue. But whatever excels or falls short of these terminates in vice. For instance, he says that there are four virtues—prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude—and that on each of these is attendant two vices, according to excess and defect: for example, on prudence, recklessness according to defect, and knavery according to excess; and on temperance, licentiousness according to defect, stupidity according to excess; and on justice, foregoing a claim according to defect, unduly pressing it according to excess; and on fortitude, cowardice according to defect, foolhardiness according to excess. And that these virtues, when inherent in a man, render him perfect, and afford him happiness. And happiness, he says, is assimilation to the Deity, as far as this is possible; and that assimilation to God takes place when any one combines holiness and justice with prudence. For this he supposes the end of supreme wisdom and virtue. And he affirms that the virtues follow one another in turn,117117 Diogenes Laertius, in describing the system of the Stoics, employs the same word in the case of their view of virtue. and are uniform, and are never antagonistic to each other; whereas that vices are multiform, and sometimes follow one the other, and sometimes are antagonistic to each other. He asserts that fate exists; not, to be sure, that all things are produced according to fate, but that there is even something in our power, as in the passages where he says, “The fault is his who chooses, God is blameless;” and “the following law118118 This is supplied from the original; the passage occurs in the Phædrus, c. lx. (p. 86, vol. i. ed. Bekker). of Adrasteia.”119119 The word Adrasteia was a name for Nemesis, and means here unalterable destiny. And thus some (contend for his upholding) a system of fate, whereas others one of free-will. He asserts, however, that sins are involuntary. For into what is most glorious of the things in our power, which is the soul, no one would (deliberately) admit what is vicious, that is, transgression, but that from ignorance and an erroneous conception of virtue, supposing that they were achieving something honourable, they pass into vice. And his doctrine on this point is most clear in The Republic,120120 The passage occurs in Clilophon (p. 244, vol. vi. ed. Bekker). where he says, “But, again, you presume to assert that vice is disgraceful and abhorred of God; how then, I may ask, would one choose such an evil thing? He, you reply, (would do so) who is worsted by pleasures.121121 The text, as given by Miller, is scarcely capable of any meaning. The translation is therefore conjectural, in accordance with alterations proposed by Schneidewin. Therefore this also is involuntary, if to gain a victory be voluntary; so that, in every point of view, the committing an act of turpitude, reason proves122122 Or, “declares.” to be involuntary.” Some one, however, in opposition to this (Plato), advances the contrary statement, “Why then are men punished if they sin involuntary?” But he replies, that he himself also, as soon as possible, may be emancipated from vice, and undergo punishment. For that the undergoing punishment is not an evil, but a good thing, if it is likely to prove a purification of evils; and that the rest of mankind, hearing of it, may not transgress, but guard against such an error. (Plato, however, maintains) that the nature of evil is neither created by the Deity, nor possesses subsistence of itself, but that it derives existence from contrariety to what is good, and from attendance upon it, either by excess and defect, as we have previously affirmed concerning the virtues. Plato unquestionably then, as we have already stated, collecting together the three departments of universal philosophy, in this manner formed his speculative system.
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