For, in Plato's view, he who has grasped the supreme principle of truth, which he calls the Idea of Good, is by it carried beyond all the contradictions of ordinary experience, and has become able to regard the confused and shadowy world of appearance from a higher point of view. He has become possessed of a divine pattern, by means of which he can bring order into the transitory life of men in this world.
Plato, then, makes a sharp division between an earlier stage of religious development of his citizens, in which they are to be kept out of sight of moral and religious difficulties, and taught simply that all things are ordered for the best by perfectly good gods, and a later stage of it, in which they are to face all the problems of existence, and to endeavour to solve them by the aid of philosophical reflexion. At the same time, he is deeply conscious of the difficulties of the transition from the first to the seeond of these stages; or, in other words, of the dangers of that period of doubt and criticism with which philosophical enquiry must begin. In the seventh book of the Republic, he illustrates these dangers by the image of a youth who is brought up to reverence certain persons as his parents, and who is protected from temptation by his belief in their rightful authority over him, but who suddenly learns that they have no such natural claim to his obedience, j
154 THE STATE AND
and is tempted in consequence to disregard all the commands they have laid upon him. In like
manner, ¿is Plato would indicate, the young man who is prematurely initiated into the dialectical methods of philosophical criticism, will learn to detect the illusion of his first faith in those mythological divinities whom he has been taught to regard as the authors of the ethical rules under which he has hitherto lived; and he will therefore be in danger of into a fatal scepticism, and losing his hold upon all ethical rules whatever. Hence Plato urges that this initiation, even in the case of those who are fitted for it, should be delayed till the character has been thoroughly confirmed in the love of what is good and the hate of what is evil; and that, in the case of the great body of the citizens, 'it should not take place at all.
Now, as we have already seen, there is a great difficulty in admitting the conception of Such a division between two classes of citizens in the same State-—a division in which the higher olass possesses for itself the esoteric truth of philosophy, while the lower class r is fed with mythological fables. There is, indeed, at all times, a certain difference between the ordinary consciousness which is content with half-pictorial modes of thought, and the reflective spirit of science which cannot be satisfied with anything but exact definition and clear logical connexion: but it is impos-
sible to draw any definite line of separation between two classes of human beings, not living in different ages, but at the same time, and as members of the same society. Still more impossible—if there are grades in impossibility—would it be, in an age of reflexion, to push men back into an earlier stage of culture and save them from all the dangers of doubt. In such an age, the sphere of opinion cannot be sharply divided from that of science ; nor is it possible by any artificial barriers such as Plato proposes, to secure men from the disturbing power of a dialectic, which detects the 'noble untruths' of poetry. The idea of a class of philosopher-kings who are to keep the keys of knowledge for themselves, and act as a kind of earthly providence to other men, sins, like Carlyle's conception of hero-worship, against the solidarity of humanity. A secret doctrine of philosophy is almost a contradiction in terms: for philosophy cannot live, and refuse to communicate itself to anyone who is capable of receiving its lessons. Something like it we may find in early stages of civilisation, as among the Egyptian priesthood, or in a modified form in the divided society of the middle ages* But such exceptions prove the rule: for in both cases philosophy was enslaved by tradition and smitten with barrenness. It was not the free evolution of thought which alone Plato would have thought worthy of the name.
Was this article helpful?