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very general questions, such as: What is the world made of? What force has caused it to be gener ated? What law has ruled in this generation? We have authentic accounts of more than a dozen distinguished men, living between 650 B.C. and the time of Plato's birth (427 B.C.), whose lives were spent in trying to answer questions of this sort.

If you read the answers they were able to make to these questions, ignorantly or carelessly enough, you may think them little better than childish. One said that the world is made of water, which thickens and hardens to make solid bodies, and thins to make air and fire. Another said that the world is made of air; another that it is made of fire; another that it is made of four elements-earth, air, fire, and water. Another said that all things are in eternal motion and that when we think that anything is at rest, our senses deceive us. Another said that all things are eternally at rest and that when we think we sce motion, our senses deceive us. One said that all things in nature move by numerical harmony, like the notes of the musical scale. Another said that love and hate are the two forces that bring all things together or keep them apart. More than one of them expressed in some form the belief that the evolution of the world is directed by one supreme intelligence. Many of them expressed views on par⚫ticular scientific questions which are very similar to those now accepted. So, for example, Anaximander, who lived about 600 B.C., held some views about the structure of the solar system which were more nearly correct than the theories generally accepted down to the time of Copernicus (A.D. 1543). I shall

not, however, discuss the value of this early philosophizing further than to say that the more deeply one studies it, the more surely one sees that these men were not fools, and that, in spite of their crudi. ties, some of them were giants of all time. What I wish now to do is to discuss their influence upon the public mind of Greece.

As might be expected, they produced one kind of effect upon the few who paid special attention to them and an altogether different effect upon the general public. Even with the former, the effect was by no means always flattering to the philosophers. Just in the period between the Persian wars and the birth of Plato, a great many of the Greeks who devoted themselves to learning were coming to the conclusion that philosophy was a failure. "The philosophers," they said in substance, "tell us that we cannot trust our senses for the truth of anything, and that we must learn the truth of them. We go to them and find that they contradict one. another at every point. The truth is," some went on to say, "there is no truth which is truth always and everywhere. The world is different at every point and is always changing. Men are all different from each other and every one is constantly changing. How can a changing man find anything in a changing world which every other man will always find just so? It is impossible. That is true for each man which he finds true. Let us cease the vain search for a universal and absolute truth. Let us be content to learn how to be practically effective. Let us learn how to fight, how to write, how to speak, how to plead in the courts and before the


assembly of the people. Let us acquire skill to get on in the world. There is no other wisdom than this."

The class of men who took substantially this position called themselves Sophists, that is, wise men. Some of them were very talented, very thoroughly schooled in the learning of that time, and very skillful in the practical arts which they professed to teach. They gave special attention to language—that is, to grammar, rhetoric, and oratory. They are given credit for the development of Greek prose style, as it appears, for example, in the orations of Demosthenes, a century later, and indirectly for the development of the same art among the Romans. Some of the Sophists were, of course, inferior. I need only refer to the dialogue Euthydemus, in this volume, to show that some of them were despicably so. Such men cared for nothing but their own advantage, and were, without doubt, gross corrupters of the youth.

Now, the general public did not draw any fine distinctions between the superior Sophists, such as Protagoras, and the baser sort, such as Euthydemus. and Dionysodorus. Moreover, the public did not distinguish between the Sophists and the philosophers. Although the philosophers had sought earnestly for the truth, and believed that they had found some truth, while the Sophists believed all such search vain, the Athenian public, intelligent as they were in many things, lumped all men of learning together, and called them Sophists. As a result of this failure to distinguish between men whose views were directly opposed, the public attributed

to all of them substantially all the faults they found or suspected in any of them. Some of the philosophers had outgrown the popular religion; the people were accordingly quick to believe that any learned. man was an atheist. Some of the Sophists rejected the conventional notions of morals; every scholar was, therefore, readily suspected of being a corrupter of the youth, and if any youth who consorted with scholars turned out badly, his ruin was charged up to the new learning.

The public opinion, with its muddle-headed opposition to the whole movement of science and philosophy, was expressed perfectly in a comedy by the great Athenian, Aristophanes. The story of the play, called "The Clouds," runs as follows: A certain man finds himself in debt, without ability to pay. He is told that there is a school of the Sophists where he can be taught how to argue himself out of all his debts. The school is described, with Socrates as chief teacher. Socrates is represented as engaged in profound investigations on various nonsensical questions about things in heaven and beneath the earth. He is calculating, for example, the distance from one place to another in terms of the foot of a flea. The man is taught how to argue away his debt; but his son gets from the same teachers a lesson which enables him to prove his right to thrash his father. It is easy to see how the average Athenian, who looked and laughed at this play, would lump ali the philosophers together, and attribute to each of them, but especially to Socrates, a nonsense and a knavery which would bring the country to ruin.

So far nothing has been said about the real belief and purposes of Socrates or of Plato. What it is necessary to see is the actual situation which they faced.

1. There were the old philosophers, reaching back nearly two hundred years to Thales of Meletus, who had been floundering and struggling toward the truth about nature, without coming to an agree


2. There were the Sophists, some of them scholars and gentlemen, some of them ignorant tricksters, who rejected all the foregoing philosophy, and, more or less, also the popular ideas of religion, law, and morals.

3. There were the Athenian people, proud of their military glory, their growing wealth, and their beautiful city, but ignorant of the new learning and hostile to it.


The foregoing pages touch the principal features -political, economic, artistic, philosophical, and social, of the situation in Athens at the time of Plato's birth. One element in the situation has been barely mentioned, Plato's master, Socrates.

Socrates had more influence upon Plato and upon subsequent philosophy than had any of the men or conditions heretofore mentioned. I shall not, however, in this place give an account of his life and teachings. I refrain from doing this solely because those who read this book may become acquainted with Socrates far better, as well as far more delightfully, through the dialogues of Plato that are given

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