ABSTRACT

LOVERS of great literature have every reason to be whole-heartedly thankful that once in the world's history a supreme philosophical thinker should also have been a superb dramatic artist. But what is to them pure gain is, in some ways, gain at the expense of the average student of " metaphysics." For several reasons it is quite impossible to construct a neatly arranged systematic handbook to the " Platonic philosophy." In the first place, it is doubtful whether there ever was a " Platonic philosophy " at all, in the sense of a definite set of formulated doctrines about the omne scibile. Plato has done his best to make it quite clear that he took no great interest in " system-making." To him philosophy meant no compact body of " results " to be learned, but a life spent in the active personal pursuit of truth and goodness by the light of one or two great passionate convictions. It is not likely that, even at the end of his life of eighty years, he fancied himself to have worked out anything like a coherent, clearly articulated " theory of everything." Systematization of this kind commonly has to be paid for by intellectual stagnation ; the vitality and progressiveness of Platonism is probably largely owing to the fact that, even in the mind of its originator, it always remained largely tentative and provisional. If there ever was a Platonic " system," at least Plato himself resolutely refused to write an exposition of it,1 and we of later times, who do not possess any record of the oral teaching which was clearly intended to be the vehicle of Plato's most personal and intimate thinking, are not in a position to make the lack good. The dialogues will tell us something of Plato's fundamental life-

long convictions ; of his " system," if he had one, they hardly tell us anything at all. With Aristotle we are in a very different position. We have lost the " works " in which he recommended his " views " to the world at large, and possess the manuscripts of courses of lectures in which we see him, for the most part, feeling his way to his results through the criticism of others.