The Philosophy of Socrates and Plato

By Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.

These mini-courses study the growth of philosophy after its emergence in the early Greek Schools, and traces the development of philosophic thought from Socrates to its relatively full expression in the magnificent synthesis of Aristotle in the 4th century B.C. Also discussed is the retrogression of philosophy after Aristotle. Part I discusses the philosophy of Socrates and Plato. Part II discusses the philosophy of Aristotle. Part III discusses the course of philosophy after Aristotle.

Part I of The Development of Philosophy is divided into three Sections:

  • Section 1: The Essential Question
  • Section 2: Theories of Socrates
  • Section 3: Theories of Plato


Section 1: The Essential Question

It is useless to employ human reason in the quest of truth unless it can be known beyond doubt or quibble that the mind is capable of attaining truth and holding it with certitude. Man cannot attain to all truth, for the scope of the intellect, while tremendous, is not infinite. But there is a vast domain of truth which man is competent to investigate and within which is natural mental powers can bring him to unwavering certitude. If this fact be not recognized at the outset, no development of philosophy is possible. Without a recognition of human power capable of knowing things with certitude, philosophy becomes silly vaporizing and the baseless fabrication of a dream. Therefore, the essential question of philosophy is the critical question, that is, the question of the value and extent of the human knowing-power; the question of knowledge, truth, and certitude as available to man’s natural and unaided efforts.

When Socrates came upon the scene, in the 5th century B.C., the ability of man to know things for certain was being cast into doubt by the Sophists. The doctrine of these teachers was skepticism, that is, the doctrine that man cannot be certain of anything and that all his knowledge is valueless or, at best, of dubious value.

It is, of course, impossible to formulate a direct proof by reason for the reliability of reason. Such a proof would involve the fallacy of “begging the question,” that is, assuming at the outset the point to be established by the proof. Nor is a proof necessary. A proof is always a careful and methodical unfolding of a thing which is complicated; it is a simplifying; it is a bringing to light and evidence what is not evident in itself. But when a thing is simple to begin with, no simplifying is called for. When a thing is uncomplicated, no unfolding of complications is possible. When a thing is self-evident, external evidence is not needed. One does not need a lighted lamp to discover the noonday sun. One does not demand proof that the eyes can see. One simply beholds the sunlight and uses one’s eyes. That a man can think, and think things out by putting two and two together, is as direct and evident an experience as seeing with the bodily eyes in daylight. Proof is neither possible nor necessary.

Still it is possible to formulate an indirect proof of the self-evident truths of man’s existence and man’s ability to think and by thinking to arrive at certitude and reliable knowledge. Such proof is found in the impossible and self-contradictory character of the opposed doctrine called skepticism. For skepticism is the total paralysis of philosophy; it is, as G.K. Chesterson once remarked, “the suicide of thought.” Like suicide, it is an insane thing. Skepticism asserts that it is certain that nothing is certain. It uses reason to show that there is no use using reason. The skeptic cannot speak without affirming his own existence as a certain fact, without affirming certain meaning in the words he utters, without affirming the certain existence of those to whom he speaks, without affirming the truth of his own theory that no truth of theory is possible. Therefore, the skeptic has no recourse but to remain forever silent.

Socrates did not pause to analyze the error of the skeptical Sophists. To their doubts and denials he opposed a human and manly acceptance of the power of man’s mind to attain truth and to hold it with certitude. This he took for granted, as every sane man must. Starting with this premise, he developed his philosophy of the critical question, giving his theory of knowledge, its character, its value, its purpose. He tied in his studies of the critical question with the ethical question, and, to some extent with the psychological question and the theological question. But the main mark and characteristic of Socrates’ philosophy is that it is critical and ethical; it deals with human knowing and with virtue, and indeed it brings these two things together in one. In much this theory is erroneous, but it marked a splendid step forward in the development of true philosophy (or true speculation), and it was a needed brake upon the ruinous course of the Sophists.

Section 2: Theories of Socrates

Socrates (picture) lived from 469 to 399 B.C. He has left us no writings, and it is likely that he wrote nothing to leave. He taught only orally, and his teachings have come down to us through the writings of his pupils, Plato and Xenophon. Thus our “sources” are secondary, since only a man’s own writings are primary sources of his teachings. But these secondary sources are, in the present case, reliable.

Socrates felt a divine call to teach and to improve the lives of men. Teaching was for him a religious duty. He recognized the fact that no improvement in men’s lives and morals is possible without a solid philosophy of knowledge. For why speak of duties to men who cannot be sure of anything, and hence cannot certainly know that they have duties at all? Why talk of morals if there is no reliable knowledge that moral exist or are desirable? So intimate indeed is the relation of knowledge to right living that Socrates declared that knowledge is virtue. He maintained that to know thoroughly what is right is to make the doing of wrong impossible.

Now, Socrates must have known very well that we often act in contradiction to our knowledge. With the poet Ovid, he must have had experience of “seeing and approving the better things, yet doing the worse.” Nor did he excuse sin and crime as the product of sheer ignorance. No, he held that when a man knows thoroughly and realizes all the implications of what he knows he cannot act in such a way as to make practical denial of his knowledge.

Yet Socrates stressed the knowing-power too strongly. He should have stressed freewill as well. Man’s mind is not like the all-embracing daylight. What a person knows, in full setting, with all implications clearly evident, is not present to the casual mental glance as a wide and varied landscape is present to the glance of the eye. The human mind is, in its action, rather like a narrowly focussed spotlight which throws its light on one small space and leaves many available areas in darkness. And the hand beyond the spotlight, turning it this way or that, to take in this consideration or to omit that other, is the freewill. Whatever proposed course of action is illuminated by the spotlight of the mind has aspects of attractiveness and aspects of unattractiveness, and the mind dwells on whichever of these two things the will decides it shall consider. No matter how good an object of consideration may be, the will can focus the mind on features of it that are unattractive and repellent. And no matter how bad an object may be, the will may turn the light of the mind upon some real or apparent phases of it that are attractive. Hence, sin is possible, even when the sinner “knows better.” To put this technically: “Man is capable of objectively indifferent judgments.”

Perhaps Socrates stressed knowledge so strongly because he earnestly wished to root out the pernicious error of the Sophists who made knowledge of no value at all. At all events, he did make knowledge the one thing necessary for man’s mental and moral well-being. And he held that of all knowledge knowledge of self is the core and the essence. “Know thyself!” was the summary of his teaching.

Why should a person strive to know himself? Because, said Socrates, all knowledge is in him as planted seeds are in the earth. He must labor, as the gardener labors with hoe and waterpot, to bring this germinal knowledge to birth, growth, fruitfulness.

Is this latent knowledge inborn in the mind? It is not certain that Socrates held this doctrine (innatism). If he did, he was utterly wrong, for all natural knowledge is acquired; it begins with the action of the senses on the bodily world around us; from sense-findings the mind or intellect arises to knowledge that is quite beyond the reach of the senses, and forms ideas or concepts, judgments, and reasonings. But perhaps Socrates did not teach innatism. He may have taught that the see-knowledge with which the mind is endowed was implanted by the action of the senses upon the material and sensible universe. Whatever he taught about the origin of knowledge, it is clear that he held that the finished product is to be worked out of the mind itself.

How shall a person set to work to bring to fruitfulness, — that is, to clear, certain, scientific understanding, — the seed-knowledge of the mind? By following the Socratic Method. This method consists of two processes, the (a) ironic and the (b) maieutic.

(a) When a youth came to Socrates for instruction, the great teacher would receive him with every mark of respect, and would ask him questions, seeming to be himself a pupil rather than a teacher. Invariably the newcomer would grow expansive under this treatment, and presently he would begin to “show off.” Now, the questions of Socrates seemed innocent, but they were most shrewdly put. Sooner or later the overconfident newcomer would involve himself in contradictory answers. Again and again he would be led into conflicting and impossible statements. Socrates would gently point out this distressing state of affairs, and before long the poor victim would be forced to make shamefaced admission that he did not know what he was talking about. This was what Socrates was working for. The confession of ignorance is, he taught, the first essential step in the work of achieving knowledge of self. Thus far the Socratic irony. It cleared and loosened the mental soil.

(b) Then came the maieutic process, that is, the process of “bringing to birth” the ideas and judgments of the mind. This process amounted to study and discussion, — “dialogue,” it was called. If, for example, the question “What is virtue?” was posed for his students, Socrates would use, if necessary, the ironic process to disabuse the pupils’ minds of hazy, inept, inadequate preconceptions. Then he would call for examples of virtue. He would require a pupil to explain why he had named each example virtue. He would institute comparison of example with example, noting similarities and differences. At length, the pupils would be prepared to formulate a clear and precise definition of virtue. Now, once a person can clearly define a thing, he knows that thing. Thus, by the maieutic process, is knowledge “brought to birth.”

This method of working out a concept by studying various instances or examples is known as the inductive method or simply as induction. Socrates is rightly regarded as “the father of induction.”

The concepts or ideas worked out by the maieutic process are used by the mind in forming judgments and arriving at conclusions by reasoning. Such judgments and reasonings, said Socrates, are unchangeably true; they constitute science; they are known with certitude. Thus did Socrates contradict the doubts and denials of the Sophists with a ringing assertion of the possibility of achieving truth, certitude, science.

We see, in all this, that Socrates was concerned with the critical question; we also notice that this question is intimately bound up in the Socratic system with the ethical question, since Socrates held that knowledge is virtue. Dealing directly with the ethical question, Socrates says that man is made for happiness, and that happiness is the fruit of goodness, that is, of virtuous living. And, since knowledge is virtue, and is to be attained by striving to develop the contents of the mind, man’s great moral effort must be directed to knowledge, especially self-knowledge. “Gnothi s’auton, Know thyself!” was the constant cry of Socrates.

As to the theological question, it is fairly clear that Socrates believed in one Supreme God. But for the sake of avoiding political troubles, — which came upon him notwithstanding, — he conformed to the polytheistic practices of his times.

On the cosmological question, it is likely that Socrates taught the production of this world out of eternal matter, and that he regarded the world as the best that could possibly be made (cosmological optimism). On both scores he was wrong. He did not identify the world with God (pantheism), but held that God is present everywhere in the world, ruling it in all things (divine providence and government).

Discussing the psychological question, Socrates held that man has a soul which is distinct from the body. The human soul, he taught, is like God inasmuch as it is simple (that is, not made of parts), immortal, and endowed with understanding and memory. It seems, however, that Socrates failed to realize that the cause of the soul’s immortality is its spirituality. It will be noticed, too, that Socrates failed to mention freewill as a faculty of the soul, and one that makes it like to God. And he mentions understanding and memory as though they were two faculties, whereas they are one; the intellectual memory is but one function or service of the understanding (i.e., the intellect) itself.

What Socrates taught about the union of soul and body in man, is not clear. He may have held, as did Plato later, that the soul is in the body as a hand is in a glove; that is, he may have taught a merely accidental union of soul and body. The truth is that soul and body in man are substantially united; soul and body constitute a single substance, the human substance.

Such in briefest outline were the teachings of Socrates. Despite incompleteness and errors, these theories constitute a developing philosophy which is immeasurably superior to anything accomplished by thinkers of preceding ages.

The fame of Socrates as a teacher and his widening influence over minds, especially the minds of the young, brought him to the unfavorable notice of the politicians. These fine gentlemen managed to have him condemned to death. He drank the deadly hemlock in the year 399. B.C.

In passing, we must contradict the sentimental opinion that the suicide of Socrates was a noble deed. If it were not for the artistic and touching account of it we have from the pen of Plato, we should probably never think of it as something fine and full of dignity. Suicide is never noble. It is, in itself, a contemptible and a cowardly deed. Of course, Socrates, despite his magnificent mind, was under the sway of pagan opinion and custom; without doubt he regarded the taking of his life as a thing justified and even necessary in the circumstances. We make no attempt to fix his personal guilt. We simply point out the truth of sane ethics that a man may never take his life by direct means. No man may justly be compelled to be his own executioner. Even if he be willing to spare the hangman an ugly job, he may not kill himself. For it is manifestly an unnatural thing (and hence contrary to natural law) for a man to take his own life, even if that life be forfeit.

One final word. While Socrates was wrong in identifying knowledge and virtue, he deserves the highest praise for his efforts to put ethics on a reasoned basis, and to show that many things are good or bad in themselves. He made moral science more than a set of rules of etiquette, or a program of whims, or a code of fads, or a list of likes and dislikes. A great many of our modern intellectuals would do well to ponder and to imitate this notable Socratic effort.

Section 3: Theories of Plato

The name Plato is familiar to everyone, even to Macaulay’s schoolboy. But many are unaware that the word Plato is a nickname. The real name of this philosopher was Aristocles. It is said that he was of stocky build, and that his broad shoulders earned him the nickname Plato, for platos is Greek for breadth. Perhaps the famous name Plato was the invention of some companion who fixed it upon the young Aristocles as a schoolboy of our day labels a comrade by reason of physical appearance and knows him thenceforth as “Shorty” or “Stumpy” or “Slim.”

Plato (picture) lived from 427 to 347 B.C., and was of noble descent. He was a splendidly gifted man, and he used his gifts with studious diligence. He was a poet, a playwright, an observant traveler, a philosopher, and, — most important of all, — a literary stylist of the first rank. Plato destroyed his plays and poems, but he retained his splendid style, and this fact (together with the other fact that many of his works survive intact to our day) has a great deal to do with his enduring fame. Many of his theories are exalted and attractive, but it may be questioned whether his essential philosophy would have lived if it had been clothed in less artistic expression. Does anyone doubt that a masterly style can be so effective as to “put a man over?” Let such a person consider Renan. Let him consider Pascal. Let him even consider Will Durant. Then let him consider Plato.

Plato studied under the philosopher Cratylus and then for eight years he was the pupil of Socrates. His own period of teaching was a long and notable intellectual reign. He died in Athens at the ripe age of eighty.

We have thirty-five dialogues attributed to Plato. Many of these are unquestionably genuine; some are spurious; some are of doubtful authenticity. Among the important ones commonly accepted as genuine are: Gorgias, The Banquet, Phaedo, Phaedrus, The Republic, Timaeus, Laws, Theaetetus, and most of his Letters.

Like Socrates, Plato was interested, first and foremost, in the critical question, but this question was, for him, intertwined with the psychological question rather than with the ethical question as in the Socratic system. The basic and unifying doctrine of Plato’s philosophy is his theory of knowledge. This is a famous theory, and it served Plato well in his efforts to bring into a harmonious system the notable teachings of his predecessors and contemporaries. But, for all that, it is a false and futile theory.

Plato taught that each man was originally a soul. He was a spirit living in a world of things-in-themselves; a world of substantial universal ideals or forms.

The world about us is a world of individual things. We see individual trees, we speak to individual men, we hear individual sounds, we notice individual instances or expressions of beauty. And yet our intellectual knowledge is not individual; it is universal. The eye can see only individual trees, but the mind or intellect knows what tree means. We have knowledge of tree-in-itself or tree-as-such. We can write the definition of tree, and it defines each and every tree that has ever existed, or exists now, or will exist, or can exist. For we know and define an essence; We are not confined to the sense-knowledge of individual things that have that essence. How can it be that, in a world make up exclusively of individual things, we have this universal knowledge of essences in the abstract?

Aristotle was presently to give the right answer to this important question. He was to teach that the mind has the power of peering beneath the trappings of individuality and getting at the essences of things. This abstractive power of the human intellect was something that Plato neither recognized nor suspected. Plato thought that the only explanation of the universal ideas in our minds is found in the fact that those minds once confronted universal things. So he taught that we have had a previous existence in a spiritual realm (preexistence of souls). There we confronted and beheld not trees, but tree-in-itself; there we saw, not a beautiful object or scene, but beauty-subsisting-in-itself; there we knew, not something good, but substantial goodness itself.

Now man, the soul, somehow sinned. The spirit that dwelt in the world of things-as-they-are, or things-substantially-subsisting-in-themselves, was somehow contaminated, and this by its own fault. For this offense, the soul was imprisoned in a body and put here on the earth. As the soul was thrust into its body-prison, it forgot all its splendid knowledge. But the body is equipped with channels of knowledge; we call them the senses. These can deal only with the externals of individual things, but still they do give us knowledge. And this individual knowledge garnered by the senses stirs the soul, prods it to recall what once it knew. And so, stirred by the objects of sense, a man dimly and imperfectly remembers what things are. To know is to remember.

Here we see that Plato taught these things:

  • (1) the preexistence of souls;
  • (2) the innate or inborn character of knowledge;
  • (3) the purely accidental (that is, non-substantial) union of soul and body;
  • (4) the existence of a supernal realm where things exist in universal and not as individuals;
  • (5) by implication, he denied the abstractive power of the human mind or intellect.

And in all five teachings Plato was calamitously wrong.

The previous existence of souls (or preexistence, as it is technically called) is philosophically untenable.

Innatism or the doctrine of inborn knowledge is a theory wholly indefensible, as philosophers of all ages have shown, from Aristotle to Locke. We acquire our knowledge. Starting with the experiences of the senses which bring us knowledge of things in their concrete and material individuality, we rise, by the abstractive power of the mind, to the recognition of what kind of things we sense; we recognize essences; we form universal ideas or concepts. And these are the elements of our intellectual knowledge.

As we have seen in discussing the theories of Socrates, the union of soul and body in man is a substantial union, not an accidental one. The soul is not merely in the body. Soul and body are so united as to form one single, if compound, substance. Man is not a body alone, nor a soul alone; neither is he merely a soul-in-a-body. Plato said that the soul is in the body controlling it as a rower is in a boat moving it at will by his efforts at the oars. This is wholly false. Man is an animated body, a soul-infused body, a soul-and-body-compound. Union of soul and body is not accidental but substantial. The soul is indeed the most important part or element of a man; it is what theistic classical realists call the substantial form of the living body; yet it is not the whole man. And while the soul, which is a spirit, can exist alone, and does exist alone when it leaves the body at death, it has a kind of connatural need for the body because it cannot exercise all the functions of which it is the natural principle or source unless it be joined in substance with its body.

Plato’s notion of a supernal realm where things exist as universal substances is a fanciful conception, highly poetic, pleasingly imaginative, but it is a wholly gratuitous assumption and is in no sense a philosophical truth. Indeed, reason cannot admit the possibility of any finite thing existing in universal. Plato’s vague theory seems to imply the notion that all the subsisting universal forms or ideals are unified and identified in the Subsistent Ideal of The Good.

Of the abstractive power of the human intellect which Plato implicitly denies without having heard of it or thought of it, we have already spoken briefly.

Plato’s theory of knowledge supports, however vainly and shallowly, the important doctrines of the changelessness of truth, the possibility of man’s achieving certitude, and the possibility of science. Like Socrates, Plato, despite his purpose of harmonizing and unifying all notable theories of philosophers, turned his face steadily against the destructive and self-contradictory skepticism of the Sophists.

In discussing the cosmological question, Plato teaches that the bodily universe and all the bodily things in it are ultimately made of some primordial world-stuff which has the elemental forms of air, earth, fire, and water. Thus Plato borrows from the Ionians, particularly from Empedocles. We must ever remember that he was a harmonizer; he had the avowed purpose of bringing all acceptable philosophies into unity and system. The primordial world-stuff (which first appears as air, earth, fire, water) is sometimes called the Platonian prime matter. This term is apt to be misleading, for Plato’s world-stuff was a definite kind of matter, and hence was not primary but secondary. We shall discuss the true meaning of “prime matter” in our study of Aristotle’s cosmology.

Plato believed, with Socrates, that the world is the best of all possible worlds (cosmological optimism) since God could make nothing inferior. And, since life is superior to nonlife, the world must be alive (hylozoism).

God, — the Subsistent Idea or Ideal of the Good, — created the world. As Creator, God is called Demiurge. Before the bodily universe was made, God created certain spirits; to these He committed the work of creating the bodily world. Yet He reserved to Himself the creation of man’s soul.

Plato’s cosmology is full of errors. Neither his primal matter (which turns out to be secondary or not primal) nor his elements are ultimate explanations of bodies. Both are bodies themselves, and hence offer the same problem to the philosopher as the universe taken at face value. As for his cosmological optimism, the world is not the absolutely best world, else the inexhaustible power of the Creator would be exhausted in its making; it is relatively the best inasmuch as it is most admirably suited for its purpose. Nor is anything to be called inferior or imperfect which fits into its place and service for the achieving of purpose. Hence Plato’s argument for optimism and for hylozoism are gratuitous and valueless.

As we have seen, much psychological doctrine is bound up with Plato’s fundamental philosophy, his famous Theory of Knowledge. Coming directly to the psychological question, Plato teaches that man’s soul (directly created by God) is spiritual, rational, self-moving, immortal. The body-prison in which the soul is enclosed was originally a male body. From this was drawn a female body and also the bodies of animals. Once produced, living bodies proceeded to multiply by the process of generation. In addition to the spiritual soul, man has a sensing-soul and a soul which is the source of courage. Only the spiritual soul is immortal. If a man properly purifies himself in this life and casts off the guilt of the offense that led to the imprisonment of his soul in the body, the soul will return at his death to the realm of substantial ideals or forms from which its primal fault banished it. If, however, a man have lived ill, his soul will pass at his death into a female body (transmigration of souls or metempsychosis). If the female existence be badly spent, the soul will next appear in an animal, and eventually, if evil endures, in a plant. Hopelessly incorrigible souls will be put in a place of torment. At times Plato speaks of this hell as eternal; again he seems to suggest that all souls will eventually be purified and sent to the heaven of substantial ideals.

The idea of a primal fall of man is common to all the ancients and can be explained only as a surviving remnant of the Primitive Revelation. All the world remembers Original Sin, and that, as Mr. Chesterton points our, is one reason why so many modern intellectuals are anxious to deny it. Plato’s theory of three souls in man is fantastic; perhaps we might interpret this doctrine to mean that man’s soul has three notable modes of action. The doctrine of a spiritual, immortal, rational soul in man is true, and is demonstrated in the department of philosophy called Rational Psychology.

The notion of transmigration of souls is oriental rather than Grecian, yet it had won the approval of those Greeks who followed Pythagorean doctrine, and so Plato puts it into his harmonized system. It is utterly false, however, and lacks every vestige of scientific or philosophical proof. The notion that existing females are only reincarnations of unworthy males should scarcely endear Plato to the devout female sex. The Platonian doctrine of heaven and hell falls short of reality but suggests it. Plato shrinks from the bald assertion of the eternity of hell as many persons do today under the mistaken impression that they are being fair and merciful.

In discussing the ethical question, Plato holds that sin is inevitable because of the dullness of the mind which guides the will. But, says Plato, the inevitable sin is to be laid to man’s charge; he is responsible for it in cause, inasmuch as he freely committed the primal sin which brought imprisonment in the body and consequent fullness of mind. The ultimate goal of human effort is happiness. Man does not find happiness in things that serve his earthly use (utilitarianism), nor in things which flatter the senses (hedonism), but in the steady effort to live virtuously and to know The Good, that is, God. Earthly man is meant for life with his fellows, and human society takes on a necessary form in the State.

The civil power (that is, the State) must take control of each child early in life; it must discover the child’s special aptitudes and train him in accordance with them, so that the State may be a harmonious and smoothly functioning organism. The best form of government is that in which a few wise men hold the place of control (aristocracy or sophocracy). The next best form of government is military rule (timocracy). Less desirable and even bad forms of government are : oligarchy or the rule of certain families; democracy or the rule of the rank and file of common people; and tyranny or the rule of an absolute sovereign who lacks wisdom, foresight, and kindness. Plato rightly declares that the goal of human conduct is happiness, and teaches that happiness is to be sought in the knowledge of God and the practice of virtue.

Plato is entirely wrong in his theory that the citizen exists for the State. Strictly speaking, the State exists for the citizen. And while the State must control the citizen in many things and exact obedience to its laws, it does so in the interest of the body of citizens, not in its own interest as though it were a thing independent of the citizens and superior to them. For, while the State is a natural society and not an artificial one founded on some compact or agreement of men (as Hobbes, Rousseau, and others were to teach later in their theories of Social Compact or Social Contract), it is not the owner of its citizens but their servant; it is not their superior but their inferior.

Of course, it is not for the individual man to say that, since the State is his servant, he may order it about as he chooses; the State is not his personal servant, but the servant of all citizens together. And, while the individual man is the important thing, he must remember that there are many other individuals with rights equal to his own and of the same sort as his own. Hence the individual must be prepared to make willing personal sacrifice, to endure inconvenience, to curb antisocial impulses; he must obey civil laws, and must expect and accept punishment for the violation of these laws, — which really means the violation of other men’s rights.

Sane ethics thus avoids two evil extremes which actually meet in their enslavement of the individual; it avoids exaggerated individualism (with its inevitable enslavement of the many in the interest of the few who happen to have power), and avoids totalitarianism or State absolutism (with its inevitable enslavement of the citizens in the interest of civil power, or, more precisely, in the interest of evil politicians who manipulate the civil power).

The root of Plato’s calamitously mistaken doctrine of State absolutism is found in his view of the State as an organism of which the citizen is but a cell, that is, a thing dependent, inferior, existing only for the well-being of the larger organism of which it is but a tiny part. This view (which was later to be developed by Herbert Spencer, who taught that all humanity is one organism) is full of damage to the human race. One type of such damage appears in the cry for State control of education, — a thing which Plato himself openly favored. It must be kept steadily and clearly in mind that parents have the right and the duty of educating their children. And the aim of true education is the producing of good men and women, not the producing of good citizens. Of course, good men and women will be good citizens, but that is incidental to their character as good men and women. The function of the State in education is to guard the rights of parents in the matter, to supply opportunity for the realization of this right, and to help in various ways in its actual exercise. But State control of education is an unqualified evil; it works always to the ruin of sound government and peaceful social life; inevitably so, since it is a contradiction of the natural law.

Summary of Part I of The Development of Philosophy

In Part I, we have noticed that the first and fundamental question of all philosophy is the critical question, that is, the question of the extent and reliability of human knowledge.

We have seen that the truth that man can know, can reason, can have certitude, is a self-evident truth which neither requires nor admits direct proof.

We have studied, in brief outline, the doctrines taught by Socrates and by Plato, finding in them both truth and falsity, sometimes strangely commingled, but discerning in them a new and penetrating philosophical effort, a more thorough and complete speculation, than the pagan world had yet known.

In a word, we find in these two sets of theories a developing philosophy; we find that here the true and perennial philosophy beings to take form.

Our vocabulary of philosophical terms and phrases has been enriched as we learned the meaning of:

  • the Socratic Method (with ironic and maieutic processes);
  • induction;
  • optimism;
  • innatism;
  • sensation;
  • intellection;
  • substantial union;
  • accidental union;
  • simplicity;
  • Platonic subsistent universal ideas or ideals, or forms;
  • essence;
  • Platonic prime matter;
  • utilitarianism;
  • individualism;
  • totalitarianism;
  • State;
  • State absolutism;
  • Social Contract Theory.