By Gerald Therrien
For Part 1 to the series The Discovery of the School of Athens click here.
Now, we must leave this first scene, of the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, and shift our attention to those who are standing on the top of the stairs – the Greek philosophers who were alive at the time of Socrates and Plato.
At the very left edge of the painting is a group of three people. The first person that we see is mostly hidden, except for his head, and holding his hand to his hat at the side of his head, he seems to be trying to look ahead at someone, as if looking at the unfolding of this scene.
In front of this person – the announcer of this scene, is someone who is running past him, whose cloak is revolving around in circles, holding in his hands a book and also a letter – rolled up like his cloak, who is also looking ahead at a group of people.
And, if we now look in front of this person, we see another person standing, also wearing a hat, but who is holding out his arm with his hand opened, as if ready to receive something.
These two, who seem to be separated from the rest of the people in this scene, should be Xenophon and Protagoras, both of whom, as we shall see, for different reasons and at different times, were banished from Athens.
The writings of Xenophon that have survived are his histories (Anabasis, Hellenica, and Agesilaus), his treatises (The Cavalry General, On Horsemanship, The Sportsman, On Revenues, and The Laws of Sparta and Athens) and his dialogues (Hiero, and The Economist) and especially his dialogues concerning Socrates (Memorabilia of Socrates, Apology of Socrates, and Symposium).
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
The Life of Xenophon:
I. Xenophon, the son of Gryllus, a citizen of Athens, was of the borough of Erchia; and was a man of great modesty, and as handsome as can be imagined.
II. They say that Socrates met him in a narrow lane, and put his stick across it, and prevented him from passing by, asking him where all kinds of necessary things were sold. And when he had answered him, he asked him again where men were made good and virtuous. And as he did not know, he said, “Follow me, then, and learn”. And from this time forth, Xenophon became a follower of Socrates.
III. And he was the first person who took down conversations as they occurred, and published them among men, calling them memorabilia. He was also the first man who wrote a history of philosophers.
V. He became a friend of Cyrus in this manner. He had an acquaintance by the name of Proxenus, a Boeotian by birth, a pupil of Gorgias of Leontini, and a friend of Cyrus. He, being in Sardis, staying at the court of Cyrus, wrote a letter to Athens to Xenophon, inviting him to come and be a friend of Cyrus. And Xenophon showed the letter to Socrates and asked his advice. And Socrates bade him go to Delphi and ask counsel of the god. And Xenophon did so, and went to the God; but the question he put was, not whether it was good for him to go to Cyrus or not, but how he should go; for which Socrates blamed him, but still advised him to go. Accordingly, he went to Cyrus, and became no less dear to him than Proxenus. And all the circumstances of the expedition and the retreat, he himself has sufficiently related to us.
VI. But after the expedition, and the disasters which took place in Pontus, and the violations of the truce by Seuthes, the king of the Odrysae, he came into Asia to Agesilaus, the king of Lacedaemon, bringing with him the soldiers of Cyrus, to serve for pay; and he became a very great friend of Agesilaus. And about the same time, he was condemned to banishment by the Athenians, on the charge of being a favourer of the Lacedaemonians.
And he also appears in Plato’s dialogue ‘Protagoras’.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
The Life of Protagoras:
I. Protagoras was the son of Artemon … He was a native of Abdera …
III. He was the first person who asserted that in every question there were two sides to the argument exactly opposite to one another. And he used to employ them in his arguments, being the first person who did so. But he began something in this manner: “Man is the measure of all things: of those things which exist as he is; and of those things which do not exist as he is not.” And he used to say that nothing else was soul except the senses, as Plato says, in the Theaetetus: and that everything was true. And another of his treatises he begins in this way: “Concerning the Gods, I am not able to know to a certainty whether they exist or whether they do not. For there are many things which prevent one from knowing, especially the obscurity of the subject, and the shortness of the life of man.” And on account of this beginning of his treatise, he was banished by the Athenians. And they burnt his books in the market-place, calling them in by the public crier, and compelling all who possessed them to surrender them.
He was the first person who demanded payment of his pupils; fixing his charge at a hundred minae. He was also the first person who gave a precise definition of the parts of time; and who explained the value of opportunity, and who instituted contests of argument, and who armed the disputants with the weapon of sophism. He it was who first left facts out of consideration, and fastened his arguments on words; and who was the parent of the present superficial and futile kinds of discussion.
Next, looking in front of Xenophon, and towards whom he seems to be rushing, is a group of six persons – the person farthest to the right and facing him, is someone counting on his fingers and looking at the other five people as if trying to teach them. This person, standing directly above, as if on the shoulders of, Thales, should be Socrates.
No writings by Socrates exist, but only discourses of Socrates written by Xenophon and Plato.
The following is from Moses Mendelssohn, “The Life and Character of Socrates“:
Socrates, son of Sophroniscus and the midwife Phaenarete, was the wisest and most virtuous among the Greeks. He was born in the fourth year of the 77th Olympiad, in Athens, into the Alopecian clan. In his youth, his father encouraged him in the art of sculpture, in which Socrates must have made no little progress, if those who assert are correct, that the robed Graces, which stood behind the statue of Athena, on the wall at Athens, are his work. In the time of Phidias, Zeuxis, and Myron, no mediocre work could have been granted such an important place …
Socrates enjoyed instruction from, and conversation with, the most famous people in all the arts and sciences, among whom his disciples named Archelaus, Anaxagoras, Prodicus, Evenus, Isymachus, Theodorus, and others. Crito furnished him with the necessities of life, and Socrates, from the beginning, diligently pursued natural philosophy, which was very much in vogue at that time. He soon decided however, that it were time that wisdom be transferred from the investigation of nature to the contemplation of humanity. This is the path which philosophy was to take for all time …
At that time, in Greece, as at all times with the rabble, the kind of scholars who enjoyed great esteem, encouraged established prejudice and obsolete superstitions, through all kinds of pretexts and sophisms. They gave themselves the noble name of Sophists, which, due to their behavior, became a repulsive name. They took care of the education of the youth, taught the arts, sciences, moral philosophy and religion, in both public schools and private houses, with general acclaim. They knew that, in democratic government assemblies, eloquence was treasured above all, that a licentious man would gladly listen to mere chatter about politics, and, that shallow minds would rather fulfil their desire for knowledge with fairy tales. Hence, they never neglected glittering eloquence in their presentations, and so skillfully wove together false politics and absurd fables, that the people listened with astonishment, and lavished them with rewards.
They were on good terms with the priests; for they mutually adopted the wise maxim: live and let live. If the tyranny of hypocrites was no longer able to hold the free spirit of humanity under the yoke, so these false friends of truth were employed, to lead it astray on the false path, to jumble together natural conceptions, and suspend all distinction between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil, through blinding fallacies. The principal axiom in their theory was: Everything can be proved, and everything can be disproved; and in the process, one must profit as much from the folly of others, and from his own superiority, as he can. This last maxim, they, of course, kept secret from the public, as one can easily imagine, and entrusting it only to their inner circle, who participated in their business. However, the ethic they taught publicly, was just as corrupting for the heart of men, as their politics were for the justice, freedom, and happiness of the human race.
Since they were crafty enough to weave together their own interests with the prevailing religion, not only were decisiveness and heroism necessary to put an end to their frauds, but, even a true friend of virtue might not dare to attempt it without the utmost precaution and foresight. There is no religious system so corrupt, that it does not pay homage to some of man’s responsibilities, which the humanist honors, and the reformer of morals, if he doesn’t want to act contrary to his own purpose, must leave intact. From doubt in religious affairs, to frivolousness; from neglect of religious rites, to the contempt of worship generally; the transition tends to be very easy, especially for minds which are alienated from the rule of reason, and are ruled by avarice, ambitiousness, or lust. The priests of superstition depend, all too often, on this deception, and took refuge in it, as an inviolable shrine, whenever there was an attack on them. Such difficulties and obstacles stood in Socrates’ way as he made the great decision, to spread virtue and wisdom among his fellow men …
And, to the left of Socrates, is someone who is looking intently and admiringly at Socrates, while leaning his head on one hand, while leaning on the column. This should be Aeschines.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Socrates:
XVI. … When Aeschines said, “I am a poor man, and have nothing else, but I give myself”; “Do you not,” Socrates replied, “perceive that you are giving me what is of the greatest value?”
Life of Aeschines:
I. Aeschines was the son of Charinus, the sausage-maker … he was a citizen of Athens, of an industrious disposition from his boyhood upwards, on which account he never quitted Socrates.
II. And this induced Socrates to say, the only one who knows how to pay us proper respect is the son of the sausage-maker.
III. … The Dialogues then of Aeschines, which profess to give an idea of the system of Socrates are, as I have said, seven in number. First of all, the Miltiades, which is rather weak; the Callias, the Axiochus, the Aspasia, the Alcibiades, the Jelanges, and the Rhino.
And, to the left of Aeschines, is an older, shorter man, wearing a hat, who is also looking intently at Socrates. This should be Crito.
The following is from Moses Mendelssohn, “The Life and Character of Socrates”:
When Socrates was about 30, and his father was long dead, he was still pursuing the art of sculpture, but from necessity, and without much inclination. Crito, an aristocratic Athenean, became acquainted with him, observed his sublime talents, and judged that he could be far more useful to the human race through his intellect, than through his handiwork. Crito took him out of art school, and brought him to the intellectuals of the time, in order to allow beauties of a higher order to be put before him for contemplation and emulation. In the same way that art teaches the means by which the lifeless can imitate life, stone can be made to resemble the human form; wisdom seeks, on the other hand, to imitate the infinite in the finite, so as to bring the soul of humanity, as close as is possible, in this life, to its original beauty and perfection.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Crito:
I. Crito was an Athenian. He looked upon Socrates with the greatest affection; and paid such great attention to him, that he took care that he should never be in want of anything.
II. Crito wrote seventeen dialogues, which were all published in one volume; and I subjoin their titles: That men are not made good by teaching; on Superfluity; what is Suitable, or the Statesman; on the Honourable; on doing ill; on Good Government; on Law; on the Divine Being; on Arts; on Society; Protagoras, or the Statesman; on Letters; on Political Science; on Learning; on Knowledge; on Science; on what Knowledge is.
And, standing behind, and looking over the shoulder of Crito at Socrates, is someone with slightly ruffled-looking hair and beard. This should be Phaedo.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Phaedo:
I. Phaedo the Elean, one of the Eupatridae, was taken prisoner at the time of the subjugation of his country, and was compelled to submit to the vilest treatment. But while he was standing in the street, shutting the door, he was met with Socrates, who desired Alcibiades, or as some say, Crito, to ransom him. And after that time, he studied philosophy as became a free man.
II. And he wrote dialogues, of which we have genuine copies; by name – Zopyrus, Simon, and Nicias (but the genuineness of this one is disputed); Medius, which some people attribute to Aeschines, and others to Polyaenus; Antimachus, or the Elders (this too is a disputed one); the Scythian discourses, and these, too, some attribute to Aeschines.
And, standing to the left of Crito and listening to Socrates, is a young man in a military uniform, wearing a helmet, with his right hand resting on his sword. This should be Alcibiades.
And, standing behind Alcibiades, and also dressed in military attire, is a man who has his head turned away from Socrates, and is pointing away, back to his right, past Xenophon and Protagoras – both of whom, for different reasons and at different times, were banished from Athens. This should be Critias.
The following is from Moses Mendelssohn, “The Life and Character of Socrates”:
No one was as close to him as Alcibiades, a younger man of uncommon good looks and great talent, who was arrogant, brave, thoughtless, and above all, of fiery temperament. He pursued Alcibiades tirelessly, engaged him in discussion at every opportunity, to prevent him, through friendly admonition and loving rebukes, from the excesses of ambition and lasciviousness, to which he tended by nature …
The following year, the Athenians were decisively defeated by the Lacedemonians, their fleet levelled, their capital besieged, and brought to such an extreme, that they had to surrender, unconditionally. It is very likely, that the lack of experienced commanders on the Athenian side, was, at least in part, the cause of this defeat. Lysander, the commander of the Lacedemonians, who had taken the city, promoted a rebellious faction, transformed the democratic government into an oligarchy, and installed a Council of Thirty, who were known by the name of the Thirty Tyrants. The cruelest enemy would not have been able to rage in the city, as these monsters raged …
How Socrates’ heart must have bled to see Critias, who had formerly been a student, in the leadership of this holy terror! Yes, Critias, his former friend and pupil, now proved himself to be an open enemy, and sought the opportunity to persecute him. The wise man had once harshly rebuked him for his swinish and perverted lechery, and since that time, the ogre bore a secret resentment, which increasingly sought an opportunity to erupt. When he and Charicles were named as legislators, they introduced a law that no one should teach rhetoric, in order to find a reason to indict Socrates.
The following is from Xenophon, “Memorabilia of Socrates“:
“But,” adds his accuser, “Critias and Alcibiades were two of his intimate friends; and these were not only the most profligate of mankind, but involved their country in the greatest misfortunes; for, as among the thirty – none was ever found so cruel and rapacious as Critias; so, during the democracy, none was so audacious, so dissolute, or so insolent, as Alcibiades.”
Now I shall not take upon me to exculpate either of these men; but shall only relate at what time, and, as I think, to what end, they became the followers of Socrates.
Critias and Alcibiades were, of all the Athenians, by nature the most ambitious; aiming, at what price soever, to set themselves at the head of the commonwealth, and thereby exalt their names beyond that of any other: they saw that Socrates lived well satisfied with his own scanty possessions; that he could restrain every passion within its proper bounds, and lead the minds of his hearers, by the power of his reasoning, to what purpose he most desired. Understanding this, and being such men as we have already described them, will anyone say it was the temperance of Socrates, or his way of life, they were in love with; and not rather, that by hearing his discourses, and observing his actions, they might the better know how to manage their affairs, and harangue the people?
And, truly, I am thoroughly persuaded, that if the gods had given to these men the choice of passing their whole lives after the manner of Socrates, or dying the next moment, the last would have been preferred, as by much the most eligible. And their own behaviour bears sufficient testimony to the truth of this assertion; for, no sooner did they imagine they surpassed in knowledge the rest of their contemporaries, who, together with themselves, had attended on Socrates, but they left him, to plunge into business and the affairs of the administration; the only end they could propose in desiring to associate with him …
… wherefore I can well imagine that even Alcibiades and Critias could restrain their vicious inclinations while they accompanied with Socrates and had the assistance of his example: but being at a distance from him, Critias retiring into Thessaly, there very soon completed his ruin, by choosing to associate with libertines rather than with such as were men of sobriety and integrity; while Alcibiades, seeing himself sought after by women of the highest rank, on account of his beauty; and at the same time much flattered by many who were then in power, because of the credit he had gained, not only in Athens, but with such as were in alliance with her: in a word perceiving how much he was the favourite of the people, and placed, as it were, above the reach of a competitor, neglected that care of himself which alone could secure him; like the athletic, who will not be at the trouble to continue his exercises, on seeing no one near able to dispute the prize with him. Therefore, in such an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances as befell these men, puffed up with the nobility of their birth, elated with their riches, and inflamed with their power, if we consider the company they fell into, together with their many unhappy opportunities for riot and intemperance, can it seem wonderful, separated as they were from Socrates, and this for so long a time too, if at length they became altogether degenerate, and rose to that height of pride and insolence to which we have been witnesses?
But the crimes of these men are, it seems, in the opinion of his accuser, to be charged upon Socrates; yet allows he no praise for keeping them within the bounds of their duty in that part of life which is generally found the most intemperate and untractable; nevertheless, on all other occasions, men judge not in this manner …
… On the contrary, when Critias was insnared with the love of Euthydemus, he earnestly endeavoured to cure him of so base a passion: showing how illiberal, how indecent, how unbecoming the man of honour, to fawn, and cringe, and meanly act the beggar; before him, too, whom of all others he the most earnestly strove to gain the esteem of, and, after all, for a favour which carried along with it the greatest infamy. And when he succeeded not in his private remonstrances, Critias still persisting in his unwarrantable designs, Socrates, it is said, reproached him in the presence of many, and even before the beloved Euthydemus; resembling him to a swine, the most filthy and disgusting of all animals. For this cause, Critias hated him ever after; and when one of the thirty, being advanced, together with Charicles, to preside in the city, he forgot not the affront; but, in order to revenge it, made a law, wherein it was forbidden that any should teach philosophy in Athens: by which he meant, having nothing in particular against Socrates, to involve him in the reproach cast by this step on all the philosophers, and thereby render him, in common with the rest, odious to the people …
Now, looking to the right of Socrates and his students, in the centre of the painting, and walking towards us, is a person, who, with one hand is carrying a book, the Timaeus, and with the other hand is pointing up to the clouds in the sky, or, to the concentric arches, or, to that half of the painting occupied by the statues – the area of the gods. This should be Plato.
And, to the right of Plato, walking along with him as if in discourse, is a younger man who is holding his hand out flat, as if in opposition to Plato pointing up, and who with the other hand is holding a book, the Ethics, and who is resting the book on his leg in such a way to show that he is no longer walking. This should be Aristotle.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Plato:
I. Plato was the son of Ariston and Perictione, and a citizen of Athens; and his mother traced her family back to Solon; for Solon had a brother named Diopidas, who had a son named Critias, who was the father of Calloeschrus, who was the father of that Critias who was one of the thirty tyrants, and also of Glaucon, who was the father of Charmides and Perictione. And she became the mother of Plato by her husband Ariston, Plato being the sixth in descent from Solon.
IV. And he had brothers, whose names were Adimantus and Glaucon, and a sister named Petone, who was the mother of Speusippus.
V. … And he learnt gymnastic exercises under the wrestler Ariston of Argos. And it was by him that he had the name of Plato given to him instead of his original name, on account of his robust figure, as he had previously been called Aristocles, after the name of his grandfather.
VI. It is also said that he applied himself to the study of painting, and that he wrote poems, dithyrambics at first, and afterwards lyric poems and tragedies.
VII … and subsequently, though he was about to contend for the prize in tragedy in the theatre of Bacchus, after he had heard the discourse of Socrates, he learnt his poems, saying : – “Vulcan, come here; for Plato wants your aid.” And from henceforth, as they say, being now twenty years old, he became a pupil of Socrates … Afterwards, when he was eight and twenty years of age, as Hermodorus tells us, he withdrew to Megara to Euclides, with certain others of the pupils of Socrates; and subsequently, he went to Cyrene to Theodorus the mathematician; and from thence he proceeded to Italy to the Pythagoreans, Philolaus and Eurytus, and from thence he went to Egypt to the priests there; and having fallen sick at that place, he was cured by the priests by the application of sea water, in reference to which he said :- “The sea doth wash away all human evils.” And he said too, that according to Homer, all the Egyptians were physicians.
IX. And when he returned to Athens, he settled in the Academy, and that is a suburban place of exercise planted like a grove, so named from an ancient hero named Hecademus.
X. And Aristoxenus says that he was three times engaged in military expeditions; once against Tanagra; the second against Corinth, and the third time at Delium; and that in the battle of Delium he obtained the prize of pre-eminent valour.
XIV. And Plato made three voyages to Sicily, first of all, the purpose of seeing the island and the craters of volcanoes, when Dionysius, the son of Hermocrates, being the tyrant of Sicily, pressed him earnestly to come and see him …
XV. But he went a second time to Sicily to the younger Dionysius, and asked him for some land and for some men whom he might make live according to his own theory of a constitution. And Dionysius promised to give him some, but never did it. And some say that he was in danger himself, having been suspected of exciting Dion and Thetas to attempt the deliverance of the island; but that Archytas, the Pythagorean, wrote a letter to Dionysius, and begged Plato off and sent him back safe to Athens.
XVI. The third time that he went to Sicily was for the purpose of reconciling Dion to Dionysius. And as he could not succeed, he returned to his own country, having lost his labour.
XXVII. He used also to wish to leave a memorial of himself behind, either in the hearts of his friends, or in his books.
The following is from The City of God, Book 8, by St. Augustine:
4. But, among the disciples of Socrates, Plato was the one who shone with a glory which far excelled that of the others, and who not unjustly eclipsed them all. By birth an Athenian of honourable parentage, he far surpassed his fellow-disciples in natural endowments, of which he was possessed in a wonderful degree. Yet, deeming himself and the Socratic discipline far from sufficient for bringing philosophy to perfection, he travelled as extensively as he was able, going to every place famed for the cultivation of any science of which he could make himself master. Thus he learned from the Egyptians whatever they held and taught as important; and from Egypt, passing into those parts of Italy which were filled with the fame of the Pythagoreans, he mastered, with the greatest facility, and under the most eminent teachers, all the Italic philosophy which was then in vogue. And, as he had a peculiar love for his master Socrates, he made him the speaker in all his dialogues, putting into his mouth whatever he had learned, either from others, or from the efforts of his own powerful intellect, tempering even his moral disputations with the grace and politeness of the Socratic style. And, as the study of wisdom consists in action and contemplation, so that one part of it may be called active, and the other contemplative, – the active part having reference to the conduct of life, that is, to the regulation of morals, and the contemplative part to the investigation into the causes of nature and into pure truth – Socrates is said to have excelled in the active part of that study, while Pythagoras gave more attention to its contemplative part, on which he brought to bear all the force of his great intellect. To Plato is given the praise of having perfected philosophy by combining both parts into one. He then divides it into three parts – the first moral, which is chiefly occupied with action; the second natural, of which the object is contemplation; and the third rational, which discriminates between the true and the false. And though this last is necessary both to action and contemplation, it is contemplation, nevertheless, which lays peculiar claim to the office of investigating the nature of truth. Thus, this tripartite division is not contrary to that which made the study of wisdom to consist in action and contemplation. … For those who are praised as having most closely followed Plato, who is justly preferred to all the other philosophers of the Gentiles, and who are said to have manifested the greatest acuteness in understanding him, do perhaps entertain such an idea of God as to admit that in Him are to be found the cause of existence, the ultimate reason for the understanding, and the end in reference to which the whole life is to be regulated. Of these three things, the first is understood to pertain to the natural, the second to the rational, and the third to the moral part of philosophy.
5. If, then, Plato defined the wise man as one who imitates, knows, loves this God, and who is rendered blessed through fellowship with Him in His own blessedness, why discuss with the other philosophers? It is evident that none come nearer to us than the Platonists.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Aristotle:
I. Aristotle was the son of Nicomachus and Phaestias, a citizen of Stagira; and Nichomachus lived with Amyntas, the king of the Macedonians, as both a physician and a friend.
II. He was the most eminent of all the pupils of Plato; he had a lisping voice, as is asserted by Timotheus the Athenian, in his works on Lives. He had also very thin legs, they say, and small eyes; but he used to indulge in very conspicuous dress, and rings, and used to dress his hair carefully.
III. He had also a son named Nicomachus, by Herpyllis his concubine, as we are told by Timotheus.
IV. He seceded from Plato while he was still alive; so that they tell a story that he said, “Aristotle has kicked us off just as chickens do their mother after they have been hatched.”
V. After that he went to Hermias the Eunuch, the tyrant of Atarneus, who, as it is said, allowed him all kinds of liberties … Hermias had been a slave of Eubulus, and a Bithynian by descent, and that he slew his master … Aristotle was enamored of the concubine of Hermias, and that, as Hermias gave his consent, he married her; and was so overjoyed that he sacrificed to her, as the Athenians do to the Eleusinian Ceres. And he wrote a hymn to Hermias.
VI. After that he lived in Macedonia, at the court of Philip, and was entrusted by him with his son Alexander as a pupil … And when he thought that he had spent enough time with Alexander, he departed for Athens, having recommended to him his relation Callisthenes, a native of Olynthus; but as he spoke too freely to the king, and would not take Aristotle’s advice he reproached him and said: – “Alas! my child, in life’s primeval bloom, Such hasty words will bring thee to thy doom.” And his prophecy was fulfilled, for as he was believed by Hermolaus to have been privy to the plot against Alexander, he was shut up in an iron cage, covered with lice, and untended; and at last he was given to a lion, and so died.
VII. Aristotle then having come to Athens, and having presided over his school there for thirteen years, retired secretly to Chalcis, as Eurymedon, the hierophant had impeached him on an indictment for impiety … on the ground of having written the hymn to the before mentioned Hermias … And after that he died of taking a draught of aconite.
Next, to the right of Plato and Aristotle, is a young person, leaning against a pillar in the corner of the building, and with one leg lifted and crossed over the other leg, he is using this leg to hold up his book, while he writes. This should be Speusippus.
And, to the right of Speusippus, is someone who is lazily leaning on the pillar, and looking over the shoulder of Speusippus while he is writing. This should be Xenocrates.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Speusippus:
II. And he (Plato) was succeeded by Speusippus, the son of Eurymedon, and a citizen of Athens, of the Myrrhinusian burgh, and he was the son of Plato’s sister Potone.
III. He presided over his school for eight years, beginning to do so in the hundred and eighth olympiad. And he set up images of the Graces in the temple of the Muses, which had been built in the Academy by Plato.
IV. And he always adhered to the doctrines which had been adopted by Plato, though he was not of the same disposition as he.
VI. He was the first man, as Diodorus relates in his first book of his Commentaries, who investigated in his school what was common to the several sciences; and who endeavoured, as far as possible, to maintain their connection with each other.
VII. But he became afflicted with paralysis, and sent to Xenocrates inviting him to come to him, and to become his successor in his school.
XI. He left behind him a great number of commentaries, and many dialogues … There are in all, forty-three thousand four hundred and seventy-five lines.
Life of Xenocrates:
I. Xenocrates was the son of Agathenor, and a native of Chalcedon. From his early youth he was a pupil of Plato, and also accompanied him in his voyages to Sicily.
II. He was by nature of a lazy disposition, so that they say that Plato said once, when comparing him to Aristotle, – “The one requires the spur, and the other the bridle.”
III. In other respects Xenocrates was always of a solemn and grave character, so that Plato was continually saying to him, – “Xenocrates, sacrifice to the Graces.” And he spent the greater part of his time in the Academy, and whenever he was about to go into the city, they say all the turbulent and quarrelsome rabble in the city used to make way for him to pass by …
IV. And he was a very trustworthy man; so that, though it was not lawful for men to give evidence except on oath, the Athenians made an exception in his favour alone.
VI. … To one who had never learnt music, or geometry, or astronomy, but who wished to become his disciple, he said, “Be gone, for you have not yet the handles of philosophy.” … And when Dionysius said to Plato that some one would cut off his head, he, being present, showed his own, and said, “Not before they have cut off mine.”
IX. And he left behind him a great number of writings, and books of recommendation, and verses … (including six books on Mathematics, five books on Geometry, one on Arithmetic, and six on Astronomy).
XI. He succeeded Speusippus, and presided over the school for twenty-five years.
Next, to the right of Speusippus and Xenocrates, and looking back towards them, is someone who is standing somewhat separate from the rest. This should be Antisthenes. And, looking to the right of Antisthenes, is a person who is looking towards him, and who is carrying a staff. This should be Diogenes. And, if we look to the right of Diogenes, we see someone standing but with his head turned to his right, away from the scene behind him. This should be Zeno of Citium.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Antisthenes:
I. Antisthenes was an Athenian, the son of Antisthenes. And he was said not to be a legitimate Athenian … for he was thought to have had a Thracian mother … And he himself, when disparaging the Athenians who gave themselves great airs as having been born out of the earth itself, said that they were not more noble as far as that went than snails and locusts.
II. Originally he was a pupil of Gorgias the rhetorician; owing to which circumstance he employs the rhetorical style of language in his Dialogues … Afterwards, he attached himself to Socrates, and made such progress in philosophy while with him, that he advised all his own pupils to become his fellow pupils in the school of Socrates. And as he lived in the Piraeus, he went up forty furlongs to the city every day, in order to hear Socrates, from whom he learnt the art of enduring, and of being indifferent to external circumstances, and so became the original founder of the Cynic school.
IV. He was also the first person who ever gave a definition of discourse, saying, “Discourse is that which shows what anything is or was.” And he used continually to say, “I would rather go mad than feel pleasure.”
V. … He used to insist that virtue was a thing which might be taught; also, that the nobly born and virtuously disposed, were the same people; for that virtue was of itself sufficient for happiness, and was in need of nothing, except the strength of Socrates. He also looked upon virtue as a species of work, not wanting many arguments, or much instruction; and he taught that the wise man was sufficient for himself; for that everything that belonged to anyone else belonged to him.
VI. He used to lecture in the Gymnasium, called Cynosarges, not far from the gates; and some people say that it is from that place that the sect got the name of Cynics.
VIII. … He was the original cause of the apathy of Diogenes, and the temperance of Crates, and the patience of Zeno, having himself, as it were, laid the foundations of the city which they afterwards built.
Life of Diogenes:
I. Diogenes was a native of Sinope, the son of Tresius, a money-changer. And Diocles says that he was forced to flee from his native city, as his father kept the public bank there, and had adulterated the coinage.
II. And when he came to Athens, he attached himself to Antisthenes; but as he repelled him, because he admitted no one; he at last forced his way to him by his pertinacity. And once, when he raised his stick at him, he put his head under it, and said, “Strike, for you will not find any stick hard enough to drive me away as long as you continue to speak.” And from this time forth he was one of his pupils; and being an exile, he naturally betook himself to a simple mode of life.
III. And when, as Theophrastus tells us, in his Megaric Philosopher, he saw a mouse running about and not seeking for a bed, nor taking care to keep in the dark, nor looking for any of those things which appear enjoyable to such an animal, he found a remedy for his own poverty. He was, according to the account of some people, the first person who doubled up his cloak out of necessity, and who slept in it; and who carried a wallet, in which he kept his food; and who used whatever place was near for all sorts of purposes, eating, and sleeping, and conversing in it … Being attacked with illness, he supported himself with a staff; and after that he carried it continually, not indeed in the city, but whenever he was walking in the roads, together with his wallet …
IV. He was very violent in expressing his haughty disdain of others. He said that the school of Euclides was gall. And he used to call Plato’s discussions, disguise … He used also to ridicule him as an interminable talker … He used also to say, “That the musicians fitted their strings to the lyre properly, but left all the habits of their soul ill-arranged.” And, “That mathematicians kept their eyes fixed on the sun and moon, and overlooked what was under their feet.”
VI. … When Plato was discoursing about his “ideas”, and using the nouns “tableness” and “cupness”; “I, O Plato!” interrupted Diogenes, “see a table and a cup, but I see no tableness or cupness.” Plato made answer, “That is natural enough, for you have eyes, by which a cup and a table are contemplated; but you have not intellect, by which tableness and cupness are seen.”
VIII. Music and geometry, and astronomy, and all things of that kind, he neglected, as useless and unnecessary.
Life of Zeno:
I. Zeno was the son of Innaseas, or Demeas, and a native of Citium, in Cyprus, which is a Grecian city, partly occupied by a Phoenician colony.
II. He had his head naturally bent on one side, as Timotheus, the Athenian, tells us, in his works on Lives.
III. … Having purchased a quantity of purple from Phoenicia, he was shipwrecked close to the Piraeus; and when he had made his way from the coast as far as Athens, he sat down by a bookseller’s stall, being now thirty years of age. And as he took up the second book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia and began to read it, he was delighted with it, and asked where such men as were described in that book lived; and as Crates happened very seasonably to pass at that moment, the bookseller pointed him out, and said, “Follow that man.” From that time forth he became a pupil of Crates; but though he was in respects very energetic in his application to philosophy, still he was too modest for the shamelessness of the Cynics.
VI. And he used to walk up and down in the beautiful colonnade (stoa) which is called the Priscanactium, … and from there he delivered his discourses, wishing to make that spot tranquil; for in the time of the thirty, nearly fourteen hundred of the citizens had been murdered by them.
VII. Accordingly, for the future, men came thither to hear him, and from this his pupils were called Stoics, and so were his successors also, who had at first been called Zenonians, as Epicurus tells us in his Epistles.
XXXVII. … The Stoics have chosen to treat, in the first place, of perception and sensation, because the criterion by which the truth of facts is ascertained is a kind of perception, and because the judgement which expresses the belief, and the comprehension, and the understanding of a thing, a judgement which precedes all others, cannot exist without perception. For perception leads the way; and then thought, finding vent in expressions, explains in words the feelings which it derives from perception.
Now, if we look to the right of Diogenes the Cynic and Zeno the Stoic, we see a person, at the very edge of the scene, at the top of the stairs, who is looking over the shoulder of Zeno, at the group of people below and in front of him, at the bottom of the stairs. But he can’t walk down the stairs to them, because he’s being blocked by Zeno.
Imagine that we are searching for a way in which to move from this second scene at the top of the stairs, to the third scene at the bottom of the stairs in the right foreground. Going back over this scene, between that first person at the far left behind Xenophon, who is looking ahead at this second scene, and that last person at the far right behind Zeno, who is looking ahead to the third scene, it all seems to be about those Greek philosophers who were alive at the time of Plato. So now, to continue, it seems, we must go back to Plato.
If we now look back at Plato, we see that around him are many people, standing and walking – to the left of Plato, five people are standing and behind them, two more are walking towards us; to the right of Plato, seven people are standing and two more behind them are walking away from us. These sixteen people, who are watching and listening to this dispute between Plato and Aristotle, should be the students of Plato.
The following is from Diogenes Laertius:
Life of Plato:
XXXI. His disciples were Speusippus the Athenian, Zenocrates the Chalcedon, Aristotle the Stagirite, Philip of Opus, Histiaeus of Perinthus, Dion of Syracuse, Amyclus of Heraclea, Erastus and Coriscus of Sceptos, Timolaus of Cyzicus, Eudon of Lampsacus, Pithon and Heraclides of Aemus, Hippothales and Callipus, Athenians, Demetrius of Amphipolis, Heraclides of Pontus, and numbers of others, among whom there were also two women, Lasthenea of Mantinea, and Axiothea of Phlius, who used even to wear man’s clothes …
Looking again, we see that Aristotle, with one hand holding his ‘Ethics’, has his other hand opened up and, as it were, pushing down, or holding something down; while Plato, holding his ‘Timaeus’ with one hand, with the index finger of the other hand is pointing up.
Aristotle is holding his hand out flat towards the floor – the earth. But if we look at the floor, it has a square pattern. If we take a straight edge and line it up with the side of the square that is running from front to back, and do this with different sides of the different squares, they all intersect at one point – at the ‘Timaeus’.
Plato’s hand is pointing up to the sky – the heavens. Again, if we take a straight edge, and line it up with the edge of the block at the top of the pillars that is running from front to back, and do this with different pillars, they again all intersect – at the ‘Timaeus’.
The ‘Timaeus’ of Plato is thus, the vanishing point of the painting – for both the bottom half of the painting (the earth) and the top half of the painting (the heavens); for both the bottom half of the people in the painting, and the upper half of the two statues – the divine place of the gods.
The Timaeus had been partially translated into Latin (only the first half of the dialogue) in the 5th century AD, by Calcidius, and for about the next 1,000 years, it was the only dialogue that was available to people living in the latin west of Europe, until a translation project, headed by Marsilio Ficino and financed by Cosimo de Medici, was started, and by 1484, Plato’s dialogues were published (in Latin) – over 1,800 years after he wrote them.
The importance of the Timaeus will be shown by first, going through the unimportance of Aristotle.
The following is from The City of God, by St. Augustine:
This has given them such superiority to all others in the judgement of posterity, that, though Aristotle, the disciple of Plato, a man of eminent abilities, inferior in eloquence to Plato, yet far superior to many in that respect, had founded the Peripatetic sect – so called because they were in the habit of walking about during their disputations – and though he had, through the greatness of his fame, gathered very many disciples into his school, even during the life of his master.
[Note: In the City of God, Books 6 to 10, where Augustine discusses heathen theology, and especially books 8, 9, and 10, where he discusses natural theology and Platonism, Aristotle is mentioned in but this one sentence.]
The following is from Strabo Geography:
From Scepsis came the Socratic philosophers Erastus and Coriscus and Neleus the son of Coriscus, this last a man who not only was a pupil of Aristotle and Theophrastus, but also inherited the library of Theophrastus, which included that of Aristotle. At any rate, Aristotle bequeathed his own library to Theophrastus, to whom he also left his school; and he is the first man, so far as I know, to have collected books and to have taught the kings in Egypt how to arrange a library. Theophrastus bequeathed it to Neleus; and Neleus took it to Scepsis and bequeathed it to his heirs, ordinary people, who kept the books locked up and not even carefully stored. But when they heard how zealously the Attalic kings to whom the city was subject were searching for books to build up the library in Pergamum, they hid the books underground in a kind of trench. But much later, when the books had been damaged by moisture and moths, their descendants sold them to Apellicon of Teos for a large sum of money, both the books of Aristotle and those of Theophrastus.
But Apellicon was a bibliophile rather than a philosopher; and therefore, seeking a restoration of the parts that had been eaten through, he made new copies of the text, filling up the gaps incorrectly, and published the books full of errors. The result was that the earlier school of Peripatetics who came after Theophrastus had no books at all, with the exception of only a few, mostly exoteric works, and were therefore able to philosophize about nothing in a practical way, but only to talk bombast about commonplace propositions, whereas the later school, from the time the books in question appeared, though better able to philosophize and Aristotle-ize, were forced to call most of their statements probabilities, because of the large number of errors.
Rome also contributed much to this; for, immediately after the death of Apellicon, Sulla, who had captured Athens, carried off Apellicon’s library to Rome, where Tyrannion the grammarian, who was fond of Aristotle, got it in his hands by paying court to the librarian, as did also certain booksellers who used bad copyists and would not collate the texts – a thing that also takes place in the case of other books that are copied for selling, both here and at Alexandria. However, this is enough about these men.
The following is from Plutarch’s “Sylla”:
Having set out from Ephesus with the whole navy, he came the third day to anchor in the Piraeus. Here he was initiated in the mysteries, and seized for his use the library of Appelicon the Teian, in which were most of the works of Theophrastus and Aristotle, then not in general circulation. When the whole was afterwards conveyed to Rome, there, it is said, the greater part of the collection passed through the hands of Tyrannion the grammarian, and that Andronicus the Rhodian, having through his means the command of numerous copies, made the treatises public, and drew up the catalogues that are now current. The elder Peripatetics appear themselves, indeed, to have been accomplished and learned men, but of the writings of Aristotle and Theophrastus they had no large or exact knowledge, because Theophrastus bequeathing his books to the heir of Neleus of Scepsis, they came into careless and illiterate hands.
Let us repeat this story, in summary – Aristotle’s writings were discovered by Apellicon about 100 BC, taken to Rome by Sulla in 86 BC, and after editing, were published by Andronicus in 60 BC. In other words, NO ONE was able to read Aristotle’s works until 262 years after his death! Then, they were published in Latin, in Rome, and we were taught of the greatness of Aristotle – the philosopher of the Roman Empire!
Subsequently, we were taught of the different ‘schools’ of philosophy, when in 176 AD (over 200 years later), the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius established the Four Chairs of Philosophy at Athens – the Epicurians (of Epicurus), the Stoics (of Zeno of Citium), the Peripatetics (of Aristotle), and the Academics.
However, the Academics were not followers of Plato’s Academy, but were followers of the ‘New Academy’ – or, more correctly, the Skeptics (of Pyrrho). But for a look at the real Plato, what could we read, except this story that the Skeptics were the followers of Plato?
We shall be forever indebted to Augustine, who tells of his reading of Cicero, and of his work to unravel the difference between the real Academy of Plato, and the so-called New Academy of the Skeptics, and thus exposes the fraud of the four, different but equal, schools of philosophy of the Roman Empire.
For a look at the Epicurians, one could read Lucretius’ ‘On the nature of the universe’.
For a look at the Stoics, one could read the ‘Meditations’ of Marcus Aurelius, himself.
For a look at the Peripatetics, one could read the complete works of Aristotle.
For a look at the Skeptics, one could read Sextus Empericus’ ‘Outlines of Pyrrhonism’.
And so, we have the skeptics, and peripatetics, and stoics and epicurians – the accepted philosophies of the Roman Empire – but in reality, all were just different versions of the ‘sophists’, and we find ourselves looking at a larger historical outcome of this great dispute.
In the May/June 1978 issue of ‘The Campaigner’ magazine, in the ground-breaking essay entitled ‘The Secrets Known Only to the Inner Elites’, Lyndon LaRouche writes of the importance of understanding this dispute, that:
Through three millennia of recorded history to date, centered around the Mediterranean, the civilized world has been run by two, bitterly opposed elites, the one associated with the faction of Socrates and Plato, the other with the faction of Aristotle. During these thousands of years … both factions’ inner elites maintained in some fashion an unbroken continuity of organization and knowledge through all of the political catastrophes which afflicted each of them in various times and locales.
Now, we must enquire as to what this dispute – the dispute of Plato and Aristotle – is really all about.
Again, we will return to Augustine to begin our enquiry. In his dialogue ‘Answer to the Skeptics’, Augustine writes that:
Furthermore, I know for certain that this world of ours has its present arrangement either from the nature of bodies or from a foresight of some kind. I am also certain that either it always was and always will be, or it had a beginning and will never end, or it existed before time and will have an end, or it had a beginning and will not last forever.
Here, Augustine has given us a simple picture of the essence of the philosophy of ancient Greece. In their discussions and arguments concerning ‘being’, or what is real or unreal, Augustine writes that there are four possible modes, or forms, of ‘being’.
The third form – that which has no beginning but has an end – Augustine says is impossible, since if it has no beginning, then it does not have any characteristic that could cause it to have an end.
And, the fourth form – that which has a beginning and has an end – we call the ‘created’, or the ‘finite’, that we see as all the phenomenon of nature in the universe, including ourselves.
And, the first form – that which has no beginning and has no end – we call ‘God’, or the ‘infinite’. Although, it is hard for us to truly conceptualize the ‘infinite’, we can see it in a way, as Nicholas of Cusa tells us, by knowing what it is not.
And, lastly, the second form – that which has a beginning but has no end – we call the ‘soul’ or the ‘idea’, or we call the ‘transfinite’.
In the February 1980 issue of ‘The Campaigner’ magazine, in the essay ‘Plato and the New Political Science’ Lyndon LaRouche writes that:
The Platonic ideas which are the principal content, the subject, of Plato’s compositions are of the same order which the nineteenth-century mathematician Georg Cantor identifies with his notion of “transfinite”.
Plato says that the ‘idea’ has a physical existence, though not perceived by our senses, but exists nonetheless – that although you can’t see, hear, smell, taste or touch an idea, and that it has no sensual perceptions, but that it nonetheless has a real physical existence, that can be measured, but in a different sense – this is the thing that Aristotle claimed didn’t exist.
‘But the opinion respecting Forms was entertained by the advocates for their subsistence, in consequence of their being persuaded of the truth of the Heraclitaean arguments, that all sensible things are in a perpetual state of flux ; so that, if any thing is the object of science and intellectual prudence, there must necessarily be certain other permanent natures besides sensibles ; for there is no science of things flowing (i.e. in flux) …’‘but the Pythagoraeans prior to him invented definitions respecting a certain few particulars, the reasons of which they referred to numbers ; as for instance, what opportunity is, what the just is, or what marriage is. Socrates, indeed, rationally inquired after the what : for he sought how to syllogise ; but the principle of syllogism is the what …’
– Aristotle’s Metaphysics, book 13
It seems that while Plato was searching for ‘the Good’, Aristotle was searching for ‘the what’!
Aristotle goes on to state in his Metaphysics:
‘Further still : it does not appear from any one of these, according to what modes the subsistence of Forms is evinced … and, in short, the assertions respecting Forms subvert the very things the existence of which the advocates for Forms are more willing to admit than that of Ideas themselves …’‘But neither do other things subsist from Forms according to any one of the modes which are usually adduced. And to say that Ideas are paradigms, and that other things participate of them, is to speak idly, and to employ poetic metaphors …’
This is the great debate in Greek philosophy, and I think in other cultures too – there has to be this connection between the finite and the infinite, or else you get trapped in the paradox of the one and the many. And this is the great debate between Plato and Aristotle – the existence of the idea!
Now, how and where can we find this ‘idea’ of Plato’s?
In ‘Plato and the New Political Science’, LaRouche continues that:
the chief formal problem in studying Plato is that of ‘getting the hang of’ his employment of the poetic principle … The use of the poetic principle as the basis of organization of his published compositions is readily seen as indispensable to achieving that timeless merit. It is only by methods of composition which force the reader’s attention away from primary emphasis on psosaic facts of the ephemeral here and now that reader’s attention is directed to the relative transfinite, subsuming successive transformations of knowledge in the ephemeral here and now.
… you will be engaged in simultaneously watching the argument of the writer and the inferred mental processes of the hypothetical (audience) … How will your mental processes organize themselves for this circumstance? You will, of course, attempt to simulate your projected estimate of the (audience) mental processes within an aspect of your own mental processes. You will also attempt to simulate your best estimate of the writer’s processes in still another facet of your own mental processes. All the while, you will be watching both with still another facet of your mental processes. That is not yet the end of the matter. You will compare by setting up in one part of your mind another facet of the mental processes, to represent your own reactions to both the (audience) reactions and to the writer’s argument.
In this manner, you induce yourself to become self-conscious of your own mental processes. One part of your mental processes studies the manner and method in which your mental processes ordinarily function. A situation has been created in which crucial features of your ordinary conscious behavior are brought to your conscious attention. Instead of treating your ideas, impulses, and so forth as eruptions which simply happen to you, instead of permitting your consciousness to merely react to stimulations, you have introduced another element of consciousness: self-consciousness. Now, you peer into processes by which you formulate opinions, by which certain stimuli evoke impulses into your consciousness and so forth. The function of such self-conscious activity is not merely to observe, but to correct the manner in which you form judgments …
Let us take a short detour and look at this ‘idea’ of ‘self-consciousness’ using this ‘poetic principle’. As an example, we could use the last stanza from a memorable poem of our friend, Robert Burns, entitled ‘To a Louse’.
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion;
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n Devotion!’
(and translating from the Scottish dialect …)
O if God would give us one small gift – the ability to see ourselves the way that others see us.
Because that would save us from so many blunders, mistakes, and foolish notions.
And our airs and pretentions about our appearance and even the time we devote to that, all would leave us.
If we look at that line ‘to see oursels as ithers see us’ – think of it, like we are looking over our own shoulder – to see what we’re thinking and how we’re thinking – to see our intention. To be self-conscious of ourselves, lets us be free of the reaction to the form of our stimulations – ‘our airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us’ – and to study and to correct the form of our judgement.
LaRouche continues that:
Ignorant opinion concerning scientific education assumes that students progress by mastering proven theories, procedures, and so forth – something analogous to stuffing programs into a digital computer system. This is not the case. Students learn scientific method through successes and failures in problem solving. They “guess” answers to problems from the launching point of knowledge already given to them; those guesses which lead to successful solutions then serve as the basis for the mind’s informing itself of what kinds of assumptions and methods lead to successful hypotheses …
… by hypothesis we mean those methods of scientific guessing which can be relied upon to produce a usually fruitful result in empirical practice.
Let us take another short detour and look at this ‘idea’ of ‘guessing’, again using the ‘poetic principle’. As an example, we could use an excerpt from a short story of our friend, Edgar Allan Poe, entitled ‘Mellonta Tauta’.
… But in all ages the great obstacles to advancement in Art have been opposed by the so-called men of science. To be sure, our men of science are not quite so bigoted as those of old: – oh, I have something so queer to tell you on this topic. Do you know that it is not more than a thousand years ago since the metaphysicians consented to relieve the people of the singular fancy that there existed but two possible roads for the attainment of Truth! Believe it if you can! It appears that long, long ago, in the night of Time, there lived a Turkish philosopher (or Hindoo possibly) called Aries Tottle. This person introduced, or at all events propagated what was termed the deductive or a priori mode of investigation. He started with what he maintained to be axioms or “self-evident truths”, and thence proceeded “logically” to results. His greatest disciples were one Neuclid, and one Cant. Well, Aries Tottle flourished supreme until advent of one Hog, surnamed the “Ettrick Shepherd”, who preached an entirely different system, which he called the a posteriori or inductive. His plan referred altogether to Sensation. He proceeded by observing, analyzing, and classifying facts – instantiae naturae, as they were affectedly called – into general laws. Aries Tottle’s mode, in a word, was based on noumena; Hog’s on phenomena. Well, so great was the admiration excited by this latter system that, at its first introduction, Aries Tottle fell into disrepute; but finally, he recovered ground and was permitted to divide the realm of Truth with his more modern rival. The savans now maintained the Aristotelian and Baconian roads were the sole possible avenues to knowledge. ‘Baconian’, you must know, was an adjective invented as equivalent to Hog-ian and more euphonious and dignified.
Now, my dear friend, I do assure you, most positively, that I represent this matter fairly, on the soundest authority and you can easily understand how a notion so absurd on its very face must have operated to retard the progress of all true knowledge – which makes its advances almost invariably by intuitive bounds. The ancient idea confined investigations to crawling; and for hundreds of years so great was the infatuation about Hog especially, that a virtual end was put to all thinking, properly so called. No man dared utter a truth to which he felt himself indebted to his Soul alone. It mattered not whether the truth was even demonstrably a truth, for the bullet-headed savans of the time regarded only the road by which he had attained it. They would not even look at the end. ‘Let us see the means’, they cried, ‘the means’! If, upon investigation of the means, it was found to come under neither the category Aries (that is to say Ram) nor under the category Hog, why then the savans went no farther, but pronounced the ‘theorist’ a fool, and would have nothing to do with him or his truth.
… Now I do not complain of these ancients so much because their logic is, by their own showing, utterly baseless, worthless and fantastic altogether, as because of their pompous and imbecile proscription of all other roads of Truth, of all other means for its attainment than the two preposterous paths – the one of creeping and the one of crawling – to which they have dared to confine the Soul that loves nothing so well as to soar.
By the by, my dear friend, do you not think it would have puzzled these ancient dogmaticians to have determined by which of their two roads it was that the most important and most sublime of all their truths was, in effect, attained? I mean the truth of Gravitation. Newton owed it to Kepler. Kepler admitted that his three laws were guessed at – these three laws of all laws which led the great Inglitch mathematician to his principle, the basis of all physical principle – to go behind which we must enter the Kingdom of Metaphysics. Kepler guessed – that is to say imagined. He was essentially a “theorist” – that word now of so much sanctity, formerly an epithet of contempt. Would it not have puzzled these old moles too, to have explained by which of the two ‘roads’ a cryptographist unriddles a cryptograph of more than usual secrecy, or by which of the two roads Champollion directed mankind to those enduring and almost innumerable truths which resulted from his deciphering the Hieroglyphics.
And so, we see that to truly know something, we must discover its ‘idea’, and not by ‘inducing’ or ‘deducing’, but by ‘adducing’ or ‘guessing’ at its cause or principle – ‘guessing’ at its hieroglyphics.
LaRouche continues, that:
What the future will be, can be adduced implicitly from the characteristic features of those assumptions which are variously explicitly and unwittingly embedded in the prevailing weight of individual decisions. If we are not to play roulette with the fate of present and future generations, if we are assured meaning to our individual living and, having lived, we must know that we have discovered and are self-governed by efficient knowledge of the sets of principles which do in fact govern the historical process. It is so to determine the present and future that we devote ourselves to rigorous study of the past. We cannot adduce efficient principles from the idiosyncrasies of the social order as defined by the here and now. We cannot attribute wisdom to mere prevailing opinions of the present, whether scholarly or vulgar. We must know those principles which transcend all “heres and nows”, an achievement which can be effected by no other method than the poetic principles employed by Plato.
Let us end here, with a short poem of our friend John Milton (that was translated from its original Latin), using that ‘poetic principle’ to sum up our understanding of that great dispute of Plato and Aristotle.
On The Platonic Idea As It Was Understood by Aristotle
Ye goddesses who guard the sacred grove,
and thou, O Memory, happy mother of the nine-fold deity;
and Eternity, lazily recumbent far off in thy great cavern,
guarding the laws and ordinance of Jove
and keeping the chronicles of feast-calendars of Heaven,
Tell me, who was that first being,
Eternal, incorruptible, coeval with the sky,
that one and universal being, exemplar of God,
after whose image cunning nature patterned humankind?
It surely does not lurk unborn in the brain of Jove, a twin to virgin Pallas.
Though its nature is common to many, yet, wonderful to tell,
it exists apart after the manner of an individual, and has a local habitation.
Perchance as comrade to the sempiternal stars
it wanders through the ten spheres of heaven,
and inhabits the globe of the moon, nearest the earth.
Perchance it sits drowsing by the oblivious waters of Lethe,
among the spirits that wait to enter some living body and be born.
Or in some remote region of the world
does this archetype of man walk about as a huge giant,
lifting its high head to frighten the gods,
taller than Atlas the star-bearer?
No, the seer Tiresias, to whom blindness gave but added depth of vision,
never saw it in his dreams.
Winged Mercury never showed it to the wise band of seers,
as he taught them in the silent night.
The Assyrian priest, though he knew the long ancestry of ancient Ninus,
knew old Belus and renowned Osiris,
never heard of such a creature.
Not even Hermes Trismegistus, trine and glorious name,
though he knew many secret things,
told aught of this to the worshipers of Isis.
Ah, Plato, unfading glory of the Academe,
If you were the first to bring such monsters as this into the schools,
you really ought to call back the poets
whom you exiled from your republic,
for you are the greatest fabler of them all.
Bring them in, or else you,
the founder, must go out!
(John Milton, 1629, at 20 years of age)
John Milton would later become the Foreign Secretary of the English Commonwealth, under Oliver Cromwell.
For more information on the poetic principle, read Why the Poetic Principle is Imperative for Statecraft, and watch the Rising Tide Lecture Series ‘Towards an Age of Creative Reason‘
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