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IV. THE LESSER HIPPIAS.
THIS dialogue has a great similarity to the Ion, considered as well in itself and its whole design, as any one must see on a comparison of the two, as in reference to the ambiguity of its Platonic origin. For in the Hippias also we not only find combined with much that is genuinely Platonic so much that is suspicious, that one side might easily balance the other, but also in point of peculiar character each looks so like what we meet with in that dialogue that the same view which rejects or adopts the one must draw down a like sentence upon the other. For as regards, first of all, the subject-matter and what is essential in the form, each is not only worthy of the remaining works of Plato hitherto laid before the reader, but also in accurate agreement with them. The two positions which are immediately adduced, that, first, the man who is right and the man who is wrong in any matter is one and the same, namely he who knows something of it; and that again which in itself I can by no means consider, as Ast does, unsocratic, which maintains that he who errs intentionally in all things is better than he who errs unintentionally and without his knowledge;—these propositions are adduced in such a manner from the particular Homeric case, and the whole discussion SO manifestly intended to draw attention to the distinction between the theoretical and the practical, consequently to the nature of the will and the moral faculty, and at the same time to point out in what sense alone virtue can be called a knowledge, that in this no one can mistake the whole style of the earlier Platonic
method of philosophizing. In like manner, especially in the development of the second position, the gradual transition to the opposite is so entirely in accordance with the maxims in the Phaedrus, that the spirit and earlier period of the philosopher appears in this distinctly prominent This then supposed, the final object of the dialogue is so similar to that of the Protagoras, that it is impossible not to ask what is the order of the two dialogues and what relation they have to one another, if they are both to be established as coming from Plato? Now if the Hippias was written after the Protagoras, then some point ought to appear further developed or more distinctly set forth in the former than in the latter. But we cannot discover this to be the case: for it might indeed appear that the first part must bring an attentive reader, advancing in his conclusions beyond the letter of what he reads, sooner than the Protagoras could do, to certainty as to what, if Virtue is a knowledge, is to be the object of this knowledge, namely, the Good. But in the Hippias this investigation is by no means carried forward from the point at which it had stopped in the Protagoras; but it is introduced quite in a different manner, and in both conducted negatively only. For in the Protagoras it is only cursorily that the proposition, that pleasure is the object of moral knowledge, is reduced to a contradiction; in the Hippias it is argued against it, that Virtue, in so far as it is a knowledge, is not the knowledge of the object with which it is concerned from time to time. Now the fact that many persons will find it easier to discover the positive conclusion in the Hippias, can prove nothing in favour of the later composition of that dialogue. On the contrary, U
it is manifest that Plato was very well satisfied with the course pursued in the Protagoras, as in the little dialogues that follow he advances so immediately upon the conclusions there drawn; and the entire idea of the communicability of Virtue is further preserved in a long series which we have before us, and is even far more intimately connected there with the whole philosophy of Plato than the somewhat partial though perhaps more purely Socratic treatment of it in the Hippias. Hence this dialogue, if it is placed after the Protagoras, a position which it always occupies, must ever interrupt the natural progression. Moreover we find neither in the Hippias any reference whatever to the Protagoras, nor in any of the appendages to the latter, any to the Hippias. And this view is quite as little confirmed by the proposition worked out in the second part of our dialogue, which maintains that the good man errs intentionally and only the bad man unintentionally. For if the Hippias were a supplement to the Protagoras this ought manifestly to have been brought into connection with the supposition there advanced, that no man errs intentionally. Now it is indeed true that to the proposition in the Hippias such a turn is given that it is inferred that if any man errs intentionally it must be the good man, when it seems to be supposed that more probably no man errs intentionally: but this would have been brought out far more prominently if it had been written by Plato in reference to the Protagoras. Hence we are always far more tempted to entertain the notion that the hypothesis in the Protagoras might be laid down naked and unsupported as it is, partly in reliance upon this position already worked out in the Hippias; therefore nothing now remains but to place the Hippias before the Protagoras, and to regard it as the first attempt to bring forward those ideas upon the nature of virtue in the well known and indirect method; but an attempt which did not seem to have been sufficiently successful, and from that cause occasioned that larger and more beautiful work. Now it is true that all the testing of spirit and method interwoven into it, with all immediately dependent thereupon would be an addition perfectly new, but then it is also very conceivable that something of the kind must have occurred to Plato when he wished to improve and discuss anew a subject already treated of And this view might even be brought to a higher degree of probability, if it was more accurately shown how some kind of germ, though mostly in an extremely imperfect state, of every thing else contained in the Protagoras may be found in the Hippias, whether we look to the subjectmatter, or to the different modes of treating it. As then this is the most favourable view which may be taken of the work, and yet supposing it true, the Hippias appears to a certain degree supported by the Protagoras, in no case could any other place be assigned it except in this appendix. But when details come to be more accurately investigated, this favourable view wanes again, and a variety of doubts arise as to whether this dialogue can in fact be the work of Plato at all. These doubts do indeed arise immediately and at first sight only on consideration of the dress in which the dialogue appears. For, first, there is much here so awkward that we can hardly attribute it to Plato, and then, in the whole conversation about Hippias’ olympic exhibition, the irony upon the sophists is severed from the remaining subjectmatter of the dialogue in a way not to be found in Plato elsewhere; and again, the variations in the manner of the dialogue are so pointlessly introduced, that it seems scarcely possible that Plato should have so applied them even for the first time. But when once the reader's attention is taken by these particulars, he will then be led to view more in this dialogue with a suspicious eye. Many, for example, of the unquestionable resemblances to the Protagoras are open to the suspicion of imitation, when we consider that in that dialogue they arise out of the additional subject-matter not found in the Hippias, while in the Hippias they furnish only unmeaning ornament. . And again, the manner particularly in which the interlocutors start with Homer looks like an expedient of some pupil unacquainted with those lyric poets, more valued by Plato; as also the complaint that it is impossible now to ask the Poet what he meant by the sentiment, is an echo of that in the Protagoras. Even Hippias seems severed away from among the personages of that dialogue to be the principal one here only for good luck, and without any particular reason, such as we can most generally produce in other dialogues. Nay more, whoever once looks closely at the whole dialogue in this light, the example it affords of the practice of dialectics, will appear to him of a remarkable kind; sometimes timid, sometimes awkward, and almost only resembling the Ion. So that many persons might easily be led to consider it best to apply to the Hippias also the same theory as to the Ion ; reserving, that is, to Plato, his undeniable property in the first invention and arrangement; and recognising in the rest the after-work of some pains-taking and pretty intelligent pupil, destitute of the spirit and