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Now this doctrine is certainly Platonic enough, and a preliminary discussion of it might fairly find a place here with reference to the dialogues soon to follow. But the manner in which it is brought forward is far from Platonic, or even Socratic ; for it was, as we know, Socrates himself who said that all good, private and public, can arise only from virtue, and not conversely : while here the necessity for the knowledge of the best is itself only put upon the ground that otherwise security is endangered, and the state must prosper ill. And in like manner this method of drawing conclusions is neither moral nor scientific enough, as has already appeared up to the present point, and will appear still further in reference to the time of his later works, which manifestly enough our composer had in view. For immediately before the last result quite comes out, that those namely must rule in the state who have attained to the knowledge of the best, Socrates shoots off again to that discussion about prayer, which can however be nothing but the setting of the whole. And even before that the unity of the work is destroyed by the proposition being maintained that ignorance itself may be to a certain degree a good, a proposition which, in default of anything better, leaves still remaining an unsocial, uncultivated, aboriginal kind of life, such as forced itself upon those who misunderstood the cynical principles, of which generally many traces appear here, though not however without contradiction. The arrangement, moreover, as exhibited in the manner in which this theory about the knowledge of the best is connected with that of prayer, must appear to every reader so capricious and so entirely destitute of any art that it is not possible to tax Plato with such a work. And in like manmer, as regards the execution, the unPlatonic character of the work upon the whole is shown in the poverty of Socrates' sentences, the miserable little formulae with which, in order to tack the dialogue on again as it is slipping through his hands, he asks Alcibiades' opinion of it, the very slight use made of Alcibiades, his want of anything like marked character, the indistinctness in all the by-work, and still more matter that might be brought forward—all this is so prominent, that particular turns, which come out Platonically enough, can excite no doubt whatever of the spuriousness of the dialogue, but only confirm the opinion that the composer had indeed read his master industriously enough, but had penetrated less into his spirit than his language, and been incapable of learning from him his peculiar secrets. Plato is also thus acquitted cursorily of one of the worst anachronisms of which he can be accused. For it is only necessary to have a general knowledge of the dates, and decide as we may all that is questionable with reference to certain facts connected with this dialogue, it will still be found impossible that Socrates should have conversed with Alcibiades about the death of Archelaus ; to say nothing of the fact that in the same dialogue the intention of murdering Pericles is without any necessity lent by supposition to Alcibiades, as if it were possible that the former should have been alive a short time after the death of Archelaus.
PART I I,
LIKE all Plato's greater dialogues up to this point laid before the reader, the following has been in regard of his principal meaning almost universally misunderstood. For we must in Plato's case especially regard a mere half apprehension of anything as an entire misunderstanding ; since where the reciprocal connexion of the parts and their relation to the whole is missed, all correct insight into particulars, and all fundamental comprehension, is rendered impossible. Now, as in the Phaedrus, most critics overlooked too entirely the subject of rhetoric, and for that reason could hardly form a conception of the meaning of the whole; so in the present instance, misled in like manner by a second and unquestionably later title of the dialogue, “Or upon the Art of Speaking,” they have laid far too much weight on the topic of rhetoric, and taken every thing else merely for digressions and occasional investigations. Others again have looked to some other particular point, as to the doctrine set forth by Callicles, of the right of the stronger, and to its refutation by Socrates; or to the incidental remarks tending to the degradation of poetry, and have deduced as a result the ingenious notion, that the Gorgias contains the first outlines of that which has been treated, (I cannot tell whether in their opinion later or earlier) more fully in the books of the Republic. An idea which for the very reason that it is more ingenious than they are aware, conveys nothing at all definite as to the peculiar character
of this work. For what important production of Plato may not be said to contain, rightly understood, such outlines P So much, however, is clear without further exposition, that according to any one of these views, the portion of the whole so prominently brought forward must appear in very loose connexion with the rest; and especially the inquiry upon the nature of pleasure, if one regards the whole in this light, can hardly be viewed but as an idle supernumerary labour, strangely pieced on to the rest. But a reader must know little of Plato who does not speedily detect thus much, that where anything of this kind occurs, and withal sounding so deep, this must undoubtedly be the weightiest of all the topics handled, and the point from which alone everything else can also be understood in its true connexion, and for that very reason the inner unity of the whole can be discovered; and regarded in this light, the Gorgias appears exactly as the work that is to be placed at the head of the second division of the Platonic writings, with reference to which our general Introduction maintained, that the dialogues which it includes, occupying a middle position between the elementary and constructive ones, treat generally, no longer as the first did, of the method of philosophy, but of its object, aiming at a complete apprehension and right decision of it. Nor yet, as the latter, endeavour absolutely to set forth the two real sciences, Physics and Ethics, but only by preparatory and progressive steps to fix and define them ; and that when considered either singly or in their community of mutual dependence, they signalize themselves by a less uniform construction than was in the first division, but one peculiarly articifial and almost perplexing. Now let this theory be again expressly brought forward here,
as introductory to this second class of Plato's collective