Sivut kuvina

the matter of the utterly false derivation and explanation of the words, when alas ! among so many examples there is hardly one that can meet with toleration, to say nothing of support. For even though we may be disposed to excuse, and regret that the admirable philosopher, from fault of the times, was capable of producing so little instructive or sound upon so important a subject, still this resource can never suffice, because in fact the ignorance is too great, and even against our inclination something like a feeling of contempt will always enter into the surprise we feel, that one who laid so much stress upon the obligation we are under to know the variety and extent of our ignorance, should have plunged into such trifling and unmeaning play, upon a subject about which he manifestly knew nothing. On the other hand, much has indeed been gained by the discovery of modern times, that to Plato likewise all this was but play and jest, and that here, as in several of his works, we are to look for no exalted wisdom. Only even upon this view it is again difficult to justify the profound philosopher for such a mass of ponderous and pointless jesting, and for his unexampled proceeding in allowing his unfortunate propensity for playing upon words to break out in so astounding a manner; as a natural philosopher would be astonished to come suddenly upon a complete and prodigious layer of a rare kind of stone which usually only appears distributed here and there in small grains. And this discovery imposes upon us a difficult investigation, with a view, I mean, to separating the jest from the earnest; unless Plato is to be accused of the worst joke of all, namely, of affecting a serious air in serious matters, and this too only for a joke. Whoever then has embraced this latter view in a random kind of way, and thinks either to content himself with it in general, or by such a method to open up further traces for judging of or separating the details, and so taste about with a new palate among the old fruits and cates, we commend him to his employment; for us however it is necessary to strike into another road, and rather to follow out the work itself as if nothing had been said about it, and to try if it will not betray to us what it really means, as also to ascertain how we are to estimate every particular in it. That we may then be able to consider more at our ease the more important matter, it may be advisable first to look at all the details, in order to draw attention separately to what is intended seriously, and what is jest. And first the principle which appears to be the ground-work of the whole, that language is the artificial instrument of the dialecticians, and that appellations must be given in conformity with the nature of things, does indeed sound strange when we hear it thus superficially stated; but it bears too great a resemblance to other investigations with which we are already acquainted, and follows too closely the fundamental laws of all Platonic speculation, to allow of our rejecting it as not seriously laid down. But the illustration which follows upon this, by means of more or less known proper names, which are referred to the condition and peculiarities of persons or to circumstances in their life, this is clearly not serious in a similar sense, inasmuch as Socrates himself subsequently destroys it by the remark, that the manner in which particular individuals are named is not the same with that in

which material things acquired their appellations, but that we must look in the latter case to the appellations of the various species of the general and eternal. Now this is again manifestly said in earnest, inasmuch as these names do certainly form a moiety of the core of language, as this core also, like the Greek, divided into nouns and verbs. But when again the dialogue pursues this further, and investigates the natural correctness of nouns, first in the names of the gods, which are so treated that we cannot well say, that as proper names, they would not have belonged rather to the first section, and then in those of the heavenly bodies and their relations, the elements, the virtues, the various other phaenomena of the mind, and finally the poles of all thought and knowledge itself, all this, when thus taken in the gross, is manifestly jest. We infer this not only from the violent method of dealing with the words, from the total neglect of the distinction between fundamental and inflected syllables, and the commutation and transposition of letters, so that oftentimes a scarcely similar sound is produced; as well as from the unlimited share ascribed to the desire of embellishment in the then construction of words, so that, as Socrates allows, something was introduced from the very first in order to conceal the meaning, and consequently in entire contradiction to the supposed nature of language; but we recognize the jesting spirit even far more in the expressions of Socrates himself, when he ridicules this species of wisdom as an inspiration quite foreign to him, which he would follow to-day, but to-morrow would purify himself of ; when by the same process he educes a similar sense out of opposite words, and shows consequently that it destroys itself; when he appeals in one place to barbarian origin or the destructive effects of time, and subsequently declares this himself to be the excuse of one who would avoid giving any regular account. But this mass of joking leads yet again to something perfectly serious, to the distinction, I mean, between fundamental and derivative words, to the investigation of what is the proper object of representation in language, to the distinction between the imitative and musical use of the voice, and to the illustration of how in conformity with it the original significancy must be looked for in the letters. And this is certainly serious, because Plato makes Socrates sketch a theory on purpose, perfectly corresponding to those dialectic ground-forms which he has already brought forward in the Phaedrus. But the manner again in which this is illustrated, by way of example, in particular letters, and their meaning investigated, can hardly be taken for serious; for the way in which Socrates sets to work in this must appear very frivolous to any one, who, however superficially, balances the problems and solutions against one another, as our annotations will do in the particular passages; nay, even to Socrates himself, as he assures us, his own method has a very vacant and ridiculous air. And should any one be inclined to think that all we find here wears such a harlequin and strange dress, and is intentionally made ridiculous only because it is intended to prove by violence that the doctrine of Heraclitus lies at the bottom of the formation of language, let him not disguise from himself the fact, that in the few examples in which an Eleatic style of thought is intended to appear there is quite as great an accumulation of all that is random and vague. But if there is any one to whom the grounds suggested for forming a judgment do not otherwise appear sufficient, we would recommend him, in order to decide accurately between jest and earnest, simply and exclusively to follow Euthyphro, and when he is a party to the sport, and the wisdom is referred to him, then let the reader consider that he is certainly in the province of jest. Moreover, from this the serious parts also will admit of being recognized, and we shall discover where they begin and how far, inaccessible to that pleasant spirit, they reach. And in whatever light we regard the dialogue we must inevitably arrive at the same conclusion, that Plato only marked out the particular details of that discussion upon language with a view of bringing forward a comedy, or whatever may be the meaning of it, but that all that is general is to be taken quite as seriously as the core of every Platonic dialogue. And this consideration must at once make every not unintelligent reader of Plato inclined to leave those details to rest at present upon their own merits as collateral matter, intelligible perhaps only from the consideration of the whole, and to begin the understanding of that whole, if it is to be rightly estimated, at the other end; and to suspect in the Cratylus a similar arrangement to that in the Euthydemus, where likewise an ironical whole and a serious investigation are strangely interwoven with one another. Now if we consider apart the serious subjectmatter of the work, the investigation into the nature of language ceases at once to appear alone entitled to that character, although it certainly presents itself most obtrusively and in a manner sufficiently strange. For the subjects of Platonic investigation generally G G

« EdellinenJatka »