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The political constitution and code of laws recommended by Plato to his new city are adapted to a great extent from the older legislation of Athens. As such they have supplied the historians of ancient jurisprudence with some valuable indications. But from a philosophic point of view the general impression produced is wearisome and even offensive. A universal system of espionage is established, and the odious trade of informer receives ample encouragement. Worst of all, it is proposed, in the true spirit of Athenian intolerance, to uphold religious orthodoxy by persecuting laws. Plato had actually come to think that disagreement with the vulgar theology was a folly and a crime. One passage may be quoted as a warning to those who would set early associations to do the work of reason; and who would overbear new truths by a method which at one time might have been used with fatal effect against their own opinions:鈥.
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The Stoic arguments are, indeed, when we come to analyse them, appeal to authority rather than to the logical understanding. We are told again and again that the common objects of desire and dread cannot really be good or evil, because they are not altogether under our control.55 And if we ask why this necessarily excludes them from the class of things to be pursued or avoided, the answer is that man, having been created for perfect happiness, must also have been created with the power to secure it by his own unaided exertions. But, even granting the very doubtful thesis that there is any ascertainable purpose in creation at all, it is hard to see how the Stoics could have answered any one who chose to maintain that man is created for enjoyment; since, judging by experience, he has secured a larger share of it than of virtue, and is just as capable of gaining it by a mere exercise of volition. For the professors of the Porch fully admitted that their ideal sage had never been realised; which, with their opinions about the indivisibility of virtue, was equivalent to saying that there never had been such a thing as a good25 man at all. Or, putting the same paradox into other words, since the two classes of wise and foolish divide humanity between them, and since the former class has only an ideal existence, they were obliged to admit that mankind are not merely most of them fools, but all fools. And this, as Plutarch has pointed out in his very clever attack on Stoicism, is equivalent to saying that the scheme of creation is a complete failure.56?
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It may be urged that beauty, however difficult of attainment or severe in form, is, after all, essentially superficial; and that a morality elaborated on the same principles will be equally superficial鈥攚ill, in fact, be little more than the art of keeping up appearances, of displaying fine sentiments, of avoiding those actions the consequences of which are immediately felt to be disagreeable, and, above all, of not needlessly wounding anyone鈥檚 sensibilities. Such an imitation of morality鈥攚hich it would be a mistake to call hypocrisy鈥攈as no doubt been common enough among all civilised nations; but there is no reason to believe that it was in any way favoured by the circumstances of Greek life. There is even evidence of a contrary tendency, as, indeed, might be expected among a people whose most important states were saved from the corrupt60ing influences of a court. Where the sympathetic admiration of shallow and excitable spectators is the effect chiefly sought after, the showy virtues will be preferred to the solid, and the appearance to the reality of all virtue; while brilliant and popular qualities will be allowed to atone for the most atrocious crimes. But, among the Greeks of the best period, courage and generosity rank distinctly lower than temperance and justice; their poets and moralists alike inculcate the preference of substance to show; and in no single instance, so far as we can judge, did they, as modern nations often do, for the sake of great achievements condone great wrongs. It was said of a Greek and by a Greek that he did not wish to seem but to be just.46 We follow the judgment of the Greeks themselves in preferring Leonidas to Pausanias, Aristeides to Themistocles, and Socrates to Alcibiades. And we need only compare Epameinondas with David or Pericles with Solomon as national heroes, to perceive at once how much nearer the two Greeks come to our own standard of perfection, and how futile are the charges sometimes brought against those from whose traditions we have inherited their august and stainless fame.
21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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