Aristotle -- By: D. McGregor Means
BSac 34:135 (July 1877) p. 514
Few subjects in the whole range of philosophy have excited, or indeed deserved, more interest than the Platonic theory of ideas. The charm of this theory is ever fresh; for in the higher walks of philosophy every new generation of men finds itself strange and unaccustomed to what has gone before. The society and religion of the ancients indeed arrest our attention, but we are conscious, however great our sympathy, that we are looking down, that we have reached a higher plane of development, and that” the gray barbarian “is “lower than the Christian child.” But in philosophy every one must begin for himself anew from the starting point of the old Greeks, and he will not come into the inheritance of the intervening ages, nor fully understand his own position, unless he shall have penetrated into the spirit of the earlier times. For many centuries all science slumbered; but what was to natural science a new birth, to philosophy was but a re-awakening. “Die Griechen, die Griechen, und immer die Griechen” cried Goethe, intoxicated with their art; and it is still to the Greeks that the philosopher looks back.
The first encounter with Plato’s theory as given by himself, especially in the great passage in the Republic, is to the young student a veritable shock. For a moment there is the feeling of having received a revelation. The name of the theory had, perhaps, long been known, but the matchless words of the author add to it a fascination that transforms theory into living truth. The theory itself seems to acquire the creative force of its own ideas, and to impress itself instantly on the whole universe of fleeting phenomena,
BSac 34:135 (July 1877) p. 515
bringing out of unintelligible chaos a beautiful order. As Plato himself says: “Any young man when he first tastes of these subtilties is delighted, and fancies that he has found a treasure of wisdom.”1 Nor is the charm confined to youth alone, for genuine Platonists are by no means extinct even in modern days. Even those who reject the theory can never be uninfluenced by it, and it will continually reassert its power over every poetic and aspiring mind. “The light dove, while cleaving in free flight the air whose resistance she feels, might easily imagine that her movements would be even freer in airless space. So Plato left the sensible world as setting too narrow limits to the mind, and ventured beyond on the wings of the ideas into the empty space of the pure understanding.” 2 While such imaginative natures exist there will always be such wanderings, and it is, perhaps, well that there should. The office of those who att...
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