Page images



OF MEN. $ 3. Hence is explained his strong disposition to a free inter

course with men, and his peculiar method of moral instruction.

We now proceed more closely to inquire into, what we have as yet only touched upon, the ardor with which Socrates labored to advance the happiness of men, and more fully to unfold the power which he lis exerted on the course of human life. So great do we conceive to have been the ardor of that desire, that postponing all considerations of personal advantage, be aimed only at this, applies to this all the energies of his great genius, and directed the plan and action of his whole life to this one purpose of rendering his fellow men wiser, better, bappier, in matters of the higliest moment to them, and of disseminating the principles of true safety and the most stable and honorable happiness for the behoof not more of those among whom he lived, than of all future ages.* This noble impulse of his spirit, seems to me the more worthy of all reverence, when I consider it as the source of all the illustrious actions which he performed and of that busy life of practical goodness which he led. Hence came his perpetual custom of free intercourse and conversation with all men, to which he was so much inclined, that his whole life was public, open and in the sight of all men, and in hearty fellowship with all. In the morning he was wont to visit the public walks, † the gymnasia, the forum, and so in the rest of the day he used to fre

* Mem. Socr. I. 2, 60. 61. I. 3, 1. 1. 6, 14. 15. III. 10. IV. 1, 1. And on every occasion Xenophon intimates that in all things and in every manner, he rendered himself useful to his fellow citizens and friends, and this in reference to their true advantage, so that nothing could be more profitable to any than an intimacy with Socrates, since not less in his sportive than his serious conversation he studied the best good of those with whoin he associated.

+ Unless indeed wbat Xenophon here calls mediótovs are to be understood rather public schools, and the assemblies of studious men, than public walks, respecting which meaning of the word, I have given an opinion in the notes to Cebetis Tabula, cap. 13. p. 307 seq. (Lipsiae 1798), and in Animadv. ad Athenaei Lib. III. p. 103. d.

quent those places where he would meet the most numerous assemblages of men.* He thought it by no means necessary for a public teacher to hide himself in the seclusion of a school, which shaded life, the moral philosophers who succeeded him affected; but, that of all men, he who would devote all his powers to reforming and purifying the moral habits of his fellows, should pass his life in the utmost publicity, and in open intercourse with all orders in the State. Wherefore he would not invite his disciples to his own house, or open a public school at an appointed place and at fixed hours; but chose himself to go out to meet men, to enter their shops and working places, to be present at public meetings and places of general resort, and find his pupils engaged in the active business of their life. In this plan, among many other conveniencies he found especially these ; that those who committed themselves to his instruction, were stimulated to the imitation of their teacher's example thus rendered conspicuous and open to the observation of all; but chiefly under it men were not forced to learn his peculiar doctrine wrapped up in the forms of a system, but in the living act, were they instructed the method of a right judgment on whatever subject at the moment occupied them; if in anything they had erred, they were led to a wiser course for the future ; if they had been guilty of any delinquency, they might be admonished; was there need of action, they might have an adviser to action the most honorable and strenuous ; were they in perplexity and doubt, they might avail themselves of the prudent guidance, not of an arrogant master, but of an intelligent friend, who would kindly and courteously adapt himself to the understanding of every questioner, and suit his advice to every variety of circumstance. This scheme of instruction in morals, which found its appropriate place amid the bustling life and the busiest activity of men, Socrates, the father of that philosophy which has been rightly named the philosophy of human life, eminently perceived to be the most excellent and the most efficacious. Another advantage, by no means to be passed unmentioned, in his plan, was this; that while he sought by all means to profit all, he also found means to know, and select from the youth who Aocked to hear him, and become more intimate with those, from the training of whom to virtue, wisdom, and judicious counsels, the commonwealth might derive the greatest advantage.

• Mem. Socr. I. 1, 10.

course' for in anything thatever subject"astructed the

84. Hence his disregard of all sciences that are rather diffi

cult than useful. To the same noble desire of human happiness do I ascribe it, that both he himself made no account of the labor which the philosophers of his age were accustomed to waste in discussing questions respecting the origin of the universe, the causes which produce and determine all things and everything, and other kindred topics, and constantly dissuaded others from inquiries at once difficult and trivial.* Indeed our truly named philosopher, who was ever animated with a divine zeal to examine those subjects only which might bring some advantage to the life of men, to the utter neglect of all others, as he at once perceived how little true utility could arise from such a style of investigation, as then prevailed, and of such subjects, and how barren and unsuited to the actual condition and wants of humanity; turned away from them all his thoughts and efforts, and was the adviser of every man, that he should not wear away his life in the vain pursuit of sciences beyond the reach of the human intellect, and which, if thoroughly understood even, could have no relation to the melioration of our life.t From this statement it ought not to be inferred, as some have falsely done, that Socrates was a despiser altogether of those sciences whose object is the study of nature and her laws, to which sciences he was by no means a stranger. I He wished this only, which every wise philosopher must wish, that men should not entangle themselves in vain subtleties, and fruitless and useless investigations ; but, so far as each of those sciences, for which the sophists in those days made great pretensions, contained anything which miglit become a source of knowledge profitable for daily life, so far they should study it, and so much they should gather from it. Nor was he satisfied with giving such directions to his disciples, summarily and in general terms; but he was accustomed often and with much care to take up the various kinds of science one by one, and instruct them what was the limit and measure of each, and of what use each might be to the right ordering of domestic or civil affairs, and on the contrary what classes of sciences were so removed from practical

* Mem. Socr. I. 1, 11. 12. 15.
# IV. 7, 6. 7. cf. Diog. Laert. in Vita Socratis, Lib. II. 9 21.

Mem. Socr. IV. 7,5.

utility, that it were an abuse of leisure to pursue them, and by such exercises he trained them to a just judgment, and a skilful selection.* If there were any subjects of which he had too little knowledge to be a teacher of them, and which he yet perceived to be practically useful, he recommended to his friends those teachers whom he knew to be well skilled in them ; totally unlike in this those falsely styled philosophers, who, while they regarded more their own gain and reputation, than the profit of their disciples, professed to know and teach all things.

$5. Hence his perpetual commendation of inquiries which

have relation to the duties of life. Accordingly, when Socrates perceived that other sciences and arts have in themselves alone no power sufficient to render human life better and happier, he devoted his whole study to that science which contains the grounds of true acting and of duty, and the institutions of the whole life of man, and by consequence the principles and means of human perfection and of human happiness. Hence bis high estimate of those studies which involve a practical benefit and use, which he judged most appropriate for man and of the greatest concern to him. Hence his continual questionings of what is right, what wrong; what just, what unjust; what honorable, what base; what harmonizes with wisdom and prudence, and what is contrary to them; the definitions and estimates of which he had ever on his lips.t Of his habit in this particular, the words of Cicero may justly be reckoned a description, when Socrates is said, “ first to have called down philosophy from the heavens," (that is from the study of celestial things, for an accurate knowledge of which he conceived them to have no sufficient means,) “ to have given her a dwelling in our cities, to have even introduced her to our homes, and to have forced her to inquiries concerning life and manners, and things good and evil.” How liberal was his notion of general utility, Socrates showed in this, that he did not stop with commending a regard to single virtues only, such as temperance, frugality, benevolence, and the like duties, but embraced also in his teachings, every department of domestic and civil life, and the whole range of duties to the com

* IV. 7, the whole.

+ Mem. Socr. I. 1, 16. IV. 2, 22. 23. IV. 4, 6. IV.6. 1. cf. Cic. Tusc. Quaest. I. 4.

monwealth : and while he used no arts to obtain, by favor of his fellow citizens, his own advancement to places of trust and honor in the State, he yet exhorted others, whom he thought competent, to seek a part in the management of public affairs, and either aided them to a wise and successful administration, by most salutary counsels, in their preparation, or, by his suggestions, guided them in the pressure of official perplexities and cares, and, in fine, whatever might be the position of any one in the State, he would clearly set forth to him the duties which belonged to that position.*

$ 6. His generous disregard of personal advantage. With this wonderful zeal for promoting the universal happiness of men, Socrates joined a noble contempt of his own private emolument, which led him constantly to decline and resuse all those rewards and gains, which from the value of his instructions, might have made him rich.t No one will deny that a man may be a sincere lover of truth, and yet act rightly and suitably to that character, if he derives a profit and reward to himself from that doctrine which he communicates to others. For how is the cause of truth injured, if the tokens of gratitude from their disciples are received by those who teach it? But when Socrates observed that the Sophists, with whom Athens at that time abounded, never contented with the tribute of an honorable regard, which their instructions might have won for them, and contending only for an immoderate gain, sold and prostituted for the vilest consideration, their boasted wisdom ;I animated by an ingenuous and most righteous indignation, he determined to pursue an opposite course, lest men should confound his most noble scheme of discipline with their trivial though specious shows, and his loftiest reward, in the forming and culture of the minds of men, should be lost and perish. And so declaring that to him it was a wonder that any man, professing to be a teacher of virtue, should claim a price for his labor, he set to himself this law, that to any one who truly desired to attain the knowledge and practice of virtue, with no regard to his condition, and with no exception, whether he were a citi

* Mem. Socr. III. 1, 3. 5. 6. sc.
† Mein. Socr. 1. 6, 5. cf. Diog. Laert. II. 24. 27.
I. 2, 6 and 6.5 and 13.

§ 1, 2, 7.

« EelmineJätka »